Tag Archives: In Service/CPD

First Day Back – First Aid

I’ve always believed it necessary remain a pupil if you hope to be a good teacher and the chance to be a pupil was offered today in the form of an excellent First Aid course.  Bobby Hall
of Hall First Aid Training, took 15 instrumental instructors through a variety of emergency first aid procedures in The Supper Room of The Brunton Hall.  Not only a highly experienced practitioner, Bobby struck me as a natural teacher.  The course was very hands-on and we were led to reflect on practical issues through intelligent and entertaining questioning.  Being a lover of language (and, if I’m honest, a tireless pedant) I was very taken with the precision of the language required for this subject, which strikes me as somewhere between a science and an art.
Another feature which impressed me was the gentle way in which some serious points were conveyed – particularly that we should not be crippled by remorse if an intervention does not result in the saving of a life.  It’s surely better to have done one’s best for a fellow human being than to have been helpless spectator, condemned forever to wondering “what if…?”
While I’m banging on about beliefs, let me restate how resonant I find the idea (which I came across in Clive JamesVisions Before Midnight) that the situations which benefit most from humour are serious ones.  You can see from the snaps below that we really enjoyed the day:
While chatting with Bobby at the end of the course, I asked him if there were YouTube resources worth visiting to refresh our bandaging skills.  He pointed out the problem that much of the material is from the USA where approaches and techniques differ from those here.  I suggested that he could upload some films on his own site. He wasn’t for biting but I hope that he might reconsider.  I’d be more than willing to help out with filming. For one thing, it would be a form of revision in itself.

Until then, though, we can make use of the book with which we were all presented at the end of the course:


Having spent most of the week assessing P5 pupils before selecting for limited places on the guitar timetable, two things strike me:

  • How unusual it is to spend the week with a single age group and (hopefully) in language suitable to their age and stage. This aspect is thrown into sharp relief in the company of experienced primary teachers. I can’t help noticing the way they put things; the speed at which instructions are delivered and reworded to ensure comprehensive, unambiguous understanding.

  • The contrast between this and the P5-S6* age range we cover in a normal working week. There is no teacher training for instrumental instructors; no shadowing; no apprenticeship. It strikes me as unlikely that a young, newly qualified instructor should arrive with the heightened awareness of language levels necessary to navigate this wide age range already in place. In Service idea?

* string instruction begins in P4


Voice Work

I understand that employees of ELC can access cut-price podiatry. Is there similar access to voice care? Why is this on my mind? Am I suffering from problems at either end? Not as far as I know, but I’ve just been listening to a review of Voice Work: Art and Science in Changing Voices by speech and language therapist Christina Shewell.

Some interesting statistics emerged:

  • 1/3 of us use the voice at work
  • 14.9 million people in the UK are unhappy with their voice
  • open voices appear to be universally pleasing and nasal voices off-putting
  • the average female voice frequency is 220 Hz i.e. vocal cords opening and closing 220 times per second – so 5 hours of talking over a day result in the vocal cords opening and closing more than 4 million times
  • it was stated that men average half of this – I’m not sure if this meant 110 Hz or half the inclination to chat for 5 hours
  • as an example of the contrast between singing and speech it was pointed out that a top C requires the vocal chords to open and close 1046 times per second
  • the average pitch of the female voice is dropping in America but not in, say, Sweden
  • when it comes to control, effective vocal vibrato requires that the modulations in pitch fall between 5.5 and 7.5 times per second – lower than 5.5 results in a creaky sound – higher than 7.5 results in a tremor

The author pointed out that while a literacy hour exists in school, there is no equivalent for oral skills – and that these skills can affect employability. She also referred to the bilaterally psychosomatic nature of the voice. A person’s voice gives away more about them than they might intend to convey. It also affects the body and mind of the listener – at the most basic level in their disposition to continue listening. Moreover, singers who develop vocal problems are loathe to seek help as they intuitively feel the ensuing investigations to intrude upon their sense of self.

