Category Archives: Writing

The Write Practice

Do you ever feel uncertain of grammar or punctuation when writing reports? This is not a thing which can be fixed overnight but perhaps subscribing to a site like Daily Writing Tips  might be a help. I’ve received a daily email update from them for quite a while now and, quite frequently, things come up about which I’ve been uncertain for years. The email subscription link is at the top right of their homepage.

Here’s a link to all their grammatical matters

to Grammar 101

to punctuation

and, like, finally – here’s one for our times….

“Like” serves nouns and pronouns, not verbs

Fight Poverty – Young People’s Song Writing Competition

Short notice, I know, but this just came in today. If you are a young song writer, feel strongly about world poverty, can work quickly then why not consider entering this competition. The deadline is 30 September, therefore I would recommend avoiding complex multi-tracked ideas and opting for a simpler format e.g. self-accompanied singer/songwriter or just a couple of people – voice(s) & piano/guitar. Video entry is the preferred entry format (uploaded you YouTube) and East Lothian schools are well equipped with Flip Video Cameras – intuitive to use – it’s impossible to go wrong. If you are interested and have questions, get back to me on the Any Questions page and I’ll do my best to help out.

The competition is being mounted by Fight Poverty. General details of the competition are here . Details of how to enter are here. Info on prizes can be found here.

Instrumental Instruction

Most people studying an instrument seriously at some point look into the evolution of their instrument: physics; ergonomics; manufacturing; technological innovation, national differences etc. Strangely, I’ve never once considered the origins, adaptations and alternatives to an instrument that millions of us use on a daily basis – the QWERTY keyboard.
Stephen Fry looks into the history here (2 days left to listen).
Here is an example of one of many rival systems featured in the programme. Interestingly, the notion of rhythm comes up, when a user of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard takes down some dictation.

Ten Word Wiki

If brevity be the soul of wit then what better place than Ten Word Wiki (10WW) to flex the necessary muscles. Concepts feature large in SQA Music exams and this site could serve as an compliment to the excellent LTS concepts pages.

I feel that pupils would learn as much (and probably more) from coining definitions as opposed simply to consulting them.

To get the ball rolling, here is my first contribution: sequence

Madhouse and The Whole Thing There

The magical blend of youth and experience, normally associated with football, is to be experienced in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall this Saturday (18 July) when one of the UK’s leading jazz guitarist/composers, Mike Walker, teams up with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland (NYJOS) to perform Walker’s debut album Madhouse and The Whole Thing There (audio samples in this link).

This unusual title comes (I’ll bet my bottom dollar) from the final line of William Empson‘s poem Let It Go. You can hear hear Empson reading two of his other poems – Missing Dates and Aubade here.


Read Faster, Read Smarter

I decided to spend the last day of this week off attending a CPD event laid on by ELC. Delivered by Park Sims Associates, the course was entitled Read Faster, Read Smarter and its stated aim was to help “all who want to get through their reading at work faster and smarter.”

I was hoping that there would be some straightforward ocular content as this would surely be transferable (to some degree) to the reading of music. I was not disappointed in this respect and hope to share that (and this) with colleagues at Monday’s In Service.

I’ve no wish here merely to post online the content of a course honed over years by fellow professionals, so let it suffice to say that it was as good an example of active learning as I’ve seen. Many of the tasks had been cleverly designed to highlight a particular point by stealth, so that the habits of a lifetime, which often conspire to impede us, might be circumvented.

Well presented handouts were abundant, allowing us to concentrate on the task at hand which, I think the 16 delegates would agree, was at times very challenging. However, no-one in their right mind, would expect a physical skill to fall into place in a matter of hours. Like most skills, speed reading consists of a variety of strategies and an intuitive application of the appropriate one comes only with experience.

I look forward to developing what I learned today and, hopefully, to exploring further the parallels with written music. Having had some intensive concentration on visual intake, I feel now may be the time to seek out a book written by one of the presenters of Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind – “The Eye: A Natural History” by Simon Ings.


