Writing Music The Digital Way

Writing Music the Digital Way
By Hannah Parkes.

Including music as part of a child’s education has so many benefits. Teaching music is not simply about creating the next generation of star musicians, composers and artists, but about nurturing self-confidence, creative thought and collaboration from an early age. In fact, international music experts have been telling us for years that music is a vital part of any education, and it is mandated in the Australian curriculum for schools, yet seven out of ten schools do not have a comprehensive music program.

The reasons for this are many: lack of funding and hard-to-access resources are just some of the hurdles facing many schools keen on establishing a comprehensive music program. For some schools it may take months before a performance ensemble can visit the school, or teachers may have to drive long distances to professional workshops.

The good news is there are a range of new digital education programs on the market today that embrace recent advances in technology to help overcome these boundaries. Musica Viva In Schools’ new Anatomy of Music program is a case in point. Launched last year by the not-for-profit music education company, Anatomy of Music is a series of composition workshops that allows secondary students across Australia the chance to work with today’s leading music makers. Previous workshops have been hosted by ARIA award winning artists singer/songwriter Katie Noonan and former Jebediah front Kevin Mitchell (also known as his alter-ego ‘Bob Evans’). With the help of a curriculum‐focussed workbook, students get a rare insight into the artist’s creative process,writing techniques and inspirations.

“Hopefully students will take away some basic ideas about how to package together all the important ingredients of a song in an original and honest way,” Kevin Mitchell said about the workshop. “I also hope that the students see me as a living, breathing example of how accessible the creative arts industry is as long as you are driven and have a good attitude. I am proof that you don’t have to be Mozart to find your niche and achieve some success.”

But the real star of this program is not the famous musicians. Digital technology delivers the award-winning artists to students right across the country, making the workshops live and interactive. Using teleconferencing video technology, the Anatomy workshops are live-streamed direct to students in their classrooms. Students in regional areas do not have to hop on a bus and travel long distances to the composition workshop. Instead, they can take part in real-time without leaving their classroom. The students are even encouraged to use their phones to tweet questions to the artist throughout the workshop to share ideas or ask questions using the #anatomyofmusic hashtag, which is moderated by Musica Viva staff.

The Anatomy of Music event held in May, hosted by Mitchell, engaged hundreds of students from around the state, both at the venue and via eight regional hubs. Students from as far away as Byron Bay, Bomaderry, Wee Waa and Yanco participated in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn the tricks of the trade from former Jebediah front man Mitchell. In the first half of the workshop, Mitchell dissected the world of the modern musician, explaining to students his sources of inspiration and his song-writing methods. He performed several of his hit songs including “Don’t You Think it’s Time” and “Don’t Wanna Grow Up Anymore.”

A half hour break gave students at the Sydney venue and regional hubs an opportunity to compose a song to be performed during the second half of the workshop. The sweet sounds of collaboration and musicality buzzed in the City Recital Hall’s foyers and in classrooms around NSW as students penned diverse creations – from beat-boxing and guitar trios accompanied by gospel-style vocals, to rap, humorous ballads and more experimental compositions.

Mitchell spent the second half of the workshop critiquing students’ performances and marvelling at the range of creations presented. Students from regional hubs were able to upload their pieces to Twitter, where the conversation continues.

This use of technology in the classroom enables students to access the very best of music education, no matter where they live. Digital education programs can bridge distance, unite students in a common goal and deliver quality teaching that would otherwise be too expensive to access one-on-one.

This digital education revolution is not confined to music education, with other leading arts education companies embracing the digital medium.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra provides downloadable resource kits for teachers and students straight from their website. Bell Shakespeare hosts pre-show digital workshops before the actors perform at the school. Hosted by a Bell Shakespeare Arts Educator, the 45-minute workshops aim to engage both students and teachers with Shakespeare’s texts in a fun and interactive way.

Interactive teleconferencing technology, just as the Anatomy of Music program, is also used by the Sydney Opera House’s Digital Ed program. These series of digital excursions give students access to all areas of the iconic building without having to leave the classroom. Teachers can download three free primary excursions as well as a digital masterclass on A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with Bell Shakespeare.

Musica Viva In Schools is currently expanding their digital program to include ‘Musicassentials’, a range of teaching resources. Created by music education experts, the resources provide even more opportunities for teachers to gain confidence in their teaching, to build and refine their skills in the presentation of effective music learning experiences for their students.

The digital teaching resources feature a series of 12 digital modules, focussing on one piece of music or theme, for a particular developmental stage, demonstrating effective pedagogy to enhance lesson plans. Each module includes detailed teaching notes and effective assessment strategies linked to the Australian curriculum as well media resources and interactive digital activities.

The modules are ‘stand alone’, focussing on one piece of music from a variety of styles from fun with nursery rhymes, jazz exploration, and music from different cultures, all performed by Musica Viva In Schools’ professional musicians. Each resource has been carefully planned for a particular developmental level or stage and assessment suggestions using current planning for the Australian curriculum as well as curriculum guidelines within each Australian state during this period of transition.

Once again, these digital resources make it much easier for teachers and their students to access music in the classroom. There are no set performance dates, no professional training courses to attend and no instruments needed. At the click of a mouse, teachers can access quality, engaging, curriculum-focussed lesson plans developed by teachers for teachers that make learning music fun and easy. They are a digital teaching toolkit including everything a teacher needs to get students singing, clapping and creating music anywhere, anytime.

Ranging from Foundation to Year 8, and aligned with both Australian and state curricula, each module contains the basis for a term of music in the classroom and focusses on world music, jazz, blues, percussion and more. Students will learn about the elements of music and develop skills in listening, singing, playing, moving and composition. Free samples are available to download from musicaviva.com.au

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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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