On Tuesday 13th December, the 2016/17 TICE programme arrived at Mortimer Community College for the Insight stage of Music. The session for the day was led by Sam Burt. I was also on hand to assist proceedings throughout the day. We had a very enthusiastic group of year 10 students participating in today’s session…

To get things up and running, Sam began with some ice breaker activities that were designed to engage the students. ‘I am an egg warmer’ was the first fun activity of the day and it required the students to get active and make use of the room space… they were certainly a lively bunch!

Sam then delivered a very informative presentation regarding the TICE programme and the various stages, highlighting the importance of progressing onwards from the Insight stage. Sam then briefed the students on his own musical career as well as my own. Sam is a seasoned musician who has been involved in a plethora of musical projects over the years and still has plenty on the go in the present day! His presentation was very in depth and it gave the students a perfect insight into potential routes they could take to carve out a musical career of their own.

The students then participated in some more fun exercises led by Sam, though this time a bit of musical skill was required!

Sam took the group through some clapping exercises that were designed to improve both timing and rhythm. For one exercise, the students had to shorten their first name to one syllable and say it aloud whilst performing a clapped rhythm. They had to say their singular syllable first name on the first clap of each bar. This went around in a circle quite smoothly and it was evident that the students had a feel for both timing and rhythm, both of which are essential elements  for any aspiring musician out there to have in their locker! Sam then spiced things up a bit… for example: first clap (own name), first knee hit (person’s name on the left hand side). Sam emphasised that this exercise was as much about concentration as it was rhythm. The students were then taught a more intricate rhythmic exercise that required a combination of hand and knee hits. This created an impressive sounding 6/8 beat!

The next activity was intended to test the group’s industry knowledge rather than their practical musical abilities. For this exercise in particular, each person received a card that had an industry job title on one side. They then had to create a fictitious character by making up a name and stating what it is they do, as well as the potential salary they may earn. Examples of assigned roles included: lawyer, video director, A&R (Artist and Repertoire), producer, radio plugger, distributor, synch agent, account, roadie, manager, web designer, live agent, record shop boss, and artist. There was a varied level of knowledge within the room and the group engaged in a discussion about the roles of the aforementioned industry positions.

The students then re-gathered in a circle to recap the earlier 6/8 clapping/knee hit exercise. Sam then mixes it up again by teaching the group the following rhyme (known as ‘the Juba’) to perform on top of the clapped rhythm: “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“. Sam then asked the group to discuss with a partner what they think the song is about. This was a great exercise as it required both physical musical ability and outside-the-box thinking when it came to dissecting the lyrical content. By combining poetry with rhythmic clapping exercises, it was evident to me that the group were improving both their rhythm and timing!

Sam then divided the class into several smaller groups and gave them the task of discussing what they think the six elements of songs are (metre, rhythm, melody, harmony, key and lyrics). Once they’d all done this, each group took their turn to explain to the rest of the class what their collective thoughts were. Sam occasionally chipped in to keep people on the right track, however each group seemed to collaborate well on this task. Well done, guys!

For the next task, the class had to listen to 3 different pieces of music. The idea of this exercise was for the students to give each song a title, a genre and an emotion. They then had to dissect the instrumentation and pick out what plays the melody, harmony and rhythm and place said song on the axis – light/intense and fast/slow. ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by The Beatles, ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ by Guns ‘n Roses and ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon were the 3 pieces of music that the class had to examine for this task. It was noted that in ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, the time signature changes between the verses and choruses. Sam explained to the group how The Beatles were revered for this and how it’s quite uncommon to hear such a thing in pop music today. The group also pointed out how Slash’s iconic opening guitar lick of ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ is supported by a rhythm guitar strumming chords as well as the bass guitar playing a nice melody. Great observations! The goal of this exercise was to get the group adjusted to critical listening and to build an understanding of how the six elements all work in tandem within a song.

For the next part of the session, Sam informed the group that he had divided them accordingly so that the class could begin working on creating an original piece of music together. It was completely up to each group what genre their compositions were going to be. Love, cry, fight and dance were the 4 possible lyrical directions at each group’s disposal. There were 3 separate bands, each band using their own room to write a piece of music and then rehearse it in preparation for a peer demonstration later in the afternoon.

One group decided to compose a groovy rock riff with a straight drum beat pounding underneath. It was a very promising sounding verse that really came to life once vocals were added over the top!

In the room next door, some Metallica inspired riffage was oozing out the amplifier. Some subtle keyboard and a very nice female vocal were the other elements which collectively produced a very unique overall sound as there seemed to be a wide scope of inspiration. Impressive stuff!

The group in the third room had already stated what their starting point of inspiration was; Rihanna’s well known collaborations with Eminem. This is because not only was there a female singer, but an MC too! These guys laid down a very old school hip hop sounding piano loop and added complementary elements (such as guitar) which provided a great platform for the singer and MC to do their thing!

Each group then performed a peer demonstration before then carrying out their evaluations. Mortimer Community College, you guys rocked it!