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

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 BOUSFIELD

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 MARLEY

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. 

ANDY JENNINGS

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 CHALK

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 MORRISON

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 

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!

My Reflections on the BBC Digital Detox week at Manor CE Academy, York 27-31 January 2020

At the end of 2019, I was approached by BBC Inside Out to take part in a challenge, which would be filmed and shown on BBC1. They were interested in seeing “how much smart screen technology has got into our lives.”

(written on 31st January)

Preparation and Context

If I was asked to think of a top list of ‘things that have a profound impact on the learning potential of my students’, the opportunity to use technology would come very close to the top. However, it’s difficult to describe this positive effect and only really possible to demonstrate in person. As such, quite a few heads of music, school leaders and education professionals have visited Manor to observe this in the last few years. The music department leads have all gone away encouraged and have now launched similar work in their schools. 

At the end of 2019, I was approached by BBC Inside Out to take part in a challenge, which would be filmed and shown on BBC1. They were interested in seeing “how much smart screen technology has got into our lives.” 

I gave up my @DaveLoweMusic twitter after Christmas and during the week of filming didn’t check, send or reply to emails, didn’t use our @ManorPerfArts twitter (which we use to share information with parents of our 762 Performing Arts students), and didn’t use projectors, Apple Macs, PCs, iPads or phones. 

The aims of the BBC project were limited to the quote above and I wasn’t sure of the intended narrative for their programme, but I was initially sceptical as I felt it likely that it was a way to challenge us to use less technology or to even suggest that we shouldn’t use it at all. 

In AQA’s GCSE Music course, students must submit two performances, totalling a minimum of 4 minutes. For students who are passionate about music, but who have chosen not to learn to play an instrument or prefer not to sing, the course would not be accessible for them. However, the course includes a ‘Production Via Technology’ option for performance, which essentially involves producing a recording of a song from creation of tracks to final mix. 

In the 10 years I’ve been head of music at Manor, we’ve consistently had 250-300 students choosing to take additional studies or ensemble opportunities to develop their technique in their voice or instrument. Now a school community of 1,124 students, that 25%ish is nationally quite high, but I’ve always been challenged that the other 75% are not given an opportunity to continue their musical learning at GCSE-level and have access to the full range of marks. 

In the last few years I’ve developed our key stage 3 course to incorporate some of the ‘Production Via Technology’ type projects as a method for non-musician students to demonstrate their ability. This has also then set the groundwork for them to continue into our GCSE Music Production Via Technology Pathway. 

Music, whether it be singing, listening to, watching, writing or playing has always had a significant and positive impact on the lives of the young people I’ve taught. It enriches them in so many ways. In a recent analysis of highest achieving students, 9 of the top 10 are members of our most advanced choir, not all of them ‘music students’, but all frequently investing in music.

Monday

On the first morning of this week’s project, my Year 9 GCSE Music lesson was filmed for the hour. Preparing for the lesson was a huge challenge. Knowing the impact technology has had on learning in my classroom, I always look forward to any opportunity to share with others. In my own teaching practice, I frequently reflect on my lessons and have many visitors coming to observe me teach. Performance management or subject review observations are the most complex to deliver, as you are trying to demonstrate a range of factors including the progress of the students over time, rather than just what happens during the hour. This is made more complex by the knowledge that if the observer disagrees with your practice or perceives it as sub-standard, it could have a negative operational impact on your department or even the wider school. 

I’ve had lessons filmed before as part of coaching programmes encouraging me to reflect on my own practice. I’ve found that method to be very helpful in my own development, but the BBC filming was different, mainly as it was unclear of what they were hoping to prove by observing my lessons, so therefore I wasn’t certain what I was preparing for.

The year 9 class are studying popular song this term and by the end of term I’ve challenged them to produce their own recording of a song, using only a lead sheet (containing lyrics and chords) and a link to YouTube to be able to understand how the melody sounds. They’re expected to record all the tracks for piano, bass guitar, drum kit, acoustic guitar and voice accurately in pitch, rhythm and with a consistent sense of style. They have to perform all of the instrumental parts, which most do by using the instruments on their iPad GarageBand. All attempt their own voice recording, but may then choose to record another student’s voice to become part of their production. 

My expectations of them are astronomical, especially for 13-14 year old students. However, the outcome of the project is significant, allowing them to apply their understanding of the popular song components and have a true sense of achievement that they’ve been able to create something that is industry-comparable. I find the earlier they can achieve a high standard in production values in their work, the better, as this contributes to future development of their own expectations in producing high quality work. 

There are some relatively simple concepts in a popular song. The structure of the song consists of 3 or 4 different short sections, some of which are repeated (like the chorus), and the pattern of chords in a verse for example, is often made up of only 2 or 3 chords. A concept that my students are often surprised about is when they discover each instrument plays the same chord (or a note from that chord) at the same time. As a practicing musician of many years this seems so simple, but I can’t remember when I first realised this to be the case. It is a critical factor in their learning to hear this before students can confidently listen to how the harmony works in a piece of music. 

In fact, popular songs are often not complex. They consist of several simple ideas put together, but the control of each musical element, of audio content, and of overall mix is vital for a successful outcome. This control is key in both product creation and understanding.

The BBC had asked me to teach my Monday year 9 lesson using no technology whatsoever. I chose the objective for the lesson “To understand the use and purpose of a drum kit part when composing a popular song.” 

