Welcome to Manor Music City

Manor has had a long tradition of high quality music education, but following a period of reflection during Covid-times when practical music making has not been possible in schools, it has created space to redesign how our subject works in the life of the school. This new model places musical experience and understanding at the heart of what we do and it creates a much broader opportunity for more students and their friends and families in our community to build a thriving musical culture together. 

Manor Music City Ethos/Intent

Every one of us has music built in. It comes as standard. Discovering how to use it, how to understand it, and beginning to explore what’s possible is a fundamental right. Every person should have that opportunity to unlock, explore and maximise their musical potential.

Music means a lot to people when they experience it. They find independence, confidence, curiosity, creativity and community. For many people, discovering music is life-changing.

Every moment of music making and discovery is an opportunity for encouragement and for development of understanding through listening and collaboration with others. Every person, (student, teacher, parent or other member of the community), should feel a valued part of MMC and it is the responsibility of the whole community to ensure this is the case. We celebrate new understanding or new achievement at every opportunity and create the most helpful support when it is needed. 

For some students and their families, music has such a positive impact on life, they would like to make music all the time. That can now be a reality. In fact, no matter the chosen level of involvement, Manor Music City is designed to support everyone. It represents our rich, vibrant and diverse community of musical interests and does not discriminate against individual tastes in music. 

Every member of the MMC community has the opportunity to grow in their musical understanding. Every member of the MMC community has the opportunity to experience live music performances. Every member of the MMC community has the opportunity to sing. Every member of the MMC community has the opportunity to learn to play their choice of musical instrument with a specialist tutor. Every student has the opportunity to design their own MMC experience. Students considering advanced studies in music are recommended to follow the MMC Masters pathway. (detailed below). 

In addition to our ‘free to all’ curriculum lessons and activities, the launch of MMC has given us the opportunity to develop a new additional suite of specialist activities. Our Manor Music City Plus (MMC+) activities are not compulsory. They provide opportunities to work with professional music leaders in a specific genre or specialist ensemble. Just as with our voice and instrumental tuition, there is a cost for MMC+ activities, which all run as after-school weekly twilight sessions. Funding is available to support students for whom these opportunities would be financially impossible. 

All Manor Music City tutors, teachers and leaders work together to help to maximise the growth of every aspect of our music community. All are ready to celebrate each student’s achievements. 

To create the ultimate support for each individual student, all stakeholders must be constantly communicating and looking for opportunities to build positive working relationships. The quality of the MMC experience is enriched by every person working together with a common purpose. 

Just by knowing what’s happening at MMC, every parent and carer is a vital part of our community. If you’d like to be involved more, we have ‘MMC Team’. 

MMC Team is open to all parents and staff and is a vital part in supporting the students at performances, events and concert trips. All team members must be DBS checked by Manor. The MMC Team members will receive tickets for events, workshops, concerts, an MMC T-Shirt, opportunity to experience MMC and be part of shaping the future of MMC. We will share the diary dates with the team at the earliest opportunity. From June 2021 please email us to let us know if you’re interested in this opportunity. 

Year 7/8

Every student in Year 7 and 8 studies our ‘Core’ programme. This helps all students to build on the musical knowledge and experience they have gained before arriving at Manor, and equips everybody to be able to engage in MMC activities. 

The ‘Core’ is an intensive course to ensure all students have confidence in describing music using the correct language, and they develop true understanding by experiencing and exploring practical music through a range of activities. All students learn to control their voices to create music. All students have the opportunity to own an iPad and when these are introduced after term 1, students are challenged to record, edit and mix a song, helping them to see how different musical parts work together. Students are challenged to develop critical listening skills and excellent production values even at this early stage. In the final term of year 7, students begin to analyse familiar melodies to learn how to read and perform music from notation and to experience examples of music by a range of composers in terms of tempo, rhythm, pitch, dynamics, articulation, timbre, melodic shape and purpose. 

Entering year 8, all students learn to play the piano using their built-in musical ability. They learn how to control pitch and rhythm to be able to perform accurately with a given pulse. Students are challenged to improvise and to compose variations based on a given melody. Students perform melody and harmony parts, separately and together. Students return to the analysis skills work from year 7 to consolidate that type of learning. They analyse a famous film melody involving more advanced melodic features, and then record and edit it to play perfectly using technology. The project is developed into a 6-part texture with contrasting sections to support a narrative. This is the students’ first experience of a Performance Via Technology (PvT), which is an option in the GCSE course. By this time, students must control more complexity in the texture of their music while continuing the excellent production values and musical accuracy. Finally, to end the ‘Core’, students produce music for a defined purpose, composing music to a given client brief for a new video game. 

By the end of the ‘Core’, students will understand how music works and be able to apply the knowledge independently to perform, to perform using technology and to compose short phrases with a specific purpose, having learned to read notation and to listen critically to a range of music. 

This intensive course covers the National Curriculum and is designed to be accessible to all students. Each unit includes an assessment with clearly defined outcomes to help students to see the progress in their learning. Outcomes range from Developing (D) to Mastering Plus (M+). Homework is not set in addition to the assessment projects, to encourage students to independently decide how to develop their musical learning. Many students choose to engage in additional work outside of lessons. Students can submit work or questions at any time using the Showbie App on the iPad and will receive direct feedback from their teacher at the earliest opportunity. Feedback at MMC is an ongoing dialogue between all stakeholders. Often this is given verbally in lessons, workshops or rehearsals, although Showbie is frequently used to document feedback as a written comment, voice note or video. 

MMC Learning Resources for All

From the ‘Core’ onwards, all students benefit from some unique resources designed for them. In addition, we are actively supporting other schools as part of our mission to provide free, high-quality music education for all.

Years 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11

Discovering Excellence in Music 

VIPs at Manor Music City are ‘Very Independent Persons’. Independence in any learning is the ultimate approach a student can discover. Independence comes when a student feels confident enough to ‘just have a go’, to not fear or be discouraged by a negative outcome, to ask thoughtful questions when needed, to reflect on their work and on feedback with a positive and proactive mindset, to be ambitious about the final product and to push themselves to constantly be working at a higher level. Any student can become a VIP in any MMC lesson or activity. When they demonstrate independence in their learning, this is both celebrated and rewarded by their teacher. 

Knowing how to learn is just as important as what is learned. To maximise their potential in music, students must be aware of how they are learning and how their skills are able to develop. At MMC, we challenge every student to ‘Opt-in’ to create their ultimate possible development. 

This is what it means to ‘Opt-in’ at MMC:

‘O’ is for Organisation. Students must choose to always be ready and on-time for every lesson, rehearsal and performance. This includes listening carefully and immediately when asked to do so. They should have the equipment they need, charged-up if appropriate, carrying a spare if required. They should always know where their instrument, iPad and music are and be ready to start at the beginning of every session. Repairs to iPads and Instruments are minimised when organisation is a priority of the student. 

‘P’ is for practise. Practise is exciting. It allows you to do things you couldn’t do before. It helps you to learn confidently. It helps you be proud of what you can do. Practise should be daily, little and often, 10 minutes per day as a starting point. For students learning to play an instrument or sing, this practise time will be focused on pieces being learned on their instrument and the practise is likely to be of the music set by a tutor. Students considering advanced study using technology should make the same approach using their iPad or other music technology. If at any point you’re not sure of how or what to do, ask your teacher. 

‘T’ is for technique. It is so important to think about the development of technique separately to practise as it needs its own focus, concentration and determination to maximise your potential. Talk to your specialist tutor to know how to approach this on your instrument, with your voice or using technology. Technique is not just how you play your instrument. It also relates to your breathing, your posture and your understanding of music theory. Having greater control of all of these helps you to be calmer as you perform and able to add more detail to your performance. All of these skills will also help you to prepare for other aspects of your life including public speaking and job interviews.

All of these things are very relevant to the VIPs concept and students are inspired by what they’re able to achieve, even in a very short period of time. The ‘Opt-in’ challenge is very much a choice for every student. The difference between young musicians who ‘Opt-in’ and those who don’t is vast, but it is something that every young person can achieve. It is something that they can decide they’d like to achieve and then ask for support. At any stage, development in music cannot be forced. It is a personal choice. For this reason, students will be encouraged to opt-in and offered support to succeed, but if the student chooses not to opt-in and to remain a dependent learner, this must be respected. 

Students in Year 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 who choose to ‘Opt-in’ will gain access to a range of additional activities and opportunities, including:

Our MMC+ Activity Leaders


Jules Mock-Morton has over 15 years experience teaching all ages and styles of singing whilst enjoying a career performing all over the world with bands and musical theatre productions. Jules moved to York to complete her MA in music at the University of York before studying for a PhD in music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Jules has conducted the Yorkshire Youth Choir, led nationwide choral festivals, directs international music summer schools & regularly conducts a large community choir as well as directing musical theatre productions for York based amateur theatre companies. Having enjoyed taking lead roles in many well-known productions including Sweeney Todd, We will Rock You, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jules currently coaches singing to students all over the World via her SuperSing vocal studio. Jules joined our tutor team at Manor in 2019 and is already helping students to boost their confidence through her great energy, enthusiasm and encouragement.


Marcus studied Violin with Haroutune Bedelian at Chethams school of Music in Manchester and with Erika Klemperer at the Guildhall School of Music in London. He studied Guitar with Fred T. Baker at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music. He has worked as a freelance musician in both this country and abroad travelling as far afield as South Africa. He has been an instrumental teacher in York for the past 20 years and plays with several ensembles and orchestras including the English National Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra as well as York Opera. He has performed with renowned international artists, including soprano Angel Blue, tenor Alfie Boe and Classic FM’s presenter and singer of the Snowman theme tune Aled Jones. Marcus has written, arranged and recorded string parts for groups including Shed Seven with music featured on BBC Radio 1. His quartet performed for the Queen on her visit to York and he has appeared on BBC Television and Radio.


John is a regular member of many bands including the Kate Peters Quartet, Firebird Quartet and Alec Robinson Quartet as well as playing bass and guitar in the famous York Theatre Royal Pantomime. He has appeared on national TV on both the bass guitar and double bass, including multiple appearances on the long running ITV soap opera Emmerdale. Since completing the degree at Leeds College of Music, John has studied and continues to study with bass guitar and double bass icons such as Carol Kaye, Stu Hamm, Nathan East and Missy Raines. In 2018, John graduated with an MA in music from The University of York and is currently studying towards a PhD in the same department.

As well as performing, composing and teaching music, John is also a qualified freelance journalist and writes regularly for publications such as London Jazz News, Jazz Journal, Jazz Views, Hiss & Hum, Smart Bass Guitar, York Press and Jazz In York. John currently presents a weekly jazz radio show on Wetherby based radio station, Tempo FM. 


Since graduating from the University of Salford (BA Hons Popular Music and Recording), Andy has worked as a professional musician and peripatetic drum tutor. Andy has toured Central Europe extensively and played as far afield as America, Canada and Mexico, supporting artists such as Bryan Adams, Kings of Leon, Paulo Nutini and Elbow along the way. Andy also has radio experience, having played live sessions on Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 6, XFM London and XFM Manchester. More recently Andy has worked on a variety of theatre productions including ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Chicago’.


Ian is Musical Director of York Music Forum and York Jazz Initiative leading 6 educational ensembles for all ages and abilities. As well as being the Brass Tutor for Manor CE Ian also teaches in other schools and universities. Ian performs in jazz clubs and festivals throughout the UK and has been the trumpet player in local party band Huge for the last 20 years.


