Tallahassee School of Math and Science opened its doors to Leon County children two years ago. As a charter school serving nearly 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, the curricula places special emphasis on “STEM” subject areas which include science, technology, engineering, and math. The fact that these students’ education includes music may come as a surprise, though to Melissa Carlson, it makes perfect sense.
“In my class, we talk about things like rhythm and fractions. We talk about the science of sound and sound waves. A lot of musicians are really good at math and it’s because it goes hand in hand.” Carlson has been teaching music at TSMS since it opened and has “built the program from the ground up.”
Through the classes that Carlson has developed, her students discover how music works and they develop fluency in music notation. They also explore the historic and social significance of American and world music, learning songs from different cultures and time periods. Carlson believes in the importance of music creation and performance but that part of her teaching has been a challenge until now.
“All of the instruments, every single one of them, we were able to get because of the COCA Arts in Education grant. We still have some things that we haven’t even used yet like xylophones, but that’s coming.” This funding from the Council on Culture & Arts has allowed Carlson to purchase classroom sets of Orff instruments like glockenspiels, as well as rhythm and percussion instruments including tambourines, triangles, and boomwhackers, which are lightweight, hollow tubes that are tuned to different pitches by length.
Students have been using the new instruments for the past several months and the second-graders have especially enjoyed the opportunity to work with them. Clara Mitchell’s favorite is the triangle. “I like how it’s really simple so everybody can do it. It’s high pitched and it’s good to play in a band because people can hear it from a long way away.” Clara also loves singing and she believes that music allows her to be more like herself. “I get confidence out of it and it helps me put myself out there. It helps me know that whatever I do, I can always depend on music.”
Clara’s classmate Ava Badia agrees and admits that though she’s a little shy, “music helps me be able to speak up louder than I normally do.” Ava explained how she used the new boomwhackers. “They help us to keep a rhythm and a beat.” When reflecting on the difference between the two, she explained that “beat is a steady tempo and rhythm can change with the notes.” These musical elements are closely linked and the nuance between them can be difficult to distinguish, especially for second-graders.
Clearly, Carlson’s instruction is finding an eager audience and her 12 years of teaching experience allows her to present content in a way that students like Enrique Harris look forward to. “I feel pretty good about music class, it’s one of my favorites,” he said. “The thing is, Mrs. Carlson makes learning about music fun.” It’s fun for her too and she devotes almost all of her spare time to performing and giving private lessons on violin, viola, piano, guitar, bass guitar, ukulele, and voice through her business called Strings Attached Music.