Musical Futures MOOC Week 3


“brain2” by hose902 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

This week the MOOC is all about student choice and grouping students in a music classroom. I’ll be the first to admit that I find it hard to give control over to the students, even with students who have virtually no behavioural issues, so I’ve had to go through a process of letting go.

Playing an instrument in an ensemble is one of the most complex things you can do with your brain, so with every student who is in my care I want to make sure there is no cognitive overloading before they go and rehearse with a group. It doesn’t matter the style of music, I will always have students who need to be reminded about how to break down the process to prevent frustration and make the most efficient use of their time.

Annie Murphy Paul says that there are 7 academic emotions including curiosity, delight, engagement, flow, confusion, frustration and boredom. The latter three are what I’m worried about when kids go into groups, so the first few lessons before ensemble work I tend to break down why the brain finds playing an instrument difficult and give them some strategies for overcoming frustration, and praise them for letting their brain go ‘itchy’ as it means they’re learning. Here are some of them:

  • Brain-gym-style finger warm ups for guitarists
  • Muted strumming (it helps to focus on only one hand at a time when learn guitar)
  • Feeling beat one (jumping, spinning, nodding, strumming etc. when they can feel beat one)
  • Hi-hat conversations (you need to put your concentration on the hi hat from the front of your brain, to the back, where you’re almost ignoring it, so “have a chat while playing hi-hat”)
  • Bass note sing-a-long (some students sing more in-tune when they can hear the bass note)
  • Beat-one tallying (listen to the original song and tally beat one so that you know how many bars/ measures in each section)

After these kind of activities its much easier for the kids to identify which instrument they can cope with and enjoy. Beyond choosing their instrument they notice they’ll need a certain range of instruments in their group to have success in performing, this helps them to form their groups with consideration for  both friendship and instrument preferences. We also have reflection sessions at the end of class to discuss what strategies have helped their rehearsal, and what academic emotion they may be feeling to help unpack if we need to simplify their performance or add another level of complexity. After all, I’m looking for growth from every student.

So here are my answers to this week’s questions…

What are the limits to student choice in the classroom?

In my room its about cognitive load and growth before choosing an instrument and then considering what instruments are necessary for each group.

Are there students that shouldn’t be working together in a group? What is the optimal student group size?

So long as each group member is reflecting on their personal growth and strategies, group issues should mostly resolve. Group size is dependent on the needs of the piece of music.

How do you plan to avoid the ‘Free-rider effect’ in group work?

I didn’t address this above, but I actually insist that before students move into a group they each come up with an individual plan for the group, each person has two minutes to share while the others must be in silence, then they compromise and construct the group plan.

How important is trust in ensuring effective group work?

When students understand the difficulties being placed on each musician’s brain, I think there’s a little more patience and understanding and consideration for strategies to improve skills.

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Musical Futures MOOC Week 1 and 2

My brain is a mess of connections and ideas I want to share following week 1 and 2 of the Musical Futures MOOC.

With so many ways of knowing and understanding and participating in music is it fair to limit students to one way of learning about and participating in music?

I am well and truly a generalist in my music classroom, and I have been trying my hardest to design music curriculum to capture the interest of a range of students through projects that explore musical cultures. One project is to create a piece of hip hop from scratch that has the students asking questions about their own musical and cultural identity through sampling, another has students intensively learning one piece of classical music through unpacking a single piece of sheet music, another has students participating in world music workshops to find similarities and differences between Indonesian gamelan, Latin percussion and Thai classical music. The point I’m trying to make as a music teacher through all of these experiences is…

There are a range of musical cultures and through participating in making the music of these cultures authentically, we can better understand our own musical identity and the cultures of others. 

It is especially important to me that every student can access the curriculum and resources and have a degree of choice with the project, whether that’s the instrument they end up playing or the piece that they learn.

I was fortunate to hang out with Ethan Hein at the Ableton Loop conference in Berlin in 2017. It was amazing at the conference to hear so many musicians relate that they had learnt informally, and that learning to be a musician was through the availability or access to music technologies like a dinky Casio keyboard, or a guitar or microphone and pedals, and word of mouth into how to put it all together. I strive to provide a learning environment which encourages curiosity and a desire to want to play without judgement. I suppose this is what Musical Futures and all the guest speakers in the course are getting at — we all bring our cultures and identities to the music classroom, so let’s explore them rather than restrict ourselves to one narrow view of musicianship.