Al is co-founder of Rockgodacademy – teaching young students how to perform in a band. He has his own 10-piece Blues Band, The Al Morrison Blues Experience, and is a member of the New York Brass Band. Al, who originally trained in Jazz Music at Leeds College of Music before moving on to study Jazz Guitar at Trinity Laban in London, has performed at the highest level and is a regular performer at festivals around the world including Glastonbury, Bestival, Rewind, Montreux Jazz Festival, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Bilbao Rock Festival and many many more.  

Students Opt-ing in and regularly attending at least one MMC or MMC+ Activity will open access to MMC Club performances, events, concert trips, masterclasses and workshops. The friendships you’ll develop by engaging in music regularly together will be unique. To continue to celebrate your involvement in MMC, Club members will be invited to keep-in-touch via MMC Alumni. From the moment you begin your journey at MMC you’ll inspire others in the way you make music. MMC Alumni creates opportunities for you to continue to inspire younger musicians and for our community to continue to celebrate your future successes with you.

Every young musician needs a specialist tutor to guide them to maximise their potential on their chosen instrument. It is critically important to help each individual student to discover the technique they need to progress and to receive bespoke feedback based on their individual requirements. Lessons are available for every student from year 7 -11. In an ideal world, we recommend that each student has an individual lesson, however, it’s recognised that this is not always financially viable for families. All lessons cost the same and are payable in advance of each term. Subject to availability, the cost of tuition can be lowered by students having lessons in groups of 2 or 3. Funding is available for students who otherwise would not have this opportunity.

Our team of specialist music tutors currently make it possible for students to study the following instruments (below). If your instrument is not on this list, let us know and we’ll find you a tutor.

If you would like to learn to play an instrument, get in touch with us and tell us what you’d like to do. Manor Music City is an opportunity available to all students, but we do appreciate that learning a new instrument can be expensive. We do not want this to be a barrier that stops any child exploring their interest in music, and as such we have several support packages available to help. 

Year 9

In the spring term of year 8, students can choose to continue their curriculum music lessons into Year 9. The year 9 course is more advanced, enriching everything learned so far with greater challenge. Projects are designed to enable all students to confidently progress to GCSE Music in year 10 if it becomes one of their option choices. 

The year 9 course takes students deeper into music to be able to write and control it with greater detail, precision and understanding. Students are challenged to broaden their vocabulary greatly, and study a range of musical styles through the ‘Tune of the Week’ interactive project. The course is very practical and, in smaller classes, and using technology, students learn how to compose their own complete pieces of music. There are also more advanced Performance Via Technology projects, open mic opportunities to perform for instrumentalists and singers, and Portfolio and Playlist projects. 

Students choosing not to continue to year 9 music are very welcome to continue with MMC and MMC+ activities and instrumental/voice lessons.

Year 10/11

The highest academic course we offer is the AQA GCSE Music 8271. Having developed in their chosen instrument, their voice or using technology in the time before year 10, and having learned to compose in year 9, the GCSE is very much designed to allow students to specialise in creating and performing their music in a style of their choosing, while exploring many musical genres. Year 10 and 11 students receive 3 hours per week of curriculum time and dedicated 1:1 support as needed. Students are each allocated an Apple Mac music workstation to use during lessons as well as at lunchtimes when the department is open. GCSE students are encouraged to come into the department regularly, where they will find a great sense of community with other young musicians. 

To complete their GCSE Music there is one listening exam (marked out of 96) in the summer of year 11 counting for 40% of the overall assessment. The listening exam consists of 8 questions requiring students to use their knowledge of the elements of music to identify musical features in several unfamiliar excerpts. These 8 questions are grouped as Section A, marked out of 68. Section B (/28) assesses student understanding of two study pieces, which are pieces we will listen to and analyse in detail as part of the course.

The other 60% is assessed as coursework. 

GCSE Music Coursework

  • Compose one piece of music with a minimum duration of 1 minute 30 seconds. Submit an audio recording, a score and a programme note. The music can be written in any style and for any instrument or group of instruments, but it must have a specific purpose. (15%)
  • Compose one piece of music with a minimum duration of 1 minute 30 seconds. Submit an audio recording, a score and a programme note. The music should be based on one of 4 composition briefs given to students in September of Year 11. It can be for any instrument or group of instruments. (15%)
  • Perform a solo piece of music with a minimum duration of 2 minutes. An instrumental or voice performance must be recorded in exam conditions. Alternatively a PvT of the same minimum length may be submitted. In both cases a score is required and if the music is intended to be performed with an accompaniment or backing track, these must be included in the exam conditions recording. (15%)
  • Perform a group piece of music with a minimum duration of 2 minutes. An instrumental or voice performance must be recorded in exam conditions. Alternatively a PvT of the same minimum length may be submitted. In both cases a score is required and if the music is intended to be performed with an accompaniment or backing track, these must be included in the exam conditions recording. (15%)

Qualifications of any kind are helpful in creating a structure for learning. The assessments are helpful in defining how much progress has been made compared to other students of the same discipline. We actively encourage all students to work towards graded examinations. Again, very importantly, it must be the choice of the student alone as to whether or not they choose to take graded music exams. However, if students aspire to joining advanced ensembles, or studying at a conservatoire or university, it is helpful to demonstrate the standard of their musical achievements together with their musical experiences.  

The most important role of MMC is to create clear pathways for our students. A pathway creates a helpful route for learning and defines the ‘bigger picture’ that each student and their family is working towards. When every young person begins their learning in music, they cannot possibly imagine the opportunities that lie ahead of them in their future. 

At MMC, we are actively talking to local 6th form providers about the opportunities offered to our students post-16. We’re also interested in conservatoire or university-level study and encourage students to learn about those opportunities while they’re with us. In recent years Manor Music students have continued on to study music at the highest level. 

Former Manor Music students have been successful in gaining bursaries and scholarships for advanced study and in being accepted into regional and national ensembles. Our music students have gone on to find success in a wide-range of professional careers including music, media, law, medicine, business, education and many more.  

MMC is constantly building partnerships with local, regional and national music organisations to create additional opportunities for all students. 

For students aspiring to higher-level study in music, we recommend this pathway.

MMC Masters Pathway

Year 7&8

Get the most out of ‘Core’ by learning how to be a VIP in Music. Use the MMC on-demand music teaching and interactive coursebook (on iPad) to independently learn more and use the WordWall to help you to learn a wider range of musical language. Look out for class competitions. ‘Opt-in’ to make the choice to aspire to excellence in music. This choice alone gives you access to MMC Club, which opens up activities and performance opportunities. Join at least one singing activity and one playing activity. If you don’t already play an instrument, choose one to learn to play and ask for specialist tuition. You can buy your instrument from any shop and ordering through school will save you 20%. Decide when you’ll do your daily practise and when to work on your technique. Talk to your tutor about the opportunities available to you for graded exams. When you pass a graded exam, complete the form on the Manor website to add your result to the MMC Wall of Fame. Go for it! Look forward to the friends you’ll make and the confidence you’ll build.   

Year 9

Continue everything you’ve been involved with in Years 7 and 8, but now aspire to becoming a leader in music. VIPs, Opt-in, On-Demand Teaching and MMC Club will become even more important to you. Independently, and using the community and support available, you’ll be able to explore music extensively. Increase your daily practise time. Research post-16 and post-18 options and begin to make a plan for what you’d like to do in the future. Continue your singing and instrumental activities and look to perform at every MMC event. Look-out for additional opportunities through MMC Partnerships. Apply to join regional/national groups. 

Year 10/11

Choose GCSE Music. Continue to use everything from Y7, 8 and 9. Continue to play music and sing in regular rehearsals and perform at every opportunity. Look for opportunities in rehearsals and performances to lead younger students. Use MMC Partnerships to find advanced opportunities to engage in residentials and masterclasses. Split the focus of your practise into 3 parts. 1. Music for graded exams. 2. Music for your GCSE Performance. 3. Music for your ensemble activities, both at MMC and in regional or national groups. Know which Post-18 provider you’re aiming for and apply for your 6th form place.

Coming Soon…

Coming in 2022. Our ‘Spark @ Manor Music City’ project will create support for our feeder primary schools and opportunities for students in year 5 and 6 access to MMC instrumental and voice tuition, activities, performances and competitions. 

The MMC T-Shirt is £12. These are available to MMC students, staff and parents. To create a ParentPay link to order, please indicate this when you complete your son/daughter’s MMC registration form.

Manor Music City Activities

Student Code of Conduct

You’ve already opted-in to strive for excellence in your music so these conditions should be easy to follow. However, it’s important for you to confirm you understand the expectations as failure to follow them will result in you being asked to leave your activity without a refund.

Expectations of behaviour are the same as in Manor curriculum lessons. 

In addition there are some important things you need to do to make sure everyone in MMC or MMC+ activities can make the most of every opportunity. 

  1. Always bring the correct equipment to every rehearsal and performance. Instrument, charged-iPad, Sheet Music, Notebook, Pen, Pencil, Rubber, Water Bottle and anything else you need. 
  2. Always take your equipment home and don’t leave anything behind.
  3. You may have a phone with you in a pocket or in your bag, but it must be switched off during every rehearsal and performance. 
  4. Always know when and where your rehearsals and performances are and be on-time and ready to start.
  5. On arrival to every rehearsal, set-up as directed by your activity leader. Help others first, particularly younger students, before getting out your instrument. Quietly warm-up and use a digital tuner/iPad app to tune your instrument. 
  6. Be ready to stop playing and listen at the start of the rehearsal and at other moments during the rehearsal when ‘quiet’ is requested. 
  7. Listen carefully to all directions and make notes on your music. Use a pencil if adding notes to printed music.
  8. If you need help or want to ask a question, raise your hand.
  9. If your music is too difficult for you, tell your leader. They will be able to simplify your part or give you a method to practise your part. 
  10. Think about those around you and how you can serve others and grow together. 
  11. Take every opportunity to encourage others and celebrate the achievements of others as well as the things you achieve together.
  12. At the end of every rehearsal put your instrument away first, then clear away as directed by your leader before leaving. 
  13. Practise your parts in between rehearsals and talk about any concerns with your activity leader or section leader (if appropriate). 
  14. Focus on being a part of something amazing.
  15. Enjoy every moment. If there’s a barrier to this, tell your activity leader.

Celebrating 10 years of progress to understand how to help all young people to make confident progress in music.

To mark this 10th Anniversary of developments, I’ve decided to share the lockdown work of one of my year 10 students. I’m so grateful to the family for giving permission for the work to be shared. This is an amazing example of the musical learning and creation that’s been possible during the 8 weeks of remote learning. The video presentation of this work is available below…

Back in 2011, I’d been a head of subject for just over a year and I’d noticed there were several questions my students asked repeatedly. In my work, I would be asked these same questions over and over again, many times a day. Most of these questions were simple, such as ‘What is……?’, ‘Where do I start?’ (relating to composition), or ‘How do I make it sound ‘good’?’. These are fundamentals in a music teacher’s life to explain such concepts, but the traditional approach very much created a dependent relationship. 

I’d already learned that for true creativity to take place, students need to be independent. They need to be sufficiently confident about controlling the fundamentals of music to feel the freedom they need to invent ideas without fear. Questioning has an important role, but deeper understanding can be found if the answers to simple concepts are instantly available. 

