Getting the Extra Right.

In my presentation at the Music Expo I focussed quite heavily on the Extra Curricular programme and how this can have a positive effect on numbers opting for music at Key Stage 4 & 5. Alongside this I spoke about how a healthy programme of activities will create a way of life for the musicians in school and this will have positive effects for the school in general.
It is hard to say what is right for everyone as every school is different. But there are a few things that I think are crucial for a healthy Music Extra Curricular Programme:

  1. It needs to be inclusive. If you have a policy that everyone needs to be Grade 5 and do an audition then you are unlikely to reach that many people. Okay some schools are lucky and have lots of people that fit that criteria, but here in Windsor it is different. My Orchestra meet twice a week at 7.45 a.m. Early eh! Why that early I hear you say. Well if I try and do it after school I will have to compete with sport or revision sessions – who do you think is going to win that battle. Anyway, that was an aside. My orchestra is open to everyone. If you can hold an instrument and you prepared to get that at that time then you are in. So if they are all there I have 85 boys, nearly 10% of the school in one room. It is exciting and fun. the repertoire is accessible and fun and it is completely inclusive. Choir is the same. I run on the premise that if students are prepared to be there and turn up then I am prepared to make sure it works for them.
  2. Make it worthwhile – you need a goal, a concert or event. Make sure that you have a termly or even half termly concert so that students are always working towards something and parents see the benefits.
  3. Fun – yes, fun, that is allowed and we must make sure that students enjoy rehearsals. Stop every now and again and chat about something or have a joke. Don’t pretend you are the LSO and just make sure that rehearsals are benefiting everyone.
  4. Make sure you can SAY YES. What I mean by this is you need to ensure that your groups are in a position to perform at the drop of a hat. If SLT come along and ask for music at something, make sure that they can have it. If someone important is visiting the school or there is an important local event then just make sure that you have something ready. So prepare for background music, music that can be played over and over. My Big band played up at Legoland the other day. So we arranged “Everything is Awesome” quickly and we also have an extensive repertoire. Playing for 90 minutes was therefore a breeze – and literally it was as it was so flipping cold!
  5. Get parents onside and communicate with them constantly. Make a parents Facebook page, get an email contact list and just keep them well informed about everything.
  6. Make good links with the community – businesses, town centre managers, the rotary etc. Not only will they support you financially but you will also get more exciting opportunities thrown your way.
  7. Be consistent. Rehearse year in year out. Not seasonally. Keep going through exam, maybe just take one rehearsals out or have one whole week off of everything.
  8. Get top students to arrange music – it saves money and they love doing it.
  9. Variety – try and do as much as you can, but also don’t do things for the sake of it. If you can’t form a good chamber group then don’t bother, especially if you already have a good jazz group. Work to the strengths of your students. But also get students running groups under your supervision.
  10. Get good links with you music Hub. This is crucial. Book a meeting with whoever runs an area that you want to develop.
  11. Make rehearsals public – make sure staff and students can see what you are doing and hear what you are doing. Every morning my school is filled with music! It is a great start to the day.
  12. Build community in the groups. Organise trips or socials, order pizza before a concert! Make sure that they actually feel a sense of belonging.
  13. Use performances in the groups to contribute towards GCSE and A-Level coursework – saves time and brings credibility to what you are doing. And it shows younger students that they can do in the future.

Ultimately students want to get involved and belong. So make sure that music is open to all and that it impacts the whole school. If you get the extra right then you will see numbers go up. Students will learn instruments if they can see something they can genuinely get involved in. I have Year 9 students every year start learning and that is because they want to get involved, play in concerts or come on the music tour. Don’t rule anyone out!
Just a few thoughts on the Extra and here is a reminder of why, because lets face it, all of this takes time:

  • Increased uptake at GCSE & A-Level
  • Larger and more varied ensembles – that benefits the students & the staff
  • The ability to say yes – ROYAL Appointment.
  • A department to be proud of and a job that you enjoy and love.
  • A timetable that is full of music lessons – 2 gcse classes in each year for us.
  • A happy SLT with a listening and supportive ear.

And here is my current programme in Windsor:
Monday
07.45 – 08.35 – Lower School Orchestra
Lunchtime – Boys choir
After School – Massed Upper Schools Orchestra
Tuesday
07.45 – 08.35 – School Orchestra
Lunchtime – Guitar Club
After School – Windsor Upper Schools Choir
Wednesday
07.45 – 08.35 – Big Band
Lunchtime – Girls Choir
After School – Musical Theatre Rehearsal
Thursday
07.45 – 08.35 – Big Band
Lunchtime – Girls Choir
After School – Musical Theatre Rehearsal
Friday
7.45 – 8.35 – School Orchestra
Lunchtime – Boys Choir
After School – GCSE Ensemble Rock Band

If you have any questions about any of this then do get in touch. I have lots of thoughts on good repertoire that might help and I have lots of good stuff that can be used in rehearsals so that you can always say yes – lots of great marching band music that I got from America for example. Get in touch and happy music making!
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