Cutting-edge technology heads the Government's drive to support ICTin music, writes Merlin John
TES Teacher's promotion to support web music-making in schools with the new dbass service - from award-winning Synergy.tv (see panel) - was highlighted as exemplary practice by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) at the first of its national "roadshows" to support its drive to embed ICT in classroom teaching.
The roadshow was part of the first day of the annual conference of the National Association of Music Educators (NAME), held recently in London's Docklands. NAME's outgoing chair, Roger Crocker, was delighted: "The DfES worked wonders on supporting the conference this year. Not only did music lead the way of all the subject areas in terms of the new series of embedding ICT in subject areas but also we devoted the whole day to it, along with the partnership of the Schools Music Association."
DfES "evangelist" Russell Prue has finely tuned presentation skills and a "Heineken" humour - reaching the parts denied to the average presenter. He literally beat the drum (Yamaha electronic) for the DfES as he outlined the sorts of support that teachers can now access for ICT and music and urged teachers to get involved.
The department itself has produced a significant range of curriculum support materials, known as ICTAC packs (ICT Across The Curriculum) - with helpful video clips of good practice - that can be ordered online with a minimum of hassle. The materials are freely photocopiable and are being promoted through the roadshows and at the annual BETT educational ICT show at Olympia, London in January (www.bettshow.co.uk) Russell Prue urged teachers to get involved with initiatives like dbass and Gigajam, an innovative online music activity with features for assessment that has been provided free for around one million students in schools on the London Grid for Learning. Using a budget Yamaha electronic drum kit, Prue went online to demonstrate the ease with which it is possible to, for example, use Gigajam for practising and to assess understanding of musical timings.
While Prue held centre stage for the morning session, the afternoon belonged to music consultant Andy Murray and his session on using ICT to support music performances. He demonstrated that much of what people might ascribe to schools of the future is already taking place now. Like vanBasco's Karaoke Player (www.vanbasco.com), which allows teachers to exploit the power and motivation of karaoke for music (and even literacy) teaching. Karaoke Player handles midi files and karaoke files (.kar). A key stage 2 teacher can hide and reveal text in a range of ways to support learning - as demonstrated by Andy Murray with a file of Hickory Dickory Dock.
Mixing took centre stage when Tag Learning's Fran Greenaway demonstrated the Mixman DM2 (pound;49.94), an award-winning device that looks like record mixing decks, giving it instant appeal with pupils. It allows them to mix up to 16 music tracks with as many as 128 samples per track. It can be used for composition and also for performance. It comes with plenty of pre-recorded music, even reggae and bhangra, and with facilities for "scratch" editing. Its PC software uses the same visual double-deck approach as the hardware itself.
Mixman DM2 has already made a stir in schools and Andrew Trythall (winner of a RamesysTES ICT award), of Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in Sussex, has created web pages to support its use in class (link right).
Karaoke emerged yet again during this session, although a more apposite description would perhaps be "expert accompaniment".
John Paulson picked up his saxophone to show how SmartMusic Studio could provide intelligent accompaniment to support music practice and development. And these are not tinny little computer sounds that dictate performance and pace. Want to slow down for a moody moment? The accompaniment follows you. Want to kick off for a quick stomp? Your virtual band is right up there with you.
This is a clever blend of computer software and online subscription. The software resides on your computer handling the performance (you can record and email them too), while the songs and materials come online through the subscription. A starter pack for pound;99.95 gives you the software and a year's subscription, but the program's distributor in the UK, Etcetera, is currently working on school licences.
The final NAME highlight was a demonstration of video-conferencing for music. Andrew Burke, head of LSO Discovery (the educational outreach arm of the London Symphony Orchestra), introduced the orchestra's double bassist Matthew Gibson to Uffculme Community College string players Alice, Ruth, Izzie and Harriet in Devon ICT centre to work on a string quartet. Matthew was able to coach them online and the improvements and increased confidence were clear.
The orchestra has played with many of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and schools can now tap into some of these sessions, said Matthew.
"For example, students can watch Pierre Boulez working with us."
The DfES's support for and involvement with NAME appears to bode well for expanding into the use of ICT in music. "ICT provides the opportunity to reveal a whole new world of multimedia with music at its heart," says Crocker. "Someone said to me the other day, 'Why isn't music at the heart of the whole curriculum?' There's a thought for the 21st century government think-tank!"
Ideas In Music Out - Using technology in music education
by NAME authors
pound;6 members; pound;8 non-members, both plus pp
ICT Across The Curriculum
Tel: 01474 357 350
Tel: 0870 873 8731
Roger Crocker, chair of NAME 2003-04 firstname.lastname@example.org
The new NAME chair is Derek Kitt, music adviser for Cornwall