A sound investment: Computing technology is finally proving its mettle in music lessons

Musicians, creative lot that they are, long ago perceived the creative possibilities afforded by new computing technology. But it has taken a little longer for the technology to infiltrate the typical music classroom. This isn't down to the reluctance of music teachers but rather to the limitations of the hardware. That is, until now.

"When computers were first introduced into music departments, they generated a considerable degree of excitement as teachers could see the potential for using ICT in their teaching," says education consultant David Ashworth, editor of www.teachingmusic.org.uk. "Yet, affordable computers, powerful enough to realise some of this potential, have only been available relatively recently."

This is certainly the experience of many music teachers. Adrian Knowles, music teacher at Crawshaw School in Leeds, repeatedly asked the school to invest in a Mac in order to access the kind of processing power to support sophisticated music software.

"A simple PC might be fine for Word processing and Excel spreadsheets, but it does not have the RAM to handle the big music packages," says Knowles, who as well as teaching at the specialist humanities college plays the double bass professionally, most recently supporting jazz singer Sarah Mitchell on her debut album. "As a teacher, there's nothing more frustrating than a computer not doing what it's supposed to, particularly when you've got your lesson all planned out. It really switches the kids off."

The new Mac is already earning its keep, says Knowles. The free GarageBand software that came with the computer has proved a real hit, helping the students develop their skills and express their creativity. "For a free package, it's excellent," says Knowles, adding that some of the Sarah Mitchell album was also recorded using GarageBand. "There's enough to it to keep the students interested all the way up to KS4."

Crawshaw students also use the near-ubiquitous Sibelius notation software package, which Knowles says has had a positive impact on GCSE results by improving students' composition and score-writing skills. Indeed, Sibelius is popular across the secondary sector (it is used by over 75 per cent of UK secondary schools), opening up the world of composition to students who may have limited or no notation skills.

ICT expert Juliet Joy of RM, the leading technology supplier to schools, says Sibelius is like the Microsoft Word of the music world. She stresses, however, that music theory still has its place.

"You can't escape the theory of music, nor should you," says Joy, who works with schools across the Dudley area in the west Midlands. "Even very gifted musicians need theory. They need to internalise it in order to enhance their understanding and help with composition."

Sibelius Software also produces a range of software packages for primaries – Groovy Shapes (ages 5 to 7), Groovy Jungle (7-9) and Groovy City (9-11). These animated music programs look more like computer games than the music sequencers and editors they really are, enabling children to explore musical sounds and rhythms, and create their own original music.

Topologika's Music Box package also lets children make music on a classroom computer without knowing anything about notation. Pupils can explore sounds, chords and percussion, and create single- or multi-part compositions using more than 200 instruments. It provides colourful "paper strips" that they can slide up and down to change pitch, and stretch, shrink, split and join to make different notes. The company's Words & Music package allows learners to add lyrics so that compositions can start with words, music or both. It auto-writes the notation alongside the creation of the song.

"Learning notation can put off a lot of children from getting into music, particularly composition," says Roger Broadie of Frog, the learning platform supplier. "These software packages make composition much more accessible. It keeps their enthusiasm for creativity going until their skills level catches up."

He believes ICT can really open up the world of music to children who might otherwise lack the skills or confidence to engage with the subject. Schools that have invested in learning platforms that span the whole school community are seeing the benefit as students' out-of-school enthusiasm for music creeps online.

"You can get a lot of music stuff on to the platform," says Broadie. "Anything the children have created, whether it's their own performance displayed on YouTube or just their own playlists of music they like, can go up there, reach an audience and get a debate going."

At Attleborough high school in Norfolk, for example, a group of Btech music students used the Frog learning platform to promote a gig. "They got 200 people to come and then streamed it live to the whole school," says assistant head Harry French, who says the learning platform is taking the school by storm with around 1,000 people logging on every day. "It creates a really wide audience for their performances."

Another useful tool for young musicians seeking an audience is the www.radiowaves.co.uk website, which allows students to create radio programmes, videos, podcasts and blogs. Yet this wonderful world of internet radio stations, online tuition, electronic recording studios and automated score-writing packages needs to sit within a traditional music department with old-fashioned pianos, metronomes and flesh-and-blood teachers. "This isn't an alternative to music teachers," says RM's Juliet Joy. "It's complementary and adds an extra dimension."

'We use handsets to quiz the children about music'

Terrace Road primary school in inner-city Swansea uses an unusual tool to get pupils engaged in music. Qwizdom is a hand-held voting system, like the ask-the-audience handset used in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which lets the whole class respond to questions, with their answers shown on a graph on an interactive PowerPoint slide.

Teacher Peter Owen explains: "The children in this area don't tend to have the advantages of music tuition, so there are quite low skills and some reluctance, particularly among some of the boys, towards learning music. But ICT helps to get them engaged. We haven't got the money for computers in every classroom, so sometimes we take the music class to the IT suite to have a play with music software, but with the Qwizdom handsets we can use them alongside the instruments.

"In music, you're desperate for them to use their ears so we use the Qwizdoms to play a little 'name-that-tune' quiz. It's a nice warm-up activity that gets them listening. We also use the handsets to listen to sound clips or look at pictures of instruments on the screen and then ask questions. Is the instrument woodwind or percussion? Can they name the instrument? With choir practice, we use it to see if the children can remember the next line in a piece of music. The idea is that by predicting what comes next, they can learn the words much more quickly.

"In recorder class, we can play a note and show a picture of the recorder with the fingering and ask them is this right? You can really get them to think about it. It's the anonymity that makes it so powerful because it helps grow their confidence."

Suggested Topics
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Life and Style
tech Manband spurn Spotify to stream album exclusively with Google
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor

£30000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent: Austen Lloyd: Employment Solicitor - Ke...

Ashdown Group: HR Generalist - 2 week contract - £200pd - Immediate start

£200 per day: Ashdown Group: Working within a business that has a high number ...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Maths Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: We are currently recruiting f...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher -Full Time - ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?