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

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

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

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

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

The Lowest Point

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

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

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

It is possible to have a shared collective purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 of The Highest Points

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

1. Make Music On Mondays

Live from York, every Monday 1220pm #MakeMusicOnMondays

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

2. The Manor Concert Orchestra

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

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

3. People’s Virtual Orchestra

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

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

4. Manor Virtual Student Worship Band

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

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

5. Hope & Belfrey Virtual Community Choir

Our amazing wider community begin to prepare together on Zoom

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

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

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

More to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

Week 2 Lesson Instructions (23-27th March)

Year 7 & 8 Music, Manor CE Academy, York

Learning Objectives

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

Here we go… Enjoy!

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

Have a fantastic week

Mr Lowe 🙂

What does remote music learning look like?

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

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

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

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


Dear students,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

More to follow…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A better, new solution using Kahoot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to come I’m sure…

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

Building the ‘Ultimate Extra’

The ‘Extra’ is always a choice. I aspire to creating ‘Ultimate Extra’, which ensures every minute of every day is filled with opportunity. It is not contractual, however the difference it makes to every student and their wider community is so significant, it’s a choice worth making. The students are always my first thought, but it is greatly inspiring to me too and creates many more opportunities for me to develop in my own learning. It creates a richness in what we do together every day and develops strong, trusting relationships.

Yesterday was a remarkable day. Completely exhausting, but filled with so much joyful ‘Extra’ that any sense of weariness just disappeared to leave a sense of great encouragement for all.

My ‘Friday 5th April’

0815 Prayers with Archbishop of York John Sentamu and 30+ Manor staff

0840 House Assembly with my form 9DL

0915 Meeting and warm-up with Manor ‘Voices’ choir

0930 Open rehearsal with the Archbishop, his team and leaders of Hope Learning Trust (watch here)

Read the story of “I am free” here

1000 Year 8 – Final ‘Production’ lesson about Mastering

1100 Break – Student opportunity to share iPad Music Production work with the Archbishop’s team

1120 Year 7 – Final ‘Performance’ assessment lesson

1220 Lunch – GCSE Performance Exam Recordings & Composition Workshop

1320 Year 9 GCSE Music lesson. Looking over recent mock results in context, initial questions from students and reflective discussion about specific questions

1420 Year 11 Enrichment lesson, including setting up for studio recording

1520 Studio recording with Year 8 Songwriting winner Isaac and guest vocalist Maggie Wakeling

1830 Home time

The ‘Extra’ things from yesterday are shown in Italics.

The ‘Extra’ is always a choice. I aspire to creating ‘Ultimate Extra’, which ensures every minute of every day is filled with opportunity. It is not contractual, however the difference it makes to every student and their wider community is so significant, it’s a choice worth making. The students are always my first thought, but it is greatly inspiring to me too and creates many more opportunities for me to develop in my own learning. It creates a richness in what we do together every day and develops strong, trusting relationships.

It creates school-wide impact, variety, opportunity, enjoyment, fulfilment, encouragement and more. It creates a culture of great exploration and experience, which encourages students to study more deeply and independently. Every ‘Extra’ is different but relevant.

As a teacher, ‘Ultimate Extra’ creates a unique, positive mindset. Without it, the natural ‘thinking about the job’ time becomes focused only on the classroom, the data, seating plans etc… The different mindset means all those things that have to happen, just happen. And instead, you get to imagine the next exciting opportunity.

If I’ve learned one thing from designing the ‘Extra’ at Manor in the last 9 years, it’s flexibility! In a school with so much going on, we have to be flexible and others have to do the same. For example, I used to get so frustrated when asked to use a lunchtime for detention duty as I’d have to cancel a choir rehearsal, but these days we just take those times as an extra challenge. If it is a choir, students will begin the rehearsal themselves and I’ll come in later. This shares great responsibility with them, especially if we have an event coming up.

Another example of flexibility is seasonal ensembles. Often visitors ask how it’s possible to do all that we do as I’m a one-man-music-department. The truth is, I may be the only full-time member of staff at Manor, but I have a fantastic team of instrumental specialists and we develop the music provision together. This in itself, creates a great sense of richness as there is such a variety of expertise in the team. I really enjoy leading many activities every week, but really my role is very much as ‘chief encourager’. The seasonal ensembles programme works as follows:

Term 1 – September to December

Students of all ages and abilities. Opportunities for all to grow and make music together. Additional ensembles for advanced students are designed for anyone, but are for those who want to explore music more deeply. Advanced ensembles are accessed through invitation or audition and younger students are encouraged to work towards these. Repertoire is designed towards a performing arts festival in October and Nine Lessons and Carols at York Minster in December. Also a parents, staff and friends community choir. Often there are 8-10 performances in term 1 including for example: York Food Festival, BBC Radio performances, awards evening, seniors’ Christmas party etc… Term 1 also includes the audition process for our Performing Arts Leaders’ programme.

