At a local job-alike I attended, an  amazing teacher was telling us about Musical Futures. She said she ran all her classes like workshops and they were extremely hands-on. One of the common complaints about the MYP is that class have the potential to turn into music appreciation classes about music instead of being hands-on classes doing music. Thus, I was really interested in what she was saying and immediately looked online to see what was what.

There are two Musical Futures and they are both from the UK. However, I got the low-down on this from one of the representatives, so I’ll share as much as I can remember. The original Musical Futures was started as a grant-based organisation in the UK that was trying to motivate students in music classes. They found that students liked music but didn’t like music classes and they were trying to reverse this trend. While focusing on UK students, they also started branching out throughout the world. When the grant came to an end, the UK branch now had to fund themselves, while the international branch wanted to remain open-source. This is why there are two Musical Futures right now; one caters specifically to the UK while the other has more of an international focus.  

This past week, I attended the introduction to Musical Futures International workshop in Hong Kong and was completely enthralled with what I discovered. Imagine if a group of IB educators sat down and said, “Let’s make a really good music pedagogy to go with our assessment framework.”  Imagine if Nanjing International School then looked at it and said, “Let’s tweak it to fit our strategy / educational philosophy.”  The result would be Musical Futures International.  Let me give you a few examples. At the workshop, they showed us the three types of knowledge that each student should learn. I found myself looking at slightly-differently-worded Criterion Ai, ii, and iii. Wow. A great IB fit.  Next, they showed us their five principles and I saw one of them was, “Student Voice and Choice.”  Well, that’s one of NIS’ strategies. Meanwhile, the entire workshop was based on differentiation and inclusion, which are also part of NIS’ strategy and mission statement. Even hear of, “Preaching to the choir?” That was my experience this weekend. Everything the workshop leaders said simply re-enforced the IB assessment framework with the NIS mission statement. Matches made in heaven. 

Now, why am I so excited about Musical Futures International? Because as a pedagogy, it really makes sense for international teachers with a high student turnover rate. Have you read my differentiation description on this blog? Stop for a second and go read it. It’s a fun challenge to meet the needs of such a diverse student body, especially when music is an elective and kids pop in and out as they like throughout the the middle years. How do you have continuity of skills when one child has been with me for three years, one child is brand new, doesn’t know music, and can’t speak English, and one child took music in grade 5 and then not again until the last semester of grade 8? I had been doing the equivalent of music triage, or what I thought was music triage. Instead of focusing on music notation and moving towards performance, I was starting with performance and then working in music notation when appropriate. I had lots of little tricks and strategies to get kids on instruments as fast as possible. I was so happy when Musical Futures International also used a lot of strategies I was using, but tweaking them even further. I felt validated. It was a relief, to be honest. The workshop was really fun and engaging, and it made me want to do more, more, more. And in the midst of this, I knew, “Hey. I already do some of this stuff… I’m okay.”

Inclusion & Differentiation

Musical Futures encompasses inclusion and differentiation because: 

  1. Everybody is playing the same song (inclusion).
  2. Everybody learns every instrument – guitar, keyboard, drums, bass, ukulele & voice (inclusion)
  3. Beginners on guitar uses sponges and only play the red notes, while intermediates play the full chords with no muted strings. Experts play the chord properly (differentiation)
  4. Beginners on keyboards play root positions; intermediate play inversions (differentiation).
  5. Beginners on bass play the roots shown; intermediates play rhythm patterns (differentiation)
  6. Beginners on drums can do basic beats; intermediates can do more complicated rhythms and add fills.