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Multitrack GarageBand Project

Our students have finished their multitracked GarageBand project. I have permission to use this piece by one of our students and his parents so we can see how he has got on.

This child is ten years old and previously, like the rest of the class he has done a sequencing activity on the iPad multitracking a medieval melody. So he has had a bit of experience multi tracking. So I think it is safe to say that this is his second or perhaps third multitracked piece.

The task was to make a 24 bar multitracked piece of music with at least five different parts. One is a drum part which he didn’t have to do much for as the loops automatically write themselves! He then had to make a chord sequence using the chords C, Am, F and G and using the autoplay, put this onto guitar, bass, keys and strings. He also had to make a live ukulele part using the four chords that we have all learned. Finally he had to create a pentatonic improvised track using a keyboard synth sound. And to finish he had to mix it, do some panning and then upload to Class Dojo as a screen recorded video. Here’s how he got on:

It’s not bad for a ten year old beginning to use GarageBand. I gave him so feedback on Class Dojo that I think he needed to work on the beginning and ending and tidy it up. I haven’t taught the children about quantising yet. In fact I would prefer not to so they can play things in more accurately! He gave in about three drafts before running out of time so the ukulele part is a lot better than it was – his first attempt resulted in a quizzical look from myself and an acknowledgement that he was going to have to do it again! He also had forgotten the pentatonic melody the first time. I think he did quite a good job of this as he is using the keyboard function on GarageBand and not an external keyboard. It could definitely do with a bit more accuracy, especially with the timing.

It’s definitely a task I would like to keep in Year 6 – the six week unit was called “Chordal Chaos” and the students responded very well to the instructional videos that I made. We have one more unit in six weeks time on the Blues and we will do one more similar task to this and I think that will be the one we will give into his secondary music teacher so she can see at least one of the creative tasks that he has done in Primary School as part of our transition. I think we will spend a bit of time on texture and form as that was the weakest feature of all the students. But to be fair to them I never specified that as success criteria for this task.

If you would like any more information on how the students did this task then have a look at the instructional videos here, here, here and here.

Transition

I work in a 2-18 school and currently teach 6-10 year olds Music. The main transition point for us, like most other schools is between Year 6 and Year 7.  I have had many great secondary Music colleagues but interestingly not one has asked for any data about the kids I have taught, even though I have been teaching them for about five or more years.  This isn’t because my colleagues don’t care but because they are totally unused to receiving anything in the past.  When I do give them information they are normally taken aback and they feel I have gone above and beyond. I just want to share what instrument each kid plays and a bit about whether they were in the choir or orchestra.  It’s great when colleagues are interested because I love talking about our kids musical achievements.  It’s why we became Music teachers in the first place!

On Twitter yesterday one secondary Music teacher was mocking the Model Music Curriculum’s transition ideas.  As far as she was concerned, this could jeopardise a successful start to the year as it would label children to who were the “musical ones”. I find this really hard to understand.  Surely if you are a secondary Music teacher you would want to know who plays what instrument, what standard they have got to and see some of their creative work?  But I think there are still many colleagues who have this reductive attitude that I experienced in my first secondary school twenty years ago that “they don’t know anything so we start again in Year 7”.  It was only when I left that school and went on supply that I saw some fantastic things going on in primary schools and some of the great opportunities that music services were doing. So good I ended up joining one.

I don’t want to make extra work for anyone but I really think we need a better transition in most places.  It is expected that in most schools something will be handed up to colleagues on their ability in Maths and English. We need something in Music.  The Model Music Curriculum’s has this:

This seems relatively sensible and uncontroversial. The practicalities might be a bit more difficult as many secondary Music teachers could have 120 or even more pieces to listen to.  That’s an awful lot of “Ode to Joys”!  But I really do believe that something is better than nothing.  The advocates for a fresh start in Year 7 are being quite disrespectful to the work we do in primary schools. We know these kids can play and compose and it would be good for you to know what they have already achieved.

Some other ideas that I have seen work are concerts where the secondary Music teacher was invited. However, almost every time that I have seen this mooted it has ended up in a cancelation. I guess it’s either negotiating cover with leadership teams or going to evening concerts. As some secondary schools have over ten feeder schools that would be a lot of concerts!  It therefore makes sense to record something or encourage the children to show something musical that they have done in primary school when they first arrive in Year 7.

