Will you appear in the “blooper reel”?

I was recently listening to an interview that Marc Maron had with the actor Timothy Olyphant on his podcast “WTF” and caught a terrific soundbite that I thought was fantastically insightful.

He was describing a realization he had about learning a tell-tale sign that the work he was doing was both high in quality and personally fulfilling. When things were particularly good at a gig, he found that he was able to relax into his work, be present in the moment, be responsive to those around him, and be able to not take himself too seriously

…and when that happened, he would often find himself showing up in the out-takes collections that were curated for fun by the film’s production team.

In other words, working was best when he was inspired enough to enjoy spending focused time with the people around him, loose enough to improvise, and unpretentious enough to be ok with making mistakes. When that happened he’d show up in what amounts to the “blooper reel of a movie” – laughing, ad-libbing or, more generally, playing. In contrast, he noticed that when he didn’t appear in the out-takes, his work tended to be stiff and the experience was less fulfilling.

I think there’s a neat lesson to take away from that realization… …perhaps it’s a nice way to think about maintaining a flexible and responsive attitude when teaching music?

Or to put it another way – are you taking the time and maintaining the presence of mind to enjoy where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing?


Sometimes it can help to know that others experience it too.

Why this post and why now…

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that it can be valuable for those who are struggling personally to learn that others struggle too. In that spirit, I’m writing this short post to share a bit of personal information with the hope that it might help someone in some small way. This is something I’ve thought about expressing publicly for some time, and now, due to a tragedy in our community, I’ve realized that the stakes are just too high to avoid opportunities to act in ways that could help people feel less alone.

A bit about me…

In short, I am always managing my mental health. Many years ago, I was diagnosed with severely debilitating anxiety and depression and I have wrestled with the maintenance necessary to keep these issues under control for just about my entire adult life.

I know that my challenges are not unique but – since I am not a health professional – I don’t assume to know the answers to anyone’s mental health problems. Nor do I believe that what happens to be helpful for me will necessarily be helpful for everyone else. However, I also know that many people who do things like the things I do in music/academia and/or who have passions/goals similar to those that I have also deal with these sorts of challenges. As such, I thought it could be helpful for others to simply know they’re not alone.

A bit of what I’ve learned…

I’ve learned that working with a trusted cognitive behavioral therapist and finding the right sorts of medications can help me to find a kind of balance, from which I can begin to dig myself out of holes and develop strategies and tools for dealing with my personal challenges.

Some years are better than others, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be entirely rid of the challenges I experience. I’ve learned to be OK with that. I don’t always feel good and it’s rarely easy to get through the rough patches that periodically come around. This is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. I have learned to have patience and try to be kind with myself as well as to have faith in my ability to do the things I need to do and seek the help I need to get unstuck.

A bit about why I work at it…

It’s important for me to devote energy to being the person I want to be…

  • a present partner, father, and friend
  • a positive influence on my children
  • a contributor to my community
  • a contributor to my profession
  • someone who is comfortable in their own skin

Why I Love the Great British Baking Show: A Quasi-Diversion from Music Education

I’ve been watching a lot of the Great British Baking Show lately, so much so that I’ve even been trying my hand at making some treats of my own for the first time (i.e., the pic of my proudest macaron below). It’s been fun to try and develop a new hobby in the blips of free time available this Fall semester. Beyond the potentially delicious outcomes, I can’t help but think about why I seem to like the show so much and why I so easily fell into a habit of what probably amounts to “binge watching” it.

One reason that seems fairly obvious to me is that watching the show and spending time on baking has been a nice respite from what amounts to “the daily news”. On the surface, the general emotional calm of the show is appealing when juxtaposed with the chaos of so much else happening in the world from moment to moment. Overall, I appreciate how the producers portray the humanity of the participants and the drama of the contest with what feels like a sense of sincerity. They do this without resorting to too much of the topsy-turvy camera work, canned conflict, yelling, and insane overhyping that is present in most other reality shows.

Also – for better or worse – I know that, personally, I can be persuaded to indulge in escapist behaviors (e.g., my love of all things sci-fi… books, TV, movies…), and watching TV certainly fits that bill. There are undoubtedly lots of great reasons for enjoying the show. After all, it’s a popular show and I’m definitely not the only one who has been transfixed by it. But, when I think about it for a bit, I believe there are probably some music education-related analogies “baked” in to my attraction to the show that might be interesting to consider. As a result, I wrote this post to try and extract some professional lessons that perhaps could be gained from the time I spent escaping with the Brits into their baking tent…

Why do they do it?