Having listened to the interview and book review, I was left with the feeling that we know very little about the major tool for delivery of our practice. One always feels guilty suggesting further spending in an economic crisis. However, I feel that one centrally held copy of this book (or one per cluster) might be a case of prevention being better – and cheaper – than cure. And there’s always In Service….

ScreenToaster 1

Firstly, thanks to Ewan McIntosh for flagging up ScreenToaster – a free screencasting application. I decided to experiment by creating a short “how to” video, showing how to convert Sibelius files into PDF files using Open Office – a free, open source program. You can see the video here.

I can see some potential here for distance CDP/In Service. Moreover, there are videos in a variety of languages in the ScreenToaster archive, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

In case anyone wonders why someone who already owns Sibelius would want to do this, here are a few reasons:

  • scores/parts can be shared with people who are not Sibelius users

  • they can be printed out even in a location where Sibelius is not installed

  • parts for pupils can be emailed to class teachers in primary schools – the majority of which do not have Sibelius

  • scores/parts can be saved in a format which prohibits further editing – by unauthorised parties

  • files can be uploaded to blogs – allowing pupils with sufficient curiosity to see what others in their ensemble are playing

Paradox & Grooviness

It’s said that everybody has one great book in them. If so, mine will be based on a suspicion that, at the heart of every truth, lies a paradox. I know, for example, that in both music and tai chi chuan, those wonderful (and usually short-lived) moments when things come naturally, only occur when you’re not looking for them. This is not an invitation to abandon pracitce or training, or to carry it out in a distracted manner, but rather a realisation that, only when you’ve put in the hours, can you relax sufficiently in performance to open the doors to these moments.

Teaching has its similar magic moments when, unbidden, the best analogy or phraseology for the the moment pops out. It can happen too in moments of accidental in service when you find yourself explaining aspects of your job to interested parties – particularly if they are strangers both to the subject and to teaching itself.

Such a conversation unfolded the other day – a day in what has been something of a sentimental week. You see, my favourite swimming pool, Glenogle Baths, is going into hospital on Monday for an operation. The recovery period is expected to be around 18 months, but may be more like 2 years. Either way, I’ll be in my 50s by the time I return. At least it has been saved – unlike another Edinburgh sports facility I have used for a similar length of time. I’ve been swimming at Glenogle every day for around 15 years and have come to know many of the regulars quite well. There is increasingly an end of era feel to many of the conversations which take place in the sauna. For some reason (perhaps the neighbourhood) many artists go there. Most of the users are also readers, theatre/cinema-goers, thinkers, seekers – and it’s rarely dull.

I was talking to Gerry – an illustrator/decorator/gardener/life-guard/tai chi player – about the 60s. I was born early in 1960 and so, like many who claim to have enjoyed the decade, wasn’t really conscious of much that was going on. He, being slightly older (although you’d never guess it) has more memories. We agreed on the puzzling paradox of people’s enduring grief for the passing of the 60s. It seemed odd to us that some, who’d advised you to stay loose and live in the moment, then spent the following four decades resisting and lamenting change. I mentioned that some of the language has persisted and that “cool” remains a favourite term of endorsement with young people. I confessed to using “groovy” and “grooviness” on a regular basis. Surprised, he asked me why. I explained how in an ensemble rehearsal, for example, there comes a moment when the focus shifts from technical proficiency to expression. Audiences need more than accuracy. The performance needs to be something more than, say, high-speed touch typing – impressive but not affective. We need to bring out the shape of the music; to give it flexibility, variety of articulation; to let it breathe. He asked how the pupils would go about this transformation. I heard myself say, “they need verbs.” Of course, I already knew this, but it had never seemed so clear. Pupils first concern is not what the music needs but what they are going to do and how; when they are going to do it and why. And that’s why it’s essential that every elemental technique has a name – so that a prompt from me, during continued playing, is not a the name of a mood which the pupils then have to translate into an matching action, but the name of the action itself.

