beats · teaching

On Beat


Yesterday students enrolled in my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Music and Young America” class visited Gorgas Library. The library is located here at the University of Alabama. They learned a bit more about sampling, or taking sounds from existing music, in order to create beats.

The visit provided a way for them to also become active learners as they digest information about postwar technology and postwar events including the arrival of the “teenager,” or a human being to which companies could market many products including music and clothing after the Second World War. Such marketing was due in part to a boom in economic prosperity for many, although not all, people.

I look forward to seeing how the students create their own beats as members of a production team. They will work in groups of two and keep journals along the way. What kinds of sounds will they create? I don’t know, but this could be fun.

Alex Hollinghead, our liaison at Sanford, permitted them to see how a beat in a popular song was created using GarageBand software. He also showed them how to isolate the instruments in Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam,” which has also received lots of attention in recent years.

I remain energized when I see young people create. My grandniece and grand nephew make videos of themselves on that make me laugh.

Family matters
My niece, Jasmine Andrews, is a student at CUNY. She has two amazing children, who keep me in stitches with their use of an app that permits them to make videos.

My sister’s daughter is also tech savvy. She helped me in ways for which I will always be grateful on the soon-to-be-released “The Grant Green” documentary. A critical question she asked last spring changed the tone of the film, in fact. Her training in technology and understanding of consumption is deeply appreciated.

I stand in wonder at their love for new approaches to learning and enjoying many things including music. This is from someone who, like Erykah Badu, remains an analog girl in a digital world. I am not alone.

Kandice Hill, recent graduate of Florida A & M University, is my other niece. Her technology skills are amazing, too. She works for Gannett.

Yesterday a young man in my “American Civilization to 1865” course asked me if he could use violin solos to narrate “American Civilization” before the Civil War. This was an alternative to simply choosing lyrics from a popular song. His request was his way of asking for more direction on this course’s mix tape playlist essay assignment. In that assignment, students must create a playlist and write an essay narrating a theme related to course content.

The energy seen in this course inspires, too. One student emailed after class to say he wanted to focus on oppression. I said, “go for it.”


All this as some of them earlier timidly raised their hands in class as a way of saying they felt overwhelmed in these early days of the semester.  This is a class filled with many freshmen who are away from home for the first time. I told them I was lucky to have my grandparents just two miles away when I was a freshman at the University of Miami in the 1980s.

I take pride in being mindful of the many pressures on young people especially in today’s climate. It doesn’t mean I go easy on them, but I do believe their are many pathways to  obtaining knowledge. I especially believe music can help many people get through the day.


Meanwhile, positive thoughts for all who are still enduring bad weather. I have heard of Hurricane Irma and have texted my family in Florida. May we all stay safe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s