Term 2 – January to April

A major focus on final recordings and composition workshops for Year 11 GCSE Music students. Also early collaborative dance, drama and music rehearsals for our biannual summer musical production. Student production band begins. Other instrumental tutor-led ensembles continue.

Term 3 – April to July

Manor Concert Orchestra and Band78 groups combine to focus on pushing our technical skills, exploring more complex music but in a way accessible to all ages and abilities. Choirs and worship band are combining this year to lead a huge event for York Diocese at Selby Abbey on 5th July. Final rehearsals and production development for our major summer production, this year is Disney’s High School Musical 26-28th June. Tickets here.

The summer production is biannual as a result of student and parent voice. The consensus at the last discussion was that students and their families really wanted to have the full west-end type experience, but the challenge is how to make that a possibility to the 652 students who study performing arts with us for 2 hours every week. (And the other 100 or so who don’t, but still want to be involved). Hence, we launched our Performing Arts Leaders’ Programme, to select 40 students who would not only become the company for High School Musical, but would learn leadership skills to be able to disseminate their experiences and skills across the community. We’ve decided to have this style of production biannually, so that in ‘the other year’ everybody who wants to be part of a mahoosive ultimate summer showcase can be involved. Summer 2020 will be particularly exciting as we’re also planning to contribute to the YorkHub summer festival.

In additional to the vast programme of tuition, rehearsals, workshops, recordings and performances, another hugely important ‘Extra’ is competitions. There are many competitions throughout the year, some for specific groups of people and some open to anyone. Competitions inspire creativity and invention as students aspire to developing something unique and of exceptional quality. Last night’s recording was for Isaac’s song “The Fight”. The song was one of 97 original songs written last year by Year 8 students at Manor. Isaac’s winning song was chosen by a panel of songwriting and production experts. Isaac’s prize is for the song to be produced and released worldwide to platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes. All proceeds from the song will go to Isaac’s choice of charity, which is Scope.

Photo (below): Great collaboration in song production yesterday between Isaac (Manor CE Academy) and Maggie Wakeling (Archbishop Holgate School)

Other popular competitions this month have been Theta Revision and MusicIn60. Theta Revision is an online league table encouraging students to develop their aural understanding in preparation for the GCSE listening exam. This competition was for year 9s as they prepare for their first full mock paper. The highest scoring students received Easter eggs!

As I hope to encourage people more widely to get into iPad music creation, the international competition is still open. Deadline for entries is now a few weeks away. Full details here.

Using real-world knowledge to inspire confidence and ambition in music

‘Data’ is probably the least favourite word in a music teacher’s working life. Often ‘data’ relates to a series of numerical values and the need to find a ‘best fit’ to ‘make the data work’, rather than considering the real-world situation of each music student.

In the last few years changes in education have brought us ‘life without levels’, ‘9-1 GCSE grading’ and ‘flightpaths’ etc. These seemingly constant changes, have triggered some very helpful discussions with senior colleagues. Rather than requiring endless additional work, it’s created a genuine opportunity to question ‘What are we really trying to measure?’. It was a surprisingly easy conversation and presented a very simple outcome. ‘Knowledge’ was all that was needed. We need to get to Know each of our students as quickly as possible when they arrive at Year 7. It is helpful to Know about the types of musical experiences they’ve had in earlier life (or not had). We also need to Know about their home-life, their strengths and weaknesses, their ambitions and the things they worry about. However, little of this knowledge can be discovered through testing or by studying data from other subjects. We need to create opportunities to get to Know each student, to create a strong and positive, trusting, working relationship with them. A relationship in which they’re not afraid to give an answer or to question something they don’t understand. A relationship that inspires them to be confident and ambitious in their musical development. We want them to be passionate and independent in their own work and to have outstanding skills in communication and collaboration with others.

Rob Heath (@robheathmusic) tweeted recently about the challenges of grading performance skills, which has inspired me to write about this topic as soon as I could.

