Monthly Archives: February 2008

Sound Poetry and the Key Stage 3 curriculum

My good friend Jason and I have been co-writing a Year 7 unit of work on sound poetry for a major music technology company. It has been great fun learning about a new musical practice (for me at least) and exploring some of the history of this innovative art form. Whilst we were collaborating on resources, Jason reminded me about the great UbuWeb site. In particular the collection of sound files found here is truly staggering and represents a fantastic resource for any musicians or educators interested in experimental music (of all types). This is what the UbuWeb people say about it:

Originally focusing on Sound Poetry proper, UbuWeb’s Sound section has grown to encompass all types of sound art, historical and contemporary. Beginning with pioneers such as Guillaume Apollinaire reading his “Calligrammes” in 1913, and proceeding to current practitioners such as Vito Acconci or Kristin Oppenheim, UbuWeb Sound surveys the entire 20th century and beyond. Categories include Dadaism, Futurism, early 20th century literary experiments, musique concrete, electronic music, Fluxus, Beat sound works, minimalist and process works, performance art, plunderphonics and sampling, and digital glitch works, to name just a few. As the practices of sound art continue to evolve, categories become increasingly irrelevant, a fact UbuWeb embraces. Hence, our artists are listed alphabetically instead of categorically.

Fantastic, and all open source (of course).

Exchanging notes

I’m doing some writing for NAME/Becta at the moment on ‘imaginative composition’. Basically, it is a short guide for teachers about how to get pupils doing imaginative composition work rather than unimaginative composition work!

As part of this work, I was reminded about the excellent Exchanging Notes resource. Exchanging Notes was an exchange of ideas between teachers and composers designed to strengthen and investigate new strategies for the teaching of composition across the secondary music curriculum. The emphasis of the exchange was to develop practical teaching strategies that could be utilised within any scheme of work, and it took the form of four days of workshops facilitated by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Birmingham LEA.

I highly recommend this resource for any of you out there who want to get your pupils composing imaginatively!

Book Review of Andrew Brown’s Computers in Music Education

I’m getting into these book reviews! I’ve just written the following for a music education journal but thought I’d share it here first. Do let me have any feedback – particularly if you’ve read the book itself!

Computers in Music Education is written by Andrew Brown, a senior lecturer in computer music at the Queensland University of Technology. It provides a general overview of the key issues associated with using computers (and other pieces of technology) in the classroom and attempts to blend theory about the conceptual and philosophical ideas behind these technologies with the practical implications of using such tools in a learning environment. Brown’s text is divided into five main sections: Context, Production, Presentation, Reflection and Implementation.

In the first section, entitled ‘Context’, Brown gives a theoretical, philosophical and historical background to his ideas about computers and their use in music education. These early chapters are particularly important as they set out Brown’s thesis that adopting technologies for music education will result in significant changes of practice in many different areas. Brown’s contention here is that through changing technologies we can begin to change minds. This is a significant assertion but one that is well argued, although references to wider educational and psychological texts (e.g. Wertsch 1998; Lave & Wenger 1991; which could have been used to underpin and extend several of his key points) are generally avoided.

There is a significant shift in the second section of the book. Entitled ‘Production’, Brown explores several major types of technological tools including audio recording, music publishing, MIDI sequencing, algorithmic music and sound synthesis. Within these chapters, Brown presents a range of knowledge about each particular topic in a helpful, informative style. For example, Chapter 4 is concerned with Audio Recording and here you will find and exploration of sampling, signal flows, recording production techniques and much more beside. As this writing is not related to any specific piece of technology per se, it is generic in nature and should stand the test of time. On the positive side, this should ensure that this basic information is easily applicable to the reader’s particular set of circumstances; on the negative side, perhaps key issues are presented in a somewhat obvious manner and skirted around a little. For example, in discussing ‘clarity’ within the ‘Recording Production Techniques’ section (p.52), Brown states that ‘The recording quality is dictated to a large degree by the equipment and capturing process’ and urges readers to ensure that ‘extraneous noises such as page turns, coughing, foot tapping’ are avoided!

