Classical Music Transformed through Musical Futures Teaching Philosophy
When I first taught my new students in my own music room, I saw a lot of very talented students who I referred to as “musical printers”. These students were able to read the notation in front of them and turn it into beautiful music. Their ability to read and play was impressive, and they had been given a wonderful foundation in the understanding of musical elements in their previous years of music instruction.
The next year, the “musical printers” arrived in my classroom again and I wondered if there was a better way. I felt like although I was teaching them all about how to play what was written, but there was little independent thought. Music was supposed to be a creative outlet but just reading someone else’s composition and playing it exactly as written seemed a lot like reading word for word from one’s favourite book. There was very little original work or student choice in my classroom, thus eliminating the outlet of student creativity from my lesson plans. How was this model allowing for students to truly explore music, and use its expressive qualities? For this reason, I started to research other teaching methods, and found Musical Futures.
Musical Futures challenged me as a teacher and gave me pause. Why was I the one directing the classrooms? Most homeroom classrooms were largely student directed. Shouldn’t the room where creativity was supposed to overflow be the same? Why were students being asked to write their own stories but rarely given the opportunity to play their own version of any music? Musical Futures is a program created in the United Kingdom designed to bring life back into their music classrooms, by giving the power back to the students to start creating their own sounds along with their favourite songs. For more information on the Musical Futures philosophy, a thorough resource pack published and available for free download at www.musicalfutures.org. This site gives a plethora of lesson plans and information on how to transform your classroom to one that encourages the 21st century learner to be creative and challenged in music.
My school, Giles Campus French Immersion in Windsor, Ontario has been a Musical Futures school since 2014. Although I still teach the foundations of music, such as how to read treble and bass clef notation and all the rhythms necessary to start learning band instruments, one of the end goals is to encourage students to hear what they are reading. Next steps are always student directed. My voice is only used as a guide towards musical explorations and future learning.
The Ontario curriculum is very different than that of the curriculum delivered in the United Kingdom, which challenges Musical Futures facilitators to be innovative with their lesson plans. One new project I developed is the “Classical Music Cover” project. The goal of this project is for students to use the melody line included in their Essential Elements 2000 method book and combine it with another genre of music, changing the rhythms as well as creating a harmony line. Composition, including the creative process, allowing student choice and personal reflection is the foundation of this project. The teacher’s role is that of facilitator. For this project there are four centres, each with the goal of opening up conversation on specific elements of music.
The Playing Centre
A point-blank composition would have been overwhelming for most of my students. So instead, we would use a melody line that was already available to us and altered it with other musical elements. This is where students renewed their knowledge and understanding for written notation. Students were given the choice of “Morning” (Grieg), “Minuet” (Bach), and “Surprise Symphony’ (Haydn) and in this centre they had to practice the this melody, the foundation of their composition.
There are so many different genres of music available for the average person to listen to but we mostly stick to our favourite radio station or Spotify play list. Here, I wanted students to compare and contrast at least four different genres, and decide on one they preferred. The end product, their composition, needed to be something interesting to the students, which featured their choice of genre.
Students would listen to the foundation melody line online with the eResource offered by the Hal Leonard method book (Essential Elements 2000). While listening, students were able to play any instruments along with the recording to create a harmony line. Conversations about key signatures, accidentals, and the circle of fifths started here. We used our Roland H5 mixer where students were able to listen to the iPad and play along with connected instruments. Students were also able to record their rough compositions, listen to them, and share them with classmates for feedback.
This centre generated a great deal of interest in the composition. Students were able to experiment with their music and truly start to understand how enjoyable and satisfying it can be! Roland sponsors Musical Futures and allows us to purchase realistic equipment like the H5 Mixer at a greatly reduced cost.
Rap Talk Centre
In my room, students always seemed to think that to write lyrics to a song it needed to be long drawn out and complicated. Seeing how easy it was for my primary students to “talk to the beat”, it seemed like a great option to show the intermediates that a short little brainstorm can create a pretty amazing piece. Students were to listen to the video about Rap Talk on www.littlekidsrock.org and then brainstorm about subjects in school. From the simple web brainstorm, students would use “Simple Rap Beat” on You Tube to create a short rap talk.
Once the round of centres was done, my students had a firm grasp on their project. They knew that their composition needed to have a melody line; (something they developed through the playing centre), it needed a harmony; (which they started to play around with through the listening centre), and a new genre needed to come through. Groups started working together on their new composition. Students were amazed how a seemingly angelic Grieg’s “Morning” can be transformed to resemble a rap song from their generation. The results have been exciting and enlightening for my students – and me!
A whole new world of musical creativity and freedom has been opened. A project like this allows students to learn how music is actually created, all the while continuing to practice musical literacy and appreciation for other genres. It is amazing to see students who had no interest in music or motivation to play their band instruments become engaged in this project and experience success in their music learning.
The Musical Futures philosophy and this project have made me more aware of the need to question everything that was “normal” and “assumed” about teaching music. This project shows that our students are looking for opportunities to try new ideas. We just need to let go of the reins and give the students the tools they need to explore and learn.