Neatly tying up week 1 and 2, I made a rough overview of some units that I’m proud of and that encompass formal and informal music-making. There’s a hip hop unit, a classical music unit and a video game music unit. I hope it gives a few people some new ideas about what music class can look like. Click here –>Video game Hip Hop and Classical musical futures resources

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Hi MFLearn19 MOOC people

So, another day, another MOOC. What am I up to right now? Thinking about what to share with you all and looking forward to reading what you have to share.

My newborn is now 5 weeks old and I go back to work tomorrow, so yes, I am a little crazy, but incredibly lucky she is such an easy baby and that I live in Thailand, so can afford a nanny. My baby’s name is Paige and she has a big sister who is five, Imogen.

I’m currently reading Jay-Z’s “Decoded” and Questlove’s “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove” to help me brush up on pop culture and to go deeper into Hip-hop history for my students’ Hip-Hop project.

I have recently completed the “Create and Destroy” Ableton course at LiveSchool in Sydney, Australia and the coolest thing I made at that course was this video-game music to inspire my students for their Video Game Music project. Have a listen here…

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Next steps as Music teachers

I’ve just reached the final module of “Music Education in the 21st century” through and it couldn’t have come at a better time as I’m currently doing a curriculum review of my music program before the new school year starts in August (yes my school is in the Northern hemisphere). Because I’m not one for essays, and I love thinking routines, below is a table explaining some of the things I learnt, what it made me think and question and how I’ll be acting on it in my classroom…

What did you find out? What did this make you question/ think about? How will you respond in your own practice? Or how can you advocate for these ideas?
Music is still being made in classrooms without technology using the Orff Approach (Kamaroi Steiner School), but it is also being made with carefully selected technology tools too (Northern Beaches Christian School).

Some schools are teaching students to compose using music technology and others are teaching students to perform using technology (Afghan National Institute of Music), for instance over Skype.

Learning can happen anywhere, we have the tools to connect and teach disparate audiences. (Sugata Mitra)

I noticed that at Northern Beaches Christian School that there was an effort to take away as many barriers to making music through technology as possible. The same could be said of how the Afghan  National Institute of Music is trying to break down barriers to learning instruments by connecting with people online.

I realize that teachers need to curate which technology resources to use so that there are as few barriers as possible to making music or learning new musical skills.

I could ‘flip’ a lot more of lesson my content into instructional videos so that students can spend more time on performance skills in class.

I could invest more time in setting up the technology to work immediately, to put more focus back onto the skill of creating music.

‘Musical Futures’ (Lucy Green) is a new approach to teaching music based on research into informal practices that musicians use to learn or create music through listening. Teachers are still able to teach students about concepts such as modulation and key. There are some ideas from Musical Futures that seem to connect with ideas from an Orff Approach, I need to read more about this.

I listen to very little of the music that my students listen to, I am disengaged from their musical culture.

When I am teaching popular music, why do I still insist on seeing the music written down? When I was learning gamelan music, I accepted the learning method as part of the musical culture, perhaps the learning method is as important as the musical content.

This year my grade 6 classes both learnt a popular song released within the past 2 years and I found ways to link it into content and skills we had been covering. I need to be doing this with my older students too instead of relying so much on the tried and tested song resources I have always used.

Seeing as I already teach world music in context and treat it respectfully, I should do the same for popular music.

I was reminded about the effectiveness of Project Based Learning models in motivating student learning because of their authenticity (High Tech High)

I learnt more about Project Based Learning (Hilltop Road Public School), which is similar to the instruction framework I currently use in my own classroom.


The main difference between my own classroom and the primary classroom shown in Module 5 was the time given for students to unpack the project and the real world context. The projects shown ended up being more authentic and the students were more motivated as they owned the work. Currently the projects that my students work towards are only for show in my classroom. Ways I can change this, my film music unit could use ‘Creative Commons’ licensed films, or better yet films from our city’s film making festival. The songs that the students create for their songwriting unit on creating change through Art could address real issues in our city.


I learnt more about working with midi and audio on a computer (Adam Maggs from Live School and James Humberstone) and found out more about composer processes (Matthew Hindson and Frank Xavier). I discovered how much the creative process needed constraints and how the technology (whether using notation software or an electronic instrument) allowed an idea to grow and start from any point. I was also reminded of how many musical skill sets you needed to compose using music technology. I am already working with smaller units of composition to build compositions with my younger students. We are creating themes or accompaniment patterns using midi, but this needs to be as carefully approached with my older students and they need to have more real world composer processes shared with them.
I was reminded that a musician’s process naturally follows a project based model and that other subjects can draw from our models, not just us from them and that perhaps a pluralist approach to teaching music may be the way forward (James Humberstone). This made me think about the process that my students go through in their own project-based units of work and how much I allow them to truly behave as musicians.

