Author Archives | Gabrielle Deschamps

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I'm a secondary music teacher, interested in music technology and its integration into classroom pedagogy.

Heads Up: Virtual Youth Choir!

May 27, 2014


Last year I was able to participate in Virtual Choir 4: Fly to Paradise, which was fantastic. So I got really excited when I was able to share it recently with my school and then tell them about the world’s first Virtual Youth Choir which has recently been launched.

Singers aged 18 and under can take part in this choir, which will be premiered at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Children need to sign up and submit a parent’s/guardian’s email so they can confirm their child’s participation. The learning tools are all publicly available so parents and teachers can help singers to learn the song.

Once they’ve got the song down, singers can video themselves singing the song and upload it to the website. All the videos are brought together in a mind-boggling feat of editing to form one massive online choir.

The dealine to submit videos is June 8 (midnight, UTC-11), so if you haven’t visited the Virtual Youth Choir already, click on the image below to get started!



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A Story of Music and Healing

October 6, 2013


Elizabeth J. Campbell is a singer/musician and music therapist, who is passionate about music and its ability to heal people and change lives. A few weeks ago she asked me if she could share a story of healing through music with all my readers. I was intrigued as I’ve never done “guest posts” before. I had a look at her story and agreed that it’s very powerful and definitely worth a read. Below, Elizabeth shares a little about herself and her work in her introduction, followed by her story:


Passionate doesn’t begin to describe Elizabeth J Campbell’s feelings about music. She has a varied and successful career in many aspects of music performance and education. Her professional background has combined a lifelong love of music and performing with a degree in Psychology from Syracuse University. She has combined these interests in the area of Music Therapy (graduate certificate from Arizona State University). She has worked in the field of music therapy for over 9 years, most of which has been spent working with severely emotionally disturbed teenagers. She is especially proud of her experiences in Jesus Christ Superstar, Bye Bye Birdie, Fiddler on the Roof, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, singing with the Boston Pops under the direction of Keith Lockhart, and her invitation to audition for the LA Opera Chorus under the direction of Grant Gershon. She has performed live with several rock bands as lead singer, back up singer, and keyboard player. Elizabeth also has vocal demo experience. She is a versatile performer with a love for her craft. She not now only uses music to entertain others, but also a form of positive self-expression. Elizabeth enjoys the outdoors, dueling pianos, and spending time with those she loves. And, well, lots of other things too. She has completed several AIDS Walks and helped build homes for those in need in Mexico. 

It starts with a pulse inside my head. The beating of my heart; hard as lead. Can’t get the music out of my mind. The rhythm of the words, the melody, the time. Melodies of sorrow, melodies of hate; used to be my story, but now that’s changed. I found a shining light and a brand new way, to live the rhythm of my life. The words have changed, the story’s rearranged; to fit a life lived with a little less pain, but with joy…joy for the music, the music that saves. 

This is a story of a young girls whose life was changed and saved by her love of the music. “Jennifer” was 15 years old when she was first admitted to “The Home.” Angry and depressed about her life and family, she resorted to physical violence and self-mutilation to cope with her feelings. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; something she would have to live with for the rest of her life. Let’s get clinical for a brief moment…very brief: Bipolar disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a lifelong condition that can affect both how you feel and how you act. It is a mood disorder thought to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain that can result in extreme swings in mood—from manic highs to depressive lows. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you must have experienced a high period (mania). Bipolar mania is described as an “extreme high,” or feeling unusually great. Most people with bipolar disorder when ill or when symptomatic experience more lows (depression) than highs. Doesn’t sound fun, huh? Like most people with labels, she decided to live up to the reputation of being “that way.” She got into fist fights with peers and argued with adults until exhaustion took over and anger became tears. Her family had let her down and she saw no way out. “Jennifer” was stuck. Stuck in the anger, and stuck in the pain. What could save her from this downward spiral; this black abyss? She wanted to cry out for help, but didn’t know how. Like most depressed girls her age, “Jennifer” stuffed her feelings. She didn’t know how to express them in a healthy way.

One day “Jennifer” wandered into one of my music groups. At the surface, the groups was about learning how to sing or play the piano. At a deeper level, issues like low self-esteem, poor anger and stress management skills, fear of failure, and disempowerment were addressed. “Jennifer” expressed an interest in both singing and piano, but her heart was with her voice. She started off shy, not wanting to sing songs she didn’t already know and fearful of performing in front of her peers. She was afraid of her voice and of other’s judgement. “Jennifer” doubted her vocal abilities and would give up if she felt she wasn’t singing up to her standards. As time passed. “Jennifer” and I worked together to help her gain faith in her ability to sing; in her ability to succeed at something. She had no difficulty believing in a higher power outside of herself, but her own self -worth was non-existent.

“Jennifer” began by attending music group twice a week, and slowly grew more comfortable learning unfamiliar songs. Her ability to express her feelings was first to improve. She sang songs that touched her at a deeper level, and would often lead to an emotional catharsis; sometimes for both of us. As months passed,” Jennifer” began seeking me out for more music groups, and started expressing a desire to perform. She began wanting to sing in front of five or fewer peers; performing duets with me, as I was her safety net. Throughout this process, I noticed “Jennifer” engaging in fewer conflicts with both peers and adults, and being able to focus more in school, as her grades were slowly improving. Her singing voice was becoming something of which she was proud, and her self-esteem was getting higher. For the first time, she was both discovering and owning her strengths.

Our annual Awards Night gala was quickly approaching, and I was looking for singers and dancers. “Jennifer” approached me wanting to sing….a solo! She was glowing with happiness! We brainstormed and found the perfect song; a simple, yet catchy tune. What came next? Weeks of rehearsing, minor breakdowns, and “Jennifer” ultimately mastering the song; as well as she was able. She performed beautifully; a shining star! The brightest star, in fact, and she owned it. She owned it in front of an audience of over 100 people! Was her performance perfect? No, but what was perfect was her ability to surpass her fears and take pride in herself; for who she was and what she accomplished. This was a success, not the failure she had been conditioned to.

“Jennifer” just turned 18 and is about to graduate from high school. She sings solos with her church choir on a weekly basis, is taking piano lessons regularly, and just finished performing a lead role in the school’s fall musical performance. “Jennifer” does not have a recording contract, nor is she the next American Idol, but she loves what she does. She loves music! She seems, well….happier.

“Jennifer” continues to have her daily struggles, but is better able to deal with them with music in her life. You, dear reader, are now witness to the power of music.


You can find this story along with many others on Elizabeth’s website:

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Singing with Virtual Choir 4

July 22, 2013


A little over a week ago, Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 4: “Fly to Paradise” premiered in London for the Queen’s Coronation Festival. I was especially looking forward to this one, because I got to join in!

The History:

If you’ve never heard of Virtual Choir before, here’s a bit of a rundown. After hearing a young fan sing the soprano part of one of his choral compositions on YouTube, Eric Whitacre uploaded a conducting video and a sound-recording for singers to follow. People from 12 different countries recorded themselves singing their voice parts, sent it back to him, and he put it all together. Virtual Choir 1: “Lux Aurumque” was the result:


This was followed soon after by Virtual Choir 2: “Sleep”, this time with over 2000 voices. This one brought tears to my eyes because of the way it highlighted all the different countries which were involved. It reminded me of Musicians Without Borders: suddenly international conflict seemed totally surmountable, and politics almost faded into irrelevance:


Virtual Choir 3: “Water Night” followed the year after. I was nearly able to participate in that one, but unfortunately work deadlines got in the way and I missed out:


So I was determined that, come hell or high water, I would be in the next one. Well, the time came and this time I was ready…just. If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it is this: do not, whatever you do, leave it to the last minute. I had intended to submit videos for Soprano 1 through to Tenor, but in the end I only had time to do the 2nd Soprano part plus the solo audition. But hey, at least I made it this time!

