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.