When I announced my intention to blog about assessment, Ally Daubney kindly directed me to the ISM Webinar from 2015 presented with Martin Fautley. It was fascinating, and very encouraging that many of my own decisions in curriculum/assessment design followed suggestions they made in the session, as well as giving me ideas to explore going forwards. If you’ve not heard it, definitely have a listen (https://www.ism.org/professional-development/webinars/a-guide-to-progression-curriculum-and-assessment)

In the Webinar, Martin spoke about ensuring the purpose of assessment was ‘what they learn’ (or Know), ‘not what they do’. They also challenged us to return to our values in musical learning. [for interest… during the session I listed these as my core values: understanding with enough confidence to create and share knowledge with others, creativity, functional understanding of how and why the different elements of music ‘work’, individual spirituality and reflection in approach, collaboration, internalisation, improvisation, application, control, invention, development, quality in production values and critical listening.]

The biggest challenge to overcome is time – the actual number of hours and minutes I have available to work with the young people. At this point it seems helpful to describe the context I’m working in. Going back 7 or 8 years, we were a Specialist School: Performing Arts and with that focus and extra funding had an amazing 3 hours/wk to teach every KS3 student in music, dance and drama. With the end of that funding and pressures elsewhere in the curriculum, our KS3 time was reduced to 2 hours/wk, although a new additional rotation subject was created to provide students with development in 2 essential key life skills; cooking and singing. This effectively ensured music education could continue to be 1-hr per week, although due to staffing and timetabling restrictions the hour unfortunately couldn’t be regular, making consistent progress more challenging. The singing part has now been lost to create more time in maths and English responding to the challenges of progress 8. Three subjects (music, dance and drama), does not easily split into 2 hours, but the collective impact we can have as a team on the lives of these young people far far outweighs personal ambition for any of the individual subjects.

Designing an inspiring and practical assessment model for KS3 Music

In music I have 19 hours per year to inspire each of my 468 current key stage 3 students. I teach all 468. Returning to the purpose of this blog post, designing an assessment model based on the values mentioned above, the DfE national curriculum programme of study and importantly, considering my own well-being and work/life balance, has to be approached passionately and positively. I also have to understand that that I might not be able to include everything as I want to, as there is a bigger picture to make it work within.

‘High Expectations’ as described in the first of the government’s teacher standards, is not enough with the given timeframe. ‘Sustained and exceptional expectations’ is required of all learners to instil the level of desire required to make any sort of comparable progress with students who have the luxury of a regular weekly hour.

Specific extra curricular activities are not an expectation within my teacher’s contract. However in addition to the 19 hours/yr, a possible 12 hours every week are available at lunch or in ‘after school’ time, to create more opportunities to develop relationships with our young people. In wanting to maximise how I can use those times, the assessment model has to not create marking in the lunch hour or in the time between 3.20 and 5.30 every day. When I first began in my teaching career (in 2008), I delivered the same ensembles programme every week and crammed in as much as possible, but, as popular as that was, it didn’t have the flexibility I now require to support the additional demands at GCSE and to lead the faculty.

To design this assessment model I’ve therefore had to think very critically about what I’m measuring and how much can be measured given the time available. It’s challenged me to develop more open-ended tasks, only limited by each student’s ambition. The way I approach differentiation has also changed with more projects having the same starting point, then having flexible directions and outcomes to suit the progress of the variety of abilities.

I’ve also been forced to develop how and when I assess students, considering the encouragement they each need as well as the type of informative feedback I give them. I’ve found the most helpful feedback is verbal as it’s then a real-world relationship-building conversation. That method of feedback is also instant, and if a student needs to make slight adjustments to improve quality or understanding, that change can be modelled there and then within seconds.

Students in KS3 all make different patterns of progress. Therefore it’s important that I’m flexible to be ready to assess them at any time of their choosing within a lesson. Usually when I’m not leading a whole class discussion or modelling an example at the front of the class, I use a countdown clock to indicate the time left in each assessment period. During that time students may approach the teacher’s desk with one of two purposes. To request support, guidance or clarification about something they’re learning, or to show me proof of understanding (and to receive the next challenge). This proof doesn’t necessary always relate to achievement of ‘a box’, but often it gives me the opportunity to celebrate with them on achieving something they could not ‘do’ or ‘understand’ before. When a student does achieve ‘a box’ I can instantly record that on my master sheet (as below) and the student has a place to colour-in that box on a course sheet, (like the one in the post title image), in Showbie on their iPad, enabling them to keep track of their own progress. Incidentally, all the course documentation for that unit of work is also instantly available to them in the same area on their Showbie app.

