Stoke LA – Music suite using hi-tech hook-ups for lessons

A NEW music suite has been created offering residents the chance to learn how to play electric guitars, keyboards and drums.

The facility, at the Bridge Centre in Birches Head, is available to everyone in Stoke-on-Trent.

Using new “Gigajam” software, the City Music and Performing Arts Service will be able to teach people how to get involved in music and play different instruments with the aid of cutting-edge computer programmes.

Instruments are plugged into each of the suite’s 16 computers. Those playing the instruments are able to record a piece of music before Gigajam tells the musician which sections of the music they got wrong, and helps them to correct any mistakes.

Lord Mayor Councillor Jean Bowers said: “This is a wonderful facility for young and old alike to use, and the tuition they receive is also excellent.”

In addition to Gigajam, the City Music and Performing Arts Service is also hosting classes using popular “Wii Music” and “Rock Band” games for budding musicians.

Ruth Steele, ICT and music specialist at the service, said: “We’ve found it’s a really exciting and useful way of teaching people how to play, especially if they’re familiar with the games themselves.

“We can put the game screens on a big screen meaning we can have a whole class of people learning at the same time.”

For more details, call 01782 233794 or 233796.

Gigajam supports Tiverton pupils composition skills

Tiverton High, which is a Specialist Visual Arts School, has a wonderful music team and department led by Ian Wright (Head of Music) and supported brilliantly by Joel.

Ian and Joel work together to provide a flow of activities all of which are focused on providing students across all their KS3 year groups with tangible instrumental skills that enable them to access the curriculum. These skills are essential for students who wish to proceed to accreditation in KS4.

The music team provide a range of activities, based around units of work, Gigajam lessons and musical futures activities that all build up and contribute to achieving the desired outcomes of the National Strategy for Music.

The video attached to this blog is just one of the many activities all the students are involved in. This one is based on a unit devised by Ian and Joel to write a song called Valentine Rock.

In essence it is an outcome which demonstrates the range of knowledge, understanding and skills the students have acquired through their classroom work.

1. The students develop rhythm, chords, time keeping and performance skills by working with Gigajam lessons for guitar, bass, keyboard and drums.

2. Ian and Joel take time each lesson to take groups of students to play together in a small band, whilst the other students are working with the Gigajam lessons. In a Gigajam lesson you will have students learning four different instruments at the same time, say 6 guitarists, 6 bassist, 6 drummers and the remainder learning keyboards.

3. Small bands are created and rotated so that 6 or 7 bands have a 5/10 minute band workshop with Ian each lesson, in addition to their time developing their instrumental skills. This is great for the students and the teacher as they get some quality attention from Ian and he learns about what they are doing and how they are developing.

4. The individual skills learned with Gigajam are enhanced in the second teaching area by Joel in a different unit of work as he takes groups of individual instrumentalists (say all guitarists) and provides teacher led whole class activities, focusing on the instrumental skills learned with Gigajam.

5. Over a period of time the students are building the skills that enable them to play the songs, written specifically by Gigajam, that are built with the skills the students have developed.

6. What then is really lovely, is that Ian and Joel provide them with an additional opportunity to take their skills and Gigajam songs to create their own versions by writing a song based around the components of a Gigajam song’s rhythm, style, chords, and then add their own lyrics and melody.

7. You can see that the framework of our song, The First Time (audio file) has been quite radically altered into Valentine Rock by the young ladies in the band. They captured their performance on video.

The chords in the Gigajam song The First Time are Am, F, G, C.

Gigajam is about providing structured lessons that support the development of instrumental skills. Ian uses the Gigajam courses as a ‘platform’ for supporting his students when they need  to learn skills to perform, compose, improvise etc.

This is just one of the ways Ian and Joel create music making opportunities for their students. If you are interested in knowing a bit more Merlin John wrote an article for Futurelab on their work.

Ian and Joel place a huge emphasis on knowing what their students can really do. Really understanding what skills the students possess is possible because they have created a model that gives them time with students so they can really work with them, but whilst a class lesson goes on and the other students are engaged, working and on task. Additionally, the Gigajam analyser software means that students are continually assessed, so both they and their teachers know what skills they have.

Introducing Xtractor X5!

Welcome to the launch of the new Xtractor X5, the award winning Gigajam practise engine for guitar, bass, keyboard and drum lessons. X5 is a major re-development from the ground up, offering you greater stability, responsiveness, and compatibility. Not to mention additional functionality.