I’d like to stress here that the core of the idea is not entirely my own work but grew out of the teaching of Ron Newton – the only openly Marxist lecturer of Music I ever met, a great pianist and a true maverick. He was also one of the architects of the Music degree I did at Huddersfield University* (née Polytechnic). In the Performance Analysis Class, where we took it in turns to play to the class before a no-holds-barred dissection, he often referred to An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski. Tempting as it might be to consider what they should be feeling, it is more useful for them to decide what they will be doing. As method acting coach Stella Adler would say, “we are what we do, not what we say.”

* nearly 30 years later, this would still be my first choice of course – see how I move with the times?


After writing this, I popped in to visit a friend who is finishing his PhD (on speech synthesis) at Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics. He showed me round this lovely working environment, during which time I bumped into a former pupil of Knox also doing a PhD – he seemed to be one of the few Scots in the place.

I continued on to Glenogle Baths where, in the sauna/debating society I bumped into an acquaintance who is a social worker. He asked what I’d been up to and mentioned this visit. By coincidence he’d recently heard an item on Radio 4’s Today about the Turing Test (formulated by Alan Turing) where you have to ascertain whether you are talking to an unseen person or a computer. We joked about how you could probably bring such a machine quickly to its digital knees with simple sarcasm. Just then another pal popped in and said, “that sounds interesting – how did get on to that?” I mentioned my friend’s PhD work and he said, “Really? I built a speech synthesiser once, at college!” This was back in the day and, rather than use digital recordings of phonemes, his was built from first principles using the acoustical equivalent of phonemes – formants. The conversation was so interesting, I barely had time to open my book!

Between venues, Heriberto and I popped into the Nile Café where, for the first time, I tried Sudanese tea. Lovely. If you’re ever in that neighbourood, I’d recommend it – although parking can be tricky since they built a School of Informatics on the car park…


National Instrumental Conference 2: Curriculum for Excellence

I spent part of this afternoon with Alan Armstong, Director of Education Improvement at LTS (formerly of HMIe). He wasn’t aware of this nor of the fact that I could, as though by magic, get him to repeat any idea as many times as I needed to hear it. How did this unlikely situation come about? Through the miracle of modern technology.

A Curriculum for Excellence was one of the two workshops I signed up for at the HITS National Instrumental Conference on Tuesday 30 Sept. This session was shared by Alan Armstrong and Aileen Monaghan of HMIe (formerly of LTS). Before the session began I asked if they’d object if I recorded it as an aide memoir – stressing that I hoped to write it up on my blog. They were kind enough to agree. So I placed my Zoom H2 on the neighbouring chair, allowing me to give the talk my full attention.

I had intended to write this up sooner but I’m glad I didn’t because the target audience has changed. Today I received details of our In Service on Monday Oct 20. Feedback from the HITS conference was requested and, as my colleagues were scattered about the other dozen or so session taking place simultaneously, I feel that I should try to make some sense of this session for them – in addition to any readers here. The were slides accompanying the talk and so, rather than attempt a verbatim re-enactment, I shall simply make use of numbered points and paraphrasing so that, on Monday, colleagues can more easily ask me for clarification.

  1. Why change? OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development) report indicates that school doesn’t overcome poverty and disadvantage – as strong as Scottish education is, it does not compensate for the postcode lottery – so some reflection of what schools are for was thought essential – and delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence is the practical expression of this

  2. This reform must come from schools and not be centrally driven

  3. Original draft in 2004 – constant discussions since then – with more detail in the last 6 months

  4. What is going to change? Our pupils will face a future much more prone to rapid change than way in which we (at least the more senior members of the service) grew up. Some will change career several times. We need to provide them with skills for this changing future. We need to prepare them for change? We’re looking for deep and sustained learning which upon pupils will be able to draw whatever the circumstances. The content of the curriculum must be fit for purpose for this changing future.

  5. What will be the contribution of learning and teaching to this?

  6. Is there anything we (instructors) cannot claim to be doing already?

  7. Active Learning?

  8. Choice?

  9. Ownership of learning – encouraging pupils to explain what is and what is not going well?

  10. Encouraging pupils to see the connections between subjects?

  11. Assessment if for Learning is about talking to pupils – letting them express how they think things are going – challenging them – collaborating in finding solutions to problems – is this not already a constant component of lessons and rehearsals?

