Jack Kenny finds that primary children can combine music and visuals with the help of talented teachers.
"Ripple worthy" is teacher Tim Rylands's phrase meaning "deserving of applause". Many of his lessons earn the description. Today the music lessons took place in two rooms. One was experimental, using software so new it had not yet been released. The second was using software so inexpensive any school could afford it.
Room one was startling. When you see primary children doing things in music that were previously the province of university students, you swallow hard.
But the children at Chew Magna, Somerset, are used to being challenged - their teacher, Tim Rylands, does it all the time. Today, he had brought in Joe Moretti, creative projects manager at the Centre for Digital and Audio at Bath Spa University for a lesson on combining music with video. For the children it's not an unusual idea, most of the music they listen to is accompanied by visuals.
Joe's challenge was to see how well they would cope with Bath Spa's new music program, Music Key. It is, according to Joe, the UK's first music package to be integrated with the national curriculum. It is also a departure from traditional music teaching. The nine sections of the package, from key stage 2 to A-level, provide pupils with an integrated and easily accessible classroom resource.
Joe explained to the group that he wanted them to link sound files exactly to a video. They would use keyboards linked to iBooks to play and record music to the action on screen (recorded and linked to the action by QuickTime software). He showed them the video. It looked as though it had been shot in a desert. The camera panned across the landscape and settled on a brilliantly coloured beetle resting on a wooden pole. Suddenly it flew off, giving the children a perfect point to change their music. They were working on Apple computers, not a system they were used to. Joe explained how the system and the software worked.
Joe says music education has always included technology; that sound recordings, audio tapes, videos and films are standard in the music world.
In the past he says they have not always been integrated or tied to the curriculum. Music Key, based on Apple's Logic program, brings all this together providing a simpler, richer and more intuitive interaction.
The children seemed to agree; they were soon experimenting with composing, playing the music so that it changed when the video action changed. It was not easy; it had to be precise. The sense of achievement among the groups as they approached perfection was palpable. A professional editor would have been hard-put to do better. These children had done this meticulously in under an hour. The next step would be to present their achievements to each other. Definitely ripple worthy.
Most of the children were with Tim in the second room, the school's ICT suite. Tim is an extraordinary teacher and the Year 56 class seemed to sense that. They join him on his flights of fancy, equals on their learning journey. You soon realise that everyone, teachers and students, feels comfortable there. Beautiful images flicker across the screens.
Tim asks the class to take notes in their ICT books, books that he does not mark. The pupils write down those things that seem obvious at the moment but which they could well forget in six months.
"What we are going to try is to put some music on videos," says Tim. "I want you to come back to me with comments, criticisms anything that will make what we are trying to do better. The challenge that I'm going to set you, you can do quite quickly. Because of that I'm going to set you two or three little challenges.
"Start by jotting down the challenge: what you are going to do by the end of the afternoon. You have to think on your feet and you have to decide what to write down, what not to write down."
Tim explains that he is going to use a CD with a library of music, the kind of CD that is used in a radio or film studio when a section of copyright-free music is needed to reinforce a mood. Tim plays a track, reminding the group that they have used it before to dance to. "You know the piece of music, it has lots of layers to it, tempo changes." He plays a section which is loud and brassy. The class recognises it and some move to the music. They also notice that there are different versions of the same song at different lengths, introducing the concept that music can be edited.
Tim says: "What these library CDs do is to present music that is written in a particular style and for a particular length of time. That is what I'm going to ask you to do this afternoon: to write a piece of music in a certain style in a set amount of time.
"Your parents are going to be in for assembly on Friday so what I want you to do is to prepare something that we can show them. We are going to use PowerPoint and I have put images in the shared area of the network: a number of images of landscapes etc and photos we took at the River Wye."
He wants them to come up with inspirational phrases for their work and they do not disappoint. Here is an example: "You won't stub you toe standing still, but the faster you go the more chance you have of getting somewhere.
"For the music we are going to use the 2Simple program 2Compose. It uses musical notes, so for those of you who read music, you will be at an advantage but for those of you who don't it will be a case of investigating and exploring." They also use Musical Monsters from QD.
Tim shows them the software on the whiteboard. First he chooses a trumpet sound then bells: "I can add other layers. If it is too short, I can make it slower." He plays the slower version. "Notice it has changed the speed but it hasn't changed theI?" "Pitch," chorus the class. They pick up the nuances of the software at once. "When you save it I want you to save it as Midi. Remember what that means?"
"Music instrument digital interface," they chorus.
For the next 30 minutes or so they work away on PowerPoint, fitting the music they created to the still images they had taken in the Wye valley and the texts they had written.
Back in the classroom, the premieres took place as the children reviewed their work (stored on the school network) at the end of the lesson. The movies, pictures of caving, abseiling, canoeing, general fooling about and eating were accompanied by simple music which seemed to fit what was on the screen.
"Ripple worthy beyond belief," their teacher said. The class smiled at him and at their achievement.
Music Key (PC and Apple) The primary version (pound;99) will be launched at the BETT show next year.
2Compose Single user pound;39 2Simple Software Tel: 0845 6732 122. www.2simple.commusic.
Musical Monsters Single user pound;35 (Apple and PC) QD Multimedia Tel: 01332 364963 www.q-and-d.co.uk
Tim Rylands www.timrylands.com