jump to navigation

Mobile phones in music teaching May 26, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in International education.

The latest, summer 2010 edition of our popular and highly regarded is (International School) magazine has gone off to the printers, and is expected back around June 4th.

Amongst several fantastic features – including a piece on cultural diversity written by George Walker, former Director General of the International Baccalaureate – is an article by Eivind Lodemel, a music teacher at the International School of Dhaka in Bangladesh.

Eivind writes about the use of mobile phone as a tool for informal learning, and popular music as an essential factor in teaching and has kindly allowed us to reproduce the article here.

“Music is a large part of our students’ lives. Significant parts of their days are dedicated to listening to music on the internet, mp3 players or on their mobile phones. They sing along, learn words, dance to the beat, or attempt to copy what they hear using guitars, keyboards or drums. Others will produce or arrange tracks using computer programmes like Garage Band and Cubase, or on their mobile phones. Students are interacting with music, composing, arranging, performing and appraising, but without any formal framework or instruction. They are taking part in informal learning.

Informal learning
Informal learning is receiving an increasing amount of attention amongst those who think about how we teach music. Our students are taking part in music-making in a new and modern way, and there is a feeling that our teaching should adapt to this new method in order to be inclusive and utilise the skill sets that students possess. But how do we adapt? Will a new method of learning limit our curriculum to the music that students find immediately attractive?
Folkestad (2006) asks the question: ‘Do we deny the fact that popular music is an essential factor of the context of music teaching in school, or do we acknowledge the students’ musical experiences and knowledge as a starting point for further musical education?’ The key to a solution might be the words ‘starting point’. If we can embrace the creative freedom, use of technology, learning by ear and informal approaches our students are familiar with, we might find an effective route into all kinds of musical worlds.

Musical futures
One model of how to achieve informal learning of music in the classroom is Musical Futures, a programme of classroom teaching aimed at students aged 11-14, developed in the UK and based on research by Lucy Green. The programme starts with students in groups, learning a piece of music of their own choice.
They learn by ear using mp3 players or CDs, and the teacher is to a large extent expected to stand back and allow students the freedom to explore the music at their own pace. This can be particularly unsettling for many teachers, but is considered an important part of making students feel ownership and control over their own music in school.
The next units in Musical Futures proceed to introducing other styles of music through the same method. At this point, the students listen to music provided by Musical Futures, but the method of learning the music is still informal, student-led and based on developing aural skills through learning by ear.

Exploring music through mobile phones
Mobile phones have become powerful tools and present a whole new level of opportunities for student learning. If we consider that the average mobile phone now has more computing power than the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) which landed Apollo 11 on the moon, and that most of our students carry one of these in their pocket, the view of the mobile phone as a distraction which only interferes with learning might change.
At the International School Dhaka (ISD) we are currently exploring how we can use the mobile phone as a tool for informal learning, and perhaps take the ideas of Musical Futures a step further. Most mobile phones have the ability to instantly record and play back sound (as do laptops), and this can be the starting point for a range of activities:

•    The teacher can play a number of musical themes, students record these, learn them by ear and arrange them into a piece of music.
•    The teacher can play a theme highlighting a musical technique or concept, students record the theme, and understand the technique through immersing themselves in performance or discussion of what they hear.
•    The teacher can present a piece of music which is to serve as a starting point for student composition, students record and take the recording away to start their work.
•    The teacher can present a piece of music, students record, learn by ear and present in classroom performance.

In order for these activities to make best use of informal methods, it is important that students must be given sufficient freedom and independence with regards to how they use and interpret the initial stimuli. Nevertheless, this model makes it possible for the teacher to influence the learning which takes place; students can be guided into developing skills in arranging, analysis, composition and performance, and there is room to explore a range of musical styles and techniques.
The benefits for students are numerous: they can access the music using methods and technology with which they are familiar; the music is instantly portable and therefore accessible for further study outside of school; and they can develop an understanding of the material at their own pace with a sense of ownership and control over their own learning.

Informal learning and creativity
In International School (is) magazine, volume 11 issue 3, Gary Burnett asks the question, ‘Can creativity be taught?’ An article in Scientific American Mind 19(3) suggests that creativity can indeed be taught as long as students are given the opportunity to take part in open-ended problem solving, and given the facility to instantly capture new ideas.
Based on these ideas, there is reason to believe that the informal methods presented above might be an avenue into teaching creativity in music. Learning by ear and responding freely to initial musical stimuli creates ample space for open-ended problem solving, and the mobile phone can be used to instantly record and capture any ideas or musical responses students might have during the process.
By adopting informal learning and embracing the technology and methods our students know and use, we can give students ownership, independence and freedom in their own learning, without limiting our curriculum to popular music alone. The distinction between music in and outside of school is thus blurred, leading us towards a more welcoming, interactive and creative music curriculum.

Eivind Lodemel is music teacher at
The International School of Dhaka, Bangladesh.



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: