I had the privilege of shadowing Fran Hannan, Managing Director of Musical Futures (MF), as she delivered training in MF Just Play: Music-Making for the Whole Class approach for teachers, including modeling it with a class of 11 year-olds from Leeds. Musical Futures is celebrating its fifteenth year since the launch of the Paul Hamlyn Foundationʼs special initiative. One message that I heard often from Fran is how Musical Futures democratizes music education by making music accessible to all children at whatever their previous level or experience. Musical Futures is founded on this principle and provides a model of self-directed learning that enhances student motivation, enjoyment and skill-acquisition in music lessons by tapping into real-life learning practices of popular musicians. And what I witnessed during the training involving the class of 11-year-olds was just that: engagement and enjoyment by all students start to finish and choice built into each activity.
Musical Futures provides tools that allow students to start playing an instrument as a whole class ensemble right away, while differentiating for the wide range of musical skills that children bring with them to school. For example, the major and minor chord card placed on an electronic keyboard (above photo) allow students to play in any key with the root designated in red and the 3rd and 5th notes in blue. Kids naturally self-selected the level of complexity based upon their ability and comfort level. Some played one note, while others played two, all three or both hands. Some chose only to play one chord, while others played all three chords. Some played chords on beat one, others played on all four beats, while others chose to play a more complicated rhythmic pattern. I observed students increase the level of musical challenge throughout the lesson, but it was always student-directed, not teacher led. The powerpoints that Musical Futures provides allows students to read all parts from one slide, which keeps everyone focused as they follow the moving tracker.
Fran shared this same type of differentiation and student choice for playing a drum kit by demonstrating the Musical Futuresʼ approach to chair drumming, a popular resource that can be found on the Musical Futuresʼ website. She also suggested to the teacher some creative solutions to soften the potentially loud sounds from wooden or plastic chairs: Jigsaw puzzle floor mats for the snare and slit foam tubing for the high hat. And if you donʼt have a class set of drumsticks, use chopsticks!
Fran is passionate about making music accessible not only to students, but classroom teachers. Hear testimony from music teacher, classroom and support teachers and student reflecting on this day of Musical Futuresʼ whole class music-making. For more information on all of the trainings and resources that Musical Futures offers, please see their website. Here is a video a created highlighting the Just Play training in Leeds to try to capture the enthusiasm and engagement by all involved. Thank you, Fran Hannan and Musical Futures, for your inspiring work in music education!