The amount of different musical concepts that students are learning in these projects is extensive, however if I try to measure too much, I’ll spend more time ‘measuring’ and they spend less time ‘doing’ and therefore have fewer opportunities to explore, reflect and understand. Therefore I minimise the points of assessment to give them clear outcomes to aspire to, and focus on helping them to discover what they need ;to learn with confidence in order to sufficiently understand and control each outcome.

Similar to Martin and Ally’s example, as a school we adopted a 3-stage assessment model for ‘life without levels’. In our case, the 3 are: Developing, Securing & Mastering. There are aspects to understand that ‘everyone’, ‘most’ and ‘few’ can access and these feature in the 3 stages respectively. However outcomes worthy of ‘a box’ are often:

– Developing – using relevant skills and showing a basic working knowledge

– Securing – the above, but with sufficient understanding and skill level to control the outcome with confidence

– Mastering – having complete control of the outcome to the point where something new can be developed or transformed into something new

I designed the statements to define each ‘box’ using the exemplar materials provided by PiXL. I adapted the language to help students to understand the types of understanding they needed to be confident in before they could achieve each box.

The master sheet excerpt (shown above) is a real-world document, with names omitted for obvious reasons. It demonstrates the amount of knowledge I can expect to accumulate about a class after their first six key stage 3 lessons. The bracketed/numbered sections are as follows:

1. Each student’s perception of their previous experience. If they had a music lesson every week at primary school or had weekly singing they ticked the middle box. If they have been learning to play an instrument, with or without a tutor, or have played in the past, they tick box 3. Otherwise they tick box 1.

2. The first two lessons are baselines. The first, a test exploring each student’s awareness of music by listening to musical changes, instruments, melodic shapes and rhythms and considering their awareness of notation and other musical terms. The average score is around 24/50. ‘Generally’ (and cautiously), students with scores below 24 will need significant extra support and additional encouragement when they start to create, with greater support being required as the score gets lower. Students scoring 30+ tend to have had regular classroom lessons previously and students who have also studied an instrument with a tutor score 40+. Only one student has achieved the top mark (50/50) in the last 4 years and it is unusual. The second baseline is a performance baseline. Students are given the letter-named notes of the “Happy Birthday” melody, a keyboard/piano with a guide of how to find the keys and 30 minutes to practise. After this independent period, we video every student giving their best performance. The range of outcomes is fascinating and a helpful indicator of the real-world musical starting point for each individual student. The students achieving ‘S’ at this point have been able to give a controlled performance. I recently posted a video on @DaveLoweMusic twitter of “the amazing” Sam from this year’s year 7. Sam’s progress is amazing from the ‘developing’ performance in week 1.

3. The codes along the top represent the boxes students are trying to achieve. D,S and M represent the difficulty of each box. When achieved, conditional formatting turns the developing boxes blue, the securing green and the mastering gold. For reporting purposes and when reflecting on progress it’s therefore instant to see where everyone’s up to.

To define the progress made by each student during the KS3 course, the boxes achieved have to be considered together with the latest product as created by the student. This ‘product’ could be as a performance, composition or combination of the two. I’ve found video evidence to be most helpful as long as you have a secure method to store the media and permission from each parent. Video is far better evidence than audio in being able to see the level of assurance and confidence each student has.

To be continued… developing knowledge for exceptional GCSE progression coming soon.

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.

A Practical Model to Grow Confidence in Music for Young People Aged 11-16

Over the last 8 years in my current school, I’ve been continually looking for ways to improve the experience of my music students. Every one of them is unique, no matter ability, demographic or experience of life. A one-size-fits-all model would have failed within minutes so I’ve developed a flexible, customisable model for every individual and, so far, for every situation we’ve encountered, I have seem positive outcomes.

The fundamental purpose is to help every young person to have everything they need to develop in music ‘to the max’ and to prepare them for their musical life into the future. Measurable aspects, such as examinations, are a helpful inclusion but they’re only part of the bigger picture of each individual’s experience.

The Starting Point

The starting point of the 230 or so students that join my school every year varies greatly. There are 230 starting points. It is counter-productive at this stage to produce a starting ‘grade’ and often this can be a discouragement for the young people. A few have been learning to play an instrument at KS2, but many haven’t and there has been variety in the quality of tuition received. As students begin to explore music, it is often for the first time with us and some haven’t come across even simple musical aspects like pulse or rhythm. A few have done a weekly singing activity. Equally I always have some young people who have already developed a sense of musicianship.