A month later, the end result finally came online:


When I first saw it, which, since I’m in Australia, wasn’t till the morning of the twelfth, I turned into a just-barely-dignified blubbering mess over my breakfast cereal. It’s a bit mindblowing to see something like this for the first time as a participant. I haven’t managed to spot myself anywhere in the video, but that doesn’t really matter: I know my voice is in there with the rest of them. That’s…well, pretty awesome.

The Community:

There are so many people involved this choir that the credits are nine minutes long – twice as long as the song itself. Probably one of the most moving submissions (I think) was made by RhondaLee, a hearing-impaired woman who performed her solo audition in sign language. You can spot her in the final video at about 3:34. I think the funniest submission would have to be the baritone puppet (…yes, you read that right. I have yet to spot him in the choir, but somehow I’m not optimistic). Then, of course, there’s the blooper reel, for those who were – unlike me – brave enough to submit their outtakes.

There’s a forum where the community all talked to each other and supported each other through the whole process, and continue to converse even now. The forum is another reason why one should get involved early: I wish I’d come across it sooner and realised that vocal coaches could be found there, for example. I haven’t had singing lessons in years and could have used a few reminders about technique.

The nailbiting three-day wait for the soprano solo audition materials to go online, the second-guessing after submission (should I have put that video in? Maybe I should have done another take? Should I have submited the other one?), the mutual calming down and soothing of frazzled nerves, the story-telling and jokes, were all shared in the forum while we waited impatiently for the final release.

Now that the wait is over and it’s been a bit over a week, the video has gone viral and the VC community continues to thrive. Eric Whitacre’s intention was always to make the musical components available for other musicians to play with, and a number of remixes have already popped up. For example:

The Experience (and Tips for Next Time):

VC4 belongs in a special way to everyone who took part. Also, this project exists in the present. It’s not like a conference or a concert where you have a great time and then the memories fade. This performance is. Forever.

I really would have liked to get some of my students involved. However, my experience of preparing and submitting the videos made me very glad that I did it alone first, just so I could see firsthand what “making a submission” actually entails. It is an inspiring and wonderful thing to be a part of, but the process can be gruelling. I did several takes: about twenty for the Soprano II video and fourteen for the solo audition, but apparently some people did up to seventy (!). I was also very tired and cramming everything into the last minute, which takes its toll on the voice even without doing take after take. Then there was the fact that I wasn’t very cluey with the recording software I was using. Tip: get cluey beforehand. A long way beforehand.

People are already asking Eric Whitacre about VC5. In anticipation, I’ve compiled a list of “Notes to Self” for the next time around:

  1. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  2. No, really: don’t wait until the last minute.
  3. Don’t try to learn a new piece of video editing software 29 hours before the deadline.
  4. If you can, set up the microphone so you can stand up.
  5. Do take several takes over several days, instead of trying to cram them all into one day.
  6. Take time before recording to read stuff on the forum regarding things like, “Don’t use vibrato”.
  7. Sleep well, eat well, look after yourself.
  8. Know when enough’s enough.
  9. Did I mention not to leave it to the last minute?

When the next time rolls around, if you have the chance and the resources, go for it. It’s great fun!

Thankyou to Eric and the whole team: it was an honour to be part of this fantastic project.

Can’t wait for VC5! 🙂

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Reflecting on MTEC 2013

April 14, 2013


I’ve been trying for the last couple of days, with some difficulty, to write about this month’s MTEC 2013 Music Technology in Education Conference in Melbourne. There was just so much going on that I’m not sure I can really do justice to it all.

Halfway through day one, even though I’d registered for all my sessions beforehand, I was still changing my mind and trying to decide which ones to attend. There were so many fantastic seminars and hands-on lessons that it was impossible to get to even a quarter of the ones I would have liked to see. By the end of that first day, I felt like my brain needed its own personal iCloud hovering just beside it, so I had room to store everything that I was learning without the danger of my head exploding.

I was especially excited about this conference because, just the week before, I splurged and bought myself a new iPad 4. Initially I had been suffering from an ever-so-slight case of “buyer’s remorse”, but mtec2013 put paid to all my misgivings and I had lots of fun, starting with Antony Hubmayer’s iPad band which I attended on the first day.

My main personal goal this time around was to get my head around PA systems and sound mixers. I’ve moved to a new school where they have a VET music program and the other music teacher used to own a recording studio, so a very strong music program has been established with the use of these technologies. They represent a side of music which I have always struggled with. I had a number of opportunities to get my head around the basics, and now it’s all finally starting to “click”. (Thanks Keith!)

Some of the sessions

Dr James Frankel showed us a range of resources which are available in”the Cloud”, like noteflight, Charanga, and Soundation, to name a very few. I did a bit of cloud-based work last year, mainly with my maths class, although nowhere near to the extent demonstrated by Jim Frankel and others (notably Samuel Wright, whose work with iBooks blew my mind. Go check his website: he’s very generous and makes his work available for free).

“The Cloud” was one of the constant themes of this conference. Practically every session I attended referred to it in some way. I was using it plenty myself on my new iPad. My apps of choice were Evernote, Dropbox and Notability. I loved how I could upload all the conference notes to the Cloud, download them onto my iPad, then make handwritten notes on them using a stylus.

This isn’t to say that anything cloud-based is automatically “good”. There are some great applications for teaching and learning through the cloud, but it has its pitfalls like anything else. That’s another blog post for later, though.

There was a session by Craig Bentley on the “flipped classroom”, using video to teach the content to students while they were at home, then doing the exercises or practical work in the classroom, with the teacher present as the “guide on the side”.

What I took away from that session was this: flipped classroom does work well, but if you undertake the creation of the resources yourself, it’s a lot of work. You also have to weigh up certain risks, like potentially finding your video posted on Facebook, for example.  Having said that, if your video is a good enough teaching resource which puts the content across clearly, is there a reason to worry about where it turns up? Each individual teacher would need to weigh this up in his or her own mind before going ahead.

Other sessions I attended focussed on the ins and outs of PA (Keith Huxtable), constructivist music pedagogy (Antony Hubmayer), the important issue of copyright pertaining to the use of digital media in the classroom (Barbara Freedman), using the iPad as a sheet music viewer (Tim Nikolsky), arranging and mixing using (legally obtained) stems from songs like “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye (Katie Wardrobe), creating 30-second compositions for jingles and ringtones and using the iPad as a digital mixer (Adrian Alexander),  the student-centred notation class (George Hess), and creating online resources using iBooks Author (Samuel Wright). That’s just a tiny snippet of everything that was going on each day.

Can I just add here: I’m really sorry to the presenters of each of the above for not going into the content further, but I’ll never get this post published if I try. The fact is that I’m still trying to absorb everything that I learned from you, so I’m not sure how much I could articulate at this point. Hopefully I’ll be able to blog about my work with your ideas later down the track.


There were three great keynote presentations delivered by Scott Watson, Barbara Freedman, and James Humberstone. Composition, and the various ways to approach it, was a recurring theme and there were points coming from each presentation which seemed to connect and tie in nicely with each other. Scott talked about limiting the choices or parameters given to students in order to let their creativity take off. Barbara’s angle was, “I hate the phrase think outside the box. I say, teach kids the box.”

James talked about project-based learning and the necessary requirement for the teacher to do the project first. But he pointed out that this is in the nature of music teaching anyway: we always do it ourselves first. So instead of advocating for music to merely have a place in the curriculum, why not advocate for music to lead the way in curriculum? Hear hear!


This was the group who performed for us at the conference dinner and gave a session on live-looping the following day. They gave what I thought was a great performance combining the classic barber-shop quartet with loops recorded on the spot. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and now I’m wondering whether a looping system might fit in the school’s budget so I can try it with my classes and/or choir.


I’ve owned an Avid M-Audio Producer microphone and an M-Box mini for some time now, but (surprisingly for a geek) I never got around to using them. I had tried to connect up Protools and an M-Box at my last school, but technical hitches always got in the way so it never ended up working properly. Maybe the new teacher will figure it out now that they have some new hardware. But I was reluctant to pull this stuff out and connect it up at home, as a result.

