You can discuss topics central to music education with our community of Musical Futures teachers in our weekly online chats by clicking here
Music Education and the Brain. That is the title I put on most of my presentations as the simplicity of the title makes it easily understood by teachers, parent groups and school leaders. It is also a title that lends itself well to identifying the ‘transferable’ or ‘non-musical’ benefits of music learning.
But what makes me smile every time I write those words, is that the impact of the fields of neuroscientific and psychology research on the place, purpose and practice of music education in the 21st century is as far away from simple as you can get.
Furthermore, research findings in these fields, often so far removed from the actual experience of music education, could have a profound influence on music education, and that influence has the potential to be both positive and negative.
Music learning on an instrument has been found to improve language acquisition, memory skills, reading skills, inhibition control, focus, attention span, well-being, motor control, analytical thinking, I could just keep listing areas of development.
That is an attractive list for educators and leaders outside music education and if you ask a music educator if they have observed these benefits they would answer “yes, of course”.
However for some reason it feels that whilst they want to support music programs in their schools, some find that the idea that “music is good for children in its own right” is just not enough justification.
So why is it that scientists have looked at all of these areas instead of at music learning itself?
The answer is that they are using music learning as a tool to understand the structures, functions and development of the human brain. Learning more about music learning isn’t the goal, understanding more about human learning is.
However, this deluge of supportive research and the incredible and much quoted list of the non-musical benefits of music learning may also have a less supportive angle because it seems this is an either/or debate. In this debate, music education is either good for music learning or good for other learning but it can’t be both and just where does the value of music education as an art form sit in this new world of scientific justification?
I am passionately fascinated by the science of music learning. As a music educator I find that I do my most powerful and effective educating when I deeply understand both my craft and my students.
When I went looking for a PhD topic I wanted a topic I would be just as enamoured with at the end as I was at the beginning and I found it in the new(ish) field of neuroscience and music learning.
Since then my focus has expanded to include psychology and neuroscience and as I have come to understand what neuroscientists and psychologists were seeing in the brain development of children through music learning, I found that I better understood both my craft and my students. I also found that my practice was supercharged for learning.
I read and research across the field, not deeply into one specific aspect, keeping a few simple touchstones in mind every time I read;
However, the very reason that scientists are using music learning as a tool to understand brain development is because it is so complex, integrated and fundamental to us as humans.
What studying music education and the brain for the last eight years has given me is a new perspective on my craft and my students and my field. Learning music is a right of every child, but in the mixed up times we live in have we lost sight of it?
It is my belief that the scientific research can help us pull all this back into focus. In my experience a conversation that starts from the “music is just good” place never has a chance so I see brain science as a way to restart the conversation about the value of music learning in two ways.
Firstly we should start where non-musical educators are at, with the non-musical benefits that have a measurable economic impact.
Secondly, once that door is open, it is our job to help non-musical educators walk through it to acknowledge the deeper value of music learning to human development and help non-musical educators to understand the value of music education in itself.
I have had the great privilege of visiting neuroscientists and psychologists in their labs all over the world over the last two years. I am quite the oddity in their world, I come from a place far outside their frame of reference most of the time, with the exception that most of them are accomplished amateur musicians.
Naturally, they all have one or more music educators who have been pivotal in their lives, and helped them become the person they are today. Many of them have said that their research is their way of giving back to that pivotal teacher and to our profession.
For me, I want to make the most of their work to improve my own, by breaking down the either/or approach to understanding the effects and benefits of music for its own sake on music education as a whole.
Dr Anita Collins is an award-winning educator, researcher and writer in the field of brain development and music learning. She is internationally recognized for her unique work in translating the scientific research of neuroscientists and psychologists to the everyday parent, teacher and student. Anita has recently returned from interviewing 90+ researchers in labs across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia so she can share the most up to date research with music educators.
Anita is prolific and eclectic writer, including a children’s book author, opinion columns for The Age and The Conversation, authored papers for a number of international peer-reviewed journals, specialist technical writer for OECD Education Framework 2030 and authored the script for one of the most watched TED Education films ever made, How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain. Anita is a Churchill Fellow and her TEDxCanberra Talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.
Anita is currently writing a short book for expectant and new parents called The Lullaby Effect, based on a highly successful series of podcasts available on iTunes.
Mandy is a Life Member, Association of Music Educators (aMuse), curriculum writer and sessional Lecturer, Deakin University
We will be discussing the topic of music education and wellbeing as one of our weekly online chat topics in the next few weeks. To take part join our Musical Futures chat group here
The notion of wellbeing as a part of music education can be implied in many settings including those schools using the Musical Futures approach. But it is an issue that tends not to be spoken about explicitly, and so I thought I’d have a shot at it.
We advocate for music education for all sorts of reasons. They can tend to veer away from a focus on the music-maker. I want to reclaim the world of the music maker in education and to provide a reason for that. Firstly, I’m providing a couple of advocacy statements from the perspective of music makers. This year, the members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra have been asked to talk about what music means to them:
"The world is ever rotating and there is little meaning except for music. It’s a novel pursuit in many ways, but for me it sets the standard for everything". Satu Vanska
"Playing music is when I feel most alive. I love the joy of trying to create and communicate this, and the freedom of self-expression". Glenn Christensen
And another statement from the composer and broadcaster, Andrew Ford who presents music from every conceivable genre in his much loved Music Show on Radio National:
"Music ‘lies too deep for words’".
It is the similar experiences with music that we, as educators have, that forge our careers in music education, so that we can share those incredible experiences of music with others.
How might such deep experiences with music happen?
Aboriginal people all know this. They all live this. Opera singer and composer, Deborah Cheetham says:
"For Indigenous Australians, the Arts are the most powerful way we can know and give meaning to the world around us. For thousands of generations we have passed on all knowledge of geography, the sciences, medicine and humanity through visual and performing arts. The Arts have never been a luxury, rather a necessity. Our culture is our knowledge. Our knowledge is our survival. It is ‘The Art of Belonging’ and it is for everyone".
