Today on the show we’re talking with LaMar Queen, also known as Mr. Q-U-E, the rapper behind Music Notes, a company that’s been having great success providing educational rap songs to schools across the U.S.A.
Educational songs aren’t a new idea but Music Notes brings a really fresh take to it, and their songs have been shown to improve test scores in non-music subjects as well as encouraging more responsible attitudes towards schoolwork and peer support for healthier living initiatives.
We must confess that when we first came across Music Notes we thought it was really cool – but we weren’t certain it was a good fit for this podcast… Because it’s a fascinating musical project – but is it really about musicality? Well, as we dug in we realised that yes, there are some really interesting questions about musicality here that we were excited to pick LaMar’s brains on. You’ll find there are big learning points in this interview for any musician wanting to connect more deeply with music.
We talk about:
- Why music is so powerful as a channel for learning
- The challenges of writing a song that has an impact beyond just entertainment
- How LaMar got started freestyle rapping – and a simple way you can try it yourself
We’re really impressed with the work LaMar’s doing with his team at Music Notes and it was cool to hear his thoughts on how their projects are influencing young minds both for their musical development and their education and upbringing outside of music. We all have a tendency to get stuck in the weeds and the nitty-gritty of learning music, so we hope this episode will do for you what it did for us, which was to serve as a great reminder of the magic of music and just how impactful it can be.
Listen to the episode:
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Mr. Q-U-E: Hey what’s up everybody, it’s Mr. Q-U-E from Music Notes, and you’re listening to the Musicality Podcast.
Christopher: Welcome to the show LaMar, also known as Mr. Q-U-E, thank you for joining us today.
Mr. Q-U-E: Thanks so much for having me Christopher, it’s a pleasure to be here this morning.
Christopher: I’ve had such a good time studying up on you guys and watching your videos online. I can only imagine what it’s like live, because the kind of math concerts you put on are like nothing I’ve seen before. You’re such a compelling performer, and I’m really keen to talk about all of it, but before we dive into Music Notes, I’d love to learn more about you as a musician. Because you are the musician co-founder of this project. You wrote a lot of, well the early material, and now you I believe have a collaborator. But where did you come from as a musician, how did you get started in music?
Mr. Q-U-E: Well, my background in music is an interesting one. So as a young child at the tender age of five, I’m proud of this story, but I’m also a little bit ashamed of it because I became a bit of a thief in the process. But my sister, she got a keyboard for Christmas that she never played, and it just sat in her room. One day I just went and I took it and brought it into my room and just started playing and I had a relative, my older cousin, he came by and he taught me a few songs.
He taught me chopsticks and a Stevie Wonder song, I wish I could remember, maybe Overjoyed or something like that. I would just practice those songs until I got them. So that’s pretty much how I got started as a youngster. Then as I got older, there were songs I would hear on the radio that I would enjoy and I’d try to play them. You know played a little bit of trumpet and clarinet as a kid, but let that go pretty quickly and stuck to piano. So that’s how my actual playing began and then my songwriting and rapping is like a whole nother story.
Christopher: Cool, well let’s stay in those early years for a moment and was your household musical? You mentioned your sister had the keyboard to begin with. Were your parents musicians, did they encourage you in music?
Mr. Q-U-E: My family comes from the church background. So a lot of my family either sung in the choir or played an instrument in the choir ’cause my grandfather had a church. So my dad was the drummer at the church, and aunts and uncles played all the instruments. So I saw them playing, I guess, I don’t know if it was more nature or if it was my environment that led me to stealing that keyboard.
Something happened where I was just drawn to his music. My parents they never put me in lessons or anything. I give them a hard time, even to this day, I said how can you see your five year old child playing an instrument and not put him in a class. I noticed I make them feel a little too bad about it, so I stopped giving them a hard time. But I didn’t really have a push externally, it all pretty much came from within.
Christopher: Gotcha, you mentioned Stevie Wonder, and you also mentioned you were into rap and songwriting. What kind of music were you surrounded by growing up?
Mr. Q-U-E: Growing up, a lot of hip hop and gospel and ’80s and ’90s R’n’B.
Christopher: Gotcha, and when did you first start to think you could write your own stuff rather than just learning chopsticks or Stevie Wonder?
