From the archives: 10 things I loved about teaching music back in July 2012

This article was originally published on my classroom blog mrsgowersclasses here.

At the time, way before platforms like Google Classroom, Show My Homework, Seesaw etc. became widely available, I had started to look at different ways to give students immediate access to recordings of their work and the opportunity to comment and reflect on what they were doing.

I used this form of ‘student voice’ as evidence for SLT work scrutiny and to try to keep the increasing demands for evidencing ‘making progress’ as practical, relevant and musical as possible.

But ultimately this was about creating a deeper understanding of what individuals were thinking about their learning to help me offer more targeted and useful support during the madness of a typical music lesson at my school.

With students spread in groups across any available space we could find, my challenge was in doing my best to ensure that they all had the opportunity to make the best use of the time, resources and spaces available to them.

This article is comprised of quotes from students in years 7, 8 and 9, taken from the various forms of online feedback and reflection that we were using at the time (please note that typos are theirs and not mine!)

As I was very much involved with bring much of the emerging and developing Musical Futures pedagogies to life in my classroom, I was also trying to stay true to Lucy Green’s 5 principles of informal learning across all my teaching (LINK HERE and more information HERE) and the original title of the post referred to that. However I think the 10 themes that emerged from the student feedback are relevant no matter how music is taught or learned in the classroom.

With many of the links to the original work no longer live, I have left number 10, “We are creating musicians”, blank. The fantastic piece of writing that one of the year 9s created that I chose for number 10 was lost forever when the platform it was held on was ‘retired’.

So perhaps teachers in music classrooms in 2019 can fill in some related quotes from their students for that one.

It would be good to collect more evidence that keeping music learning musical remains a focus in schools across the world. Perhaps this is much needed in times where justifying a Music Education for all students is becoming increasingly important.

You can read more about the background and history of Musical Futures here


Original Title: Why I love my classes: 10 reasons to try Musical Futures in your teaching – Anna Gower, July 2012

1. They know how they are making progress:

“Last weeks lesson for our cover song project went very well. We all are making progress. The singing part is going really well and I think we could maybe even add some harmony parts in the chorus. The drummer part is good, we know what we are doing we just need to put it together. I think that everyone is working hard and at the end it will be amazing”

“In our last lesson we carried on learning how to play our chosen instruments and the track ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson. I’m playing ukulele and the notes I have to play are E D and C. It’s quite hard to play but when you get the hang of it it’s quite easy as you get used to the places where your fingers go”

“Last lesson, we carried on coming up with how we are going to play our instruments. We learnt how to play more notes in the song, my group and I have decided to play. The song has been easier to play each week. We improved our rhythm and timing in our last lesson”

2. They are having fun

“The lesson today was one of my favourite lessons so far. This was because we are doing our cover songs and we have actions and drama in our piece as the song is ‘Loser Like Me’ by Glee.It was a shame we didn’t get to show it at the end though as we were really looking forward to it. There’s always next week though!” 

“Todays lesson was really fun. We were again like last week working on our cover songs and my group is doing great”

“In last weeks lesson I was improving my keyboard skills by practising our groups band song that we will record next lesson. I had lots of fun because I enjoy music and how we do practicals every lesson:’)”

3. They understand how their part contributes to the piece as a whole:

“We are just finishing learning the words and we are adding harmonies. I am doing the lowest harmony all on my own because I have quite a loud and strong voice so I can project louder”

4. They are problem solving:

“This week was hard to start off with because we had technical difficulties with plugging the bass into an amp, but after that it was coming along really well. I love it”

“Today in music we practiced our version of ‘Beat It’ by Michael Jackson. Megan and Chloe practiced their bit on the piano that they had learnt. I practiced my part that fits in between the breaks in their parts on the acoustic guitar. I also learnt most of the song over the half term, so I could sing it with Chloe or Megan maybe. Adam practiced on some drums but they weren’t the same ones that we used last lesson as we were not in the same room due to an exam. Becky wasn’t in, so it was quite hard to practice it all together, but we all know what we are doing and hopefully next week we can properly practice it all together in A47”

