It seems like the music industry never seems to settle. Popstars are fined millions of dollars for stealing the “groove“ of an 80’s track, the reliance on going viral has never been more pertinent and we as a society have never been so influenced by popular and contemporary music. Almost by second nature, we hear every note, read every lyric and we create an ongoing conversation about music and the role it plays in our lives. TICE Music mentor Sam Burt attended Burnside Business & Enterprise College, Marden High School, Monkseaton High School and North Tyneside Music Education Hub Group, on a mission to guide future talent through the exciting and equally intimidating world of the music industry.
It has become a TICE Music tradition to skip formal introductions and start with a non-music related warm up – the egg warmer. We won’t describe the game from top to bottom but even by the sound of the name you can imagine that students were left in giggles and full of adrenaline for the day ahead. Soon after, they gathered around in a communal huddle as Sam warmly introduced himself and shared his fascinating success story from the very beginning.
After a couple of quick introductory excercises, it was time for students to really discover just how innovative they are by focusing on various elements of the music industry. Here are only a couple of examples of what they explored…
“Juba this and Juba that,
Juba killed the yellow cat,
You sift the meal and gimme the husk,
You bake the bread and gimme the crust,
You eat the meat and gimme the skin,
And that’s the way my mama’s troubles begin“
Ah yes, the Patting Juba. We don’t necessarily hear this in the Top 10 UK Charts, but this song provides the formula to excellent songwriting. Firstly, students had to understand the trochaic tetrameter. It sounds pretty complex, but it means to mark the stresses or the words which are most prominent. Once they figured that out, they were given the challenge to come up with lyrics of their own against a couple of chords. The task wasn’t to make them better at what they’re writing about but how they are writing the song and most importantly, it helps them become critical listeners (arguably one of the most important qualities of being a musician).
Emotion and Audience
‘All the musical skills in the world are worth nothing if you cannot use them to express emotion.’
Communicating through music is key to progression. Once you have caught someone’s attention, that can only mean more opportunities can arise. To take it back to basics, Sam started with some hypothetical situations in which everyone responded with the same emotions. That had clearly shown that we all generally care about the same things, so how does this become useful when writing music?
Sam shared that there are four universal song themes/subjects – Fight, Love, Dance and Cry. There is a theory that music only evokes 5 basic emotions, because these were the most evolutionary adapted. They had the most impact on humans surviving and flourishing, that being anger/fear (fight), love (love), tenderness (dance), sadness (cry). To help students put this into context, Sam conducted a listening exercise where they had to categorise the songs into themes. As you can imagine, some songs took little to no thought and encapsulated a specific emotion. There’s always a twist though. Some students found that the themes can blur and overlap. We could be dancing about love or we could be angry because we’re heartbroken. It’s always interesting to see how just how pertinent emotion can be in a song.
“What do you want to be when you’re older?“ – a question we already have or will recieve at some point. But what if know what will be out there before others do, and what can we do with that information? Sam dug up some research on future musical trends to share with the students. From VR music to sample libraries to technology influencing songwriting, there are dozens of avenues that haven’t been thoroughly explored yet. The key, however, is for our aspiring musicians to adopt the skills needed for these future roles (of course, if it’s what they wish to pursue). Why not get a head start?
It was then time to put all of this knew found skill and knowledge to the test with the main task of the afternoon. Working in bands, randomly picked by Sam himself, students had to come up with a piece of music to fit their selected brief using all available resources. They will be given a song theme and a context but they must decide the exact genre themselves. To any musician, this is an incredibly difficult task to undertake. It can be very easy to get immersed in perfectionism but sometimes creating something with a sense of spontanaeouty can bring out exciting results.
Teams got straight to work and began to turn their vague whistles into melodies, their table tapping to percussion and their diary entries into lyrics. Within a short space of time, the bands presented their work with slight apprehension but unattainable pride. It was particularly wonderful to see fellow musicians support one another – there were cheers and praise for all who took part.
In true Sam Burt style, he ended the workshop with Neil Young’s “Keep On Rocking In The Free World“ – a reminder to do exactly that. Hopefully, we’ll see them continue their musical journeys throughout TICE 2019 and beyond.
To the schools, students and individuals who have participated in TICE Music so far, thank you and we can’t wait for Explore Stage…