Mr. Q-U-E: That started in middle school. I would be a very irresponsible pre-teen and I got like a daily allowance for school, $4.00 to catch the bus to school and home and buy lunch. On some days I would spend all my money at school and I would have to walk home. I’m gonna sound like one of those old guys, I walked five miles uphill to school and five miles uphill back home. But I wouldn’t have bus money, so I’d walk a few miles back home, and I had my best friend that would walk with me.
To pass time, because this was pre-internet and cell phone, I would rap, whatever was happening at school that day, I pretty much would summarize the day as a free style walking home with my best friend Jason. So that’s when I realized that I could rap and then I decided to write my first song, maybe a few months later, and oh my god, my friends gave me the hardest time for that.
They told me it was so bad and laughed at me, I pretty much quit writing until another friend of mine got me back into it. But middle school was when I really got into the actual like songwriting and becoming an instrument myself opposed to like playing it.
Christopher: So we haven’t really, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about free style rap on the show before. We talked a lot about improvisation and a little bit about scat, but not otherwise vocal rap. Free styling is such an unusual skill in the world of music, think just because you’re not just coming up with the rhythms and some cases the pictures. But you are coming up with lyrics on the spot.
I know we’re going back a little bit, think back to when you started doing that, you said you realized you could rap. On day one, when you were walking home with your friend, when for the first time you tried it, did it just kind of come out of you, did you have any kind of sense of how does someone free style? Did you have any kind of rhymes you knew at work or, how did you get going?
Mr. Q-U-E: Great question, I think for whatever reason I’m more expressive through my music and through art. I will share a thought musically before I’ll just sit down and have a conversation with somebody. I can’t pinpoint exactly how it felt or what I drew from for the lyric, but I do remember it as just being so free flowing its natural and it was just easy for me to say. I know these are all the things that happened today. As I’m rapping, I’m just one step ahead of myself thinking of what that rhyming word is gonna be to connect the previous thought.
It’s something that I’ve never really be able to explain like, the way I want to, but it’s just something that kind of came to me. The more I did it, the easier it became. I’ve noticed there are times when I fall back from it and then it gets a little harder for me. So it’s definitely a skill that, seeing how I’ve digressed and have also gotten better at it through my work is something that I think can be learned from anybody through either practice or teaching training, you know if free styling is something people wanna do.
Christopher: Yeah, so if someone came to you and, as a teacher and performing musician yourself, you’ve probably had teenage kids come up to you and ask, how would you get started with free styling, or how could you improve your odds of getting going with it if it’s a bit intimidating to you.
Mr. Q-U-E: My step one is a word challenge, it’s a challenge that you do where you just give somebody a word and tell them to rap to it. So when I’m doing it with amateur free stylers, I’ll always given them rhyming words.
So the first row I’ll turn out as cat, then I’ll draw a bat, then a hat. So that they’ll hear the word and then they can just rap to it. As they grow in their skillset, I’ll start throwing out three syllable words that aren’t rhyming, then it’s up to them to come up with their own system of how to put everything together.
Christopher: I see, that’s really interesting, well I’m definite gonna go away and try hand the cat, bat and rat, I’m not gonna do it here on the spot. But you mentioned that did lead onto songwriting for you, and the first song was a bit of a bomb.
Mr. Q-U-E: Oh it was terrible, it was awesome to me.
Christopher: Can you remember what it was about?
Mr. Q-U-E: I really wish I could. The only thing I remember, and I probably blocked it from my memory because my friends made it so traumatic for me. But EZ-E, NWA had a famous line, rolling down the street in my 64. For some reason, that is how I decided to start my rap, and that’s the only line I remember from the song. If I started off with that, and then I started doing my own thing, and they laughed at me, told me never do it again.
I almost listened. Luckily I had a friend in high school that kind of got me back into my writing and recording. But I tell even my students and people I work with till it’s day, please don’t let friends and people that don’t see your vision distract you. Because I love music, but just being a young impressionable kid, that negative energy from my friends really kind of like threw me off for a second.
Christopher: Yeah for sure, I wanna come back to that because of the role you play now in other kids’ musical journeys. How did you go forward from there. You had that discouraging experience with your friends, but you said it didn’t completely stop you.