I am Musical
Musical Futures employs many of the strategies suggested below:
"To see the music staff and students so engaged absolutely proves how solid your methods are. We are already having conversations and planning our next steps on how to include MF across our curriculum" John Kinghorn, The British School, Jakarta.
Musical Futures International is running a series of 2 day intensive Musical Futures training events in Dubai, Bangkok, China and New Zealand. To find out more click here and scroll down to find out a bit more about the content of the workshops and all the resources and ideas you can take away on the day!
Welcome, introduction to Musical Futures: meet the key staff involved in the workshops and get an overview of Musical Futures, what it is, how it works and what the next 2 days have in store! During the event we will explore key components of the Musical Futures approach looking at how we learn to play by ear, what it's like to be thrown in at the deep end and reflecting on how the role of the teacher plays an essential part in the Musical Futures classroom.
Guitar, Uke, Keyboard, Bass, Drums, Ensembles
Just Play is our comprehensive, musical skills-building approach. Experience Just Play from the position of your learners. In jut a few hours we will play guitar, uke, keyboard, bass, vocals, drums and play as a large ensemble. Just play isn't just about building instrumental skills though. It's about unpicking what students need to be able to do to take part in music making. from listening, counting, following, to understanding how to read TAB and find chords and notes, the learning takes place as everyone plays songs that many will know or recognise. A real highlight is our chair drumming session where everyone can be a drummer learning several different beats and playing along to some great music!
Groove Your Classroom: models strategies for composing and improvising through classroom workshopping and shows how these can be delivered in practical ways that are both musical and theoretical. We will use classroom percussion to break down commonly used grooves and look at how this can become the basis for building a whole class workshop filled with ideas for modelling approaches to composing and improvising.
Threaded throughout the workshops will be some of our bite-size approaches for getting started with songwriting and highlights from our Find Your Voice unit with ideas to build teacher and student confidence with vocal work.
Don't forget that all resources will be available free to take away and there will be plenty of social time to network and meet some new people.
For any questions about our 2 day international workshops, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Musical Futures International team will be running a series of 2 day training events in Dubai and Asia in the next few months following the success of our previous workshops in Malaysia and Hong Kong last year.
Musical Futures is changing the face of classroom music programmes the world over and is recognised as a leading global K-12 educational innovation because:
These MF International workshops will introduce teachers to each of the key units of work that comprise the Musical Futures approach from building foundation skills in novice players to inspiring composition, songwriting and improvisation
For more information contact email@example.com
Felicity teaches at Hamlyn Heights PS, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Musical Futures Australia runs a comprehensive schedule of teacher professional development workshops across the country.
Click to find out more about Musical Futures workshops in Dubai, Bangkok, China and New Zealand
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.
Click to become part of our international Musical Futures teacher network
"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".
Schools down under are soon to close for the winter break but there lots of things to squeeze in over the next few weeks. You can find details of all Musical Futures Australia workshops as well as news, articles and more at http://www.musicalfuturesaustralia.org/
Recharge workshops - We are holding two special workshops in Melbourne during late June. Recharge will bring back together around 75 teachers who took part in the early phase of the Musical Futures professional Learning program in Victoria. These workshops give us the opportunity to see how they are going and to update them with the resources released since the were attending workshops and introduce some new resources for the first time.
New resources - The Recharge workshops give us the opportunity to road test two new sets of Australian developed Musical Futures resources. First up is Everyone Can Play, a pre-cursor to Just Play and designed for younger students - Grade 1 and 2’s in particular while MF Styles (it’s working title) are a series of genre based resources that incorporate some existing materials like Play-alongs and Grooves and adds new materials that will allow a complete exploration, including composition, improvisation and songwriting in a range of musical styles. At the Recharge workshops we will be road testing what we hope will be the final versions of Dancehall, Reggae and Funk.
Both the Everyone Can Play and MF Styles should be ready for release on Australia during late July.
Who will be our 500th Victorian School? In August 2015 Musical Futures commenced a Professional Development program for Victorian schools with funding from the Victorian Department of Education and Training. Now approaching the halfway mark Musical Futures has been worked with over 600 teachers from 414 schools. And recruitment has just started for the next cohort of schools to commence the program in August this year. One school, somewhere in Victoria will become our 500th on our way to the targeted 800 schools over 4 years.
Aussie MF teachers hit the US. A group of 12 leading Australian Musical Futures teachers plus our good NZ friend and Champion teacher Hadley Ronayne from Long Bay College in Auckland are heading to the high Rockies in Colorado in July to be part of Little Kids Rockfest. We will learn the latest from Little Kids Rock and share some of our new resources with them in return. In addition to the four days at Rockfest we will have three days in Los Angeles. This part of the tour will be a mix of cultural and music education as we take in and explore latin, urban and hip hop styles from local experts.
Hoseah makes the final 12 in the Australian Voice. The Voice, the TV talent show is about the sole survivor of the genre here in Australia and for the moment at least we are pleased it is. If any readers have seen our video of the kids from Doveton College talking about Musical Futures they would have seen Hoseah Partsch introducing the chords to his song Memory Lane in our featured video.
Now two years later Hoseah is one of 12 finalists in The Voice and is being mentored by Boy George. That has to be one very cool experience. Have a watch of him in action here.
And in NZ. Since our first ever Musical Futures workshop in Auckland in March this year we now have more than 50 New Zealand teachers using the Musical Futures resources and materials.
Scott Mangos is performing Arts KLA Leader and Head of Music, Mount Clear College in Ballarat, Australia.
Musical Futures Australia runs a comprehensive program of PD and resources across Australia, click to find out more.
Be part of our workshops in Dubai, Bangkok and China by clicking here
My Musical Futures story is one where I sort of stumbled into it on various occasions.