Considering the motivation of the folks who participate in this show is fascinating. The participants appear to do what they do for what in education we would probably consider to be “ideal” motivational reasons. Nearly every baker stresses the importance of two things (1) the intrinsic joy of their work and (2) how it benefits some broader community. They bake because they want to feed their family and friends nice things and because they find it satisfying and exciting to expand their skill and develop a “signature” style replete with personal choices for flavors and techniques. While they’ll usually express a desire to “win”, when they talk about winning or losing, they typically describe an appreciation for getting recognition that their work results in good food or a regret that they didn’t live up to a personal standard, respectively. Their motivational dispositions rarely if ever lead them to focus on comparative standards. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the prize is a glass plate… …not money, some exotic trip, or a business deal, etc. Beyond that, the silly glass plate is eventually bestowed amidst a large family gathering where all the bakers from the whole season return and celebrate each other’s work. Ultimately, their motive seems to rest largely on personal development and being a contributor to their community of family, friends, and fellow bakers.

In my view, this seems to be a pretty ideal model for some of the ways a music educator could be energized to develop as a professional and do good work with their students and communities. 

How do they get along?

The collegiality expressed among the bakers is equally fascinating. In fact, there seems to be an inherent lesson apparent in the make-up of the participant pools themselves. The groups of bakers who are gathered for any particular season seem to be purposively designed to be quite diverse in regard to a number of compelling characteristics. At the risk of making too much of a TV show, I think it can be inspiring to see how their diversity appears in their work and – more importantly – the consistent expression of acknowledgment, appreciation, and respect they have for their differences. In regard to more mundane matters of week-to-week baking, the participants seem not to possess any real sense of a “cut-throat” competitive urge. While they all clearly want to do their best, there are almost no instances in which the bakers appear to be working in a “for me to win, you must lose” mindset. In contrast, most episodes show examples of how bakers help each other. It’s pretty common to see those who have finished their work helping the others who are in danger of running out of time for any given challenge. Ultimately, they are more often depicted celebrating their triumphs together and empathizing with each other when things don’t go well.

Again, this seems to be a great model for how teams of music educators could come together and work through kindness for the mutual benefit and gain of all.

Well, if you read all this – thanks for indulging with me in this escape. If you feel like sharing, I’d be curious to know your take on these simple metaphors. If you haven’t seen it, check out the show, I think it’s a pretty cool diversion.

Teaching Kids to Teach Themselves

DiBenedetto book coverI’m happy to share that a chapter I’ve been working on with some terrific colleagues has recently been published in the book Connecting Self-regulated Learning and Performance with Instruction Across High School Content Areas. The book is relatively unique in that it is devoted entirely to building bridges between learning theory and specific, actionable teaching ideas. Each chapter examines how applying self-regulated learning theory can enhance student engagement and achievement in a specific content area (i.e., English language arts, natural and physical sciences, social studies, mathematics, foreign language, art, music, health, and physical education). Moreover, each chapter is authored by a team that includes scholars and expert practitioners.This chapter is a special collaboration for me as it was an opportunity to work with three amazing music teachers and scholars – Gary McPherson, Amanda Herceg, and Kim Meider.

In straightforward terms, to be self-regulated is to be able to actively manage the motivational (goals, drive, emotions), cognitive (thoughts, reactions), and behavioral (tactics, strategies) aspects of your learning process.

Our chapter includes lesson plans and supplemental materials for middle school and high school instrumental music, followed by detailed descriptions of the purposes of the activities in each plan, and then a section on how the pedagogy reflects the basic elements of self-regulated learning theory. Herceg’s plan for middle school instrumental music is especially helpful for helping students who are just beginning to grasp what it means to be independent learners to develop skills related to error detection, learning strategy choice and application, and self-reflection. Mieder’s plan, aimed at more advanced high school musicians, is particularly useful for helping students become more aware of relatively covert, metacognitive elements of self-regulated learning such as approaching practice with intentionality, maintaining concentration, making good decision, and cultivating a positive motivational disposition.

Here is a full citation of our chapter, let me know if you like to read it:

Miksza, P., McPherson, G. E., Herceg, A. M., & Meider, K. (2018). Developing self-regulated musicians. In M. DiBenedetto (Ed.), Connecting self-regulated learning and performance with instruction across high school content areas (pp. 323-348). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Other writing:

There are many writings devoted to describing what self-regulated learning entails and how it is relevant to music education. I’ve listed some below if you’d like to read more into the topic.