Musically Understanding the Starting Point

I’ve always run a baseline test to understand:

– if students are able to recognise musical changes by listening

– if students are aware of musical instruments, how they’re played and to which families of the orchestra they belong

– if students know the meaning of musical terms like pitch, dynamics, texture and tempo

– if students can recognise shapes and patterns in notation

– if students can read musical notes on the treble and bass clef staves

– if students are aware of more complex language such as Italian terms

The average score is 24/50. The lowest score ever achieved is 4/50 and the highest 50/50, achieved this year by a percussion student. He was the first to achieve the top mark in 4 years.

However, over the last two years I’ve also run a baseline performance task. Students are given a piano, some letter-named notes and 20 minutes to prepare a performance of a well-known 8-bar melody. Each student performs and these are recorded on video. This task would be fascinating for those interested in music education research. In many ways this type of test is a much more accurate measure of musical awareness, as there are no multiple choice answers to guess. The first observation is proof that a student’s musical ability is not equivalent to a result in a year 6 Maths or English test. Each student gives their best performance based on their individual experience. Each performance, and particularly how each student approaches their playing in the 230 videos, is different.

The End Point

For a student attending an 11-16 school, the end point is often seen as the grades they leave with as a GCSE student. There is a bigger picture here though, and to constantly create the highest expectations, I challenge my students to think at a standard beyond the GCSE syllabus. Ultimately I’d like my students to have a rich and developed understanding of music, that enables them to confidently perform and compose music, constantly developing their own craft and creatively collaborating with others.

A Flexible Customisable Model to Develop Confidence in Music for Students Aged 11-16

Having established the starting and end points, it’s then been possible to develop a bespoke experience for each individual student, based on the types of needs they have in common. This model has helped us to develop the students’ experience in our school. It could easily be used in other schools as there’s sufficient flexibility and little cost to embed.

How does it work?

Consider the 4 concentric circles as below.

The centre (1) represents each individual student. They each have to be at the centre of our thinking. Always. It should challenge us to always consider whether an aspect of their experience is genuinely ‘creative, helpful and inspiring’ or ‘tedious, un-necessary and destructive’.

The next circle (2) represents all the opportunities that a music student must have in order for them to develop. Each opportunity around the circle can be customised based on each student’s needs, interests and ambitions. The opportunities are not ‘on’ or ‘off’, the more of each opportunity the better for the student’s overall development, but recognising that (often due to time or funding), some students will have a different balance to others. This should not be a ‘have’ and ‘have not’, all should ‘have’, but there will be differences in the amount of involvement, often down to the individual’s choice or ambition. As a head of music, I can have an impact on helping to improve all of these areas, even though other agencies and organisations have the responsibility to manage them. Some areas seem obvious, but I find that quite regularly some stakeholders are not aware of their required responsibility. Open and honest, proactive and positive communication between all stakeholders is vital. Focusing on and improving each of these opportunities for all learners has been key in helping them to develop and build confidence in music.

The next circle (3) represents the products and experiences that all music students should focus on. These are easy for stakeholders to organise at minimal or no cost but are the things that students are inspired by and use to develop their understanding of music through application.

Finally the outer circle (4), the outcome at the end of Year 11, following the completion of products and experiences. Not the end, but the beginning of the next period of musical learning and development.

This is our current model.

There’s probably room for several more blog entries to describe the impact of each ‘opportunity’. In practice each area is vast and contributes to a rich, varied music education. Key aspects to mention initially though:

1. It has very much felt in the last few years, that the accountability of outcomes has rested more with teachers and schools. This model is design to not consider any stakeholders as have more importance or accountability than others. Thus, products, experiences and outcomes are written around the circles to represent the joint impact all stakeholders must have. The role of the student themselves and how they each choose to approach their learning is just as important as every other aspect.

2. We became an academy around the same time as arts fundings was reduced, which locally fragmented the services in place to offer instrumental tuition. We decided, following discussions with peripatetic tutors, students and parents, to run our own tuition programme. Tutors are contracted directly to our department to deliver high quality lessons. Within their contract we ask each tutor to have a passion to develop the confidence and interest in their instrument by them leading a relevant ensemble. This helps to grow a strong music team of like-minded professionals. All lessons, with all tutors for all instruments cost the same. Students can choose to share their lessons in 2s or 3s, in which case the cost is shared, but most students are taught individually or in pairs. They are paid directly our parents. When affordability is an issue for parents, there are funding opportunities through YorkMusicHub. Some members of our staff or others in the community have also supported students in the past by paying for lessons. We currently offer lessons in: piano, keyboard, drum kit, percussion, bass guitar, music theory, classical guitar, brass, woodwind, electric guitar, popular acoustic guitar, voice, upper strings, cello, double bass and harp.

