What is The Musicularium?

This blog has started in so many different ways. I’ve typed out whole paragraphs and almost immediately deleted them. When I sat down this blustery afternoon to write something, I didn’t really have a plan in mind as to what I wanted it to be about. So I thought I’d share something I’ve been working on, in the back of my mind, for a while now.

What is The Musicularium?

music/ˈmjuːzɪk/noun

Vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.

-arium/ˈɛːrɪəm/suffix

Forming nouns usually denoting a place.

These definitions came from the first Google search I came across. I am well aware that the definition of music given above is in no way comprehensive! But the two things together combined create what I would like to talk about. The paragraphs below form the introduction to a personal project I have started, and something which I feel is now the right time to start putting down on paper (well, online!) officially. Please share your thoughts about it – nothing is ever a single person’s achievement, rather the culmination of many individuals’ efforts.

“The Musicularium is a concept, an idea. It is a place where music is appreciated, understood, valued. It could be your classroom, the whole school, your house or even your car. The Musicularium is a space of value, which takes into consideration everyone’s experiences, and even more so their lack of. It teaches, it nurtures, it challenges, it provides. The Musicularium is glorious. 

The world of music is immense. There are so many genres, subgenres, arguments about sub-subgenres, arguments about which album is better than any other, that it’s almost impossible to experience it all. But, imagine only ever experiencing what is chosen by a corporation on a televised music channel, or a procurement list of current “hits” at a national radio station? That would be terrible! You would never get to experience the utter beauty of Eric Whitacre’s “Cloudburst”, the madness of a Toy Dolls gig, the sheer energy of the Mad Caddies blasting their horns at a dirty Manchester venue, or the epic scores of composers like Lorne Balfe and Brian Tyler. (If you don’t know any of those, look them up, you won’t regret it!) 

So why haven’t I written about creating a musical curriculum? Well, like many arts subjects, music is incredibly subjective. The skills in music are universal, I agree, but to get the most out of the pupils in front of you, you have to make things work for everybody. Just taking something that someone else has written simply won’t work. Bought in schemes do serve a purpose, but historically they just don’t cut the mustard. In chapter 4 “Developing your Musicularium”, there are some ideas for creating a curriculum model, and for Performing, Composing and Appraising music in the classroom, but they are not exact things I am saying “you must do this!” When writing and creating resources for anybody, my ethos is that I am helping you to start, not helping you to finish – that is up to you! The children I see on a day to day basis are in some ways the same as yours, but in more ways they really are not. And that is why The Musicularium is glorious!

I hope you find some aspects of yourself in these pages. Music is consumed by all, and if anyone ever says they don’t listen to music then I’m inclined to suggest that they’re lying! Like any resource, please don’t take what I suggest as gospel; I have made my fair share of mistakes since starting my career, and can almost guarantee that I will make more because I’m human. However, what you will find is years of experience as a music specialist, packed onto these pages to help you on your way to creating your own Musicularium. You may even think after reading that, actually, you already have one. If that’s the case, then fantastic! You’re doing everything you can to ensure the young people in your care are getting a good musical deal. Even if you take one thing away from this, I’ll be delighted.”

As always, comments are more than welcome

~ Andrew

#NewVoices19 – NMP (Non-Musical Post)

Last year, I was fortunate to be one of the first people chosen to speak at the newly formed New Voices Conference at the CLPE, Waterloo. The experience was an amazing one, which set me on a path of further research, conference attendance, and genuinely being interested in education once more.

October 12th 2019 saw the second instalment of the #NewVoices conference, and these are the talks I attended.

1. How I was a ‘disruptive’ voice – Mary Hind-Portley (@Lit_Liverbird)

It is not often in schools that you get people who ask the question ‘why?’ Why are we doing this? For what purpose are we doing it? Who is it actually going to benefit? In her talk, Mary demonstrated the power of being the ‘disruptive’ voice within a school, empowering people to question, validly, why senior leadership teams (and others) ask so much of teaching staff, without considering why they are actually doing it. The word ‘disruptive’ itself was discussed, looking at the negative impact such a word can have on a member of teaching staff who is looking out for themselves, and who is brave enough to raise the issues and push back against inappropriate and irrelevant workload, pedagogy and indeed behaviour from the powers above.

A really good start to the day, accompanied by Amanda Spielman, chief HMI doing PowerPoint slide duties!