Beginning learners:

Intermediate learners:

Advanced learners:

A general analysis of the theory and its relation to music learning:

  • McPherson, G. E., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2011). Self-regulation of musical learning: A social cognitive perspective on developing performance skills. In R. Colwell & P. Webster (Eds.), MENC handbook of research on music learning: Vol. 2. Applications (pp. 130–175). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Visualizing oneway ANOVA

I spent a little while over this winter break expanding upon how I might use Shiny to help demonstrate and familiarize students with statistical concepts in music education research methods courses. In general, it seems to me that clear explanations are needed, practice examples are good, but “live” manipulable demos are really, really great.

I built an app that allows students to visualize and manipulate a hypothetical experimental scenario so that they can see how the oneway ANOVA procedure partitions variation into “group (i.e., model)” and “residual” sources or more colloquially, “between” and “within” group sources. The plot at the top shows stripcharts of three groups of hypothetical experimental participants in blue, and a single stripchart of all of the hypothetical participants at once in red. Below the strip chart are controls for manipulating the data.

Students can play with the means of three groups and watch the between sums of squares go up and down. When students manipulate the standard deviations of the groups, they’ll see the within sums of squares go up and down. The numbers corresponding to the between, within, and total sums of squares appear reactively in the sub-title of the plot on top.

Below the controls are (a) a corresponding ANOVA table that updates reactively with each change the student makes and (b) a density plot to depict the overlap among the groups a bit more clearly.

This app is similar in design to “this ANOVA handout” I use in my courses.

Click this link or the image below to access the app:



Let me know what you think if you have a moment or have any suggestions if you’d like to use this or something like it and I can be of help.



I’ve updated the previous “standard error of the mean” app I built to be cleaner and easier to use (see the previous post)

Vince Guaraldi’s Music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

A Festive Analysis

It’s the holiday season and catchy tunes are in the air! Vince Guaraldi’s score to A Charlie Brown Christmas stands out even among the many, many traditional favorites that appear on the radio these months.

Offered here is an analysis of the tracks from this album using the data provided by Spotify and the R package “spotifyR”. The variables that are involved in the analyses are labeled and described as follows (more info can be found by clicking here: Spotify Developer Page

  • “danceability”
    • How suitable the track is for dancing, based on tempo, rhythmic stability, beat strength, and regularity
  • “track popularity”
    • An accounting of how often the tracks are played (updated relatively often)
  • “tempo”
    • Estimated tempo in beats per minute (BPM)
  • “energy”
    • Perceptual measure of intensity and activity
  • “valence”
    • Degree of musical “positiveness” conveyed by a track


But Can You Dance To It?

The Peanuts kids dance a bit in the show, but what does spotify think about it?


Are the Tunes You Can Dance To More Popular?

Do people listen to the songs that are easier to dance to more than they do those that are harder to dance to?


What are the Emotional Signatures of the Tunes?

How do these tunes match up with common indicators of musical affect, valence (e.g., the degree of positiveness or negativeness present) and arousal (e.g., the amount of energy present)?


My First Data Visualization Toy

I made a toy!

I made a fun little web app for visualizing some interesting things about sampling distributions and the standard error of a mean (pictured below). The app allows you to change parameters with the sliders on the left to see how sample size and standard deviation affect the standard error of a mean — and how sampling distributions of the mean approach normality as the number of samples drawn from a population increases.

You can play with it at this link (or click the picture): 



I built this app in R

I’ve recently been enjoying learning about the possibilities that the free, open-source statistical computing and graphics language “R” offers. It’s an amazingly flexible platform for organizing, visualizing, and analyzing data. Working in R requires acquiring some fluency with basic programming language. However, there is an astounding amount of free learning resources available on the web in the form of websites, books, blogs, tutorials, etc. There are also great web-based courses (https://www.datacamp.com/) that often have free trials.

The program can be downloaded here:


Many recommend also using R Studio, a platform to help organize workflow when using R. The free version of R-Studio is what I use, and I’m fairly sure it has all that most of the folks in music education would likely every need.


More to the point… …R Studio has an integrated web app builder called “shiny“. Shiny makes building data visualization tools and web-based dashboards for exploring data fairly straight-forward. The apps that are produced with shiny are built in roughly the same type of code that is used to run analyses and make plots in R in general.


Why R?

Music ed research folks may wonder why use R instead of say, SPSS, or another commercial statistical package? Well, that could probably be a rather lengthy discussion of pros and cons. However, here’s a short list of some simple things that R is nice for:

  • It’s free and open-source with an immense community of users and developers which keeps it well-documented and up-to-date, as well as relevant to the needs of contemporary analysts.
  • The R community is very helpful. You could google almost any kind of problem you may be having and would be likely to find a few forums where people offer solutions.
  • It’s modular such that there is a package or more than a few packages to do any kind of data wrangling or analyses or plotting you’d ever want to do. For example, there was a point when I would toggle back and forth between SPSS, Stata, and Lisrel depending on what sorts of analyses I was doing. Now I can do it all in R.
  • The graphing capabilities are very impressive. It’s fairly easy to get nice-looking, presentation and/or publication ready figures and you can customize any aspect of a graph.
  • Organizing the coding for analyses with code in scripts allows you to create a very clear reproducible record of all of the work you do to arrive at your results in any given project. This saves lots of time in the long run and is good scientific practice in general.



