The focus for the project is creative technology-supported composition work with school Year 7s (lower Secondary school) that encourages group work, independence, creativity, use of resources and evaluation.


The aim of this project is for pupils to gain a deeper understanding of musical devices and how music works through the creation of a piece of “20th Century Art Music” by combining environmental sounds and technology. By the end of the project students should understand how to capture and manipulate sounds (control sounds), create and develop sounds in a ‘musical’ way, and apply their knowledge and understanding when listening critically to music that is new to them.


This project can be used at any stage throughout the school year, but works well as a starting point in Year 7. An underlying focus is dealing with the question, ‘What Is Music?” and can be taught with one class at a time. Students initially capture sounds in small groups (e.g., five) and then transfer the recorded sounds to a sequencer. Subsequently, they use these to create compositions individually. The project typically lasts for half a term, but could be extended with an instrumental performance element later on.


“As a school, we have been focusing on dialogic teaching and have found that this genre of music generates plenty of discussion. It helps to challenge students’ conceptions of what music should be and focus on the devices or ‘ingredients’ of music, using key words. The work encourages group work, independence, creativity, use of resources and evaluation.”

Matt Keil –Music Teacher Morpeth School


The skills that pupils develop include being able to: improvise and control sounds using technology; express and improve creative ideas; and listen and apply knowledge and understanding with elements/devices, processes/notation and context. Pupils work initially in groups, then individually on their own compositions. The work encourages originality and creativity and combines the physicality of capturing sound with the technological tools typically found on a sequencer. There is a clear sense of progression, with students given scope to explore their creative ideas fully.

Key features of teaching and learning

The key features of teaching and learning are as follows:


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suggestion: This could lead to a short historical introduction and include a demonstration or video clip of how tape was used originally to create this style of music.

In small groups, students are given a range of sounds to seek out and to record from around the school – for example: metallic, scraping, long/short sounds, voices. Once the sounds have been captured, these are transferred to the sequencer, ready for editing.

The task is for pupils to edit sounds and create a structure for the piece. At this point, pupils edit their sounds by cutting them up so that they have five or six contrasting timbres that will be used for their composition. They then create a short plan or story that will provide a sense of structure for their piece. This could link to a theme, such as transferring to a new school, a journey or an adventure.

As students move through the project, they listen to a range of examples, such as “Dr Who Theme” (the original version), `’Dripsody`’ by Hugh LeCaine, Poeme Electronique by Edgar Varese as further sources of inspiration. New techniques, such as looping, reverse and pitch changes, are introduced, before finally adding external effects such as reverb and delay.

Students refer regularly back to their plan/story throughout the process and consider how their emerging piece reflects that or whether the original plan needs to be modified.


Opportunities arise throughout the project for self- and peer-evaluation, and teacher feedback – both formative and summative, as well as CPD opportunities for staff. Success can be measured at the end of the project if required against performance indicators, which are composition based. There are opportunities for staff to explore new technologies and to apply a range of teaching and learning techniques when teaching the project.


“I use online ‘tweet’ sheets’, which include “what works well – even better if”, and Google Docs to support students and [to] set homework tasks, which include reviewing the week’s work and listening to new pieces of music. Criteria for composing and skills are set out at the start, with students either ‘working towards’, ‘achieving’ or ‘exceeding’ at the end of the project.”

Peter Romhany HOD Music Morpeth School

Positive outcomes…

The success of this project lies partly in the fact that students can see and hear the link between Musique Concrete and modern DJing, such as with the use of similar techniques as looping, cutting, scratching and the use of external effects. Stripping music back to basic sounds enables students to be more discerning in their choice of timbres and focuses attention on specific musical devices such as structure and texture. The evidence suggests that students find the work engaging and are able to achieve at their own level. They can extend themselves by creating more complex patterns and textures, and by using more advanced features on the sequencer, such as midi editing, or automated controls, whilst they explore a range compositional techniques.

Key features of teacher / leader behaviours…

Staff react and adjust, just as pupils do in lessons, thus allowing the project to evolve as part of a creative process. The work is not restricted by the rigidity of compositional rules and allows musical ideas to grow organically. There are lots of opportunities to facilitate discussion around musical devices and for the teacher to engage with students as they record, edit and structure their work.

Key features of context/content/activities

Trusting students to record around the school provides a sense of responsibility and ownership and helps them to understand the basic principals of sound in a practical way. There is instant satisfaction and motivation when learners apply knowledge and begin editing their sounds.

Other factors

Students can work in mixed groups to record sounds then individually create their own pieces, providing a real sense of achievement and progression. Ideally, being able to demonstrate early editing techniques on tape would provide a more physical way of editing sounds, but YouTube also has excellent examples that can be used. Apps such as MadPad HD or Vjay can be used with video facilities and extend the possibilities of this project beyond just sound.

How to replicate/adapt

This project is easily replicated using a range of technologies, such as tablets, iPads, or with free software such as Garageband and portable recorders. In addition, YouTube and Google docs can be used to set listening and feedback tasks, and support out-of-hours learning.

Key sources of equipment are:

  • YouTube / Video to show examples;
  • an interactive whiteboard;
  • Reel to Reel Tape (if available);
  • Digital Recorders - could be phones, zoom recorders, iPads or equivalent; plus
  • Sequencing Software – such as Garageband, Cubase or LogicProX or online based.

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