My students just needed a place to look, but at that time there wasn’t a book to explain these things in a helpful and accessible way. There were books for music theory exams, for GCSE revision and for much higher level musical studies, but nothing for students aged 13-16, relevant to a wide range of learners’ previous or no specific musical study. So I began to write “How to understand music” – that was the original working title!

The first draft focused on defining the elements of music. Texture, structure, harmony and melody were the aspects students needed help to understand most frequently. I shared initial drafts with my students to add a new level of support and the response was positive, but it quickly became apparent that as much as they needed a place to look for information, what they really needed was to understand how all of these musical aspects could work together in a whole piece. 

I’ve already written in previous posts about how fortunate I was in the late 1990s and early 2000s to be invited to several major film post production studios. Many of these conversations began with my fascination of the process of how a creative idea could be developed into a final commercial product. One of the fundamentals I found was about ‘production values’. The process of production is the focus, approach and ethos of every edit and decision. This was gained by constantly listening, inventing, developing, and ensuring every small part is as good as it can be in the context of the overall purpose. With all the small parts working, the overall product is of the highest quality.

The process of composition became the focus, and in the next few years I wrote “How to Write Great Music – Understanding the Process from Blank Page to Final Product”. 

In the summer of 2014, some of my GCSE students had done exceptionally well. A conversation began that would change how I teach composition. The students and I sat down to work out if there was a helpful order in which to learn about the different aspects of music to be able to feel confident enough to write a whole piece. We concluded there were indeed some aspects of music creation that could be controlled first, without needing knowledge of other areas. This was helpful as students could develop confidence and establish strong production values without needing to understand a range of different concepts. Further on, we learned why some elements were more complex to understand. In most cases it was due to a necessity to be able to control multiple other areas first. I.e. textural control and variation required melodic and harmonic control and development. More difficult aspects included structure, texture and harmony. 

The focus on ‘understanding melody’ very quickly became the game changer and also around that time, in a working group with other heads of music, we concluded that ‘control of melody’ (in any genre) was the most important aspect to be able to reach the higher grades in GCSE and A-Level music composition. If the melody wasn’t controlled or written with purpose, this restricted both the standard of the overall work and the musical options going forwards. In my time working as an examiner in the last few years, many students have clearly not felt confident in melody writing. The potential reasons for this is for another day.

Following the 2014 conversation, I wrote the original Progression Tasks Project and this became chapter 21 of my HTWGM book.

The original PTP was a list of 34 tasks that students would complete in order. They couldn’t continue to the next task until they’d proved they had sufficient confidence and control of the one before. Gradually they built confidence in the range and complexity of music they were able to write and they each had a copy of the book to have that ‘instant access’ to look up the music theory and concepts they needed to complete the tasks. 

The positive impact across a range of learners was vast and in the summer after we began to use the book, 100% of attending students passed the GCSE, with 70% achieving A or above. 

By creating this instant access to helpful explanation and a given process to build on their musical understanding, these students were able to independently develop remarkable music. My role of a teacher changed in those lessons. I was no longer someone who taught the same concepts over and over again, but instead a fascinated facilitator who engaged in deeper discussion about music in a wide range of styles. 

Those of you who’ve followed my work in the last 2 or 3 will know I’ve been working to develop a GCSE pathway for students wanting to use technology as their instrument. I have to admit, the original PTP project became less in my thinking, but as we returned to school (in September 2020), after Covid national lockdown 1, the students really needed a sense of the structure the PTP gave, but I hadn’t included it in their course so far. 

In November 2020, I began a review of the 2015 book. I found the book itself to be just as helpful as it was before and decided it was unnecessary to write a new edition for now, but I really wanted to challenge the students to go even deeper into composition and decided there was an opportunity to design an updated Progression Tasks Project.  

PTP2021 contains many of the original tasks. I’ve added more steps to help with the understanding of melody and included tasks requiring a demonstration of the music both in the written form and using technology. There’s a new column to confirm the evidence required to pass each task, an e-book of charts to complete and a series of on-demand YouTube videos creating access for every young person, not just those in my school. Just as in the original PTP, vocabulary is at the centre, encouraging students to use the most appropriate musical language as they explore, create, listen and compose their music. 

The project now includes an advanced composition section. Tasks 32-40 are designed to be accessible to all students, but to especially challenge those aspiring to a grade 9. 

PTP2021 was first used by year 9 and 10 students in January 2021, as we entered the 3rd National Covid lockdown. The progress of the 69 students was extraordinary and gave them much confidence at a time when learning had to be remote. 

To mark this 10th Anniversary of developments, I’ve decided to share the lockdown work of one of my year 10 students. I’m so grateful to the family for giving permission for the work to be shared. This is an amazing example of the musical learning and creation that’s been possible during the 8 weeks of remote learning. The video presentation of this work is available here       

The PTP2021 Task List and Chart E-book is available as a free download at www.davelowemusiconline.com

How to Write Great Music: Understanding the Process from Blank Page to Final Product is available here

Listen to the finished compositions of some of Dave’s students here

Access to the On—Demand videos for PTP2021 here 

VIPs in Music

Most surprisingly, students continued to develop their music work when they arrived home and continued to ask me questions until 8pm on Friday night and then again this morning. That doesn’t normally happen!!

In last week’s #PTProject2021 article I mentioned the importance of independence in a student’s approach to learning.

On Monday (8th March 2021) we returned to face-to-face school lessons for all students, having been at home in remote learning for UK Covid Lockdown 3 since the 5th January.

I’d learned so much, and been so inspired by the incredible developments my year 9-11 GCSE students had made in remote learning. I fell swiftly back down to earth in the first KS3 lesson on Monday morning. It was carnage! Not behaviourally, although this particular group can be challenging. But the learning environment was a mixture of students who (for many reasons) hadn’t found or been able to access the remote work I’d set in the previous 2 weeks since half term, or they had become completely dependent on the adults in their life during lockdown. There was a lot of noise, a lot of panic, worry, frustration and very little learning could happen. It made me realise, these kids needs greater encouragement and a ‘reset’ to their approach of school life. In context, this was their first lesson since returning.

Mr Lowe feeling completely inspired following a day as a VIP at the sound stages and back lot at Universal Studios Hollywood – awesome!

After much thought over Monday night, on Tuesday morning I taught another similar group, also year 8 (31 students, aged 12-13). I opened the lesson with this question… “What is a VIP?” This instantly got the students’ attention, all of them! They visibly began to imagine and confidently told me it was a Very Important Person, which I reminded them that is something each are to me as I teach them. However I’d decided to create a status in the lessons to name students as VIPs, which as with the term known to them would come with lots of perks or benefits. I asked them what else the ‘I’ could stand for that could be relevant to me as a teacher. Their answers were brilliant; instrumental, irritating, ignorant… but eventually they reached the correct answer… INDEPENDENT!!

We discussed how they did depend on adults at the moment for home, food, clothing etc.. but in the future, they would be independent and organise these things for themselves. Independence we found was a bit like feeling a sense of confident freedom and I explained that this very much how an ‘independent learner’ feels.

The most helpful starting point for ‘how to be independent’, can only be determined by the student. They have to choose to ‘have a go’. Then if they are missing specific information or understanding, they of course can ask at any time, but it’s far more positive to say “Can you give me some advice to help me to play this rhythm in time?”, as opposed to “I can’t do it”. The confidence then begins to grow.

My agreement was that students who hadn’t started yet at all, or had done the first analysis wrongly would do the first task with me. If they got it perfect, which did require some questioning on their part, they would receive a merit. All students who had completed at least one task remotely (independently) in the previous 2 weeks were immediately given the VIP status and given the challenge that if they could solve the next part of the project independently, they would receive 3 music merits. They weren’t completely left with no help as I’d prerecorded my teaching and modelling to my on-demand YouTube channel. This announcement was met with great happiness and then silent determination across the class as they went straight to work without prompting. As I started to teach those needing the most encouragement, I explained that if they could have determination in their learning it was possible to complete the initial task I was helping with and earn the VIP status in time to also achieve the more advanced challenge. Two students made this amazing progress within the hour.

The environment was incredible. Every student on task; listening, reading, inventing, exploring, recording, editing, questioning, calm and so many were successful.

I ran the VIPs approach with Year 7 yesterday. On a Friday I teach 4 hours back-to-back of year 7. (120 students aged 11-12). If anything, the outcomes were even better for the morning classes. I’ll need to add more support for some in the afternoon, but I also have to remember Friday afternoon is always tough – it’s their 24th and 25th lessons of the week and they’re very tired by then, especially in this first week back after lockdown.

My promise to the students at the ends of the classes was to mark their work before I went to sleep on each day. It took until 7.30pm last night to mark the latest work by the 120, and the year 8s I also taught yesterday, but the progress and enjoyment was incredible. Most surprisingly, students continued to develop their music work when they arrived home and continued to ask me questions until 8pm on Friday night and then again this morning. That doesn’t normally happen!!

‘Music VIPs’ has been a amazing tool for this week – it will definitely feature in all my KS3 work from now on. 👍

This is the Year 7 project I’m teaching as we transition from remote learning.

This is the Year 8 project.

On the original set from the TV series “Friends” (Warner Bros. Deluxe VIP Tour)
Surrounded by the original work of so much film history and amazing creativity – in the vault when visiting as a VIP guest to Paramount Pictures – incredible privilege!
Mr Lowe at Sony Pictures

How to make a Virtual Worship Band Video (updated)

Loads of people have been in touch to ask how I’ve been creating our People’s Virtual Orchestra and Virtual Worship Band videos, so this article is a step-by-step, behind-the-scenes description. The process itself is fairly simple, but there are some key considerations to reach a good outcome for your players and singers.

Before reading, watch our Cornerstone video and our other productions 🙂

One of the greatest positive experiences of being in lockdown has been the excitement of finding solutions to solve the challenges of not being able to be together. Especially finding opportunities in situations we thought would be impossible. One hugely inspiring outcome is how this period has encouraged people of all ages to share their creative gifts. In my teaching, I’ve been really inspired to hear from students who would normally be very quiet in lessons, now feeling a genuine opportunity to be heard from the quietness of home-working. It’s made me think about how I might take away the ‘loudness’ in situations to help more creativity happen and indeed whether there should be a ‘from home’ part of the school week in future school timetabling models. 

Loads of people have been in touch to ask how I’ve been creating our People’s Virtual Orchestra and Virtual Worship Band videos, so this article is a step-by-step, behind-the-scenes description. The process itself is fairly simple, but there are some key considerations to reach a good outcome for your players and singers.

This process is accessible to all singers of all ages and all abilities around the world. The leading of it is complex, both musically and technologically, but the impact is so significant, it’s a worthy investment for your skillset in your role as a music leader and it creates a great sense of encouragement in your community.

This is a list of the equipment I’ve used to create the projects from start to finish. I’m just working from home in my office and have no acoustic treatment. 

  • Apple MacBook Pro 13” 2019, 4 thunderbolt ports, 8Gb RAM
  • Apple Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X software
  • Additional Sample Libraries: Ivory II Pianos, ProjectSAM SwingMore
  • Additional Plug-ins: FabFilter Total Bundle, Waves Greg Wells Signature Series, SSL EQ
  • Lacie 2TB external SSD Hard Drive
  • Canon 6D Mkii camera, tripod
  • Roland DP90SE Piano
  • Roland GO Piano
  • Focusrite 18i8 USB Audio Interface
  • Genelec 8040 Monitoring
  • Neumann U87 microphone
  • Sennheiser Headphones 

This working example is based on my recent virtual production of “Cornerstone” with the Manor CE Academy Worship Band and Community Choir. It was recorded in our homes during Covid-19 social distancing. This video was created to lead many people in musical worship during the digital service to introduce Bishop Stephen Cottrell as the 98th Archbishop of York. Initially planned to be held in York Minster, the ceremony was held at 11am on Thursday 9th July 2020 online, due to the Coronavirus restrictions.