Mr. Q-U-E: It didn’t completely stop me because of my family. I was still going to church, we’re still singing in the choir, we’re still doing our music thing on the side. So that’s where I was able to continue to hone in on my skillset and build up in that regard. Because if it weren’t for my family doing a lot of music we did on weekends and stuff like that, I probably would have completely stopped. So it really was church and family that kept me grounded and help me remember, oh yeah, I am good at this and this is fun. So it’s not all about impressing your friends all the time.
Christopher: In that period, from writing your first song and getting that bad feedback, to the point where you started music notes. Did you have in your head, you wanted to use do something in music. I’m still trying to work out a musical trajectory.
Mr. Q-U-E: Not at all, I’ve never imagined myself being a musician as far as professionally playing or performing. I thought that I would be playing sports. I was really into sports, and at one point I thought I’d be a lawyer. Honestly everything I’m doing now, I never imagined as a child that I would be doing. Never thought I would be a musician, it all was a part of a plan that was setting out for me that I didn’t know I would have to fulfill.
But growing up it was just I think typical kid stuff, just sports and video games and I just wanna make money doing what I love.
Christopher: And you went into teaching, not the obvious choice for someone wanting to make money doing what they love.
Mr. Q-U-E: Exactly.
Christopher: So how did that come to be?
Mr. Q-U-E: Oh man, my wife is gonna get me for telling this story. But it’s the truth, so my ex-girlfriend in college, she was the one that convinced me to teach. So early on I started out in elementary school tutoring, and I had a teacher very early on say, you know what LaMar, you’re going to be a mathematician, I didn’t even know what that meant. I was in fourth, fifth grade tutoring and helping out second and third grade classes.
So I guess that was like my first understanding that I liked working with kids in teaching. But in college, I would go home and tutor little cousins who were struggling in school. So when I came back from one the vacations, my ex told me that I should become a teacher.
She had a background of teachers in her family, now she’s like, oh LaMar you would be a great teacher, I see you working with your little cousins during their vacations, I think you should change your major. I was a business major. So the start of my junior year, I totally just dropped business and went into education based off of her suggestion.
Christopher: It wasn’t music education right, you went into math?
Mr. Q-U-E: No, elementary education, it wasn’t even math. Elementary, my dream grade was like fourth or fifth grade and I’ve never taught that. I always done secondary middle and high school. But I went into elementary education because I wanted to make my impact early and start a solid foundation for students so as they progress up into middle, high school and college, they will have something solid to lean on in case they have any doubts or fall off.
Christopher: Gotcha, so you graduated, you went into teaching, at what point did you meet your co-founder, Jimmy Pascascio and dream up Music Notes?
Mr. Q-U-E: This is where the Music Notes story begins. So I graduated, went into teaching, I was overly confident. I think I had some level of false confidence where I thought I would go in and the kids are just gonna like me just because I’m me and I’m young and I like me so they’re gonna like me. That totally wasn’t the case. So the first few weeks of school, I’m teaching an eighth grade class and they’re like, Mr. Queen, your class is boring.
I said, what, like no my class is turned up, we having fun, we doing these notes, y’all just need to get with my program, and I had a student [inaudible 00:13:43], she recently graduated from college, still keep in touch with her on Facebook, I love her. She started a revolt in the class and she said Mr. Queen, your class is boring and if you don’t rap, we not listening. Is said, no, I’m not gonna rap for you, this is school, you don’t do stuff like this in school.
Christopher: Did they have an inkling that you had a musical background, that you had done rap in the past?
Mr. Q-U-E: That’s the crazy part, I never told them I did music. We just met, we’d only been in class together for a few weeks, maybe a month. So this part of the story is harder for me to tell now because of this artist new reputation. But they were like, Mr. Queen you look like Kanye West and your class is boring so you need to rap. This was in 2008, so Kanye was ultra popular.
Christopher: On top of the world.
Mr. Q-U-E: So after they begged and begged for like two weeks non-stop, they asked every single day. I said, you know what, let me just try it ’cause they were failing, I was stressed out over being called boring, like my ego took a huge hit. I said, you know what, let me just try this out. So I had a beat, so me and my cousins were working on a track, and I’d hijack the beat.
I stole that beat and I started working on this Slope Intercept song because that was my current lesson plan. Wrote Slope Intercept, went back and performed it for them, and it was a huge hit. After I performed it, teachers started hearing about it, and a teacher asked me to perform it at the holiday party. So at this point, a few months had gone by, I had a couple songs, but the teacher asked me to perform the first song, Slope Intercept, at the holiday party.
