Stay With Me: starting year four of Exchanging Notes at Belvue School

Recording the keyboards for a cover version of Sam Smith’s Stay with Me.

For the last three years Drake Music has been partnering with Belvue School (a SEN/D specialist school in Ealing) as part of the Youth Music funded Exchanging Notes programme.  Through this project we have been exploring how interaction between schools and specialist organisations can enrich music delivery, both in whole classes and smaller scale sessions.

Our peripatetic-style sessions started off as one-to-one instrumental lessons under the brilliant leadership of DM associate musician Gary Day, gradually moving towards exploring peer learning and playing in ensembles (read more here).  I’ve stepped into this role for the final year of the project alongside my regular whole class music – hard act to follow, to say the least!  It’s fantastic to feel the foundations laid out by Gary and the young musicians coming into play every week – whether it’s approaching a new bass part, finding ways to listen and negotiate space and dynamics, or settling that all important argument about who gets to count everyone in.

Over the coming months I’ll be using this blog to reflect on four years of dialogue and music making, and share some of the results.  Without further ado, let’s start with some music…

Video: Stay With Me (with lyrics)

This is a recording of one of our small band rehearsals, with pupils on vocals, bass, piano, and electric organ, plus a passer-by roped in to play drums.  Our version of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me started off as a request from the band’s bass player in one-to-one sessions; it’s rapidly become a firm favourite.  It was magical watching everyone focus and drop straight into the groove as soon as we hit record.

Don’t stop the music

As we enter the final year of the project,  we’ve been looking for ways to make sure that the results of our music making can carry on after we leave.  The idea of shared ownership, both of the sessions and the music itself, is central to the project. With this in mind, I’m keen to make sure that the legacy takes place through young musicians in the school learning together and teaching each other, carrying on the conversations that we’ve started together. This aspect feels just as important as sharing the accessible classroom techniques and approaches to technology developed with the teachers.

Young musicians at Belvue School creating scores and lyric sheets to record as videos.

While it’ll be great to make some polished recordings to keep and enjoy, right now we’re looking at how we can use these as learning resource, building in different ways of accessing the music, and hopefully inspiring others to make more.  So the video in this blog post represents not only the energy and enthusiasm of our young musicians, but a first look at our attempts to make our musical efforts open to other people.

Making ‘lyrics videos’

Our singer loves practicing to karaoke videos to help remember how the song goes.  It’s can be tricky for us play along to an iPad as a band though, so this doesn’t always work as a resource in group sessions.  But what if we made our own version, so that the video followed the band?

We decided that the singer could run through a slide presentation, hitting a key to move forward for each fragment of the lyrics.  This turned out to be a useful prompt for playing together as a band as well. Our next challenge will be to make a video for the school choir to sing along to.

Videos like this can be found all over YouTube these days, and are often the first port of call for young people to find to a song.  On-screen lyrics enhance the accessibility of a video, and can provide a great way to learn new songs or boost confidence when singing well known ones.  It felt logical to create a few of our own ‘lyrics videos’ so that the young musicians can learn from each other, reinforcing that their voices are just as important as the professional musicians they encounter online every day.

Using Widgit Online to adapt lyric sheets and karaoke videos with symbols

All the resources we used can be accessed on a typical Windows or Mac computer without any further purchases, and the whole process took about ten minutes.  We’re hoping to try this out on some of our own original songs as well as continuing work on cover versions.  And there’s no need to stop at lyrics – this week we’ve been looking at ways to include chords, symbols for communication, and photos.

Stay tuned for more, plus some ideas for how to create your own videos!