Step 1: Pre-Production

Guide track production in Logic Pro X
  • Decide which piece(s) to create and who will play/sing. [Tip: to begin with, choose music that has a very clear and constant pulse. Repeating sections are also helpful]
  • Invite participants. Remember you’ll need written permission from parents to include under 18s before they can take part in online rehearsals and have their video posted on YouTube. For “Cornerstone” I invited anyone connected to my school and community choirs.
  • Create a guide track. Decide the tempo and stick to it. This will be the track your players/singers listen to when they practise and record, and ultimately it will become the start for your final mix. [Tip: think about what they need to hear to sing/play confidently, in-time and in-tune. Make it a comfortable, enjoyable experience. Include a cue track of your voice to count into verse/chorus/bridge entries] – I used Logic Pro X, a mic and the USB GO Piano to record these parts: metronome click, my guide singing voice (not my strength at all), simple drum kit played on GO Piano, held string chords, piano, my cue voice. If you’d like an mp3 copy of this guide track drop me a message – MrLowePVO@gmail.com
  • By this point you’ll have received replies from those you’ve in invited. The timescale was short for Cornerstone, so participants had just 3 days to confirm their involvement and 30 people came forward in that time. 
  • Email all participants including: full instructions for recording, lyrics, arrangement parts, guide tracks and the link for the Zoom meeting. The Zoom is compulsory as that single meeting will be the one rehearsal to teach the songs, going over any musical details such as agreed rhythms or lengths of notes. The Zoom is also the opportunity for questions to be asked so we can collectively move in the same direction towards production.

Step 2: Rehearsal & Production

Manor Virtual Community Choir Zoom Rehearsal. Most participants are from around York, but our community reaches even wider as we welcomed a guest from Garland, Texas
  • For safeguarding reasons, there were separate meetings for the students and the adults, but covering the same material
  • Begin the meeting by going through the process of ‘how to record’. then sing through the three songs and allow participants to ask questions to check understanding. Participants must be muted, so they can only hear you and themselves when singing, unmuting to ask questions or to comment. 
  • Demonstrate how to prepare to record and how to use the guide track. 
  • Talk about how to transfer large files.
  • Following that meeting there were additional email conversations to give technical support as needed. These were further joyful times as many people in the choir weren’t initially confident with the technology, but everyone ‘found a way’. 
  • Again due to the timescale, everyone had just 5 days to learn and record the 3 songs we were working on, including Cornerstone. I’ve included the instructions email I sent at the bottom of this article for details of ‘how to record’.

Step 3: Post-production 1 – Receive, Save and Library

  • While waiting the 5 days for video recordings to arrive, it’s possible to begin to build any additional instrumental parts for the recording. I recorded the piano, which is visible on screen on the Roland DP90SE. I played the bass guitar, drum kit and other orchestral parts from my arrangement (for players we didn’t have) – all created in Logic Pro X using the USB GO Piano.
  • As they arrive, edit the filenames to state the person and the song. I received 96 videos for the 3 songs – hence the 2TB SSD.
  • Once the deadline passes, check with any participants who haven’t sent videos. Check they are ok and offer support. 

Step 4: Post-production 2 – Import, Edit and Sync Videos

Organising the separate video files in Final Cut Pro X
  • Beginning in Final Cut Pro X, import all the videos. Right click to select ‘Lift from Storyline’. You can then drag the videos to play at the same time as each other (drag them to appear like a list, one above the next).
  • Next edit each clip to make them all visible at once on the video screen. Shift+T selects the transform function, allowing you to move the video around on the screen and make it bigger or smaller. Shift+C selects the crop tool, allowing you to trim unneeded space from around each participant. If you’re preparing for a worship service as I was, leave space at the bottom of the screen to add the lyrics later on.
  • The absolute key to success in this project is “The Clap”. Like a human film clapperboard, this is the secret that brings us all together. You’ll have decided on a definite point in your guide track for everyone to clap. That clap creates a very obvious audio peak to see on the editor. The next job is to line the videos up so everyone claps together. [Tip: At this point do this within a couple of frames accuracy as you’ll find there will be some variation to address later]
  • If you’ve not studied post-production or film sound, you might not be aware of how it works. Films are not actually ‘moving-pictures’. They are collections of lots of still pictures played very quickly, one at a time. If we see enough similar still images every second, we perceive them as moving. This is very helpful to know as you edit as there are only 30 frames (still images) per second, so 30 moments the we could be out of sync every second. Helpfully, by using the right and left arrow buttons we can step through each individual frame of our videos. 
  • Add the guide track and turn up the volume (by dragging the horizontal line up) to show the clap peak very obviously. Then simply zoom in and align each video clap to match the peak on the guide track. [Tip: use the , and . keys to nudge videos 1 frame left or right to have more control that clicking and dragging]

Step 5: Post-production 3 – Detaching, Exporting and Importing XML

  • Once they’re roughly in time, have a listen. Don’t panic if it still doesn’t sound perfect at this point! 
  • Select all the videos, right click and select ‘Detach Audio’. Each audio file will now appear at the bottom of the screen. Leave them there for now, however you’ll delete these later on. 
  • Go to FILE>EXPORT XML… and export one of these files to your hard drive. It’s a clever very small file that tells another program where to look for the audio and as what time it plays in the session, so once reopened, everything is still in-sync. 
  • Close Final Cut Pro X to save processor power.
  • Open the Guide track Logic Pro X session and import the XML file you’ve just made. Helpfully, these tracks are automatically grouped. To see the individual tracks click on the small white arrow next to the track number. 

Step 6: Post-production 4 – Listening and Editing Audio

Editing and processing voice recordings
  • From now on you’ll think about audio and video separately, until you’ve completed the final mix.
  • To keep the sync appearing to be realistic, the one thing you must avoid is splicing the audio tracks and moving parts of them left or right. This would be almost impossible to realign when you return to the videos. 
  • The focus of this step is to make each voice or part sound as natural and clear as possible. We want to remove unwanted noise (trimming none singing moments at the start and end), take out any over-resonant frequencies (using EQ), compress the dynamic range of voices who sing very softly and very loudly (Compressor) and help them out with a touch of pitch-correction to hit every note as intended. The editing on Cornerstone for 30 voices, took me about 2 hours in total. I could’ve gone into more detail, analysing individually pitched notes, but as well as having a limited amount of time, I wanted the overall product to sound ‘natural’ rather than ‘studio produced’ so this step can very much be over-done. It’s also important to remember than none of the singers/players used microphones, other than the built-in one on their smartphone, so this limits how ‘crystal-clear’ the signal can be. The important focus at every edit should be ‘Does this make the voice sound more natural?’. 
  • In a couple of situations I used the Greg Wells plugin to add warmth to a voice or give it a touch more presence in the sound, but use this with care, as the overall mix can become very loud, very quickly with too much of this type of processing. 

Step 7: Post-production 5 – Sync-ing and Mixing the Voices

Matching waveforms for sync and blending the voices using ‘solo’
  • One of the benefits of using an audio editor like Logic Pro X is you can instantly see the waveform. In particularly, you can see where parts are out of time. You’ll do the final sync-ing to the video tracks later, so for now it’s fine to nudge whole tracks left or right to make them play as perfectly in time as possible. Whatever you do, don’t move your guide track – that is a constant, but other parts can be moved to create the best fit.
  • I use the solo function to build my voices mix. I begin at the top of the list and work downwards, solo-ing it by press the ’S’ button. No voice in the choir is more important than others – they are all equally valuable. I begin very cautiously with volume, as 30 voices can become loud very quickly. As I add each new voice (by clicking another ’S’), I’m particularly listening for a nice balance between them. I can separate similar voices using pan to move them towards the left or right sides of the mix. Be careful not to have them too widely spread or to have an imbalance of sides as they must collectively work as a choir. This is an exciting step as you’ll begin to hear the richness of the choir sound. 
  • Another helpful function of the automatic grouping, is the ability to add the same reverb to all parts. This creates an illusion that they’re all singing in the same room. Be careful not to use too much reverb as it can make the voices less-clear with a suggestion they’re all in a large tunnel, but using some will have a positive effect. 
  • Once you have a nice balance in your ensemble, their level compared to the instruments can be adjusted with the group fader mostly. 

Step 8: Post-production 6 – Final Mix and Mastering the Audio

Editing automation during the mixing of the 46 instrument and voice parts
  • Your place to listen is very important for this final part. I’m very restricted here as I have no acoustic treatment at home. When I mix, I’m constantly listening to the music on different systems (and in different rooms) to try and find a ‘happy medium’. I come away from using my audio interface to mix as the sound it creates is much richer and warmer that most domestic systems. I often mix using the laptop speakers, then a few different pairs of headphones, then a value range 1990s hifi, then the Genelecs. For me this is the most challenging part to do well from home in lockdown.
  • The mix is about the energy of the music throughout the song, which will change. Use automation (by pressing ‘A’) to adjust volume over time. It’s about making choices like ‘where the climactic point will be’ and how you’ll reach that, which instruments are important in driving that energy, making sure we can hear just enough of every part, so every one feels a sense of contribution and value in the mix. The approach to mixing these worship songs is different to a commercial release or performance, as they are intended to support church sung worship. Therefore they have to be easy to sing to, without the on-screen voices dominating the mix as might be the case in a performance or pop video. When mixing live in a church, I often have the volume of the lead vocal as ‘just enough to hear, but without feeling I have to just listen to them’. This project is about creating a starting point for other people in their houses around the world to feel encouraged to sing together. 
  • Once you’ve mixed your instruments and voices together, export your ‘finished sound’ as an aiff file at 24-bit 48kHz

Step 9: Post-production 7 – Final Video Sync and Adding Lyrics

Lyrics now added for our song “I am Free” at the bottom of the screen
  • Import the aiff final mix into Final Cut Pro X and line it up with the original guide track
  • Delete the original audio files from the bottom of the screen, apart from the original guide track, just turn the volume down on that clip.
  • Watch each individual video to check that lip-sync is perfect, just as when they recorded. Use the , and . keys again to nudge each video clip a frame left or right as needed. [Tip: choose a chorus towards the end of the song to do this as the timing will be slightly tighter and easier to spot, then watch all the way through to check for glaring sync errors]
  • Once the video and final audio are in-sync, if it’s a worship video, now add the lyrics
  • Use one of the ‘lower third’ presets and drag the template to the start of your film. 
  • Use Ctril+T to ‘transform’ the bar to make it fit with your videos and set the font, size and colour in the info window (top right). 
  • Enter your first lyric line. Then copy and paste the title clip along your project to ensure the settings stay the same for each line of lyrics. Drag the start and end points of each title clip to musically set when the new line appears in a helpful way to sing, but not be distracting.  

Step 10: Post-production 8 – Export and Delivery

My ‘Mr Lowe’ YouTube Channel. Musical challenges, demonstrations and virtual orchestras for all.
  • Once everything has been checked and you’re happy it’s complete, export the project by going to FILE>SHARE>Master file… [Tip: It’s faster to export like this, rather than going straight to YouTube and it creates a local backup of the finished video]. 
  • I use wetransfer.com as a free option to deliver the final file. Or I could upload to YouTube directly.