The lesson began by asking students to identify 8 components of a drum kit. Most struggled with this, but once they’d labelled the worksheet (I’d created using my iPad) they were able to use the language confidently in the lesson. We then continued to learn a simple pop groove all together, using body percussion so everyone could take part. Focus was excellent, and most could master the co-ordination quickly. As a few students came up to the drum kit at the front, all watched to see what happened and all participants were able to find some success in playing the real drum kit. I was particularly impressed by the amount of progress made by non-musician students in the group and how much the experience clearly meant to them. We continued in the lesson to discuss how the drummer should think about tempo and dynamics during a performance, and all students moved on to compose a variation of the original groove, following their thought that simple repetition could become monotonous. To challenge the two drum students in the room, I invited them to demonstrate advanced considerations in song writing, such as using cymbal crashes to emphasise chord changes, matching rhythms played by other instruments in the band, using regular quaver rhythms to build energy and performing fill-ins to announce a new phrase or section. I was pleased that this part of the lesson remained relevant to the whole class, while pushing the more experienced drum students to advance further. Some of the lower-ability or non-musicians within the group appeared to zone-out by this time, however, when I asked them about this later, they suggested their focus was kept throughout. It made me wonder whether I really can tell if a student is concentrating by their facial expressions. 

A very successful lesson, but I wasn’t prepared for what followed next. BBC news presenter Amy Garcia asked to address the group. She asked the students if they’d enjoyed the lesson, which was greeted with a resounding ‘yes’ from all. Amy continued to ask how many of them would like to do this more often, instead of lessons using their iPads. Of the 18 students present, 16 said they preferred ‘without iPads’. I was completely shocked by this response and felt gutted. I’d spent so much time developing this type of work for them and have seen so many successes, I’d never thought this outcome could be a possibility. I didn’t understand and found it difficult to believe, a shock also shared by other teachers in the academy who I went to share this with immediately after the lesson.

Tuesday

The students’ feedback from the Monday lesson triggered many deep conversations with students and staff. Unable to ask advice of other music education specialists, due to my detox from email, twitter and the like, I spent much of Tuesday trying to understand the response through internal discussions. On Tuesday morning, my year 11s and I were analysing the music of Aaron Copland, which required the brief use of Spotify as I didn’t have the music on CD or cassette tape. (It had been agreed prior to the project that technology could be used if needed with Y11s as it was their final term before examination). I asked these older students if I was just way off-beam, and just wrong in my perception that students enjoyed using tech in their learning. To my great relief, they confirmed that I wasn’t wrong. They responded with great passion, asking how it would be possible to complete coursework as they wanted, or to revise using the audio app we use. One student was so passionate that he leapt from his chair, and proceeded to stamp his feet as he shouted his thoughts about how some people were making suggestions that would ruin his chances. 

As much as this made me feel better, I was still considering the year 9s, whom I am so fortunate to have a brilliant working relationship with. I didn’t believe those students voted as they did to impress the presenter, as was suggested by one colleague. 

Then followed another profound learning point in my week, a conversation in passing with a support colleague I’ve now worked closely with for quite a few years. He challenged me to remember what it felt like when I was at school. My schooling, being in the 1980s and 90s, involved early use of computer-based technology, but that use was rare and a novelty. He challenged me to consider that young people are completely surrounded by screen-based technology and (for year 9s born in 2005/06) they have never experienced life without it. For this reason alone, their experience of life is significantly different to mine. The novelty that I’d felt of using the technology could be more comparable to the currently younger generation of having situations that don’t use the technology. 

Wednesday

The cameras returned on Wednesday morning to film a repeat of Monday’s lesson, this time with my year 9 Production Via Technology class. The lesson was enjoyed again, although students appeared not quite so focused as I’d seen on Monday. At the end of the lesson, two boys were interviewed about their experience and both said how positive it was to play the real instrument, although only one had actually played it during the lesson. I was less surprised this time and reassured by the idea of it being a ‘novelty lesson’ as suggested on Tuesday. 

On Wednesday however, I was floored for a second time, this situation causing me so much deep thought that I was unable to sleep on Wednesday night. Year 10 GCSE music students are just beginning their work on a major composition project. They’re focusing on the development of melody this week and as such, the task was to compose an 8-bar melody. This class began the task on Tuesday, with the challenge to compose a melody initially with just manuscript paper and a pencil and rubber and no device or instrument to create sound other than their voice. In the Wednesday lesson, they could use one of 3 pianos in the department or 2 guitars, but couldn’t use computers or iPads. One student became very upset. They described not being confident enough with finding notes on a piano quickly in order to compose, not having access to their instrument (guitar) as they were being used by others and so much wanting to hear to know if it was the melody hoped for. This deeply challenged me as that student was fully aware of their learning and the help they needed. They were working independently, but had become deeply discouraged by the restriction of this week’s detox project. After a night of deep thinking, and feeling a sense of sadness for the student, I decided that, despite the clear benefits of me being involved in the experiment, that this negative-impact in the student’s well-being and hinderance of their development was significant and needed to be avoided in the future.  

A further negative moment on Wednesday was a second complaint of the week from one of the administration team. Communication is everything in how schools function, and due to me not using email and another internal app, I’d created extra work for another member of staff. 

