Category Archives: New Ideas


As the SQA practical exams approach we are learning more about the exact procedures for “sampling.” For Higher Music, pupils prepare ten minutes of music – of which six are heard. The rationale behind this was presented to us (at an in service last session) as an endeavour to make these exams more like those of pupils’ other subjects e.g. not every topic studied features. Little was made of the 40% saving which also results from these changes and that the difficulty in securing sufficient examining time could be alleviated by these new measures.

We are led to believe that the examiner will select the first piece which is to be played in its entirety. Thereafter, they choose piece after piece, indicating where they would like the candidate to stop. In all cases the pupil begins at the beginning as it is deemed too difficult to begin at random points. The fact that this is precisely how we teach and rehearse seems to hold little sway here.

Most colleagues to whom I have spoken are unhappy with one aspect of this regime Continue reading Sampling

Peo Kindgren

Yesterday I came across a huge catalogue of fine performances on YouTube by Peo Kindgren – a Swedish guitarist, resident in Denmark.

In addition to very nice playing I was struck by the sound quality which is the best I have heard on YouTube. His own sound production on the guitar is excellent and I imagine that the bare wooden room he uses is also a contributory factor. However, I have written to ask him if he uses any post-production equipment to achieve such magnificent results. I am curious for two reasons:

  1. I should very much like to explore the avenue of similar recordings of pupils
  2. I am considering options for making my own recordings of new, external exam material

The latter of these is not intended to replace pupils working from notation but would offer a great supplementary resource for the more visually inclined learner.

I’d recommend any of the Bach three pieces which open the extensive list of links I have posted at the end of the Recommended Youtube Performances Page – on the right. The Air is one most people would recognise instantly.

Roses are red, Violets are blue, I enjoyed my short holiday, Both days 1 & 2

A pot pourri of educational professionals gathered this morning in the Brunton Hall for a series of presentations and reflections on contributions (present and future) to A Curriculum for Excellence. There were presentations from:

Don Ledingham’s closing address touched on the contributions of Sports Coordinators, Museums & Archaeology. He also outlined the three principles* of East Lothian’s Learning & Teaching Policy and idea of lifelong learning. During the question session, it became clear that many present had concerns about funding in the future.

Instrumental staff reconvened in the afternoon to discuss a variety of more job-specific topics. One idea whose time had come was laptops for instructors. Many expressed difficulties in accessing computers in school time and there was a general feeling that the ICT revolution had perhaps passed us by. Our coordinator, Peter Antonelli, queried the uses to which such expenditure could be put and asked that those who regularly use their own laptops in lessons email a description of such practice. As I use my own laptop for a variety of teaching, preparation and admin purposes, I proposed writing a post about this – in the spirit of openness.
*1. All learners should be treated with unconditional positive regard

2. Learners need to be engaged for learning to take place

3. The development of teaching and learning should be a collaborative enterprise

As I write, the findings of a UNICEF study – that the lives of British children are the worst in the developed world – are on the news.

Pupil Performance Page

Following boundlessly generous help from David Gilmour and unlimited technical buffoonery on my part, the problem of uploading mp3s of pupil performances has been overcome. Files have been posted on Campie, Wallyford and Knox pages. This first batch of mp3s represents the beginning of our learning curve rather than the end stage. There are various factors:

  • some pupils would have liked several more attempts at recording – that’s not really possible in limited lesson time – this may inspire a little more home practice before future recordings
  • the level of some recordings was not ideal – crowding four or five pupils round one microphone with me playing the accompaniment part behind the mic is not ideal
  • some guitars with aged, barely tunable bass strings could have sounded much better with newer ones

My feeling is that, enjoyable and valuable as the experience is, recording should not eat too much into lesson time. I see the process as aiding teaching and not replacing it. In primary schools, this ideal simply amounts to more efficient recording in lesson time. In secondary schools, it might be worth considering arranging some Friday afternoon recording times where the pressure of the 30 minute lesson holds no sway. Perhaps we could find a room with a nice acoustic – and no carpet. These are all things to discuss with pupils.

That said, I am convinced that all who took part enjoyed the experience and are looking forward to locating and listening to their performance. I hope that some of their distant relatives will be sent a link so that they can tune in. Before too long, I’d like to include recordings of a wider age range.

The Blog As A New Art Form?

This is the subject of a Radio 3’s Lebrecht Live to be broadcast on Sunday 28th March 17:45 – 18:30. Although this is not how most of us see our own posts, public service eductional blogs are not the only kind out there. Part of the programme concerns itself with bloggers’ threat to traditional art criticism and news. Listeners can contribute to the programme (even before it is on air) by emaiing:  I’ve listened to many previous editions of the programme, where a very wide range of topics has been covered intelligently with many erudite contributors from around the world taking part.

What A Massive Window!

One of the things which repeatedly crops up at parents’ evenings is dissatisfaction with the enormously wide window for Standard Grade & Higher Music practical exams – roughly mid Feb to end of March. On one occasion, due to a shortage of visiting examiners, we experienced a visit after the Easter holidays. At face value this seems like a good thing – extra time to consolidate one’s chosen pieces – but not it they were ready to go in mid Feb. The current procedure is a little like asking a chef to time a perfect soufflé for guests arriving some time between 6 p.m. and midnight.

I presume the idea is to give pupils as near to an experience of performing as possible. Does it ever really feel like a concert? Who puts on concerts at 9.30 a.m.? Can there be any soloists who preface a recital by sitting in a class, exiting the class for a 15 minute warm up in the coldest months of the year, only to return to the class at the end of the recital? Which solo performer is not allowed to choose his/her own clothes for the occasion?

There is also the expense of travel, accommodation and the salaries of PTs to spend days out of their departments – that’s assuming that a sufficient amount of them are available.

I don’t have a thoroughly thought through alternative (I don’t even like alliteration). But let me run the exact opposite of the current system up the flagpole simply for the sake of discussion: Continue reading What A Massive Window!


Having stumbled across, and been referred to, many interesting guitar performances on YouTube, I decided to create a list of links here in the hope that pupils (and anyone else interested) might find some inspiration. Enthusiasts of CDT might be interested in the extraordinary guitar played by Andy Mckee in a piece entitled Into The Ocean – and perhaps also in the interior design of the room where his recordings take place. The link is in the sidebar on the right, at the bottom of the Pages section.

It Says Here…

“The earth is like a spaceship that didn’t come with an operating manual.“      Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983)

Amidst the rush of events which converge at this time of year – rehearsals, concerts, updating timetables, fun activities etc. –  it is possible that some seemingly smaller matters might go unreported. With this in mind, I’d like to say how pleased I was to receive the East Lothian Council Instrumental Music Service Handbook, which arrived through the door recently.

Following the stated aims of the service, there appear definitions of: Continue reading It Says Here…