Yamaha Education Projects
Yamaha Class Band
Whole-class wind band teaching
Yamaha Class Band is a whole-class wind band teaching method, currently being piloted, until July 2012, in a collaboration between Yamaha UK and two of the UK's leading music services, in Staffordshire and Coventry. Class Band recognises the importance that all young people should learn to play as part of their National Curriculum music education. The pilot projects are therefore currently being delivered to entire classes of beginners aged 11 or 12 who learn on quality Yamaha instruments for a three-year period. Class Band, which follows on from the whole-class instrumental teaching programme enjoyed by most English primary schools for at least one full year, is delivered as the weekly classroom music lesson in the schools participating in the currient pilot, beginning either during the final summer term in the primaries (Year 6) or at the start of secondary school in September.
Three Coventry schools have already begun their pilots, with the three Staffordshire pilots and the two additional ones in Coventry all due to launch in September.
The quality principle
In 2008, when the last UK government allocated additional funds to equip music services with new instruments, many music services felt under pressure to buy as many as they could for the money. Those who misjudged this precarious quality-quantity balance found themselves lumbered with instruments which were often harder to play and incurred unplanned and expensive repair costs. Many of these instruments have broken irreparably and have already been discarded.
In contrast the build quality, reliability and playability of Yamaha instruments has been central to Class Band's success in mainland Europe, since its originator, Wolfgang Feuerborn, launched it in Germany more than 15 years ago. Though initially a little more expensive the Yamaha instruments provide a low cost of owbership, because they typically last for many more years than cheaper counterparts, are easier to blow and require fewer costly repairs. In contrast, the regular failure of poor quality instruments has often meant that young people have been switched off from music altogether, with conequential loss of revenue to teachers and music services.
For the Class Band project the music service or school buys or leases the instruments for each class, with a small annual contribution which provides membership of the Class Band project for each teacher. This gives the partner organisation and their Class Band teachers access to a broad range of additional benefits, including continuing teacher professional development, support and networking opportunities, as well as exchange trip opportunities between Yamaha Class Bands across Europe. In addition Yamaha UK is involving some of its national and international brass and woodwind artists, including saxophonist and double Mobo winner, YolanDa Brown, who was appointed as the UK's Class Band ambassador in February 2011.
One of Coventry Performing Arts Service's lead Class Band teachers explained that it's quite common to face problems with instruments during lessons. 'If you have to stop the whole group to fix one instrument you lose the momentum of the lesson and you can get behaviour problems. With the Yamaha instruments we haven't had a single problem. Everything just works and the children have also learnt to look after something of value. They learn more quickly and they become so keen!''
A full band: the pros and cons
Class Band differs from the growing whole-class instrumental teaching programme, known as Wider Opportunities (WO), which has spread across English schools in the past four years. Typically up to 30 children learn on the same instrument, or possibly two different types of instrument. The results can be astonishing with WO, in the hands of a good teacher who has adopted new teaching approaches which maximise the benefits of learning in a whole class.
But Amie Hutchinson, a Coventry PAS instrumental teacher and one of the lead teachers for Coventry's Class Band projects, commented on the enthusiasm that the young musicians seem to have for Class Band, which they see far more as a 'real band' than a typical WO lesson. She told us that this is because Class Band uses the full range of instruments, from flute down to tuba, which gives a far richer and more powerful sound in the lesson. Managing a full band, from a teaching point of view, is clearly a challenge. Amie Hutchinson, a Coventry lead teacher for Class Band, said: 'At first it was a shock to have so many different instruments! But with the planning we've done the kids have already learnt a lot more and are making a much stronger sound than we were expecting this early on. They are loving it!'
In Coventry and Staffordshire the aim is to extend the Class Band activities into a strong music curriculum, based on practical music-making during the pilot phase, which ends in Spring 2012. A substantial number of music services and music education hubs - recognising that they must increasingly demonstrate added value and impact in the new world order of local music education - have already joined, or are planning to join the Class Band project. But Class Band isn't just about providing progressive, high-quality instrumental learning for young people which will then also serve as a secure skills platform theor their own musical aspirations. It also provides CPD which draws on more than half a century of Yamaha group-teaching expertise. This helps participating teachers deepen their group teaching skills, provides a vibrant network for support and also an opportunity for exchanges between individual Class Bands across Europe.
Yamaha UK's vision for education is to help engage more people in music making and to help make it a life-enhancing and life changing experience, for both teachers and learners. Class Band has made a strong start and, through the partnership between Yamaha UK and the visionary music services in Coventry, Staffordshire and a growing number of new partners, it is on track to deliver.
Comments from Coventry Performing Arts Service
What attracted Coventry PAS to use Class Band?
- 'We felt that KS3 Music was looking dated. Many pupils have missed out on practical music-making opportunities and there was a strong need for an exciting new initiative. One of the strengths of Class Band is that it especially gives disadvantaged pupils a real opportunity, that offers children real playing experiences. It helps us to develop a good musical balance across the city. Class Band is proving to be a central part of our strategy in addressing this.
What are the responses so far, from schools, parents and pupils?
- 'Universally positive. The feedback from schools and staff is that pupils are already achieving better than expected results. Pupils value the trust of working with 'real' instruments. It is disproving a common assumption that acoustic instruments will not engage the pupils in KS3 as effectively as electronic or IT-based work. We aim to ensure that staff delivering Class Band receive full CPD support so that there are no shortcomings on issues of technique.
Where do we go from now?
- Ensuring that there is enough technical expertise in the room to deliver across all the instruments in the band. Finding effective ways to link from Wider Opportunities into Class Band.
Comments from secondary school senior management teams
- Enthusiasm for the project's impact so far, in a school in which there had been a culture of non-participation, especially in acoustic music activities. One deputy head explained that acoustic instruments had become 'uncool' in the eyes of the pupils. So the enthusiasm of their Y7 Class Band class was striking. The senior management team has become excited about the potential of this project to help them make a cultural change within the school. This flies in the face of the received wisdom in some quarters that acoustic instruments won't switch young musicians on to music.
- 'The Class Band programme is bursting with opportunities for our students. They get excellent music tuition on a new, quality instrument and there's also a strong team ethos evident in the class. Their continued enthusiasm, excitement and real progress reflect significant success for the programme to date.'
Comments from Coventry instrumental teachers leading Class Band
- 'The class teacher in me thinks this is fantastic. I would buy this in because I haven't got to plan it; the rate of learning is much faster; the levels the students will be able to achieve are much greater, too and it doesn't need that much extra space. All the children are engaged, musically and their social skills are developing - social skills that an awful lot of children nowadays are lacking because they don't have that group interaction.'
Comments from Y7 Class Band students
- 'I hadn't tried the trumpet before and it's been amazing! In the Class Band if someone masters the sound before you do, they can show you how to do it. It's just great to learn with my friends!
- 'It's been really fun learning an instrument that's not a recorder! I'm playing the saxophone. I like playing it and would like to carry on'.
Schools, music services and music education hubs which require further information or wish to join the Yamaha Class Band project in 2012 should email Nigel Burrows, Yamaha Music Europe UK.
(updated: October 2011)