New MIDI engine

X5 has a whole new MIDI engine at it’s core. We now have an engine with which we have been able to create a fantastic practice and recording experience for our users. It also allows us to continually develop in response to our customer needs.

Easy to connect

Thanks to the new MIDI engine, connecting to instrument hardware is now easier. No longer do instruments’ MIDI clocks have to be configured every time you use them. You can also select both Input and Output devices for ultimate flexibility.

Instrument compatibility

X5 is compatible with more instruments, particularly those that do not allow their internal MIDI clocks to be disabled. X5 is also able to enable General MIDI mode on instruments where GM is not the default.

Customisable views

Built upon Microsoft’s .NET 3.5 and the Windows Presentation Framework, X5 has been adorned with a fresh new interface. It’s possible for the user to toggle various parts of the interface and customise it to their needs.

X5 Full X5 Compact

Automatic updates

X5 has user configurable automatic updates. You’ll now be told when a new version is available and asked if you want to install and download it.

Error Reporting

A big challenge to developers is the constant evolution of software and hardware environments that computers operate in. X5 allows users to automatically report any unexpected errors and stay up to date, maintaining X5’s performance.

Download X5 now

Existing customers download Xtractor X5 now.

Gigajam is an affordable ICT based instrumental tuition programme that provides a scalable solution to teaching and learning the guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. If you would like to know more about Gigajam and how it is helping create musicians, then please feel free to get in touch.

Gigajam can provide stand alone, network and Learning Platform VLE solutions for Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and Local Authorities.
Freephone 0800 055 6797

Bucks Gets Gigajamming

Mike Woods explains how the School Improvement Service for Music and ICT worked together with Music Services at Bucks County Council to create a simple model for every child in the county to have access to musical instrument tuition.

Schools across Buckinghamshire are now able to offer all students the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, thanks to a project involving ICT, classroom teachers and music specialists across the county. This has been the first project of its kind in terms of creating dissemination centres and collaboration on such a large scale; utilising broadband technology as the delivery mechanism.

As Buckinghamshire County Council ICT adviser, it is one of my priorities to look for ways to develop the creative use of ICT across the curriculum. When I came across Gigajam’s Essential Skills Course, I could see the potential for rolling this innovative software out across the county via BucksGfL, the Buckinghamshire Grid for Learning Broadband Network, as a cost-effective way of linking ICT with music. Also, I envisaged that students would be able to develop their ICT skills using a practical application linked to our VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), either as part of their music lessons, or as an extra curricular activity.

We are a very rural authority with many small schools spread across a wide geographic area and the project also had to involve primary, secondary and special schools, so the solution I chose had to tick as many boxes as possible for all the schools.

Gigajam’s software-based curriculum for the guitar, bass, keyboards and drums provides high quality educational pathways that teach musical theory as students learn how to play a modern musical instrument. To make best use of the software, students progress through the lessons using a computer and a Yamaha MIDI-enabled musical instrument. The suite of instruments chosen for the schools provides students with access to keyboards, drums, guitars and bass guitars, and consist of PSR E403s, DD-55s and two EZ-AGs, to complement the software.

The user-friendly lesson instructions include ‘how to’ videos with professional musicians, audio files, backing tracks and an electronic performance assessment facility for immediate feedback. Students can select multimedia to suit their individual learning styles and the analysis software allows them to evaluate their own progress. The interactive courses are carefully structured so that students learning different instruments develop complementary skills, enabling them to play as a band from the very first lesson.

Thirty schools have been given access to the full Gigajam Essential Skills Course for all four instruments together with the Yamaha musical instruments to carry out the lessons. The schools were chosen in consultation with the advisers responsible for the Buckinghamshire Music Service, not only because of their enthusiasm for the development of music within the curriculum but also because of their interest in the use of ICT. Over an initial two year period we are providing training for them and working with them to develop sustainable curriculum models suitable for each school’s needs.

Five of the thirty schools were selected to take a lead role as mentor schools to become ‘music education hubs’ due to their geographic location across the county and their high level of expertise in music and ICT. Each of these mentor schools was nominated to be the hub for support and best practice guidance for five protégé schools, creating a web of support between all thirty schools. They were also tasked to provide further musical instrument opportunities for curriculum development, as well as after school and out-of-hours community projects.