Well, mtec2013 has inspired me to try again, and I have finally gotten around to using a usb mic with Audacity. I was up till something like one o’clock last night recording a choral piece I wrote into a thirty-voice choir. I’m not quite ready to post it here yet; it still needs a bit of cleaning up and polishing. But my relationship with recording and mixing has begun at last.

On that note, I really can’t not share this little video that Barbara Freedman showed us in her keynote:


Hopefully my own choir piece doesn’t need quite that much polishing!

To finish, here’s an idea: how about all the keynote speakers for mtec2015 wear different coloured fluourescent odd socks?


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New stuff on my Resources page

September 9, 2012


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of downloads for my Vivaldi analysis and Elements of Music packages. I thought I’d upload a few more resources from my collection in case they might also be of use.

I don’t tend to do a lot of PowerPoint these days, but I do have a number of them lying around in various stages of construction. I’ve uploaded six which seem to me to be the most complete, succinct, and/or potentially useful for other music teachers. I’ll upload others as I get around to fixing them up.

You’ll find them on my Resources and Lesson Plans page, under “Various Music PowerPoints”. The ones I have in the collection so far are:

  • Doctrine of Affections
  • Grunge Music
  • Hip Hop
  • Music of Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Renaissance Music
  • Tones, Semitones, and Scales

All of them are easily editable if you need to change or add anything.

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Have I found a missing link?

July 20, 2012


My maths students really struggled in semester one this year. Whether it was to do with a new curriculum we’ve recently implemented, or maybe it was some aspect of my teaching, or their feelings about maths as a subject in general, or just life events happening outside the classroom. For whatever reason, things just didn’t go so well for us in the first semester.

When other teachers told me that their students were also struggling, I felt a little better…but only a little.

So I decided to change my approach.

The Email List

After marking all my semester one maths exams and reflecting upon the results, I sat down and started ringing parents – every single one of them, whether their child had passed or failed. I invited them to join an email list, so I could send them class work and homework, plus any helpful attachments like textbook pages or links to video tutorials.

When I did this, I learned something: parents in general are on my side. They are on our side. They want to know what’s going on. They love the idea of being informed about homework, because their kids are always saying, “I don’t have any.”  They want to be involved, and they love the open line of communication between themselves and the teacher. Accordingly, they were thrilled to come on board.

I confess, there was a time when I didn’t realise this. I’m an introvert by nature and very shy about ringing people I don’t know. Whenever I had to ring a parent, especially in my earlier years as a teacher, my face would turn white and my stomach would churn. This was not helped by the fact that it was usually something negative that I had to call them about.

But now that I’ve started emailing, it’s a whole different ball game. I much prefer writing to speaking. Having to stand up in front of a big group of people and talk every day is decidedly not my preferred way of doing things. I love writing though, and I love that I can write to the parents.

The first thing I noted after doing this was an immediate improvement in both behaviour and homework throughout the whole class. It especially warmed my heart when one student, who was notorious for not getting his homework done, showed me three pages of volume and surface area equations that his dad had made him do over the weekend. Another student told me, in an ever-so-slightly disconcerted tone, that her mother had started talking to her about Pythagoras over breakfast.

Those who hadn’t completed their homework had not done so, not out of laziness or forgetfulness, but because they didn’t understand it, but at least they’d given it a shot. Either that, or I received an email from the parents to say they hadn’t had time because of some other circumstance.

But not a single dog has eaten so much as a page of homework since the parents came on board.

Virtual Classrooms

This is something I experimented with in music over the past couple of years, but it didn’t work quite as well as I’d hoped. I’m trying it again with maths, and it’s working a treat. I’m getting such positive feedback that I’m planning to get my music classes back online.

You may be familiar which a virtual classroom. Basically, it’s an online learning environment, and there are lots of different platforms that run it. The ones I run are on Blackboard, but there’s also Moodle and many others.

What I do for each lesson is write a dot-point list for class work and homework, attaching a pdf of the relevant pages from the textbook. I also hunt around for videos from YouTube which explain the concept we’re working on. I’ll generally try to get at least two or three different ones that will explain the same concept. That way, I figure that if the students don’t get it when I explain it, maybe someone else’s explanation might work. Links to other websites get put in as well, so I end up with a bit of a library much like the one one this blog.

My class has had the virtual classroom (VCR) for nearly two weeks, and today they were proudly showing me their books. Nearly three quarters of the class said they’ve done more maths since our work went online, than they had done in the entire first semester. What it really enables them to do is work at their own pace. If they know how to do the work, they can just go ahead while I explain it to the rest of the class. They can go back and forth as much as they need.

But the most important thing for me is the fact that, not only are they working more, they’re enjoying maths more. They’re more engaged. One student in particular has done a complete 180-degree about-face in his attitude. Last semester, he and I would be at loggerheads every other week. These days, he’s still as talkative as ever, but he’s doing the work. Others are getting the work done so fast that I sometimes have a hard time keeping up.

My thoughts so far…

So far, there has been a definite improvement in behaviour, homework and general engagement with the subject. I will be very interested to see how that translates into assessment results.

I think the VCR is a huge help, because students can just open up their laptops and away they go. For those who don’t have the laptops, there are hard copies of the textbook and the set work is also written up on the board. They seem to do fine as well. It appears to be the general culture of the classroom that has changed for the better, with regards to getting the work done.

However, while the VCR is great, I think the thing that’s really been helping my students the most is the extra push that they’re now getting from home. I’m coming to realise that the parents are really the most important link, and I now wonder why I didn’t do this ten years ago. It has given me a great opportunity to build relationships with them, and to let them be really involved.

It does take a lot of work to set up and put into place. Also, I sense that others’ expectations of me as a teacher may be raised dramatically. Parents will now expect to hear from me regularly. Students will expect the work to be uploaded on time, and they will expect that their parents will know about it. I have a feeling, however, that this could be an ounce of prevention that is worth several pounds of cure.

Having said that, I won’t sugar-coat it and tell you that it’s necessarily an easy undertaking. On the contrary, it can be a daunting task. For one class, it took me two weeks to contact every parent. In the first week of the new term, my workload also increased tenfold; I went to bed every night at 3am.

The good news is that this initial period does settle down, once you get the ball rolling. I am now back to going to bed at a reasonable hour. I also know that it won’t be so difficult or take quite so long the next time around, because I’ve done it before.

One of the best things for me personally, is that the email list and the VCR both work to an important strength of mine: I’m a writer, and I write far better than I speak. Writing is how I think. If I don’t write about something, I can’t think about it quite as clearly.

Since I’m a writer, I think the students get to see a different aspect of my personality when I write to them on the VCR. Certainly, I feel like my rapport with them has been immensely improved by the fact that I write to them. I feel like they can know me better. Big groups are not my thing, and writing has really helped me feel more comfortable, which makes me less stressed, which makes for a more pleasant maths teacher.

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The Secondary Schools Choral Festival…and counting sleeps!

July 19, 2012


Why am I counting sleeps? Because come August 13, my other half and I are on long-service leave and we’re heading off to France! This has been a life-long dream for me, so I’m very excited that it’s finally happening.

In the meantime, I apologize for altogether disappearing from the radar for the last few months. It has been stupidly busy, and to be honest, I kind of lost the habit of blogging. I am resolved to turn back from the dark side, though, as I really do much better at things when I write about them.

Secondary Schools Choral Festival

For the second year in a row, my choir had the privilege of working with renowned choral director David Lawrence. They had a one and a half hour workshop, then a rehearsal together with students of four other school choirs. All of them performed together that night for the Secondary Schools Choral Festival in Mackay last Friday night.

I was particularly excited because the song which my choir performed was actually written by one of the students. She wrote it two years ago when she was in grade ten. It impressed me so much that I was resolved to arrange it for the choir. This year I did just that, and it was performed to a very impressed audience.

