Making sense of selves in Katy’s workshop

I am sitting in a circle alongside thirty-six second and third year music undergraduates who have opted for a module in Music Education. They are an interesting mix coming as they do from a western arts based course, a contemporary popular music course and a folk and traditional music course.

Their Music Education module requires that they read my work and yesterday I answered questions that this had provoked and more generally about music education, how it is now and how it might be in the future. Many of the questions raised complex cultural and political issues but all served to open up fresh lines of thinking that helped to clarify beliefs, values and find a better purpose.

Today we are being led by secondary school music teacher Katy, through three workshops – Senegalese Drumming; Samba; Gospel.

These musical practices feature in Katy’s Key Stage 3 curriculum (only years 7 and 8, half term projects with music as part of a carousel). Katy’s school has 2,000 pupils and just one and a half music teachers, although there is promise of another. And, Katy is thankful to the Local Music Service for the loan of classroom instruments.

Ready to go now and Katy, with a lively good humour, sets about transmiting the musical material,

Continue reading “Making sense of selves in Katy’s workshop”

Working with the hidden hand of Edvard Grieg

And now the BBC’s Ten Pieces are with us ‘to inspire a generation of children to get creative with classical music’. [1]

So let me tell you about a music teacher getting creative with Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King (one of the ten). And this is with Year 7 who we might assume are at Egan’s Romantic Stage of Understanding [2], so the topic Music, Story and Far Away Places makes sense.

The teacher has been telling stories and introducing story-telling music to the class and now the teacher’s imagination has created a series of lesson based upon an analysis of the Grieg – 16 beat structure: Intro, 4+2+2+8 with repetitions, an accelerando and with a crazy ending. With this in mind it is a case of let’s make a class piece and this will mean a sustained period of workshop-ing.

The teacher’s approach is what I call the deja vu method as pioneered by Richard McNichol and the LSO Discovery Programme: the teacher abstracts (or is it abducts?) key structural features of the work and from here enables pupils to create a homologous piece(s) in preparation for meeting the work itself as a deja vu experience. Through the engagement of the pupils with the structural features of the work in their own music-making ‘appreciation’ of the work itself is eased.

In this case the teacher is creating the homology through adherence to the work’s 16 beat structure. The first three lessons involve working together as a whole class to create the musical material that will give the structure meaning with motifs derived from the pitch set A, G, F, E. Using a rhythmic and melodic template all pupils make and notate a musical motif/ostinato. Individual motifs are reviewed by the whole class and three selected. These are rehearsed accompanied by the teacher on keyboard as support.

The process is one of drawing out ideas, testing them together, selecting-rejecting, providing time for small group and individual making of material brought to the whole, sifting and sorting – all leading to a piece in which Grieg had a hidden hand. As the piece comes together the teacher plays the bass guitar, serving to ground the performance.

The agreed structure:

Introduction: Unison rhythm on the note A
Middle Section: Ostinato 1 solo
Ostinato 1- all
Ostinato 2 solo Texture gets thicker
Ostinato 2 all
Ostinato 3- all
Gradually tempo gets faster, dynamics get louder!
Ending: 3 sudden stops – restart ostinato faster & louder each time. All end on the note A!

Two lessons are needed for assembling the piece and for intensive rehearsal (one way of thinking about rigour), making the piece into something that sounds satisfying. Managing a controlled accelerando with Year 7 is not easy!

Lesson 6 and time to listen to a recording of the class piece and then time for the music-making of Edvard Grieg. That will lead to questions and a fresh agenda to consider – time for talking, lots of it and integrated with lots of listening ‘in mind’ and with the music sounding; lots of thinking, thinking the music and thinking about it.

No, not some checking off of key words or learning outcomes, but a revealing of meanings made and with the emergence of new ideas to pursue about music and its making: how is it made, how does it work, who does it works for, why does it work – can music tell a story, why not, where shall we go from here? What about that rhythm, let’s play and play it until it changes into something else…

Who knows, we may be talking and playing ourselves into lots of understanding, as long as there is no early closure to what is now an on-going enquiry.

