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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?
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