Other more important issues are somewhat underplayed. In the following chapter, Brown makes the point that notation is an ‘abstract representation of the ideas and sounds of music’ (p.59). One could make a similar point about MIDI data and sequencing in the next chapter. But those seeking a detailed analysis of the implications of this in how musicians handle musical data in a digital age may have to look elsewhere, perhaps to Wishart’s work (Wishart 1996) and his comprehensive analysis of notational ‘lattices’ in compositional systems. Perhaps the opportunities to link back to key conceptual and philosophical ideas of the first section could have been taken here?

The third section of the book moves onto issues associated with presenting music. This includes chapters of live performance (the use of synthesizers, other electronic instruments and using the computer as a musical instrument) and the presentation of music through recorded formats and contexts (including process of digitisation, sound design, other forms of interactive media and the Internet).

The curiously titled fourth section of the book is ‘Reflection’. This contains an interesting mix of chapters covering areas diverse as computers and music research (note that this is not ‘music education’ research), different strategies for analysing sound, aural and musicianship training, assessment and administration. I found many helpful ideas contained within these chapters, but I did struggle to maintain a sense of narrative through this part of the book. All too often I found myself thinking about important concepts or writers who had been missed out. As an example, the chapter on assessment is peculiarly idiosyncratic, a little clumsy in places and makes many assumptions. Take the opening sentence of the second major paragraph, entitled ‘What to assess’:

There is evidently, in human kind, a musical intelligence as labelled by Howard Gardner, manifest in a number of ways not least that almost every human culture on the planet has developed a musical practice, even if at time these were closely linked to dance, religion or some other cultural expression. (p. 247)

The richness of an assessment pedagogy that comes through other texts (Black & William 1998; Chapman & King 2005) is missing here. It is one example where an exclusive focus on musical issues associated with assessment and technology can be detrimental to the wider argument. It may result in changes in practice, but may not be the best way forward in changing minds.

The final section is entitled ‘Implementation’. Here, Brown explores practical issues about how to set up a computer music system in an educational context, e-learning technologies, how to integrate new technologies with other more traditional ways of working and a number of possible future applications for computers in music education. As a conclusion to the book, I think that some music educators may find these ideas a little disappointing. Certainly the richness of the debate about how new technologies implicate pedagogical approaches (undertaken in the United Kingdom by organisations such as Becta (Becta 2007) and others) is missing here.

Computers in Music Education is a helpful book for the music educator seeking to extend their knowledge of all types of technology in instructional settings. In that sense, the title of the book is somewhat misleading as the text does much more what it implies. Brown’s text is a bit rambling in places and, on occasions, you have to sift through his ideas to find that important nugget of information. That said, the book is helpfully structured with reflective questions, teaching tips, suggested tasks and chapter summaries at the end of each chapter and a helpful glossary at the end of the book. These will promote thinking about key issues. However, be warned! Sometimes these frustrated this reader and would be quite fanciful, unrealistic and, probably, unhelpful in the United Kingdom’s education system. Take the ‘Teaching tips’ from the ‘Integrating New Technologies’ chapter (p. 307) as an example:

1. Use the computer’s cachet to enhance the perceived relevance of the music program to students. …
10. Encourage students to bring their laptops to class so that activities started in class can be continued at home.

In conclusion, the book is a personal, at times idiosyncratic, walk through the application of new technologies in music education. As a practical guide it has many strengths, not least in its breadth and coverage of key issues and ideas which, despite the increasingly fast rate of technological change and development, should stand the test of time.


Becta (2007) Harnessing Technology Review [accessed 26/2/08]
Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. London, Kings College.
Chapman, C. & King, R. (2005) Differentiated Assessment Strategies: One tool doesn’t fit all. Thousand Oaks, California, Corwin Press, Inc.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate peripheral participation Cambridge, CUP.
Wertsch, J. (1998) Mind as Action Oxford, OUP.
Wishart, T. (1996) On Sonic Art Amsterdam, Harwood Academic Publishers.

