Yearly Archives: 2007

How to you teach set works?

I’ve been going around watching my PGCE students teaching over the last few weeks. It is always entertaining and, of course, you see a range of lessons – some good, some bad. I’m always impressed though. For most of them, this is their first taste of whole class music teaching and, generally, they make a great job of it.

Often these students have to teach A level classes the set work option. This can be painful to watch. I think that teaching students aged between 16 and 18 about a piece of classical music should be fun. One student I saw this week, who will remain nameless, was teaching about a Bach Bradenburg concerto. She did a good job and the students definitely learnt something.  They covered a lot of important ground.

It got me thinking though. How can we teach these topics in fun and engaging ways? Rather than sitting round a table looking at scores, can we be more imaginative and inventive and create a different style of pedagogy and curriculum content?

Here are some of the ideas I came up with. Please add your own and comment as you see fit:

1. Try and relate new knowledge to pupils’ existing knowledge which may be in very diverse musical styles. Look for common content and ideas (e.g. in the differing roles of instrumental groups in a musical performance. The concertino/ripieno groups here could be related to a rhythm section, horn section, soloists, etc in big band settings or other popular musical groups).
2. Make the experience as musical as possible. Don’t just talk about the score. Play examples. Use an instrument to bring the music alive. Don’t just talk about the appearance of a B natural; what is the expressive affect that its inclusion creates?
3. Relate the compositional devices (key, form, modulation, etc) to their expressive function.
4. Get pupils trying out ideas drawn from the score in their own work. This will take time, but it is worth it and they will remember the lessons for much longer.
5. Don’t forget that pupils of most ages enjoy playing games. Turn some of this lesson content into a game of some sort. Get them more actively involved. Look for ways of getting the pupils to do the work by designing practical activities for them to engage with. How about a musical game where you give them a melody and identify cadence points. They have to complete appropriate cadences?
6. Teach lesson content like this in a similar way to Key Stage 3 classes, i.e. bring together performing, composing and listening in a more unified way.
7. Try and encourage a greater degree of independent in the pupils by giving them more control of their learning. There are all kinds of ways of doing this. Technology can play a role here too. There are many excellent examples (particularly from the US) of historical content of this type being taught through online/web-based simulations that might be worth exploring. Again, these often encourage interaction and engagement rather than a more textual-focussed exploration of the score.
8. Use your instrument, and get them to use theirs, to explore the music. If they can’t play bits of the score, simplify it for them but keep the major points that you are wanting to enforce to the forefront of the performance activity.
9. Use visual components to underpin key concepts. Use whiteboards or digital projectors and worksheets to help pupils understand the score. All pupils are helped by seeing visual representations of things like formal structures, ensemble groups, harmonic development and the relationship of keys, cadences, etc.

I’m sure there are loads of other ideas out there too. Hope this is a useful starting point.

I can play it!

I can play it was launched this week. It offers online music lessons taught by outstanding musicians across a wide range of instruments.  Apparently their video tutorials will teach you step by step how to play an instrument, from beginner to advanced. You can play along to backing tracks, record demos & swap notes with others in the community area. You can start learning for free (but that’s just one of their mini-courses). Longer, more advanced, courses cost money!

I registered so that I could start a mini-course. An email arrived and, sure enough, I could log on to introductory lessons in rock guitar, keyboard and acoustic guitar. Other courses are going to be added in 2008.  First impressions? Lots of talking. Quite a bit of jargon. Some big words and, in some courses, quite a bit of writing too.

To be honest, I gave up after a couple of minutes. I’ll have to get someone else to try and see how they get on. Let me know what you think.

‘New’ funding for primary school music

The Guardian is reporting that the government has pledged to reintroduce music in every primary school with a £332m investment in choirs, orchestras, new instruments, performance and free music lessons.The moves will include pilot schemes based on the highly successful Venezuelan project El Sistema, whose performers won acclaim at this year’s Proms. The projects will target deprived areas and encourage young children to explore the benefits of music by playing in groups. El Sistema is an interesting youth project from Venezuela which uses classical music to reach young people from the shantytowns of Caracas and beyond. You can read more about it in this Observer article. It will be interesting to see how policy makers intend to use this model to re-inspire music education in the primary sector in an affluent country like the UK.

