moving on

July 6, 2008

I’m resigning my teaching post this summer and reflecting on both what I have and have not achieved. In particular, what has been wrong with the course I have run and what a qualification might consist of, if I were to design it from scratch.

The bottom line for running courses is enrolment, retention and achievement. Does the course attract students, do they stay on it, do they get the qualification? This is a target – if you don’t meet it then the course should not run.
My course (a National Certificate in Music) has had its ups and downs! There have been years where I have met the target but this last year I did not. I only enrolled 11 (should be 16), 3 left and of the remaining 8 only 7 will achieve the full qual.

There are lots of reasons for missing this target but the target was mine so I take the rap for not meeting it. It’s a statistic and they don’t come with explanations or mitigating circumstances.
I hope to still keep some teaching role, but not the course co-ordinator role that is primarily a bums on seats task.

So what have I achieved? According to the statistics, not a lot! But I’m allowing myself to look beyond those. Elearning has been (and will continue to be) a passion and I am proud of my own learning in this area and being able to use so many new web tools and services to support learning.
Creative activities; I believe my learners have had an excellent experience in developing their arranging and writing skills, through musical creation activities.
Progression; I’ve kept in touch with many ex-students (through this blog, the ccmmusic network, Facebook and Myspace) and I have a kind of paternal pride in seeing their development – not only if they have progressed in a music career, but progression in life and learning.
Music career guidance – a strong connection between the course content and real work opportunities. And therein lies one of the reasons I’m resigning; I do like to practice what I preach and because of that I learned so much about how I could develop my own musical (non-teaching) career that my freelance work is taking over.

Consolidate your skills and knowledge, keep learning, plan areas to develop, promote and network, use the social web to build your business, self-publish and discuss.  That’s the way to do it!

So what is my take on what a popular music course should look like?
The most successful students (the ones who have got the most from it) have been those with a direct purpose; they are in a band or are performing solo and have a pressing need to develop this. The course is vocational so it should be work-based – work related. Generally (though not exclusively) if a student is just a bedroom musician, not in a band, not doing gigs, not getting involved in the music scene, then they lack the motivation to study. They are amateurs, with a love for music, but not necessarily a love for study and a hunger to work in the music industry.
Beware prejudice! A learner that comes with a disdain for any music other than their niche will be reluctant to embrace multi-skilling. Diversity is a necessity I believe; look for a variety of career development routes in music to keep options alive. It is not enough just to ‘play my guitar’. Being a self-employed musician is a cottage industry where the individual is responsible for everything. The more you have to rely on others for skills and services, the less money you’ll keep for yourself and the less control you will have over your own progress. There will come a time in your career when you will need the specialist skills of others; keep things in your own garden as long as possible!
Sure, the course will have practical activities, band work, but that should be only a spring board to a learner putting new skills and knowledge into practice in their own situation.
I still believe that music language is crucial – theory and aural. We’ve been running the Popular Music Theory grades and these are excellent – possibly the most appropriate music theory books available. Only failing is that they are purely theoretical in terms of the immediate need to pass the exam. The book is littered with references to practical music making, but these do not form part of assessment.

Creative activities that respond to parameters are a great way to promote experimentation and I would put these at the core of the course. This worked well for Arranging and Composing modules.

Digital creative skills; I probably place more emphasis on this than on anything musical! The social web solves that historical problem with musicians of ‘not being found’. Whether they are looking for other musicians to work with, or promoting a particular musical skill (their musical identity) or promoting their band, the social web provides the space, tools and services to do it.

And the ability to use this environment is crucial; the digital skills to produce content (audio, video, images, design and text) and the academic skills to self-publish and network socially in a way that relates to career development.
The online social networking and self-publishing skills have a direct correlation with ‘old school’; meet people, get to know them, establish a mutual relationship, support your peers, have your say, promote yourself. Whether in a physical space or online, many of the facets are the same.

This may be my last blog post on here, as I am concentrating on my blog as a musician at realstrings.com , though I hope to still be actively involved in the fantastic discussions on online about music education.

