Exchanging Notes

Exchanging Notes was an exchange of ideas between teachers and composers in 2002, designed to strengthen and investigate new strategies for the teaching of composition across the secondary music curriculum. The emphasis of the original exchange was to develop practical teaching strategies that could be utilised within any scheme of work, and it took the form of four days of workshops facilitated by BCMG and Robert Bunting, ex-Music Adviser for Birmingham LEA. The project team, consisted of composers Peter Wiegold, Liz Johnson, Errolyn Wallen and Mike Gibbs and secondary teachers Chris Stephens, Catherine Williams, Richard Knight and Prue Hawthorn and critical friend Bruce Cole, Fellow in Community Music, York University. The project aimed to respond to research findings which indicated that music in school is poorly regarded by young people and that teachers lack confidence in teaching composition. Four key questions were explored.

  • How do teachers ensure that pupils use whatever stimulus or inspiration they have as a starting point to create useful and interesting musical ideas?
  • What teaching strategies will develop young peoples aural imagination (inner ear)?
  • What teaching strategies will best help young people: To experiment? To make good decisions? To develop ideas? To evaluate?
  • Independent group work is the norm. But what role is there for individual work, and for whole-class teacher led?

A set of resources was created as a result of the project and can be downloaded from this site.

I have seen the composer questions, part of this pack used with A-level music students, and in KS3 classes at both Year 7 and Year 9. In all three contexts pupils found the cards attractive, interesting and thought-provoking. They helped to clarify what creative thinking is about, and how professional musicians work. In some cases we compared the way several different composers responded to a single question. In others we looked at the thinking of a single composer through her responses to several questions. Both approaches were equally effective.

Robert Bunting, former advisor to Birmingham LEA

I’m starting work on a new project today with Sound & Music. As part of the briefing paper, I was reminded about Exchanging Notes. I wrote about this back in 2008 and you can see the post here. It is an excellent resource produced by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group about how to teach composition in the classroom. I’d highly recommend it for all music teachers.

Jonathan Savage, Reader in Education, Institute of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University