A trumpet player by trade, I went to the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne and studied classical trumpet but my true love of playing always sat within the “commercial” area of shows, cover bands, ska, big bands. Unfortunately the uni courses offered only cater for players who improvise and are hardcore on jazz, and those who play western art/classical music.
It was at the University of Melbourne whilst I was completing my Master of Teaching degree that I first came across Musical Futures in 2010 and what an enlightening experience it was! At the time, most of the course was based around listening to “Peter and the Wolf” or maybe some structured prac that was based on singing rounds etc. but then came the trip to see this new exciting program called Musical Futures at a local school.
We walked into this “new” style classroom with drum kits and guitars and a PA set up and instantly I knew I wanted to teach in this way. A giant of a man called Ken was walking us through this concept of doing and playing and it was the start of a beautiful relationship.
I began my teaching career in 2011 at Mount Clear College, a secondary school in the bush surrounding Ballarat, and straight away we implemented a program of playing and doing. Dulcie Holland “Master Your Theory” was chucked out the window, so too were the recorders, and instead, we started whole class pracs where every kid learnt how to play Wild Thing in their first lesson in Music. My colleague at the time was a high class Maths teacher who was a great guitarist and whilst I taught him about how we could learn through playing, he taught me the fundamentals of teaching and dealing with school politics.
We kept jamming and implementing our learning through doing model but were finding that some school leaders weren’t seeing the legitimacy in what we were doing. I saw a Musical Futures PD on offer and we trotted along and once again met the big man Ken who hooked us up with some new ideas, links to gear, and an idea that carried weight in curriculum circles because of the evidence based research behind it.
Since then we’ve had extra classes put on the timetable at Yrs 9 and 10 because more and more kids are continuing with the subject, we’ve introduced VET Music Cert III which is a direct path for MF kids who just love playing, and most importantly, we’ve seen kids who haven’t done the subject in a couple of years come up and tell us that they’ve been playing a guitar they just got and are using the skills learnt in Year 8.
So what is it about Musical Futures that works? What is it that has had a positive effect on the learning of kids? Why are MF schools seeing marked increase in involvement in classroom music whilst “traditional” programs aren’t running classes due to numbers?
I think it all comes back to enjoyment and relevancy.
Musical Futures classes should be, in my opinion, fun, engaging, and relevant to skills later in life. I’m sure that later in life it’s more useful to know how to play an instrument and participate in music than it is to know how Mozart used melismas in his operas. I love when I get invites to former students playing in Pubs and other joints because I can say I was a part of that. They wow the crowds and most of them can’t tell you the structure of a pentatonic scale, but they play it and solo over it like there’s no tomorrow and they’re having the best fun.
Since we’ve been championing Musical Futures at Mount Clear I’ve been asked a common question, but when do you learn the important stuff? This always has me thinking, what is the important stuff? Who decides what the important stuff is? Can playing music not be an end in itself?
We’re always looking at how we develop our programs and make Music Education more relevant and worthwhile for our students and as far as I can see Musical Futures is going to play a big part of that.
A guest blog post by Ian Harvey, Director of Musical Futures Australia who are leading the roll out of Musical Futures into Asia, Dubai and beyond.
Yes every child should have access to music education, to learn an instrument and benefit from the multitude of aesthetic, social, intellectual and personal outcomes that making music brings.
But how are you going to solve the problem? Regular articles give oxygen to the issue but what actually changes? Here in Victoria we have a story to tell that might surprise you.
Our State government this year effectively included music as part of every child’s schooling under its mantra of ‘every child, every opportunity’. Behind the catchy line all students attending our 1,600 state system schools, should by 2018 have access to a quality music education – just like the students do in our private schools where music is a key demonstrable of a school’s depth of educational opportunity.
The Premier, Daniel Andrews, made his commitment back in November 2014. Since then work has started with an initial group of 150 teachers from 100 schools on improving music education provision, the quality of the teaching and the resources they have to work with.
How are they doing this? Through the implementation of Musical Futures, a British music education approach. So, by 2018 at least 800 of the 1,600 Victorian state schools counting a student population of more than 500,000 pupils will have benefited from this innovative British approach.
The principles of Musical Futures were researched by a British academic from a leading London university, it was conceptualised and systemised for use in schools by a British educator (who has since been awarded an OBE for his work in the field) and it is run day-to-day (including assisting the music education provision in far flung Victoria) by a team of expert British music educators. Apart from some modest local tweaks and a good dose of Australian energy Musical Futures is thoroughly British.
And Musical Futures works for all the reasons that many existing programs struggle or fail. Students are placed at the centre of the learning, it is relevant and engaging for students and teachers, it is delivered as a classroom activity, it is affordable and sustainable for schools, it builds musical skills and literacy and provides pathways for any form of musical exploration individual students may choose to take.
And yes Musical Futures de-mystifies the learning of music. Musical Futures is an approach that takes the best of what has gone on in the past and builds on and repackages those approaches into a 21st century context. And it delivers – greater access to music, greater longevity amongst young players, increased numbers of students opting for additional instrumental lessons, improved job satisfaction amongst teachers and, greater numbers of students continuing on to complete music at year 12 – your A levels.
Sure current government policies in the UK seem not to support music in schools in the way they should. I have seen this first hand. But I also see a music education sector needs to look at itself and recognise that its practices and approaches need to be reformed so that the music education offered is relevant and therefore can’t be ignored by governments. For many years the problem with music education is that ‘we want to do what we have always done, but just do more of it’. But most of the approaches used are approaching their centenary and, that suggests, that nothing has happened in music or in the development of children and adolescents in the last 70 or 80 years.