So I did it, and when I finished the song I sat down next to my boy Jimmy, my business partner, and he just kind of leans over and was like, hey you wanna make a video for the song, get the students in there. I was like yeah, let’s do it, and that’s how it all began, that one video just changed everything.
Christopher: Yeah, so I’m sure after hearing this interview or watching it, our audience is going to run off and watch all of your videos and check out MusicNotesonline.com. But most of them probably haven’t yet heard or seen your rap videos. Can you give them a taste of what Slope Intercept is all about. I should ask first, I don’t wanna take a massive detour into math, but for someone who grew up in the UK, that phrase, actually slogan is not super familiar to me. So can you just explain like what were you teaching in class that the kids wanted you to rap about, and what was that track like?
Mr. Q-U-E: So, Slope Intercept is just graphing a linear equation and the form y equals mx plus b, because there’s a bunch of different formats you can graph an equation. You can use point slope form, slope intercept form, you can just use points. So we were working on slope intercept at that particular time and that’s just using the y intercept and the slope to graph a line. It’s the standard format, it’s the more popular.
So that’s what we were doing, and the rap, it was just very straightforward. Like, let’s talk about slope intercept. I don’t mind if you interject, just don’t disrespect. You say you got a question for me, yes, what’s y equals mx plus b, this is a line and function form, it’s also slope intercept for it. Half y’all like, this is boring, the other half is like, this sounds foreign. N represents the slope of a line, if it’s negative, then you know it declines. B is where it crosses the y axis, if you don’t pay attention, then why ask us to repeat. Sit down in your seat, listen to the words that I say to this beat. Parallel lines have the same [inaudible 00:17:29] even at the y intercept, so a nine and a one. Question, can you [inaudible 00:17:34] hit the x, y use and the y is there, oh my I swear this math stuff is easy and I’ll take you there. Life let’s talk about slope intercept.
Christopher: Nice, very good, that was just off the top of your head all these years later. Is this still like top of your ladder when you perform?
Mr. Q-U-E: Pretty much, that’s my baby. That’s like your first born. It just has a special place in my heart. So it actually still is, I think, my favorite song. But I don’t perform it as much lately, because students and teachers are more familiar with our most recent stuff. As often as I get a chance to perform that, I do it, so thank you.
Christopher: Tremendous, well I’m a massive fan of like nerd core hip hop music, which is all about science and geek culture. So to me, the idea of a crowd screaming out for Slope Intercept isn’t all that wacky.
Mr. Q-U-E: Oh my god.
Christopher: But I think probably for our listeners, they’re going what did I just hear.
Mr. Q-U-E: Exactly, but it’s so crazy-
Christopher: You can’t stop listening, like that was really compelling, and I was feeling that physical desire to know what was gonna happen next. In a way like even I as a nerdy mathematician growing up never experienced in math class. I was never quite as engaged as I was just then listening to you rap, very cool.
Mr. Q-U-E: Nice.
Christopher: So it went down well with your students, by the sound of it, and you performed it for the teaching community at your school and Jimmy leaned over to you and said, let’s do a video.
Mr. Q-U-E: Um-hmm (affirmative). Did the video.
Christopher: And what was that video like?
Mr. Q-U-E: That video was very amateur, what’s below amateur, is there anything below amateur ’cause that’s what it was. We used science heat lamps as our lighting for the video. So I’m in class sweating like a baked ham, and we shot the video. It was Jimmy’s first video, but the great thing about it is, his background in middle school was in video.
So we came together with this synergy like, oh I started rapping in middle school, you started doing videos in middle school, let’s do this. He was doing a video production class at school with students, I’m rapping with my students, so it was definitely something that we were meant to do together.
We shot the video, we got a bunch of our students to come play different parts. We got some t-shirts, then did the video. We made it a community event. So we did it, we didn’t even post it online, someone else posted the video online and it ended up going viral at the time. Not compared to today’s virality, but in 2008 a video getting like 250,000 views in a week was big.
Christopher: Yeah, that’s still pretty big.
Mr. Q-U-E: Oh yeah, I guess it is. I just saw the Avengers get like 20 million in one day, so I think that might [inaudible 00:20:26].