Access for schools to Gigajam content is through BucksGfL, the County Broadband VLE ( Gigajam created a website specifically for the project, which was then integrated into the VLE by Atomwide, providers of technical support for BucksGfL. This means that we now have an interactive music school sitting on our Virtual Learning Environment, and our ‘single sign-on’ user authentication system makes the software available to all Bucks students who can log on to the VLE at any time and from anywhere, whether it’s from school or from home.

Via the Bucks Grid for Learning, mentor and protégé schools also have access to a wide range of support resources, including the opportunity to use our Adobe ‘Connect’ video conference system to communicate with each other, as well as with Gigajam’s head office. We are also planning to provide Video Conference Master Classes, demonstrating both musical developments and the effective use of ICT. Schools within the project are already discussing joint rock band performances over the video conferencing link!

All of the other schools in the county who use the VLE have been provided with access to the first five Gigajam lessons for the guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. The Buckinghamshire Teaching and Learning Centre and Music Services Centre in Aylesbury also have full access to Gigajam content and software to enable them to support schools, and a set of loan instruments is also available to any school who would like to join in and ‘have a go’.

This is a huge project in terms of its collaborative elements, and as I write we are only just over a term into the project, but we can already see benefits for pupils and schools beyond those originally envisaged. Schools across all phases and of all types are working together in imaginative ways, delivering true personalised learning to pupils. A whole year of planning has produced a sophisticated, yet simple model of delivery that gives every single child within Buckinghamshire access to music lessons in a new and exciting way.

Feedback from pupils and teachers has been incredibly positive:

Staff have commented that:

“Gigajam has brought my music department into the 21st Century.”

“The project has provided me with the chance to learn to play an instrument in an interactive way and at my own pace.”

“The software has enabled a different group of children to access music in a totally practical way – another pathway to learning has been opened to them.”

Pupils say that:

“It’s fun and easy to use.” Hannah yr8

“The software gives a good insight into new instruments and is great to use at home.” Nathan yr11

“I didn’t know that a PC could be used to teach an instrument, and my Dad’s a computer technician!” Maryam yr8

“It rocks!” Darius – yr8

Xtractor 5 sneak preview

We are redeveloping our Windows version of Xtractor to address a number of legacy issues, most of which are related to the use of Macromedia Director and the SequenceXtra plugin.

Here’s a sneak preview of what the new version of Xtractor “may” end up looking like.

You may notice a new feature or two in this screen shot, such as the ability to upload directly to your e-portfolio.

Please give us your thoughts.

New cheaper Gigajam books

We have recently cut the production costs of our Level 1 books by a considerable amount. We have decided to pass these savings onto our customers. So a Level 1 book now only costs £13.99 instead of £19.99.

The Level 1 books are a great accompaniment to your computer based lesson notes, allowing you to study away from the computer, laying in bed, sitting on the train, wherever you wish.

Visit our online store to buy them now.

Can technology be part of a solution that provides sustainable, tangible, progressive musical instrumental skills?

Merlin John writes on Futurelab about the use of technology in teaching music.…/Web_Article930

The search for an effective solution led Ian to the online music service Gigajam,
which became the digital ‘glue’ to hold together the learning and teaching and to
make the resources – PCs and instruments and rooms – go further. “I looked at Gigajam
for all sorts of reasons but particularly the


,” says Ian. “In reality this is the first time children in our music lessons have
genuinely had the opportunity to work at their own pace, at their own level.

Being part of a broad music offering for students, and playing a part in providing
more music making opportunities is everything Gigajam was ever created for. Thank
you to Ian and his team at Tiverton.

Tiverton High School is one of the 400 schools in the UK using Gigajam regularly.

Gigajam’s early content (first five lessons) is freely available to the 4 million
UK school students in 6 of the 11 UK Regional Broadband Consortia (RBC).

  1. London Grid for Learning
  2. West Midlands NET
  3. South West Grid for Learning
  4. Northern Grid for Learning
  5. Scottish Schools Digital Network – Glow
  6. East of England Broadband Network

as well as across the following Local Authorities;

  1. City of Salford
  2. City of Sunderland
  3. Buckinghamshire CC
  4. Cheshire CC
  5. Leicester City
  6. Argyll & Bute

Please contact your RBC if you would like to try a few lessons out. Please also contact
your RBC or LA if they don’t have it yet, they will consider purchasing content and
services if they know their schools want it.

