Tag Archives: education

How to practice effectively [video]

This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.

This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!

If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.

Enjoy! xx

New community music centre now open in Cumbria

Some of you may know I am involved with a few community music therapy projects in the north-west of England. Now think it’s time you met ‘me gaffer’, and had a wee peek at the new £2million centre which has recently opened its doors in Penrith, Cumbria.

Annie, Michael & the whole team at Sunbeams Music Trust have been working tirelessly for several years, and not just in fundraising for their brand new centre. Sunbeams Music Trust now provides community music across the region. Their ‘Music for Life’ & ‘Music for Dignity’ projects reach children and adults in schools, day centres, care homes & much more, bringing music (and improved wellbeing) to so many people who need & enjoy it. But there is always more work to be done and more communities & people to reach out to. This new centre will go some way to meeting that obvious need.

Featuring a large performance room, state-of-the-art digital recording studio and small music & therapy rooms, the new centre comes well equipped to meet the needs of the charity. A well-equipped kitchen & boardroom means they can also raise much needed revenue through conferencing & hosting events. The recording studio is also directly linked up to the performance hall, meaning the centre can also serve as a commercial studio capable of recording anything up & including a small orchestra!

Guitars laid out in ‘Lily’s Room’, at the Sunbeams Centre, Cumbria.

My only contribution to the new centre so far has been laying out the guitars on the floor (as above, however the remnants of which can also be briefly glimpsed in the video, via the link below). However, I hope to start leading a few of the projects there from 2017 and truth be told, I can’t wait! The new centre is, in a word, AWESOME!

Sunbeams runs entirely on donations & charity funding. If you haven’t yet chosen a charity to donate to for Christmas, or raise money for throughout 2017, please give Sunbeams some serious consideration.

Fundraiding information can be found on Sunbeam’s donation page.

Thanks, guys! xx

…And here’s the recent feature on the new Sunbeams Centre, courtesy of ITV News.

Ukulele Problems: Tuning

Ukulele beach(pic courtesy of ukulelemusichawaii.com)

So you’ve bought your first ukulele & learned a few chords. But now you’ve noticed that it’s gone out of tune. No matter, you have a tuner, you tune up. Done. But after a pretty short time, it’s out of tune again. Why?

I get this query a lot from my new ukulele students. Just as they are getting started with their first steps into music-making on this instrument, they become frustrated with it’s apparent lack of tuning stability.

New ukuleles come with new strings, which haven’t been ‘played in’. Just like a new set of strings of a guitar, they need to be ‘stretched’. As ukulele strings are made from nylon, which is a very flexible material, this is even more apparent.

The quickest way to to this is following these basic steps:

  1. Tune your ukulele
  2. Take a hold of the strings & gently pull them up, away from the fingerboard, repeating across a few different parts of the string (see an example video here)
  3. Re-tune the ukulele
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until re-tuning is no longer required

Hey presto! problem solved! Your ukulele should now not only remain stable after playing, but also hold it’d tuning better when travelling (though extreme changes in temperature will still cause the strings to expand and contract).

The video included via hyper link in point 2, above (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px0ds0T3ric) is one of many available online to help you better visualise what I mean by stretching the strings. It’s not as difficult as you might think!

Other things to remain mindful of:

While stretching the strings is by far the most common solution to fixing a consistently out of tune uke, you may still notice occasional tuning issues. Perhaps simple, mostly open chords sound correct, but those with three or four fretted notes, or barre chords, have one or two out of tune strings when played. More perplexing, this can happen when the open strings are still correctly tuned up.

The problem? In this case, it’s intonation.

Provided you have a decent instrument, where the frets are set up and spaced correctly (watch out for the false economy of the bottom range ‘budget models’), then this can easily be fixed by paying close attention to how you fret the notes. You may find, on new or more interestingly shaped chords, that you are pressing down too hard on certain strings, pushing that note slightly out of tune with the rest of the chord. Some positions might require you to stretch or bend a finger in a way which means it is not sitting behind the fret as per the standard method. This too, can be fixed with a little bit of practise, and a small amount of mindfulness. Happy Uke-ing!

