I attended David Price’s Musical Futures workshop at the University of Melbourne this week. Musical Futures is a UK program that brings non-formal and informal learning approaches into the more formal context of schools, and gets young people engaged in making the music that they like and choose, and are most engaged by.
The approach includes the kinds of creative workshops – social, spontaneous and creative musical experiences that develop aural and inventive skills – that I focus on in my practice as a music leader and educator, and taps into the worlds of popular, rock, classical and world music in its content. It embeds theory and notation into the act of music-making, so that those particular skills and techniques are developed in context, as required.
However, the characterising element of the Musical Futures approach is not one of content, but one of teaching and learning – the level of responsibility that the students are asked to take for their own learning is all-encompassing. The students direct many – probably the majority – of their choices of what to play, what to work on, what skills they need to develop, what help they need from the teacher. Extra-curricular options quickly become part of the program as the students’ interests and engagement expands beyond the confines of the timetable.
It seems to me that Musical Futures offers teachers a comprehensive, well-documented, backed-by-research approach to teaching and learning that gives them ‘permission’ to approach classroom music in a different, less formal way, or legitimises the creative, informal work they have already been doing. For those teachers already using many of these techniques and approaches, the support that a network of like-minded teachers and industry allies can offer them may be of particular benefit. Or, the suggestions in the resource materials (notes, content ideas, DVDs with video examples – all available online) may encourage them to develop their approach further, try some new ideas, hand even greater control over to students, make bolder choices about content. The references to the research into how popular musicians learn (by Professor Lucy Green) ground this approach in thoroughly documented outcomes, and so can support teachers to advocate for greater access to funds and resources in their school.
If you are not a familiar with Musical Futures, it’s a really interesting program, worth getting to know. The ten schools that have been part of the pilot programs in Australia have declared that it has transformed their teaching, and had greater impact than they’d ever have anticipated. Something is going on here that is pretty exciting, I’d say.
www.musicalfutures.org.uk – heaps of ideas, free downloads of publications, case studies, and more.
www.numu.org.uk – a safe music sharing community that schools can join for free. Students can upload and share their music (you don’t have to be a Musical Futures school to sign up with NUMU); the most-listened-to music ends up in the NUMU charts.