I’ve explained the process in this much detail to hopefully encourage you to have a go in your community. The total time I spent on Cornerstone was about 20 hours, including the creating of the initial guide track and materials, the invitations, zoom meeting, file storing, recording, editing, mixing, mastering and completing the video with lyrics.  

Betty’s Artwork

This special picture was painted by Betty Law, a member of our community choir. She painted the work during online worship on Easter Sunday this year. A photo of the painting appears in our Cornerstone video. 

It reminds me that we have been greatly restricted during this period of lockdown and not able to be together. However, it’s also been a great time of opportunity for creativity to explode with vibrant richness across our whole community. 

Thanks for reading. Get in touch if I can help.



My email instructions:

Hi everybody,

Thanks for joining our Virtual Worship Team. I’m really looking forward to meeting you online on Thursday to go through our project. 

After Thursday’s 45-minute zoom meeting, you should have everything you need to record yourself. After our zoom, to make the recordings, you will need:

– Headphones or earphones

– 2 devices – one to play the guides tracks on, and one to make a video of yourself

I’ve attd. the 3 guide tracks, made specially for this group. Please only use them for the purpose of this project and don’t share them with anyone outside our team. I’ve also attd. lyrcis and some orchestral parts, although I’ve not quite finished writing parts out so there are a few more to come.

I’ll need to receive your videos by bedtime on Wednesday 13th May. As they are quite big files (too big to email), you can send them securely for free using wetransfer.com If you need help doing that let me know. 

We have three golden rules: Play/Sing in time, Play/Sing in tune, Play/Sing with passion.

It might be sounding like a lot, but it really is straightforward. Please find the Zoom meeting link and recording instructions below. Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday. 

Best wishes

Dave Lowe


Mr Lowe is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Mr Lowe Virtual Community Choir

Time: May 7, 2020 05:30 PM London

Join Zoom Meeting

Link was here**

Meeting ID: 

Password: Password was here***




When you’re ready to record…

1. TUNE your instrument – make it perfect

2. Put your headphones on

3. Check the camera image can see your head, instrument and hands

4. Press record on the camera/phone or whatever you’re using

5. Press play on the backing track (only heard in headphones)

6. CLAP on the 5th Click – if the clap is not perfectly in time, start again

7. Relax and listen

8. Play/Sing with passion and communicate the music, knowing that what you do will inspire A LOT of people. Singers – tell the story, everyone must be involved in the music. Play perfectly in time and in tune.

9. Wetransfer your video

Part 2: Teaching Music in Isolation: A deeper, real-world reflection into lockdown: Finding a new ‘Extra Curricular’

Despite this deeply negative time, from that 2nd rehearsal did come an idea, like a small shoot of a spring flower appearing as a symbol of hope after a harsh winter. We decided together that rhythm and pulse could not be followed in real-time. So rather than focusing on things that were not possible, we began to think of what was possible.

You may have already read my deeper, real-world blog post about teaching during lockdown. Always, my job as a music teacher has two main focuses: delivering the music curriculum and managing an extra curricular programme.

The second area, extra curricular, takes just as much thought as the curriculum and dominates my head-space as I constantly have themes going round in my head from rehearsals, problems to solve and I’m often thinking of ways to improve. However, extra curricular in any context is a profoundly positive experience for all who partake. It helps us to grow, both in our community relationships and in our music.

Other than the (significant) face-to-face issue described in the previous blog, I’m not feeling much difference in my working life and I’m perhaps even busier than ever. There are more problems to solve at the moment and more barriers to break down, but it’s very much worth the effort. I’ve heard of so many times when people have spoken of ‘unprecedented times’ and therefore cancelling groups and events and that ‘things can’t happen at the moment’. Surely, in this time, more than ever, we should be finding ways to bring people ‘together’.

The Lowest Point

At the point of lockdown, it was already widely being reported about the possibility of choirs singing together through internet video software such as google hangouts, houseparty and zoom. However this was a myth, and that deep feeling of loss when our Voices choir realised we could not continue together, was momentarily given a sense of encouragement, and then in the first rehearsal was taken away in the most discouraging way. The truth is, that choir of students aged 11-15, had reached a standard I’d never experienced before from a school-based choir. They rehearsed on two mornings a week, every week, for 45 minutes (a lot in the current educational climate) and they had really become like a family. They inspired many people with their singing and both the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and the new Dean of York Minster, Jonathan Frost were amongst the many visitors who came to observe their rehearsals. Significant developments had taken place in rehearsals in preparation for many bookings they had for summer 2020, including a new arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Somewhere Only We Know we’d written together. There were performances booked at local choir festivals, National Music for Youth Festival and a special performance at the UN Security Council in New York. They’d been booked to make recordings and to lead at some special summer events at York Minster. All of these events and recordings were cancelled. Despite the incredible sadness felt, nothing compared to the helplessness we felt with the online video platforms not allowing real-time singing together. The voices group is very much built on the determined creation of one collective true sound, with many live contributors. This, sadly is just not possible at a distance. About 16 of the (21) choir came to the first attempt online. Only 8 to the second as the first had been so discouraging and after that a few of us met to talk about it, but it’s never restarted since.

Despite this deeply negative time, from that 2nd rehearsal did come an idea, like a small shoot of a spring flower appearing as a symbol of hope after a harsh winter. We decided together that rhythm and pulse could not be followed in real-time. So rather than focusing on things that were not possible, we began to think of what was possible. I remember studying a piece for string quartet in the past in which each player was given music to play, but there was no given rhythm. It was left for them to choose when to change to the next given pitch. This created a new performance every time. As musicians, we respond to the circumstances around us, listening carefully to other parts and making our part fit with the others. We attempted our own performance of this on the zoom call. One year 10 boy chose a note to begin with and sang that as a sustained note. Other voices joined at a time they heard as appropriate. Fascinatingly, they were all contributing to the same performance, but all heard the music differently, mostly depending on their broadband connections. The first take was a disaster as we all made each other laugh. But remarkably the determination to make this work, caused everyone to instantly find a way they could listen with great focus. The second take was beautiful. It was a ‘new sound’, with so much to represent the ‘new’ lockdown, as was the case then.

Despite the glimmer of light, our choir hasn’t continued to meet, but that was an important turning point in planning for other activities and groups.

It is possible to have a shared collective purpose

It is possible to create music together (without live shared pulse)

It is important to see each other and interact, even if it’s not what we expect

It is important to have a goal or focus, but to keep this relatively short or simple

It is possible to each record a performance and combine them together to appear as if together

It is encouraging to be part of some extra curricular music during lockdown

It is something that creates outcomes that are exciting, inspiring and surprising at the same time

It is possible for people of all ages, abilities and nations to come together to make music (provided safeguarding considerations are in place)

Therefore many people can learn a musical part from a single leader and practise it, live, at the same time. For this to be successful in a large group on Zoom, all individuals must be muted, so they can only hear themselves and the leader. They can hear and play in time with the leader. With smaller groups (5 or 6), individuals can remain unmuted to hear others practising at the same time as them. In this, they cannot all play in-time together (live), but often it’s helpful to hear someone else in the section mastering a particular rhythm, that they can then play themselves. The leader can listen to each part being developed at the same time and, importantly, can verbally encourage by name when an idea is played correctly. I wonder when we return, whether I’ll be less-requiring of silent moments in rehearsals.

5 of The Highest Points

These are my 5 weekly lockdown extra-curricular ensembles and activities with details of what’s happening at the moment.

1. Make Music On Mondays

Live from York, every Monday 1220pm #MakeMusicOnMondays

A live, public, worldwide YouTube stream, open and free to all. I use this weekly programme to demonstrate aspects of music creation. The 30-60 minute programme is at 1220 every Monday to coincide with the beginning of ‘the lunch break’ (as our students are being encouraged to stick to their timetables). We’ve heard from working adults who watch the show that it’s a helpful something to help them to stop their ‘working at home’ to have lunch and have a break as they watch. In response to student requests I have created a series of Quick-fire Music Challenges to help develop instrumental technique and control as well as discovering a greater understanding of music theory. Already many people of different ages have taken part in this, some posting their efforts online with #QuickfireMusicChallenge . In addition to the challenges, I’m also encouraging everyone to be creative during this lockdown time and explore ideas to write new original music using whatever resources are available at home.

2. The Manor Concert Orchestra

The families of these 7 young people gave permission for their performances to be used online, to encourage others to get involved.
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cqz2NlPiLM

This group is restricted to the usual members of MCO. They meet every Thursday 3.30-4.15 on Zoom. They are currently warming-up together using the QuickfireMusicChallenges, being sociable and rehearsing pieces to be eventually built together to represent this time we had apart. To ensure everyone in the group can partake without safeguarding fears, there is no plan to release their collective work online. However it will be something for them to keep and possibly use within live performances when we return.

3. People’s Virtual Orchestra

Get involved here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfCRUpHXCAA

This exciting new group has been born from MCO members showing me what’s possible. The PVO is for everybody in the world – all ages, all abilities, all instruments, all nations, all cultures. It is by the people, for the people. Already it’s a fantastically inspirational group of people including everybody from beginners to professionals. I can’t wait to show you what they’ve made together. This is such a unique group, bringing together people from all over the world who’ve never heard of each other, never mind played together before. This group breaks down all boundaries and the people create a great, rich sound together, at a time when ‘together’ has had to take on a new meaning. They are performing a piece I wrote in 2011 called “Latin…”, written at that time as I began to form MCO for the first cohort. It’s a rhythmically complex piece, but by the way it’s structured, is very simple to learn. It also features opportunities for players to develop their own parts as they play and build confidence to explore variations. We’ve had one of the four rehearsals so far. The next is this Monday, live on YouTube. I’ve already received 20 video recordings from 3 continents of the material learned in session 1. This week we’ll be focusing on the ending of the piece. It’s still possible to join until the final deadline for me to receive recordings, which is Monday 22nd June. Any participants under 18 can take part, but I must receive permission in writing before I can include your videos online. Many people are beginning to follow the progress of this group. I’m grateful to BBC Radio York for interviewing me about the project and helping to share the invitation more widely.

4. Manor Virtual Student Worship Band

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bONewsoVKds

As a Church of England Academy, there are no restrictions in our school to talk about faith, God, the Bible etc. and we create opportunities for our young people to worship. Also in 2011 I started a student worship band. The ‘worship’ aspect was meaningful to some, but for most, they just enjoyed the type of sung repertoire this involved. In essence, simple songs that young people could sing and play together. As that first group (W1 Worship Band) grew, we learned of churches locally who either struggled for musicians or didn’t know how to develop their music. W1 began to tour local churches to lead services and encourage other young people to get involved in the music in their church. The group developed to lead at some national events with the Archbishop of York and at York Minster. In 2014 11 members of that band toured Georgia and Alabama in the USA to lead events in churches and schools and to make friendships with young people in different cultures. That group has long-since moved on, but a new generation has emerged in this lockdown, with these young people seeing the opportunity to be an encouragement to others through their singing and playing. They led their first service at St Michael-le-Belfrey church in York last weekend. Their 3 songs were very well received and they’re already recording for another service at the church. I know it meant a great deal to them too to be able to do this together.

