Empowering all in Music

Dan Jones is designer of the award winning JamPod™ music teaching studio and a former Music Teacher of the Year.

My love has always been music. Initially it was all about my own enjoyment whether it be listening or performing, but from a very young age I developed an interest in educating others. I wanted all to experience the unspoken bond of singing in a choir or playing in a band or orchestra. For my instrumental students the desire to impart the knowledge of notation was a passion.

What became evident to me as I began my life in the classroom was the barriers we inadvertently put up in front of our learners. It is no surprise then that we see a drop off in engagement as our once willing students lives progress. The list of reasons for disengagement are long and varied, but in my experience the nub of the problem has always laid in differentiation.

In a music classroom it can be challenging if not impossible to embrace visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners all at the same time. When you combine that challenge with the natural human desire to want to learn the music ‘I’ enjoy, we start to get a picture of the reasons why todays learners start to lose interest. Music is the soundtrack to all our lives and the desire to want to make music lies within us from birth. My mission in life is to remove those barriers to entry and empower all to engage in music.

Multi sensory learning environments for me are key. The first time someone put notation in front of me I struggled to correlate the link between the dots and the music I heard with my ears. The learning of notation can be perceived as a very stale experience for students, it will only come to life if we provide a route map for all styles of learner.

  • Start with allowing students to see the music they will be studying be performed. I also want to allow them to manipulate this music, speeding it up or slowing it down and turning instruments on and off. This allows us to rebuild the song in any order.
  • Then allow students to see the actual notation and again allow them to manipulate this notation. That may be turning instruments on and off, adjusting the volume or even changing the notes. There are many great options out there to achieve this, my personal preference of delivery here is the iPad.
  • Finally let the students create their own notation. Ideally the option should be there for students to write or play their notation directly onto their stave.

My initial approach to teaching notation was disengaging my students, I started out teaching them how I was taught. We would start discussing notes and note values and how the note was then played on the keyboard. By turning the learning around and starting with the finished piece of music, I found one of the biggest hurdles thrown up in my classroom was removed. Embracing the iPad also presents a user experience that removes many of the perceived technological challenges of understanding a desk top computer.

Applying a multi sensory approach to practical music making is more of challenge. I have always been a great exponent of the need to experience music making live. The problem we encounter is we either send our students off (if we have the space) to the four corners of our department to make music or we make music as a group.

  • The four corners approach always seemed to involve me running around a lot and teaching a little. This approach also only really delivers for the kinesthetic learner. Auditory and visual learners are essentially cut off from the learning process.
  • Personally I always opted for making music as a group. Whilst this enabled me to keep the students on task we surely need to give our students space to enjoy and explore their music making. A better solution was needed.

What we need in the classroom is the ability to allow all to control their musical destiny. Silent rehearsal mixers are referenced in the National Music Plan and they do take us someway towards where we need to be. Students can engage in small groups using headphones to hear their sound, those outside of their small group hear nothing. These mixers also allow us to make recordings thus allowing self moderation to be part of every lesson. But to create the perfect learning environment for music we must go further.

We need to create a space where students can play instruments that inspire them and use this approach to teach them their music curriculum. The environment should embrace silent rehearsal technology, allowing students to experience what it takes to play in a band from lesson one. Crucially though we as teachers should be able to listen and engage with these groups with ease, we should also be able to record these groups easily and send them specific resources as needed. The silent nature of the space removes perceived peer pressure and allows students to hear ‘their’ sound. Finally we have a learning environment that can allow true student differentiation.

These were the challenges we set ourselves as we developed JamPod™ in Primary, Secondary and Further Education over the last three years. The route to JamPod™ lies in multi sensory teaching. By embracing these techniques we empower all our students to engage with their learning. The effects with those who have special educational needs have proved particularly profound.

In summary, I believe we live in a unique time of educational opportunity. Resources previously unattainable now lie within our reach as educators. Visit www.musicroom.com to start accessing superb classroom resources to support your new program whether it be JamPod™, JamClassHD, ClassTaiko or something completely different. By embracing relevant techniques and technologies we can empower all to engage with music. If we do this, we will change the world. Believe this in every lesson that you teach and together we’ll get there.

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