I have a MuseScore file of her song in the choral arrangement, which I will post on this blog when I get a few moments to polish it up (with her permission).

The night before that performance, I attended a workshop which David Lawrence also held, this one for choral conductors. I hadn’t attended one of these in a long time, so I was really excited. Many years ago I studied choral conducting at the Brisbane Conservatorium with Dr John Nickson, which was one of my favourite classes. I spent the evening trying to reconnect with those concepts I’d learned back then, under David’s helpful guidance. It was one of the best workshops I’ve attended in a long time and I found myself wishing I could attend conducting classes.

I was especially glad because there had been a week-long choral conducting workshop in Brisbane over the recent holidays, but I had been unable to attend.

After the workshop, we all went out for dinner, during which I introduced David to Twitter and telling him why he should tweet. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll have another new follower soon…and then I’ll have to introduce him to all of you guys.


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Stars are spinning around my head

February 29, 2012


That’s the image of me which you should have in your head right now. We’re just over halfway through the first term, and the workload has been massive. This has been my first opportunity to poke my head out of the water and say “hi”.

So, hi. 🙂

It has been an exhausting first half of term one. I’ve been asking colleagues whether they’ve been feeling the pinch as well, just to make sure it’s not my imagination, and they confirm: the last five weeks have hit us all like a freight train.

One of the (several) new things going on lately has been the recent roll-out of laptops for students in years 9 and 10. For those year levels, we have therefore been in the process of adapting to the delivery of a 1:1 curriculum. Some of us are finding it easier than others.

Oddly enough, I find myself being extremely conservative and cautious at this initial stage. So far, I have had only one lesson where I have allowed my students to use their laptops, and that was on a day where I was absent and I set some work online. That was for a music class. For maths, I haven’t allowed it yet at all.

It’s not that I’m against 1:1. Are you kidding? I’m a total geek and I love working with technology. I really look forward to using laptops in lessons when I feel that I’ve laid enough of the proper groundwork. But I don’t want them to totally take over and be used indiscriminately, as a be-all-and-end-all.

Part of the problem is the fact that it’s early days. We’ve never had this before, so it’s all still novel. As far as many students are concerned, we’ve just handed each of them one more way to “plug in” and feed their addiction. Getting some of them to think of a laptop as a learning tool and not just a mobile entertainment unit can be quite a trick.

So I’ve been working on instilling this expectation in my students: have the laptops there, ready and available, but only for exercises and tasks which I specifically set. Part of that process has been to require students to have their laptops with them but closed, for whole lessons at a time.

So what’s the use of having them there? Plenty, but I want my students to have the habit of not expecting to stare at a screen all lesson.

Working with laptops seems to be much like working with glockenspiels. Anyone who has ever tried to teach with thirty glockenspiels can attest to this fact: as long as you’re talking to the class, those things need to be closed. Not “there and open”. Closed. They get opened and played only on direct instructions.

Laptops are also extremely noisy, though not precisely in the same way. In fact, the very nature of laptops means that they can each be fifty times as noisy as fifty glockenspiels put together, yet not make a single sound. They are capable of creating all kinds of mental – and emotional – noise, which makes it next to impossible for a student to concentrate on anything you might wish for them to learn.

So my exercise with them lately has been to start by filtering out a bit of the noise. I guess what I’m trying to teach them at this early stage – while it’s all still a novelty – is a measure of self-discipline. I have students who sit down and automatically open their laptops, and they are told very firmly to close them up.

They must find that frustrating, to say the least. The addictive nature of technology for those who are susceptible has been documented, and statistically there’s a good possibility that at least one or two of them must feel like they’re breaking out into a cold sweat.

So be it.

Not that I don’t sympathize. Skyrim is my personal fix at the moment. There are times when I really do have to grab myself by the scruff of the neck and force myself to turn the game off so I can get lessons prepared for tomorrow, or just so I can get a good night’s sleep. It can be hard to do: slaying dragons and defeating deathlord draugrs feels so much better than marking test papers or doing laundry. I feel way more powerful when I can fire ice spikes or balls of flame from my bare hands to kill a frost troll. Somehow wielding a red pen just doesn’t feel quite so…cool.

As far as laptops in the classroom are concerned, I still feel the need to prepare myself further for 1:1 delivery before I let students go ahead. If laptops are going to be used, the purpose needs to be clear, and the content needs to be specifically created for delivery through technology in its original form – not just a “digital version” of something I can find readily available elsewhere.

I’m waiting with bated breath for Musescore, Staff Wars, and Acid Xpress to be installed on them all. I’m looking through my links library and putting together a suite of web resources which don’t cause too much hassle for the school’s network filter and download speed. I’m also nosing around for some good maths and logic games and tools for my maths class (if you know any good ones, please pass them on!).

Once these are in place, hopefully together with some expectation on the part of the students for purposeful, balanced and discriminate use, we can open up the laptops.

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And we’re back!

January 20, 2012


Just completed two student-free days at school, and next week they all come back again for another year. Yaaaaay!


I’m teaching maths as well as music this year, so I may have some maths-based thoughts, reflections, and resources stashed into this blog as the year goes on. Also, thinking of taking my Master degree back up again, but switching from Guidance Counselling to a straight Master of Education. I finish it quicker that way.

Took a break over Christmas by visiting my parents down in Brisbane, and then further south to visit hubby’s mum down in NSW, where our minimum temperature was their maximum, and the region’s internet was powered by one guy pedalling away on a stationary bike. Hence, no blog updates. Returned home to a very sick cat, but she’s better now.

I see that a number of people have been downloading my planners and powerpoints. I’m glad you guys are finding them useful. As I make more, I’ll keep putting  them up here of course.

Have a great year, people! 🙂

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Evaluating and Planning

December 6, 2011


It’s the last week of the school year. I’m in the middle of taking stock of everything I’ve done (or tried to do) this year, and making plans for next year.

Lots went on for me in the first two thirds of the year. In the last third, innovation was put on the back-burner for a while and other things took over, like surviving the final exam season and getting our seniors through to graduation.

Now that I once again have some time to think, I’ve been looking over the units I’ve taught this year. I’m going to completely rewrite a couple, as I’ve been teaching them for a while now and I’m getting quite bored. I’ve been looking through some of the sites in my library for ideas, and I’ve found some more useful websites so I’ll put those in too.

I’m glad to see that the resources I uploaded are getting some good use. I see a number of people have been downloading my PowerPoints on the elements of music. When I get around to creating some more, I’ll add them to my uploads as well.

In the meantime, I actually lost my password for my email account for a while, and finally found it again today. So if you went to my “Contact Me” page and sent me an email anytime in the last three-ish months, I haven’t been purposely ignoring you, I promise! Anyone who sent me websites for me to look over and add to my library, I’ll be checking them out and putting them in the appropriate pages. Thankyou to those who sent them. If you have any more, please pass them on and I’ll add them…more quickly this time.

I’m thinking of creating another blog, as a sister to this one, dedicated to mental health and relaxation. Neither of these are my strong suit at the best of times, and teaching doesn’t tend to be one of the more relaxing jobs out there. As a person who has suffered anxiety and depression, I know the importance – and the difficulty – of maintaining good mental health. Maybe I’ll add a page to my library dedicated to mental health links, to begin with. What do you think? Good idea?


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My Library of Links: updates and rearrangements

August 6, 2011


My main aim in setting up this website was to create a resource for music teachers, through which lots of other useful stuff could be found easily.

To that end, I created the LINKS library (top menu). This library is the main raison d’être of If you haven’t yet checked it out, please do so. You’ll find heaps of great resources created by educators and specialists from all over the world, and I update as I find new stuff.

I’ve rearranged a few things today. Music Technology, Music Software, and Mobile Learning have now all been shifted to the Music Teaching Resources category. So if you’re looking for them and can’t seem to find them, mouse over that link in the top menu, and they’ll show up there.