Music & Wellbeing (Part 6): Music Therapy & Educational Wellbeing

Music and educational wellbeing

So far, we have investigated the value of music in physical and mental wellbeing. As previously discussed, a better education leads to greater feelings of wellbeing, particularly in later stages of life (Merriam & Kee, 2014). With that in mind, if we are to consider the value of music on our physical and mental wellbeing, we must also discern its role in our education.

There have been recent arguments for the evaluation of wellbeing in the school system, examining what good practice is already in place, and also discussing ways to implement further measures (Aggleton, Dennison & Warwick, 2010). A recent study by McFerran & Rickson (2014) also highlighted the positive effect of music and music therapy in educational wellbeing. Both of the above studies allude to the wider benefits in the community and later on in the child’s life, once they reach adulthood. In this chapter, I aim to examine current thinking on the effects of music on improvements in children’s learning.

The act of participating in musical activities, or playing musical instrument, is seen by many to be of great importance to children’s development (Scripp, Ulibarri, & Flax, 2013; Swanwick, 1988, 1994;). As well as teaching self-discipline and providing feelings of achievement, it acts as ‘a powerful therapy for all sorts of childhood conditions. It develops body, brain and soul in balance’ (Ben-Tovim, 1979, pp. 15-16). Music has been considered to share many similarities with language throughout our history (Thaut, 2005, p. 171). It has long been used as a method of communicating new ideas and concepts to children in a classroom environment (Welch, 2005, p. 254; Barrett, 2005). The use of music in teaching pre-school children acts as both an ‘aid in language development while promoting musical development at the same time’ (Wiggins, 2007, p. 55). Recent studies, such as those carried out by Rickard et al (2010) noticed significant improvements in the verbal memory of primary school children who had spent time studying and playing music.

Such improvements, however, stop a little short of the now famous ‘Mozart effect’. This term is derived from an experiment in which students who listened to at least ten minutes of Mozart’s music performed better in special awareness tests (Rauscher, Shaw & Ky, 1993, quoted in North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 346). The popularity of these studies allowing the idea that certain genres of music can increase intelligence has since filtered into popular assumption. However, the theory that listening to music increases intelligence quotient (IQ), excluding any other factors or stimuli, is in itself a ‘massive oversimplification and overgeneralisation of the original scientific findings’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 346). I agree that there are too many additional factors to be considered when taking into account music as stimulation for learning. I find it unreasonable to rely on an almost magical ‘Mozart Effect’ for better results in a classroom environment. I believe music needs to be employed intelligently as a communicative and participative tool in teaching practice. Student engagement will be increased through activities they regard as ‘fun’ and consequently topics can be digested more effectively. In my opinion, the musical method should stimulate creativity in the children, and better equip them for future learning in other subjects (Scripp, Ulibarri, & Flax, 2013).

While Wiggins (2007) conducted her research in the United States of America, there is an emerging global consensus to collaborate her view surrounding music as an effective tool in teaching. A similar study undertaken in Australia investigated the effects of shared music activities in pre-school children at ages 2-3 years old. The researchers then successfully linked these to a positive range of skills by the time the subjects reached ages 4-5 years old. The children demonstrated higher abilities in ‘vocabulary, numeracy, attentional and emotional regulation, and prosocial skills’. (Williams et al, 2015). The children in these tests proved to be more developed in terms of numeracy, literacy and prosocial skills, than children who had not partaken in shared music activities at a young age; more, even, than children who had participated in shared reading activities at the same age as part of the same research (Williams et al, 2015). This builds upon previous research in Germany, which suggests the level of skills such as numeracy in children may be largely down to the home environment of the child, not to mention other factors such as the educational level of the mother (Anders et al, 2012). Williams et al (2015) use the studies of Anders et al (2012) as one of the bases for their own research. While the German studies are not music-specific, they do not preclude the theories on which the Australian study was conducted. Similar investigations on older children by Hille & Schupp (2015) demonstrated not only an improvement in school performance, but greater conscientiousness and improved social awareness.

