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It’s all about Repertoire

Five weeks in… already?! So how is it going? Are you finding your way? What are you getting from MUS654?

My university students are drawing together a curriculum for a year’s musical tuition for a someone – the age, the level, the instrument is all up to them. You may be doing that too, or perhaps just following along and reading bits to stretch your musical brain.

Someone asked me this week what did I want to accomplish with all of this?? and I said that I hope to give people the keys to think differently, to think about the things that they do or might be doing. Take a parallel, an analogy- when I came to London I didn’t like it.  As a post-graduate student coming from a different country, although London has a way, I couldn’t quite apprehend it – spatially, socially, or culturally – at least not in the space of those first 10 months I spent there. My experience involved carrying a cello an hour and a bit across London to and from music college where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t understand the routines or the ways it all worked.  I needed a key to somehow unlock the maze that I was busy running around in.

MUS654 is not an answer booklet, it’s no A-Z of teaching, but it is a catalyst, a tool to help you find or even custom-cut your own keys.  once you have the keys, you can have more freedom to go where you like. Think of the topics in the sessions as different houses, and we get to glimpse into some of the rooms – certainly not all of them – but a glimpse can give some insight into a topic or way of thinking, and you can take it from there. So far we’ve taken a tour of a neighbourhood of topics, and from here on out we are going to look at how to connect it up with both specific issues, and with links that bring the topics together.

Have you done a few tasks? Shared any thoughts or ideas? Commented on someone else’s tasks? Let’s hope so!


Timid? Quiet? Ah, perhaps that’s something deeply learned…  What are some of the first demands placed on a baby? What do the parents say? — Hush, don’t cry. DON’T CRY. HUSH. — as a mother of three, my heart sank a little bit. Yes, I did it too.

So could it make a little sense that children, that people, that we are reluctant to share things?Hopefully not. Please have a voice! As intellectually curious learners lets be keen to promote a culture of learning.

(Photo CC-BY byDiba Tillery)

 This week in #MUS654 we are looking at Repertoire. After having grounded ourselves in the musical building blocks – what do we already know, and what is out there, and how do we expand our horizons. As you will know, we learn by doing, and so I hope that you are able to do some of the bits of MUS654 and sharing your creations and insights. Have a voice, as we make the learning community! You can catch up on yesterday’s hangout with Ralph Stelzenmüller HERE and please join us next Wed. at 6pm BST for our next hangout.

Here’s to the upcoming weeks,


It’s hangout time again!

Yes, it’s nearly Wednesday again, and that means it’s time to look forward to a Google Hangout for #MUS654 at 6pm BST. This is when I invite a guest to discuss aspects of the week’s topic with me, my students, and you. This week we’re thinking about study material. What is it we use to learn in music? Is it something from a published book? Is it something else? How do we devise it? (photo CC-BY-SA by daryl_mitchell)


Our guest this week is joining us from Switzerland. Ralph Stelzenmüller, a native Burghausen/Salzach, studied organ, church music and directing at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. He then completed his postgraduate studies on harpsichord and organ at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, studying with Jean-Claude Zehnder. For three years, he held a lectureship and taught music history at the Athanor Akademie for theater. In increasing demand as both a player of basso continuo and as an accompanist for Lied, he has performed and taught throughout Europe and South America, working with many of the great names in Early Music, including Anthony Rooley and Andreas Scholl. In 2005 he founded his own ensemble, Combassal. In 2010, Ralph took up the postgraduate organ scholarship at the University of Aberdeen, where he is writing a PhD on the development of the basso continuo in England.

We’ll be talking with Ralph in a few hours: Wednesday 7 Oct, at 6pm BST and you can watch HERE. Feel free to join us- you can always email, comment, or tweet either to join us live, or to add something to the conversation with the #MUS654 tag.

The music lesson and the walnut tree

This is in response to Steve Wheeler’s challenge to use a ‘twisted pair’ that has somehow impacted your teaching. My pair is the music lesson and the walnut tree. Photo CC-BY by Steve Slater

In my Open Music class #MUS654 we have been exploring the different aspects of music learning and how these map on to different instrumental specialisms with the end goal of designing a curriculum for a year’s teaching. We had dissected the components of sound, playing, scales, and then studies and connecting material before moving on to repertoire. I love using metaphors to describe situations, and I wanted to make this one fun….

