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About Just Play
Musical Futures: Just Play is our Musical Futures International 'first access' program for both teachers and students. It is designed to build holistic musical skills and an understanding of how to play as a whole class band.
Just Play provides a scaffold for both teachers and students to engage with other aspects of Musical Futures, originally developed for older students, that are delivered through non-formal teaching and informal learning approaches once they move 'beyond the play-along'.
Just Play was originally developed for middle years students aged 8 - 11, but over the past few years we have seen more teachers of younger children participating in our Musical Futures Australia and Musical Futures International workshops and so we developed Everyone Can Play, a comprehensive instrument by instrument resource for whole class instrumental learning especially designed for beginners.
Musical Futures International Learning Models
Everyone Can Play
Following the success of our Everyone Can Play Ukulele resource which is now being used in schools across Asia and Australia, we are delighted to launch the next in our Everyone Can Play series - ECP keyboard, ECP guitar, ECP Styles and ECP bass at our 'Recharge' workshops in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur in early November.
All delegates at our forthcoming Musical Futures International workshops will be amongst the first to take away the new resources to use in their schools after the workshops.
How you can get involved
Ken and Anna are just back from our most recent trip to China, where we have been working with instrumental, teachers, students and parents and learning a huge amount about how Musical Futures is resonating in contexts that are very different from where it first began!
First stop Music China, Shanghai
Our presentation, given as part of the NAMM University sessions at Music China, considered how it might be possible to build on the years of research and proven outcomes from Musical Futures as predominantly a classroom approach might also change mindsets of instrumental teachers about how and why they teach music.
Could working with instrumental teachers and their employers help us to move towards finding a continuum of student voice, engagement, relevance and personalisation within the formal contexts of the Chinese instrumental music education system to keep more people playing more music for longer?
We talked about what expectations parents, students and teachers might bring to the music learning on offer and how what happens in lessons could be enriched by placing more of an emphasis on student agency than might currently be in place.
Later in the week we had the chance to test out some of this in practical workshops with parents, students and teachers in 2 different cities, Changchun and Harbin.
We were keen to find out if it could it be possible for instrumental teachers to relate to the content of the workshops and more importantly to be able to apply any of it to their own teaching situation. How could the experiences of participating in large group music-making really relate to a one to one teaching situation?
What relevance might engaging with popular music have to traditional piano teaching? How could students' own musical interests be accommodated in an exams-driven teaching situation and more importantly why might this even be necessary?
Would getting parents to play music alongside their children have any impact on their expectations of a music lesson?
And most importantly could we communicate the learning that sits behind the practical workshops through translators?
Read on to find out......
And while we were in Shanghai.....
We popped into our host school for our January Introduction to Musical Futures intensive 2 day workshops! Our host teacher James showed us around the fantastic music spaces and we even got to watch the sun set over the roof garden! if you would like to join us in January, all the details can be found here
The location for the first of our workshops was the MusicBaby Arts centre, part of the impressive Bole Music showrooms in Changchun. We started with a full day of workshops for 30 children with parents and teachers observing. However feedback during the break was that they were getting bored just watching so we pulled everyone in and had a great afternoon jamming together.
The following day was our first with the teachers. In order to communicate our aims we hooked our workshops around the premise that there are many different ways to learn music and that we would experience some of these as participants then reflect on whether they might be relevant to the way that the teachers work with their students.
We identified some key things we wanted to explore under the heading "ways to learn music" and in each activity referred back to the list:
At the start of day 2, our hosts led a really interesting discussion about the need to change approaches in China. The discussion started with the teachers each sharing a sentence in response to the questions 'what is creativity' and then they were taken through some history and context of music education in China. Then 2 teachers were selected to share their feedback on the workshops so far and how they thought they might be able to apply any of the learning to their situation.
The one theme that kept recurring was that it was the expectations of parents that was the main barrier to creative approaches to instrumental teaching in China. Students start learning music around age 4, but by the time they get to 8 they have too much homework to be able to continue. So some parents want their children to follow a narrow pathway through exam grades as far as they can get and as quickly as possible before they have to stop and move onto other things having ticked the music education box.
With an opportunity to work directly with parents ahead, how best to communicate other benefits to learning and experiencing music than just exam certificates?
We finished day 2 with some great large group composing and improvising activities which got everyone making music together and brought the 3 days to a really musical end.
Further North to Harbin
Just over an hour by train from Changchun is Harbin, the location for our last workshops for this trip. Armed with all the learning from the last 2 days, we included the creativity discussion session, again led by our hosts, as part of day 1, just before 15 small children and their parents arrived for an evening workshop.