Thursday

On Thursday morning I taught the year 10 Production Via Technology class, who are also studying melody writing. In response to some earlier student feedback, I’d developed a new tool to help students to find a starting point in composition (an aspect that many students find challenging). Following the events of Wednesday, I allowed all students to use their technology except for one, who had signed up to the digital detox himself. I felt I needed to do this, to ensure he could be allowed to complete his BBC challenge. He was visibly very annoyed, especially as other students had a different opportunity. As the lesson got started, the detox student was able to use paper to take notes of his musical choices (tempo, key, scale notes, range etc.) As a guitar student, he was then able to develop ideas and represent them on paper, though not in notation or TAB. The second task was to create a drum kit groove to complement the melody. He did this by drawing a grid similar to the one he’d used previously on GarageBand. He attempted to play the pattern on the real drum kit, but found it difficult and also couldn’t play his guitar and drum parts together. By this time all other students in the room had developed ideas and he found this frustrating too, especially as by now, some had added a harmony part. This was a vital learning point of the week. It proved that (of course) it is possible to create original music without technology, but that there is a limit, that otherwise technology can enhance. 

Also on Thursday, I taught a simplified version of the drum kit lesson with year 7. Partway through, a group of boys switched-off and moved to sit together and talk. On this occasion I chose to allow this, then reassuring them that they weren’t ‘in trouble’ asked what made them make this choice, rather than to take part with everyone else. They were so surprised that I’d shown this interest in them, rather than sanctioning it as poor behaviour and it triggered a further fascinating discussion. They shared of how interesting they found the drum kit work, but that after the first one or two individuals had been to the front to ‘have a go’, there wasn’t anything additional for them to learn as the same information was just being repeated for each participant. They made the choice to interact with each other, rather than sitting and appearing bored. They chose to move themselves away from the group so as not to interrupt the lesson. I wonder how many teachers have this type of conversation with their young people. 

A key benefit I’ve found in delivering music lessons with every student having a device is the opportunity for every student to remain engaged and able to apply their musical learning instantly, without having to wait for others. If I had a class of 5 students, it would be more straightforward for students to be involved together throughout the lesson, but this is far more challenging with a class of 30+ students and therefore the use of technology makes it possible to offer the same level of opportunity to all students at the same time. I’ve found this method promotes independent learning as well as collaboration and discussion between students as they discover new ideas individually and want to share them together. Until this year 7 lesson, I’ve not had evidence of the opposite of this, so this was greatly encouraging. It also highlighted the differences in the required levels of engagement between different key stages.

With the final day of the experiment approaching, I felt it important to share that I’d chosen to not complete the full 5-day detox and resumed my use of email and twitter. 

Friday & Final Comments

As I approached the filming of final comments with Amy Garcia today, I started to draw together my thoughts from the week. It has been a week of profound challenge and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned as I continue to develop things into the future.

In response to the original BBC question, it is clear that smart screen technology is significantly embedded into our lives. There is a risk that it can be over-used, and this is something I’ll certainly be more aware of moving forwards. I’ve known of positive opportunities technology can create for a long time, but this week has helped me to understand why. For some students, access to music education would be more difficult or impossible without it, especially in composition. For all students, it’s possible to learn about music with or without technology, but technology enhances the possibilities of music creation, for example allowing us to create and listen to many new ideas at the same time. So the technology for us is an extension for learning.

Following further discussion with students about why many students preferred lessons without iPads, it was completely legitimate that they’d enjoyed exploring the use of a new real instrument, and I must now look to find ways to create that type of experience within each project. However, we’ve also discovered that a key consideration for our young people is accountability. In a lesson using iPads, all are expected to partake immediately, and there has to be an outcome. They can’t simply sit at the back and relax. Students are forced to be responsible for their learning and to prove their understanding. Whereas this is positive from an ‘always proving progress’ standpoint, it does highlight the desire our young people have to just experience new ideas and have the space to allow knowledge to develop (without having the pressure to prove anything). Often as a teaching professional, I can relate to that pressure of a sense of always needing to meet accountability targets. I wonder if education policy makers consider this. I will certainly be more aware of this going forwards as I think about how I do more to support students as they develop their individual musical understanding. My lessons are enhanced by the best and timely use of the technology available. That ‘best use’ must have a defined purpose and come with additional support for students for its use, together with real-world musical experiences to ensure they can each have every opportunity to flourish. A balance of real-world and technology-based work is important.

It was a shame the BBC didn’t film any of the lessons involving the technology to be able to compare, although maybe that will be another opportunity for the future. I am deeply grateful to Amy Garcia and Mat Heywood for the opportunity to work together this week and for the time they’ve invested in music education. Many thanks to you both.

Inspiring a love of learning (rather than a fear of exams)

There will always be challenges in this profession, but perhaps we’re getting the problems and solutions the wrong way round. Could we approach exam preparation differently?

Here’s a real-world solution with a fantastic outcome!

One of the biggest challenges young people are facing in our schools is examination fear. For most students I’ve spoken to recently, they talk of ‘the fear’, but find it difficult to specify the causes. I’ve also noticed that teachers (including myself) naturally draw conclusions as to why there is this fear, but I’m finding more and more that these perceptions are inaccurate. I’m also finding it helpful just for students to have an opportunity to share how they ‘feel’. Often worry is only developed when students feel that those supporting them ‘don’t understand’.