Thinking cap on, I had an idea. In the building where my office lives, there was a recent renovation that included adding a kitchen. Fantastic! Everything we had learned so far points to an informed outlook on learning that includes being informed and having a firm grasp on the way different aspects of tasks relate to one another and fit into the larger picture. -teaching my students to use self-regulation in the way they approach teaching- with hierarchical goals, using metacognition, and interweaving reflection and evaluation into the way they teach and learn. So the kitchen would be the key to my metaphor.

We had the ingredients, and now it was time to put them together. What could be a better ‘lecture’ than one where you bake cookies as a class? (oh, yes, I am serious.) The plan was to bring in all the ingredients and to discuss the components of musical learning and how we approach them, the techniques of mixing the different elements, what they mean, and what they produce – and then the punchline

The punchline??

We’re in the kitchen, we have cookie dough, but….


(health and safety, you know)

So the meaning of the analogy? Well that’s the discussion starter – is it enough to have all the ingredients and have the instructions to put them together? What’s missing? What do you need? As learners do we need someone else to learn? How does our learning cook?

And where does my neighbour’s tree come into it? It’s a walnut tree, and every morning as I walk 8042842059_74fd751c09_zmy son to school we pick up a couple more walnuts that have fallen out of the tree…. so I thought I’d give each of my students a walnut and leave them with the physical reminder of our time together (as there were no lovely, fresh-baked cookies – I know that is totally mean, but all that active learning has to have some sticking power, no?) and give each of them a walnut, still in the shell and as I hand it to them say, “It’s a tough nut to crack.”

Photo CC-BY by Nacho


Linking it up: #MUS654 Week 4 is here!

This week is all about connection, and starting to engage with joined up thinking. The topic of Week 4 in #MUS654 is ‘Studies and Connecting Material’. As usual, there will be by-the-book thinking and perhaps some personal experience to use as a basis for thinking about what makes a study or étude. My goal is to challenge your thinking and also to begin to connect up the dots. Remember, those in my physical class are creating a curriculum and after having considered the basics that comprise sound and how we produce that on instruments, the orientation of that sound through scales – now we are ready to get into thinking about the learning.

This afternoon (1pm BST) we’ll be listening to and tweeting about the three interviews on the #MUS654 Week 4 page and that will be the catalyst for thinking. I hope you join in and have a think about how you learn, teach, and begin to join up the dots in music making.

As you go through the week, Tweet, blog, or email me – we’re using the hashtag #MUS654.We’ll be having another Google Hangout next Wednesday 7th Oct. at 6pm BST to discuss the week and any topic that we have covered so far, and you are more than welcome to contribute to the conversation. If you missed last week’s hangout where we talked about scales, you can catch up here.

Photo CC-BY-NC-ND by Jeff S. PhotoArt at

My scales story #MUS654

(2 min read) As a student I was a latecomers to seriously studying music, and as we know it takes a lot of practice to be excellent at any instrument (yes, voice is an instrument). As a first year undergraduate I had a great friend who gave me a present to help with my practising. It was a pink mini-Fender Amp that had a slot in the back for a 9v battery, an input and an output. I used it for years until it finally went to live with the other amps in the sky.  (Photo CC-BY by S.Su)


What was it for? Scales and intonation. That’s right, my little pink Fender amp was a drone machine for me and it would be hooked up to my digital tuner and blast out sine tones (like these) so I could have a solid, fixed reference pitch as I practiced. I used it religiously everyday – and I needed to! There was no quick fix for developing an inner ear or learning the placement of fingers on a fretless instrument. I quickly realised that as a cello player, I thought about notes, and scales, mainly in a melodic context. What I mean, is that I didn’t have that key harmonic reference in my head like another musician might. (Photo CC-BY-NC by Bill Selak)

The amp was a stepping stone for me. As I plugged away learning the patterns for my scales and solidifying the geography of the fingerboard it helped to keep me on track. The next step was to create that drone myself, with my voice. The magic of this (once you get over the fact that you are not supposed to sound like a diva holding a low G -or whatever note- for a minute or more) was that the combination of the voice and the cello notes interacted in a very physical way. I could FEEL the vibrations of the different intervals. So an octave really felt smooth as glass, whereas the major 7th had a sawtooth edge that produced very tangible harmonic beats. These were different from the more textured velour of a 3rd. It is a real challenge to hold a pitch steady when the interval is moving, and not to waver. Really, give it a go – even if you sing against that sine wave generator I linked to – play a note on it (turn it up so the volume matches your voice) and sing a scale. You’ll feel those intervals too.

