We have been running regular after school music sessions at Brent Knoll School in Lewisham since October 2006, funded by PAYP (Positive Activities for Young People).
The school has excellent music facilities, with individual computers for music work - however, our sessions were based around multi-track recording using our own laptop based system. We also had an off-site visit to a professional recording facility (Hurricane Studios in Deptford). The visit was particularly successful, firstly in showing the pupils a practical, working studio environment, and secondly in giving a grounding in the development of sound recording technology.
Group working for these pupils can be particularly difficult, but we succeed in drawing people in to the group whilst developing individual styles:
- We established a working pattern of warm-up drumming (on Djembes, congas etc.) to establish a base rhythm, followed by practice with a metronomic tempo. Then the drums are recorded, and more instrumentation and vocal performance layered on top.
- We also allow people to work separately, then using the results in the group composition (e.g. letting someone write lyrics on one of the class computers, then getting them to perform them). This enables particular individuals to integrate their own interests into the group - e.g. some prefer lyric writing and vocal performance, or favourite instruments - keyboard, drums etc., or the use (at home) of particular software
- We encourage individuals to take various leading roles - conducting, choosing and editing performances, choosing sounds, tempi etc. Some of the participants have taken over computer operation, and all were involved in the mixing and CD writing process.
- In overcoming initial reluctance by persuasion then demonstrating the value of group integration by results we have seen increases in self confidence and the ability to overcome difficulties in several individuals
Our method of working requires a mature attitude, and the participants have shown a great deal of sophistication in group working - turn taking, respecting other people’s efforts and viewpoints, and in being patient with the technical demands.
We have seen steady progress in musicianship and technical knowledge:
- We have worked steadily on basic pulse keeping and structuring pieces and introduced new drum rhythms, the idea of modes, some guitar chord tuition, and approaches to lyric writing
- We have enabled all the participants to gain an understanding of the processes and equipment involved in of computer based multi-track recording
- We have introduced concepts which are unique to computer recording, such as digitisation, quantisation and looping
- We have imparted additional knowledge of ancillary equipment such as microphones, types of interface and connections
- We were able to integrate the use of acoustic with electric and computer based instruments such as drum pads and analogue synthesisers
Brent Knoll School is a mixed special school for pupils aged 4 - 16 meeting the needs of children and pupils who have health problems, speech, language and social and communication difficulties, autistic spectrum disorders, including Asperger's Syndrome; physical disabilities and mild learning difficulties.
Around half a dozen tracks have been recorded so far, including one 'backing' track which was in a performance used during the end-of term.