Often as teachers, we design systems and practices that we perceive to be the best for our students. It’s now fairly commonplace (or should be) to see ‘student voice’ activities taking place in lessons. These are just as important regarding preparations for our exam systems as for any other aspect of school life.

Worry about exams has always been there, but in recent years it appears to be having deeper health implications for our young people. Ultimately the examinations are not therefore proving their ability and understanding. If anything, the process is making students feel that whatever they do, it won’t be enough. I’m not completely sure as to why this has become worse. I certainly remember feeling nervous about my own school exams, but not to anywhere near the extent I see in students now.

The natural reaction is to blame the national system and speaking to lots of teachers, the Progress 8 measure in particular has been a factor in their view. Teachers, particularly English and Maths have felt a much greater sense of accountability to deliver numbers, no matter the circumstances or students they’re working with. There will always be challenges in this profession, but perhaps we’re getting the problems and solutions the wrong way round. Could we approach exam preparation differently?

About 15 years ago, having worked through a long period of mental illness, I learned that we each cannot help how we ‘feel’, but we can certainly change how we ‘think’.

So why share this now?

We are currently going through a full 2-week GCSE mock exam period with our year 9s. The music exam was timetabled for the Friday afternoon at the end of week 1. My perception was that students were finding it tough – they have certainly been very tired this week in rehearsals.

However Friday’s music exam created completely unexpected outcomes. Happy students, they enjoyed the exam, felt like they understood the questions and could confidently find answers. There was a great sense of community between the two very different pathways who were together for the first time. It was a ‘golden time’ in the 10 minutes afterwards with a great sense of joy around the room.

Results were great too, average mark for all Y9s was just 3 marks lower than the national average for last summer’s Y11 GCSE exam results using the same paper. If you’re familiar with my other recent posts, you’ll understand this is especially remarkable as quite a few of these students do not have a musical background.

How did we prepare?

All of these were designed as a response to, or developed by, collaboration with student voice.

– No pause in learning ‘to revise’, just keep creating, keep the momentum, always developing deep, internal experience-based understanding.

Theta music games with league table and Easter egg prizes – these are online games with correct terminology to support aural awareness. I’ll blog in more detail about this soon.

– Ultimate revision guide – I’ve done an analysis of every music exam ever set to determine question types. With former A* students, we’ve discovered which specific musical concepts need to be understood to answer confidently and how to prepare. This resource is used continuously as a skills audit with traffic light feedback, rather than just in ‘revision time’.

– Wordwall placemats. A3 laminated placemats of WordWall2019 allowed in this exam. At this point in the course, I’m more interested in students confidently finding information, rather than remembering it all.

– Tune of the week. Created as part of my action research for this year. Tune of the Week is now commonplace on both courses and we try to do at least one every week. Therefore, when this exam came up, I could share that it was just 8 TOTWs back to back. Students really enjoy TOTW.

I’m so happy with the outcome of this mock. Please try in your own school and let me know if you’d like any support. You can contact me through www.davelowemusiconline.com

Blog Post Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash

iPad GCSE Music Demo (now with Voiceover)

This term my Y9 GCSE Music students (on both music pathways) have the challenge of producing a complete song using an iPad, beginning only with a lead sheet. They have 5 weeks in total to complete the project.

This is an example of a possible Production Via Technology Performance – an option available to students on the AQA 8271 GCSE Music course. The song I’ve chosen for this project is “Oceans” by Hillsong. Lead sheet available here

Due to illness, two students missed last week’s introductory lesson, which inspired me to make this video for them to catch-up. As colleagues around the country are just getting started in using technology in the classroom, I’ve decided to share it with you too. If you have an iPad, why not have a go! And also then think about entering my iPad music competition – closing date not until 20th April, so there’s plenty of time for great invention!

Watch the Video on YouTube

A Real-World Solution To Create Impact In Music Progression

This is specifically written for school leaders, for heads of music and for the parents of my GCSE music students.

We’ll shortly be going into Year 9 mocks. Historically in a 3-year KS4, it has always felt too early to be awarding an attainment grade as the GCSE Music qualification requires much applied development of knowledge to allow students the opportunity to access the full range of marks.

However since becoming an examiner, I’ve learned that my perceived ‘full range of marks’ is not necessary to grade work in an earlier part of the course. I will never meet the students I’m examining for, but it is clear from the evidence I’ve seen and reports I’ve heard that there are many challenges students around the country face in helping them to maintain a sense of progress in what they do. Some students do not have the same teacher all the way through their course, in some cases illness prevents subject leaders from being present at key times and then there are many individual changes of circumstances for the students themselves.

In most situations there isn’t an ideal setting, however just as described in my “real-world knowledge” post, if we Know the students, we can inspire them to be ambitious about their GCSE outcome over 3 years of study.

When examining I often find myself reflecting to try and imagine the circumstances each student has worked in when composing their music. In a range of 0-36, I’ve experienced work across the full available range of marks, including some that is far beyond GCSE standard. This is therefore helpful to consider. Imagine a year 9 student who has an inspirational teacher. Due to ill health the teacher is away for their year 10 and most of year 11 and although the school does what it can to cover the subject specialist, the year 9 student struggles to independently make progress. The greatest progress has therefore been made in year 9 and their musical understanding has mostly come from that year. So the progress in year 9, however simplistic it feels, is crucial. I wonder if they’d have had the opportunity to write a complete piece of original music in year 9, whether it would be of a comparable standard to what was submitted for coursework in year 11?