It is a practice that taught me to tune in, literally, as well as to get into the mental space where I could really listen. Scales became more than rushing through the Galamian finger pattern of ‘stretch-stretch-squash-squash-squash’ (which is how to play a major scale on a violin/viola/cello staring on any note) and moved into a real tool for teaching me about relationships of notes and balance within my hand and the sound.

Do I still do it? Yes.

Do I make my students do it? Yes.

Do they think it’s silly? Yes, and I volunteer to sing the first drone – and we all laugh. It is very good to laugh. …and then to practise some more!

Don’t forget this week’s #MUS654 Hangout/Webinar happening on Wed. 30th September at 6pm BST. We’ll be talking about scales and the relationship of notes, and I look forward to welcoming Roozbeh Golpaygani روزبه گلپايگانى who will be sharing his knowledge of Persian music. You are more than welcome to join in the conversation in person or via Twitter.

Week 3 is here! #MUS654

This week in the open music course #MUS654 we think about ‘Scales and the relationships of notes’ – there is content to spark your thought and imagination and you are invited to join in with the various tasks. These are intended to get you thinking differently – beyond your own experience or practising habits, and to extend outward so we can all learn from each other.

You can find the Week 3 page HERE or you can navigate by hovering over the #MUS654 2015 tab above.

We will be having another webinar/hangout next Wednesday, 30th of September at 6pm BST and you are more than welcome to join in! The plan is to have people with different instrumental specialisms and from different traditions to talk about the topic of scales, notes, and how they relate to our music making and learning. If you missed last night’s webinar with Duane Padilla and Pete where we discussed melodies, you can catch up here:


I look forward to seeing you (or your posts!) in the week – as always, if you have any questions, observations, or suggestions, please get in touch. I am happy to reply and improve what is here.

All the best for the week ahead!


Photo CC-BY-BC-ND by Peter Witham

Santana on the cello for #MUS654

It’s a Week 2 update and today I did the task of playing a melody on a new instrument. (It’s not fair if I ask people to do tasks if I’m not prepared to do them myself, right?) So here we go…

Last night I decided to play the beginning solo from Black Magic Woman by Santana on my cello. It is just meant to be an experiment, so see what you think. I found a backing track online here and the tab (I cheated!) and got going. Here’s what happened:


I’m looking forward to talking with Duane Padilla about melodies in this week’s hangout tomorrow at 6pm BST. He is a master at learning from other instruments and of learning new instruments. You can drop in on the hangout and watch on youtube

or contact me for a live link to join in the discussions in real time. You are more than welcome!

It’s Week 2 #MUS654

Time flies – must be having fun! It’s time for Week 2 of #MUS654 and this week is all about melodies. Tunes. Songs. Have a look, listen, and explore the tasks. Share and let’s get some comments going!

Last night’s webinar via google hangouts was fun (you can catch up and watch it here) and at next week’s hangout on Wednesday 23 September at 6:00pm BST we are in for a treat- Duane Padilla (who features in this week’s page) is going to join us from Hawaii!! Beside being supremely amazing of him to make the time for us – it will be an astonishing 4:00 AM for Duane!

On that note, enjoy the Week 2 content about ‘What makes a melody?’ and I hope to hear from you – via comments, Twitter, or your own blog page.


Photo CC-BY-NC by Joe

#MUS654 Our first Hangout!

Announcing the first Google Hangout for #MUS654!

Happening today, 16 September at 6:00 pm BST. If you would like to join us, please contact me and I’ll send you the link to participate in the hangout. Feel free to watch and contribute via Twitter using the hashtag #MUS654

We’ll be talking about the first week – thinking about sound, setting up blogs, and how it is to be a musician and think and communicate about different musical processes and topics.
Join us!


Musiquality at RAISE15

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey for live streaming our presentation at the RAISE (Researching, Advancing, and Inspiring Student Engagement) conference in Nottingham. My co-presenters Pete – a current final year student, and Jess – who just graduated, and I were very pleased to be invited to share a bit of our story. You can watch here:

(Fiona says the best bit starts at 17:55 – that’s where we perform some music!)

We would love to share our story, and what we did with you too. If you think we can spread quality and connection through music to you, your students, or your community – please get in touch.