So what about children with special educational needs? ‘Special educational needs’ (SEN) is a term which encompasses a wide variety of physical and mental circumstances which might impede learning, experienced both within and outside of the educational system. In the classroom environment, examples of SEN include children with speech, sight or hearing impairments, dyslexia, dyspraxia, delayed cognition, Down’s syndrome and those on the Autistic spectrum (ASD). Studies carried out by Dieringer & Porretta (2013) have shown that the use of music during lessons improves concentration in children on the autistic spectrum. The data returned by their research showed significantly less propensity on the child’s part to diverge into off-task behaviours. They showed higher levels of concentration when music was used as part of the learning process. They reasoned that ‘music can act as an extra auditory stimulus providing additional environmental structure, thus prompting children with ASD to stay on task.’ (Dieringer & Porretta, 2013, p. 8). Dieringer & Porretta (2013) also conclude that looking into this area of study further could lead to improvements in other aspects of life for children with ASD, not least enhanced inclusiveness with other children.

While Dieringer and Porretta (2013) demonstrate in their study that off-task behaviours are reduced when music is used, they argue that further research needs to be conducted into whether or not ‘improved performance or learning actually took place’ (2013, p. 9). However, similar research by Gerrity (2013) focused specifically on improved learning in children with autism during music lessons. The findings of this research conclude that improvements in musical ability and understanding did in fact occur.

What is interesting about the studies carried out by Gerrity (2013), and those undertaken by Dieringer & Porretta (2013) is that they both focus on children with varying levels of autism inside the regular public school system. However, research by (Sandiford, Mainess, & Daher, 2013) has shown how music is of enormous help to teachers in specialist schools for children with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), including the most severe cases of autism. My caveat to this would be that such improvements depend on a number of interlinking circumstances. This is similar to the findings of Anders et al (2012). These include, amongst other factors; teaching style; available resources (learning support and funding, for example); environment (at home and school); and parental support.


Anders, Y., Rossbach, H., Weinert, S., Ebert, S., Kuger, S., Lehrl, S., Von Maurice, J. (2012) ‘Home and preschool learning environments and their relations to the development of early numeracy skills’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 27, pp. 231–244. Available From http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.08.003.

Barrett, M. (2005) ‘Musical communication and children’s communities of musical practice’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 261-280.

Ben-Tovim, A. (1979) Children and music. Great Britain: A. & C. Black Ltd.

Dieringer, S. & Porretta, D. (2013) ‘Using music to decrease off-task behaviours in young children with autism spectrum disorders’, Palaestra, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 7-9.

Dennison, C., Warwick, I. & Aggleton, P. (2010) ‘Evaluating health and well-being in schools’, in Aggleton, P., Dennison, C. & Warwick, I. (eds.) Promoting health and well-being through schools. United States & Canada: Routledge.

Gerrity, K. (2013) ‘Conditions that facilitate music learning among students with special needs: a mixed-methods inquiry’, Journal of research in music education, Vol. 61, No. 2, pp. 144-159. Available from: 10.1177/0022429413485428.

Hille, A., & Schupp, J. (2015) ‘How learning a musical instrument affects the development of skills’, Economics of Education Review, Vol. 44, pp. 56-82. Available from: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2014.10.007.

McFerran, K. & Rickson, D. (2014) ‘Community music therapy in schools: Realigning with the needs of contemporary students, staff and systems.’ International Journal of Community Music, Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 75. Available from: 10.1386/ijcm.7.1.75_1.

Merriam, S., & Kee, Y. (2014) ‘Promoting Community Wellbeing: The Case for Lifelong Learning for Older Adults’, Adult Education Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2, pp. 128-144. Available from: 10.1177/0741713613513633.

Rickard, N., Vasquez, J., Murphy, F., Gill, A., & Toukhsati, S. (2010) ‘Benefits of a Classroom Based Instrumental Music Program on Verbal Memory of Primary School Children: A Longitudinal Study’, Australian Journal of Music Education, No. 1, pp. 36-47.

North, A. & Hargreaves, D. (2008) The social and applied psychology of music. United States: Oxford University Press.

Sandiford, G., Mainess, K., & Daher, N. (2013) ‘A Pilot Study on the Efficacy of Melodic Based Communication Therapy for Eliciting Speech in Nonverbal Children with Autism’, Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, Vol. 43, No. 6, pp. 1298-1307. Available from: 10.1007/s10803-012-1672-z.

