by Sarah Skilbeck, music teacher at Boroughbridge High School, North Yorkshire
With almost 500 students, aged 11-18, Boroughbridge High School serves the community of Boroughbridge and the surrounding area.
No music room, no lunchtime clubs, no visiting peripatetic teachers, no mixing bubbles…
In our school in Boroughbridge, like countless others around the country, back in July 2020 the prospects for making practical music in the autumn term looked pretty grim. I imagined lesson after lesson of listening exercises and writing about music and my heart sank.
Enter Musical Futures with free ukulele and guitar training sessions and resources! It was the first really practical help that made me feel I could plan for music making. The focus was entirely on what was possible rather than worrying about what was not. So, no time to dwell on problems, I signed up for another session – chair drumming and began to plan for practical music.
For the online peripatetic lessons I begged a space in the unused drama studio and taped out areas for different ‘sets’ of instruments, so that no one from different bubbles would share anything. The teacher needed admitting to the lessons so I had to whizz over to the drama studio before each change of instrument to set it up (sometimes on days when I wasn’t even working! Luckily I live pretty near!). I really have to do this as I am also a peri and I know how difficult it is to fit all your lessons in after school. Plus a lot of our students just wouldn’t be able to access online lessons at home and thinking ahead – I didn’t want to have a school with no performers.
For classroom music, I allocated each year group a set of equipment. For year 7 it’s drum sticks. They all took their own sticks and put them away at the end of the lesson. We covered rhythm and the elements, but mostly they loved drumming on their chairs. One happy student told me that he didn’t want the lesson to end! The English teacher downstairs probably had a different take on it and I’m very grateful that my colleagues were so tolerant.. We used all the free resources from the Musical Futures free courses and I added the next set chair drumming medley which challenged them a bit more.
Year 8 were on ukuleles. I couldn’t believe how much they enjoyed just learning to play an instrument – I feared that the novelty would wear off after some weeks. The students all collected their uke and then I donned gloves and visor to go round with a pack of wipes to tune up. The students got really good at spotting if their uke needed tuning now, so it was pretty quick. We used the Musical Futures resources to get started on a few basic chords and fingerpicking techniques and then added in some Rock School pieces. To assess them I made videos of the whole class playing and then I watched them later to check on everyone’s progress – it saved time in class.
The students also did peer assessments – watching each others performances and playing the role of examiner to suggest improvements. Once they had a few chords and rhythm patterns they are wrote their own songs. We then going moved on to guitars – once I’d fixed some and figured out how to move them around and clean them after each lesson.
The older students were all involved in various music tech projects. Initially I thought that they would prefer that, but word soon got out, and they all wanted to have a go at the instruments too.
Since September 2020 we were busy playing music most of the time.
I asked my students how they felt about the way we had adapted to the new way of teaching as a result of the pandemic and using the practical approaches and resources from Musical Futures – here are some of the comments from my students
“I love music but we haven’t been able to do it as we should of. But we have carried with the practicals and they’re just as fun. I think I have improved playing the ukulele thanks to the resources you have given us” (I’ve not corrected their words – we have quite a few SEN EAL and this is what they wanted to say!).
“It’s motivated me to play music in my spare time.”
“I learnt to play a song off by heart on the ukulele thanks to your courses”
“Although we are in a claustrophobic space we have learned to finger pick and play the ukulele. We have finished our Rock School pieces. Thank you.”
“I was excited when my teacher said we are playing ukuleles. At first it was hard but thanks to my teacher I became a pro.”
“Thank you for the resources it has made lessons more enjoyable and we are able to learn much more music now”
“Thank you for the ukulele lessons and thank for us to learn how to play.”
“In my opinion Ukulele is the funnest instrument to learn.”
“I love music especially when doing it with my friends. And I have to say these lessons have made me to think of music as one of my favourite lessons.”
“These music lessons are amazing. Mrs Skilbeck has taken a challenging situation and has adapted it so well. She has made it better than it was in normal times.”
“Covid was never gonna stop us from learning”
“We learnt a lot without knowing we did!”