A flexibility in mind-set is required, that doesn’t require students to have learned all one perceives necessary to succeed before testing. As soon as a composition is written, immediately then analysis, evaluation, discussion and marking can take place.

This year, I’ve encouraged our Y9 and 10 GCSE students to self-assess their work as they look to be more independent. To support this, I’ve simplified the mark scheme as below. Students are not trying to give a specific mark – they’re trying to fit the music they create into a category.

Complex & Inventive (8/9) – 32-36

Developing with devices (6/7) – 25-31

Music makes sense (4/5) – 20-24

Works but repetitive (3/4) – 16-19

Clashes (2/3) – 12-15

Not in control (1/2) – 0-11

I still continue to teacher-assess work to ensure students understand what each category means in practice. However this extra interaction helps to encourage conversation about quality and development of product.

How to really know our music students.

In my earlier blog about measuring students’ ability in music, I described how every student is completely unique and therefore un-definable. Every student has a different musical experience profile. Using the KS2 Maths & English data to ‘know where a student started in music’ is nonsensical. However I still consider that measure as an indicator of ‘academic ability’. It’s not necessary to argue what ‘academic’ means in relation to this, but it does provide our first comparative measure that categorises students (very) generally as top, middle and lower ability. If we consider their ‘academic ability’, alongside the following categories it is possible to create a range of Year 9 GCSE Music starting points.

Thus I’ve developed 6 discrete musical starting points, each beginning a coloured line, for students to advance from. The KS3 grades below can be understood more here. At the start of Year 9 I meet with each individual student and we decide together, which of these best describes their experience so far. This best-fit is only temporary as the system encourages students to far exceed their potential.

The 6 Music Lines of Development

Lower B – Purple Line – expected grade at end with good progression 3, with outstanding 4

– No instrument on entry

– Basic aural ability

– No extra-curricular experience

– No awareness of music theory

– KS3 result in music D (developing) or S- (nearly securing)

– “Lower” academic ability

Lower A – Red Line – expected grade at end with good progression 4, with outstanding 5

– No instrument on entry

– Basic aural ability

– Some extra curricular experience

– Minimal awareness of music theory

– KS3 result in music S (securing) or S-

– “Middle” academic ability

Middle B – Orange Line – expected grade at end with good progression 5, with outstanding 6

– May or may not have grades 1-2, but some instrumental experience

– Regular extra curricular involvement

– Secure aural ability

– Awareness of functional theory (understanding of how music works)

– KS3 result in music S

– “Middle” academic ability

Middle A – Yellow – expected grade at end with good progression 6, with outstanding 7

– May or may not have grades 1-2, but some instrumental experience

– Regular extra curricular involvement

– Secure aural ability

– Awareness of functional theory (understanding of how music works)

– KS3 result in music M (mastering) or S+ (nearly mastering)

– “High” academic ability

Upper B – Green – expected grade at end with good progression 7, with outstanding 8

– Grade 3-4 Instrument/Voice already achieved on entry

– Regular extra curricular involvement

– Strong aural ability

– Grade 2-4 Music Theory Understanding

– KS3 result in music M

– “High” academic ability

Upper A – Blue – expected grade at end with good progression 8, with outstanding 9

– Grade 5 Instrument/Voice already achieved on entry

– Regular extra curricular involvement

– Strong aural ability

– Grade 5 Music Theory already achieved on entry

– KS3 result in music M

– “High” academic ability

Progress in music is never linear. The most common rate of progress is little-by-little until the spring of year 11, when there is significant increase as things all come together. This rate of progress makes data managers nervous though. So I began to think about whether students could push their ambition much earlier in the course. With “The Wheel of Music Ambition” as it’s now apparently called, we can certainly make sure everything is in place to support them.

When I first developed the 6 starting points, it was to try to define a close-as-possible ‘musical start and end point’. Manor principal, Simon Barber asked in the development of this new system whether it was possible for students to move between the coloured lines. I initially responded ‘no’ as I’d set out specifically to try to prove a specific start and end point in music, but Simon was absolutely right and from this development we’ve created a real-world success, inspiring real ambition amongst the students.

On the first occasion of discussion with the students, they instantly made a visual connection to the London Underground map. They saw the lines as tube lines and the circles (points at which we’ve chosen to measure grades) as ‘main stations’. When at a ‘main station’, it’s possible to get onto another line. This has developed conversation amongst students about what it’s like to be on each line and the different things they’re having to think about. It’s also naturally created ambition in students wanting to discover what’s necessary to be at a higher level station when the next opportunity of grading happens. Students are also very aware of the possibility of going down to lines below, but as such no-one has ever moved down (yet).

For senior leaders, the system has created a method to ‘target-set’ based on musical experiences and musical outcomes. Ultimately this is the only information they’re really concerned with, as it gives a real-world outcome in a P8 hypothesis. Based on a starting point, it shows what should be achievable at the end of the course. It’s still not relevant to KS2 banding alone, as the calculations for progress 8 are related to, but it’s so much more helpful in our real world.

