Project Manager Joe Harrison discusses Exchanging Notes, the national research project exploring how different teaching styles can work for pupils in a school environment.
Exchanging Notes is a four-year long music education research project funded by Youth Music and coordinated by Birmingham City University, now in its final year. Brighter Sound’s Exchanging Notes project is one of nine around the UK looking at the impact of engaging young people deemed at risk in high quality music provision. We have worked with a cohort of around 25 young people from Manchester Creative and Media Academy and Bolton St Catherine’s Academy, following their academic, personal, social and musical development over the four years.
Entering the final year’s activity, it’s been great to reflect back on the huge range and variety of things that we’ve done with the groups. Activities have included:
- opportunities for the young people to create and rehearse their own music in high quality professional music venues such as Band on the Wall, Blueprint Studios, and Reform Radio
- masterclasses with inspirational figures including Richard Jupp, drummer from Elbow
- recording sessions in high quality professional studios
- performing to their peers in their schools
- developing skills and content to create their own radio programs and station
All this work has been led by amazing musicians and facilitators Andy Smith and Phil Howley, alongside a team of experienced and inspiring musicians.
Years One & Two:
During the first two years we attempted to integrate a range of approaches into each of the school’s structures and timetables with varying success and a good deal of frustration. Through no fault of the schools, timetabling made it very difficult for practitioners, staff and students to maintain a focused and interesting creative process over such a long period of time. However, at the heart of this project has been a strong aspect of pupil voice and, after consulting with the young people during the second year, in year three we moved to a different approach…
Rather than working primarily in regular sessions in the schools, in year three we took the students’ lead and ran full day sessions (sometimes two or three days) in inspiring professional music venues around Manchester. Students spent whole days composing and rehearsing in venues such as Band on the Wall, Blueprint Studios, Z-arts and Old Granada Studios before performing for their peers and teachers in special concerts at their schools.
The benefits of this approach have been incredibly positive. Everyone, teachers as well as students, were able to focus on the work in hand and really get into the creative process without having to stop for the end of the lesson or get distracted by other school business. This meant that students were producing higher quality work and developing their ideas much more effectively. Attitudes were positive, supportive and committed to the collaborative process of creating and performing great music.
Teachers were also able to take the time to really observe and reflect on the students’ learning, noticing the talents and personalities of the shyer group members and acknowledging how helpful and considerate some of the pupils were when not in school.
For practitioners this model meant that they were able to push the group in terms of ideas, instrumental skill development and collaborative working without having to constantly revise the work of the previous session.
Fewer sessions also meant that we had budget available to bring in supporting music facilitators who could offer their own unique musical skills to support individual interests within the group.
Being located in such inspiring and professional venues also meant that the students were gaining an understanding of a wide range of careers and opportunities within music and the creative sector, putting all their work into a wider context both personally and socially.
The opportunity to then perform in front of their peers at their schools gave the work added purpose and excitement. For many this was the first time they had performed as musicians in front of their peers. This was a scary and challenging experience for many, however, following the performances everyone was incredibly proud and excited.
It’s going to be a busy year! In year four we will take the same approach as year three in having whole day sessions in inspiring professional venues. However this year we’re also going to:
- give the groups the opportunity to perform at Manchester’s Band on the Wall as part of Brighter Sound’s Sing City Live events in December and March
- give the groups a chance to live stream performance sessions at the brand new Pirate Studios in Media City, Salford
- support the young people in completing their Bronze Arts Award certificates
- support the establishment of a new school radio station at Manchester Creative and Media Academy, where our students can perform their music, play their studio recordings and share their favourite music, all year round
Alongside this the teacher and facilitator team will work to develop a toolkit guide for supporting other teachers or schools working with young people at risk – the chance to work alongside and with schools over such a sustained period of time, has revealed a wealth learning and practice that will be invaluable to the positive partnerships that schools and cultural organisations can develop, together.