5. Hope & Belfrey Virtual Community Choir

Our amazing wider community begin to prepare together on Zoom

Following the success of the Manor Virtual Worship Band, this week I’ve launched a Virtual Community Choir. On this first attempt I’ve restricted the invitation to the Hope & Belfrey community choirs I directed in York Minster at Christmas. This new group will join the student virtual band to lead worship at the Belfrey on 24th May. It was a brilliant first Zoom rehearsal together on Thursday.

It’s been quite a journey so far in the last 7 weeks.

I’m learning so much in directing these ensembles and activities. It takes a lot of planning and preparation, but it’s so very worth it.

More to follow.

Part 1. Teaching Music in Isolation: A deeper, real-world reflection into lockdown

In this lockdown, I’ve experienced students of all levels of ability developing skills of independence in their learning. So I know the materials I’ve provided are helpful for all abilities, but maybe this is a great time to return to more study-skill type activities. There’s still nothing I can do if a student chooses to not ‘have a go’, but could some learners be better equipped for the restart?. At this point, are skills and resilience in how to learn within different situations more important that the subject learning itself?

Friday 20th March 2020 was my last day teaching music to classes at Manor CE Academy, York. It feels a long time ago, when in context it was 2 weeks before the Easter break, and we’re just at the end of the 3rd week back after the holidays. So in curriculum time it’s not really that long, although I expect not to be able to teach all my students in-person for a while yet.

It has been a time of of great re-adjustment, much new curriculum development, significant emailing, ‘zooming’ and creation of new types of online content, to try to ensure learning (and appropriate support) can continue for all students.

One thing is for certain. My teaching has changed during this time, as well as my appreciation of how key face-to-face education is. When I’m in front of the students, I can plan everything. I can make changes in real-time to find an optimal environment for each student as they progress. I can solve problems, share resources and encourage them, as I disseminate information and demonstrate music. This planning usually includes deciding where everyone sits. Students often complain about ‘seating plans’, but there are so many advantages that they benefit from, but are not aware of in advance. In ‘lockdown’, there isn’t the opportunity, for example, to seat them near other students with a mixture of abilities where I know they’ll feel encouraged as they work.

My most recent classroom experience was that about 80% of students engaged in the tasks I set without prompting. In general, year 8 were the most challenging year group to inspire to be ‘on task’ when we stopped. Whether there’s an age-related reason or a connection to students who haven’t selected the GCSE option, as they do as my school in year 8, less attention to detail was certainly evident in practical work. Whilst in school, there is a behaviour policy, including sanctions for students who don’t try in their learning, or for students who disrupt others. At home, it’s a physical impossibility to provide the same support to encourage learning. We have to think differently. As we plan lessons, so much information is available about each student, about their prior attainment in various subjects or about any barriers to learning they might have. However, the greatest, most insightful information I can know about a student, is seeing how they react when each new aspect is completed, or seeing how they struggle when they can’t see connections in knowledge to reach a confident level of understanding. It is a fundamental problem, to not have the opportunity to see our students during this time.

A frustration I’d felt for a few years (before lockdown) was a seeming perception that some students knew the best way to learn and could very much dictate this to teachers. I’ve even had a few conversations in the last couple of years where students have disagreed with the content of the curriculum. I’m very much in favour of student-voice activities and I’ve shared much in previous blogs of situations when students have inspired me. However, it seems to be more overlooked these days that I’m a specialist in my subject, and perhaps even more so in the context of education. I think historically, certainly in my own school education, there was a ‘taught respect’ to learn as much as possible from teachers. These days, that sense of respect requires a ‘trust’ to be earned by the teacher, before any sort of respect can come. Sometimes there are barriers or pre-conceptions that prevent this from happening easily.

So with all these challenges, it’s perhaps not a surprise if some students, who would need significant encouragement to work whilst in school, struggle to get started on their work at home.

For me, this is the most demoralising part of teaching in lockdown. It’s something that I can’t control. I can produce the most inspirational, practical, ‘accessible to all’ tasks possible, considering a very wide-range of factors, with clear instructions, but if students choose ‘not to engage’, I cannot help them. Even with a little attempt, ‘just having a go’ can be a starting point for an online dialogue to begin and for some students who had struggled in the past, this new style of learning has been hugely encouraging for them.

In this lockdown I continue to use Showbie as a secure online platform for file-sharing and feedback. The majority of my 762 students have an iPad, but for those who don’t, they can still access their Showbie account through any computer (Mac or PC), or smartphone, and from what I can see, all but a few can therefore access everything I’m sharing. (The few are sent a paper pack). Specialist music students who are learning to play an instrument, have their instrument at home. Many have found an instrument in their garage or loft and others with iPads are using the GarageBand app as an instrument. So lots of live music-making can still take place. The notification system in Showbie sends me an email every time a student: makes a comment, asks a questions, adds a answer, annotates a worksheet or uploads a performance. This creates many thousands of additional emails every week, but is a great way to ensure I don’t miss any student interactions. I endeavour to respond during the same day and in most cases can mark work or give feedback within minutes.

I am completely in the dark when students receive work or feedback from me and this is the greatest challenge. If they’re in front of me as I give feedback, (so much of which is usually verbal feedback in music), I can instantly see if my contribution is encouraging or helpful. In lockdown, I cannot see this. In the last week or so, I’ve begun to receive some encouraging signs that I’m helping, as a few parents have written to say how much the work or a “well done” 😀 has meant to their son or daughter when they’ve received it. I’ve also begun to receive messages to say “thank you” directly from students.

Showbie also time-stamps every interaction, so it’s possible to see when each interaction happens. It’s therefore also very easy to see if a student has had no interaction with the online work. As a team, our faculty have just completed a review of students’ interactions since Easter, including students producing outstanding work and those who haven’t engaged with their work during the 3 weeks at all. We’ve shared this information with other faculties and there seems to be 3 groups emerging (from my early analysis). Some students are attempting work in all subjects, some are choosing to prioritise some subjects over others (although it’s impossible to see whether it’s due to a perceived hierarchy of academic importance, or a choice of subject preference) and some are not accessing work in any subject, although I’m approaching all of this with some caution, as I cannot see the circumstances in which every student has to work in during lockdown. To begin to form assumptions as to why students might have made a choice to ‘not work’, is unhelpful. We cannot understand an individual’s circumstances unless there is communication.

We can continue to create inspiring and helpful content to encourage our young people. We can also make sure we’re ready to help and support when it’s needed. Above all we can celebrate every achievement. Remarkable is even more remarkable in the current circumstances.

Another platform I’m using more and more is YouTube. The analytical data is similarly helpful to the time-stamping in Showbie in that it highlights the number of viewers to each video. For those choosing to login into YouTube with their school google account, it’s also possible to see a breakdown of which age groups are accessing the materials and whether they are boys or girls. According to the data of users who’ve logged-in, more boys are watching the videos.

It’s possible to present live on Facebook or YouTube (as well as a few others), but some time ago I was recommended to keep Facebook for personal use only and that continues to be my choice. I communicate developments publicly with Twitter (@DaveLoweMusic) and the occasional Instagram, and share video content on Vimeo and YouTube. Vimeo I’ve found is an expensive personal outlay and doesn’t have the same features as YouTube. Since the lockdown began, my YouTube content has expanded to over 100 videos, including some live streams.

For GCSE learning, YouTube Live (via Wirecast) is great as I can combine ‘talking-to-camera’ with visual demonstrations on instruments, software and theoretical drawings on iPad. If students watch the live stream, they can have real-time discussions with other students within the safety of Showbie as they watch. They can then revisit modelling demonstrations as often as they need, to see how an idea was created and developed and they can go through descriptions of theory as often as needed. It’s like having an interactive textbook, specifically for them. The response from my year 9 and 10 GCSE students has been mixed. Just as with the younger students, there again seems to be the 3 groups and not all are choosing to engage. That said, a number of colleagues in other schools have contacted me to say how much my materials are helping their students.

However, the greatest challenge is an assumption I’ve felt when creating the content. From the timely analysis of the YouTube data, not all students are watching the videos, and those who are watching, are not watching and listening all the way through. Perhaps this is a deeper understanding into how 13-16s approach online video content. My assumption had been that I’d explained everything that’s needed to complete a task at the simplest level. Whereas, that might be true, some students have emailed questions that prove they’ve not listened to the videos all the way through. Subsequent conversations have confirmed this. A further helpful analytical figure from YouTube is the average % of viewing time. In one recent case, an 8-minute demonstration of how to recognise intervals by listening, the average viewing duration is 6 minutes (75%). In comparison,that’s quite high, but only 16 times has that video been viewed ever and it’s possible that it’s not been viewed by 16 different people. Of the 67 cohort, I’m unsure as to why so many chose not to view the resource. However, the video I’ve found most astonishingly-ignored is one I made for year 8 students to demonstrate how to play drum-fills on an iPad. The average viewing time is 33 seconds of the 10 minute video and unsurprisingly that was an aspect that most of the 250 students struggled with when it came to the recent assessment.

This is deeply challenging. It’s probably no more frustrating than being in a classroom giving instructions, for the student who wasn’t listening to then question what they should do. But I wonder whether if I should be sharing information differently. In this lockdown, I’ve experienced students of all levels of ability developing skills of independence in their learning. So I know the materials I’ve provided are helpful for all abilities, but maybe this is a great time to return to more study-skill type activities. There’s still nothing I can do if a student chooses to not ‘have a go’, but could some learners be better equipped for the restart?. At this point, are skills and resilience in how to learn within different situations more important that the subject learning itself?

I’ve found I’ve become more-reactive within lockdown and this is something I’m wrestling with at the moment. Feeling a duty of care to these young people, the moment they struggle with something I’ve made, I try to help them. This comes back to that impossible situation of not being able to see how they’re struggling and trying to make my provision the best it can be. This realisation (of immediacy in reaction) hit home this week. Straight after Easter I launched a new approach for GCSE students to address two aspects they’d shared they wanted more help with. These were: confidence in music theory and technical ability in performance. Perhaps having not fully read the first week’s instructions, two or three students got in touch to ask for more explanation in the work I was setting. My reaction to this was to panic that everyone would have difficulty understanding, so I recorded a podcast-like video and began to write more and more explanation for the tasks they had to do. I’ve now had a couple of students email to say they don’t understand the work as there’s too much to read! This is not a battle I’m going to win.

The 67 GCSE music students are all fantastic young people. They’re all great to work with, but are all vastly different (which is challenging and wonderful at the same time!). They represent a vast range of musical abilities from those who don’t play an instrument, to students who are already working towards grade 7/8. From the honest feedback I’ve received, people have shared of how grateful they are for me keeping things going and remaining positive in the content I produce. So many times we’ve decided that ‘things aren’t perfect’, but perhaps they can’t be just at the moment. An agreement shared by all I’ve spoken to though, it’s far better to try to do something, than to not do anything at all!

At risk of being further reactionary, next week, I’ll try another different approach to setting work. There will be one statement on Showbie for GCSE Music students. “Watch this to know what you need to do this week”. Next to that will be a Video link. I’ll keep the video short and will outline the 3 tasks for the week (to cover the 2 hours of lesson time and 1 hour of home work they are used to). Of the 3 tasks, one will be related to developing a study skill as opposed to a musical skill. I’ll write a blog to share findings of this later.

There’s far more to share about the real-world of music teaching in this lockdown, but at risk that you might not read all the way through (joke!), I’ll write a separate post about extra curricular, the second half of my job, which has created the very lowest point of this lockdown for me as well as the very highest. And the highest(s) far far outweigh any lows I’ve experienced in this period!