Brian Greene

Embracing the use of ICT to Support Learning to Play an Instrument

Involvement with music is very important to most children and teenagers – performing
and composing, as well as listening…..their engagement and level of motivation, depends
on the level of ownership of their music-making: on their autonomy within it and the
extent to which they can exert control.

(Hargreaves and Marshall)

In the last couple of years I have been saddened by the response of many music educators
and tutors to proposals to use ICT to widen participation rates in the learning of
musical instruments. The response has been essentially to reject the use of ICT because
it will, “put us out of a job.”

This complaint is reminiscent of the past and just as inaccurate now as it was then.
Let me explore the issues.

“The use of ICT will put us out of  a job”

The majority of tutors and peripatetic music teachers working in the school sector
are employed by Music Services who are members of the Federation of Music Services
(FMS). The following information was acquired from the FMS website (some of it no
longer appears on the current website) at .

The FMS is a registered charity that was created to provide a single effective voice
to help lead and develop national strategy and offer advice on music provision, particularly
through local music service partners. The organisation has agreed the following core

  • Access: opening the world of music to every child
  • Progression: innovative, sustained and structured programmes that enable young people
    to realise their full potential
  • Expertise: well trained professional staff
  • Diversity: music to match all tastes, all backgrounds

So the FMS is interested in “all children”, in “innovative, sustained and structured”
programmes, and in catering for “all musical tastes”. Surely then, its members should
open to considering how ICT can help deliver instrumental tuition to all children
in innovative ways which help to cater for the interests of young people.

There is plenty of evidence that members of the services do indeed strive to fulfil
the majority of these aims. However, the area in which they fall short is that of
reaching every child and in providing ‘sustained’ support.

Great  work is being done under the banner of programmes like  ‘Wider Opportunities’
where whole year groups are being given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument.
The problem is providing for the children beyond that year. These programmes are expensive
of time and staff support and there are insufficient resources to allow all the children
to continue beyond the initial year, as the they focus on providing opportunities
for the next year group.

No matter how the current ‘support cake’ is sliced, there is not enough money to pay
enough staff to provide continuing support for all the children, using current methods.

Let us have a look at the numbers.

FMS member services provide instrumental and vocal tuition for more than 750,000 children,
young people and adults each week and employ more than 10,000 instrumental and vocal
teachers, enriching the communities and schools in which they live and work.

[From the old FMS website.]

Doing the maths this means that each tutor deals with an average of 75 children per
week. One assumes that tutors do not change their pupils every week, so the average
number of pupils each tutor has on their books at any one time is approximately 75.

The FMS website states:

Currently, 147 Local Education Authority Music Services are members of the Federation
representing well over 500,000 pupils and 10,000 teachers.

The number of children in KS2 receiving instrumental lessons through their local service
has risen by 6% since 2002 – from 7% to 13%.  This is an increase of more than
116,000 children in three years.

In KS3 and KS4, the proportion of children receiving instrumental tuition is 8% and
5% respectively   Importantly, in most cases, the tuition extends over a
number of years.

Let us explore these figures and relate them to the number of students in the relevant
age groups in the population.

Taking the situation in KS2 (quoted above):

If 6% = 116,000 then there are 116,000/6 x 100 = 1,933,333 children in KS2. Of whom
87% (100%-13%) or 1,682,000 are not receiving instrumental tuition.

Exploring the situation in KS3 and KS4 (quoted above):

Using government statistics (…/index.html).
Assuming that KS3 deals with ages 12,13 and 14 and KS4 with ages 15 and 16[1];
of the 3,769,500 students in these age groups, 554,000 are in private schools. Therefore
in the state system:
KS3 (Ages 12,13,14 = 2,210,100 – 324,644 (private schools) = 1,885,456
KS4 (Ages 15,16 = 1,559,400 – 229,356 (private schools) = 1,330,044

Therefore, if 8% of KS3 and 5% of KS4 are receiving instrumental tuition (FMS figures,
above), then the numbers of those who are not receiving instrumental tuition
are (92% (1,734,620) and 95% (1,263,542 pupils) respectively.

So adding up all those not currently receiving instrumental tuition:

KS2: 1,682,000
KS3: 1,885,456
KS4: 1,330,044
Total: 4,897,500

4,897,500 children are not currently receiving instrumental tuition within the services
who are members of the FMS and for whom the majority of tutors operating in the school
system work.

