I thought this would be a great opportunity to touch base about home learning and keeping music as practical as possible while students are learning remotely in these very challenging and extraordinary times.
I hope the detail and thinking below is really helpful as you continue to refine and develop your online music provision.
Uncertain Times and School Approaches
Times are still uncertain, and in many ways, it is difficult to visualise a ‘normal’ autumn term start with the current logistical challenges secondary schools are having to solve with just Year 10. Maybe things will change more for September, though I believe there will definitely be a transition period of possibly a more blended learning experience for all year groups, including both ‘face to face’ and ‘online’.
One of the key challenges schools have faced across this period of time since lockdown has been to find the most effective ways to continue learning in a remote environment, and getting in to a rhythm with sending work to students and providing feedback. This has no doubt developed as schools have progressed their thinking with improving home learning activities and how best to engage with students remotely.
There is, of course, a range of provision offered across schools from teaching whole classes ‘real-time’ online, scheduled as per the school timetable, to schools creating online video tutorials and posting assignments to be returned by students for marking.
Each school’s provision will obviously centre around the particular learners in their catchment areas, and the best approach the senior leadership team have decided upon to engage the students with their learning.
One strong piece of guidance that has been published for schools by the ‘Association of School and College Leaders’, recommends the consolidation of prior learning with the mantra of ‘less is more’. The concern is that without ‘live, face to face’ (real-time online or in the classroom) teaching, explaining concepts, correcting misconceptions and making links with other learning is very challenging when done remotely.
In terms of assessments during this period, a focus on low-stakes formative assessment to help students understand their own learning is perhaps the best approach. It will certainly be hard for teachers to draw meaningful summative conclusions about the extent of progress that has been made. Student self-marking with feedback built in is probably a stronger approach.
Home Learning for Music
Below I have set out some guidance that is very music specific which has come about through a Secondary Heads of Music Working Party which I set up just before the summer half term. The rationale: to look at home learning methods and to ‘road test’ ideas to help develop practice further with some guidance around using technology to support practical music making.
The first section relates to using a free app called ‘Bandlab’, which is a powerful digital audio workstation (DAW) accessible on smartphones as well as PCs and Macs. There is also some detail about Chrome Musiclab, another free music app.
The second section relates to some of the challenges colleagues have experienced with remote home learning with a number of possible solutions to help progress these forward.
This is a really powerful app for smartphones (android and iPhone) as well as for PCs and Macs. All completely free. There is an educational version you can use which allows you to set up all your classes, through your school email, so your students can download the app and use (not available for smartphone use unfortunately). You can post assignments and students can create and send their work to you - you can also post feedback.
The smartphone app is ideal, though not linked to the education part of Bandlab, as it allows greater access in terms of more students having their own android or iPhone compared to owning their own PC or Mac. This allows for a much wider access.
Bandlab, as part of the smartphone app, have set up a whole social media network so you will need to make this clear to parents as well as students with advice for students not to use as part of the school set up.
I have copied the Bandlab link below. Just above this are 4 video tutorials for ‘getting started’ with Bandlab. I have recently recorded these myself.
Bandlab is a DAW, which enables students to record using loops and create original music using software instruments as well as recording their voice, a bass guitar, guitar etc (external instruments). Navigation of the app is quite straight forward, and composing is quick in terms of recording and basic editing. The full PC/Mac version is obviously more powerful and has some great ‘plugins’ for effects and processing.
I would say that Bandlab is more suited to upper KS3 and KS4 students - possibly Year 8 upwards.
This is also accessible on PCs and Macs as well as smartphones. Certainly, this would be ideal for KS3. Again, please find the link below.
Students can easily create rhythms and it is very straight forward assigning instrument sounds and developing patterns.
Challenges and Solutions for Online, Home Learning for Music (discussed amongst Secondary Heads of Music in the Home Learning and Music Technology Working Party)
There has been a noticeable ‘drop off’ in engagement when students have been asked to create music using free apps as above. This has been seen to be related to:
An overload of apps being received by students from all subject teachers to use.
The concern from parents that a further app again increases the use of ‘screen time’.
Anxiety and confidence with using new apps without teacher support.