Do you struggle with technology in your teaching?

Do you struggle using technology in your teaching? I’ve got good news – you’re not alone! The Guardian are reporting that a third of teachers struggle to use the technology schools are equipped with and want more support and training, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) said today.The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) first Teacher Voice Omnibus Survey (TVOS), which was completed by about 1,000 teachers, including heads and newly qualified classroom teachers, shows widespread use of information technology in schools: 80% said it had made a difference to the way they teach.

But a “sizeable minority” (33%) felt they lacked the necessary skills to exploit the technology available to them and needed more support and information to integrate information and communication technology (ICT) in lessons.

However, there is some comfort for those of us engaged in ITT. In Becta’s Harnessing Technology Review 2007 (p.22) the following paragraph indicates that those undertaking initial teacher training today are better prepared than ever. Or am I reading too much into it?

‘Using ICT in teaching’ has remained the most frequently selected topic for Continuing Professional Development in the General Teaching Council survey and is among the top three topics for all but the most recently qualified teachers. ‘Strengthening and/or updating skills and knowledge in curriculum subject areas’ and ‘addressing underachievement in groups of pupils’ featured in the ‘top five’ in both years. (Hutchings et al., 2006) [my bold]

Let me know what you think!

Harnessing Technology Review 2007

Lucy Green’s new book is out

Lucy Green’s new book

Lucy Green’s new book – Music, Informal Learning and the School: A new classroom pedagogy – is now available.

Part of Amazon’s description reads as follows:

This pioneering book reveals how the music classroom can draw upon the world of popular musicians’ informal learning practices, so as to recognise and foster a range of musical skills and knowledge that have long been overlooked within music education. [I took exception to this and will be interested to read just exactly which musical skills and knowledge Lucy feels have been neglected.] It investigates how far informal learning practices are possible and desirable in a classroom context; how they can affect young teenagers’ musical skill and knowledge acquisition; and how they can change the ways students listen to, understand and appreciate music as critical listeners, not only in relation to what they already know, but beyond.It examines students’ motivations towards music education, their autonomy as learners, and their capacity to work co-operatively in groups without instructional guidance from teachers. It suggests how we can awaken students’ awareness of their own musicality, particularly those who might not otherwise be reached by music education, putting the potential for musical development and participation into their own hands. Bringing informal learning practices into a school environment is challenging for teachers.

I liked the understated final sentence! I will certainly look forward to reading it and have ordered the hardback copy for the university library. At £42 I’ll wait for the paperback! Will let you know how I get on with it in due course.

Internet Research Skills

I’ve recently written a book review for Niall Ó Dochartaigh’s Internet Research Skills. I found it a really helpful book. Here’s the review:

Ó Dochartaigh has written a helpful book for those wanting to make effective and critical use of the Internet as a research tool. Through a clear and approachable style, the book shows how you can search the Internet for books, articles, Government statistics and archives; develop effective search strategies using a variety of online resources; interrogate databases of academic materials using well constructed keyword searches; sort out the reliable information from the unreliable; find and sort visual, audio and multimedia materials and much more besides.

The book is illustrated with numerous ‘screen grabs’ from various web pages. These provide a helpful visual dimension to what could have become a dense text. Similarly, helpfully constructed exercises throughout the book give the reader some practical, hands-on experience and are worthwhile for the beginning researcher wanting to become more adept at using the Internet in their work.

As with any book on new technologies, Ó Dochartaigh’s text faces the danger of becoming obsolete very quickly.  But general principles for searching, sorting, analysing and storing information are discussed in the book and this should mitigate the potential effects of concentrating on specific tools, which may become redundant, or not catering for new tools which develop and come online quickly.

