Subject spotlight: Music in Norfolk schools

Matthew Hall, head of music at Stalham High School. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Matthew Hall, head of music at Stalham High School. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE - Credit: Archant

From ukulele orchestras to forming their own rock bands, we discover how Matthew Hall, head of music at Stalham High School, is helping pupils hit the right notes.

It's the soundtrack of our lives.

Music has the power to make you euphoric, shed tears, motivate you or help you concentrate and is believed to be beneficial in relieving stress and anxiety.

However, in 2012 the schools inspectorate Ofsted noted that music teaching in schools was falling flat.

A study based on evidence from inspections of 90 primary and 90 secondary schools from 2008 to 2011 concluded that there was not enough music in lessons in many schools in England, and in some lessons teachers did not play or sing a single note.

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Matthew Hall became head of music at Stalham High School in September, having previously worked at Hethersett High and Flegg High.

From singing and playing the ukulele to students forming their own rock bands, he focuses his lessons on the practical rather than theory side of the subject.

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'I have family members and friends who say that they just spent their school music lessons drawing treble clefs,' says Matthew.

'But music teaching definitely has changed, even since I was at school. There is a huge emphasis on playing and experiencing music and experiencing it in context.'

Originally from Lincolnshire, Matthew himself started music lessons when he was nine. As well as learning to play the trumpet he taught himself guitar, drums and bass and played in bands.

Matthew started his career as an apprentice mechanic, but changed gear and went to university where he studied music and education.

'Studying music enables you experience things you wouldn't necessarily experience. When I was younger I performed at the Royal Albert Hall,' he says.

As Matthew explains, it's just one of the many positives.

'It's the chance to be creative and explore your ideas, express yourself and build up confidence.

'We will do a lot of singing in every project. Theory such as notation and understanding musical history will be there too, but that's always in the background to support the practical side of it. For students who do not read music there is the potential for guitar to be learned by diagram rather than notation so students can pick it up and play within a matter of weeks.'

The school's musical resources include keyboards, electric, bass and acoustic guitars, drum kits and ukuleles and longer term Matthew is looking to invest in digital equipment for

recording and making music.

'When pupils come into school in Year 7 we tend to do whole class work, but by Year 8 they're doing more individual projects and begin managing their own progression,' says Matthew.

'For example, currently students in Year 8 are doing a project where they choose their own song that they want to rehearse and perform.'

Keeping the subject relevant to the students helps keep them engaged too.

'Sometimes we will explore music news,' says Matthew. 'For example, when David Bowie died we talked about his music and we discussed the Brit Awards recently. I try and keep what we do up to date.'

Matthew says that music is a challenging and rewarding subject too.

The performance and composition work pupils do builds a solid foundation for students who want to study it at a higher level, and also helps them develop wider skills.

'There are huge benefits apart from improving the ability on an instrument or voice, things like building relationships and working in teams,' he says.

'You will never play something straight away, but if you practice you will get it and it helps students understand why you need to practice and set targets for yourself.

If you put the work in and the time in, it will come together,' he continues.

And it also gives students the chance to use their classroom experiences in the wider world.

'We have a 'young promoters' project going on after school at the moment run in conjunction with Creative Arts East where industry professionals come in and help a committed group of 11 students put on a professional concert with world class musicians,' says Matthew.

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