Berklee College of Music will educate tens of thousands of students for free this spring through Coursera, a company that collaborates with top universities to offer online courses at no cost.
Berklee professors are teaching four courses, including an introductory improvisation course taught by six-time Grammy winner Gary Burton. The other classes are introduction to guitar, introduction to music production, and songwriting.
Debbie Cavalier, vice president for online learning and continuing education at Berklee, said that a total of 79,000 students have signed up for the Berklee classes since they were posted on Sept. 19. Berklee has been offering online courses for the past ten years, and Cavalier said she thought partnering with Coursera would help to expand Berklee’s reach.
“I think it’s one of the solutions to the challenge of escalating costs of education,” Cavalier said of the online classes.
Prestigious universities such as Columbia University, Brown University, and Princeton University are starting to offer free online courses through Coursera. Other courses include a relationships class offered by Brown University, a Georgia Tech course on how to build robots, and the science behind cooking, which is taught out of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
In its mission statement, Coursera says that the company hopes to give “everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few.”
“We want to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in,” Coursera says in the statement.
Burton, who is considered to be one of the best vibraphone players in the world, is teaching his improvisation course for five-weeks. He will post videos of his lessons, and the students will peer-review each other’s work. Burton is known for inventing numerous techniques on the vibraphone, a musical instrument that is a member of the percussion family.
In a short film promoting Burton’s online course, musician Chick Corea says the best way to learn from Burton is by watching him play.
“When he picks the mallets up and he begins to play, there it is. That’s the lesson,” says Corea, an 18-time Grammy award winner who has collaborated with Burton.
Pat Metheny, a 19-time Grammy award-winning artist, says in the video that Burton has been a mentor for him.
“His whole course is really the opportunity of a lifetime for young musicians,” Metheny says. “This is a chance to learn from one of the greatest living improvisers.”
Cavalier said that the college has a longstanding history of offering classes to those outside of the Berklee community. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Berklee had a “correspondence course” in which students learned and communicated with their professor through the mail.
Burton, who was the executive vice president at Berklee for a number of years, took a Berklee correspondence course, she said. He is teaching this course because he believes that anyone should be able to learn how to play music.
“He’s of the mindset that you should provide music opportunities to people all over the world,” Cavalier said.
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