On Cue, a workshop with beginner musicians

5th April 2016

Blog post by Musical Futures Projects Officer Alex Clarke who was part of our On Cue workshop at Champion School, Morpeth 

A few weeks ago, Musical Futures Associate Adam Saunders was at Morpeth School in London running a workshop with c.40 KS3 students. The group included a wide range of instruments and abilities, as well as some visiting students and teachers from The Hastings Academy.

Using Whoza Mtwana by South African musician Abdullah Ibrahim, Adam’s aim was to teach the piece to these students without notation, using whatever instruments and musical skills were in the room. Rhythmic and vocal warm up games helped gauge ability within the group, using the more confident students the chance to lead sections, finding out who might be able to lead sections later on.

The transition from warm up games into learning the actual piece was incredibly smooth. Sitting the students in rough sections, which instrumental students in one area (made up trombones, violins, flutes, clarinets, saxophones etc), singers in another group, and then keyboards, guitars and drums in another area, Adam explored the G major scale, the basis for the piece they were shortly to learn. T Adam used the more advanced students to mentor those who were struggling, moving from instrumental group to instrumental group, giving time for peer learning. The scale was then converted into numbers, using 1-8 to correspond to notes of the scale. Adam also used Tonic sol-fa techniques to reinforce the numbers and where they were in the scale.

The tune was relatively simple, Adam teaching it in short bursts, using the note numbers and Tonic sol-fa to help the students learn. It was a fairly repetitive tune, which made learning easier.

Singers went into a different room to work on some lyrics and a potential counter melody. Adam spent time with the rhythm section to really glue the drums together. One guitarist was quickly picking the melody out by ear as it was being taught, whilst the other was playing the underlying chords. The two keyboard players were helping each other with the tune, and picking out the chords.

The support of a Morpeth wind peri teacher, who was able to help quickly and effectively with fingerings and transposition with the woodwind players, was invaluable. Adam acknowledged that while he would have been able to manage this alone, it would have taken much longer and have held up the rest of the session.

With the A section taking the most time to learn, a repetitive and short B section was quickly added. He drew on the experience of a few students to support this, adding extra harmonies very quickly. The singers rejoined the main group, shyly performing what they’d put together. Adam brought in the rhythm section to support them, and then eventually the entire group into a performance

The group were able to run through the entire piece twice, all done without notation or any kind of score. With an extra 30mins Adam would have been able to really tighten the performance, adding more harmonies, and working more with the singers on their own.

Working with such a large and mixed group seemed to me quite a daunting task, but Adam led the workshop with a strong element of collaboration with the students, and there was not one moment where students weren’t playing, discussing their parts, or engaging in set tasks. Within a short amount of time Adam had every student playing and contributing, with a real sense of achievement at the end. It was an incredibly inspirational afternoon!


Excellent workshops ‑ extremely accessible for all abilities and levels."

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra