Preparing for the New Music Curriculum

Richard Payne November 4, 2013 0
Preparing for the New Music Curriculum

Music teachers have recently been issued with a new National Curriculum for Music, for implementation from September 2014. The Programme of Study is very brief. Some teachers will welcome the freedom and flexibility that this affords: to be able to interpret this document and design a curriculum best suited to the needs of their school. Others would have welcomed a more structured approach, supported by appropriate guidance materials. For example, the Programme of Study states that students should use technologies appropriately, but gives no guidance as to what appropriate might mean in this context.

In this editorial, I will outline some of the key technology issues teachers, at Key Stage 3, will need to consider – and offer some possible examples to support appropriate implementation. I would suggest consideration of the following five areas:

Doing more with less. Some teachers say that they cannot do much with ICT in the classroom, because of lack of resources. However, with some careful thought and planning, there are ways in which even a single piece of music technology can be used with a whole class. For example, I have used a loop pedal to engage a whole class in devising and performing polyrhythms, and related riffs, which can be recorded and reviewed, using the loop pedal, very easily. These recordings can be used as a basis for performance, classroom discussion or further composition work.

Don’t [always] do what it says on the packet A producer of a piece of software or hardware technology will usually have in mind specific intentions regarding how musicians might make use of their products. For example, vanbasco intend their software for karaoke use, but I have used this application for listening and appraising, discussing arranging and considerations of basic music theory.

Using music technology, ‘musically’. It is important to remember that any use of technology should focus on the development of musical skills or facilitate opportunities for genuinely musical experiences. It is possible to just use a programme like GarageBand to merely drag and drop samples into a grid based framework – not usually a very musical activity and unless, it is structured properly, there is likely to be little musical learning . Think about how you can also use some of the functions within GarageBand for supporting more musical activities. One approach I have taken is to set up templates, with GarageBand songs, for ‘call and response’ and ‘theme and variation’ activities, where the student has to respond and work with the given materials in very musical ways.

New Sounds One of the most exciting things about software, hardware or apps is one that is so often overlooked. How can we use these technologies to bring ‘new sounds’ into the classroom? Budget constraints often result in us working with a limited palette of sounds – the piano, guitars, keyboards and the usual range of classroom percussion. However, technology now allows us to do so much more. High quality sampled and synthesised sounds can now be brought into the frame, to inspire our students and stimulate high quality work. For example, the thumbjam app allows the user to trigger very convincing cello sounds, and to control these sounds expressively, adding vibrato and dynamic control of the musical lines. A virtual synthesiser such as Alchemy can be used for shaping and playing wonderful collections of electronic sounds. The matrix based interface allows musicians to add real time effects such as filtering and adding delay/reverb etc.

Connecting with out of school music making. In the past, this was a problem. Curriculum music making began and ended with the bell, because resources and instruments stayed within the confines of the classroom. This no longer needs to be the case. For instance, consider ‘cloud’ based applications such as Noteflight. Students can access this notation based software in and out of school. More importantly, they can also access the music files they have been working on in Noteflight, from anywhere. Teachers can also access this work for assessment and mentoring purposes. Given that we know music plays such a large part in the lives of so many young people, this can be a very effective strategy for leveraging some extra time for music study.

‘Generic’ applications Finally, don’t forget to consider how you might use other software applications to support music teaching and learning. Mind mapping software can be used to great effect in producing graphic scores; Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for note taking and archiving which is great for capturing musical activity and assessment ‘on the fly’, using a mobile device in the classroom. This can be made to automatically sync with your main computer for more permanent storage/retrieval of pupil data.
These are just a few suggestions to consider when designing your schemes of work for the new curriculum. For further advice and guidance, check out David’s brand new resource from Rhinegold Education and make a date to attend his session at the forthcoming Music Mark Conference on Five Things Every Teacher Should Know About Using Music Technology in the Classroom.

Rhinegold Education will be exhibiting at this conference alongside who will have a wide selection of sheet music on sale, and also MusicFirst (cloud-based music software) and Charanga.