Hints and tips – How to run a music collaboration with a secondary school

The musical times tables project works brilliantly as a standalone project in a single school.  The children enjoy singing songs that they know, it is effective in helping them (and the teachers!) learn their times tables, and they love writing their own songs to be performed by the school.  But collaborating with a secondary school really steps it up a notch!

What the secondary school get from it:

  • Kudos and great PR
  • A motivating project for A-level music students…
  • …Which could contribute towards two separate modules (Performance and Music in the community)
  • Enjoyment for all involved (including the leadership of the school and the federation, who came to watch part of the event and loved it!)

What the secondary school need to provide:

  • Band
  • Venue and technical support for recording
  • Some time after recording for mastering/post-production (for our 6 songs this took one afternoon of an engineer’s time)
  • Time and support for the band to practise the songs (I spent 6 hours outside my usual job role attending their music lessons to provide instruction – this could have been done by a Secondary school teacher)

Here’s the process I followed (in addition to the weekly assemblies with the year 5/6 children):

  • Early Feb – emailed the Director of Music with the idea of the project.  It took very little to persuade him!
  • Throughout Feb – created the musical arrangements in Sibelius (music software), which exports pdf music and sound files for the full arrangement and for each individual part
  • Throughout Feb – Director of Music put together a band of year 12 students
  • Late Feb/early March – started meeting some of the students (the Director of Music brought them to our assembly)
  • Late Feb/early March – shared the Sibelius export files with the secondary teachers and students using dropbox
  • Throughout March – secondary students practise their music at home and start rehearsing together in their music lessons
  • Mid March – assemblies stepped up to twice weekly, to get extra time to rehearse the children and tidy up the songs
  • End March – attended 2 triple music lessons to advise and direct the band – this proved to be vital, although if I had taken less of a key role in the process they would have been able to manage it themselves with their teachers
  • 2 days in advance – double-length assembly with half of the band attending – to run through the final structures of the tunes and to prep the children on what to expect in a recording situation (e.g. lots of patience, re-runs, leads trailing over the floor, red light means silence for recording, OK to chat in the gaps but need to quieten down ultra-quickly at my whistle, etc)
  • Early April – Recorded the tunes in the secondary school theatre, with the band playing live throughout.  Behaviour was exempliary and the children picked themselves up to sing with energy even on the 5th take of each song.

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