Christopher: Well if that’s were you’re setting your standard.
Mr. Q-U-E: So we [crosstalk 00:20:31], and the teacher just started reaching out, and that’s when it really began. When we got the outreach from public teachers asking for more.
Christopher: So thinking back to that phase of things when you were first standing up in front of the class, first doing it in the teachers’ lounge or the get together and collaborating with Jimmy to put together the video. Were you at all nervous, were you feeling like this might go wrong or I don’t know what this is gonna be or I want this to be amazing but it might not be. How were you feeling at that stage?
Mr. Q-U-E: I think something in me was just too dumb to be nervous. I just did it, maybe it’s because it was music, and I was always comfortable just doing music. I don’t know too many middle schoolers that would have just went to their friends and say, hey I have a song, wanna hear it. For whatever reason, that fear didn’t exist in terms of me getting up and performing.
I think that might come from just my background presenting like at my grandfathers’ church, getting up as a kid and performing. So when they made the request at the holiday party, I was a little nervous just because I had never performed in front of professionals before, and we’re doing rap songs in front of a group of professionals. But the actual rapping part didn’t bother me.
Christopher: I see, and was it immediately clear to you what Music Notes would become. Like once you saw that initial reaction and people seemed to be responding to it, could you just envision the next, however many years or what were you thinking?
Mr. Q-U-E: I wasn’t thinking, that’s where Jimmy comes in. He’s the more visionary. I’m the instinctual, emotional type of person and I just go off of feel and passion. So he was the one that saw the vision for the video. I’d never thought of a video. So even to this day, I still don’t fully know or see where it’s going.
I know we have a purpose in terms of reaching children, and playing sort of a schoolhouse rock, like fill in that lane so to speak, but I kind of stick to what I’m good at, which is just doing music and making school fun for kids. The other things I leave to other people to work out.
Christopher: I think that’s a smart move. So I think for people listening, maybe the obvious next step is people like these songs, they like the videos, let’s do more songs, more videos about math. Music Notes has become much more than that in a few different ways. So for example, you’ve done a lot of live performances, can you talk a bit about that?
Mr. Q-U-E: Yes, the first time I heard a whole audience singing Slope Intercept, it was crazy. The first time I did a classroom visit and students started crying when I walked in, crazy. The first time I got stopped in public behind like educational music, it was just crazy. I never thought, I still tell people till today, you realize I’m a teacher, but in their eyes, when you’re on a stage or on a screen, you become a celebrity so to speak.
So that progression has been crazy. Going to schools and just motivating children to learn through music. Getting them to believe in themselves, even in my own classroom, giving students the opportunity to showcase they understand content through a song is amazing. So the growth from that one song to where we are now is something that I couldn’t see, but it’s a lot of fun getting up on stage and performing.
We’ve been blessed to perform at Petco Park where the Padres play. We’ve been blessed to collaborate with [inaudible 00:24:38] and write songs about genomics and songs about DNA. We’ve been blessed to help students with their health and wellness aspect of things and teaching about anti-smoking and tobacco use. So that one song has led to so much.
Christopher: Yeah, and that touches on a couple of things I was really keen to ask you about. One is, how do you come to write a new song. You clearly feel like someone who’s creative and figure music is a fairly natural thing. But I think there’s such skill in taking a boring topic, for lack of a better word. Something that people assume is boring, and turn it into good music is actually compelling to the listener and has the educational impact your music has. Can you give us an insight into if we take that genomics song or one of the health songs you’ve been working on recently? What does that process look like to you in terms of going from nothing to the finished song?
Mr. Q-U-E: So now we definitely have a system where we have to do our homework. Especially if it’s a new topic. There are experts in the field that we’re working with. We’ll have them send us relevant content, vocab, key points that the listener needs to understand it. Then us as teachers, we say how is a novice gonna be able to digest this, excuse me. How will they be able to digest the content, then the musician comes in and says, all right, how do we make this sound good.
So that’s how the systems works. It’s a song that we’re working on exclusively on our own and it’s a new subject. We’ll hop on YouTube University, or we’ll go on Google and just start doing our homework, find some reliable sources that we can site if needed. Gather all of our information and then we follow that same process. Put the teacher hat on, and say what does a new learner need as a scaffold or as like the building blocks to understand and digest this information.