My passion to help young people to discover great wonderment of music and great confidence in performing and creating it, is as strong as ever. I can only do what I can do, but I’m learning many new things during this period. There are always things to improve.

All views my own.

Remote Learning Update: Understanding this new approach to school from the student’s perspective

The reaction when the call first connected was wonderful – like old friends meeting again after a long absence (even though it’s unbelievably only a week since we had a lesson at school). We cannot underestimate the importance of communicating with our students – even if it is just to say ‘hello’.

I had a fantastic video call with one of my Y10s this morning, student A (to protect their identity). The call was made through Google Hangouts, part of a new upgrade we’ve just had to G Suite across Hope Learning Trust.

Within seconds of the call being live, I was reminded of the two things we absolutely have to get right for learning to be effective; communication and relationship. Without these, there is no chance of developing trust between teacher and student and limited opportunity for collaborative learning.

During the time of being away from our students, it’s very easy to just assume how they are thinking or feeling and very easy for us to be wrong. We need to communicate. We set up the class video meeting this morning just to chat, to see familiar faces and to talk about our experiences of how it’s going. It cannot be underestimated of just how much is lost from not being there to talk face-to-face.

In York we’re blessed with fibre broadband and I have a 45-50Mbps connection. I suspect student A had a similar connection as the quality of audio and video was like we were sitting opposite each other in the same room. It was very easy to communicate. Others in the call found it difficult though, due to lower broadband speeds and this has to be considered, particularly when ensuring disadvantaged students have equality in what we do.

I read a really interesting article by Marc Rowland this week, helping us to think about disadvantaged students and, although student A isn’t in that group, the article led me to ask specific questions to check how the work being set by me and my colleagues was working in practice for them.

I first asked about the amount of work being set. Was it too much, too little or about right. Student A said it was “pretty overwhelming with how much there is to do”. There was definitely a perception that everything we post has to be completed. I wonder if we compared the workload we normally expect of students in our lessons with what we’re setting at the moment, how would it compare? On first reflection, I’m certainly guilty of over-setting at the moment.

A natural feeling of wanting to provide the very best opportunity for students, instantly, makes me want to share every opportunity I can find with them. I have to remember that, no matter how much they enjoy my subject, there is a bigger-picture need for them to continue to progress in all subjects. I am hugely bothered about their overall development so I have to get this balance right. My students also need space to think, reflect, create and develop so I must not bombard them with too many new ideas at once. Ultimately I want them to become more independent in their studies, providing accessible starting points, and sufficiently open ended opportunities, while also creating signposts to allow them to see progress. I want them to be independent, but for them to have the facility to ask for help when it’s needed.

I asked student A what they thought of the new content. They were very happy with the quality of content, especially with the YouTube Live lesson. Remembering again what I learned from the recent BBC experiment, about using the technology to extend learning possibilities in a timely and purposefully focused way, we must have the same approach to our new remote curriculum.

Student A also talked about how they were feeling. They’d been unwell with sickness the previous evening, but was much better this morning. They talked about feeling ‘not great’ (hot and stuffy) about the place where they sit to work. The place itself was ok – it was comfortable and they have everything they need, but it’s just being in that same place all the time that’s really hard. Student A is going out for a run once a day to make use of their opportunity for regular exercise. They are proud of improving their time to complete the circuit each day. They are also playing a bit of football in the garden to get some air.

The reaction when the call first connected was wonderful – like old friends meeting again after a long absence (even though it’s unbelievably only a week since we had a lesson at school). We cannot underestimate the importance of communicating with our students – even if it is just to say ‘hello’.

Going forwards, I’m going to set less work per year group and really focus on what I’ll ask students to be able to complete confidently in an hour’s lesson. My YouTube Live lessons at 1220 on Mondays will continue to be practical, but won’t particularly be linked to GCSE coursework to make them accessible to all ages and abilities. The YouTube lessons will be shared as an extra curricular opportunity and broadcast at lunchtime so as not to clash with other timetabled lessons. I will just stick to the 1 live lesson a week.

KS4 Music lessons will be simplified, featuring a single ‘Tune of the Week Kahoot’ as the starter for every lesson, rather than the current 3 Kahoots on different topics. There will be one larger project for students to develop over a few weeks with enough flexibility for students to work with their choice of approach. KS4 students can continue to email me at the instant they have a question and all 66 GCSE Music students in Years 9 and 10 can access and post to an open online Showbie chat to engage in collaborative community discussion for 7 hours every week (optional and at times fitting their schedule).

I haven’t attempted opportunities to play or sing together yet over hangouts. That’s for the future.

KS3 Music lessons will be even more simple. Beginning with a student-paced Kahoot, then a video clip to watch during which I’ll model a task on a given topic. Then time for the students to prove their understanding confidently, uploading their work. I’ll continue to have their class Showbie discussion open for posting comments during their hour lesson as that’s very popular.

For KS3 students wanting to develop more musical understanding, a 2nd lunchtime club, probably on Thursdays, is a place to share some of the other great work I’m receiving from other music teachers across the country.

It is more simple, but I’m absolutely determined that my students are actively encouraged to be creating music throughout this period.

So to simplify the simplifying:

Y7/8 Lessons

  1. Student-paced Kahoot!
  2. Watch Mr Lowe demo video
  3. Have a go and post your work on Showbie
  4. Showbie Class Discussion open during lesson time

Y9/10 Lessons

  1. Student-paced Tune of the Week Kahoot!
  2. Continue with single focused project
  3. Post work to Showbie for feedback or help
  4. Showbie Class Discussions combined for 66 students, open 7hrs per week
  5. Email questions 24/7 when students think of them

Music Extra Curricular

Mondays 1220 – YouTube Live Composing for Everybody

Thursdays 1220 – KS3 The ‘We Want More Music’ Club

Special thanks to Marc Rowland for making me think and to Mrs Lowman for sharing the article. I particularly think this structure for every remote lesson will be very effective for all students.

I’ll continue to reflect and keep you all posted of how things are going.

Cover Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Remote Music Lessons for Y7-8. Status: EVERYTHING WORKS AND IT'S AWESOME!!

I write to you with tremendous excitement. Not only are things up and running in our quest to ‘continue music education during the Coronavirus outbreak’, but many many young people are now actively involved in music creation across the country as a result and already the standard is incredible! Here’s this week’s remote work. If you’re reading this as someone outside of Manor CE Academy York, we welcome you! Please feel free to try the Kahoot! challenge using the link below – I’ve set up this challenge to be separate to the one our students are using (to protect their identities). I’ve covered the cost of this – you’ll just need to download the free app to play. Please do get in touch if I can help you in your work. This is a time for great growth in music education for our young people.

Students are already attempting ‘Super-Mastering’ – two year 7s add an improvised electric guitar solo using the minor pentatonic mode

I write to you with tremendous excitement. Not only are things up and running in our quest to ‘continue music education during the Coronavirus outbreak’, but many many young people are now actively involved in music creation across the country as a result and already the standard is incredible! Here’s this week’s remote work. If you’re reading this as someone outside of Manor CE Academy York, we welcome you! Please feel free to try the Kahoot! challenge using the link below – I’ve set up this challenge to be separate to the one our students are using (to protect their identities). I’ve covered the cost of this – you’ll just need to download the free app to play. Please do get in touch if I can help you in your work. This is a time for great growth in music education for our young people.

I’ve hidden the ‘iPad Help Videos’ link for security reasons.

Week 2 Lesson Instructions (23-27th March)

Year 7 & 8 Music, Manor CE Academy, York

Learning Objectives

  • To learn about the guitar in a popular song
  • To understand the assessment levels for this project with one week to go
  • To know what to do next if you’re loving this project and want to do more
  1. Information
  • Our testing day on Friday was very successful and lots of you have messaged me to say how much you’d enjoyed in. That’s great!
  • I’ll post your work at the start of each week. It’s up to you when you do your hour of music.
  • Don’t forget to join the ‘iPad Music Help’ Showbie group (code: *****) and check these videos before asking for help. You might well find your answer there.
  • I’m helping 472 of you at the moment so to make it fair to everyone, I’ll only be able to promise to reply to your comments and questions during your timetabled hour. The only exception to this is students who have me on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays I’ll be leading sessions for students of key workers, so I’ll support Wednesday classes online between 4-6pm on Wednesdays.
  • A few students are moving towards ‘Super-Mastering’. I will run an online lunchtime club for you soon, but I just need to think about which day
  • I’ve posted some additional resources into the ‘iPad Help Videos’ group so between that page and this you should have everything you need!
  • Other than your 1 hour of music, I have no additional expectation of how you’ll spend time this week. However, if you’re enjoying making music, just do it, because you love it!
  • Special thanks to students who have noticed things that everybody might need help with. You are Amazing!

Here we go… Enjoy!

  1. Your Kahoot! Challenge for this week is here. Click this link to play: https://kahoot.it/challenge/0710763?challenge-id=e9fb6ebc-c0f6-4196-9ce4-6f8eae4c847c_1584885802115
  2. If you’re not finished from last week (instructions below), there’s no need to rush or panic. Just crack on! You’ve got this.
  3. If you’re confident you’ve finished everything from last week and the quality of your production is the best it can be… watch this video about developing Grime/Trap beats in your music to give your music a more current sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra41qQqKoHU&list=PLCwa5VlECOWw89VyTNtvpdV1eAKtzEBif&index=5&t=0s
  4. If that’s not enough, push on and attempt ‘Mastering’. Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVa4HHEcwa8&list=PLCwa5VlECOWw89VyTNtvpdV1eAKtzEBif&index=6&t=0s

Have a fantastic week

Mr Lowe 🙂

What does remote music learning look like?

… this is my year 7 and 8 work for next week. I’m testing it with y7 and 8 music lessons all day tomorrow – I’ll post findings from testing. Students tomorrow will be challenged to act as though they’re at home on their own, rather than in front of me.

… this is my year 7 and 8 work for next week. I’m testing it with y7 and 8 music lessons all day tomorrow – I’ll post findings from testing. Students tomorrow will be challenged to act as though they’re at home on their own, rather than in front of me.

Instructions below given to students on their Showbie account. Lesson can be completed on an iPad or iPhone.

If you’re reading this… have a go at the Kahoot using the link below, watch video tutorial 1 and (if you have GarageBand), have a go 🙂

Dear students,

In today’s lesson we’ll test an approach I’ve designed to make it possible for you to continue with your music learning when your school closes for the coronavirus outbreak. You must imagine you’re sitting at home on your own. Read the instructions below carefully. Enjoy everything you do. Good luck!

These are unprecedented times. We will go on with our learning in music and look forward to what we can discover independently. But we have an incredible ‘bigger picture’ opportunity – if we can make this work, we will inspire many other young people around the world to do the same.

Week 1 Lesson Instructions (test day, Friday 20th March)

Learning Objectives: Today we’ll learn about the voice part in a popular song.

NOTE: at the end of your hour of music, take a screenshot of your GarageBand screen and upload it to this page. Rename the image with today’s date. Also add a sentence as a comment to share your experience in this session or to make suggestions of improvements.

