The Future Sounds Good
What do G Flip, Dave Grohl and Elton John have in common? They are all self taught musicians who learnt to rock out on their own terms.
In classrooms around the world, music books are being banished, drums are taking over from the flute, and a spirit of energy and engagement is replacing rigidity.
The Musical Futures program started in the UK as a way of engaging with difficult teens, and has now spread to students of all ages globally.
According to Michelle Lewis, Arts Teacher at St Peter’s Woodlands — a Musical Futures Champion school — the success of the program starts with the simple premise that music should be fun.
“As soon as we introduced the program it changed the relationship teachers, parents and most importantly students have with music at our school,” she said.
“Like many schools, our teaching was pretty formal and was seen as great for extra-curricular activities like choirs and musicals, rather than a really important part of education,” Michelle said.
“The Musical Futures approach to teaching music is really refreshing because it’s about trying different instruments and styles. There’s a lot of student choice and this leads to more enthusiasm and positivity.”
IT’S ONLY ROCK’N’ROLL BUT WE LIKE IT
In the Musical Futures program, all music is worthy and treated equally. The program introduces a range of instruments associated with rock bands — guitars, drums and keyboards — but it also introduces singing, composition, DJ skills and production — as well as still being open to classical instruments.
“Our students are digitally savvy these days. If they want to find out something, they jump on their tablets and watch a video on YouTube. They are very competent in self-directed learning,” said Michelle.
“In the same way, our lessons now are very flexible. Students can try many instruments, they can work with different groups of friends and they can create the kind of music they enjoy,” she said.
According to Head of The Arts, Mark DeLaine, while the program is great fun and motivational, there is also evidence that shows how effective music is for developing children’s brains and helping them with speech and literacy.
“There’s a fantastic body of work from music educator and researcher Dr Anita Collins which shows that children from newborns to teenagers benefit from learning and listening to music, that it can grow and stretch young brains,” Mark said.
“You can see it in action at school, from very young children learning new words through song, right up to the older children stretching their brains to try new music, to learn new skills and collaborate in different ways.”
A MUSICAL REVOLUTION IN THE MAKING
As one of just a few Musical Futures Champion Schools in South Australia, both Michelle and Mark have been astonished by the results at St Peter’s Woodlands.
“Last year we had 173 students in the junior school musical which we offer for students in Reception to Year 3. It meant one in three students took part. It was slightly crazy, but so encouraging to see how much the students are enjoying music!” Mark said.
“This year we’ve had 72 students audition for the 19 main roles in the senior musical. We have more than 80 of our youngest students take part in Junior Glee every week, and our Year 7 cohort write, compose and perform their own graduation song.
“High schools are also giving us feedback that our old scholars are leading the way in the area of music. Making music more engaging has paid off.”
What has been a surprise to both Mark and Michelle is that the popularity of rock instruments and musicals has not been at the expense of more classical instruments.
“We still have lots of students learning piano, violin, flute. They take part in their individual tutoring, and can bring those skills to the music lessons.
Those students are used as experts, leading class workshops, while still benefiting from trying new things with their friends,” Mark said.
TEACHING THE TEACHERS TO BE TEN AGAIN
The success of the Musical Futures program at St Peter’s Woodlands is regularly shared with other schools around the state. Recently twenty teachers took part in a workshop run by Michelle to impart her knowledge and passion for the program.
“The program isn’t just fun for students, it’s really vibrant and exciting for teachers too, and that’s the way the program is taught. It’s about being ten all over again and grabbing a guitar and having a go,” Michelle said.
“Seeing the teachers let go of their rigid musical upbringing and get back to the pure joy of music is brilliant!”
St Peter’s Woodlands is a Musical Futures Champion School.
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