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.