My school is affluent and has iPads for every Year 6 student and what I am going to suggest to the boss this year is we share the children’s Year 6 Garage Band sequencing projects and get them to record themselves playing or singing anything on their iPad either as a solo, as a duet or small group. I will encourage them to make it the most challenging thing they can do, not just Twinkle Twinkle! The children are used to uploading their work to Class Dojo so all I need to do is make a folder and save the projects for the handover. I will also share my markbook with the new teacher if she wants it, which includes all the instruments they play and what groups they joined. Hopefully it will ensure a smoother transition.

I really do feel that this transition is extremely important. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen the numbers but I remember the horrifying statistics on those children quitting instruments in Year 7. Hopefully things are better now but I think it is fair to say that there was a big dropoff between Year 6 and 7. Let’s try to do something for transition but please don’t mock the Model Music Curriculum for actually having the guts to suggest something. Let’s get behind the spirit of the idea, if not the letter – what we have now is far better than the vague and unambitious one page A4 document that we have been dealing with since 2014.

Repertoire Lists

The Model Music Curriculum’s biggest controversy seems to be the repertoire lists in Appendix 2. There seems to be many people who dislike the idea of a repertoire list for a number of reasons. There are those who think it is authoritarian to have a list; there are those who are politically suspicious that a repertoire list is a method to enforce a certain style of cultural politics on young children; there are those who think there are serious omissions on the list and there are some who disagree with certain choices of music on the list. There are also a vocal group of people who think that the curriculum should just be about skills and any repertoire is at the discretion of the teacher. Repertoire shouldn’t even come into the discussion as far as they are concerned.

I really like the list, not because I am trying to indoctrinate children into a political cult but because I respect the people who have made the list and I know how much work and discussion has gone into many of the choices. I am now listening to the Australian contemporary composer Elena Kats-Chernin and her ballet “Wild Swans” as a result of the list. I posted one piece called “Glow Worms” on Wechat Moments (similar to Facebook) and my Australian friends were delighted because they thought she was only known in Australia. I would probably never have come across her music if it wasn’t for the MMC. I would have been one of those people who hear it and remark it is from a famous bank advert, rather than know anything about this beautiful work.

My biggest problem with those who are venemously against the repertoire list is that without consulting others, any content becomes quite a selfish endeavour. We should listen to experts who work in the cultural sectors and it does not just need to be those who work in schools or in the universities to choose good repertoire. I am all in favour of a grassroots sharing of good practice but it does not mean we have nothing to learn from composers, radio presenters, famous performers or even the head of an examination board.

The repertoire list is useful, not harmful. Let’s get behind the Model Music Curriculum.

Model Music Curriculum

The Model Music Curriculum has arrived and already sparked debate. I want to talk a little bit about curricula in general and why this curriculum is practically useful.

To start with we need to be mindful that in primary schools, the majority of music teachers are not specialists. Everything we say about this curriculum needs to be understood within this context. The reason we have this new model curriculum is because what we had here was not working for many schools. It wasn’t working because there was no content and was incredibly vague. Here is the entire curriculum for Key Stage 1.

Compare the National Curriculum of England and Wales with the Alberta, Canada curriculum and you will see two completely different approaches. The Alberta curriculum carefully lines out what needs to be taught and when. This is just a snapshot of one element, rhythm and there is much more that I have not included.

Now I can understand the Alberta system because I am a trained music teacher. But for many teachers in the UK – much of this is specialist knowledge. This sort of curriculum is simply not going to work with non-specialists who probably have no idea what a fermata is. What the teachers in the UK were crying out for was content.

Because they needed content, the market provided. Music Express was the market leader and you probably have these books somewhere in your school.

There is nothing wrong with these books and I still use quite a few ideas from them myself. But children were coming out of the system into secondary schools who knew very little about music. It was not uncommon for secondary teachers to say that they had to start from scratch in Year 7. The majority of children did not play a musical instrument and Music was certainly not considered an important subject, more as a relief from the pressures of the big two – literacy and numeracy. And the government has rightly realised that schools should not have to buy into the market and so has specified content in the Model Music Curriculum. This seems to be the most controversial aspect of it but to me it seems to be very practical help for a workforce crying out for guidance.