Bandlab not opening and asking students to contact the school administrator.
Promoting and retaining student engagement is clearly key and below are some strategies for this as well as solutions to the above challenges. These were shared by Secondary Heads of Music at our last working party meeting.
Blend practical music making actives with regular accessible listening activities.
Set weekly ‘low stakes’ listening for KS3 - students self mark - teacher provide feedback as appropriate.
Weekly KS4 listening - some self marking with feedback.
For practical music making tasks create a ‘menu’ of options for creating/developing/recording musical ideas. For example, a composition assignment could be set with a choice of developing/recording using Bandlab, Note Flight (free score writing software) or an audio recording on an instrument accessible at home.
Ensuring that learning activities have a shorter time period leading to a musical outcome after one week or two weeks is more likely to keep the engagement.
Base assignments around relevant/recent event topics students can connect with such as ‘Lockdown’ and more recently ‘Black Lives Matter’. A great project which is running at Kings School set up by Dave Clarke, is ‘Lockdown Stories’. Students provided with guidance about creating a soundscape, incidental music or a song (again options) based on their experience of lockdown. Collecting sound samples from their environment which they feel are part of their lockdown experience is using for the composition would work particularly well with Bandlab. Alternatively, a free app which enables you to be to record using video (smartphone), multiple instrument parts to create one piece of music.
Bryan Postlethwaite (Wyvern School and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College) has set up some excellent assignments based around very accessible Youtube clips which support composing. e.g. Rick Beato’s ‘How to Write Film Music With ONLY 3 Chords’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0GQlCNUsjg. Success here also involves, posting teaching points to support how to create the musical ideas / relevant composition techniques and ensuring the assignment is a short composition for film (e.g. 30 seconds of film music).
Another composition tutorial, recommended by Paul Mills, is by Scott Murphy - this focuses on triads and using different intervals around these to create a range of film moods. Again posting teaching points will be important. https://youtu.be/YSKAt3pmYBs.
With composition projects, set short achievable time limits e.g. Record a 30 second composition. Again with a choice of ways to record e.g. instrument (audio recording)/ free sequencer app / free score writing app.
Create ensemble recording opportunities (works best with Year 9 option students, Year 10, Year 11, Year 12 and Year 13). Send students a PDF of the music and Youtube clip to play along to. Students play along with YouTube clip (using headphones for playing and a recording device for the audio recording of their track). Once the music has been learnt and then recorded just as an audio track, it is sent to the teacher who mixes and then sends all students the mixed ensemble recording with feedback. Great for engagement.
Simon Lawrenson at The Romsey School is setting up an online Music Concert/Summer Festival. Great for your instrumentalists and singers. Students sign up and then record an individual piece that will be posted as a ‘virtual’ concert to be watched by young musicians/parents/school community. You could also launch with a choir song using a backing track. Singers record their own part and send back as a video recording, mixed and edited and then uploaded as a ‘multi screen virtual choir’.
If you do have the luxury of teaching ‘realtime online’ with classes these were some of the benefits found:
Realtime Online Teaching
Timetabled lesson that students attend each week led ‘live’ by the teacher.
Opportunity to share a presentation / music software for demo / composition techniques demo/ task demo and provide opportunity for students to send text questions or if mic permitted, ask questions verbally / also opportunity to listen to work and get either verbal or written feedback within the lesson session.
Opportunity to engage with ‘new learning’.
Mix of pre-recorded and ‘live’ learning using ‘screencastify’.
I hope that you have found this post helpful regarding your own programme of home learning for music. Please do get in touch if you have ideas you would like to share yourself or any challenges you are facing and would value the opportunity to discuss.
Please use my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I will continue to work with the Secondary Heads of Music Working Party to further support the development of this practice.
My thanks to Ben Cull (Brookfield School), Michael Whiteside (the Mountbatten School), Simon Lawrenson (The Romsey School) Bryan Postlethwaite (Wyvern School and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College), Dave Clarke (Kings) School), Tim Cole and Lydia Criglington (Cams School) and Paul Mills (The Westgate School)
Senior Learning Leader for Schools and Curriculum
Hampshire Music Service