A couple of new links have been added today to Music Software. Wendy Strauss brought my attention to Mario Paint Composer and Jam Studio, so these have both been added. Wendy’s own fantastic website has also got its own spot under Music Teaching ResourcesTheory and Reference.

If you know of any good websites I can add, or if you have one yourself, please let me know about it by emailing me through the Contact page. I’ll check it out, and most likely it will find a new home in one of the library’s many categories.

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Teaching students to read music notation: Some strategies

August 5, 2011

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For some reason, I always struggled with teaching students how to read music notation. I think one of the reasons is because there’s usually a huge knowledge gap between beginning students and those who have been doing music for a while. Since junior students (years 8-10) choose new electives every semester, that gap gets wider and wider every six months.

But I seem to have gotten the hang of this sticking point lately, and now all of my juniors – pretty much without exception – are making a decent go of reading music during each lesson. They’ve also learned more theory concepts in the last two weeks, than any of my students in the last six months. That’s not a reflection on the students at all: it’s an indication of how much my own teaching strategies have changed.

So I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve been using.


A big shout-out to Katie Wardrobe for showing me this one. All my classes, from year 8 to year 12, have played this at least once or twice a week since I was introduced to it. It’s fantastic for sight-reading and learning notation. In fact, I even went so far as to set it for homework for my year 8 students last week! I’ve shown it to parents and guests as well.

We had a group of Japanese students visit our school last week, and they joined my senior class. We played STAFF WARS with them, and we had to write the Japanese symbols for the note names underneath the English ones, as they couldn’t read our writing. They loved the game, and everyone was in stitches.

2. “My Personal Soundtrack”

At the beginning of term, about four weeks ago, I got all my students to do some kind of variation of this one. It’s my way of making sure that at least part of the studied repertoire (if not most or all of it) includes music that they are actually interested in and want to learn.

Two separate year levels, by coincidence, are studying some form of film soundtrack-related unit, so I got them to write me a list of their favourite theme songs from movies, television, and computer games.

My seniors are studying world music, so I got them to pick the genres. Celtic, Jamaican, Indian, and Mexican were the ones they chose for this term.

My year tens are in a transition year, preparing for senior music. I got them to fill out a list which I called “My Personal Soundtrack”. This is a type of list I’ve seen in a few different books and websites here and there, and I made my own variation of it:

“My Personal Soundtrack”:

    1. My all-time favourite song
    2. My least favourite song
    3. A song that reminds me of someone
    4. A song that reminds me of a certain place
    5. A song that reminds me of a certain event
    6. A song that describes me
    7. A song that describes someone I know
    8. A song that I would dedicate to my boyfriend/girlfriend
    9. A song that I would dedicate to my ex
    10. A song that I liked when I was little
    11. A song that I like but would be too shamed out to admit it
    12. A song that no one would expect me to like
    13. A song that I find depressing
    14. A song that makes me laugh
    15. A song that I could listen to over and over and never get tired of hearing
    16. A song that I’ve heard way too often and don’t care if I never hear again
    17. A song that I can play
    18. A song that I wish I could play
    19. A song that I used to hate but now love
    20. A song that I used to love but now hate

Students were able to fill out as many or as few as they wished, and keep it anonymous if they wanted to. Obviously I won’t use every song they suggested, but it has given me a really good selection to choose from so things can stay interesting.

3. A new theme every day

This is the main sight-reading exercise I’ve been using lately. I’ve taken to transcribing 4-8 bars of a new song or theme for every lesson, so I’ve always got something new to add to their repertoire. We start by listening to a recording of the theme or song, and doing a bit of analysis. Then I hand out the musical excerpt and project a copy of it up on the IWB.

We revise learned notation and go over any new symbols and concepts together as a class, they take a few minutes to write down the note names (if they need to), and then they go away and try to play it on a keyboard. Usually, most if not all students will make a good attempt at it on their own or in pairs before asking me for help.

The advantage is that, since there’s a new excerpt to learn every single day, students seem to get less bored, and those who prefer familiarity can practise the ones they’ve already seen as well. It’s out of the repertoire they’ve picked, so they’re more likely to be interested. They’re playing the instruments right after analysing the notation, so it’s as practical as I can make it.

I’ve found that the guitar enthusiasts, after a few minutes playing with the keyboards, will pick up guitars and try to work out the theme by ear. Occasionally I’ve written out the TAB for them as well, and I’ll be showing them how to convert from notation to TAB and back, later in the unit.

At the end of the term, each student will be asked to play three excerpts, and maybe I’ll throw in a bit of sight-reading as well.

That pretty much sums up how I’ve been teaching notation reading lately. We haven’t gone too much into writing it as yet, but that will start soon. If you can add some more suggestions below in the comments, that would be great – maybe we can even get a bit of a “strategy list” going!

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Exploring a Practical Approach to Teaching Music Theory

July 29, 2011


First, a small update. My year 9 and 10 classes, such a challenge for me last semester, have changed. I now have an almost entirely new set of students, and these ones seem to be much more motivated so far. I’m also seeing some year 10s who have the potential to do particularly well in senior music. My year 8s have also changed. Most of the girls have gone, except for two, and a raft of new boys have come in. I still wonder if this is because I teach guitar.

Something I took with me from the recent ASME conference was the desire to take a much more practical approach to teaching music theory than I have been doing so far. I formed a goal to use the traditional pen-and-paper theory lesson as little as I possibly could in the coming semester, and to utilise practical activities and music composition software as much as possible.

I’ve been doing a number of things, like getting out all the percussion gear I can find and letting the students do group improvisation. In this activity, I also make them reflect every so often on how well they are playing as a group, and ask them to suggest ways to improve, which we then try out.

Another one has been simply to send them off in various directions with various instruments, and get them to figure out how to play songs, much like any kid would do in his or her room with a guitar. This one takes a bit of monitoring: some students are very able at this and need to be challenged further. Others need some basic skill-building before they can proceed. There’s a lot of moving around for me during this exercise.

I have so far found that my year eights – this particular group, at least – need to be kept on a rather tight leash. They don’t seem to have the maturity yet to play well together in an entire-group ensemble with percussion. In more individuated prac tasks, the engagement is variable and the attention span fairly short. It doesn’t take long before they start fooling around and getting hyperactive. I’ve had to reduce the prac a little bit and put them back behind their desks for periods of time.

The year 9s are a little better at focusing, and the year 10s better still. I have more confidence leading a whole-class prac, knowing that while there may be some problems, it will just take a little time for them to learn to focus together. It just takes practice.

My seniors are also quite good, but they much prefer individual prac to whole-group activities. That’s okay, as I generally try to encourage them to be as independent and self-directing as possible by this stage, especially in year 12.

Every class, right up to my seniors, has been introduced to STAFF WARS. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, you really should. This has been my main method for getting them to learn the treble and bass clef notes so far. We haven’t gotten around to handwriting much yet, but that will happen.

I’ve asked every class to write down a list of songs that they would like me to incorporate into the repertoire we study. This becomes the basis for my planning. I’m compiling a handout of little excerpts of various songs they’ve chosen. They’ll be shown how to identify the notes, and how to find the notes on keyboard and guitar. From the beginning, they’ll be learning to read music through playing the songs they’ve chosen, as well as others I might introduce to them on the way.

That pretty much sums up the main approach I plan to explore in the coming weeks. There will be lessons for writing, listening, and analysing, but I want to see how I can utilise practical methods for learning as much theory as possible. I’ll let you know every so often how this experiment is going.

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Secondary School Choral Festival and Workshop

July 25, 2011


Last Friday, my choir (very small, very new, and very quiet) had the opportunity to work with UK choral director David Lawrence during a one-hour workshop, followed by a three-hour combined choir rehearsal. The combined choirs were from secondary schools all over Mackay, and they gave a concert for the Choral Festival that evening.

I told David up front that I must have the quietest choral group in the Mackay district. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get these girls to come out of their shells and sing out.