Scripp, L., Ulibarri, D., & Flax, R. (2013) ‘Thinking Beyond the Myths and Misconceptions of Talent: Creating Music Education Policy that Advances Music’s Essential Contribution to Twenty-First-Century Teaching and Learning’, Arts Education Policy Review, Vol. 114, No. 2, pp. 54-102. Available from: 10.1080/10632913.2013.769825.

Swanwick, K. (1988). Music, mind, and education. USA & Canada: Routledge.

Thaut, M. (2005) ‘Rhythm, human temporality, and brain function’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (Eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 171-191.

Welch, G. (2005) ‘Singing as communication’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D.J. (eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 239-259.

Wiggins, D. (2007) ‘Pre-K Music and the Emergent Reader: Promoting Literacy in a Music-Enhanced Environment’, Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 55-64. Available from: 10.1007/s10643-007-0167-6.

Williams, K., Barrett, M., Welch, G., Abad, V., & Broughton, M. (2015) ‘Associations between early shared music activities in the home and later child outcomes: Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children’, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Vol. 31, pp. 113-124. Available from: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.01.004.

“Seeing Without Knowing” (1)

There are many downsides to being unwell, as well as all the usual symptoms – missing uni, calling in sick for work, snot getting out on my first Friday night not gigging in ages (grr) – but there is the upside that you get more time in the house. This means all of those small, niggling tasks I’ve been putting off since moving house a few months ago are now sorted. I’m also more or less up to date with uni assignments but best of all, I’ve had time to devote to research and groundwork for my new sonic project, provisionally titled “Seeing Without Knowing”.

The premise behind the idea is simple enough: The accessibility of art to everyone

How many times have you heard people discuss ‘high art’ without any practical experience of it themselves?
In other words, think of a famous poet/playwright/composer/painter, etc – how well do you know their work? You know you SHOULD (and many cultural snobs will tell you, with great enthusiasm, what to like) but when was the last time you read poetry? Or went to an art gallery? Which brings me to my next point…

Apart from a small handful of amazing venues (The Sage Gateshead, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle’s Lit. & Phil. Society Library and The Hatton Gallery amongst them) there are few opportunities to experience famous Art exhibits in the North East of England. Is this because the powers that be in at the Arts Council/Lottery Fund, etc agree with the notorious critic Brian Sewell when he said art and culture would be ‘wasted on northern monkeys)? Even the Lindisfarne Gospels were only loaned to the City of Durham before being returned to the British Museum, despite winning ‘attraction of the year’ at the North East England Tourism Awards, 2013 – perhaps it’s time to highlight this perception, in order to change it.

Similarly, what makes some forms of art ‘high art’? There are people who switch off at the thought of certain genres because of their preconception of those as ‘stuffy’ just as there are those who can critique Pop music with very little listening experience to go off. These preconceptions are echoes of cultural use and prior opinion, which got me thinking – Why not use the echoes of an event as the source of a musical work, with the original performance removed?

I’ve recently appealed via my Twitter account (@tim_guitarist) for suggestions of large, cavernous spaces in which I can record myself playing solo classical guitar. The main criteria I am interested in is a) somewhere with large amounts of natural reverb (as I intend to record the reverb separately to the guitar itself) and b) somewhere away from external noises (so underneath rail bridges or near busy roads are a no-go for sound pollution reasons). I’ve had some interesting suggestions so far, but still looking for additional inspiration – if you have any suggestions, please drop me a line.

All will be made clear, but one stage of the process I have in mind will involve free public performances, so stay tuned for updates regarding dates and locations, etc. I am also interested in particular to hear from any visual artists who may want to add an accompanying visual element to the sonic piece I aim to create. Any who read this (professional or students) who may be interested in a collaboration please drop me a line so I can outline a few more details of my plan to you.

More details to follow, but until next time…

New Direction – the joys of being a mature student

All very last minute, but I am now officially a mature student.

I’ve been meaning to return to higher education and ‘top-up’ my foundation degree in Music, and now seemed like the right time. This time next year, I should – hopefully – have a BA in Music.
At present, I am unsure as to weather I will continue on into either a teaching qualification or head down the Masters/academic route. I will of course keep you all updated.

