“Yo homes, It’s gotta be the algorithm!”

I don’t think anyone ever said that.  

But, I do know Spike Lee’s character Mars Blackmon said something similar about shoes.

Spike Lee’s fictional character Mars Blackmon from his film She’s Gotta Have It.

We have seen an explosion in the use of this word, mostly related to computers and technology.

So what is an algorithm?

Here’s what my Apple Dictionary says,

A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer: a basic algorithm for division.

Even though it’s usually associated with math, it’s really just a set of rules or steps to accomplish something.  It’s a recipe.  

(Here’s a kid-friendly video about algorithms from Khan Academy)

We don’t normally say we have a great algorithm for fried chicken, but it’s the same thing.

In the last few years, I’ve been codifying my thinking and principles as applied to teaching young children music.  I’ve realized that it’s basically creating an algorithm.

An algorithm to transfer knowledge about music and life skills to children – in a simple, intuitive and fun way.  And it’s continuously being refined.

The 7 Core Principles of the Musicolor Method® provoke a new mindset for thinking about each and every student and their lesson plans.  

But learning these principles and consistently practicing and applying them is where it gets tough.  As with learning an instrument, a language, cooking, anything, we need to practice.  

One of the simplest and most effective tools of practice is a humble checklist.

As a music teacher, you probably give your students a list of things to work on after the lesson.  For some, it’s a Post-It note with a short checklist.  Others use an entire notebook dedicated to this.  Or an email after the lesson spells out what to focus and work on.

As educators, we too can apply the use of a checklist to improving the practice of teaching.


Last year, I read a short fascinating book called The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. The Checklist Manifesto

Gawande is a medical doctor who brought the idea of using a checklist into hospital emergency rooms.  Even though doctors are some of the most highly trained professionals in the world, they are human.  And humans are fallible.  

We’ve all heard stories of surgeries ending badly with tools left inside the patient.  It’s not because surgeons were untrained or inexperienced.  It’s usually they forgot to follow a step in the process.  They didn’t follow the algorithm.

The book reveals his research of the development of checklists across many industries.  I never realized how complicated it is to organize building a skyscraper in New York City with multiple teams!

Today, checklists are being used in medicine, pharmaceuticals, science, engineering, financial markets, on battlefields and more.  Of course, your shopping list and todo list are prime examples.

Gawande also discusses the principles behind designing an effective checklist.  It requires deep thought and multiple iterations and revisions to discover the best version.  How much to include?  How much to leave out?  How to graphically represent it?

I’ve recently created a first iteration checklist for my own music teachers at Park Slope Music Lessons as well as the teaching fellows in the Musicolor Masterclass.  I’m sure it will change over time.  So I would like to offer it to you too.  I would appreciate your feedback after you’ve tried using it for a few days or weeks.  

I believe music education is ripe for new thinking and hopefully, a simple checklist can spark some useful results.   I’ll also send you some useful ideas about curriculum, frameworks and more via email.  

Download your checklist here.

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