Felicity teaches at Hamlyn Heights PS, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Musical Futures Australia runs a comprehensive schedule of teacher professional development workshops across the country.
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My Musical Futures story began in 2015 as part of the Victorian Education Departments, Music in Schools Initiative. The day I began the Just Play program in my classroom a Year 5 boy called Jarrod, who suffered from serious anxiety and who hadn’t been at school for weeks, just happened to be present. I handed Jarrod and everyone else a guitar and showed him, along with the rest of the class, how play easy C and easy G. After some time of allowing my students to have a go, we set personal goals for the remainder of the session by either playing one chord or both and completed the activity by performing with the “I’ve Gotta Feeling” play-a-long.
It was a bit of an extraordinary moment; every single kid including Jarrod was completely engaged and focused on what they were doing. Everyone was able to feel successful and achieve their goal and every week there after Jarrod came to school on the day we had music. This response alone was enough for me to completely embed and immerse Musical Future into our music program and we have never looked back.
More recently I found myself included in a group music educators lucky enough to be invited to be part of a Musical Futures Teacher Tour to the USA. I found myself amongst a dedicated group of talented and passionate music teachers from around Australia, all accomplished musicians in their own right who clearly love what they do. Their energy was fantastic and infectious; they flew the Aussie flag for all of us with such certainty that the Americans we met along the way, well anyone actually, couldn’t help but be caught up in the excitement and want to come along for the ride.
As a flautist who dabbles in a few different instruments or at the very least will give anything a go, I felt slightly fraudulent for being there. Regardless it was a great time, I met some really wonderful people, experienced some fantastic things, learnt a lot and it was a privilege to be part of it.
I am very grateful to the Musical Futures International team Ken Owen, Ian Harvey and Anna Gower for providing me with the opportunity and I can’t thank them enough.
The idea that music is another language isn’t new and a conversation I have had often enough; many have written and mused over this topic. Every human culture has music, just as each has language so, it's true that music is a universal feature of the human experience.
Music inspires common human feelings and bridges gaps between cultures that spoken languages can’t. The ability to read and perform music as a common thread brings and bonds people together, transcends boundaries and creates community.
Little Kids Rock’s (LKR) Music as a Second Language (MSL) is based on founder David Wish’s experience and back ground in teaching bilingual education or ESL and as a self-taught musician. Drawing upon his understanding of how children learn language, he developed this hybrid methodology of teaching music that utilises as Wish suggests, “the deeply interconnected nature of language and music”. A second language rather than a first, because no one is born into a family where music is the primary language.
Wish believes that like spoken language, music can express the full range of human emotions and does so through a distinct grammar, meter, and vocabulary. He takes it further by stating that like language, music has both a ‘spoken’ and a written form. By emphasising performance and composition over reading and writing, students acquire musical skills in a natural way moving at their own pace. According to Wish, this then creates a context rich in musical experience for young learners facilitated in an environment that encourages and allows for mistakes and is best learnt in conversation with others who have achieved some level of fluency.
The Music as a Second Language approach is initially and deliberately non-notational. Children are taught to play music the way many musicians learn themselves. Not by notation but by listening, imitating and through meaningful experimentation. Wish states, “We don’t begin with theory when we want to teach a child to play tee-ball. We bring the kid up to the tee, give them a bat and let them swing.”
One contributor to a recent MF Facebook chat centring on this topic said,
“I love the theory of 'Music as a Second Language'. It resonates so strongly with me from personal experience. When I was quite young I began learning the piano and I just wanted to play. I gave up when I felt that trying to get my head around theory was slowing down my progress of playing. When I reached high school, I realized I could learn from my peers through listening, imitating, experimenting and just playing without the pressure of understanding theory… The more I learned informally, the more my curiosity took hold and I actually wanted to learn and understand theory. Once I could actually play, I was able to make connections with the theory and understand it on a much deeper level".
The 5 Stages of Music Acquisition
MSL does bear similarities to the Suzuki method, which also stresses learning by ear (initially) over reading musical notation. It also draws heavily from renowned linguist and educational researcher, Stephen Krashen’s “Theory of Second Language Acquisition.”
Krashen has hypothesised that languages are learnt once meaning is made of sounds or symbols and that all children acquire basic grammatical principles of language in a similar fashion.