We decided that we would use our new 'Styles' resources because these incorporate percussion, chords and riffs, enough to be divided between the large group we were working with. We started by teaching the parents to play guitar and uke chords, we supported them with some soloing and then brought in the children to add in the percussion groove. The teachers from the workshops were also there and it was great to get everyone playing together and to make a judgement on the variety of ability levels within the group. Based on that, we ended with one big 'funky jam'
Following that uplifting session, day 2 was a brilliant day of playing, rapping, singing, laughing and the taking of many photos with Anna and Ken!
So what did we learn?
Without lyrics and a melody, you haven't really got a song and therefore it's really important for students to feel confident to try out ideas vocally as they write their own songs.
We have rounded up 5 of our favourite pieces of advice for creating a positive ethos for singing and songwriting in class to help students to feel more confident in general with singing.
We have also provided a few video resources from the Musical Futures Find Your Voice program which was developed to increase confidence amongst teachers to lead singing activities with their classes and we will be sharing more of these in the next few months.
1) Don't always call it singing
Some students, particularly adolescents find the term singing a bit off-putting. This could be based on previous experience, associations of singing with primary school or a lack of confidence with changing voices for boys. Instead of branding activities as singing, incorporate and encourage any use of the voice including beat-boxing, humming, chanting, rapping, vocal percussion even whistling! The following video is one of a series designed to get started with beatboxing and you can find the rest here
2) Approximation and enthusiasm from the teacher goes a long way!
Having a go is better than being afraid to try and what better way to instil confidence than for the teachers to model, jam and join in. Use silly warm-ups and games to develop a sense of fun with vocal work in class.
The free resources developed as part of the Find Your Voice program includes a bank of vocal warm ups and ice breakers to start to slowly introduce vocal work with classes. The following is an example and you can find loads more warm ups and ice breakers here.
3) Use music as a 'safety net'
As our recent article about songwriting with backing tracks suggests, having some kind of accompaniment perhaps played on piano or guitar by the teacher or using a backing track as you sing or compose helps students feel far less exposed than when singing alone.
Our latest free e-book, available to anyone who signs up to our mailing list, contains free backing tracks and play along videos in different musical styles as well as ideas for using Soundtrap to incorporate music tech to support singing and songwriting. Sign up here to get hold of your copy today!
5) Integrate student choice
The Musical Futures Informal Learning model places student choice at its very heart and there's no reason why this can't apply to singing as well. Revisit Lucy Green's informal learning principles and why not try our Find Your Voice whole class 4-chord mash up activity where students perform and record their own accompaniment to create medleys and mash ups from songs of their choice.
A note about the role of the teacher. The guidance for teachers that is threaded through Musical Futures is something that every single teacher can try no matter where or what they are teaching.
It asks that first the teacher stands back and observes, empathises with the outcomes that students set for themselves and helps THEM to find ways to get there rather than laying out the path in front of them for them to follow.
It asks that they model instead of tell, play with and for the students so that the music surrounds the learning and the teaching comes from the music itself.
This can be a real challenge - allowing students time and space to show what they already know and to show how they can find solutions and answers without being told, especially when it comes to singing.
However, the sense of ownership and empowerment that results is one that requires a 2-way transfer of learning and creating a happy and positive ethos towards singing and vocal work in the classroom is an exciting and important aspect of helping students along the way to writing and performing songs of their own.
In the next few months, Musical Futures International will be supporting some new research into creative education working with Melbourne Graduate School of Education and Geelong Grammar School. Two teacher pilot groups, one in Australia and one in the UK will be tasked with providing practical, classroom focused input into the development of the finished product, approach and resources.
What is the research about?
There is very little professional development available for teachers to support the General Capability of Critical and Creative Thinking. We are investigating the impact of aspects of the RISE Model of Creative Education on the music classroom and the outcomes for teachers.
Specifically, we will identify teacher perceptions of creativity and teacher outcomes in the areas of professional development and practice.
This project is part of a larger, international study and the Model and these strategies have been trialled across F-12 at the Geelong Grammar School in Victoria for 18 months.
How will it work?
This is part of a truly an international program involving the Universities of Melbourne, Adelaide and Connecticut along with some of the world’s leading thinkers in the area of creative education.
The work we will do in Australia will launch with two Melbourne workshops led by Associate Professor Neryl Jeanneret from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. These will then replicated in the UK with Anna Gower leading those workshops working with Hertfordshire Music Service and teachers from Hertfordshire schools.
As the pilot progresses we will be sharing our experiences through our newsletters and news pages.
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