By each measuring point (3 times a year at Christmas, Easter and July), students complete the following:

– whole or part of a real GCSE Music exam paper – for AQA, section A only /68 in Y9 and 10

– Compose an original piece of music

– Perform a piece of music or create a Production Via Technology

None of these measures is ever an ‘easier version’. There’s no point. Students are graded in composition and performance as if it’s their final year 11 work. As much as targets are mentioned above as required by schools, in reality students are offered the opportunity to achieve 100% of the available marks. It is counterproductive to suggest students aim for anything less.

When I worked at Huntington School in York, headteacher John Tomsett challenged us to think like the British Cycling team had done in their preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games. They used the ‘Aggregation of Marginal Gains’ as a method to create the ultimate outcomes by constantly looking at how every detail of preparation could be improved. Inspired by this, every grading point on the GCSE course is immediately followed by an AMG point, although the AMG chart is available for students to look at whenever they like. Often AMG conversations help students to independently identity the aspect they would like to improve next. It also encourages students to plan and request specific help to advance. Students may also request a hypothesis at any time to see the impact each change will make.

AMG 1: Year 9 and 10

In the first 2 years of development, I consider the ‘long brushstrokes’ of the assessments, being careful not to over-measure and to make sure my focus is on their learning, rather than the numbers. Therefore just one number for each of composing, performance and exam each term. The far left-hand column shows their KS3 result (Developing, Securing or Mastering). Students without grades have joined the cohort from other schools at Y9. The red column of target grades based only on KS2 data is interesting to compare to the targets with good or outstanding progress created by the Musical starting points, but ultimately irrelevant. The “expected attainment December” column shows the ‘main station’ point they should reach. The column just before that shows their actual real-world GCSE grade based on grades that term. These grades are given based on the previous year’s grade boundaries and update automatically using a Lookup table (if you’re reading this and want to know how to programme that, let me know). To the left of that, the overall % is the easiest column for students to understand as ‘the bigger picture’ as they see their exam progress grow.

A great example of a real-world success already is with the student 7th down. He achieved an average of 24.2% in term one of Y10. We looked together to see that he’d particularly struggled with how to approach the listening questions and also how to retain element information contextually, so that helped to create a plan together for intervention. One half term later, he’s advanced to 43.8% and in real-life is significantly more encouraged and confident in the classroom.

Finally, the colours in the “expected attainment” column are as follow:

– Red – below the ‘main station’ point expected on that student’s coloured line

– Orange – on the ‘main station’ point

– Blue – above the ‘main station’ point

In the case of Red or Blue, the student has moved to another line.

Having completed the first term’s projects and seen how much many of the class were struggling to make the expected progress, we has some very open and honest discussions together. All students had worked hard in the first term, but something wasn’t fitting together. We realised that everyone struggled with harmony. So I put aside the scheme for this term and wrote the new harmony project described here. The impact in progress is already significant as many of the reds are now orange, and we’ve just finished for half term today. There’s still another 6 weeks of learning until Easter.

AMG 2: Y11

This version takes the mock grade as (hopefully) the worst case for the exam mark and considers the live overall result – in the gold box on the right – together with the ‘live and always improving’ coursework elements. The main focus in the last two half terms has been recordings of performance. Students can record their own performance work and securely upload using @Showbie to receive feedback. For it to count for their final exam though, it has to be recorded with me under exam conditions. The development of performance is most helpfully done on an individual basis, so we use the AMG to identify the aspects of performance students could improve. It was easier for students to calculate grades this year with the removal of UMS, so the Y11 AMG is now simpler too as it just adds up the weighted marks and compares them to the previous grade boundaries.

It is a further nonsense to compare specific individual grades in music year-on-year as no two students are comparable. But to give an indication of the impact of these AMGs and the implementation of ‘The Wheel’, grades for our centre have gone from being A*-C equiv. 67% to consistently 90%+ and A/A* from 10-30% to 40-70%. I will also say, I don’t think we’ve cracked it yet and there’s certainly lots more development to come. But this is working well for us so, if it helps, go ahead and try it at your centre.

Happy half term 🙂

Inventiveness & Creativity

Having launched the new iPad Music competition last Sunday, I’ve spent the week discussing the concepts of inventiveness and creativity with my students. I chose these two words as they explain a meaning of “exceptionally creative”, which is given in the top-band on the mark scheme for AQA GCSE Music Composition. A student who is inventive is on their way to achieving a top grade in music composition.

But what does inventive mean? It must be a complex thing to understanding, being in the top-band?

Actually no. We’ve found that it’s not complex at all. In fact, it’s one of the easiest concepts to understand. However the difference between invention and ‘lack of invention’ is so fundamental in music creation that it’s an important consideration from the moment you begin. It’s not, as some possibilities in composition, something you can add later to get extra credit.

My year 7s were most excited when thinking about invention. They began to imagine inventors and the things they had invented. Having thought for a moment the concept was so clear to them. Inventiveness is, as one great answer, “creating something new, something unique that is unlike other things”.

But invention in music is not just what you make. It is defined by your approach to making it. I gave students this week the idea of approaching a box of Lego bricks. If I took 5 bricks out of the box, stuck them together, put them on the table in front of me and told people that it was finished, I have not been inventive. I had just ‘picked up some plastic bricks and stuck them together’. This act of choosing bricks and putting them together is important, just like in music we choose notes and put them together in a melody. But to then be inventive, we should pick up the shape we’ve created, look at it from different angles, imagine creatively what it could represent for us, imagine how we could make it into something else (“like a spaceship” was one answer this week). We should decide whether or not we like it. If we like nothing about it, just break it up and try a new idea or begin to develop it to see if it improves, but being cautious not to lose control and become frustrated. Being creative and inventive in music takes patience but is a joyful experience. When you discover an idea that you enjoy or inspires you, then you can start to dream about what that could become.