  12. All teachers (including instructors) are to be teachers of Literacy, Numeracy and Health & Well Being.

  13. School-Community links – concerts?

  14. Collegiate Leadership – Instructors to take charge or their part of the overall picture.

  15. However, the experience and outcomes form only part of the picture

  16. How things are put together matters.

  17. Assessment has to be considered.

  18. So does certification.

  19. The draft of A Curriculum for Excellence was put together by LTS

  20. The experience and outcomes areas have been the subject of much discussion and many checks (Expressive Arts can be found here)

  21. It was launched in January for feedback.

  22. Will the ingredients of this curriculum do what they promise?

  23. Re-professionalise teachers (allow them to take ownership of what they teach as opposed to tight, more schematic approaches of guidelines of 5 to 14?

  24. Will they work?

  25. What CPD will be required?

  26. What changes will be required before the curriculum settles into what could be considered its final form (I don’t believe that this suggests for a moment that the situation will some day be fixed for all time – this would hardly be in keeping with the perpetual change highlighted above)

  27. What do we need in the form of interesting new practice to show others? Do we (Instructors in East Lothian) see ourselves as the provider as opposed to the recipient of new ideas?

  28. Apparently the feedback is already in. Have we missed out here? Does anyone recall being directed to consider and respond to the content?

  29. Some local authorities were given the chance to try out 2 or 3 outcomes – presumably we weren’t in this pilot phase.

  30. Bear in mind that some of these outcomes are broad e.g. a whole term’s work – 2 or 3 years in some cases.

  31. There was also an online questionnaire from LTS. Anyone in Scotland could take part – not solely professionals – I think we’ve missed this.

  32. A report was commissioned from Glasgow University. The time period was short (over the summer) and there were many subjects being considered, so (in Music) they were asked simply to point out flaws:

  33. What’s not clear?

  34. Is more information required e.g. what lies behind it?

  35. Is more exemplification required?

  36. What kind of CPD – nationally?

  37. The rest of the development comes from us – over the next year and beyond – developments will be shared via LTS and GLOW (formerly Scottish Schools Digital Network – each school should have at least one Glow Mentor who can talk us through this).

  38. So the content will be what we can offer.

  39. What was the feedback to LTS from Glasgow University?

  40. People like the broad statements

  41. They feel less secure about the meaning e.g. what constitutes any given level

  42. In general they were happy with the Music outcomes – perhaps the required change will be small

  43. Any Gremlins? The word magic was not popular – too vague – more specifics are required – without being in danger of inviting an over prescriptive situation – Scotland, has had open curricula in the past – relative to other countries – and people are keen to retain this

  44. More generic (negative) points – the CfE document was not easy to navigate

  45. So – what needs to be elaborated?

  46. There will be a fleshing out of points on the curriculum over the next few months – not every single outcome, but where there is a barrier to progress or a lack of clarity

  47. What additional support might be necessary? How will we adapt, where necessary, the content?

  48. How will achievement and reporting flesh out?

  49. Further clarification of music technology required (this would form part of Aileen Monaghan’s contribution to the session).

  50. How will assessment strategies flesh out? People seem unsure of what constitutes a certain level – and this makes planning difficult.

  51. More exemplification required – visual and aural to refine idea of content

  52. How does all this link back to Citizenship & Sustainable Development?

  53. CPD needs – training for non-specialist – how will they cope with changes – particularly when they will be dealing with changes to almost every other element in their working day? Does this apply to musical activity in, say, a primary school over and above that provided by visiting Instrumental Instructors and Primary Music Specialists?

  54. Independent Learning? Surely not an issue for an effective, modern Music Department using differentiation etc.

  55. In Service talks by pioneers of new practice, technology, software, ideas etc.

  56. Interesting that people continue to seek clear explanation, four years down the CfE road.

  57. The big professional judgement at the heart of this is how much to prescribe (given the apparent need for clarity) and how much to leave to the experience and judgement of individual departments

  58. The Four Capacities being at the heart of everything, how do we organise things to ensure that they materialise? By referring constantly – not simply to the headlines but the attributes

  59. Remember to include literacy and numeracy in this

  60. How does it all come together? It’s all about what we plan for children – and not just us – any planned activity – cubs; sport; trips; rehearsals; concerts etc.

