Transcript of Music performance

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity. Listen to the podcast (21:20)

Jackie – The following podcast is brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from Secondary Learners Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. As we commence this podcast today, let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of all the lands on which this podcast will be played around New South Wales. Their art, storytelling, music and dance along with all first Nations People, hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal Australia. Let us acknowledge with honour and respect our elders past, present and future, especially those Aboriginal people in our presence today who have and still do guide us with their wisdom.

Welcome to the creative cast podcast series I'm Jackie King and I'm a creative arts project officer with the Department of Education. Today we're having a subject chat with Alex Manton, who is a music teacher at Asquith Girls High school. Hi, Alex. How are you going?

Alex – Hi Jackie. I’m well thanks.

Jackie – I thought today we would talk about the different ways that we teach music within our schools. So luckily, I'm a music teacher as well, so I thought we could have a really deep conversation about the different ways and different approaches that we have for teaching performance. So I thought it would be a good way to start, to start talking about the context of our schools because I know that is really different for us. So do you want to start by having a bit of a chat about what Asquith is like?

Alex – Yes, sure, Jackie. So Asquith Girls is on the North Shore near Hornsby. We have approximately 800 students which is an all girls school obviously. The area is very much dominated by middle class and there's a strong music community within the wider community. Many of the students that come to our school have already engaged in music in their primary schools, either through specialist music teachers in the classroom, or they've been part of their co-curricular band programs and choir programs at school so we do have many students that come in that already play instruments, and are already having tuition, or who have been learning perhaps piano from a young age. Although we do have many students that haven't had any formal music training or experience as well, so we're really teaching to a broad range of students within the classroom.

Jackie – My experience is a lot different to that. My school is Kurri High School, which is in the Hunter Valley. We are a more lower socioeconomic area, and our students don't come to us with very much music background, so they generally don't have outside music tuition, and they tend to have not done a lot in primary school. They might have been in a school choir in primary school, there might be one or two that have connected with a teacher who plays at primary school, and I know one of the primary schools does do a little bit of rock band stuff but it's only with a handful of students, not a lot. So, they mostly come to us really fresh. We would have a handful of students who do connect with music who might have a family member or someone like that who plays guitar or piano or an instrument, and they've had a little bit of an experience with an instrument. We have a very small handful of students who will come who are amazingly talented, not necessarily because they've had outside tuition, but just because they're intrinsically talented and they have learnt to play an instrument through watching YouTube videos or again connecting with a family member. We generally start their music journey in stage 4 so it is a slightly different context, I guess, to the one you just described at Asquith. So, in saying that how do you approach performance in Stage four?

Alex – Well, I think it's important to remember why we do performance in the music classroom overall. When you think about all the learning areas that we need to teach, for example, in stage four where you've got performing, composing and listening, I always like to think that composing and listening and performance all stem from doing. And so I like to in Stage four, start with a performance or composition activity. So where they’re actually performing music and they get taught, you know a particular riff or a particular song and then all of the music theory and the listening skills are then drawn out of that activity so that it's all interconnected. And I think that's really important for deep knowledge in the long run for the students to understand the context of what they're doing. In stage 4, I think that at our school we do a lot of very explicit teaching of instruments because we have the students come in for the first time and many haven't played instruments and so we do have like a keyboard program and a ukulele program that we start them on. And we do teach them the basic technical skills to be able to play those instruments. We do class performances together, we do small group performances as well as individual performances and assessment on those particular instruments. So yeah, it's very much a mixture of explicit teaching, but also student led where they might work on certain aspects of the playing and I will come around the classroom and help them individually to improve their skills and nd we've always got the differentiation happening. We have three levels that students can work to and they can choose which level that they'd like to do. And I think that's incredibly important for accessibility, for all students and for them to feel like they're achieving all the time because at the end of the day, we want them to feel positive about their learning and achievable tasks is super important.