2. How I approach Curriulum Design – a “Box Set” approach – Neil Almond (@Mr_AlmondEd)

I first met Neil at #BrewEdLeics, and was fascinated by his curriculum discussion both in person and online, so this for me was an obvious choice of talk to attend. Although on slide duty myself, the talk (as a summary of a longer, more detailed look into curriculum design) gave me much to think about in terms of my current practise of lesson and knowledge progression across all subjects. The idea of a “box set” approach is so simple, yet so perfect for educational progression that it just makes sense. And before anyone pipes up with ideas of it being a “fad” or potentially flawed, Neil backs everything that he says up with well informed research. The trends towards dropping rates of attainment are concerning, and the “box set” approach sets out clear progression potential for EVERY SUBJECT in the curriculum – you just need to be careful with your planning. Start at the end, make it a good final episode, then lay the foundations of how to get there.

3. How to use pupil voice to improve wellbeing – Iro Konstantinou & Jonnie Noakes (@IroKonstantinou)

Iro Konstantinou and Jonnie Noakes are from Eton College, and delivered an interesting look into how they run regular research programmes with the boys in their care. The key point from this talk was all about involving the pupils in the research, affording them a voice in choosing (within reason) their curriculum direction, amongst other things. A large part of the talk then looked at how wellbeing through pupil voice is improving, because campaigns and techniques are being suggested by the students themselves, rather than being imposed by somebody else who is simply reeling off poorly informed research and “faddy” ideas.

4. How I avoided becoming research mis-informed – Tom Rattle (@mrrattle)

In the age of social media, it is very easy to have a quick read of something, take it onboard in your classroom, then assume that you’re being “research informed”. However, as Tom pointed out, blogs, Twitter and Facebook are not research! In his talk, Tom gave 5 clear points about how we should be looking further as teachers into the validity of data and research presented to us. Reflection was a key word in the talk, asking us as professionals to consider other opinions, to try to avoid confirmation bias, and look for evidence that potential points to an opposite of what we may have initially thought. If any numbers are given to you, interrogate them. Don’t just look at higher numbers and think “that must be better, I’ll do that,” because the data may not be massively reliable. A very thought provoking talk, and one which I will definitely pay more attention to when reading online about “the next big thing.”

5. What I do about kids who don’t want to know – Mark Goodwin (@MarkGoodwin8)

Mark Goodwin kicked off my afternoon with a brilliantly simple talk, but one filled with actionable advice and personal evidence. He spoke frankly about the difficulties of working with permanently excluded children and young people, and how the simplest of things can have the biggest of impacts; the cookie jar. Mark reminded us that we should always be looking for the small achievements made by the children in our classes, and keep a record of them in a jar, or a list, or something simple that reminds us that our children are achieving. He made the case for not giving up on any child, because everyone can be taught, and helped, and brought into the mainstream (if desired) through patience and faith. One of the key messages I took from Mark’s talk was “think of the work from the eyes of your most difficult/disengaged child. How does it look to them?” How does the worksheet, or the textbook, look to the child that doesn’t want to know? What can we do to make it more appealing, or accessible to them?

6. How I bounced back from a career failure – Kristian Shanks (@HistoryKss)

Kristian gave a very frank, open and honest talk about his career, how it had fallen apart at one point, and how he brought it back to a point of enjoying the job once more. I’m sure his story isn’t an exception (I know it isn’t, because I myself have left a job with nothing to go to through sheer exhaustion and lack of support), but the manner in which he delivered the talk was inspiring! He was honest about his shortcomings, about the mistakes he made, and about how he potentially aimed too high too soon, and found himself way beyond his experience to deal with the job he was in. It was great for me to know that there are others out there like me that have experienced difficulty in their career, yet found a school that has allowed them to thrive and find their love for a subject once more.

7. Why mental health comes first: a personal journey from headship and back – Laura Masson (@lmeducational)

My final talk of the day was a difficult one to listen to, but my word it was brilliant. Laura gave a beautifully heartfelt and brave talk about how her mental health deteriorated through continued and excessive working as a headteacher to help to improve a school. After months of extremely long days and taking on task after task after task, and having been told by the LA that the school was good, Ofsted gave a satisfactory outcome. Laura’s frankness about how this was so hurtful and damaging was difficult to listen to, but it needed to be said and taken on board. She shared the personal difficulties she faced, and how she has come to turn herself around through a range of health and wellbeing strategies. There were many tears, and I feel it was a fitting way to finish a day where “reflection” has been at the forefront of all the talks I visited.

This year, like last, was a fascinating, thought provoking and inspirational year. Everyone who I got to hear spoke with passion and knowledge about their topics, and gave me plenty to take back to my own practise. It was also a great opportunity to catch up in person with many of the people that I have the privilege of calling my #EduTwitter friends.

Music for work or music for distraction?

