Two special roadies are touring their hi-tech equipment to help Highland primary pupils get to grips with pitch and rhythm, writes Kenny Mathieson
The children at Raigmore Primary, in Inverness, are quiet and attentive. They cannot wait to get their hands on the hi-tech guitars, which employ a combination of strings, to strum or pluck, and small buttons, rather than strings, on the fretboard.
Martin Oparka is taking the second session in an initial block of four guitar lessons at the school as part of Highland Council's exciting mobile music education initiative launched this term. Music on the Move aims to teach basic guitar and drums to P7s in 80 primaries around the region.
At the heart of the project lies an easy to use software package called Gigajam, developed by the Hemel Hempstead-based company of that name. It is used in conjunction with Dell laptop computers, Yamaha DD55 digital guitars and Yamaha EZ-AG drum modules, all of which are brought to schools in customised vans by one of two tutors appointed to run the three-year scheme.
The tutors, Mr Oparka and Mike Simpson, visit schools in three blocks of four weeks, taking sessions in guitar, drums and finally group work.
Norman Bolton, the music development officer for Highland, who is on secondment from Charleston Academy in Inverness, admits the set-up costs of the project were high, but feels the return is more than justifying the outlay. "The response from the schools and from the children has been great."
The Gigajam software provides tuition in written and video form as standard but, after consultations with Mr Bolton, the company has added audio instruction to help pupils having difficulties with the written material.
In addition, there are audio files of full band backing tracks to play along with and the software allows the children to record and analyse their efforts. The analyser plots their playing against the exercise they are attempting and displays their result in easily understood colour-coded graphs, highlighting the wrong notes, early entries and other mistakes.
It also provides a score for each effort and the challenge of bettering their own score provides extra motivation to many children. Some progress more slowly than others, but they all seem fully absorbed by the activity.
"We are finding that the kids look forward to it and really make an effort," Mr Oparka says. "It is quite rock based, so it is more their thing, and they like being able to see their progress on the analyser.
"Our aim is to give each of them a good grasp of basic pitch and rhythm."
In addition to tutor visits, each school is supplied with a laptop, guitar, drum module and a copy of Gigajam to allow pupils to work with the equipment between visits from the tutor.
Mr Bolton aims to add a third mobile unit to Music on the Move for next session and ultimately extend the scheme to all 187 of the authority's primary schools.
"We hope that the skills these pupils are learning will enable them to build a good level of musical understanding as they move into secondary school. We think that when they reach that level the teachers and specialist tutors on the instrumental tuition scheme will also benefit from the knowledge and the enthusiasm that we are generating through all the schemes in our primary schools."
Music on the Move is one part of Highland's response to the Scottish Executive's Youth Music Initiative, which funds the project. The council's bid to work on traditional music in partnership with F isean nan G...idheal has proved very successful and is continuing for a third year with P6 pupils.
A further project has also been launched this session. Five vocal tutors are working with P3 pupils (or composite classes where numbers are low) on singing using teaching materials supplied and developed by the National Youth Choir of Scotland, based on the principles advocated by the Hungarian philosopher Zoltan Kodaly.