3. In addition to the included students’ perceptions of their ideal music teacher, students need me to be constantly developing a relevant curriculum. At our school every student has an iPad. We use the app Showbie as a method for students to upload videos of their performances or scores and recordings of compositions. In this way, I can provide a more fluid and instant method of feedback, which encourages them to be always reflecting, questioning and developing.

4. The model is for all students aged 11-16.

We find this model to work very well. Naturally there will always be things for us to improve, but the flexibility and collective responsibility the model creates, inspires our young people greatly. If you’re reading this as a department, school or education leader, please try it if you’re not doing so already and let me know if you need help or more information.

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

GCSE iPad Music – a game-changer for Music Education

In September 2018 we began our new “GCSE Music Production Via Technology” course. Students are still entered for AQA GCSE Music 8271 in the same way as our traditional course, but they learn and study music in a completely different way. The difference in teaching on this new course is fascinating and has required me to be more open-minded than ever in my approach to planning.

Already the amount of progress for the tech students has been vast. There is greater control in performance, further understanding of details in notation and more confidence in composition than expected at this stage.

The cohort is predominantly made up of students who don’t play an instrument, but who are passionate about music. There are also two electric guitarists, a classical guitarist and a pianist.

It has been possible for technology or DJing to be used within the AQA GCSE course for quite a few years, but few schools take that option. We haven’t chosen that route ourselves before due to the extra expense of having to buy equipment and to pay extra teachers with specific knowledge. It also seemed in the past that it would be difficult for students to access the full range of marks as there was little information published about that type of assessment.

At the start of 2018, a meeting with a principal music examiner and several other heads of music in London changed everything. We discovered that there was now sufficient focus for technology in the GCSE Music (examination from 2018) to enable all learners to access to full range of marks. Furthermore, there was sufficient rigour in the mark scheme to demand a very high quality product to achieve the top marks, just as in the traditional course.

As they learned of my meeting, there was just enough time for three of my traditional 2018 exam cohort to opt for ‘Performance Via Technology’ as their ensemble performances. The work of those three young men has established an amazing new approach to understanding music in our department. They didn’t all achieve the top mark for PvT, but their understanding of the music was greatly deepened and this period of learning was fundamental in them being able to achieve their two ‘9’s and ‘8’ overall.

Most excitingly, this new pathway for GCSE Music has emerged at a time when portable technology and free music apps have developed sufficiently to allow the user to create a musical product with the required level of control of each element. Already in this first term, we’ve found that students are far more creative as they can make their music whenever and wherever they like. They are no longer having to wait for the class time or extra curricular club in the music room. They can compose music anywhere and at any time. Once they’ve created something, they post it securely to me using Showbie and I can listen and instantly give feedback, which creates a great sense of momentum for them in their learning.

The KS3 national curriculum requirements to perform, listen, review and evaluate, are intrinsically linked to everything students will do to create a quality music product. In fact, more than ever, each individual student now has a personal, instantly accessible resource to learn with. We’ve begun to re-write our KS3 curriculum as the iPad technology is having such a profound, positive effect on learning. For example, many students find ‘texture’ and ‘structure’ difficult concepts to understand. In one year 7 lesson in December, all students composed and recorded an 8-bar, 5-part, rhythmic ostinato from scratch. All developed their work by editing textural and structural aspects. In the same lesson, students mixed-down their piece and uploaded to Showbie allowing us to collectively listen and evaluate the outcomes of each one. There was no homework set from that lesson, but some students chose to continue their development and re-posted new work later that evening. This is how music education should be!

For students (and teachers) with instrumental skills, it’s possible to connect a USB keyboard/piano to the iPad and it’s now possible to record with zero-latency. In fact, I was without an accompanist in our ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ at York Minster earlier this month so pre-recorded the piano part for the recessional to allow me to conduct. I recorded the piano into GarageBand on the iPad, which then even had sufficient control of EQ to adjust the frequency response as was needed for the Minster acoustics.

My initial thought on beginning this work was that technology would make music accessible to students without an instrument. In reality, it’s far more exciting than that! It’s inspiring instrumentalists and vocalists to play and sing more, it’s inspiring students without an instrument to learn to play instruments and it’s creating a way that every single individual young person can understand and make music. That is awesome!

More to follow…