  61. Four main ingredients are meant to be present: ethos; curriculum areas; interdisciplinary subjects (in our case – how music links with everything else); personal achievement.

  62. The above four elements are really the definition of the curriculum – but it’s much broader – not just the in-school stuff

  63. We also need to be aware of: challenge; breadth; progression; personalisation; coherence & relevance

  64. this means linking in-school, out-of-school, ethos etc.

  65. There have been many changes in curricular content – in my time – since late 82, I’ve seen the transition from O Grade to Standard Grade (resulting in the disappearance of the non-certificate class); the new Higher Music; Higher Still; Advanced Higher (and the disappearance of the Certificate of 6th Year Studies); Intermediate I & II…… 5 – 14

  66. BUT – this is the first time that the entire 3 – 18 span has been rethought

  67. One result will be that secondary school will no longer be thought of as S1-2; S3-4; S5-6 but rather S1-3; S4-6

  68. The S1-3 phase will be about breadth of education

  69. The S4-6 phrase will be about certification for continuing education or employment

  70. The values will include – effective teaching; personal support for every pupil (we’ll surely be part of this); qualifications

  71. How will schools deliver this? We will be part of this and it will require, for example, specifics of how Literacy, Numeracy and Health & Well Being fit into our lessons & rehearsals

  72. Given the freedoms involved, the manifestation of the curriculum could vary from school to school – surely this, more than any individual component will be the eventual challenge for the Instrumental Instructor.

  73. Two final questions to finish this part of the presentation:

  74. (1) Framework for Learning & Teaching: look at the ingredients for 30 seconds (in one area) and discuss with your neighbour how the instruction service fits into everything

  75. (2) Given that everyone will be a teacher of Literacy, Numeracy and Health & Well Being – how will you capitalize on these three things – either individually or as a network (service)?

  76. What now? Where do we fit into the remaining development? Perhaps not a terrific amount of change in day to day practicalities but certainly more elaboration of our contribution to the three above elements.

  77. New awards in literacy and numeracy will be available – exactly when remains to be settled – early S4 perhaps S3 but, in either case, evidence will be collected from across the curriculum – that includes us.

  78. Scottish Government consultation (online questionnaire) on qualifications remains open online until 31 October.

It’s difficult to believe that what is merely sketched out here was delivered in proper prose in under 28 minutes!

Unfortunately, the batteries in the Zoom H2 packed in 8 minutes into Aileen Monaghan’s contribution – but I’ll try to piece together something in a separate post.

* the definition of literacy is much wider than what might normally be assumed and includes digital literacy (podcasting, blogging, uploading multimedia etc.), musical literacy the ability to give a talk/presentation etc.

National Instrumental Conference 1

In a previous post I mentioned how a necessary part of being an instructor, who truly wants to be part of school life (as opposed merely to using the buildings) is to absorb whole-school ideas and consider how they relate to the very specific nature of our work. Our five annual In Service days are slightly different in that, without feeling divorced from our institutions, we are more at liberty to discuss the specifics of our practice without alienating the remaining 99% of the staff. 

There are currently 21 people in the East Lothian’s Instrumental Service so you can imagine the relative intensification of taking part in a one-day conference of Scotland’s 900 instrumental staff. The conference was the fruit of a partnership between Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland (HITS) and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama (RSAMD) – with the generous support of The Scottish Arts Council. The venue was Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall with some of the activities spilling over into the nearby RSAMD and National Piping Centre. 

Fittingly, the day opened not with words, but with music and dance – specifically samba drumming, dance and capoeira performed by Rhythm Wave – a mixture of students and staff of Perth College, led by founder, Ronnie Goodman, a lecturer at the college. It would be difficult to imagine a more rousing beginning to the day. 