Towards the end of each summer term, my head teacher conducts 1:1 chats with all members of staff in the school. These chats are very informal, and are just opportunities to review the year, what’s worked, what maybe hasn’t worked and the start looking to the future. Prior to my meeting, I’d been asked to take charge of mathematics in the school, alongside running expressive arts; I’ve always had a strong interest in maths so this was a great opportunity for me. Using the connections I would have between maths and the expressive arts, I proposed a study around whether or not different genres of music affect performance in low stakes maths tests in pupils from year 3 to 6 (ages 7 – 11). As a school, we have been listening to a range of composers and artists during the last 12 months, however the situation of listening to music has been at the discretion of the class teachers. Some would play music during lessons, others would find spare slots throughout the week to share music with their classes. There were no hard and fast rules. I wanted to combine the two and see if actually it would have any impact at all on performance in maths. My head teacher was interested, and so has allowed me to proceed with my study.

My starting points were obvious – I needed to research the research that had already been done around music & sound and impacts on productivity. There has already been extensive research done in terms of listening to music, noisy environments etc. and their impacts on work and study.

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/mar/14/sound-how-listening-music-hinders-learning-lessons-research

This article in The Guardian (2018) discusses findings by Nick Perham and Harriet Currie (2014) from the applied psychology department of Cardiff Metropolitan University, and sheds a great deal of light on the negative impacts music can have on study, alongside other issues such as cognitive overload when trying to process multiple streams of information. Yet, when you actually speak to people, they will still tell you that they listen to music (and other sources of work accompaniment: TV, podcasts, radio, etc…) and claim that it helps them to work. But we must be careful in using the word “work” because there are lots of different ways that word can be interpreted. In the case of my study, I will be looking at “thinking” tasks; tasks which require you to actually call upon a range of different learnt strategies to solve a question.

In the case of a poll I ran on Twitter, what people told me was they would choose their work accompaniment based on the type of task they were doing. What I found almost straight away was that non-thinking tasks (such as house work, tidying and sorting a classroom for example) had people listening to more upbeat, louder genres of music, whilst the thinking tasks (writing, researching, analysing data) had people listening to more relaxed genres, or even nothing at all. The people who responded to the poll were incredibly specific, which will be of great use to me later on! The clearest piece of information which was confirmed to me was that many people required music to not have lyrics as they found them distracting (something which has been written about and discussed multiple times already). You can view the poll and read the thread here:

On his blog here, Daniel Willingham (2018) discusses the meta-analysis of data collected from studies related to listening to music and reading comprehension. Although the data suggests potentially a negative impact on reading comprehension, Willingham takes a more human approach to the data by adding in:

Some of my students say they like music playing in the background because it makes them less anxious. It could be that a laboratory situation (with no stakes) means these students aren’t anxious (and hence show little cost when the music is off) but would have a harder time reading without music when they are studying. In other words, the laboratory situation may underestimate the frequency that music provides a benefit for a subset of students.

Willingham, D. (2018)

I believe this is something which is going to be key to much of my study. Music is not simply a tool, a thing which can be rolled out when needed. Everybody has different preferences when it comes to music, and everybody has a different response to different genres. If everyone is an individual, what impact will blanket playing music to a whole class of pupils have?

In a recent study by Manuel Gonzalez and John Aiello (2019) they concluded that:

(a) music generally impaired complex task performance, (b) complex music facilitated simple task performance, and (c) preference for external stimulation moderated these effects. Therefore, the data suggest that music’s effects on task performance depend on the music, the task, and the performer. 

Gonzalez, M. F., & Aiello, J. R. (2019).

These findings fit in with what people are already telling me, that you can’t have a “one size fits all” approach due to the wide range of variables involved in why people listen to music whilst working in the first place.

I am still very much at the beginning of my study, and I am well aware that many studies into music and productivity have been conducted. However, using my own knowledge and experiences of music, alongside what I’ve already been shown by others here, I am already starting to form an opinion of where the study will lead, but am intrigued to see if my direction of thought is correct, or not! Once I have begun writing up the main areas of the study, I will share a link to the document for perusal.

As always, any thoughts or comments are greatly welcomed.

References

Gonzalez, M. F., & Aiello, J. R. (2019). More than meets the ear: Investigating how music affects cognitive task performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 25(3), 431-444.

Willingham, D. “Should Students Listen to Background Music While They Read?” (9.17.2018) http://www.danielwillingham.com/daniel-willingham-science-and-education-blog/should-students-listen-to-background-music-while-they-read

Curriculum for Wales : Expressive Arts : A Discussion

Curriculum change, at some point, is inevitable. Teachers, educators, and academics are always researching and testing new and innovative pedagogical methods; this makes education brilliant! Progress is key, with the vision being enhancing the children and students’ experiences who live in our classrooms day in, day out. But it doesn’t always go the way people had thought, or planned.

In Wales, curriculum change has been coming for a while. Before the new Curriculum for Wales was even a twinkle in Kirsty Williams’ eye, OECD PISA indications were that standards in Wales were in the decline. Something, it was decided, needed to be done.