Jackie – I think we're sort of similar in terms of we want to get the kids to achieve something quickly so that they enjoy it and they want to come to music and that they're happy to do performance, because for them to put themselves out there and perform, that can be quite daunting because they've not experienced it before, and they are putting themselves out there. We've actually started in stage four with bucket drumming for the last couple of years, and we found that a really great way to start the students in music because it gets them performing percussion, and it gets them to read some simple rhythm notation which is accessible to them. We also look at the different levels and we actually call it ‘level up’ bucket drumming. There's seven different levels that the students work towards level seven. But at the end of the unit, whatever level they achieve is what they can do, and it is very much focused on what you can do. So the students in bucket drumming do work sort of self directed in terms of the through their levels, and achieve their level and sort of get that level marked off and go to the next level, so that part of it is self directed, but we also try and have like, a really fun lesson once a week or once a fortnight where we're doing a class bucket drumming and we will try and bucket drum to a pop song or something that's contemporary and within their sort of knowledge or range of songs that they listen to all the time so that they're having fun with it as well because we really wanted sort of introduce music as being a subject that, yes, it has serious content, but it is fun as well to get them performing and to get them really into it. From there were then start to move into instruments. Term two we look at film music and they start playing different themes of film music on keyboard or guitar and move into a sort of rck band towards the end. So do you want to tell me about Stage five? What do you do with your stage five students?

Alex – I like to approach stage five a little bit differently. As it's the elective course, you obviously have students on the most part that really want to be there and although a lot of what we teach in stage four is very explicit, I like to in Stage five, enable the students to discover what they want to play, what instrument that they're most interested in. We do that through a lot of group activities, like composition activities where they write their own songs, or arrangement activities, so if their particular group doesn't have a bass player, well someone's got to learn the bass. It's their job to work out how to do that with the teacher support, so they might use YouTube videos on the internet to look up technique, they might obviously use their listening skills to learn parts or look up tab or chord chats to learn those parts. So, it's very much extending their skills or developing their stage four skills.

I think it's all about exploration and experimentation, but by the end of Stage five, particularly if they're thinking about heading into Stage six music, I encourage them to really think about what instrument they want to focus on; one particular instrument hopefully the one that they’re best that's going into stage six, and I do think that has to be discussion that happens in Stage five at some point, as they really need to start getting those skills happening in Stage five. Yeah, it's a long journey.

Jackie – It is a long journey. I like to really try and focus my stage five students so through similar sorts of things to you; through group arrangement and getting them to experiment with different instruments. But by the end of Stage five, having chosen an instrument that is their instrument that they really focus in on, I try in my prac lessons though, to keep them pretty free. So to focus their free pracs, I like to make sure that they have, like, a goal. And so I've got a goal sheet for every student for the term. This is the overall goal that I want to achieve. This term, I want to be able to play such and such a song, or I want to be able to work on my drumming techniques and be able to play a certain rhythm or something like that. So, they have a big goal, and then they step out there or how they're going to achieve that goal over the course of the term. They write every lesson ‘this is what I'm going to try to achieve this lesson’ and they have a reflection at the end of the lesson, just to give that free sort of space a little bit more structure. So, this is what I'm going to do and this is how I'm going to achieve it. Whether that be work with the teacher, work with the band, grab one of the instrument books off the bookshelf or I’ve got this great YouTube video that I'm going to keep working with, and that sort of thing, and making sure that they have a goal and they're staying on track each prac lesson and towards their goal.

Alex – Yeah, and adding on to discussion about goals, I think Stage five's a great opportunity to create performance opportunities for the students to get out there and perform. Working on in groups, whether it be in assemblies or some sort of MAD night or performing arts night or community kind of performances.

Jackie – That's almost a whole other conversation, isn't it?

Alex – Definitely. But it gives the students an authentic purpose, doesn't it? At the end of the day I think that's where they really grow. Yes, it is so important to be acknowledged by an audience that you know isn’t just us in the classrooms.

Jackie – Getting them in front of people is really important. Yeah, I really try and build that in. We're really lucky at Kurri as we have the famous ‘Nostalgia Festival’, and so, in stage five in particular, we make sure that within that first term, we're working towards everybody performing at the Nostalgia Festival if we can. Our school actually kicks off the Nostalgia Festival with a high tea event on the Friday, and so we have to have a good hour or more worth of music to perform at the Nostalgia High Tea. So, yeah, we always have our Stage five kids working towards that first term to be able to get them up and performing. And I think the sooner that you rip that band aid off and get them in front of an audience, the better. Particularly working them towards Stage six, where they have to perform.

Alex – Yes, that's right. And it just provides so much engagement, doesn't it Jackie when they do have those opportunities. I know at my school the students are really grateful for those opportunities and yeah, they really get a lot out of it. They love it.

Jackie – And finally, I guess we need to cover stage six, although we’ve sort of talked about it just briefly. Do you vary what you do in Stage six at all or do you have any special techniques that you'd like to share with us for Stage six?

