Category Archives: Music Education

Fract launches on the 22nd April. Gaming, music and synthesis!

I’ve been watching the development of Fract over the last year or so. We’re delighted to see that it launches on the 22nd April 2014. For those of you that haven’t heard of Fract, it’s a first person based exploration game based on sound and synthesis. It is designed to be a journey of musical discovery within which you make music through different games based on the components of synthesisers. The Fract website has loads of teasers relating to different components of the game.

I’ve just pre-ordered our copy and you can do the same here. It looks and sounds fantastic and we can’t wait to start playing.

The Schools Music Association is to merge with the ISM

The Schools Music Association (SMA), an organisation with a 76 year history of working in music education, has voted to become part of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, the professional body for musicians and subject association for music. This is  good news for the SMA who will benefit from the expertise of the ISM’s full-time staff-team and it further strengthens the ISM’s sphere of influence in terms of guaranteeing a strong voice for the music education profession at the national level.

You can find further information about this merger in this press release. Personally, I think that this is a wise move on the part of the SMA and represents a helpful consolidation of what is still a significantly fractured community of diverse interests and competing ideologies. I would like to congratulate the staff at both the SMA and the ISM for having the foresight and wisdom to put whatever differences they may have had aside and work together for a common cause. It is no secret that I hold the ISM in the highest regard in respect of their campaigning and support for music education over a very difficult few years.

Guest Post: ‘A Response to ‘What Hubs Must Do’ by Piers Spencer

I’m delighted to publish this paper written by Piers Spencer in response to the now infamous Ofsted report published last year. You can read my thoughts on that report here

The recent paper (November 2013) from Ofsted concerning music in English schools is the latest in a sequence of documents commissioned by the current government since 2010.  The first was a report from Darren Henley, chief executive of Classic FM.  Entitled Music Education in England, it recommended the establishment of local ‘Hubs’ to promote and support music in schools, the teaching of instruments and the development of singing.  The government followed it with a National Plan for Music Education and there were two further reports from Ofsted before the present one appeared, bearing the title What Hubs must do.  With a somewhat sensational heading on the Ofsted website that read ‘Music Hubs fail’, it marked a worrying change of tone from previous reports.  In this response, I am going to concentrate on the critical remarks it makes concerning the role of music in the classroom, backed, it says by evidence from a sample of 31 schools.

While heads, governors, parents, the press and politicians see public performances as making a positive contribution to school culture, there is very little interest in day-to-day classroom music.  Many primary schools are inadequately staffed for the subject and there is often indifference to what happens at Key Stage 3.  It is to Ofsted’s credit that its inspectors do care about what goes on in classrooms as well as instrumental teaching and the development of ensembles.  The report castigates schools for their superficial attitudes:  Continue reading

Do you like Music? If so, this offer is for your school or college


I’m delighted to announce that our company, UCan Play, is working collaboratively with I Like Music, the providers of Desktop DJ, the only commercial music streaming service fully licensed for educational use in schools, colleges and universities.

phil_swern2The I Like Music collection is built on the original collection of music fanatic and BBC Radio Producer, Phil Swern (pictured here on the right with the collection that is housed in a secure location in London). It includes every UK Top 40 Hit single since the charts began in 1952, the majority of The US Hot 100 and a comprehensive collection of every conceivable genre including jazz, classical and world music – constantly updated with the latest releases (on average, around 8,000 each month).

UCan Play is looking for schools to work with to tailor the I Like Music archive for educational use. In return for a 50% reduction in your school’s subscription to I Like Music, we would ask you to complete a 5 playlists each with 10 tracks based around curriculum themes, topics or subjects. We would work collaboratively with you on this. You can download our introductory pack about this amazing offer here.

Please rest assured, that all this music is fully licensed for use in an educational context. Unlike other sources of music that are illegal for use in schools, such as You Tube, Spotify and iTunes, the I Like Music music has secured all the appropriate licenses for curricula and extra-curricula usage.

If your school is interested in working with us in this way, please contact us and we can send you some further information. In the meantime, why not explore the I Like Music collection by trying it for yourself? 


The Musicians’ Union calls for more action from the Government to support music education

The Musicians’ Union (MU) has issued a report calling on the Government to work with Ofsted to ensure that schools recognise the importance of music education.

The report was published yesterday in response to the November Ofsted report on the progress of Music Education Hubs in England, and following extensive research with MU members working in Hubs.

Diane Widdison, MU National Organiser for Education and Training commented that:

Ofsted’s criticism of the progress made in music education demonstrates that the Government needs to do more to implement the National Music Plan. The completely unrealistic timeframe which was imposed on music services to recreate themselves as music education hubs last year, compounded by cuts within local authorities alongside the statutory grant, has made it impossible for hubs to fulfil the aspirations of the Plan. Although many music hubs are making great efforts to make the new system work, until the Government ensures that all schools engage with them, musical opportunities for young people will continue to be a postcode lottery.

Our report concentrates on the workforce, who we represent, and how they have been negatively impacted by the changes resulting in many job losses or an erosion of terms and conditions.