That clearly is not the case and that thinking it is as stultifying an approach to music as the writer accuses your ‘tightwad, snobby’ government of being. Why? Because the ‘way we had always done things’ is one of the reasons music in schools had become marginalised in the first place – poor levels of student engagement, low retention rates amongst instrumental learners, teacher burn out and apathy and music being a too problematic area of the curriculum relative to its importance for school leaderships to deal with day to day. Music had no real place in the timetable and it was expensive to service relative to student access and involvement.
All this despite the overwhelming parental expectations that music is included as a core part of their child’s learning.
There is a very British solution to your issue, though the solution might require some very un-British behaviour. Stop whinging, start reforming and re-thinking the music education space, toss out some of the traditions along with the ’this is the way we do things around here’ thinking that is the real cause of what is holding you back from the thing you most want to achieve – that every student has access to a quality music education.
You don’t need to look to the US nor do you need to look to Australia because what we learned we learn from you.
It’s called Musical Futures, it doesn’t solve every music education issue in every location but it works and if we can adopt it from 12,000 miles away you can too.
Musical Futures: Just Play has been developed in partnership with Musical Futures Australia and is currently rolling out to 400 schools across the state of Victoria.
Anna Gower is currently working as Acting Head of Academic Governance for Trinity College London and having been involved with Musical Futures since 2004. She is part of the Musical Futures International training team and has delivered workshops in Australia, Canada, America, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Switzerland as well as across the UK.
Musical Futures International are running a series of workshops and consultancies in Dubai, Bangkok and China in 2017-18.
Trinity College London will be releasing Rock and Pop 2018 soon - read more
I was one of the pilot teachers trying informal learning in my classroom at the start of the Paul Hamlyn Herts pathfinder project. I then became part of the Musical Futures UK core team, working for 12 years to establish and grow the online global teacher communities, designing, resourcing and leading the comprehensive teacher training programme and associated development of new approaches and resources for Musical Futures.
Musical Futures has been a massive personal journey for me, first as a practitioner having to completely redesign my identity as a musician and a teacher, then as I travelled and visited schools and worked with teachers to really try to understand what Musical Futures is when it is translated into practice at the chalk face then use this learning to inform the development of new content, training programmes and resources to support the growth of Musical Futures across the world.
I was trying to understand how and why Musical Futures impacts on the lives of thousands of students and teachers across the world and how it can continue to change and adapt to the needs of those who are looking for ways to keep music relevant and meaningful for students in schools.
When I left Monks Walk School after 18 years working in secondary schools in the UK, my line manager asked staff whether they had any idea of Musical Futures actually is.
Nobody could answer.
He had designed a poster that summed up what he thought my interpretation and use of Musical Futures in my classroom was. He described it as ‘a parallel solar system’ where everything is noisy and practical and chaotic and creative and the words he chose really summed up what Musical Futures had become in our school
Fun, Challenging, Inspirational, Groundbreaking, Inclusive, Excitement, New Experiences, International.
Musical Futures can be all those things. But how do you know when you walk into a class that it’s Musical Futures in inspiration or design? Is there a definition, a description or something that remains consistent no matter how and where it’s applied?
I’ve been visiting MF schools over the past 7 years or so, but back in October 2015 I led a tour of MF Champion schools accompanied by a group of teachers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada that really gave me the opportunity to reflect on this.
What I found is that Musical Futures doesn’t look or sound the same in any of the schools I’ve seen. It feels like Musical Futures, I know Musical Futures is there, but I have struggled to pin down how that actually translates into practice.
Our visitors also seemed to find it hard to define what made the lessons, departments and teachers ‘Musical Futures’ lessons, departments and teachers. Other than that they and I had said they were and that they use the MF approaches and resources in much of what they do, my question remained. What does ‘an approach’ actually look like when it’s applied in practice?
The key principles of MF are pretty clear so should I expect to see all of those in every lesson? Students working with friends, learning aurally, the teacher as facilitator? I saw many of them, but not all of them and not all of the time and as you would expect
I saw things that I thought worked really well and things I was less sure were effective. This was down to the interpretation, personalisation and moulding of the approach rather than the approach itself.
To find the answers to the million questions I had, I started by trying to identify what everything I saw in the schools and lessons had in common and I had some great discussions with the others in the group as we drove from school to school.
The first very impressive observation was the engagement, concentration and focus of the students we saw. More than that though, when we talked to them it became clear that they really care about their music work and the department, their teachers and the value of music in their schools.
Perhaps they feel some ownership over this (MF asks that learning starts from students’ own musical passions and interests) and so it becomes particularly important to them.
But can we or should we accredit this solely to MF?
Good teaching/relationships/structures/content=engaged students.
Perhaps MF helps or allows teachers to think about what they teach, why and how and the result is that compelling engagement I have seen everywhere I’ve visited. I needed to unpick this some more.
The second thing was the amount of music in the lessons. It was everywhere. I’ve made a list of the moments that stood out to me the most:
And throughout the tour itself, we sang on the bus, we played music together and the moment that moved me most of all was in a pub where the teachers got up and played one at a time and together. I thought how unbelievably lucky their students are to have musicians of such quality teaching them. .
Can Musical Futures take credit for any this? Music lessons where the majority of time is spent making music? That “you just feel it” moment in the workshops where we sang and played and bonded through music?
And what about the tour itself? Bringing people together through music, forming friendships through a shared drive to find new and best practice to take back into classrooms underpinned by shared Musical Futures aims?
Musical Futures is more than an approach and it’s not just a downloadable resource. It’s not a 6 week ‘MF inspired’ project or a rock and pop scheme of work for year 9.
The workshops that have been running in the last 2 years in the UK, Australia, Canada and Asia are filled with people who tell us they had been inspired by a great musical experience in the workshops to go back into their classrooms and make something happen.
Musical Futures can be the most inspirational and exciting personal journey that really can change everything.
Why not join us? Make something happen, instigate change? It’s a hell of a ride……
Alan Crawford takes up a position as Head of Academic Music, and Specialist Leader for Practitioner Research at Dubai College from September.
