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No offense Vibra-slap players!

If music lessons from your time in school bring back painful memories, read this blog.

Tim Horrocks and the team at One Education Music are changing how the subject is taught.

When you think of music lessons that you had in school you probably think of old Coomber tape players, watching Music Time on a TV wheeled around the school on castors and singing feeble songs that would leave Mary Whitehouse craving a bit more ‘edge’. If you were lucky, you might have been allowed to bang a baggy-skinned tambourine along to the teacher strumming Kum Ba Yah on an acoustic with a woven rainbow-coloured strap. A chosen few might even have been afforded the unconscionable privilege of whacking the Vibra-slap and pretending it was a rattlesnake. We could dream.

Ok, maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that. But, though well-meaning, music lessons always felt like an afterthought. Maybe a few got to play recorder and embarked on a playing career that culminated in a warbling recital of ‘Hot Cross Buns’ in front of assembly… hardly the stuff to inspire the next generation of Beethovens, Björks or Jimi Hendrixs.

Luckily, One Education do things differently. A peripatetic army of guitarist, pianists, trumpet players, violinists, beat boxers, whatever players from all manner of backgrounds as diverse as orchestra, jazz, hip-hop, gabba and rock, the One Education team might be seen as the children of the Coomber generation returning to schools to correct the wrongs of the past. Or, if you prefer, a dedicated team of seasoned professional musicians delivering engaging instrument tuition that incorporates modern, inclusive techniques.

As someone who suffered music under the Coomber regime, my number one priority it to take lessons as far as possible away from the glassy-eyed singalongs of old and make them as engaging as possible to young minds. And the great thing about One Education Music is that there’s plenty of room to move when it comes to teaching technique as long as the end result is kids being able to play, and being enthused by, their chosen instrument. Three years teaching guitar with One Education has given me time to develop a highly sophisticated matrix of techniques and methods that help me achieve this end…but it can boiled down to a few key points:

  • Have fun and make music lessons a bit different. Use the instrument to play games. It goes down really, really well. It doesn’t matter which school I’m in, each and every lesson begins with a chorus of requests for favourite games such as this one, The Animal Game. This involves strumming a chord on 1, 2 and 3 and resting on 4. We go round the group and take turns to say an animal during the rest. Common answers are dog, cat, and weirdly, narwhal, which is a whale with a spiral tusk coming out of its face, so it’s popularity isn’t that much of mystery. Games like this are a great way to get kids to make extra effort with their chords, making them more approachable and ‘fun’. 
  • Learn songs that you and the kids enjoy…. but probably stop short of taking requests as it’s well known kids tend to like the worst music ever – it’s kind of their job. You’re never going to please everyone in the group but, with a little encouragement I’ve brought young ears round to classic works by The Beatles, Deep Purple, Aretha Franklin and even The Ramones. On the flip side, I’ve also had to endure lesser works from the likes of Black Eyed Peas and Peppa Pig – but – if it gets the kids playing and enjoying their instrument I am able put my decades of rigorously cultivated rock snobbery to one side. For the duration of the lesson, at least.
  • Play along to real songs. When learning any instrument, initial progress is slow and can be disheartening. If a kid’s first chord makes any sound at all, it’s remarkable. If that sound is the actual chord they intended to play, you’ve probably got a prodigy on your hands. For the majority of kids, initial progress can be a slow and painful process. Play to a backing track, however, and you’ll not only mask those wonky first chords, you’ll also help pupils feel less ‘on the spot’ so they can relax and concentrate on their playing. Pick the right song and the kids will want to play it through multiple times, which isn’t something I remember happening with ‘Hot Cross Buns’ in recorder group back in the day.

If you like what you’ve read but your child isn’t at a school served by One Education, there are a number of Music Centres (  offering tuition, orchestras, rock bands and even a songwriting group.  We always welcome new musicians – any age and any ability.

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The author

Tim is an experienced musician in an established heavy metal rock band! He passes on his amazing skills in guitar, songwriting and drum kit to young people as at tutor for One Education Music. Tim mostly teaches pupils in primary schools and at music centres and also teaches ukulele to a high standard, delivering ‘Ukulele Rocks’ workshops in several high schools.

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