And what do you think about this deja vu approach to getting to know pieces of music? Let’s try another way. Any ideas!

[1] See
[2] According to Egan the Romantic Stage sees children liking facts, going deep and to the extremes, the strange. Loving stories and looking for the transcending qualities of people. Connecting to emotions.


Also: Finney, J. (2009) ‘Human interest and musical development: no knowledge without meaning’. In (eds.) Alexandra Lamont and Helen Coll, Sound Progress: Exploring musical development, NAME.

More advanced music teaching skill

Would creating a hierachy of music teaching skill be helpful at a time when there are official demands to identify ‘outstanding’ teachers? What happened to advanced skills teachers? And now comes the idea of ‘lead practitioners’? (1) UK government policy is looking to the profession to take a lead in developing pedagogy while nudging it in what is thought to be the ‘right’ direction. The recent visit of the Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss to Shanghai provides an exemplar of such policy strategy.

Might the skill of leading a musical workshop qualify as a more advanced music teaching skill, the skill of ‘workshop-ing’ to use a recently coined term?

The idea of the workshop is found at least as far back as medieval times. The workshop is thought of as a place of crafting, making, where people work hard and take a pride in their work. (2) As an educational idea it is more recent and denotes something other than the lesson, something more flexible, but no less rigorous. In the case of Music the guiding principle is that music is being made together and that the making process is not necessarily predicitable. There is space for experiment, exploration, discovery, and for the thoughts and ideas of the participants to play an important part is what is made.

Martin Said, for example, reflecting on his project approach to music teaching, highlights the rigour of a dialogic opening up of thought and understanding where the classroom is imbued with an ethos of making and crafting. This sounds very much like a workshop and there is something here that indicates the nuanced skill of a canny music teacher. Dare I say an example of ‘advanced skill’? (3)

Then there is Emily Crowhurst working with a year 7 class over six sessions sustaining a pattern of whole class music making interspersed with small group work feeding from the whole and back into it, and working towards a communal performance. (4) We would think of this as a workshop approach and requiring considerable skill.

In a NAME magazine article (5) Felicity Laurence sets out a form of workshop-ing, seen through the lens of Christopher Small’s concept of ‘musicking’ (6) and ‘based upon co-operation, democratic participation, mutual and respectful listening, and care for eachother’s differing musical values.’ Felicity made songs together with the children where their voices (7) were ‘priveledged from the first moments’ making for empathic relationships and songs of significance that changed not only the song makers but relationships within the class.’

I am looking forward to working with Felicity on Saturday, March 15 (see when music teachers will be learning more about ‘Making and thinking music together’. You are welcome to join us.

I wonder what is meant when music teachers say ‘workshop-ing’? Presumably it is to be distinguished from something else. And would a hierachy of music teaching skill be helpful? I doubt it.

Next week I will write about ways in which the music room can help or hinder literacy.

End Notes:

(1) The policy of defining teacher competence in gradation from novice to expert has been a somewhat half-hearted aspect of government policy for a number of years. There is now a new wave of policy moving in this direction. In England there are Teaching Schools. Will all teachers in these schools qualify as lead practitioners?
(2) Sennett, R. (2008) ‘The Craftsman’, London: Allen Lane.
(3) See Martin’s guest editorial on the Teaching Music Website at
(4) Emily’s concise account of this work can be found in the Winter edition of the Music Mark magazine, 2013.
(5) Laurence, F. (2006) ‘Musicking, empathic experience and inclusion within the classroom’, National Association of Music Educators, Magazine Issue No. 19, 21-23.
(6) Small, C. (1998) ‘Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening.’ Hanover, NH: Weslyn University Press.
(7) ‘Voice’. This term can be used with at least three meanings. 1. the singing voice 2. the expressive musical voice of the pupil in general 3. the pedagogically knowledgable voice of the pupil. Here it captures all three meanings.