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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Moving on up with technology

What are some ways forward for technology and cultures around digital technology in education, specifically music education?

There are a few paths we could take…

  1. No digital technology until we think students are mature enough, as modeled in some Steiner schools, such as Kamaroi Rudolf Steiner School.
  2. Fully embrace students’ knowledge of digital technology and reinvent our classrooms, as modeled by schools like Northern Beaches Christian School.
  3. Find a blend based on the students we have in front of us and their experiences with digital technology.

Obviously, the third path is what I’m motivated to work towards, so which ideas would I borrow from Kamaroi and Northern Beaches?

  • Open teaching spaces with classroom furniture that encourages collaboration. WHY? The world may be flatter, but we still need to connect with the people next to us. Technology should be used to enhance connections not break them.
  • Student ownership of learning and giving the students the ability to move on with their learning when they are ready. WHY? Student agency is a great motivator in the classroom.

On that note it’s worth your while to take a look at this TED talk about architecture being greatly influenced by what kindergarten students can (and want to) do. This video makes me want to make a list of all the things I do in my music classroom that gives my students joy and makes them want to create music, as well as to see what I can tap into to create a more engaging environment for my students.

The Best Kindergarten You’ve Ever Seen- Takaharu Tezuka

I’ve just returned from a conference in the Philippines (EARCOS- East Asia Regional Council of Schools) where I saw a host of inspiring music teachers share their views of best practice, and one statement kept coming up “Everything you do in your classroom should be musical, this is music class after all!”. So how are Kamaroi and Northern Beaches creating that kind of environment?

A possible way forward for music teachers interested in taking the third path and create a musical classroom could be to initially follow an Orff approach, with limited teacher talk, then gradually incorporate simple digital technologies to enhance the Orff experience (e.g. creating loops using an app like Keezy). This could be followed with students using the same techniques to create their own music.


Tezuka, T. (2014). The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen. [Website.] Retrieved from 10th April, 2016.

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What a Wonderful World: Connections to inspire Music Teachers

Hello from beautiful Laos!

Mekong in flood at sunset (Vientiane, Laos, August 2015) by Nathan Armstrong

Mekong in flood at sunset (Vientiane, Laos, August 2015) by Nathan Armstrong

So, I’ve just gotten back from a conference (EARCOS) at the International School of Manila with a bunch of Arts and PE teachers AND I’ve signed up for a course on COURSERA through the Sydney Conservatorium. Let’s see how much I can reinvigorate my classroom practice by the end of the school year!!

So if you’re looking for some connections for yourself as a music teacher can I recommend that you…

  • click on and sign up for Music Education in the 21st century
  • go and see what Doug Goodkin is up to and use some Orff skills in your classroom
  • go and read more about what @ethanhein , @alexruthmann and @JamesHumbers are up to on twitter, not to mention me – @alisonmusicblog
  • and be inspired by Christopher Bill’s trombone arrangements (Happy and Uptown Funk) and loops on youtube.

If this is your first time at my site, I haven’t updated this place in forever, so bear with me while I get my online presence back in some kind of order! In the meantime, why not listen to me and my husband play through a tiny portion of “Girl Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae?

I would put up one of my soundcloud files of an old arrangement, but internet in Laos in the heat is notoriously awful, and it’s taken me around 2 hours to get this far with with this post!!


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Inquiring in Year 9 Music

I have just finished a unit of inquiry with my Year 9 Music students, and I’m so proud of what the students were able to achieve. I won’t talk about everything we did, but I will share with you what we achieved in the last two weeks and their assessment task.

The students were all given a melodic instrument that they had never played before in order to provide a more level playing field in the classroom. I also introduced the students to a range of percussion instruments, and then I showed them a clip from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ and told them to create a composition for it using the instruments we had explored but didn’t know fully how to use.

We laid the percussion instruments out on tables in front of the movie screen and went through a range of different phases…

– everyone playing everything at once (not really paying attention to the film)

– everyone playing everything at once a little more carefully (paying attention to the film)

– everyone experimenting with dynamics (volume levels) while paying attention to the film.

– deciding when and when not to play

– thinking about and creating layers of sound

– discussing how we can verbally communicate what sound we want

– discussing how we can visually communicate what sound we want through a graphic score.

– discussing how a composer can add meaning to visuals and what it must be like working with the director or producer of a film.

– creating a graphic score

– choosing which musicians from class we want to perform our composition and why

– modifying our ideas for our composition

– performing our final composition

I feel like we have very thoroughly investigated how musicians communicate, now to perfect the unit of work for the next lot of grade 9’s!


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