Despite considering this for some time, it was only following a chat with a friend that I originally contacted Sunderland University with a view to applying for next year – I mean, it’s already September, I assumed it was too late for this year! However, they mentioned available places and suggested I speak to the Head of Course. Following a ten minute phone conversation about the modules of the course and my relevant education and working experience I was offered a place.
To ensure the university had everything they needed (presumably for audit/OFSTED reasons) I had to complete the basic application form and take along a copy of my last HE certificate – and that was about it. Now all I need is for the Student Loans Company to get their finger out and send the fees/living expenses over!

So here’s some tips if you’re considering going into (or indeed returning to) higher education –

* Speak to the Universities you are interested in DIRECTLY. Find out as much as you can about the staff, facilities, teaching & assessment methods and of course the course itself. If it seems like a good fit for you, keep the information handy.

* Leave UCAS out of it – they operate best when catering for A-Level students waiting on results for their conditional offers. As a mature student, you only need ONE reference (an employer character reference).

* Wait until Universities are in their ‘clearing’ phase. This is immediately after A-Level results day and they will be very keen to fill up any places they haven’t yet found students for and therefore very attentive and helpful.

* Have everything ready to apply for any student finance. Find out what you are eligible to receive and what you need to provide in order for your application to be processed smoothly & quickly, without referring back to you for extra evidence (usually this is proof you have been self-funded for rent, mortgage, food, bills, car, etc, etc for the last three years). The Student Loans Company are notoriously awkward so make it as easy as possible for them and you!

* Finally, have fun and enjoy broadening your horizons! Don’t be put off by the perceived age difference – on my first day I realised everyone else was a 20 year old going straight onto the course from their HNDs, and hough I’m only 30, I had concerns it would be difficult to get along with a gaggle of younger pups. However I was surprised to see a motivated and mature group of individuals so I’m still very glad I signed up! I did, however, get mistaken for a lecturer as well – pros and cons I suppose!

My blog will continue with updates on my (mature) student life as well as information on my written and live-based project work. Either way, it will find a way into the projects I am currently working on in my own time.

Peace out for now xx

Book Review: Higgledy Piggledy Jazz for Classical Guitar Ensemble

Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is the brainchild of teacher and composer Elena Cobb (http://www.elenacobb.com/index.html), who is on a dual mission to introduce more Jazz into children’s learning, and make it fun at the same time. As well as her books for Piano, Elena also has versions for guitar and alto sax students, and it’s the Classical Guitar Ensemble book I am reviewing today.

Ten of Elena’s Piano peices have been arranged for a combination of duo, trio and quartets and set in order of technical complexity. The scores are clear and easy to read, with each part clearly marked*. The first few peices in the book are variation on Blues in C and very simplistic. The main melody is one Jazz lick repeated and varied for the chord underneath. The accompanying parts are equaly repetative, and any player beyind the initial stages will quickly bore of it. My suggestion to teachers would be to rotate the lead between players, provided all of them were at the same technical level.

On the plus side, as the book progresses there are some interesting musical ideas, and the three guitar players Elena has called in to arrange these peices have done a good job here. I really feel the intermeadiate peices work better. My personal favourite is ‘Polka Butterfly’, a charismatic duo which would stretches students into a new style. As mentioned before the page layout is clean and easy to read, and I love Elena’s mission to introduce classical players to the swing rythym, something not widely present in the classical guitar repertiore.

My one suggestion would be to include a page at the front to explain notation and guitar-specific symbology (such as the fingering labels and guides for which string to play certian notes on). I appreciate that this book is primarily for teachers, who would provide the guidance on these things to young students, but it would serve as a useful look-up reference page when practising at home.

All in all, this is a useful book for teachers who are looking to encourage their emerging classical guitar students into exploring new styles and mpore contemporary ways of playing. It is also a valuble tool for young ensembles. One of classical guitar’s downfalls is that so often it is a solo venture; it’s uplifting to know tha Elena is working to ensure young students of the guitar do not feel that isolation, and her book will go a long way towards that end. Highly recommended for any classical crossover teachers of children.

[*N.B. – There is also a Tabluture version of this book, for children who are still coming to grips with reading music]