Play Fewer Notes

Ideas and resources for music education.

The topic of ‘Film Music’ is always popular with my students. At all levels, students enjoy working with sound and image to create particular effects. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with how I teach ‘leitmotif’ writing, or the ‘superhero theme’.

In the past, I’ve tended to stick to ‘just write fifths and use brass instruments’, hoping this would yield good results from students. Sometimes it did, but I’m not sure my teaching had much to do with it. I think I’ve hit on a formula that works, which you might consider adapting for your classes.


I’ve started my own ‘bookshop’ on (UK).

If you buy a book from there, I receive a commission.

I’ve created two lists; one of my own books (sorry), and I’m building a list of my favourite music education books.

I can now share affiliate links on this blog, which give me a little kickback if you buy the book using that link.

For example, outside of work, I just finished ‘The Survivalists: A Novel’ by Kashana Cauley, and if you buy it from this link, I get a bit of money.

I’ve just started ‘Midlife: A Philosophical Guide’ by Kieran Setiya, and the same applies.

It’s quite fun. I’m aiming for £10 this year.

This is an older post from my previous blog, originally posted in June 2021.

sound and silence

On Wednesday 23rd June I attended a seminar, organised by B-MERG, entitled Paynter and Aston's 'Sound and Silence': discussion and response. A tie-in with the 2019 book marking 50 years since publication of the original work, the session offered a few perspectives on the legacy of Paynter and Aston's book, as well as some discussion of its relevance today. It was a fantastic seminar, and I haven't really stopped thinking about it since.

Sound and Silence has always been a key text that has shaped my views on musical education. The perfect cocktail of whole-class music-making, projects with such exciting, unknown possibilities, and the overall framing around the thought-processes emerging from 20th Century art music, is one I've always found to be intoxicating. My training at Birmingham City University modeled many of the, for want of a better term, 'ways of musicking' discussed in the book, and I've always held a strong belief that 'good music education' should look at lot like the projects detailed in the original book. As such, over the course of the seminar, I was both inspired by the contemporary context that these ideas were given, but also filled with conflicting thoughts on my own practice.


One of my Christmas presents to myself was the book 5 Pop Grooves for Orff Ensembles by Heather Fortune and Ethan Hein.

I don’t teach the Orff approach ‘properly’ by any means, but a lot of the pedagogy behind looping chordal patterns, and melodic improvisation, often finds its way into my classroom practice. I also don’t have any Orff instruments in my current school.

Anyway, ‘Fresh Feels’, one of the aforementioned five pop grooves, has been a great success in my lessons over the past few weeks. Adapting it for the keyboard, I took the two chordal parts, bass line, and iterative melodies (more on this later), and created my own worksheet. I share it here as a PDF and images:


Late last year I had the pleasure of speaking remotely to a group of PGCE students, future music teachers, at the University of Hertfordshire. We discussed using technology in education, and I provided a few ideas and resources to get them started. Everything I shared that day is available on the website below:

Technology in Music Education – Introduction

We looked at a range of approaches, so you will find ideas for DAW projects/templates, as well as a link to various samples/stems/random files I have amassed over the years.

Feel free to use and share as you see fit, and if you have any questions, please contact me.


I’m adding Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room (1969) to the list of pieces in my ‘new music concert’ that I’ve never got around to putting on (one day…). I saw a great version this weekend at the rainy days festival in Luxembourg.

I’ll do it digitally, and I’ll try and run some tests in my classroom first. Maybe a shorter text for performance in a school?

Watch this space…


This is an old post from my old blog, but I think it is still relevant…

I think, I hope, that I’ve created simple and effective resource that goes some way to helping students engage in the Kaija Saariaho set work (Edexcel A Level Music).

Click here to access a small piece of code that runs in Sonic Pi, the free live-coding music synth that works great in schools.

Essentially it takes live sound as an input, and adds reverb and harmoniser effects akin to those in Petals, the set work. I’ve attempted to annotate the code below:


There are a few things to note:

  • You need to set your inputs and outputs up in Sonic Pi. It’s easy to do. It does work with laptop speakers and mic, but feedback is a problem. An audio interface with monitors is preferable (though feedback can still occur).
  • As mentioned in the picture, the harmoniser effect is subtle. Changing the numbers to other whole numbers adds more discernible intervals.
  • The effect doesn’t change over time like the Saariaho effects. If you can, change the dry/wet mix on your interface to create a ‘Saariaho-like effect’.

Though it seems complicated, essentially all you need to do need to do is open the code in Sonic Pi, run the code, and play an instrument. It does work!

All I do is set up a mic, and get students to come and play their instruments. They can play long and short notes, explore their range, as well as extended techniques. Any sound will work. They then hear the ‘processed’ sound live.

My students enjoyed this, and it helped them understand how the electronics were changing the sound of the ‘cello in the Saariaho set work. Feel free to use my little piece of code, and ask any questions if you need help setting it up. I hope it is useful!


#resource #idea #code #sonicpi #alevel #edexcel

Microsoft Teams doesn’t like GarageBand files.

This can be a problem if you are a Microsoft school using iPads.

The solution is simple; the workflow less so.

As Microsoft sees the ‘.band’ files (GarageBand projects) as folders, you need to zip or compress them first. On iPads this is quite easy, direct from the Files app:

This ‘.zip’ file can be attached to Teams posts, or assignments, with no problem:

When receiving the file, students need to save it somewhere sensible, then find it in the Files app (they won’t be able to open it in GarageBand, but they will try). If they click it in Files, it should un-compress and a GarageBand project will appear:

And that’s it. To make GarageBand files work with Teams, just compress them, attach them, and un-compress them afterwards. This is useful for sharing templates that students can then edit.


#ipad #apple #garageband #microsoft #teams #howto

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