Then put the musician hat on and say all right, how do we make this hot so that our listeners will listen and enjoy it.
Christopher: Is there a struggle, is there a tug of war between, I’ve got to educate them with these things and I just wanna make a track that’s good to listen to.
Mr. Q-U-E: God yes it is. That is a struggle that I had to really overcome. My business partner and I are polar opposites. So he’s like structure, and I’m like free flowing. So we’re just butting heads, but I learned we have to have a certain structure in place for the songs to meet the need of a learner. Also, gain a respect of the experts in the field, and be good enough for students to listen to.
I was solely stuck on the side that, it just needs to sound good, it just needs to sound good, the music will do all the talking. It took me a little while to say you know what, I do have to do this homework, I do have to respect the experts that are gonna hear this song. I don’t want to just say like, oh they’re just doing a bunch of words together that sound good and they’re not actually teaching anything.
So, that was a little bit of a struggle. But one thing about me is, I’ll get in my feelings for a second, and then by the next day I’m over it and I’m back to work.
Christopher: Yeah, interesting. I love the way you put it there, that you can’t just throw a bunch of vocab in there, call it a math song and be done with it. You guys really are educating through music, not just coming up with music that you can get away with playing in a school because it has the right words.
Mr. Q-U-E: Exactly.
Christopher: So have there been any kind of big learning points for you. I’m asking not because I don’t think apart from just being interesting, I think our listeners, there’s a lot to learn from how you communicate through your music. I don’t think our listeners are gonna go away and write songs for the elementary math class. I think they probably can learn a lot from you about how to approach a song with a purpose, like a sense of purpose beyond entertainment. So have there been any kind of big learning points or any kind of processes you go through to help you write those tracks and make it coherent and effective?
Mr. Q-U-E: Yeah, I think I have different process for different songs in different stages wherever I am at the time. But I think on thing that probably is consistent throughout is this idea of just knowing exactly what I want the listener to know and feel once I’ve done it. That happens regardless to how I approach a song. Once it’s done, it’s kind of like a lesson plan. I think that’s why this ends up working out for us because our teachers have to create a plan that has an objective and standards that have to be there for the student.
The same thing happens with my songs. What do I want the listener to feel after we’re done and what do I want them to know. Then I typically I’ll make sure my hook or my chorus is just the epitome of those ideas. Then my verses, break it down and explain everything.
Christopher: I love that you use the word field there. I think that maybe is the critical thing here because it would be easy to do a math song and just shove a bunch of vocab in it and have no educational impact, and it would be only a bit more difficult to write a math song that has all of the educational content and delivers the lesson, but no one wants to listen to it.
It’s a bit harder still to have a math song that educates and gives good music to listen to. But you actually do have this real spirit to all of your music. I’m sure it’s critical for it to be used by teachers and so popular with students. I guess that comes down to the feeling, the fact that you aren’t just thinking about what are the facts they need to know. You’re thinking about how do we motivate them, how do we inspire them, how do we get them feeling the right way about the subject matter.
Mr. Q-U-E: Yeah, a lot of what I do comes down to feel when it’s all said and done. I’ve scrapped so many songs. I’ve written some of these songs three or four times because it just didn’t feel right. Or if step away from it for a week or two and I come back to it and I’m going this just isn’t it.
So sometimes more than anything, that feeling, that energy works out. As important as I know the content is, when it comes to music, if it doesn’t feel good, why are we doing it. That’s our whole purpose of having music is to shift emotions from sad to happy when needed.
Christopher: So that’s the other thing I was hoping to talk to you about, which is, you’re using music as a really effective tool and channel to reach these young kids. You know we’ve mentioned your math stuff, and due to the fact that you’re starting to do some healthy living material too. You also told me, you have videos about going back to school and being organized and prepared and showing up in the right way.
You’re shaping these kids mindsets in such a positive way through music, and I just wanna understand why through music. It’s clearly not just pure entertainment and it’s easy to watch your videos and imagine how much more effective it is than just telling the kids that same material.
So why do you think music has that power? Why is it for you the medium through which you’ve chosen to do that work.
