Music Education Carries the Beat With an Assist From Wiltshire Music Connect, FutureDJs and Soundtrap

Wiltshire Music Connect is the Music Education Hub for Wiltshire, England. For those unfamiliar, Music Education Hubs are funded by the British government through Arts Council England and act as a key part of the National Plan for Music Education.

Wiltshire Music Connect engages children and young people in England with a broad range of music-making opportunities and experiences to complement and support what schools offer. Because music has been proven to develop young minds, Wiltshire Music Connect is keen on all children and young people in Wiltshire having access to high-quality music education. They know that quality in music education will ‘look’ (and sound) different, depending on the setting and context of the work, as well as the style or genre in which it’s happening. Wiltshire always considers the differing balances of quality of experience and musical excellence depending on the nature and purpose of an activity.

Partnering with FutureDJs

Enter FutureDJs, an organization teaching students how to DJ in schools across the UK. They are breathing new life into music education by getting students to connect with their music departments. FutureDJs discovered that DJing creates a connection through the music that students love, listen to and understand. According to FutureDJs Founder and CEO Austen Smart, “Every student who learns with FutureDJs is a student with a new fascination for music — and potentially a new enthusiasm for Music GCSE.”

Wiltshire Music Connect is always looking for innovative ideas and approaches, which is how they found FutureDJs. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic, they asked their associate organizations to put forward digital innovation project ideas. FutureDJs told Wiltshire Music Connect they were developing a new music production curriculum to be delivered through Soundtrap, and Wiltshire Music Connect jumped at it.

Recognizing the value, Wiltshire Music Connect agreed to fund the curriculum’s delivery in four Wiltshire secondary schools this year. The FutureDJs curriculum, along with CPD for teachers (and combined with Soundtrap Seats for Pupils), has proven to be an appealing offer for schools, and WMC is beginning to see some great results.

Michal Sorga, Head of Music at Matravers School, says, “At the moment, our students are receiving their full normal timetable of learning at home. In music, we are currently working with all of Year 9 (180 students) and Year 12 (6 students) using Soundtrap. The FutureDJs’ resources have been essential to our planning and have informed staff members with lesser knowledge, giving them examples of music and intricacies of the styles.”

Another FutureDJs enthusiast, Lewis Edney, Head of Music at Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School, says, “We have just begun to use the resources from FutureDJs, alongside Soundtrap at Bishop. I can immediately see how we can create an extra level of engagement with music within the school. The exam boards all now include the realization of composition and performance through technology, and the resources created by FutureDJs offer music teachers the tools to show the pupils how this can work in practice.”

According to Edney, all of KS3, approximately 490 students are using Soundtrap with a great response to the FutureDJs projects. He adds, “The younger ones have responded well to having templates of genres that they arrange and change to their own interpretations. The older pupils have moved past that and are now enjoying writing their beats and bass lines for various genres.”

A New Definition of Music Education

For Wiltshire Music Connect, Music Education can include any or all of the following:

  • Learning to play a musical instrument either for the first time or developing skills to the highest level – but not always being taught.
  • Learning to create music – sometimes in conjunction with other art/media forms
  • Being enabled to express oneself through music
  • Learning things about oneself, other subjects, or life-skills through musical activity
  • Being enabled to play, perform or create music with others
  • Experiencing high quality and inspirational events/performances/experiences
  • Learning about musical forms and structure and their social/political and cultural context

FutureDJs developed the curriculum with around 80 lesson plans, an in-depth process, and not the typical bullet point on a piece of paper type lesson plan. They produced intricately laid-out handouts, worksheets, exercises, Soundtrap projects, and keynotes for the teacher. As Hugh Shepherd, Tutor Manager at FutureDJs adds, “It’s basically everything our teachers need to give them the confidence to teach an engaging lesson — whether it’s how compression works or composing simple melodies or even creating a simple song using loops in Soundtrap.”

The Soundtrap materials and the licenses also benefit from CPD sessions delivered in their virtual classroom and teach educators everything from managing their accounts (like their Soundtrap school account) to teaching composition effectively and understanding music that students really like.

In addition to teachers receiving training as part of the project, they also work with a network of music people around the country to deliver their engaging lessons. Using Soundtrap materials allows the organization to fulfill its core mission — making music education accessible to everyone.

Future DJs utilized teachers working as consultants to ensure that the lesson plans were by teachers, for teachers. They believe it’s a powerful way to make sure they are helpful and inclusive of what will be relevant to the learner, not merely what someone thinks will be useful to a teacher. Shepherd points out, “It’s very easy for someone to dismiss a genre that they don’t understand or is simply not their taste. The ability to connect that [issue] to a set text or contemporary examples of what the teacher and students are doing is a big part of building the bridge between what students need to learn and what they actually want to learn.”

The organization now reaches over a half-million students. Partnering with FutureDJs and Soundtrap helps engage students in a new way while creating a real impact.

A Recognition of DJ decks Alongside Traditional Instruments

UK exam boards AQA, OCR, and Eduqas now all recognize DJ decks as a musical instrument alongside the piano, violin, or guitar. That makes them a potential part of music GCSE. While there’s a lot of demand from students, only a few teachers currently have the skills, resources, and experience to meet it. Fortunately, WMC, FutureDJs, and Soundtrap are rising to meet this need.

Lewis Edney at Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School explains, “The exam boards all now include the realization of composition and performance through technology and the resources created by FutureDJs offer music teachers the tools to show pupils how this can work in practice. Therefore, it makes Music GCSE and A-level a possibility for many pupils who otherwise might have considered the courses beyond them.”

About Wiltshire Music Connect
Wiltshire Music Connect is the Music Education Hub for Wiltshire. Music Education Hubs are funded by the government through Arts Council England and are a key part of the National Plan for Music Education.
As well as working with schools and music teachers, Wiltshire Music Connect works with a growing group of people involved in a much wider range of music activity, including bands, clubs and groups, promoters, festivals and venues –  with both professional and volunteer musicians and music supporters.
To find out more about what drives Wiltshire Music Connect, visit https://wiltshiremusicconnect.org.uk/.
About FutureDJs
FutureDJs was founded by brothers Austen and Scott Smart in 2015 with a mission to reimagine the music classroom of the future and provide the best quality, affordable music education in tune with modern music tastes.
With DJ-ing and decks now on the National Curriculum, it’s time to get them into schools. But most music departments are missing the skills to make it happen. UK exam boards AQA, OCR, and Eduqas now recognise DJ decks as musical instruments alongside the piano, violin, or guitar. That makes them a potential part of music GCSE.
There’s a lot of demand from students, but only a few teachers have the skills, resources, and experience to meet it. Our visiting music tutors teach DJ-ing and music production in schools all over the country, offering students a fresh, exciting study programme that’s in tune with the music they listen to.
For more information about FutureDJs, visit https://futuredjs.org/.