This is where things get interesting, Krashen’s theories provided Wish with a framework for creating a rational for his ideas in regards to music education and music acquisition; these are described as the “5 Stages of Music Acquisition”.
5 Stages of "Music Acquisition"
❶ Listening Stage (0 To 5 Years) Notice how much longer many children can spend without “making noise” on musical instruments.
❷ Approximation (6 Months to 2.5 Years) Music is taught in a cursory manner. Focus is often on singing and clapping
❸ Intermediate Fluency (2.5 Months to 5 Years) Child is stringing words together & increasingly uses language to get needs met. Parents hear utterances like “Mama... milk... now” & may say “He/she is speaking in sentences!”
❹ Fluency (High School +) Child has achieved “native-like” proficiency in their mother- tongue. Child is proficient on their instrument and can express
❺ Reading & Writing (High School +, or Never) Child begins to read and put own thoughts into writing
Wish discusses this further during a TED talk he gave 2011.
It’s important to note that to date, there is currently no evidence based research into Wish’s theories of Music as a Second Language; without solid inquiry many questions arise.
David Wish is an interesting and clearly a very clever man. He has created in LKR a movement that has a vast following- those of us who went to Rockfest witnessed that first hand. To date LKR has provided music education to more than 500,000 low-income children in 14 states in the U.S. Wish’s ability to generate millions in charitable contributions is extraordinary allowing LKR to be the largest free instrumental music program is the United States. Regardless of whether David Wish’s MSL theories are meaningful or correct, he is definitely doing something right –giving children the opportunity to have a meaningful music education.
In the words of Willy Wonker, Wish’s self-described hero - "We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams."
Musical Futures runs a comprehensive schedule of workshops for teachers across Australia-click to find out more
Musical Futures is running workshops in Dubai, Bangkok, China and new Zealand-click to find out more
Brianna teaches music at Warrnambool East PS, Warrnambool (VIC) and was part of the Musical Futures International teacher tour to America in July 2017
I am strongly passionate about music education and in particular Musical Futures. My passion stems from a past of losing interest in my initial music education, only to be reengaged years later through an informal approach to learning music. Musical Futures is the way I know and love to teach music, and the students’ responses and outcomes show that they love it too.
When I was quite young, I began learning the piano and I just wanted to play. I had quite a good ear and memory to match and quite enjoyed learning pieces this way. However, when I began to feel pressure to sight-read and understand theory before practice, I found that this was slowing down my progress of playing and I gave up learning piano. Music was not offered at my primary school, so I did not receive any further instruction, until I reached high school.
My year 7 music teacher was a trained photography teacher who had been employed to teach music. He didn’t have a classical background like the other music teachers. He played guitar in a rock band, had long hair and had a very calm and approachable demeanour about him. We loved him. In his classes, our first session was to all pick up a guitar and begin to learn songs such as ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Wild Thing’. I had quite a difficult cohort of students in my class, but they were always engaged and on best behaviour for this teacher. We soon moved onto rhythm, where he taught us to play a basic rock beat on our bodies. He told us that when we established good rhythm we could try it on the drums. He picked me first, and from that moment I decided I was going to be drummer.
From here, I began drum lessons, but I would spend my recess breaks in the music department practice rooms with my friends. We would each show each other what we were learning and teach one another. We didn’t need pen and paper, just our ears, eyes and desire to play. After a few years I could quite confidently play guitar and bass, even though I had no idea what the notes on the fret board were or what notes made up the chords I was playing.
I was fortunate to be chosen to be a part of a rock band project where a group of 5 girls were put together and taught the skills of playing as a band for one recess break per week. Once again, this was taught informally and I thrived off that. A few years later my curiosity took hold and I decided I wanted to understand theory. I joined the school concert band and the city band as a percussionist and began teaching myself (with the help of my music teachers) piano again with a new acquired understanding and thirst to learn.
Eventually my love of music led me to teaching drum kit at a local drum school, which inspired me to become a teacher. I began my teaching career as a generalist, where in both of the schools I worked in I found cupboards of instruments that hadn’t been used for some time. I began teaching students these instruments through a band program, and the beneficial impact it had on the students was immediately apparent. I continued to integrate music into my program wherever I could and in 2015 came across Musical Futures.