HELP: if you’re completely stuck and can’t continue without help, even though you’ve tried to solve the problem… write the problem or your question as a comment on this page. Mr Lowe will either answer your question by commenting back or make a video to help everybody. Help videos can be found in a new Showbie class (code:*****)

  1. Play this week’s Kahoot! Link: https://kahoot.it/challenge/055154?challenge-id=e9fb6ebc-c0f6-4196-9ce4-6f8eae4c847c_1584644464345
  2. To catch-up parts you may have missed from weeks 1-3…
    Watch Video Tutorial 1. Link: https://youtu.be/DJp9IINoN7c
    In this video you can learn how to record the piano, bass guitar, drum kit and guitar parts and how to edit them by quantising so that everything fits perfectly in time. Don’t continue until you’ve completed all of these parts.
  • Piano
  • Bass Guitar
  • Drum Kit
  • Acoustic Guitar
  • Electric Guitar
  1. Open GarageBand, click on the cog in the top right corner and change the tempo to 75 bpm (if you don’t do this, the voice recording will be out of time with the other tracks)
  2. Watch ‘Video 2 – Importing the Vocal’ on Showbie. Keep checking back to the video to make sure you do everything needed and import Anna’s lead chorus vocal into your session.
  3. Watch ‘Video 3 – Adding crashes and drum fills on chord changes’ and then add these parts to your session.

At this point, if you’ve finished everything, share your GarageBand project to this page to get feedback. To share your work from looking at GarageBand

  • tap the file logo in the top left corner (or it might say ‘my songs’)
  • hold your finger on the file for a second and release
  • select share
  • choose ‘project’
  • tap Showbie and add to this folder

Mr Dave Lowe
Director of Learning (Performing Arts)
Head of Music
Manor CE Academy, York

More to follow…

A solution to help ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’ to find confidence in the understanding of music theory and language

This amount of learning is vast for an 11-12 year old student. That every single individual learner is engaged and wanting to do more, is awesome. The learning potential of this approach with the addition of Kahoot is amazing!

When I think back to my own high school music studies, I felt the freedom to compose and had the confidence to perform, but I struggled to describe my music and developing confidence in music theory was a real challenge to begin with. This memory has always given me determination to understand the needs of my students and to find the level of ‘breaking-down’ each requires to grasp a musical concept. Having said that, I was an active musician, rehearsing, performing and composing regularly. The challenge for a ‘students who is not actively playing or writing music’, is significantly greater.

I’ve written a lot in the last couple of years about the two GCSE Music pathways we offer at Manor CE Academy, York. Ultimately both cohorts achieve the same AQA GCSE qualification, but one course is designed for musicians and the other for ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’. The two groups learn in completely different ways. All can access the full range of examination marks, but their approach to musical understanding is very different, with the ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’ relying more on technology to learn and perform.

One of my major development projects in the ‘Music Production Via Technology’ pathway is finding methods for students to truly understand how music works and how it is described by listening. Importantly, they don’t have the opportunity to ‘internalise’ music as is one of the key benefits of playing an instrument. 

The biggest successes until recently were my ‘WordWall’ and ‘Tune of the Week’. Wordwall became a visual focus for all music students from years 7-11. Its prominence, covering the whole of one of the classroom walls, showing its importance for use and the coloured categories for each element helping students to see terms in their element categories. This tool has always helped with spelling and to help students to learn which terms are related to each element. However, it is just words on a wall and teacher explanations and demonstrations are needed to bring it to life. Brilliant for a whole class demonstration, but limited if used alone for students’ independent further study, other than as a starting point for things to look-up.

‘Tune of the Week’ was instantly successful as it took away the stigma students have of approaching musical styles they don’t normally listen to. Students became quickly aware that the first thing they would be asked to do at the start of a new week of learning in music was to listen. It developed a curiosity of what the next piece to explore would be. In addition, by studying the same ‘Tune of the Week’ as students in other year groups, some students began to have musical conversations between age groups, which is great for building a musical community bothered about what they can learn together. 

‘Tune of the Week’ was also successful by students using the TOTW template to answer questions each week. Students ‘knowing where to look’ and how to read the questions are aspects I’d overlooked before. Students quickly became more confident about writing down musical language. Together with the WordWall they found they ‘knew where to look’ more quickly, which is so important when searching through the 516 possible answers. 

Each week the activity is marked by student/teacher discussions, which in a 1-1 situation would be fine, but the waiting time for others is far from ideal. Students keep the record of the wrong answer and type the correction in the next column. A conditional formatted cell turns red or green to allow us to quickly see students who need more support. As useful as all this is, the activity takes 20 minutes each week so takes up a significant period in the first of the week’s two GCSE lessons. A restriction is that all students are given the same help, the same feedback and the same time to read and answer questions. The listening materials on Spotify, without lots of editing preparation, can only be played as full tracks, which is often challenging for ‘students who are not actively playing or writing music’ to unpick, as they ultimately will need to do for their GCSE exam. It certainly isn’t as ‘broken-down’ as would be preferred. 

Students learn simple musical terms first, then recognising them into the element categories. It is one challenge to learn the right word in the right category and to correctly define it by listening in a musical moment, it is another to have the confidence to write it down, and further to have the confidence to write it in a concise, meaningful, grammatically-correct sentence. 

A better, new solution using Kahoot!

The addition of the Kahoot app, has been a further significant advancement in the last three weeks. 

I took two decisions. Firstly to convert my ‘Tune of the Week’ GCSE resource into Kahoot quizzes and then to expand the method into the KS3 programme to help students to grasp key terminology earlier. I’m also currently working on the possibility of a solution useful from year 3 to 16 that could be rolled out into primary schools to support them. Into the future, this would be the ideal solution to support each individual student’s progress in music. 

Kahoot quizzes are easy to programme. Each 10-question Kahoot takes between 15-30 minutes to programme, including the time it takes to add YouTube video links. There’s a really helpful bank of Getty Images photos to quickly search for within the app and it’s easy to find suitable images. For specific theoretical ideas I want to show, just as I would draw on a white board, I can draw on my iPad with an Apple Pencil and then upload the image to the question.

The opportunity to display part of a video or a fragment of a notated score helps students to focus on the aspect they’re trying to understand.

I’ve upgraded my Kahoot membership to ‘Premium’ to be able to offer challenges to 2000 people at once, which although so far used only within my own academy, will eventually be offered to colleagues across the trust and beyond (at no charge). The premium membership also gives me additional question types, including the ability to request a specific, correctly-spelled, typed answer in additional to the multiple choice selections. It costs me £48/yr.

Students must type the answer with the correct spelling to be successful. It is possible to program a range of possible answers.

The greatest feature however, is the ability to select a very specific start and end time for my chosen YouTube clip. Using this, in addition to giving my students a full length clip to play, I can isolate a specific few seconds clip to focus their listening on the required aspect in the question. For example, in a focus on a classical piano sonata I wanted my students to be able to recognise specific melodic devices such as: scale, sequence and arpeggio. I chose excepts that gave students clear examples of these. Once discovered within the quiz, immediately students chose to discuss these using the appropriate terminology and discovering their meaning inspired them to try to use them in composition ideas. One improvement I will suggest to the team at Kahoot is to allow students to re-listen to the shortened clip when reviewing errors – currently they can only listen once and then listen to the whole YouTube video.

In the first week, the Kahoots were instantly appealing to the students. We always talk openly about how helpful the different resources are for learning and this new approach has been positively received. However, students’ experience of Kahoot-type quizzes before had been seen as a ‘game of chance’, which was fun because you could choose a crazy nickname to appear on the big screen and have some kind of online game-play in a school lesson. For this reason it was initially a challenge to encourage students to actually read the questions and answers, rather than just guessing the answer and watching the game unfold. I tweeted to suggest a period of time could be programmed into the game to prevent students from answering without thinking time. This was echoed by others online. 

But there was enough in that first week to suggest that this could be a very helpful tool, if I could solve the timing problem.

That solution was found by using the ‘student-paced challenge’ option. Rather than starting the quiz all together in the lesson, students received a link from me through Showbie a couple of days before the lesson. I could programme sufficient information to allow the students to begin independently and despite not sharing this plan, many students engaged without prompting. When I explained to the students that the question timer had been switched off, it was greeted  with much appreciation. Students told me how frustrating it had been that they didn’t have time to read and think before answering. The ‘student-paced’ option had majorly ticked the ‘differentiation’ box, as all individuals could take the amount of time they needed. Some students asked questions to confirm they had understood what was being asked and results were much higher instantly. It also became possible to be a ‘reader’ for those students who had that as an exam concession without the need for additional TAs.

Puzzles challenge students to sort information into a correct order to prove understanding. In this example the challenge is to sort the 4 2-bar phrases into the correct structure.

Another great part of the new challenge format is the instant opportunity to review the questions and audio clips they hadn’t understood. For many, this was the first time they’d understood what a sequence was in music and they now had an example to revise from. When played other examples, they could now identify all the melodic devices with more confidence. 

We’ve yet to test it, but the additional challenge to repeat the quiz 7 days later sounds like a good idea to consolidate learning. 

I tweaked a few things by the end of the 3rd week of testing (based on students’ feedback). The most helpful is routine. The successful routine for the KS3 experience is as follows:

All students arrive with better punctuality, looking forward to their music lesson

All students know the expectation to enter and begin their Kahoot at their own pace, recognising that the knowledge they’ll develop will help them in the practical work 

Students have 10 minutes to complete the quiz and revisit any problems, ask questions etc. (note the reduction in time from the original Tune of the Week)

I use the Apple Classroom app to lock all student iPads, which is their cue to move to sit at the front of the class

I model the practical task, directly based on the understanding developed in the Kahoot. This part of the lesson is short but allows time for whole group discussion with merits given for students who can confidently describe key aspects using the correct terminology

A set period of time to complete the practical task (15 mins max). The first 10 students who complete the work to the required (high) standard receive merits and become ‘Mini Mr Lowes’, spreading out across the room to support those who need help or have questions. Mini Mr Lowes may choose to develop their understanding further by solving problems with others or attempting more advanced tasks. All students have opportunity for feedback and help within the lesson. The environment for learning is electric and absolutely every student is on task.

We repeat the Kahoot at the end of the lesson to consolidate learning, as another chance to win merits and enjoy being able to confidently answer together. This is a choice for students – some prefer to continued to develop their work.

The lesson ends and it is a genuine challenge to get students to leave for their next lesson!

Students’ focus at the start of GCSE music lessons is improved by having the student-paced Kahoot at the start.

The most exciting aspect is the amount and depth of musical learning made possible for all learners. To show an example of this, these are the concepts covered in last week’s 1-hour music lesson for year 7.

  • Understanding a bass guitar, including discovering how it’s different to an electric guitar
  • Understanding the role of a bass guitar in a band, including how the bass player will listen to others to make their part ‘fit’
  • Understanding how to read bass notes from a lead sheet
  • Understanding and reading bass notes written on staff notation
  • Understanding note durations and rhythms including relevant terminology
  • Understanding metre and beats of the bar including helpful methods of counting
  • Understanding quantisation values and using them appropriately
  • Engaging in critical listening and based on findings, making musical improvements
  • Performing to a given pulse
  • Recording a musical part to fit dynamically and rhythmically with other parts
  • Editing a musical recording using technology to adjust note lengths and velocities
  • Understanding the process to develop a high quality music product
  • Understanding a positive workflow with frequent listening at the centre
  • Understanding the construction of a popular song
  • Understanding methods to develop work together as well as independently

This amount of learning is vast for an 11-12 year old student. That every single individual learner is engaged and wanting to do more, is awesome. The learning potential of this approach with the addition of Kahoot is amazing! 

More to come I’m sure…

Students at Manor CE Academy discussing analysis of Copland’s “Saturday Night Waltz” using Kahoot!