A Year of Musical Futures

In our school we’ve been working hard to increase the uptake of Music at GCSE and beyond. So one of the things we’ve looked at is what we want our students to be able to do by the end of year 9,8 and 7. We decided that by the end of Y7 they should have an understanding of simple chord progressions including roman numerals and be able toplay these chord progressions on the keyboard and/or guitar. So we’ve completely changed everything and put Musical Futures approaches at the heart of the curriculum.

Term 1 started with Just Play, a great whole class keyboard and guitar approach using popular songs. We let the students choose keyboard or guitar to start with, then after a couple of lessons they swapped over so they all had a chance to experience both, then let them choose which instrument to stick with for the rest of the term. We worked our way through the materials as class, the students really enjoyed it, we jumped around alot! By the end of term most students could play a variety of chords and chord sequences and they also developed a good understanding of chord progressions and song structures.

In term 2 we moved on to a Find Your Voice style approach, starting with 3 chord songs. After making sure everyone could play the three chords on the keyboard or guitar we introduced Roman numerals and the idea that songs can have the same chord sequence but be in different keys. We taught them a couple of songs and then how to combine them to create a “mashup” then asked them to do the same independently in small groups.

After that we took a break from instruments and started to look at recreating songs vocally using 4 chord songs with I-V-VI-IV progressions. This really helped to develop their understanding of melody, bass lines and harmony. We introduced them to Garageband on iPads and taught them how to use the touch instruments and how to multi-track record their own voices to create their own 4 chord arrangements. This also gave them a good understanding of how to structure their mashups when they went back to groups to produce live performances.

Finally we moved onto what Musical Futures calls ‘In at the Deep End’. Students have complete choice over a song that they choose to learn and who they work with. They learn to copy the songs aurally and find the chords online. This is a very informal, student led, independent process, we try and avoid giving specific feedback all the time (Dylan William said “Feedback that comes too quickly scaffolds the learning too tightly, so that, students do not have to think for themselves.”), we remind them of the knowledge learnt in the previous two terms and encourage them to record themselves and then listen back to work out what they need to do to improve.

I’ve really enjoyed teaching this new curriculum, I think the students have made amazing progress and I am really excited about what more they will be able to achieve in Year 8 & 9 because of it. Looking back at what we aimed for and evaluating, I’d like to try interleaving some of the approaches more, so instead of doing Just Play for one term, perhaps spread it out more over the year to ensure students don’t lose those instrumental skills they learnt in term 1.

If you happen to be in Asia in November why not come and join us at Shrewsbury International School, Bangkok for two days of amazing Musical Futures learning, you’ll leave with some amazing approaches and resources and hopefully some new friends. For more information visit our registration page here.

 This post first appeared on the Musical Futures International website. To find out more about the amazing CPD they offer click here

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