He will be hosting a Musical Futures 2 day training event at Dubai College 10-11th November 2017. You can find out more and register for a place here
I have had a diverse career to date as a Musician, Educator and Researcher– I have taught or led music departments in N Ireland, in England in Singapore and in the UAE. I have performed as a musician in various roles from church organist to pianist in a Big Band, as an accompanist to opera singers to director of a community choir based in North London.
My training encompassed historical and analytical study of canon of western classical music as part of my BMus, conservatoire level study of piano at the RIAM in Dublin and later engagement with Ethnomusicology as a masters degree at SOAS, London. Inspirational teacher training at Cambridge with the legendary John Finney smashed my narrow-minded conceptions of students and learning.
More recently a sabbatical year to study for an MPhil in Arts, Creativity, Education and Culture under the passionate supervision of Professor Pam Burnard at Cambridge got me to reflect upon the multiple creativities in the arts and how our teaching should be relevant to the real-world practices of young people.
Outside of formal education, I have engaged young people in cultural, outdoors and charity trips from India and Nepal to South Africa, Russia and Lebanon. In this, it is very interesting to experience how young people learn (often better) outside the formal structures of the classroom and the curriculum.
Whilst my involvement in Musical Futures has been quite late in comparison with others, I champion its philosophy, its scope and its approach. Music Education should be inclusive of all young people, shaped their interests, their ways of working and with them as drivers. Musical Futures is centred on this all-important student voice. It does not revolve around teaching-to-the-test, or judging students progress through arbitrary level-descriptors, but enables them to self-organise, collaborate, experiment, jam and play, making their own music their own way. The key is in the title:
I have found that the Musical Futures approach encourages these active learning strategies and embraces both technology and social media. This approach liberates the teacher from taking on the role of expert, or deliverer of knowledge to that of facilitator and of making music together with students.
In the short time that I have trialled Musical Futures in my classroom, I observed students taking much more initiative and ownership in their music-making. It has made ensemble performance more accessible to students of all abilities.
Join Alan and members of the Musical Futures International training team at Dubai College for 2 days of Musical Futures workshops in November!
A guest blog by Musical Futures Asia Co-Ordinator Steve Jackman who will be hosting 2 days of Musical Futures workshops at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok in November
In our school we’ve been working hard to increase the uptake of Music at GCSE and beyond. So one of the things we’ve looked at is what we want our students to be able to do by the end of year 9,8 and 7. We decided that by the end of Y7 they should have an understanding of simple chord progressions including roman numerals and be able to play these chord progressions on the keyboard and/or guitar. So we’ve completely changed everything and put Musical Futures approaches at the heart of the curriculum.
Term 1 started with Just Play, a great whole class keyboard and guitar approach using popular songs. We let the students choose keyboard or guitar to start with, then after a couple of lessons they swapped over so they all had a chance to experience both, then let them choose which instrument to stick with for the rest of the term. We worked our way through the materials as class, the students really enjoyed it, we jumped around alot! By the end of term most students could play a variety of chords and chord sequences and they also developed a good understanding of chord progressions and song structures.
In term 2 we moved on to a Find Your Voice style approach, starting with 3 chord songs. After making sure everyone could play the three chords on the keyboard or guitar we introduced Roman numerals and the idea that songs can have the same chord sequence but be in different keys. We taught them a couple of songs and then how to combine them to create a “mashup” then asked them to do the same independently in small groups.
After that we took a break from instruments and started to look at recreating songs vocally using 4 chord songs with I-V-VI-IV progressions. This really helped to develop their understanding of melody, bass lines and harmony. We introduced them to Garageband on iPads and taught them how to use the touch instruments and how to multi-track record their own voices to create their own 4 chord arrangements. This also gave them a good understanding of how to structure their mashups when they went back to groups to produce live performances.
Finally we moved onto what Musical Futures calls ‘In at the Deep End’. Students have complete choice over a song that they choose to learn and who they work with. They learn to copy the songs aurally and find the chords online. This is a very informal, student led, independent process, we try and avoid giving specific feedback all the time (Dylan William said “Feedback that comes too quickly scaffolds the learning too tightly, so that, students do not have to think for themselves.”), we remind them of the knowledge learnt in the previous two terms and encourage them to record themselves and then listen back to work out what they need to do to improve.
I’ve really enjoyed teaching this new curriculum, I think the students have made amazing progress and I am really excited about what more they will be able to achieve in Year 8 & 9 because of it. Looking back at what we aimed for and evaluating, I'd like to try interleaving some of the approaches more, so instead of doing Just Play for one term, perhaps spread it out more over the year to ensure students don't lose those instrumental skills they learnt in term 1.
If you happen to be in Asia in November why not come and join us at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok for two days of amazing Musical Futures learning, you’ll leave with some amazing approaches and resources and hopefully some new friends. For more information visit our registration page here.
5/17/2017 0 Comments
To find out more about Musical Futures and be part of this innovative global approach to music learning, register for one of our workshops
Musical Futures has been selected to be a part of HundrED 2017, as one of the most inspiring innovations in K12 education. This means Musical Futures has been through a rigorous research process carried out by HundrED’s own in-house research team, been analysed by educational expert advisory boards, and has also been reviewed by student advisory boards too!
HundrED has been searching the world for 100 of the most inspiring innovations in education currently being employed in 2017. Educational practices had to meet the criteria of being innovative, impactful, and scalable.
Innovations were selected through HundrED’s own in-house research team, as well as through their advisory boards made up of experts in education. Student advisory boards were also consulted in order to make sure young people had their voices heard too.
To make sure HundrED’s findings are correct, the research team focused on finding out whether innovations produced tangible results, whether they addressed a need in an innovative and meaningful way, and whether the idea could grow to help others elsewhere in the world.
HundrED packages their findings in a way that makes it easier for teachers, students, parents, policymakers and thought leaders to find out about the latest developments in education, and to make it as easy as possible to implement similar ideas wherever they are in the world. HundrED will continue to research into innovations in education and will continually update their findings.
