Open up your classroom

6th October 2015

Guest blog by Jonathan Westrup, Drake Music

In recent years, technology like iPads, Skoogs and Makey Makey have had a significant impact on making music making accessible to every child. Increasingly, a far richer palette of sounds, and the means to expressively control, trigger and play them, are available to use. In the main it is special schools that have been the main crucibles for testing these emerging approaches rather than mainstream music departments. Many in the music education sector believe music technology has the potential to change what we teach and how we do it across the board.


It is perhaps not surprising that the creative use of music technology has taken a firmer foothold in special schools, alongside increasingly developed models of practice.  Third sector charities are often to be found delivering projects in special schools with music technology to the fore and staff training commonly forming part of the process. Equally, special education teachers and teaching assistants are in many cases more familiar with technology in their everyday work with VOCAs (Voice Output Communication Aid), Eye Gaze technology and Clicker software being but three examples. Lastly, special school staff are generally used to having to come up with creative solutions to overcoming barriers to access or learning, and music can often be found in the mix.


My personal experience of training PGCE Music students is that they are passionate and interested – and occasionally simply wowed – by some of the music technology I’ve demonstrated. The more common challenges in putting it into practice are probably familiar to readers – lack of time to play with equipment and learn how to use it; difficulties in getting out of school to training events; professional isolation and timetable pressures.  In addition, some mainstream teachers may not come into contact with children with a wide range of SEN (mild learning difficulties and Autistic Spectrum Conditions are the most common in mainstream) and so lack experience of using music technology to break down barriers to learning and accessibility.


In this session, we will try to get people fired up about using music technology in their mainstream classrooms. We will look at some of the best and most expressive iPad music apps currently out there including Thumbjam and Garageband. We’ll look at the wonderful Makey Makey with the potential to use almost any object – fruit and vegetables being but one example – to trigger sounds in the most unusual and imaginative ways.


Importantly, we will discuss the effective practice and approaches to actually delivering more inclusive sessions. Central to this is the idea that inclusive approaches are good for all children because they commonly involve careful thought initially, followed by reflection and then adapting the ideas further. By introducing exciting and fun music technology gradually into your classroom you’ll also be opening up the opportunities for every child to take part.

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

Claire Armour, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra