Tune of the Week

To develop confident musical understanding, students must be constantly listening to and exploring music in a range of genres and contexts. As they begin, they need support in how they focus on music when they listen, and encouragement that ‘it’s going to be ok’, especially when approaching music in a style they’ve never heard before.

As a result, students can prepare confidently to listen and demonstrate their awareness of music in their GCSE exam.

I created ‘Tune of the Week’ in summer 2018 and it is planned as the first activity in every year 9, 10 and 11 lesson every week. I use the same music for all three year groups to encourage integration and discussion between the different age groups. I give all students the same (exam) questions too, but there’s flexibility in-built to give clues or to demonstrate live answering, where I take the role of the student and think out loud to show how I would answer. For Year 11 students there’s an extension task to define the style they’re listening to, which students find harder as it requires them to apply previous knowledge.

All students at Manor have an iPad and we use the app Showbie as a paperless solution. Students begin by downloading a new template like the one below. It is now a routine for them to do this so takes little time. When complete, they screenshot their answers and upload back to Showbie to keep for further study and revision.

This is the 2nd version of the template, now including an automatic marking system using conditional formatting (the template automatically opens in the numbers app to make this possible). Therefore zero additional marking outside the classroom and students receive instant feedback. As we go through the answers, students simply enter a Y or N into the appropriate column. Instantly this turns green or red and is then easy for me (and them) to see at a glance of things they’ve understood or need extra support with. There’s also an extra box to write in the correct answer so they can go back and look over it to check understanding.

The three ‘educated guesses’ encourage students to openly discuss the music as soon as they hear it – these are not exam-style questions but helpfully add context. They also help students to be aware of a wider range of styles, which they need to have available to them as they compose.

The 5 questions are on a Keynote/PowerPoint slide on the screen, shown for reference in the slide below. These 5 questions are similar to those found in the AQA Music exam. The ‘longer’ question at the bottom of the page is a more difficult exam question, purposely requiring 4 answers, as opposed to the 3 on the examination.

It was important to begin with familiar music and the customary Earth, Wind & Fire choice was an instant success as the student to my right shouting “That’s a right tune” proved after the opening 3 seconds. It’s important to begin with familiar music as it creates a natural point of confidence. As soon as we begin to unpick the music, it’s unlikely that students have considered it in this way before.

The week 3 tune, “End of the line”, is an example of where you might go next. The music feels familiar but is not heard in its usual context of the film. It wasn’t originally designed for week 3, but was suggested by a student in a separate conversation about developing narrative music in film. The outcome of that conversation was so helpful that we decided to share it with everybody as a Tune of the Week. The choice was inspired – it actually gave us a highly complex orchestral piece to hear, and sparked intrigue to discover other orchestral music.

The most interesting response from students came in the 2nd week of February – Steve Reich, Clapping Music. The 2% of students who had heard the music before got very excited as, it was announced it was a favourite of their father who listened to it over and over in the car. The 98% first listeners independently began an amazing discussion. I’d prepared a practical activity for them to experience Clapping Music to understand more about its construction. Within 40 minutes, those students went from ‘never experiencing this genre before’ to enjoying, questioning and being fascinated by it.

This project is part of our Performing Arts staff team research for 2018/19, which is exploring the impact an ‘iPad-based Interactive Coursebook’ has on students developing confidence in understanding in Music, Dance & Drama. I’ll post further updates on this project as it continues. Already, the most significant impacts have been ability to provide instant feedback to students, while building stronger relationships with them and reducing teacher workload. Watch this space!

Author: davelowemusiceducation

Dave Lowe MA PGDip PGCE(M) BSc(Hons) MMA SLE - Currently Director of Learning: Performing Arts & Head of Music at Manor CE Academy, York - Specialist in Music Education using Technology - Author of "How to Write Great Music" (Lulu Publishing, 2015) - National examiner and moderator for GCSE Music Composition

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