So he spent the next hour showing me how to do just that. I think the most important message he got across to them was this: there’s no physical difference between singing on your own and singing with other people. Every one of them would willingly sing as long as others were singing, but when asked to sing on their own, they clammed up.

So he said to everyone, “now, all of you sing on your own…at the same time!”

That seemed to do the trick. A couple of hours later, I came upon them in the classroom allocated to us for the evening before the concert, and they were absolutely belting along to someone’s ipod.

I’m buying the sheet music for “Soul Sista” and “The Lazy Song” first chance I get. I think for the next little while, I’m going to spend some quality time with lots of songs that they not only like, but like to sing really LOUDLY…without hurting their voices.

I also need to do some reading. At the recent ASME conference, I bought a number of books all to do with directing choirs, because I am seriously lacking in self-confidence on this particular point.

That seems weird, because I’ve been in heaps of choirs, ever since I was twelve. The school choir, Qld Children’s Choir, Qld Youth Choir, Brisbane Chorale, Conservatorium Chamber Singers. I’ve travelled all over Queensland, and even went to Japan one time, singing with choirs.

But I think that might be just the problem. I’ve been in so many fantastic choirs, with so many great choral directors, that I seem to be totally intimidated at the idea of directing one myself. There’s some part of me that thinks there is just no way that I could ever be that good at leading a group and bringing voices together so well.

I already happen to know for a fact that this isn’t true. Last year I was the musical director for the school musical, and I managed to lead a group of about fifty-ish students, male and female, and they were even singing in harmony by the end of three months.

Unfortunately, while they loved being part of it all at the time, I couldn’t seem to persuade them to stick around. Besides that, many were seniors and are now gone.

I need some serious confidence-building in the area of choir-building, so I’m hitting the books. In the meantime, I’m trying to get the girls I do have to rope some guys in.

Back to the story. The concert was last Friday evening. Four of the six or seven school choirs performed separately, and then all choirs joined together into one great big mob on stage.

They sang a traditional Nambian song called “Halima Pakasholo”, and Elgar’s arrangement of “Ave Verum Corpus”. They also sang two uplifting ballads, “Raise Your Voice” by Tim Morley and Dawn Ellis, and “Together As One” by David’s wife Rebecca Lawrence.

I had such a great time that I was inspired to compose some choral music myself, so I sat down in front of my computer and basically stayed there for the next two days.

The result was a new setting of “Ave Verum Corpus” to add to the dozen or so that are already out there. You may or may not have seen me carrying on about it on Twitter for the past day or so. You can download the score from my Compositions page, and hear a Sibelius audio. You can also find it on

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ASME Conference, Day Four

July 22, 2011


All you had to do was look at everyone’s faces to know that this was the last day of the conference. People were drifting around in a kind of exhausted daze, including me. Thankfully the workshop selection was nice and light: only two hours.

I only did one workshop session that day, with Katie Wardrobe. She showed us some very cool stuff for teaching composition with technology. She had some short (fourteen seconds) films which students can use for adding sound effects and music. I’m in the first stages of a soundtracks unit for my junior music classes, so these will come in very handy.

There was a panel discussion entitled, “Finding one’s way from Secondary to Tertiary Music Education and Training”, which sounded very interesting, but I only caught a few minutes of it. Then there was the closing ceremony, where we were treated to a performance by TSS Drumline. I’ve seen the film before, but I’d never seen a real live drumline group up close, so I was most impressed. We were drummed out to lunch (where Jenny Craig once again went by the wayside) and they kept playing for us while we ate gorgeous food. A perfect way to end a conference!

I spoke with Andrew Reid, one of the organisers of ASME 2011, a couple of weeks before the conference started. He was sweating, wondering if it would be any good, wondering of people would turn up. He needn’t have worried. He and the other organisers did a fantastic job. Two thumbs up from me!

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ASME Conference, Day Three (That’s right, I’m back!)

July 21, 2011


My apologies to everyone for not getting this out earlier. Life took a turn for the busier just after the conference, and then the new term started. I’m just about back on board now, so here’s the rest of the ASME conference that you’ve all been waiting for with baited breath!

On day three, my first workshop was with Allan Melville, about creating and using electronic resources in the secondary music classroom. I was rather thrilled about this particular one, because I’m a subscriber of his fantastic website, e-learning resources, and Allan and I had spoken on the phone many times prior to this. (If you haven’t yet checked out his website, you really should. It’s awesome.)

I wrote a previous post on this resource, which goes into more detail about all the stuff that’s contained there.

The next workshop, held by Kelly Parkes from Virginia Tech in the US, was a very small and intimate gathering of three or four university lecturers plus myself. The topic was “Supporting and Assessing New Types of Reflective Practice in Music Student Teachers”.

It turned out to be targeted more towards the tertiary instructors, but I still found it useful from a secondary point of view. I’m a big fan of professional reflection, as some of you will know, and I was interested in finding some good ideas for encouraging a thorough reflective process in my student teachers.

I’ve mentored two pre-service teachers so far, and what I’ve found is that mentoring does wonders for my own professional practice as well (but that’s another blog post). Future pre-service teachers may find me a little more demanding after this workshop. I hope so. (*Evil laugh*)

I was particularly interested in the idea of a video diary, where the pre-service teacher is video-taped while teaching, several times over an extended period. Written reflections focus on their teaching practice at that particular moment, and its development over time.

Kelly talked about different levels of depth in reflection, and the importance of guiding the pre-service teacher to say more than just “this is what I did today”, but to actually think about why they decided to use a particular strategy, how well it worked, what could be done to make something work better next time.

The afternoon’s keynote speaker was Laura Hassler, and she delivered a beautiful – at times heart-wrenching – talk about how music can be used to heal and make peace in war-torn countries such as Bosnia. She talked about Musicians Without Borders, an organisation which uses music to do just that.

They travel in small groups on a “music bus”, and bring music to towns and villages where the ravages of war have sometimes affected the people so deeply that they no longer sing. Musicians Without Borders works with the people to help them find their musical voices once more, and in doing so, find healing.

One short film that stuck with me was about their work with the women of Srebrenica, whose lives were torn apart in 1995 when more than 8000 men and boys were massacred during the Bosnian war. The grief and pain on their faces was so deep that I found myself in tears just looking at them. I was in tears again when I saw them smiling, singing, clapping and dancing together, after Lord knows how many weeks and months of musical workshops it would have taken for them to reach that point.

I’ve always known that music has the power to do amazing things, but it was that keynote which really brought that fact home to me.

The Jacinth Oliver Address was given by John Curro, during which he dealt with the rather thorny topic of universities and their handling of specialist music degrees. He argued that far too much time has been taken away from the practical development of students as elite musicians, and given to research and university administration.

I brought this up in conversation at the conference dinner that evening, where I was seated with another university professor from Singapore. He told me that he got into “a heated discussion” about this during the afternoon, so this is obviously a subject of ongoing debate in tertiary circles.

My last workshop of the day was held by Ruth Bonetti, on assertive communication with…how does one say it?…difficult parents. You know, the ones who question why we didn’t award their child an “A” when the child is, after all, a genius.

I swear that Ruth could be a drama teacher (in fact, she probably is). She had the wigs and costumes all ready for us, so we could role-play the “interview with the difficult parent”, if we wished. As it turned out, we were all a bit too reticent for that.

Ruth took us through some strategies and choice phrases one could use to politely suggest that the child actually needs to do some practice during the week to achieve an “A”, or that jumping from grade three to grade five might not perhaps be such a great idea.  She delivered these lines with a big, toothy smile and a voice which reminded me of Hyacinth from “Keeping Up Appearances”. Delightfully hilarious!

That evening, we had the conference dinner, which I’ve mentioned. The food was wonderful – my Jenny Craig diet went decidedly out the window. We were also treated to some very fine performances from Best of Brass, the Blenders, and the Canterbury College Cantabile Choir.

Whew! That was day three. Day four will (I promise!) be posted tomorrow. In fact, I’m going away to write it up now.