Read more about HundrED and find out more about the other music education initiatives that feature on the 2017 HundrED list alongside Musical Futures
Come and find out more about Just Play at one of our intensive Workshops in Dubai and Asia in 2017-18
I first became aware of Musical Futures about ten years ago, when the ideas and philosophies from the initial Paul Hamlyn Foundation projects became more widespread. I wondered what all the fuss was about, but at first was unconvinced.
I have been head of music at Hayes School in Bromley since 1999, and aside from our great students, one of the best aspects of my job is that my senior leaders leave me to get on with things my own way. They have always trusted me to experiment with new ideas, and support anything that engages our students with music.
It was the Find Your Voice pilot in 2012 that changed my mind about Musical Futures. I had a look at the video resources on the Musical Futures website, and was instantly hooked. Not being one to tread cautiously, I immediately tried them out with all my Key Stage 3 classes, and was gobsmacked by how engaged my students were. Amazing singers were coaxed out of the woodwork by the activities. I was a convert.
Since then, I have come to see how the Musical Futures philosophy really does tie in with my own ideas about teaching music musically, using practical experience of music-making as the starting-point for everything. In 2016 I applied to become a Musical Futures Champion Teacher, and I have loved becoming more involved.
Just Play is my new love. It has been a game-changer for our KS3 classes: it develops their musical skills so quickly, that suddenly a whole new world of possibilities is opened up. They gain a sense of mastery over their instruments, and feel like musicians.
One of my other loves is assessment, and finding really musical, useful ways to build assessment into what we do in lessons.
Read Jane's blog past about assessing Just Play
Jane will be delivering workshops in the UK in the summer term 2017
Musical Futures Champion Gary Posner recently wrote an article describing how he has embedded Musical Futures approaches into his school in West Africa.
Click to read his inspiring story about Musical Futures at The International School of Dakar.
Musical Futures is coming to Dubai and Asia in 2017-18. If you would like to find out more, come to a workshop or talk to us about a consultancy tailor-made for your school
Our next Musical Futures Asia workshops are now open for bookings. Register now to be part of Musical Futures International.
For over 30 years music has always been part of my teaching. Although I was never classically trained I learned a few basics on guitar as a child and at teachers’ college had a go at a few other instruments but concentrated mostly on classroom based music, percussion, recorder, etc.
I had a few opportunities to be a music specialist but even when I wasn’t I made sure I was either working on productions or running the choir or small percussion groups at lunchtime or after school. Musical Futures came into my life about 10 years ago when I was AP at Trafalgar Primary School in Gippsland. I had originally been appointed the arts coordinator there, so had for many years taught both regular classroom and classroom music.
Although at this stage I was no longer in charge of music I was certainly still part of the team. We had always had a pretty good music program with enthusiastic and talented kids so when we convinced Ken to let us run it with our year 5/6 students we never looked back and became the first of many Primary schools that now choose MF as their way of learning.
Skip forward a few years and life turns full circle and I am just finishing my second year at an international school in Hong Kong where I have had the opportunity to step back into teaching and introduce Musical Futures to a whole new generation of children and a totally different collegiate group.
Raelee recently hosted our Musical Futures Hong Kong workshops at the Yew Chung International School in March 2017.
Steve is Head of Academic Music at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok, Musical Futures Asia Co-Ordinator and Apple Distinguished Educator 2017. Steve will be hosting our Musical Futures Asia #Bangkok workshops in November 2017 at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok.
Musical Futures has changed a lot over the past 10 years. Back in 2006 as a new teacher I tried In at the deep end using Cameo’s Word Up, the focus was very much on the teacher as the facilitator. My inexperience coupled with bad behaviour and my poor classroom management definitely was not a recipe for success.
Jumping forward 5 years, I signed up for the Find Your Voice/Mobile Technology pilot. I knew a lot about using technology to create music but really lacked confidence in leading/ teaching singing so I thought this would be great for me and it was!
At the time I was working in an all boys school in North London and the approaches I learnt completely transformed singing in school, suddenly all the boys were singing all the time and loving it. Here the focus was on workshopping as a class, giving students some initial training then sending them off to experiment for themselves- much more instructional and it worked really well.
Just Play is the latest programme from Musical Futures, earlier this year I attended a training day with some great teachers from Croydon Music Service finding out more. Originally designed to support non-music specialist teachers in Primary Schools, Just Play has been enthusiastically snapped up by music specialists in both primary and secondary schools.
Just Play is a skills building programme for Ukulele, keyboard, guitar, bass guitar and drums. It takes you through from the very beginning- how to hold the instruments, through reading tab, basic notation, chord symbols to being able to play and sing lots of songs as a whole class.
I love it because the approach and fantastic resources (that come free with the training) are designed to ensure that students gain mastery of the basic knowledge and skills required for other approaches such as Find Your Voice and In at the Deep End. It perfectly complements them by providing a scaffolded pathway that can allow for the independent and informal learning that has made Musical Futures such a success.
I’ve now redesigned my curriculum so that my classes start off with Just Play where they learn all the basics, then we move on to a rapidly accelerated Find Your Voice scheme (now that they can play way more than four chords) through to In at the deep end, where they are now longer throw in at the deep end. They have the knowledge and skills to work independently, to choose their own songs, they know lots of chords but more importantly they know how to learn new ones. It has made a massive difference to my current year 9s ability in such a short space of time. I’m really looking forward to introducing Just Play to my new classes in September and I am excited to see how much of a difference it will make over the long term.
Just Play is a million miles away from In At The Deep End and that’s one of the reasons why I love it. Students are not going off into groups to try and work things out for themselves, instead I can stand at the front of the class and using the resources teach, knowing that all of the students are going to be able to learn the basics across a range of instruments and really enjoy themselves at the same time.