In my very first session I was hooked. MF was delivering a program backed with research on the way I learned music and the way I was trying to teach my students. To say I was excited would be an understatement. We were given physical and digital resources that could be taken away and used immediately with the students, saving an incredible amount of time and presented in such a beautifully scaffolded way that every child could be engaged and supported on multiple instruments simultaneously. I was provided with new ideas and approaches to add to my own repertoire and was inspired to take this approach and entwine it in with my own practice.
Once I began using resources from MF, my students’ progress and engagement skyrocketed. Some students were even taking what we had learned at school and going home looking more detailed parts on Youtube, or creating their own parts to songs. Parents began buying their kids instruments and the kids began to teach each other.
I was seeing the behaviour of my teenage friends, and myself, but in 9 year olds.
I am now in my first year of specialist teaching, due to my passion and persistence in providing musical opportunities to the children at our school. I now proudly have very capable young band of grade 6 students, who have built an unbreakable bond together. They are often in before school and recesses teaching each other their parts and switching between all the instruments they can.
I am fortunate that now I have the opportunity to work with 480 students who all engage in Musical Futures. I believe MF has changed the culture of our school. For many of these students, they would have never received instrumental lessons and now they are full of confidence and have the means to teach themselves. I cannot wait to see my students’ own musical futures flourish in the years to come.
What in my school began with dusting off a few old instruments has flourished into a whole school music program. I aspire to spread my love of Musical Futures and its impact on students, so that more schools get involved, get their students playing and give hope to a future filled with people who have been given the opportunity to allow music to enrich their lives.
My question is, how do we convince teachers, leadership and the wider community to provide students with opportunities to ‘just play’ without them having seen or experienced the benefits first hand?
Further, how do we convince them that music can be integrated across the curriculum for greater engagement in learning and development of 21st century skills, not merely an interruption to the timetable?
Musical Futures Australia Champion Teacher Michael Newton was part of a group of MF International teachers who travelled to America in July 2017 to take part in our friends Little Kids Rock's annual teacher conference Rockfest.
Read his summary of the trip and what he plans to take back to his school in Perth, Australia.
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"There's a brighter future around the corner and we get to build it with them" (David Wish – Founder and CEO of Little Kids Rock). Hang on to that thought.
"What was I doing in the USA? After a 40-hour journey to get there off the back of ski trip in the 1st week of holidays, and production rehearsals in the second, I was seriously asking the same question. Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge how incredibly privileged I am to have been invited by Musical Futures to head over to the USA with them for the Little Kids Rock (LKR) Rockfest Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado (thanks Ian, Ken and Anna!).
I have just spent close on 2 amazing, intense, and beautiful weeks hanging out with arguably some of the best and most innovative music teachers from Australia, NZ, and the UK. I’m not sure I’m in that category, but there you go. We’ve swapped ideas, challenged each other, problem solved, brain stormed, and laughed. Laughed so much for so long it hurt. It was the Little Kids Rockfest, but the big kids rocked just as hard as the little kids. The people I travelled with were a truely awesome bunch of individuals. It’s rare to connect and bond as quickly and as well as we all did.
LKR is a not-for-profit organisation promoting and rolling out ‘Modern Band’ in US schools. It’s an impressive organisation. Modern Band teaches kids to perform, improvise and compose using styles they’re familiar with such as rock, pop, reggae, hip hop, and R&B. I did workshops on integrating modern band into alternative ensembles (I played the steel pans – how cool is that?), scaffolding, how to get kids arranging pieces into different musical styles, and some really cool stuff on pBones and pTrumpets (plastic trombones and trumpets). We also did some workshops on Latin and Hip-Hop in LA. I’ve come back with a head full of ideas, possibilities and things to try out and experiment with in class with the kids. "There's a brighter future around the corner and we get to build it with them".
We heard a compelling argument from Dr Ruth Wright (a leading music sociologist from Western University, Canada) on why music education is a human right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. By the way, she’s right!
I won’t go into all the ideas I’ve come back with (we’d be here all day), but here’s a few things that leapt out at me. They’re in no particular order, and with varying degrees of relevance to music education, and/or education more widely:
What drives us as music educators?
The value of being part of a community brought together around music and music education
The impact on learning
That thought’s a remarkably powerful one. "There's a brighter future around the corner and we get to build it with them".
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HundrEd is an initiave to find innovative, impactful and scalable practices in education from around the world.
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