And it is not only non-specialists. I work in a large school and we have multiple teachers teaching the same year group. So when we plan lessons, I plan Year 2-4 and my colleague plans 5-6 but we teach classes lessons we have not planned ourselves. Having done this for years with multiple people over multiple schools, I have found that they rarely read the medium term plans – what they want to know is the content. They love the workbooks I have made and they make their own themselves. Often they ask for PowerPoints for each lesson or to know what the end goal is and work backwards from there. The only person who has asked me for a lesson plan in the last ten years is my boss who I am sure rarely reads them carefully – there is so much more to have to do in a busy department. This isn’t because we are all lazy – it’s simply that the content is a lot more important than people have realised.

The Model Music Curriculum spells out the knowledge, skills and suggested content and so is a great document for specialists and non-specialists alike. For myself, what I will take from it is the huge repertoire list of Appendix 2 and see how I can broaden my existing curriculum. One thing I will criticise about myself is I can end up teaching the same content in multiple years because I know it works. This document will give me the confidence to explore some unfamiliar music and try to bring it into my curriculum to give children more breadth. It is also reassuring to know that we are on the right lines, as so much of what we are doing is in the MMC. It can also give me the confidence to defend our curriculum. Every now and then when the boss changes they want to put their own mark on what we teach or to try to tell us how we should teach. This document is empowering because I can tell my boss we are actually doing things in a perfectly acceptable way.

The word “model” in this context means “a possible and good example”. This curriculum is certainly better than anything we have had in my memory but more importantly it is practical. I don’t think the people who have drawn this up are that bothered if we don’t replicate it in its entirety; where they want to help is to get children learning, playing, creating and listening to a wide range of music and if we can think of alternatives that result in happy musical kids I am sure they won’t get angry. That is why it is non-statutory.

Let’s get behind this curriculum.

Houses

There has been quite a bit of outrage from Lee Hill’s decision to rename the houses in his school after contemporary activists instead of historical figures. Lee Hill, as a headteacher, is completely within his rights to call the houses whatever he likes (within reason … Continue reading Houses

Creating a Keyboard part in Garage Band

In this fourth instructional video into creating a twenty-four bar multitrack composition, we create an organ part along similar lines to the strings and guitar but also spend a little time on adjusting the volume of each track.

One mistake many children make when mixing is they want to hear their favourite part so often ramp up the distorted guitar part and turn a relatively good composition into something frightening and terrible! A good thing to do in preparation to this is to listen to a few modern pop songs and ask what children hear the loudest. It normally goes as follows – vocals, bass, drums, guitars, keyboards and then backing vocals in that order. So for this project I try to get them to take the guitar and strings part down by about fifty percent. This step is quite important because when you have so many layers of sound it can be difficult to hear the part you are concentrating on.

Creating the organ part is relatively straightforward and shouldn’t be too difficult as it goes along the same lines as the strings and guitar. The end of the video shows mixing the organ part so it is about the same volume as the guitar and strings but lead the drums up high ready for the next part which will be the bass.

Creating a string track in Garage Band

This is the third video in the series on creating a multitrack recording in Garage Band for Year 6 students. The aim of this lesson is similar to that of the last and is basically more practice in opening tracks, choosing sounds, choosing good combinations and recording accurately to a click track. The video is 4 minutes long and students should be able to create something decent in about twenty minutes or less.

Creating a Drum Track on Garage Band

I am making a scheme of work for Year 6 using Garage Band to create a simple four chord song. It uses quite a few of the functions of Garage Band and requires students to have an iPad with Garage Band connected. I have made some instructional videos that go with the scheme and this is the first on how to lay a simple drum track. The objectives are to make a 24 bar drum track and play with the functions to become familiar with simplicity, complexity, dynamics, percussion instruments, fills and timbre. This lesson should only take about 10 minutes to explain and less than 10 minutes to complete but I also have the following video that students can refer to if they are struggling.

We will be doing this in January so we will see what the results are like in mid-February when we finish this five week unit.

How to create a drum track in Garage Band