Pupils choose their favourite pop songs and learn to play instruments by copying what they hear. Unlike traditional music courses, which involve listening to classical pieces and writing about them, pupils are encouraged to perform music they can relate to more easily.
The pound;2 million scheme, running for three years in Hertfordshire, Nottingham and Leeds, has targeted 11 to 19-year-olds. Pupils are encouraged to play tunes before developing technical skills such as reading music and composition, which are required at GCSE.
Simon Balle school, in Hertford, doubled its GCSE uptake in a year and expects to recruit more pupils this year. Mark Taylor, the director of music, said: "It has had a fantastic impact on the work of the whole department. The enjoyment on the pupils' faces is obvious.
"It's based on how popular musicians learn and how to transfer that to the classroom. It's about learning through listening and copying. It integrates the skills they need to develop basic musicality before learning technical skills.
"Musical Futures has changed our idea of teaching and we are prepared to take more risks. Now we are getting kids doing it rather than listening and writing about it."
David Price, the project leader, said the idea of personalised learning was vital to its success. Pupils are encouraged to direct their own study in a less formal setting, he said.
Learning technical musical skills at a later stage did not disadvantage them when it came to GCSE exams, he added. "We have debunked the myth that music in school cannot be cool," said Mr Price. "It had to be 'real' for pupils. They did not want to come into lessons and play glockenspiels."
Schools taking part are also encouraged to use a website - www.numu.org.uk
- to upload and review pupil performances.
* Go to www.musicalfutures.org.uk to download a teacher resource pack