I mark many GCSE Music compositions every year. Inventiveness is sadly not frequently heard in a great number of pieces, but I’m sharing this in my blog in the hope that I can encourage students and teachers to approach this differently. So if you’re reading this in that context, think about this. What range of marks are you aiming for?

If it’s 1-24 out of the possible 36, in any style, you can write a simple melodic idea, that makes musical sense, make sure your harmony works. Higher marks in that range might be given if it’s in a structure so different sections ensure it’s not all the same all the way through.

Once you’ve got something that ‘works’ develop its complexity to prove your understanding of other musical concepts and devices (now getting you a mark of 25-31 if successful). However to get beyond 31/36, you must be inventive from ‘day 1’, having ambition to develop something amazing and spending often many hours shaping your initial ideas. Hopefully everybody should begin by aspiring to this, no matter their starting ability.

[a word of caution: this advice is my personal advice and is not a formal line from the exam board. The standard of how grades are awarded is set year-by-year by the board]

For my own students I’ve condensed the examination mark scheme to fit on one page (as shown in the title picture), making it easy for them to understand the standard of their work. I’ve found the examples of the types of musical devices shown to be useful for my students as they think of how they might develop their work. The gold boxes are what I perceive to be ‘GCSE pass’ standard work. As the gold area becomes richer/darker the mark increases. As much as I discourage students from learning-to-the-exam, in this case it challenges them to think more deeply about their music and creates a helpful point of discussion amongst the cohort.

Harmony – The Hot Chocolate for Your Marshmallows

Following on from ‘Detox Melody’, the natural next move was to ‘Detox Harmony’.

Harmony is the most complex musical element for our students to understand. Mostly problems occur when they don’t consider the impact of an additional part, which naturally they don’t. When beginning to compose, they layer sounds or melodies together and are transfixed on time (often asking how long it should be), without any consideration of the vertical relationships of notes. When students submit composition work to be marked, they often haven’t considered ‘the harmony’ at all so a significant amount of unpicking follows due to the amount of ‘clashing’.

I began today’s Y9 lesson just as I had with melody. I firstly asked “What is harmony and why create harmony?”

The students answered:

“It’s just different notes played together”

“It creates a more complex texture”

“It makes the music sound richer or fuller”

“It’s the hot chocolate for your marshmallows, the jam for your doughnut”… then followed a huge argument as to whether that should be “doughnut for your jam”

The suggestions are all correct in some way, but perhaps the most helpful is the Hot Chocolate. It supports the melody (the marshmallows), and is usually in the pitch range below the melody to begin with. The two go together well, sharing a common purpose. In the time that follows though and as the music develops, or the marshmallows begin to sink through the chocolate and melt into different shapes, the relationship between the two can change. The melody can have a greater interaction within other parts of the texture.

We then agreed that when two or more notes are played together, a sense of harmony is created. Sometimes that relationship is consonant, sometimes dissonant, but that we need to be able create both, and every other harmonic relationship on a spectrum in between. We cannot help that there ‘is harmony’, but we can learn more about tonalities, keys, intervals and chords to be able to control it.

I find harmony to be one of most powerful tools with the rate of change of harmony controlling how the energy of the music is able to flow. I’m also fascinated by the additional opportunities created by considering harmony, texture and articulation together. A seasoned composer might well be able to think about the music holistically. Students, learning about composition for the first time don’t have that luxury. They need to understand the impact each change within an element has. Harmony is more difficult to understand as many considerations have to be made simultaneously.

So in preparation for the following task, I first took the decision to limit the number of possibilities within harmony, rhythm and texture, just as I has limited the melody rhythms to using only crotchets and quavers in the last lesson.

The process chosen for today’s harmony task as follows:

1. Looking back to the plan from last week, we began by inputting ‘signpost’ bass notes. That is choosing to begin with a ‘D’ in the bass at the start of bars 1 and 5 (both structural A-sections). Then an ‘A’ note as the furthest diatonic tonal point from ‘D’ at the end of bars 2, 4 and 6 – the moments we wanted the music to sound unfinished. Finally ending bar 8 with a D to make it sound finished. Initially we decided that changing the bass note every 4 beats would create unwanted clashes between some melody notes and the held bass notes, so we began by composing a different bass note every two beats (as minims).

2. Using the D Major Diatonic Chord Chart as below, we were able to fill in the missing notes.

**Image from How To Write Great Music: Understanding the Process from Blank Page to Final Product, 2015, Lulu Publishing

For example if, at the vertical point we need to add a bass note, the note in the melody is a G, we look at the chart to see which diatonic chords in D Major include a ‘G’. There are three diatonic chords in D Major containing a ‘G’:

– E Minor (E G B)

– G Major (G B D)

– C# Dim. (C# E G)

The strongest bass notes to choose to go with the melody ‘G’ would therefore be E, G or C#, however it’s only possible to decide which is most appropriate in the context of what is written before and after by listening. Repeating the same bass note from one minim to the next caused the harmony to feel stuck, as it did in the melody. Having the same note in the melody and harmony parts made the texture sound ‘thinner’ at those points. Students also found step-wise movement in the bass line was preferable when possible, and that problems were caused when the movement of the bass notes leaped up and down on subsequent minims.