5. They know how to improve:

“In my last music lesson my class practised again in our bands. In my group we played the whole piece all together for the first time but it was a bit simple. Miss Gower helped me make my piece on the piano more advanced so I now also play the chords as well. As I had only just been taught the chords, when it came to recording time our performance wasnt very good. I should have been playing slower, the singing needed to be louder and we needed a more steady drum beat. Hopefully when we come to record our piece next lesson it will be a lot better and we will get high levels”

“I thought that today went quite well. We got loads of practice and made barely any mistakes. I think that we need to work on our timing because when we were singing we didn’t know when to come in. We are also not in time with the piano. We could improve it by having the backing track and counting how many beats there are before we have to come in”

“I had played the drummer of the band, with Luke, Hannah and Maia. We have finally sorted out our parts and who is playing what instrument. The main structure of the song is going well as on the first week, we couldn’t find a suitable rhythm/beat to go with it. In the future we will add, once all of the song is completed, some improvisation parts to make it better. The lesson was productive”

“Lately we have been working on our Michael Jackson project. We had to perform “Beat It”. I played the piano with Charlie. It sounded quite good but there is definitely room for improvement on the timing and mastering our separate pieces. The drums, Louis, keep the timing well and it is everyone else, including me, that needs to keep up. A way of improving would be to slow Louis down and let everyone get in time and then speed up”

“In yesterday’s lesson we carried on working on our piece; I carried on with the keyboard part which is fairly easy. After practicing a few times the part got easier and I’m slowly managing to put the two hands together”

6. It challenges them:

“Today we were learning how to play along to beat it by Michael Jackson I was playing the key board. I found it easy to find the right notes I found it hard to play the notes fast and not get mixed up”

7. They want to do well:

“In our last music lesson we got quite a lot done because my group went at break to set up so we had the lesson time to focus on the work. The lesson went well, it did take a while to set up the bass and I couldn’t find one that worked however that did mean I could focus on learning my words and singing along with the riff on the keyboard. We didn’t have a backing CD which could be seen as a downfall however I think it helped us because it meant we could hear ourselves really easily and we could work on things more and improve anything that didn’t quite sound right. Chloe is doing a really good job learning the guitar part and so is Phoebe on the keyboard. Amy is a natural drummer however if something does go wrong just carry on instead of stopping the whole piece. Overall I think our group works really well together and what we are all playing sounds good and we could make it very good if we have time. I am enjoying what we are doing in music at the moment”

“This lesson in music I learnt my part on the keyboard. I found it difficult to understand the notes and play my piece of music in time. But towards the end of the lesson I had learnt my part. Our group decided to stay for 10 mins after to practice as a group and it sounded really good! I am pleased with my work that lesson”

“In this weeks lesson we practiced our ‘Beat It’ performance. There are four people in my group: Me, Rachel, Phoebe and Amy and between us we are (slowly) forming the song! Our last performance of Pachelbel’s canon went really well, so we are all quite confident. I am playing guitar, which is a new instrument for me, and so far I am really enjoying it even though I have already gained a blister on my thumb! So far, I can play an E major, D and C but I am struggling to keep in time with everyone else as the song is quite fast. I am really enjoying this unit so far and I cant wait to hear the final performance!”

“In the lesson, I was play this drums, I wasn’t sure who beat to play, but by the end of the lesson, I think I may have worked the beat out”

8. They help each other:
“In music today I played the drums. I was practicing for the Michael Jackson song. I was doing really well but I need more practice so I can get really good at it. Mitchell needs more practice but I will help him with the keyboards.I am on the drums as usual as it is my favourite instrument to play”
“Our group has potential but still needs to work hard at it to get the mark we want. I think I know my part on the drums so I am going round to help people with theirs parts that they are struggling with. However I hope our performance is good as we have put a lot of effort in to song!!”

9. They make me smile

“On the 11th June we began preparation for a recreation of Michael Jacksons Beat It. The power drumkit was used to regenerate the style of the music into the 21st century”

10. We are creating musicians …

Music for everyone? Absolutely.

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In my last blog post I wrote about my visit to my old school, Monks Walk to see how AS students were getting on with exploring some of the Trinity Rock and Pop Session Skills resources in their lessons this term.