Two cultures, beating as one

On a day where news broadcasts debate the disengagement of some young people from science (scroll down to 0720), I was heartened to receive an email alerting me to the publication of an article entitled The Rhythmic Brain by Katie Overy & Robert Turner. Both contributed to a fascinating conference I attended at Edinburgh University in December*. Put simply, the article touches upon connections between music – specifically rhythm – and language, evolution, neuroscience, psychology, learning, memory & genetics.

What disappoints me in some attempts to convince young people of the relevance of science is the all too easy citation of computer games. I tend to agree more with Quentin Cooper who opines that “science is a perspective.” There is a scientific aspect to everything. That’s why I applaud the efforts of organisations like The Wellcome Collection and Edge to heal the rift between sciences and the humanities and pursue The Third Culture. I am strengthened in this belief that some of the best writing on music is the work of scientists – a great many of whom are musicians.

Consider this extract from the aforementioned article:

Rhythm is a basic organising principle of music, providing a strict temporal framework for an infinite variety of playful and expressive musical behaviours, from clapping and dancing in a group to a virtuosic violin solo. This temporal organisation exists on a number of hierarchical levels (the pulse, the bar, the phrase), allowing for the simplest forms of synchronisation and prediction as well as highly complex, large-scale musical structures.

Music is a difficult topic on which to write – precisely because it conveys in seconds what words would take minutes to describe. I would argue that the distillation of content in the short paragraph above is nothing short of poetic.


* My intention had been to write up the conference but, as it was built around a book entitled Communicative Musicality, I think it would be better to write on the book once I’ve read it.


Miss, a four-legged avatar ate my homework

The blogosphere abounds with reflection on whether computers in general – and the Internet in particular – augment or diminish learning. I like this unhysterical take on things by Cory Doctorow who, acknowledging that we live in an age of distraction, offers tips on how to get on with writing. It only takes a small step of the imagination to apply the suggestions to a variety of activities – homework, writing reports, blogging, planning and preparation…….speaking of which………

Edict…I mean Decree…I mean Statement… I mean…read on

I write, possibly like many eduBuzzers, in a climate of fear. The thing is, you see, I’m not sure if East Lothian Council is one of those banning the use of Latin expressions in an effort to prevent this elitist stuck up habit from obscuring hiding meaning. Perhaps I missed a meeting, or deleted an unopened email. Has this been thoroughly thought through though? (I don’t even like alliteration leaning towards like letters). As per capita by the head budgets are tightened, might we inadvertently by mistake spend more on consumables white A4 rectangles and black writing fluid, fitting in more unwieldy and equally confusing English equivalents? e.g. For example will school sporting fixtures have to adopt the abbreviation ag (against) to replace vs from the Latin versus? Might match-fixing become a necessity as the word nil is airbrushed from oral mouth history?

One of the reasons given for this change in policy is that the use of Latin expressions makes life unnecessarily difficult for people whose first language is not English. I know for a fact that many constituents of Italian origin extraction starting place are heaving a huge sigh of relief.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Plain English Campaign – an organisation which has since gone into titular free-fall upon noticing that the only truly English word in its name is English.

However, the disgruntled can take some comfort from the fact that the decision was only reached after much soul-searching and hand-wringing by councils across the land. Tempers were frayed and many confessed to letting slip the odd vulgar rude expression. One source, now swelling the ranks of the unemployed jobless, described the departmental meeting concerned as, “a particularly Carpy DM.

The Write Stuff

Imagine if there were a University of Your Favourite Stuff in your street and you walked past it for weeks without noticing it. That’s how I felt when I finally stumbled upon the Guardian’s huge series, How To Write. In all there are 62 articles offering advice from writers of every imaginable genre.

I think it’s a sign of confidence when people give away advice on their trade, in a limited marketplace. That’s why I was particularly impressed with Writing Sketches by Richard Herring, David Mitchell & Robert Webb and Honing a Joke by Richard Herring. This latter one, and it’s insistence of mastery of language, struck me as particularly relevant to recent thoughts, as I’ve been captivated to the point of a couple of thousand words of participation in a debate on literacy, in the widest sense, on John Connell’s excellent blog.

Other interesting pieces in this Guardian series include Wendy Cope on poetry, Simon Jenkins on journalism and Ronald Harwood on stage and screenplay.