Considering that last week’s lesson was the first for students to write a melody, and this week was the first glimpse of harmony, all the outcomes were amazing.

Year 9 student Ollie, excited by the idea of sharing our practice online, has volunteered to be included in this week’s blog. Ollie’s is happy to share that he’s not a confident reader of music yet. He’s not had specific tutoring before, but has chosen to use his voice as his instrument for GCSE music.

This is beautiful melody writing, with a lovely sense of shape and balance. It is simple due to the restrictions I’d set of only using crotchets and quavers, but is of quality far advanced of his point of learning. The harmony is also very sensitively written and shows evidence of understanding and control. I interviewed him just after he showed me his work.

How did he write the melody?

“Since it’s in D major, it [the melody] started with a lower note D and ended on higher notes at the end of the second bar. Then it went back down from there until the end of the 4th bar. What I do is raise the pitch up in the first bar and then when it feels right, I go down again. I thought about the moments when the melody direction changed – it was when I reached a crotchet, having always played quavers. I listened and tried to think about when the right time was to go up or down, before it felt like it had gotten too high or too low”.

How did you write the harmony?

“I listened to find which notes matched with the melody notes above. I looked for which notes were in a chord to find out which other notes worked together. The end of bars 2 and 6 are the same, so I tried to make them both sound unfinished. The end of 4 sounds unfinished, because it feels like it wants to carry on. The end of bar 8 feels finished because it ends on the D but in a higher octave. I made it start and finish with D as I was in D major.

Another remarkable creation was from Lucas and Leo, two of our Year 9 Music Production via Technology students whose melody was featured in last week’s ‘Melody Detox’. They had accidentally written in Dorian on C. Using the Dorian Mode Chart as below, they worked out that by thinking about the note row C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C, it was possible to see which notes worked consonantly well together.

**Image from How To Write Great Music: Understanding the Process from Blank Page to Final Product, 2015, Lulu Publishing

For example if playing an Eb, they could play-one, miss-one, play-one, miss-one, play-one to reach Eb G Bb and when listening, they found that any of these notes worked well together. This pattern worked for all notes in all keys.

(No idea why clip appears upside-down on some browsers – apologies).

Their beautifully written melody and harmony could easily become music for film, television or video game. Lucas and Leo tell me they’re already imagining and discussing music that depicts adventure and tells a story. Amazing!

Photo by Stefen Tan on Unsplash

Year 8 “Production” Launched

This first week of 2019 has seen the launch of our exciting new “Production” unit in KS3 music at Manor. The unit gives students the opportunity to explore the type of work they might do on our new GCSE Music Production Via Technology Pathway. It could also be the first step of development towards a career in music, media, theatre, film, TV or journalism.

In addition to the ‘Developing, Securing & Mastering’ standards now operating at KS3, we’ve introduced ‘Super-mastering’ to challenge students, even at age 12-13, to develop industry-level production values.

To begin with, the unit encourages students to learn about the role each instrument plays within a band. Rather than working towards a particular style or genre, they are concentrating on understanding how musical parts fit together in pitch and rhythm. Once these fundamentals are in control, they will have absolute creative freedom to explore their individual chosen style or genre.

Each student will take the role of the producer, taking the creative lead in the process to deliver a fully mixed and mastered recording. They are each given a lead sheet of the song and audio tracks of the vocals – there are female and male vocals to choose from. They must understand and record all of the instrument parts (piano, bass guitar, drum kit and acoustic guitar) using their iPad with GarageBand. Initially students will be challenged to create the chorus. More ambitious students will aim to complete the whole song in the next 6 weeks.

The level of discussion between students using musical language is already amazing. In the first week, many came to realise that the “annoying thing ticking in the background” (the metronome) had a real and important purpose. Their new musical world relied on it and by ignoring it their music did not sound good at all! It was also fascinating to learn of the number of students who hadn’t realised that all instruments follow the same lead sheet. They had not comprehended that bass, guitar and piano would need to play similar notes at each of those points in the lead sheet. This realisation gave them confidence that music wasn’t as hard to understand as they’d thought. Above all, they were instantly challenged to listen critically and learn how to improve their work if it wasn’t what they wanted.

They began by recording the piano as chords. Once recorded they used quantisation and were able to choose the correct settings, based on their chosen rhythm. They also edited the individual notes, by listening, to make sure they were each the desired length and volume for their chosen style of production. Following on, some students recorded a complementing bass line and a drum kit track. One student, Hollis, recorded and edited 4 tracks (shown below) within the 40 minutes available in the first lesson. When I asked him about the process so far he said “it’s really good, the only frustrating thing so far is that the quantisation function does not consider the strumming motion which was helpful to use in the recording of the acoustic guitar”. He was absolutely right and I was slightly taken aback at the level of thought already in his work.

Another fascinating conversation was with Lauren on Thursday. She had recorded the bass to fit with the piano, but wanted the bass to have more punch or presence in the mix compared to the piano. I really didn’t think I’d be teaching about compression and EQ in the first lesson of our new year 8 unit, but she understood the theory well enough to create a great piece of work. Amazing!

Title Photo by Mitchell Leach on Unsplash