The IU JSOM Music and Mind Lab: A Year in Review

Last year included the first full academic year of Music and Mind Lab meetings and activities at the IU Jacobs School of Music. I thought I’d post a quick note about some of the fun and exciting things we were able to do together as we begin looking forward to another productive year.

IU - MusicAndMind-Banner.jpg

Some quick background (visit the MaML Website)

The lab was overseen last year by co-directors Pete MikszaFrank Diaz (Dept. of Music Education) and Daphne Tan (Dept. of Music Theory). Dr. Tan will be shifting to a role of “collaborator” this year as she transitions to a new position at the University of Toronto – she will be sorely missed! The student lab members include undergraduates and graduate students from a variety of disciplines and academic specializations: music education, music theory, musicology, music performance, cognitive science, psychological and brain sciences, and telecommunications. Our goal is to produce original research that will contribute to a general understanding of the role of music in the human condition.

Recent events

Guest speakers and presentations featured heavily in our activities this past year along with sessions devoted to faculty and students’ research interests. We were fortunate to have some truly brilliant people join us and share their research. Last year’s special topics and guests included the following:

  • Musical improvisation as a way of knowing
    • Andrew Goldman, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University
  • Working as a lab in the cognitive humanities
    • Fritz Breithaupt, Professor of Germanic Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • Rhythm and movement
    • Justin London, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Music, Cognitive Science, and the Humanities, Carleton College
  • Music, empathy, and cultural understanding
    • Eric Clarke, Heather Professor of Music; Professorial Fellow, Wadham College, University of Oxford, UK
  • Music, trauma, and the Polyvagal Theory
    • Jacek Kolack, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington
  • The neuroscience of musical skill learning
    • Anna Kalinovsky, Assistant Research Scientist, Gill Center for Bimolecular Science, Indiana University, Bloomington
    • Grigory Kalinovsky, Professor of Music (Violin), Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington

Ongoing projects

Although just getting started, our lab group has been quite productive in generating projects with interdisciplinary connections throughout IU and completing research that has found its way into the world as conference presentations and journal articles. Our most recent project involves a collaboration between Drs. Tan, Diaz, and I on the topic of musical communication. We are investigating the nature of expressive vocal performance. Broadly speaking, we are studying the ways singers prepare and produce performances to be evocative of specific emotive intentions. We are also interested in how inducing a mindful state will impact their singing and, ultimately, how these performances will be received by listeners. We’ve collected a good deal of data and are excited about the potential for this project going forward.

How students are involved

Students can participate as investigators or contributors. Investigators typically come to the lab with some prior experience in empirical research and are expected to co-design, propose, and lead projects. Contributors primarily serve support roles. They are expected to participate in weekly meetings and discussions, and help to manage projects and collect data. Through their participation, contributors can gain the experience necessary to be investigators in future projects.


All in all, I’m happy to say the Music and Mind Lab provides an exciting intellectual space for those at Indiana University who are curious about intersections between their musical and scientific interests. I’m hopeful that this group will continue to grow and look forward to a productive ’17-’18 school year!

Take some time to learn about the Jacobs School of Music if you’re interested in joining us.

Music & Mind Emblem CROPPED

A SNAAP-Shot of the Career Landscape for Music Educators

I’m excited to report that a recent study I worked on with doctoral student, Lauren Hime, has been featured by the National Association for Music Education on their association blog. We investigated the employment status, job satisfaction, and financial status of music education program alumni using data from a nation-wide, multi-institutional survey of collegiate music program alumni conducted by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP).

The post highlights findings pertaining to (a) the time it takes to secure a position upon graduation, (b) job satisfaction, (c) whether music education alumni continue to perform while teaching, (d) the typical student loan debt incurred, and (e) reported salary ranges.

The blog post can be accessed at the link below:

A formal report of the research that is featured in the blog has been published in the journal, Arts Education Policy Review. The full report also includes data from alumni of music performance degrees and findings regarding all participants’ perceptions of their collegiate experience.

  • Miksza, P. & Hime, L. (2015). Undergraduate music program alumni’s career path, retrospective institutional satisfaction, and financial status. Arts Education Policy Review, 116, 176-188.