This also made me wonder about how many of my music teaching strategies could be applicable to other classrooms.


In my curriculum review, I looked over 11 units of work and worked out what musical role my students were playing and how the music making practice or teaching method I employed helped them to understand and learn. These are the roles that my students will play in the next teaching year and the method I will use to help them understand/ learn…

Grade 6

·         Musicians in a celebration/ concert- Orff Approach/ Kodaly Approach

Grade 9

·         Film music composers- Orff Approach and introduction to notation software

·         Singer/ songwriters- Musical Futures and introduction to midi.

Grade 10

·         Ethnomusicologists- learning music from around South East Asia in a culturally authentic manner.

·         Musicians in a Rock Ensemble- Musical Futures.

·         Classical Musicians preparing a piece for a concert- Project-Based Learning/ Flipped Classroom.

·         Composers for a theatrical performance- Project- Based Learning/ Flipped Classroom going further with midi and recorded sound.

Grade 11

·         Ethnomusicologists and composers- Learning to compose through a drum circle

·         Transcribers/ Performers/ Arrangers of a Pop Song- Musical Futures approach

·         Improvisers in a Jazz/ Blues Ensemble- Musical Futures/ Orff Approach.

·         Music Historians- Project Based learning/ Flipped Classroom.

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The DAW, Open Learning and Project Based Learning

Below are some questions I responded to as part of a MOOC I’m enrolled in through Coursera to do with Music Education.

  • You were introduced to the DAW (or sequencer), the step sequencer, and a range of notation software. Do you feel you would like to explore any of these technologies further?

I’m never sitting still in terms of my own music education, so I have already been exploring how to use the program Ableton and then use it as part of my general classroom practice. I really liked how clearly Adam Maggs, founder of Live School, explained the capabilities of Ableton and contrasted it with the earlier technology. This has been my frustration with learning through youtube tutorials, sometimes it’s difficult to find someone who will explain the content in the language you need.

  • Have you been persuaded that the DJ-producer does have an awful lot of sophisticated musical skills?

Yes, the DJ-producer has a lot of sophisticated musical skills, but I think, therein lies the problem for music education, developing sequences of lessons to build those skills for the students who need a human beside them, or at least seeing example of that before attempting it yourself! Clearly, through teaching at Live School, Adam Maggs has found a way to best explain his content.

  • Do you agree with David Price that learning has gone “OPEN”?

Yes, learning has gone “OPEN”, unfortunately it is still battling to have as much recognition as the ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom, I think largely due to trust. I am pleased with the measures that Coursera puts into place to ensure you have engaged with content in a course. When I hear that someone has completed a course of any description online, I do still wonder, did they really complete it? How rigorous was it? It’s funny though, because a lot of my classroom knowledge about repairing instruments, knowledge of world musics and how to use music technology has come from OPEN learning.

  • What were the best examples of OPEN learning that you found either in the course content, in your own searching, or the work of your peers?

The two examples that were shared with me were to do with music theory and orchestration and were fairly dry in their approach to teaching both concepts. In the past week there’s been the launch of  which allows students to explore the intersection between math, science, coding and music, and prior to that was the launch of this site  which allows students to play with music theory concepts. I think that the best examples of OPEN learning allow people to collaborate with a wider range of real people in real time (or over time as in Eric Whtiacre’s 2000 voice choir over youtube), and thus make the classroom environment bigger (as Coursera does or Skype), or allow the students to interact with the technology rather than simply consume it (as with a youtube video).

  • What does Project Based Learning (or the other BLs) have to offer Music Education? And what does Music Education have to offer Project Based Learning, and all learning, in the 21st Century?

Project Based Learning allow students to interact as real musicians would in context and with the time allowance to make the learning stick.

Music Education has the potential to draw from so many well-springs of knowledge and skill sets, as there are so many roles that musicians can play- researchers (ethnomusicologists), creators (composers), historians, project managers, data analysts, performers – I’m sure there are more I haven’t thought of. I’m pleased to say that my students learn music through a model similar to Project Based Learning, however, while I have found they have developed good thinking skills and strong conceptual understandings, their skills on instruments and as composers have not developed as strongly as I would have liked.

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Is media rich technology the answer for music education?

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Musical cultures in the classroom

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