At our school, we have found that making music education relevant to students themselves means that they demonstrate a deeper understanding of music and we see a motivation for learning that is intrinsic.
We start by offering musical activities that students enjoy, ranging from Karaoke, Rock Bands and Electronic Music Production and then lead them into ensembles and musical performances. Our practice rooms have gone from empty at lunchtime and after school to full as students feel it is a welcoming and productive environment. Allowing students the opportunities to develop in the classroom means they want to get more involved in music outside of the classroom.
Students now want to create and perform as they have developed a love of music and therefore wish to inquire and improve themselves. Students are more engaged as they have been given the freedom to be creative and are trusted to think outside of the box in order to be innovative.
So how did we get here?
Musical Futures International: Just Play is designed to build holistic musical skills and an understanding of how to play as a whole class band. It comes with a suite of resources that support teachers with delivering whole class music activities with students of any age. Getting students performing and being interactive is an important step in their music education. Once students are enjoying playing a musical instrument, the technical and theoretical aspects often follow. Once they can play something, students are more inquisitive to find out more about how to improve and what else is involved in music as a subject at school. Learning a musical instrument ensures that all students can access inclusive and engaging music education.
Just Play allows all students to play and perform, whether it is the ukulele, guitar, bass, piano or the voice. Playing music inside and outside of the classroom gives students a platform to be creative in music. There are opportunities to develop transferable skills such as creative thinking, collaboration and listening as well as learning instrumental skills and how and why and music works. The music classroom, therefore, becomes an inclusive environment, highly skilled musicians, as well as beginners are able to thrive as there is an opportunity to play independently and collaboratively, to set personal goals, and find themselves through playing a musical instrument.
Performing and Creating
Non Formal Teaching is a whole class approach to large group music-making, improvising and composing. Grounded in non-formal teaching pedagogy inspired by the practices of community musicians, musical ideas originate from within the group with the teacher as a musical leader helping participants to shape and develop the music as it evolves. With each unit of work, students are either demonstrating their skills and knowledge development through performing or creating and are often doing both during every lesson. When creating music through classroom workshopping, students are given the autonomy to build composing and improvising from music that they are interested in and enjoy, and the process allows for exploring styles that engage the student from the start.
The theory of creating music, such as understanding chord progressions, harmony, melody, rhythm and structure are explored and applied through the creation of a piece of music. Therefore, students see the relevance and immediate practical implications of music theory. They are therefore better able to understand and relate to music theory more effectively. They are also able to see the relevance of how different aspects of musical theory can be applied to create different moods and outcomes in the music.
Students create more interesting pieces of music as a result as they have been able to explore and problem solve in a way that also allows them to expresses themselves. Some students expand on what is done in the classroom and start to make their own musical legacy by writing music that they publish by themselves, developed from the skills explored and supported in the classroom.
A great example from recent classroom practice at my school involved supporting students to write a song about a social justice issue that they cared about. They researched songs that covered particular issues, discussed and asked questions about why and how the music was created and if it was effective in portraying their message.
Students were then given the challenge of writing and recording songs, building their own identity and connections in the world as global citizens – key outcomes for our school and the curriculum that we follow. In order to successfully make the song, students had to learn about the key, scale, chord progression, melody, bass, rhythm, harmony and structure. They also learnt recording skills and how to produce their song. Some students were so proud of their creations they performed their songs in class to others.
Informal Learning is a model of self-directed learning that aims to enhance student motivation, enjoyment and skill-acquisition in music lessons by tapping into the real-life learning practices of popular musicians.
Informal learning is one of the approaches we use to create musical performances. We have found that it makes the learning more authentic and develops skills that are important in learning music. Students spend time developing listening, collaboration, creative and practical skills when performing music.
Informal Learning challenges students to choose a piece of music in their friendship groups and they are encouraged to learn the song by listening to the music, rather than relying on notation, chord charts or tabs. Students immediately rose to the challenge. Working with their friendship groups meant that they could motivate and encourage each other. They could also be more honest and critical about the ideas and choices that they made. They also helped each other in figuring out parts of the music and natural leaders emerged from the groups. Students developed their listening skills as they had to dissect the music into its harmonic parts, such as melody, rhythm and the structure, and then piece it all together for their own creation. Informal learning has proved to be a dynamic and practical way to develop listening skills that created a deeper understanding of what is happening in the music. Rather than listening to and identifying sections of music, students are analysing and inquiring about the music in a deeper way. They are also more responsive to enjoying, performing, creating and interacting with the music. Ultimately, we have found that informal learning builds confidence and they are excited to perform to their peers. Students are keen to develop themselves and progress, and the demand comes to provide more opportunities for students to perform at all levels as a result.
Music education should be active and engaging for students, but also inclusive so that all students are developing themselves and always learning. It is important that the learning is authentic and that teaching nurtures valuable creative thinking and collaboration skills as well as core instrumental skills. Learning should be active and practical, and at the core of music education is the right balance of building instrumental skills and creating and performing music.
By Chris Hoddinott, Music Teacher and Music Futures International