Steve will be hosting our Musical Futures Asia #Bangkok workshops in November 2017 at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok.
This guest blog was originally posted here on the Musical Futures website and then on Steve's blog .
Russell Lee Grant is Lead Music Teacher, Xiamen International School, China
Musical Futures workshops will take place at Xiamen International School Jan 13th and 14th 2018.
Currently I am teaching at Xiamen International School where I have been the Lead Music Teacher from August 2015. I teach the Middle Years and IB Diploma programme while lead a number of ensembles as part of the departments activity programme.
I trained in the UK at Newcastle College studying a BA (Hons) in Jazz, Pop and Commercial Music, focusing on the bass guitar and alto saxophone. I later completed a PGCE in Music Education at the University of Sunderland and most recently completed an MA In World Music Studies at Sheffield University.
After teaching for 3 years in the UK, I chose to move to Taiwan and taught at Taipei European School. From 2010 I worked for 5 years for the British Independent international network Dulwich College International. During this period I took up positions of Key Stage 3 Coordinator and Head of Instrumental Studies at Beijing and Head of Music at Seoul.
I first came across Musical Futures while I teaching in the UK around 2005. During that time I was teaching Music as part of the National Curriculum and The BTEC National Diploma. The department that I was a part of were piloting a range curriculum and teaching strategies with the aim to increase intake at Key Stage 4 and make classroom music making more inclusive and relevant to students’ experiences.
What I found in Musical Futures was a framework, which not only met our needs but enhanced the overall learning environment of our students. Teaching strategies such as informal learning and its its 5 principles helped students tap into their own interests and create music that they were passionate about. As a teacher it enabled me to integrate the teaching of musical concepts through a platform, which was accessible to a diverse student base.
Workshopping is placed at the centre of Musical Futures. This form of delivery reminds us as music educators how practical music making and performing should not only be at the centre of the lesson but used to harness and increase creativity and the curiosity within the classroom.
Recently, working in an IB school, I have found a number of principles which MF and the IB has in common and helps to support. This includes the focus on collaborative and inquiry based learning where student voice and leadership is celebrated.
The idea of learning from each other and being internationally open minded are all examples of how each framework can help to complement each other. The outcome of implementing MF has resulted in a surge of student led bands, a nosier and busier department and more students initiated concerts and musical activities.
Musical Futures workshops will take place at Xiamen International School Jan 13th and 14th 2018.
Musical Futures International represents the growth of Musical Futures Australia into Asia and beyond. But how did Musical Futures, originally a grant funded music research project find its way to the other side of the world?
In this article first published in Music Teacher Magazine in 2015, Musical Futures Australia Director Ken Owen gives us some of the background behind Musical Futures Australia.
Musical Futures Australia offers PD for music teachers across the country. Click to find out more
It was great to meet with representatives from the China Musical Instruments Association recently. We discussed common aims to engage as many people with music education as possible, shared our own musical stories and of course no meeting would be complete without some chair drumming! We look forward to continuing the conversation in forthcoming months.
First published on www.annagower.com
Anna works as Acting Head of Academic Governance at Trinity College London having previously worked with Musical Futures in the UK since 2004.
Working with students and teachers in a variety of different situations and locations has taught me a lot. No matter where you are in the world kids are kids, schools are schools and music is music even when the contexts seem worlds apart.
Music education is filled with passionate teachers and practitioners who are working their socks off to try to enable quality and meaningful musical experiences for students who may only ever access music at school. So whilst on the surface the context may seem different, many of the underlying challenges and learning for us as educators is the same.
Why do we do what we do, how can we do it better and how can we persuade others of the value of what we do for the kids in our schools who deserve all the benefits that a music education can bring?
For the last year, I have been leading music workshops for teachers across the UK, in Australia, America and in SE Asia. As the content of these sessions has grown and developed with each workshop that I do, there have been a few underlying questions that I have started to ask the participants. Questions that I never really asked myself when I was in the classroom, but that I wish I spent more time considering.
The workshops are always practical. Everyone plays from the very first session to the end of the day. It’s exhausting and it’s exhilarating. It’s what music is all about.
As part of it, teachers become musical learners and experience the content in ways that then ask them to reflect on their own practice and what their students might need in order to be successful and achieve in their lessons.
Unpicking the experience, process, learning, understanding is a key part of ensuring the sustainability of what we cover in those training sessions. And so we do this through pondering a few key questions. I have given some thought to the 3 questions that I feel provoke the richest discussion at the end of the workshops.
1) What are your aspirations for your learners when they come to the end of their engagement with music in school, or with your music programme?
Is it important to you that they are able to read staff notation or that they can pass a graded qualification in music theory? Be ready to take a music exams course?
Many teachers value instrumental skills or an open mind and willingness to listen to a music in a range of different styles and genres with some understanding. But when I ask teachers directly, it’s surprising how few have actually thought about defining and articulating those aspirations beyond the general curriculum information that ‘all students will play a musical instrument and sing’ or that they offer ‘a broad and balanced’ selection of topics.
I know what mine are now and I have got it down to an elevator pitch that works for me. It is to create independent, musical, informal learners who can pursue their own individual love of music in any way that is appropriate for them so they can build on the learning and experiences they had in the music classroom at school.
2) What are your own values as a musician and as an educator?
For many music teachers, much of their music education would have taken place outside the classroom in instrumental lessons and participation in ensembles outside school.
It’s very difficult to be successful at A Level music without having had some form of additional tuition (can you really get to grade 6 level on an instrument with all the associated music literacy and composing skills just through having classroom music lessons once a week for an hour if you’re lucky?).
But it’s a very different way of learning music and I’m not convinced it can be replicated in a classroom with 25-30 students, a slightly random mixture of instruments and often just one or 2 rooms.
