Magic online

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Tom Deveson finds inspiration on the web

Two things can be said about websites for music teachers: there are innumerably more than anyone could possibly visit, and your students will be far more familiar with many of them than you are. This brisk survey must feebly attempt to substitute for several lifetimes spent hunched over a PC.

National Curriculum in Action:Music

The most centrally authoritative place to look is the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's own website. Its recommended Schemes of Work may not be to everyone's taste, and the problem of transforming the abstract prose of official advice into classroom sounds has challenged many teachers. But probe a bit further and you find exemplary materials with which to amuse, entertain, illustrate or inspire. Navigate the key stages and levels on offer, and you can download some true delights.

Look, for example, at the graphic score that a Year 2 class produced from their reading of the story Peace at Last, with the rasping guiro (a rectangular, hollow wooden percussion instrument) "like my Dad's snore, two sounds" and the melodica humming away like an intrusive refrigerator. Or listen to the complexities of a KS3 group singing their version of the spiritual I am Determined, with harmonies decorating and sometimes disguising the main theme and beautifully hummed and sung vocal effects.

National Association of Music Educators

The NAME has its own site where you can have virtual meetings with numerous colleagues and practitioners. Find out about courses, exchange case studies, start and (sometimes) finish discussions about anything from dealing with able pupils to setting up boys' choirs. Or sit back and listen to inspiring music.

Local authority websites

Another way to benefit from the labour of others is to visit the local authority sites. Go to the Isle of Wight, and check out their way of organising units of work for every key stage. Year 5 children have the pleasant and informative opportunity of playing around with rounds, and you'll find a link to dozens of examples. Or pay a brief visit to Stockport, with links in turn to a vast wealth of expertise. You can find out about - and listen to lots of - JScott Joplin, delve into a database of American folk songs or call in on a virtual school of drums. Warwickshire is another authority that makes outsiders musically welcome.

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BBC sites

As the provider of the nation's most varied musical menus, the BBC also provides an extraordinary range on its sites, some of which are aimed specifically at teachers or students. The GCSE Bitesize pages let you do revision and self-testing, in the course of which you can play a whole concert of sound-bites, illustrating everything from a Bach harpsichord sonata and Steve Reich's minimalist hand-clapping to gamelan and samba.

There are also links to pages where younger children can play musical hangman, listen to sounds from the orchestra, take a music quiz or find out what happened in musical history on any named day.

And the corporation has its own vast broadcast output, much of which can be accessed at the listener's convenience. Two outstanding examples are Discovering Music and Radio 3 Jazz. The former is an ever-growing cache of superb 45-minute programmes, talking listeners through the classical repertoire with a beguiling mixture of clear analysis and specially recorded examples. Whether your choice is Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, Elgar's Enigma Variations or Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, you can't fail to be enlightened as well as entertained. On the jazz pages you can hear classic recordings again and again, listen to dozens of interviews and profiles (Goodman and Parker to Bley and Krall) and argue endlessly with fellow aficionados.

National Grid for Learning

The National Grid for Learning acts like a high-class dating agency, introducing interested parties to dozens of potentially charming and lasting sources of contentment. ABC Music Notes does the same, at GCSE and A-level. The Music Teachers' Resource Site operates in a similar manner. A single topic out of dozens - the guide to world music - is full of rhythms and timbres and instruments that will enlarge your expertise as well as soothing or stimulating your ear.

The Classical Music Archives

However many recordings you have, there always comes a time when a CD has gone missing or a tape is twisted beyond repair. The number of archive sites in cyberspace is mind-boggling, and there is a good chance of finding at least a second-best version of what you're after. The Classical Music Archives contain more than 20,000 files by almost 1500 composers. Some have been submitted by performers whom it would be polite to call amateurs, but there are extraordinary opportunities for hearing at least passable versions of a searched-for piece for a few seconds' effort. One example: the Debussy pages contain more than 200 files, including much of the piano music, with no fewer than four versions of the wonderful Feux d'Artifice.


Fan sites

Then there are the fan sites of contemporary heroes and heroines. Craig David, Eminem, t.A.T.u and all the rest have spawned countless pages of pictures, gossip, recording data, song lyrics, background documentation, biographical chit-chat, official and illicit downloads, declarations of devotion and much more. There are accurate musical facts hidden among the nonsense, and sensible opinions concealed among the hype. Deciding which is which can be in itself an educational exercise, though the mixture of inane abuse, woozy sentiment, unbudgeable partisanship, over-active hormones and occasional sharp insights can make you think you're stuck in a Year 9 classroom.

About music

This is another BBC service and the place to go to find out about thousands of recorded albums and to hear brief extracts from most of them. Ageing hippies can remind themselves nostalgically of what the Incredible String Band sounded like. Those inspired by current classical composers can enjoy superb snippets of Judith Weir or Thomas Ad s. Another site lays on hundreds of folk songs, ballads, and shanties from many different traditions. They're played in an engaging variety of styles, from penny whistle and fiddle to jangly piano and accordion. And there's an American grandmother who appears to have collected the entire rock'n' roll repertoire of her youth on to a single site decorated with hearts and flowers - pay her a call and you'll find it hard to leave. www.contemplator.comfolk.html www.buffnet.netambrosia Search and surf

Finally, try serendipity. Type "trains" and "music" or "autumn" and "songs" or "Bach" and "analysis" into your search engine, follow your ears, and see where you end up. There are many marvellous, unexpected or quirky treasures to be discovered. As Othello said of his wife's handkerchief: "'Tis true; there's magic in the web."

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