Mr. Q-U-E: Great question, so there’s a few different reasons why. The first reason is [inaudible 00:33:08], that first group of students, that class. They asked for music, and our responsibilities as adults and educators is, we have to listen to our kids. A lot of times we’ll feel like through our life experience we have all the answers for them. But our babies know what they want and what the need.
If you sometimes just take the time to listen. So that was the first thing, just listening to them. Then two, just understanding the power of music and there’s been extensive research done on how music shifts emotions, how music is curing people in particular ways. I think the first thing I’m thinking about is, you know, our elderly community that suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, and how music is able to bring life back to that group.
We have seen music totally been weaponized against our kids. So it’s appropriate that responsible adults create a balance for our kids to listen to in terms of hip hop popularity like, I don’t even wanna say hip hop, just music in every genre has a level of conflict that we don’t want our student’s to listen to. So I feel like we gotta have that same worries. Those were all of my reasons for doing what we do.
Christopher: Terrific, give us a sense of what Music Notes looks like today. We’ve talked about making videos, we’re talking about live performances, but what does the whole portfolio or the whole project look like?
Mr. Q-U-E: Oh, it’s pretty extensive. So we do our concerts, live educational concerts. We do positive behavior intervention concerts, where students that are having issues at school behaviorally can come and listen to our character development concert. We have testing pep rally concerts, where students excited and prepare to come and take those standardized testings we have here in the states.
We do professional development, we train teachers on how to use music in the classroom. We train teachers to write their own educational songs. We do key notes, we do talks at conferences where we just give teachers and adults, a framework for how important it is to introduce these concepts in the school setting, and a lot of times I like to let the teachers know like we aren’t reinventing the wheel. School House Rock did it at a very high level.
We have people like Bill Nye that had music in his TV shows at a very high level. I’d just like to say we’re just a chrome rim on the wheel. We just made it shiny, made it appealing to the kids today and that’s what we do. We pretty much provide a supplement for our teachers to use in the classroom. We’re not a replacement for good teaching or anything like that. We’re something, we’re like a tool you can pull out of the toolbox and use as needed.
Christopher: One thing I was curious about and you and I touched on before we hit record, which was that teaching kids songwriting and actually having the kids create music is becoming part of what you do as well. I think that was in the context of your healthy living work. Could you talk about that a bit?
Mr. Q-U-E: Yeah definitely, the songwriting component is important especially when it comes to this new program that we’re doing, just getting students to understand the hazards of tobacco usage, just smoking, vaping is very popular now, and it’s marketed as a healthy alternative to smoking. So what we’re doing is, we’re taking our skillset as teachers and songwriters and we’re gonna go into schools and take those student leaders, show them how to write songs, and perform them for their peers or get their peers to write songs. Because sometimes, the peer to peer interactions are stronger than the adult to student interactions.
So we’re just trying to take everything that we do, teach it to the kids and let them led each other. Because peer pressure is way stronger than adult advice sometimes. So we just wanna give our student leaders the tools they need to be able to pull their peers in the right direction.
So that’s what we’re doing with the TUPE, Tobacco Use and Prevention. Our songwriting in general covers like that same dichotomy where we just want the students to become the leaders and do what we’re doing so it’s not always like an adult telling you what to do, it’s your friends trying to pull you in the right direction.
Christopher: That’s fascinating, and I think it comes back a little bit to what you were saying in the context of your own story, which is the impact your friends words, whether positive or negative can have on you.
Mr. Q-U-E: Definitely.
Christopher: To be able to empower those students to create their own music, share it with their friends and have a positive impact with it is a huge thing.
Mr. Q-U-E: Yes sir, I like the fact that we’re able to go and get students to be competent enough to go from I’ve never written a song to okay, I will go perform this song in front of my peers, and to see the peers respond to it so positively, I feel like our songwriting and our training component of Music Notes is gonna be really big for us moving forward. Especially once I’m just too old and wrinkly to be on stage for the kids. It’s good to know we have something in place where this can keep moving forward.
Christopher: Do you ever find kids struggle with the music side of it. I ask because a lot of the work we do at Musical You is about helping people see that they can be musical after all. With us that mostly is with adults, but there’s such phenomenon of kids being discouraged early in music, feeling like they’re not musical. I’m just really interested to know how you guys have experienced that in terms of trying to reach the kids through music and going even further as you just talked about and trying to get the kids making music. What’s your experience about them?