Alex – Look, I do, I think obviously, in Stage six, the students need to decide what instrument they’re going to focus on, particularly leading into HSC. Sometimes that can be difficult if the student wants to perform on two instruments for HSC, but they're considerably stronger on one instrument compared to another. So that conversation needs to be had to make sure that's going to achieve their best in the course, which can be a difficult conversation at times. But we've been through that one, I think in Stage six particularly HSC, we do performance workshops. I'm sure many music teachers have their own word for it. So a performance workshop is where each person in the class will get up and perform part of the song that they're working on, and that's an opportunity for peer feedback in accordance with the marking criteria, as well as teacher feedback. Often I'll jump up and explicitly work with the student for five to eight minutes on a particular aspect in front of the class. So whether it be fixing rhythms or working on breathing or you know, whatever technique next to be worked on so the whole class benefits from the discussion. Yes, it is a master class.

Jackie – So we do a similar thing in stage six. I actually call it ‘concert practise’ and I try and keep it, though as a concert, so not so much a master class. I don't really jump in. I want them to do a performance and get from the start to the finish. It doesn't really matter how good it is, getting from start to finish and not stopping, and then the students then give a peer critique or feedback. Again engaging with the marking criteria and making sure that their feedback is based on that marking criteria and the students always doing a self reflection as well. So they’re constantly trying to grow within themselves.

Alex – Yeah. I had a couple of other things to add actually, I think it's important for students to record themselves and watch that back to critique. I think that's a really important part of the process. But even moving into music extension, as we all know the market criteria for music extension is different to music one and two. I think that many teachers within the extension course will often support students in practising their pieces so it becomes very student led with not as much explicit teaching going on. I think there is scope in the extension course to offer more explicit teaching in terms of working on areas of technique. So, preparing a lesson on expression and how you incorporate that across all instruments. How do you incorporate vibrato? How do you pedal well? I think there is room in the extension course to have prepared lessons based on technique, things like breathing or tone production, stylistic elements, performance anxiety, things like that. So, yeah, that's something that I do do in my teaching, but I'd like to extend so that students are really understanding those concepts in a lot of detail. And also finally, is that many of the students will have tutors at that point. In my experience, I think it's really important to touch base with those tutors where appropriate. I feel that it’s like a team and even the parents, you know, like we’re the specialists of music education and the HSC syllabus, and their tutors are the specialists of their instruments. We have to work together to support that student, and the times where I have reached out and helped explain the syllabus a little, you know, a bit more clearly the tutor has been very grateful.

Jackie – Well, I don't know in your area, but in my area, sometimes a lot of the tutors still have that, ‘oh, it's got to be like a concert. It has to have a lot of variety in the program.’ And I'm like, ‘no, it's all marked separately as an individual and event that's right.

Alex – So I think there's a lot of misconceptions or tutors unaware of how its marked and I think that if we can bridge that gap by having those conversations, the student's going to get the most out of the course, and do their best.

Jackie – That's great to hear that a lot of them have tutors at that stage for you. We still don't have a lot of tutors, even for State six, but it's really good to be able to connect with the tutor, and the few that have had tutors in my experience, are always involved with the HSC, like whether they're accompanying or that sort of thing, so it's really good to have that partnership with, them as well, I agree.

Alex – I think one way you can bridge that gap, if they don't have a Tutor, is to get special guests to come in. Absolutely, if you have that within your budget, so that you can facilitate that in the classroom in the form of a workshop and it's great for the kids to get another perspective other than your own.

Jackie – I try to do that anyway actually, if I've got lots of guitar students, get a guitar specialist in or vocal specialists, especially. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Alex. I think it's been a really great chat, and hopefully we can have another chat about music a little bit further down the line, maybe covering one of those other important learning areas.

Alex – Definitely. Thanks, Jackie.

Jackie – Thank you. This podcast was brought to you by the Creative Arts Curriculum Team from Secondary Learners Educational Standards Directorate of the New South Wales Department of Education. Get involved in the conversation by following Creative Arts curriculum 7 - 12 on Facebook or Twitter or join the Creative Arts Statewide Staff Room as a source of all truths regarding curriculum supported by the New South Wales Department of Education, you can contact the Creative Arts Advisor Cathryn Ricketts-Horvat or Creative Arts Project Officer Jackie King using the email address creativearts7-12@det.nsw.edu.au. The theme music for this podcast was composed by Alex Manton, an audio production by Jason King.

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