We also raise concerns about the opportunities and access for pupils to music education and what effect this will have on the musicians of the future.

I completely agree with the MU on this. Contrary to all the back-slapping and positive political rhetoric that has been spouted from the stage at the Music Expo today, there is a dark reality to the increasing de-professionalisation of music educators within this sector that is difficult to stomach. In the recent months, this has seen the compulsory redundancies of instrumental music teachers in many parts of the country as music services are being axed. Sadly, many of these things were predicted on this blog. The key to a comprehensive, systematic and high quality music education for our children is a well qualified workforce. This is being demolished by this Government’s constant cuts to funding, political in-fighting between the DfE and Arts Council England, the mediocre and uncritical approval given by some music education consultants who should know better, and the squeeze on Local Authority funding.

The insensitive, uninformed and untimely Ofsted report has not helped matters at all. My  understanding is that the HMI responsible has been running around the country trying to smooth over key messages from that report. Despite that, rumours about the impending funding application for music education hubs abound. We still do not know when this will open, the amount of funding available, the key criteria, the timescale for assessing applications or the approval of bids. This does not help any music service or music education hub work productively in planning for their future provision. Having spoken to numerous hub leaders across the UK, the  advice given by ACE relationship managers is contradictory at best. It is hard to imagine a more chaotic approach to music education and funding. Key policy makers at the DfE and ACE, and their coterie of advisors, should be apologising to the sector for the complete shambles they have created, and the human cost of this mess that the MU report has identified.   Our children deserve so much better.

The full MU report can be downloaded from here. I would urge you all to read it and make your responses known to policy-makers.

Support Materials for the National Curriculum for Music

I’m delighted to highlight the provision of some excellent support materials for the new National Curriculum. These have been produced by Ally Daubney working with the ISM. I can thoroughly recommend them.

Here’s Alison’s description of the materials:

On behalf of the ISM (the subject association for Music), these documents support teachers to develop their music curriculum in line with requirements of the new National Curriculum for Music.  Embedded in the documents are links to other useful sources of information to assist with curriculum planning, points for consideration and implications for schools, departments and teachers.  There are separate guides for both primary and secondary phase teachers; the classroom work is linked directly to the role of hubs.

All documents can be found from this link.

There will be some further DfE materials (produced by the group that I used to chair) at some point in the future. These will be posted on the ISM page once published. Thanks for all your hard work on this Ally.

My Music Mark article on the history and recent work of the Love Music Trust

Here’s a copy of my article for the current Music Mark magazine on the establishment and recent work of the Love Music Trust. As a new music education hub, the Trust’s work is characterised by its ‘by schools, for schools’ approach (something that Ofsted could learn apparently). Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading about the work of the Trust and make sure you watch the amazing Free to Fly video first (linked from the opening of the article).

The Virtual Choir: A wonderful story that started with Mozart

This is a wonderful story of how Eric Whitacre created a virtual choir using the powerful of YouTube and the Internet. I would encourage you all to watch it through to the end. Numerous things struck me, but perhaps the most interesting thing from a pedagogical point of view is Eric’s account of the transformative power of experiencing a choir (a physical one) singing the ‘Kyrie’ from Mozart’s Requiem for the very first time. You cannot underestimate the power of partaking in live music making and engagement with classical music in a person’s life.

A crisis in music education around one-to-one instrumental teaching?

Is there a crisis in our schools surrounding the teaching of music in a one-to-one instrumental setting? I’m not sure that there is, but there is an interesting discussion here from a distinguished panel including MMU’s Professor Heather Piper. I’d skip to around eight minutes in to avoid a long, boring and rambling introduction from the chair:


PreSonus’ Studio One: The number 1 choice for education


I’ve been spending some time over the recent weeks getting to know the PreSonus range of hardware and software. As some of you will know, my company, UCan Play, has just become an approved PreSonus educational reseller. As a company, we select the brands we work with really carefully. I have to say that I have been really impressed with PreSonus.

A large number of their products have caught my eye and, over the coming weeks, I’m going to starting writing about each one in a little more detail. Not a sales pitch, but rather a highlighting of the features that I think are important for those of us working in education.

First up, I’m going to have a look at the Studio One software that underpins the entire range of PreSonus products. This comes bundled with many of their mixing desks and audio interfaces, but can also be bought in different forms: Studio One Artist, Producer or Professional.

But the first thing to say, is that there is a fantastic free product for you to download and play with. Studio One Free is a fully functional and amazingly equipped digital audio workstation (DAW) built around a new 64-bit audio engine. There are no limitations and there is no expiration date. It provides all of the recording and editing features needed for basic music production. It has a single-window, integrated environment for musical production with the smooth, drag-and-drop workflow that distinguishes Studio One from other DAWs, allows an unlimited number of audio and MIDI tracks, has no limitations on plug-in instantiations, comes with eight high-quality PreSonus Native Effects™ plug-ins, offers multitrack comping; and performs real-time time-stretching and tempo-following. You can see a full list of features in Studio One Free here. Continue reading