Introduction I have presented this evidence in response to the National Curriculum requirement that three musical strands should be present in the music curriculum from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5. These three strands are Listening, Composition and Performance, and ultimately students that reach year 13 will be examined to very high and exacting standards in all three areas.
Before continuing I would like to thank Sheena Flynn for providing me with updated and more detailed information on the Year 7 and 8 schemes (she has in fact significantly remodelled all of the topics to bring them in line with learning and assessment expectations) and Elizabeth Woods for re-working the Year 9 Film Music scheme to make it more manageable in the spaces available at Church Chare.
The material below has been presented in the simplest way possible (without omitting necessary detail), each column representing the ‘continuum’ of information and practice in all three basic musical skills. Carrying out this exercise and presenting it in this way has been extremely valuable to me as Subject Leader. As I have worked through it I have found myself re-evaluating material and activities and identifying areas for improvement - specifically where the ‘continuum’ requires strengthening. (For example, at the end of Year 7 and the beginning of Year 8 there are two ‘Performance’ units end to end, thus leaving a gap in composition that may result in pupils losing momentum in this area). Without doubt the most effective Units are those that contain all three skills in close relationship (the Year 9 topics working particularly well in this regard). Thus action will be taken to redress the balance between Performance and Composition in the aforementioned Year 7 and 8 Units.
Without doubt the great challenge has been and remains establishing continuity and understanding in the area of Listening skills. Readers will observe that we have already taken steps to make sure that there are regular opportunities for students to hear examples of a whole range of musical genres and styles. There have already been positive outcomes to this – for example at the start of the Year 9 Minimalism Scheme the first composition improved dramatically for all pupils, their understanding of the task, and the techniques involved, being illuminated by classes listening and discussing a short extract of music from the film ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’. Listening to a close example proved to be much more effective than simply reading the instructions from the work booklet – the resulting compositions and performances were better than anything we had heard in previous years.
Our aim is to work on this success by establishing and rooting listening as the underlying essential that informs all other skills in class. We are therefore introducing:
More listening starters that link to previous learning and that reveal clues to learning in that lesson
A listening log where students can identify styles, genres, instruments/voices, performing artists and compositional details. This log can be carried through the school, thus providing evidence of and information on a wide range of musical pieces and providing a continuum through the listening strand.
Composition is also a challenging area for many pupils. It is made significantly easier for students in Year 9 when they have access to the Sibelius publishing package. This makes composition accessible to all, whatever their understanding of musical theory. There has to be an argument for having this technology available further down the school. Introducing it to Year 9 has certainly improved the continuum into Year 10 and Year 11, with students able to make a more confident start to their GCSE composition, having mastered the basics of the Sibelius programme in the previous Year. If Year 8 could do the same this would vastly improve the continuum and progress in composition.
In conclusion I feel that we have made significant progress in improving the continuum in music. However there is always more we can do and in this regard I identify the following areas for improvement:
Provide more opportunities for singing from Year 7 to 9. Introducing songs as starters related to the topic would be ideal – but we certainly need to improve in this area. Mrs Flynn piloted this idea last year and received enthusiastic responses from her classes. There is definitely a continuum to be established here – one which would foster individual and ensemble skills and encourage confidence, musicality and musical independence
Improve the balance between Listening, Composition and Performance in some Units in Years 7 and 8 (this I feel is more successful in Year 9), thus improving the continuum in all three skill areas
Continue to introduce more listening opportunities, encouraging discussion and appraisal of what is heard and creating closer links to inform composition and performance
Encourage students to attain higher levels in composition and performance in Year 9, thus supporting GCSE understanding and improvement
I will be raising the above issues with my department for further discussion and action and would welcome input from Head of Faculty and managers. I feel that we can improve in the areas outlined above but that also we are certainly moving in the right direction, thus enabling our students to make greater progress overall.
There follows detail on our present schemes of work, with three strands clearly explained. Continuum exists through the strands of course and at all stages I have pointed out the links between the disciplines. Departmental discussion will centre on whether the three columns actually do represent continuum i.e. opportunities to make levelled progress throughout the seven years.
Alan Woods 21st October 2015
Plots and Conspiracies Pupils listen to all of the examples to be used as performance pieces and identify the features that create mystery in the music
Having discussed what music actually is and drawn conclusions pupils then compose a percussion piece in the style of Stomp, utilising homemade instruments and anything from around the room that can be made to make a sound
The pentatonic scale is introduced to the pupils and they are asked to compose a piece of music using only the black notes on the keyboard
Pupils compose their own Blues song in groups of 4
Pupils work in pairs to compose music on the keyboards that is relevant for three names spaces
The class sing/perform Jamaica Farewell and then work individually or in twos to learn the melody/chords of the piece on keyboards and/or other instruments
‘Personality’ pieces are performed to the class and pupils explain how they have used music to reflect aspects of themselves
Pupils perform their ‘Soap Opera’ pieces to the rest of the class
Pupils perform the three songs as listen in the Listening section opposite with notation