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Day Two of the ASME Conference

July 3, 2011

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Another massive and awesome day at the ASME Conference. I saw quite a lot today, and I probably won’t get it all down in one sitting. There are a few things that I’ll need to sit down with for a while and mentally digest before I can write too much, but here are some brief brushstrokes:

George Spartels of “Play School” fame presented the keynote address for this morning’s session of the conference. His title question: If we take music out of the equation of children and their education, then how grounded, drab, and even unsustainable would learning be?

He talked about how music is absolutely basic to human development, right from the earliest days of childhood. Something he said which immediately stuck in my mind was,”children are not an inferior audience”. Young children have a highly sophisticated (and critical) faculty for listening, and it’s actually much harder to write a song for children than a song for adults.

He talked about how the script of an episode of Play School would be figured out in minute detail, how arguments went back and forth around the table for hours at a stretch over the selection of phrases, or even the choice of a single word. This was all out of a huge awareness of just how much children pick up in the course of an episode…and what they pick up may not be entirely what you’d expect.

Example: George showed us a clip of a song he wrote about surfing, where he was pretending to surf on his desk before going out onto the beach with an actual surfboard. He was trying to get across the message of fitness and of getting outdoors. What many children picked up was: the action of surfing is done by standing on a desk. George had nightmares of injured children and lawsuits after finding that out.

He spoke about the essential importance of music in an episode of Play School. I have fond memories of Warren’s piano playing, how it wove in and out constantly, how it could make me laugh, calm me down, or tell me, “there’s a song coming”.

George talked about the emotional cues communicated by music, which wouldn’t necessarily be conveyed in a script or a visual image. He described how music could be used to convey to a child: this is a safe place to imagine whatever you like, however bizarre or out of the box.

His keynote ended as only a Play School presenter’s keynote can: by all three hundred conference delegates standing up and singing “I’m a Little Teapot”, with actions.

After the keynote, I went to a workshop held by Ros McMillan, about engaging junior secondary students in musical activities. She showed us some interesting and fun ways to create rhythmic rounds on the spur of the moment, and gave us a number of ideas for using just one song in a variety of different lessons.

Something Ros emphasised was the idea of connecting her units to something wider than simply musical content, like “The Environment”, or “Relationships” for example, and embedding musical ideas within those contexts.

I saw two presentations by Geoffrey Lowe, the first of which was very effectively entitled, “This Sucks!” It was all about why so many students drop out of music at school, considering some form of music engagement (listening, playing, creating) is probably the single most widely preferred leisure activity among children and teens, over and above TV, computer games, or sport.

This was so popular that people had to bring in extra chairs, and it was very nearly standing room only. Geoff’s main premise was that kids prefer prac-based, contextual-based music learning, and hate theory and aural skills training when they’re delivered out of context (ie: when they can’t hear it, or use it to play or create something).

They also have very clear ideas about the kinds of music they do and don’t like, and familiar is preferred, so that brings up the (for some) delicate question of popular music in the curriculum.

Basically, Geoff’s presentation invited music teachers to reflect on their practice and ask, “am I doing something here which may be contributing to the cause of students leaving?”

I also attended a workshop on Musical Futures by Ken Owen. I’ve heard quite a bit about Musical Futures lately, mainly from the Music Teachers’ Network, so I wanted to hear more about this one.

I got to have my very first go at using a jam hub, which was exciting (when it worked properly). I also felt a bit affirmed: much of the Musical Futures approach is similar to the approach I try to take in my classes, at least some of the time: informal, prac-based, student-directed learning.

There are some drawbacks, though: it doesn’t always work. But I want to find out more about Musical Futures and see how I can refine my practice. It’s certainly a very good tool, and one that I would love to embrace more fully.

I finished my day with a workshop focused on ACARA, the coming national Arts curriculum, held by Andrew Reid and Jay McPherson. This is a rather thorny topic, with lots of rumours floating around about it. This workshop was first of all an exercise in straightening out fact from fiction, and myth from reality.

They also discussed the recent draft (or “Shape” paper, if I remember rightly) and ASME’s not-so-enthusiastic reaction to it, for a variety of reasons.

What I mainly got out of that one was: no one really knows when it’s coming, and no one really knows what’s on it. So don’t worry about it…for now.

They were the workshops. I should also mention the stunning performances I heard from the AB Paterson Chamber Choir and Brisbane Birralee Voices during the breaks. There was also the Gold Coast City Wind Orchestra, and Trinity Lutheran College Revelation, a rock group, both of which were also very impressive.

Whew! That was a long one. Sorry for the overlong read. I just wanted to make sure I got everything mentioned at least briefly. Tomorrow I won’t be posting, as the conference dinner will be held in the evening. Tuesday I’ll be heading to Brisbane to visit family after the closing ceremony, before flying back home on Wednesday. My next post on the conference will hopefully be either Wednesday or Thursday.

Till then!


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This article by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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ASME Conference: Day One

July 2, 2011


It’s official: I’m addicted to conferences. I attended Day One of the ASME (Australian Society for Music Education) conference at the Gold Coast Convention Centre today. I’m knackered, but I really want to get this written before I see too much more cool stuff, otherwise I’ll never get it all down.

Unfortunately, I missed the opening ceremony. Having not slept very well the night before, two alarms were insufficient to wake me up on time, and I slept in. Way in. I was most miffed and thoroughly unimpressed with myself.

However, I did get there in time to catch the latter half of Robert Duke’s keynote speech: “Strategic Confusion and the Joys of Learning”, which was very informative as well as highly entertaining.

Robert’s basic philosophy is this: if you’re comfortable, you’re not learning much. If students are getting everything done for them, having everything clarified immediately without first having to be a bit confused and do some searching for answers, they’re learning very little. Robert spoke about how he seeks to embed what he calls “strategic confusion” into his lessons to enhance the learning process.

According to research, the process of learning (on a physical, neurological level) is a process of error correction. Students have to have the opportunities to perceive their own errors in their own musical behaviour (eg: holding a violin bow the wrong way) and correct it themselves, instead of always having the teacher correct it for them (ie: making them too comfortable).

Finally, Robert’s other main point: teachers are learners as well.

The three sessions I attended today after the keynote were held by Katie Wardrobe, Stefanovych Roberts, and Antony Hubmayer.

Katie Wardrobe took us through a selection of software programs and games for teaching various aspects of music in her talk, “Music Technology Resources on a Shoestring”. The best part about most of these is that they’re free. The ones that aren’t, require only a small subscription fee.

Katie will be putting her notes and links on her website, so I won’t steal her thunder by putting it all here. But I must tell you about one thing which I just thought was the coolest of the cool: a “space invaders”style game called STAFF WARS. You can download it here.

Basically, musical notes come floating along a giant staff at the top of the screen, and the player has to name the note correctly before it crashes into the clef (treble, bass, or alto). When the player hits the right note name, a little spaceship at the bottom of the screen shoots the note. The game starts off slow, and gets faster as you go on. There are heaps of other games Katie showed us as well, but that was my favourite.

Stefanovych Roberts presented a doctoral paper on Metacognition on Music Performance: Theoretical frameworks within an Assessment for Learning paradigm. This presentation focused mainly on the importance of feedback for the student during the learning process, and he mentioned three types (coined by Hattie, if I remember right): feed up (where am I going?), feed back (how am I going?), and feed forward (where do I go next?).

He also spoke about the importance of formative assessment as a valuable tool for developing the student’s musical metacogition, and how there seem to be relatively few opportunities for that formative assessment process to occur within the secondary school environment.

The last seminar I attended today was by Antony Hubmayer: “Riding the wave of pedagogy: Designing learning experiences that deepen musical understanding without drowning the learner”. His presentation really resonated with my ideas about being a “learning designer” when he talked about “designing musical learning experiences” within a constructivist framework.