Read More »

Chrome Music Lab vs Irregular Time Signatures

*3 minute read

Following a conversation over on Twitter with @Teacherglitter (give her a follow if you already don’t!) about irregular time signatures, I thought about how you could utilise Google’s Chrome Music Lab to help teach and perform them.

Those of you who have followed my recent blogs will know I’m a massive fan of Google’s Chrome Music Lab. As it turns out, it’s PERFECT for working with irregular time signatures.

Read More »

Strategies, strategies everywhere…NMP

***NMP – None Musical Post***

Although this blog is primarily focussed around music and music education, every now and then I like to remind myself of the fact that I am, first and foremost, a teacher and educator. I love thinking about education, reading, talking and debating. What makes teaching great is the diversity of ideas, directions and pedagogy avaiable to us to help us shape our own teaching personae. One such thing which has struck me recently is the idea of having a “strategy” for everything.

This post is merely a question about something that I don’t really understand; it is not in any way a criticism of the vocabulary surrounding strategies, more a call for help in better understanding why we teach “strategies” and actually use the word to help learners work through various work based scenarios.

TL:DR – my “strategy” for dealing with strategies is having a beer.

Read More »

You can’t teach everything…

Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to be engaged with meaningful educational discussion, and made inroads towards bettering myself as a teacher (and learner!). Part of this discussion has led me to reading about other teachers’ paths towards their current positions/careers, which in part starts at their own education. This has led me to think more deeply about my own education, and what this means in terms of delivering my main subject:

Music.

Read More »

Dydd Miwsig Cymru

Friday 8th February 2019 in National Welsh Music Day – a day to celebrate the music of Wales beyond the usual suspects!

To bring some analysis into the day, I’ve decided to base my main activity on a WJEC GCSE inspired question, presented using a Double Bubble mind map. I’ve been looking for ways of using mind maps in music ever since Hanna Miller (@notesfromthebun) did a great talk on their uses back in October at the New Voices conference, and found the Double Bubble a perfect way of picking out specific details for individual versions of songs, as well as linking the similarities in the middle. To make this more manageable for my Year 4 class, I’ve custom filled the outside with some headings, but left the middle blank for them to have a little freedom. It looks like this:

Following analysis, they will have to opportunity to write a brief review, yn Gymraeg, of the songs and say which was their favourite.

I reckon this will be a neat and manageable way to listen to different versions of the same song, and could potentially drive a more extended piece of writing afterwards if we want to do so.

**UPDATE**

Taught this lesson, it went really well – the children were engaged and totally understood the concept of the mind map. Definitely going to roll this out more when comparing 2 pieces of music.

As always, any comments are welcome!

Andrew

@andykeegan

Funny goings on…(a non-musical post!)

Schools are funny old places; we often mention in the staff room that some of the stuff that goes on and gets said would get you funny looks in any other profession. So, after an amusing (albeit brief!) Twitter post, I thought I’d share some of the ridiculous things that go on which I find amusing.

TL:DR Working in a school is mental!

And in no particular order:

1) Animals on site

Everybody remembers the day a dog got onto the yard. The children squeal like they’ve never seen one before, the staff on duty walk off and pretend it’s not there so they don’t have to deal with it.

What I’m talking about, though, is an animal indoors on site. This is a whole new level of glorious.

The panic, oh the sheer panic in everyone’s voices is a thing to behold!

“It’s a SQUIRREL! What do we do?!”

“Don’t go near it its got diseases!”

“WHERE’S IT GONE?!”

“It attacked me! It at TACKED me! Went right for my head, vicious little thing!”

And the smaller the creature, the better! If it can fly then you’ve hit the jackpot. Don’t let the flying bad boys into the hall, you’ll never get them down. Work? Nah. There’s a dove in the kitchen! But we’ve got test practice to do! Don’t care, there’s a newt in the Reception class.

Brilliant.Read More »

Virtual Orchestra

A few months ago, I had a play with Google’s Cardboard app with a “homemade” VR viewer (made from cardboard, obviously). I loved it, and although it was still relatively clunky, it was great fun.

And I thought about how this could be used to bring musical experiences to young people. Wouldn’t it be great if pupils in Swansea could be immersed in a concert in the Albert Hall, or children in Edinburgh sit in a practice session with a folk band in Cornwall?

Then I stumbled upon this video – a collaboration between the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Google – exactly what I was looking for! The principal is straight forward enough; a 360 camera and mic rig set in the middle of the orchestra captures the performance which the viewer can navigate around either with a headset, or by rotating their device.

So, it can be done, and it can produce a great experience!

My first task – get my hands on a 360 camera…

You can find the video here:

RPO – Bartok Concerto for Orchestra 360