The Weill Music Institute’s digital music production workshops provided young people from across New York City with the opportunity to work side-by-side with professional musicians and producers from Carnegie Hall. Participants explored digital production techniques used in hip-hop, rap, and R&B. For this pilot series of workshops, Carnegie Hall partnered with Building Beats, an organization that develops and expands DJ/music programs to teach entrepreneurial, leadership, and life skills. Students received hands-on experience with creative software, laptops, tablets, microphones, and audio mixing consoles.
Teaching artists and admin teams from both Building Beats and Carnegie Hall worked together to develop the curriculum as well as overseeing the execution of the workshops. During the course of the project, both partners relied on one another’s specific strengths, encouraging collaboration and inter-organizational skill development. Building Beats utilized their current fellowship with Evaluate for Change to help develop the assessment work completed over the course of the project. Evaluate for Change provided the initial framework for pre- and post-workshop surveys used throughout the process.
Participants in these free workshops ranged from 14-19 years, many from the most under-resourced neighborhoods of NYC, including East New York, Brownsville, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and Melrose, Mott Haven, and East Concourse in the Bronx. Students participating in the workshops brought a range of musical experiences—some were accomplished young producers while others were creating music for the first time. Through a partnership with the New York City Department of Probation, the workshops integrated youth who are clients of the probation system.
The program received a high level of interest from students, exceeding its attendance goal, filling 19 seats per workshop on average and totaling 152 seats filled over the course of all eight sessions. 50% of students served attended at least half of the eight intensive workshops. 95% of students identified as Black, Hispanic, or Other (60% Black; 27.5% Hispanic; 7.5% other; 5% White [not of Hispanic descent]).
Project Implementation and Discovery
At the outset of the program, the following six student-growth objectives were identified:
- Musical Skills
- Musical Concepts
- Technological Skills
- Connected Learning
- Community Development / Brokering
Furthermore, the following five aspects of instructional methodology were outlined to serve as the pedagogical structure for the program:
- Challenging and Objective-Based Lesson Plans
- Respectful, Inclusive Classrooms
- Healthy Learning Environments
- Motivated, Inquisitive Students
- Continuous Improvement in Instructional Methodologies
In order to determine the program’s success, surveys were administered to both students and instructors, asking questions targeting these objectives. The survey questions were designed to provide quantifiable data that could be measured throughout the course of the program (for example, through use of the Likert scale, etc.). As a result, reviewing the data collected from these surveys provided a comprehensive understanding of the program’s highlights as well as those areas still in need of improvement.
Students encouragingly reported continuous improvements each week in terms of the outlined objectives in Musical Skills, Musical Concepts, Technological Skills, and Connected Learning. However, student growth was weaker than anticipated with relation to the objectives of Community Development / Brokering and Career-Orientation.
Instructors welcomed the opportunity to reflect on instructional methodologies, rather than showing aversion to their own self-assessment, requesting more structured time within the program to discuss ways to align their methodologies to a common vision in order to continue improving the program. However, students reported that they did not feel comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zones on their weekly self-reports. This data point served as one of the driving forces for modifying the format of the workshops. The hope was that by allowing students more creative time, they would feel more confident in the self-reporting activity. This method of adjusting to data-driven feedback was one of the highlights of the program. It demonstrates how student progress can be continually measured, and that a program can be quickly adjusted to address areas in need of improvement, allowing more of a focus on its proven strengths.
This project was an opportunity for Carnegie Hall to develop youth programming offered directly to students, in contrast to existing programs that operate through partnerships with schools and other agencies. With the opening of Carnegie Hall’s new Resnick Education Wing in the fall of 2014, the Weill Music Institute was able to invite students into the new space and explore how the wing could function as a site for youth programs outside of school hours. Carnegie Hall was also able to expand the musical genres offered in its education programs, with an emphasis on hip-hop and rap, as well as encouraging cross-genre collaborations. Carnegie Hall teaching artists who participated in the workshops were able to improve their skill level in using digital music production technology for creative work with students.
The project played a significant role in helping to expand Building Beats’s work with more advanced participants. The four-hour workshop sessions allowed for more time with those who were proactive and passionate about music-making. Participants had the opportunity to further develop their craft and work in a creative environment with more unbridled access to professional production equipment than was available in past Building Beats workshops. Building Beats was also thrilled to incorporate the more traditional music knowledge that Carnegie Hall’s teaching artists brought to the workshops. This provided an important bridge between digital production techniques and traditional musicianship for both Building Beats teaching artists and participants.
“I think it was for me, a great introduction to production … And I really enjoyed working in teams and learning from my peers as well as from the mentors, and I guess just expanding my musical ability.” –Lucy (Participant)
“I really enjoyed using the hardware, because at home when I’m producing or recording, I only have Logic on my Mac, and that’s all I can use. So I really liked getting to use the MPC, and the [synthesizers].” —Alayna (Participant)
“We all, when we’re making a beat, we have a goal, like point A or the finish line of how we want it to sound. But now working with the different perspectives of everybody, nobody has the same way of thinking, everybody has a different creative mindset, so everybody in this room has a different way of getting to that finish line. When we’re all working as a group, there’s been some leaders, other students, [so] we have to tap into each other’s thinking that we might not have been aware of. To see other people’s perspectives was really enlightening for me.” —Justin (Participant)
“What I learned from this program … was communicating more with people when it comes to music. The fact that everybody here works on music for themselves or whatever, that kinda inspired me to work with more people.” —Devonte (Participant)
During Week 3, students were asked how often they would practice on their own if the studio were open during their free time. 93% of students reported that they would attend at least once or multiple times per week. During the focus group, students were enthusiastic about the idea of attending the program during the summer or fall, and said that they had friends who would also be interested in attending.
Challenge and Resolution
The workshops were originally designed to include a lesson on a specific topic in music production, followed by creative time working in small groups to explore that topic. However, since students wanted more time to engage in creative work, the workshops were redesigned, eliminating the more traditional lessons and embedding creative challenges into the small groups, allowing participants to explore daily topics through hands-on work.
Providing each student with enough hands-on time with the Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and connected technology was also a challenge. The greater-than-anticipated attendance rates for the program, meant that often groups of several students would be at each DAW. As a response to this , the workshop was supplemented with creative apps on iPads to increase students’ hands-on engagement options.
The project was intended to serve teens, ages 13–19, with an emphasis on recruiting from some of the most under-resourced neighborhoods of NYC.
A detailed description of how the Digital Music Production Program utilized several tools to assess student progress.
A series of works created by student participants.
Photo documentation of program workshops and events.
Video documentation of workshops and events.