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Musical Futures Asia Champion Steve Jackman introduces our new Musical Futures approach to music technology, developed in partnership with Soundtrap
Steve is Head of Academic Music at Shrewsbury International School Bangkok. With more than 10 years of experience in the classroom, leading successful music departments. He also has experience as a Music and Music Technology examiner for Edexcel and AQA. Since moving to South East Asia Steve has brought Musical Futures to Kuala Lumpur and now to Bangkok working as their Asian Programme Co-ordinator. He also recently became an Apple Distinguished Educator, specialising in the use of mobile technology in music.
Back in 2006, I spent a day exploring the Musical Futures approach to informal learning. I left excited with my resources pack, including a CD-Rom! (remember when Encarta was everything?!)
In the classroom I gave groups of students CDs and CD players and sent them off to listen and copy a song- Cameo’s classic Word Up. The Musical Futures resource CD had each separate part on a different track so they could hear and learn all the different elements that made up the whole song.
This part of the Musical Futures approach had been developed to test whether students demonstrated the same level of engagement with music that had been chosen for them as they had shown when they were given free choice over the content when they and their teachers went ‘in at the deep end’.
The original research task involved listening and copying the material by ear, this time with the music broken down into single melodic lines and some support was given by way of note names to help as needed in contrast to in at the deep end where students chose a song and had a go at copying it, having to pick out the required lines, chords and patterns from within the whole song without help from the teacher by way of differentiated parts.
Fast forward 12 years to the present day: CDs and their High street stores are gone. The classic rock band is no longer king. The explosion of digital music, MP3s, Napster, Spotify and YouTube etc has widened the musical horizons of everyone. This coupled with the emergence of software and hardware that allows people to produce and record music in their bedrooms that until very recently would have required a whole professional studio to produce has created the opportunity for everyone to become creative musicians.
However, despite these changes, young people still find the music they identify with, get together with friends, listen, copy, recreate then innovate. As a teacher this is everything I aim for with my students and my engagement with informal learning and Musical Futures approaches has put this at the heart of how I teach and how my students learn, regardless of the content we are exploring.
Sometimes when you start using computers or mobile devices, students on a device each, headphones on, working in isolation, these approaches, together with the social aspects of music making that involve creating and playing music together can be lost. Worse still, a lack of an underlying pedagogy for music technology can lead to the creative use of technology being reduced to a process of drag and drop, directed by a set of step by step instructions provided by the teacher.
For me this doesn’t feel right, I want my classroom learning environment, digital or analogue to be social and collaborative. Just because students are playing digital 1s and 0s rather than guitars and drums I don’t think this should change the core ethos of the musical learning.
This year I’ve started using Soundtrap with my Year 9 and GCSE music classes. Soundtrap is a web based digital audio workstation, like Cubase or GarageBand but with a unique, killer function - the ability to collaborate. It’s like the difference between using Word and Google docs but for music. Students can make music with their friends wherever they are. For me, this is extending the musical learning of my students beyond the classroom in a meaningful way.
Take a unit on songwriting for example. In a lesson, groups of students are thrashing out ideas in a practice room with a couple of guitars and a keyboard and recording their ideas into Soundtrap on a laptop or iPad. But then when they get home they have the time to perfect their songs, working virtually with their friends using Soundtrap’s video and text chat window. Or just taking the opportunity to record that vocal line quietly and privately in a bedroom and then with one click it’s updated for everyone.
Finally I feel that music technology has caught up with music teaching and learning pedagogy. People are, more than ever before, able to connect with others across the world to create and collaborate through music. In my school it has allowed students to carry on making music outside the classroom, they connect with their friends online from their individual homes, listening, copying and recreating the music that they like,
At Musical Futures’ ‘The Big Gig’ in Melbourne I led workshops on how I use Soundtrap in my classroom to produce Electronic Dance Music. But shhhh! What I was sharing isn’t really anything new. I’m just taking the 5 principles of informal learning I learnt about 12 years ago and applying them to today’s music and technology.
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