It’s interesting to reflect on how many of our values as musicians influence the answers to question 1 above. Why is it important for students to be able to read music? Why do we want them to be able to follow a conductor? Why do they need to know how many # are in the key of E major or where the viola section sits in an orchestra?
Those are things we absolutely needed to know to progress as instrumental musicians and competent composers grounded in a theoretical approach to music learning. But is it right for our classroom learners? What are their values as musical learners, listeners, creators, advocates, fans, participants and how do we consider those as well?
Then there are our own values as educators. To offer inclusive opportunities for all students to access music, to ensure that all abilities are adequately supported and challenged, to manage behaviour to allow all students to learn, to create vibrant learning environments and safe spaces to work.
Matching up our values with those of our departments, schools and the students themselves takes some thought and often more than a little compromise.
3) Why do you teach what you teach?
When I was training as a teacher, one of the school mentors came to run a session on planning to deliver GCSE music. The task was to look at the syllabus and plan a unit of work. Before we presented back our carefully crafted outcomes filled with listening sheets and short guided practical tasks he said that the first thing he wanted to know was what would be the value of that learning to the students.
Why had we chosen these tasks, for us or for them? We couldn’t answer. We had chosen to teach things we were knowledgable about and comfortable with but we had planned for our needs not theirs. One of the questions that I always ask now when a teacher asks for a resource for a particular topic is why.
Why are you choosing to teach reggae to your year 8? Or riffs to year 9 or instruments of the orchestra to year 7? What will they be learning that is in line with your defined values and aspirations and which builds in progression through your curriculum from a start to an end point?
Once you know the answers to those questions then you can think about an approach to deliver the learning that is appropriate for all learners, but getting the approach right isn’t enough if the content hasn’t really been thought through.
I will continue to ask these questions and refine my own answers to them.
Meanwhile why not share your elevator pitch or ask your team at your next meeting if they can define the values that underpin your lessons, curriculum, department.
If nothing else it’s a great reminder of why we do what we do every day, even when some of the every day challenges of getting the job done can sometimes seem too daunting to overcome
If you have a blog post or story to share please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dino Azzollini is Music Teacher at Lalor North College, Melbourne, Australia
I have been teaching Music at Lalor North College since 2004 where we initially tried to set up a traditional Music Program such as the one I had successfully set up at a previous school. However this model didn’t seem to be connecting with the students I had in front of me. I then spoke with the Instrumental Music Teachers and we agreed to change our approach to include a more contemporary/team teaching, popular music focus. It quickly became one of the most popular electives at our school.
As a result of this, we were asked by Musical Futures Australia to become a pilot school in 2010. A few years later we became a Champion School for Musical Futures.
It was 2015 when we were hosting one of our State Wide MF Teacher Training Days where it was noted by a presenter that we have many NZ / Pacific Islander students in our school music program. I went on to explain how Musical Futures Pedagogy resonates well with our students culturally.
Students enjoy jamming, choosing and developing their own repertoire in their friendship groups, and then presenting it to a large audience. The success of their performances makes them feel connected to the school and does wonders for their self-confidence.
As a result of the NZ / Pacific Islander students drawn to our Music Program, I made the suggestion that maybe a MF PD could be run in New Zealand.
In March this year, I nervously found myself in Auckland with Ken Owen, Director of Musical Futures Australia. We ran MF Workshops for two days with 50 enthusiastic and very talented music teachers from all around New Zealand, as well as one of my ex-students Metoyer Manuel from Lalor North College who since moved back to NZ.
Metoyer participated in the workshops and was interviewed by Ken, regarding her positive Musical Futures experience in Australia. We also listened to one of her many excellent You Tube videos (see below) which was very well received by the NZ teachers.
Metoyer has stated that she was very proud to have been part of the Musical Futures NZ Workshops and that music is still a massive part of her life and general well-being.
"The last two days at University of Auckland have been so powerful and amazing, I’m so proud to be part of the Musical Futures Program, and getting the message across to teachers nationwide about the importance on how music can help develop a child’s brain, emotion, mentalities and so much more…Maybe it doesn’t give you solutions in life, or to your problems, but it has always been there for me.” Metoyer Manuel
MF is a powerful, hands-on approach to music making which resonates with all students. For me it is very rewarding to be able to engage students in a fun and practical way.
You can read more about our Auckland workshops and see our full Musical Futures International training program here
I’ve been incorporating Musical Futures philosophies and ideas in my classes since I became a teacher in 2007, but more formally when I began at my current school in 2014.
I am a jazz pianist by trade and education (graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music majoring in jazz piano). I began teaching in 2007 and learned most of what I know about teaching through practice from the incredible Head of Music at Marist College Ashgrove, Andrew Butt. Working with him really shaped my teaching philosophy so when I found out about Musical Futures I was very excited that there was a thoroughly researched and well-designed program that validated my thoughts about what music education should be like!
I am lucky enough to be the Head of Music at St Paul’s School in Brisbane, Australia. In this role I get to help shape the curriculum and teach classes ranging in age from Prep-Year 12, as well as overseeing the Choral Program, accompanying choirs and soloists and working with our brilliant classroom and instrumental teachers to implement a great, well-rounded education for our musicians.
For me, Musical Futures is relevant, engaging, practical, rad and fun!
I listen to everything! I love too many things to narrow it down but the most recent albums I’ve been listening to on my lovely record player include Tom Waits, Ella Fitzgerald, Portishead, the Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Duke Ellington and Michael Jackson.
Kellee Green is the Musical Futures Australia chat co-ordinator and runs a weekly chat for Musical Futures Australia teachers every Wednesday.
You can get involved by joining the Musical Futures Australia Facebook community, liking the Musical Futures Australia Facebook Page or checking out the website for stacks of free resources and PD for teachers across Australia.
Musical Futures has been selected to be a part of HundrED 2017, as one of the most inspiring innovations in K12 education.
HundrEd is an initiave to find innovative, impactful and scalable practices in education from around the world.
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