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Digital Technology and Music Education - What Makes a Successful Project?

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I can't say Jarvis Cocker has ever featured large in my life, but last week he definitely caught my attention. On Monday night, he whispered in my ear (via Radio 4) as he explored the realms of the night with the BBC Philharmonic on Wireless Nights. And only that afternoon, he took me back to my childhood as he reminisced fondly about his primary school days of whole class singing, joining a community of children nationwide through the medium of the BBC's educational programme - Singing Together.

All those sea shanties and folk songs - it was a very simple idea, beautifully executed and easily delivered in the classroom, wherever you happened to be. For 'children everywhere' who took part, those songs, and even the illustrations in the songbooks, have stayed with us decades later. And the basic skills they gave us - in understanding pitch and rhythm, learning to read simple notation and so on - became the building blocks of a lifelong involvement in music. Just look at Jarvis Cocker.

Nowadays, technology offers so many different options - apps, websites, iPlayer - but it doesn't always seem to be straightforward. We're dependent on broadband speed, technological confidence, the right platform or hardware. Arts organisations are falling over themselves to create the most imaginative software or app which will reach out to many, fulfilling their education brief at the same time as providing a successful marketing tool. Making the right choice for your group of children is far from easy.

And in the meantime, there's an agonised debate going on about the teaching of music in our schools, and a plethora of different initiatives which schools and families have to find their way around.

Nevertheless, a few recent examples stand out for me, and they're characterised by the same three principles as Singing Together - a simple idea, beautifully executed and easily delivered.

The starting point for Aldeburgh Music's Friday Afternoons was the aim to get Suffolk school children singing by providing 12 songs called Friday Afternoons, written for children by Benjamin Britten, in his centenary year. Its astonishing success has seen reached far beyond Suffolk and indeed, the UK, to create a worldwide community who will come together for one final massed singing event at the end of November, with a cast of thousands.

Earlier this month, the BBC launched a new project: Ten Pieces, which aims to introduce primary school children to ten exciting pieces of classical music, with introductory cinema screenings backed by DVDs and online materials. It has, of course, fuelled the obligatory debate about whose music has been left out. But if it takes off, it has the potential not only to give what for many will be a first taste of classical music, but to involve them in composing their own creative responses. Still in the early stages, it will be interesting to see whether this online community snowballs in the way that Friday Afternoons did.

In North Yorkshire, there's a new project just getting underway to test the effectiveness and wider potential of live streaming of instrumental lessons. In one of England's most sparsely populated rural areas the Connect: Resound project run by NYMAZ, with funding from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, will look not only at increasing access, but also widening choice - meaning children are not limited to receiving tuition on a particular instrument according to the specialism of a teacher working nearby. They'll also be trialling new hardware that could increase the quality of the experience and improve the dialogue between teachers and students.

Each of these initiatives seems to me to have the potential to become another Singing Together, using technology to bring children a musical experience which they would otherwise miss out on. In the increasingly fragmented landscape of music education, let us keep simplicity and quality as our watchwords to ensure that the equality of opportunity which technology can offer is put to use effectively. Perhaps in 30 years time another generation will look back nostalgically on the moment when technology not only introduced them to music, but inspired them to make their own.

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