He showed us his “Learning Experience Framework”, a simple chart by which he plans his units, and then showed us some different examples of the framework in action. One was in the form of a student-created reflection video about the experience of teaching a younger class cohort how to play a song on the ukelele and perform in an ensemble. Another was for a choral group, and we viewed their eisteddfod performance.

Antony’s website is here, and I would imagine his presentation will be made available there sometime down the track, as his other ones have been.

Lack of sleep finally caught up with me after that session, and I had to go back to my hotel room to rest my brain, which by then was feeling a bit fried. I did manage to pick up a few good books on the way out though. (Books know my name. I always hear them calling me, and I am helpless to resist.)

Hopefully I will sleep a bit better tonight, and I can get there on time tomorrow.

Till then!


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This article by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Reflections after attending the Central Qld Region e-Learning Conference

June 19, 2011


The Central Queensland Region e-Learning Conference was held yesterday and today at Mackay North State High School. They had hands-on workshops and seminars, and I saw some very cool stuff. It’s going to take a little while for me to mentally digest it all, but here’s a few initial thoughts and reflections:

Web Conferencing:

Something I’d never seen before was the use of software like Elluminate and Wall Wisher, which enabled real-time interactive conferencing. This may be of particular interest to those organising future conferences, as well as teachers in one-to-one educational settings.

These software programs enable students/workshop participants to make comments or ask questions during the course of the lesson, which are then posted up on the front screen, IWB, or even just the notebooks in front of the moderator and participants. People can answer each others’ questions or wait for the moderator to do so. Participants can also chat about the lesson content.

Something I liked about Elluminate in particular was that you could use little emoticons for “laughter”, “confused”, “applause”, or “disapprove” to display your reactions to something. There’s also a function which enables the moderator to ask a question and poll the participants, and the results of the poll are displayed on the screen in a matter of seconds.

Not only does this add another dimension to a lesson for everyone in the room, it also enables people to participate from anywhere else in the world where they might happen to be at that moment. You just need to set up a link and a password, and away you go.


I found this one of particular interest. The presenter was a teacher from a one-to-one school which has utilised Microsoft OneNote as a collaborative learning platform. There is a YouTube channel (which I can’t seem to find right this second) where this particular school has uploaded a number of tutorial videos for using OneNote in a variety of ways for different purposes.

This was the last workshop I saw today, and the one my mind has been chewing on the most since. I’ve been thinking of all sorts of ways I could use OneNote to organise resources, plan units and lessons, record reflections, deliver learning content, and set differentiated tasks. Watch this space, because when I get going on this one, I’ll start blogging my OneNote experiments, sharing what I’ve made and uploading things I create.

Differentiating for Diverse Learners:

This is a workshop which talked about the use of differentiation models for lesson planning. The resources which were presented are actually owned by Education Queensland, so I have asked for permission to upload and share some of them on this blog. This permission is still pending, so I’ll let you know the outcome when I receive word.

Other Thoughts:

A really interesting keynote presentation this morning touched on an important point about digital devices which, in all the excitement about being all high-tech and up-to-date, may be easily overlooked: the total cost of ownership. Upfront payouts, plus maintenance, insurance, replacement costs, upgrades; and all of that pitted against the cost of item x now, compared to the cost of item x six or twelve months down the track. There’s also the price of item x, compared to how much other equipment a school could purchase for the same price.

Example: I saw a video of a really cool-looking interactive conferencing table: something straight out of a James Bond movie, built for a classroom, where students could stand around the table and manipulate documents, images, and videos on the touchscreen tabletop. Wonderful for collaborative learning. The cost? $24,000. What could a school buy with that amount of money? A hell of a lot more than one table.

Finally, I found a few new blogs to follow, which I’ve put in my Links/Blogs section, under “Education: General”. Scroll down past all the music ed blogs to find them. Enjoy!

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Two months since MTEC 2011: An Update

June 11, 2011


Two months ago, I attended MTEC 2011 in Sydney. Two months later, so many things have changed for me professionally, that I barely recognise myself. So I’m taking a moment to pause and reflect on all the changes, and how well they’re working so far.

The first thing, and probably the biggest thing, has really been this blog. Not only has it been a great way for me to reflect on my teaching practice and gather up a whole stack of teaching resources into one place, it has enabled me to get in touch with other music teachers and share it all with them.

That networking has worked wonders for my whole outlook on teaching, which I found quite lonely before. Being the only classroom music teacher in a smaller rural school, it’s easy to feel a bit cut off from everyone else in my field. I no longer feel that way.

In terms of resources, MuseScoreand O-Generator have both been installed over the whole school network. The students have responded very positively to the new software on the whole. My first composition assessment task for O-Generator (which my year 8s especially are finding “totally sick” – I think that means good) has just been completed this week.

MuseScore has been wonderful for teaching music theory, and a small number of students are engaging with it quite enthusiastically and using it to compose, even preferring it to O-Generator. We’re all wondering how I’d never heard of it before two months ago.

I finally have a full midi station set up in our classroom, with Pro Tools, M-Box, and an Avid KeyStudio. This PC also has Sibelius 5, Acid Music Studio, O-Generator and MuseScore all installed. Acid seems to be the most popular choice at the moment with the students so far.

Acid Xpress has experienced a few technical snags and we haven’t managed to install that one on the school laptops yet, but we’re working on it. If only we could get this one past the networking glitch, we’d be home and hosed.

There’s also some starter hiccups going on with Pro Tools: the keyboard will talk to the M-Box, the M-box will talk to the PC, the PC will talk to Pro Tools, but Pro Tools won’t talk to the speakers or headphones, so no sound comes out, even though everything else seems to be working. Hmmm.

Jing has been a useful little tool. I found out about this in one of Katie Wardrobe’s workshops on making video tutorials. Jing is a great software application for capturing images and screen shots, and making little 5-minute screen-capture films, very handy for “how-to” videos. I haven’t made any of those yet, but I have been able to make a “how-to” worksheet in next to no time, using image-capture.

Creative Commons has been a focal point in my teaching over the last two months. My 9s and 10s are just finishing up a composition task, part of which includes licensing their work under Creative Commons. I am also endeavouring to increase my students’ awareness of fair use and best practice as far as copyright is concerned.

I haven’t yet been using ipods as much as I would like, mainly due to a policy which restricts their use by students during the course of the school day. I’m working on that one. In the meantime, I use my ipad a fair bit in my senior class, most often for YouTube.

Two things I was already using proficiently before the conference, were an interactive whiteboard (not Smartboard or Prometheus, unfortunately) and an online virtual classroom (VCR) for my senior class. With the addition of resources since the conference, I’ve been able to get the students actively involved in using the IWB, and I’m looking at ways to extend the VCR to include my junior students as well.

The main thing which has restricted the VCR to my seniors so far has been the time it takes to set one up and manage it thereafter. I’m hoping that the added resources, plus practice, will shorten the time factor and increase my ability to run a set of VCRs more efficiently.

One of my quirks is that I tend to go through phases of intense concentration on a particular thing, for days at a time. My latest “thing” has been Acrobat X, and I’ve been spending long hours making interactive pdfs in the last week or two.

So far, I’ve made the reflection tools I mentioned in my last post, and some lesson and unit planners. These incorporate Essential Learnings and the Senior Music Syllabus (2004) from the Queensland Studies Authority, and the Dimensions of Learning framework developed by Robert Marzano et al. I’ve uploaded them on for interested Qld music teachers and pre-service teachers (and anyone else who wants them) to download if you like. You can find the link under “Professional Practice – Planning Tools” on my Resources page.

The biggest change for me since the conference by far, has been my self-confidence. Daily online contact with other teachers in my field, constant new discoveries in resources and teaching strategies, and regular reflection through blogging, have literally helped me become a different teacher.

Last year I was studying with a view to leaving the profession. Now I’m thinking of redirecting my studies to further my teaching qualifications. I’m excited about teaching again and more confident in my abilities to make a real contribution. All of that has been thanks to the MTEC 2011 conference and all the contacts I have made since then. That, dear reader, includes you.

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