Christmas is coming …!

Apologies for the lack of posts over the  last month. The blog is feeling neglected.

It’s that time of year again when MMU tutors are out and about visiting students in schools across the north west of England. It is one of the best parts of my job. It is a real privilege to visit music departments and see some of the outstanding work that is going on with pupils at Key Stages 3 and 4. The majority of our students get a fantastic introduction to music teaching in these schools. They will all be teaching whole classes by now, making loads of mistakes and, hopefully, learning from them.

It is always instructive watching someone else teach isn’t it? Sure, we can spot the basic errors and misunderstandings and it is so easy to be critical. But it also makes you question your own teaching practice and think about how you do things. Many of our students begin teaching in the model in which they were taught. This often involves a lot of talking and explanation rather than getting the pupils doing things. University teaching is particularly bad in this respect. It is a challenge for all of us to practise what we preach about the art of teaching – walk the walk as well as talk the talk!

And don’t forget it’s December 1st tomorrow. 24 days and counting …

Creativity in schools needs more support

Some very interesting reading here about the need for schools to have a great level of support when it comes to embedding creativity in the curriculum. The BBC report that:

‘The Commons education committee warns that creativity is a “second-order priority” in England’s schools. The MPs say creativity should be a fundamental part of learning and should receive adequate funding. “Successful schools are creative schools,” said the committee chairman, Labour MP Barry Sheerman. Creativity – in the form of the arts, music and thinking more imaginatively about subjects – are an important part of an all-round education, says the select committee report. But there have been fears that schools, under pressure to focus on academic standards, could be neglecting such areas. And the report by MPs concludes that more should be done to protect these areas of creativity.’

A full  report of their deliberations can be downloaded here. It is interesting reading, especially for those of you that have done any work with Creative Partnerships.


I’ve been following a series of postings on the ATMI list about screen capture/screen share software. Jing has been mentioned, which is a superb cross-platform screen capture tool which allows you to capture images or video of your screen activity and share it via IM, your blog or email. I reckon it has good potential as an educational tool and, best of all, it’s free.

Independent on Sunday article about the RNCM

There is a nice article in the Independent on Sunday about the RNCM and the recent innovations that have been going on. You can read it here. Our new PGCE in Music with Specialist Instrumental Teaching gets a mention although they missed a trick in not talking about the new QTS pathway that is part of the RNCM’s BMus degree programme this year.

MMU Publicity

Had a phone call from the MMU publicity office. They wanted a photo of a student and me for the website and a newsletter article about the new BMus with QTS course that we are running this year at the RNCM. The lady said, ” Find me a photogenic student”. I said, “What about finding a photogenic lecturer?” You haven’t seen what I look like!” To which she replied, “Oh, don’t worry about that, we can always blur you out in the background a bit!” Great. Anyway, thanks to Philippa for choosing Helen from the PGCE in Music with Specialist Strings Teaching who came along and was photogenic. I didn’t get too blurred out either (but I did have my hair cut (what hair?!) specially and wore a suit). I’ll post a link to the article in due course but here is the photo:
Publicity photo

Cooking is a great metaphor for composition!

I’ve always thought that cooking is a great metaphor for musical composition. As such, it was fun when my son showed me the following You Tube video which features a fantastic beat box artist mixing together his ‘musical’ composition. Videos like this have great educational potential and I reckon it would engage most classes at Key Stage 3 (and beyond). Just a shame that many schools miss out on stuff like this because of their highly restrictive internet use policies. Anyway, enjoy it here:

Sonic State

I’ve blogged about this before, but I have to recommend the Sonic State website again. Loads of fantastic resources, reviews, links etc to all aspects of music and technology. I must site for all you student out there who want to update your music and ICT skills. The Tenori-on review (see below) is typical of the helpful resources they provide.