Assuming a 50% error in the above (highly unlikely), this still leaves 2,448,750
children not receiving instrumental tuition. At 75 pupils per tutor, this would require
an additional 32,650 instrumental tutors at a minimum cost (to someone) of £25 per
hour = £816,250 for a single hours lesson for these children, x 39 weeks (school year)
=  £31,833,750 per year.

All those children who do receive instrumental tuition outside of the state system
are being paid for by someone (usually the parents).

So, given an annual shortfall of 32,650 instrumental tutors at an absolutely minimum
annual cost of £31,833,750 (this figure does not include ‘on-costs’), how on earth
can tutors claim that the technology will “Put us out of a job” ???

Far from it.

Technology, used in conjunction with carefully thought out, “innovative”, “structured”
programmes provides a real opportunity to cater for the “tastes” of the majority of
children on a “sustained” and affordable basis.

It will require the combined efforts of every music teacher, every peripatetic
and other member of music services, plus the relevant programmes employing ICT to
begin to meet the challenge of delivering “instrumental tuition to every child”.

By embracing the use of ICT,  there are opportunities for every music educator/tutor
to support the learning to play instruments of many more children than they are currently
able to without the use of ICT.

Far from ‘threatening your jobs’ ICT is offering the opportunity to engage more pupils
in instrumental learning and give even more students the benefit of your expert knowledge.

Developing the skills of independent learners

Of course, the effective use of ICT to support instrumental tuition will require a
willingness  to embrace change by a “well trained professional staff”  of
music educators and tutors.  They will have to get to terms with the technology
and be able to support the students in developing the skills required to make effective
us of the ICT.

But this is not new.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s there was huge interest in the emerging power of ICT
for supporting the development of ‘independent learning’. There were, arguably, 2
forces which drove this interest:

  1. A recognition by far-sighted teachers that independent learning could ‘open up’ the
    curriculum – allowing learners to pursue their own areas of interest and effectively
    enable ‘individualised’ curricula.
  2. A, mistaken, view by those responsible for budgets that ICT could be used to replace

The second view led to institutions building ‘independent/flexible learning centres’
and sending learners to them for hours on end. Results were not good. Gradually the
penny dropped, and the principles of ‘supported self study’ / ‘flexible learning’
were taken on board.

The proponents of the first ‘force’ had espoused the principles of ‘supported self
study/flexible learning’ for many years, and there were some exciting success results
in LEAs (the distant forerunners of LAs) as far apart as Somerset and Northumberland;
with student grades going up and learners actually ‘enjoying’ what they were doing.
The courses were devised with heavy teacher support/direction in the initial phases,
and this support was withdrawn gradually as the learners acquired the skills of independent
learners and became able to manage their own learning. This allowed pupils to progress
at their own individual paces without ‘holding back’ the other members of a class.

If the benefits of ICT are to be recognised and exploited within Music Education,
there are some challenges facing Music Teachers/Leaders:

1 We will have to recognise that the learners may well have higher levels of skills
in the technology than we do. Or, that the learners will more readily acquire the
skills. At a  NAACE seminar in 2006, a speaker addressed the issue of ‘technology’:

“Technology is what happens after you are born. To the students of today it is just

2 We will need to get to grips with the technology – at least at the level of understanding
its capabilities and limitations – so that we can make effective judgements about
how and when to use it.

3. Taking on board some of the points made by Howard Goodall in his speech at the
Music Manifesto Signatories inaugural conference – we need to:

“Start where the students are at”.

Their music, and the technologies which support the popular music industry, draw heavily
on the use of ICT.

4. The technology presents us with the opportunity to address issues of inclusion
by supporting a wider range of learning opportunities – from whole class teaching,
to individual learning, to after school activities, to mixed aged groups, etc.. In
a whole class environment, supported by adequate ICT resources and appropriately-enabled
instruments, the music teacher/tutor can support instrumental learning for larger
class sizes where the individuals are all learning at their own paces and on different
instruments. In the initial phases of such a situation, the teacher/tutor/leader will
need to direct the learning and ensure that the learners are able to manage the materials
and the technology. In other words, we need to help them develop the skills of independent
learners so that they become increasingly able to manage their own learning and progress
at their own paces.

The choice for music educators and tutors is simple:

Luddite or Learning Support?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Adrian Carey

[1] Not strictly accurate given the cut off dates for entry into the school system,
and thus year groups, but close enough to make the point.

Creating Musicians