Moscow sessions

May 26, 2008

They call it professional development, I call it being let out to play.  I took an orchestration job for 2 composers writing a score for an ice ballet theatre production.  (Tim Duncan and Ed Barnwell composing for the Imperial Ice Stars).  My role entailed turning the audio and midi data from the writers into notated scores for the musicians, in this case the Moscow Film Orchestra, recorded over 2 days at Mosfilms.
On an orchestral session, there are a large number of people, each with his/her own responsibility that contributes to the smooth running of the recordings.  In fact, by the time recording starts, most of my work is done; if I have prepared the parts competently, they will have all the appropriate markings (not just pitch and rhythm, but articulations, phrasings, dynamics, tempi and expression) that communicate directly with musicians, without any need to rely on verbal communication.  Particularly helpful in Russia.  I do need to attend the session, however, as a go-between, with an understanding of both the aims of the composer and the working practices of orchestral musicians.  It really is an honour to take part in these events, to witness so many talented professionals striving to enliven musical ideas that have only existed as demos and notation up to now.
This experience will have an impact on my teaching role next academic year – delivering the new Media Music module of the Foundation Degree in Popular Music and Production (from September 2008), with an insight into current practices

digital habits – your story

May 2, 2008

In ed tech blogs, we read a lot about new web tools and services and the more I read, the more I realise there is no one–size-fits-all. The diversity of ‘habits’ is remarkable!
One way for newbies to web 2.0 technologies can be helped, is to demonstrate our habits and the SPLICE project is after your stories. This project is particularly focused on learners, teachers and professionals in the creative industries.
Do you use blogs, social networks or IM to connect and learn? Do you publish your work online – (video, audio, photographs, text) in social spaces (like YouTube, MySpace and Flickr)? Do you collaborate, using google docs or wikis? And most importantly, what benefit do you get from using these tools?
If you have a moment to respond, please tell your story by posting comments at http://splice.wikispaces.com/stories (just hit the discussion tab). And I hope you may learn from the other stories!

I’ve made a start with a short screen capture movie. My first attempt and I will cover other aspects and post them on the wiki too.

Find more videos like this on The Splice Group

dizzler rocks

April 20, 2008

It’s inevitable that one is drawn to certain web tools and services, whilst missing out on others. I’ve not been quick to latch onto widgets but I came across dizzler.com which gets the social media thing just right for me! Not only does the player look like an iphone (Dear Santa….) it brings music and video searching into one neat unit. I’ve always liked the idea of ‘everything on one stage’ as clicks away from a page are akin to shifting focus. Try it! Search for a song or artist. I’ve found the video search more successful, as more music is available in a video format. It seems to search YouTube and occasionally a video will not play – not sure why, maybe because of settings on YouTube? What a great tool for both presentation in the classroom and online learning. No longer do you have to embed a specific song in a page but ask the learner to search for it, then respond to your question or discussion.

UPDATE I’ve deleted the dizzler player in this post as it auto-plays an audio track which is really annoying!  It doesn’t do the same thing where I’ve embedded it at ccmmusic.ning.com.

the sweetest feeling

April 11, 2008

It was one of those days (yesterday) when I really felt a part of both the creative industry and the global community.  A day when all aspects of my endeavour came together sweetly – my passions for social web tools (for connecting and learning), the evolution of creative industries  and string arranging!  Looking back through the mails, messages, activities and chats, this is how it panned out.

Over night mails came from Ken Lewis (producer based in New York), asking about a sample recreation, Jen (my agent in Toronto) about Samplebase (Los Angeles) and an enquiry about strings (from Moscow).  There were notifications about discussions on the student social network I run (a Ning service) where John Blaylock (singer and writer for International One – now signed and recording debut album) was the guest host.  He totally rocks!  A band in Los Angeles were also enquiring about strings – found me with a google search.  Ken Lewis later agreed to trade some string work for a guest host slot on CCM Music (that is quite a coup!).

I spent the morning answering mails and prepping a presentation about web tools for learning, for staff at Mid Cheshire College.  A quick bit of fiddle practice (trying to get some jazz standards together with guitarist Jason Brown) then off to do the presentation (always a bit stressful) and found out more about the new Creative and Media diploma which is embracing the convergence of skills that all CI practitioners need to wake up to.  As part of the event, we posted a comment on Ken Lewis’s blog – his blogging is a great example of how to reach out from a website, not just present information.

Email updates also about some UK work – a hip-hop project, a movie (my old friend and extraordinary composer Richard Mitchell) and recordings for radio idents.

I’m chipping away at a long term project for Tim Duncan – preparing arrangements and scores for an ice ballet (to be recorded in Moscow end of May), so managed to put some hours in on this.

I just wanted to capture the satisfying feeling of all the bits falling into place!