This year’s chair of HITS, Mike McGeary, then welcomed us before introducing Adam Ingram, MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years. We were then invited to make our way to the first of our two chosen workshops. Across the day, the choice comprised: 

  • ASL – Drake Music Scotland – Making Music Accessible – with Brian Cope

  • Bagpipes – with Paul Warren

  • Brass – with Steven Mead

  • Conducting – with William Conway

  • CPD: Online Support – with Sheila Smith

  • Curriculum for Excellence – with Alan Armstrong & Aileen Monaghan

  • Early Years: Focus on Instruments – with Andrew Cruickshank

  • Early Years – with Naheed Cruickshank

  • Expanding the Electric Guitar’s Creative Potential – with Jonathan Quinney

  • Group Teaching – with Richard Crozier

  • Guitar – with Martin Taylor

  • IT – Music Notation Another Way? An Introduction to Finale – with Chris Swaffer

  • Jazz – with Malcolm Edmonstone

  • Kodály: The Relevance of Kodály Musicianship to the Training of Young Instrumentalists – with David Vinden

  • Lower Strings – with Elizabeth Harre

  • Percussion for All – how orchestral percussion can give access to a range of musical opporunities – with Elspeth Rose

  • Piano For All – with Havilland Willshire

  • Technology for the Rock & Pop Musician – with Craig Blundell

  • Traditional Music – with Josh Dickson

  • Upper Strings – with Géza Szilvay

  • Voice – with Christopher Underwood

  • Woodwind – with Pete Long

  • World: Samba, Reggae Brazilian Rhythms – with Ronnie Goodman

  • World: The Indonesian Gamelan – Cultural Connections In Scottish Education – with Gamelan Naga Mas

I’ll go into the particulars of the two workshops I chose in subsequent posts, but I’d like simply to sum up here some of the feeling of the day. Naturally I had come along prepared to learn but had not really figured on the inspirational and emotional content of the day. Much of the inspiration came from John Wallace‘s keynote speech. Trumpet in hand, he reminded us how music, and the arts in general will allow our students lasting freedom and individuality of expression. In the hurly burly of lessons, rehearsals and concerts it’s all too easy to forget that! Possibly the inspirational nature was due to John being not only a distinguished educator (Prinicipal of RSAMD) but also a world class musician. The old Shavian maxim “he who can does, he who cannot, teaches” was never more resoundingly refuted. 

However, furthering musical youth being our raison d’être, the greater part of the afternoon session was given over to to young talent: Nicola Benedetti (violin); Karen Geoghegin (bassoon); Ian Watt (guitar) and Pure Brass. 

In addition to the expressive performances, there was the additional emotional content of meeting up with old college pals (some of whom I hadn’t seen since 1979) and former colleagues (some of whom I hadn’t seen since the Lothians went their separate ways in 1996).


I like to get an early night on a Sunday because you never know what Monday mornings can throw at you. This morning, a group of P7s announced that we were all going to die midweek. Never fear, I was on the case and knew they were referring to the switching on of the large hadron collider at CERN – I’d done my research, you see. I was able to pacify them by reassuring them that the mere switching on of the machinery was quite safe and that, although a beam of particles was going to be introduced into the collider on Wednesday (webcast here), there was to be no collision of protons. Conditions similar to those just after the Big Bang would not be simulated this September – we would not be dying this week. One promised to sue me if we did – I suspect he doesn’t even have a lawyer. Anything to get out of practising.

The unlikely event of science bringing civilisation to an end is scheduled for Tue 21 October – so at least we’ll have had a holiday – although I question the value of a full day’s in service just before entering a black hole. Were we to exit a black hole, intact but in another universe – would we expected to try our best to make it to school? Would we get travel expenses? Normally, in cases of nature interfering with our professionalism, one is encouraged to tune into local radio for details. Increasingly, though, I find local radio and the end of civilisation difficult to tell apart.

In the even less likely event of my serious treatment of the subject leaving some blanks in the science, let the groovers in the CERN Rap Team explain: [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/j50ZssEojtM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]