Mr. Q-U-E: It’s been very interesting, getting students to make music is harder than I thought it would be initially. I thought it would be way easier, but once we got started I realized, everyone isn’t a songwriter. So we really had to dig into our teaching bag to put scaffolds in place for students to actually be songwriters. Whether it’s by sentence frames, where we’re starting off rhymes for them. Whether it’s a list of rhyming words that relate to the specific content that we’re focused on.
If it’s sitting with them for hours at a time and helping them streamline their thoughts, maybe graphic organizers that we’ve created that helps them organize their thoughts so that they can put it into a song. Initially I thought it would just be come, sit with them and they’re gonna start rapping. I realize that is just another level of teaching where we have to meet every student in their learning space, visual learners, physical learners and everything in between.
So it’s definitely a process, but we’re getting better at it year after year. We’re finding new things that are working with different types of students.
Christopher: I love that and for a moment I thought you were gonna say, I realize not everyone is a songwriter, so now with some kids we just give them the maracas and we put them at the back and they shake them [inaudible 00:40:56]
But no as a teacher of course you saw that as an opportunity to get everyone writing songs. You just needed to find the way to do it and the tools to give them the stepping stones they heed needed.
That’s awesome, and you mentioned something in passing there that reminds me I was reading on your website about the Power of Movement, and I wanna be respectful or your time, so I’ll make this my last question. But given that we’ve talked about the power of music and what makes it effective for teaching. Can you just talk a little bit about that, the movement aspect a bit and how you make use of that or how you make use of that or how you see it being effective in your work.
Mr. Q-U-E: Yeah, movement allows for you to teach to the whole student. We have this epidemic right now in schools of ADHD. So we have to just get our students up and moving just as a management, classroom management. If students were sitting the whole time, your class is going to flop.
So that’s on a management side, now on the actual teaching side, I forget the actual language and the context that I was taught this framework, it’s called Total Physical Response, which is getting students up out of their seats, getting them moving and get them to respond to content they were moving. So for example, if I’m teaching multiplication. Every time I say multiplication, I’ll do this. Then the kids do this too, now they’re associating this x with the multiplication symbol, that’s like for third graders are seeing this symbol for the first time.
So multiply, everybody said multiply. They do it, they remember it. Divide, this is the division symbol, so they’ll know divide. That movement just to give students something to hold on to, especially the ones that need movement in their classroom. It gives them their brain actually stimulus to latch onto the content.
Christopher: I see that’s fascinating. We’ve been saying this a little bit recently at Musical You. We’re doing a new course that uses the [inaudible 00:43:03] approach, and there’s a lot of hand signs for different pictures. We really see some students are super into it. They’re like finally, I get this, it makes sense. Others are like, I cannot coordinate my body and enjoy this. This is not helping me.
I definitely hear what you’re saying involving the body and not just the mind does make for much more engaged learning right, whatever age you are I think.
Mr. Q-U-E: You guys need to teach a [inaudible 00:43:29], ’cause that’s like a big part of teaching and understanding like those different tools are gonna work with different types of earnings. So kudos to y’all.
Christopher: Tremendous, I so enjoyed having the chance to talk with you LaMar, and like I said at the beginning, it’s just been a blast watching your videos online and getting a sense of what you’re up to at Music Notes. What’s coming next for you guys, what are the big projects for 2019?
Mr. Q-U-E: So 2019, the biggest thing is our work with the LA County Office of Ed., that’s number one.
Christopher: And that’s the tobacco usage.
Mr. Q-U-E: Yeah that’s the Tobacco Use Prevention Education. TUPE for short, so that’s the big thing and then, we also have a good tour that we ‘re gonna be doing. Every year we’ve been going to Texas and Louisiana tour. So it’s two week long tour where we hit a school every day, sometime two schools a day in the Texas-Louisiana area. So those are gonna be our two biggest moves for the second semester, so we’re excited.
Christopher: Amazing, well thank you so much for joining us on the show. If anyone’s been enjoying hearing about this and wants to see the videos, head to MusicNotesonline.com.
Yeah, just wishing you every success in the year ahead and the years ahead because I think the work you’re doing is tremendous.
Mr. Q-U-E: Man Chris thank you so much, you all keep it up and so glad to be on the platform, thank you.
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