I particularly liked the way that the book acknowledges (and recommends) a variety of open access resources, open source software and other freely available tools. Publishers and others have all too often hijacked the Internet revolution with a commercial agenda. But here, Ó Dochartaigh highlights the use of powerful tools such as Google Scholar, OAIster, Wikipedia and a whole host of Web 2.0 social networking software to illustrate his point that the Internet’s community of enquiry can provide a tremendously rich source of data and evidence for researchers without great financial cost. This is especially important for those professionals interested in research but not affiliated to an HE institution. Burgeoning journal subscriptions costs can be problematic, and even within HE institutions budgets are often limited, but Ó Dochartaigh’s observation (p.51; from Antelman 2004) that ‘open access articles are cited more frequently that those in pay databases’ may produce a shift in publishers’ future thinking.

In conclusion, perhaps I should declare my colours as a moderately technologically-savvy researcher. But that said, there was plenty in this book that I found helpful, interesting and useful for my work. For those researchers and students with less technological experience, Ó Dochartaigh clear, direct and personable style will guide you through the Internet’s potential as a research tool with care and consideration. There is something here for everyone and I highly recommend it.


Mixxx is an open source DJ tool designed for both professional and amateur DJs alike. It allows DJs to mix music live with a clean, simple interface. Futhermore, Mixxx has a number of key features to help DJs in the mix: Beat estimation, parallel visual displays, and support for various DJ hardware controllers. Unlike, I haven’t tried it yet but it is good to see another open source piece of software being coded for a range of platforms. Perfect for schools. Let me know what you think about it if you give it a spin!

That’s the end of the cross-curricular dimensions!

Well that’s the end of my quick blast through the new National Curriculum’s cross curricular dimensions. I hope you have enjoyed the brief overview. Each of these cross-curricula dimensions presents a valuable opportunity for the astute music educator. Whilst they are not statutory (which seems like a mistake to me), they are very useful starting points for curriculum design and will help music educators begin to link music with wider concepts, ideas and shared subject foci. As we have shown, they can be explored, developed and interpreted in imaginative ways to help present a music curriculum at Key Stage 3 that is engaging, stimulating and enjoyable for all pupils. Do let me know whether or not you have found them helpful!

Creativity and Critical Thinking

The last cross-curricular dimension is creativity and critical thinking. These can develop pupils’ capacity for original ideas and purposeful action. They allow for activity within subjects that can lead to original, expressive and valuable outcomes. Both creativity and critical thinking need to permeate through all curriculum subjects and the whole life of a school.

The inclusion of creativity as a key concept within the new music curriculum is noteworthy. Defining creativity is always difficult but many musicians and artists would say it is about taking risks. This finds a resonance with other curriculum subjects. For example, one part of the definition for creativity in the new Art and Design Programme of Study reads that creativity is about ‘taking risks and learning from mistakes’. The English Programme of Study encourages creativity through ‘using inventive approaches to making meaning, taking risks, playing with language and using it to create new effects’. In comparison to these statements of creativity, the music statement seems, in some respects, quite bland. The development of musical knowledge through the key processes of performing, composing, listening, reviewing and evaluating contain many elements that could truly inspire pupils’ creativity.

Technology and new media

The penultimate cross curricular dimension is a familiar one to readers of this blog. New technologies are transforming the way in which we work and learn. Pupils need to learn the practical skills to use technology confidently, productively and purposefully. The opportunities to expand and develop processes of teaching and learning within and between each curriculum area are enormous.

Within the music curriculum, the role of technology is well defined. Music technologies should be used to ‘create, manipulate and refine sounds’ in musical performance and composition; they should also act as a tool by which a pupil’s musical ideas can be developed both within and beyond the classroom.

There are numerous examples of innovative approaches to the use of technology in the music curriculum. Many of these involve teachers and pupils working with specific pieces of music technology to develop approaches to musical performance and composition. Other approaches take generic tools, like a standard personal computer, and use them for new musical purposes. As well as using technologies to promote musical learning, many teachers are using technology and new media to transform the ways in which they teach. Perhaps some of the most interesting examples in this area relate to the way in which the Internet can be used to share, review and evaluate musical work through sites like NUMU.