This was my second visit to my old school this term, having left the classroom in July 2015, and in both visits I have been really interested to see what has happened to the students who have now come through informal musical experiences in class all the way from Year 7 to A level.

Monks Walk was a pilot school for the original Musical Futures Herts Pathfinder Project which looked at informal learning in the classroom back in 2004 and I was lucky enough be one of the first teachers to work with Lucy Green and the Herts Music Service to be part of the initial research that now underpins Musical Futures as we know it.

One of the biggest challenges for teachers adopting informal music learning into the classroom is about how they can synergise these approaches with the demands of a more formal music exams system.

On my previous visit to Monks Walk, I led a practical workshop for local primary teachers in my old classroom. It was so lovely to be back, to work in spaces I was familiar with and to catch up with students and staff to see how they were getting on.

Halfway through the first session, two year 13 students came in, picked up a bass and a uke and just started to play along with the group. Rachel is a violinist and Mark a bassoon player, both have come through the informal classroom approaches that Monks Walk staff embed into all teaching, both took GCSE music and are now in the A2 group in year 13. None of the adults spoke to them, they were caught up in the task and the challenge of having to perform with others they had only just met.

But Rachel and Mark listened and responded musically without any need for words. They didn’t talk to the group or to each other but what they played shaped and complimented the performance perfectly.

For me they absolutely epitomised what I had always aspired to for the students I taught and something that I had to really work hard at personally. As a notation-dependent classically trained musician I found it so difficult to pick up an instrument and jam. It was way out of my comfort zone and I froze at the thought of not having the dots there as my safety net. I didn’t feel like I was a very good musician, even though my qualifications and training suggested otherwise.

In addition to this I realised that I also really wanted the students I taught to value and be valued for their musicianship, whether that involved jamming on a bass guitar with a group of strangers or leading the school orchestra. I wanted them to feel that music is about being part of something, that having the confidence to enjoy it and not be afraid to put yourself out there is something valuable to take away from your music education.

Here are Mark and Rachel at the workshop. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared again. But they left me in no doubt that they will be back and that they will always have a musical voice that can and will be heard in the Monks Walk School music department.

 

Session skills at A Level: a fit or a miss?

 “Having the audio to play along with stops you stopping. With a backing track you have to keep going, just like in real life” Jennifer

I’ve just got back from a visit to Monks Walk School where this term, Head of Music Jennifer Rotchell, has been using the Trinity Rock and Pop Session Skills resources to teach year 12 who are following the new OCR specification for A Level Music.

The session skills are a choice between improvising or playback and each comes with an audio track and related notations for students and sample resources graded 1-8. In a Rock and Pop exam situation students are given some time to prepare then they play to the examiner. But could they also be relevant in the classroom?

At Monks Walk, a thriving music department built around access and inclusivity for all student, those who opt to take music beyond KS3 at Monks Walk are often informal learners used to learning by ear and playing together in class, as well as accessing more traditional forms of music learning where relevant. Jennifer wanted to see if the Session Skills resources might enable her to retain the practical “we learn as we play” approaches embedded lower down the school in lessons which the students are used to, whilst allowing them to access all aspects of what has traditionally been quite a notation and theory-based qualification.

The discussion today identified several ways in which Jennifer and her students felt that using the Session Skills had helped their learning so far:

  • Using the backing tracks for the Play Back component meant that students copied and internalised stylistic features that weren’t an obvious part of the score
  • Having to listen whilst performing helped with understanding the music and with score reading
  • Improvising  is a stepping stone to composing, for example the students explored breaking the music down into cells then how to develop them
  • The approaches could then link into the set works
  • These resources were a good way to keep learning musical at A level
  • The fact that the resources are linked to exam grades helped Jennifer to pitch the materials at the right level for the students, with the potential to progress as students became more confident with the skills and understanding gained

Jennifer will be updating recordings and video of the students’ progress to her class blog and we look forward to hearing how they get on!

“It’s sight reading but not quite sight reading! You listen to it and play along”, Will

” It was quite difficult, I’ve never really done much of this before” Natasha