Category Archives: elearning

Expose Yourself!

You probably don’t even stop to think about it, but if you are a musician and you write online (blogs, forums, social networks), you are topping up the vast library of learning resources by exposing your methods.

Communities share knowledge, and by reading, discussing, analysing and mashing-up this knowledge, we learn.  Do you feel you give knowledge, or take it?  Don’t answer that, because the response is most likely both!

But if we are happy to take knowledge from the web, do we have a responsibility to give as well?  We know that technology has changed the way we work and learn and communicate, but maybe it’s changed society too, and with it, social responsibility –  a responsibility to contribute to knowledge, to share ideas that will in turn help others to learn.

What can you tell others about your professional practice?   Just informal stuff, personal to your way of working, perhaps to do with workflow, or creativity, or musical language, or technology; we all have specialisms or unique takes on the business of making music.  There are some great examples at SCOREcastonline, but sharing knowledge isn’t  restricted to seasoned professionals; whatever stage in your professional experience you may have reached, you will have something to share.  And equally, we all have something new to learn.

In the big world of formal education they are trying to understand how all this informal stuff fits in.  What is the role of teachers, now that we can manage our own learning on the web?  Why should we freely share our knowledge and skills online?

I put this last question to David Kernohan, a programme manager for the eLearning Team at JISC, the UK’s leading organisation promoting technology for learning.

“As well as exposing the quality of our own practice, we are offering a model of that practice to others just starting out in the field. Does this mean giving away the secrets of that one amazing guitar lick that means you always get booked? – well eventually someone is going to copy it anyway. And why not come up with something else? Licks don’t stay fresh forever. But your practice regime, how you approach auditions and interviews, how you *get* auditions and interviews – why not share this? Or a couple of short samples of your work. If someone uses a (cc-licensed) drum fill in a production then (1) you get a credit for work that you wouldn’t otherwise have got, which means (2) you get your name under the noses of people who wouldn’t otherwise see it.”

David is active in promoting the work of the OER (Open Educational Resources) community and this quote is published under a CC-BY license.

So go on, expose yourself.  You’ll get something from the experience and you’ll be fulfilling a little C21 social responsibility.  Here are some  music blogs that expose professional practice:

Ken Lewis (music producer, NY NY)

Tim Prebble (sound designer and editor, Wellington, New Zealand)

James Semple (composer, London, England)

Ian Shepherd (mastering engineer and producer, London, England)

Teaching, parents and common sense

This is nothing to do with strings or arranging!  I spent a day with my 9 year old son, Dom, yesterday, doing a bit of home educating, because there was no school on Monday (staff training) and he missed the last 3 days of last term, and because I wanted to.  I’d read Curriculum 21 on holiday (very accessible, even as a parent) and I’ve requested the Home-School-Relationships book from FutureLab, so I’m buzzing about the learning revolution that technology has ignited everywhere…..except in schools it seems.

We didn’t do anything extraordinary, no awesome creativity, just some music practice, a bit of music theory, some writing about the origins of snowboarding, some maths exercises (fractions), learned some French words and names of continents and countries.  Wherever possible, we found some fun, interactive exercises online.

Our day working together made me realise I have little idea of what my son is learning, day-to-day, at school.  We meet the teacher a couple of times a year for parents’ evening and each term we get a sheet outlining learning outcomes and topics.  He has some homework. We don’t elicit (or expect!) much daily information from Dom, though snippets do trickle out!  But I don’t know what specific things he is studying and what particular challenges the learning presents.

And that got me thinking how valuable it would be if the teacher tweeted or blogged about the daily topics for her learners, so that parents could support the learning beyond the classroom.  No specifics about individuals of course, just an overview of what’s hot in the classroom and what the children can do to follow on from their classroom activities.

Playing devil’s advocate, this would mean an additional responsibility for the teacher.  But frankly, in our connected, collaborative world, if something like this isn’t perceived as requisite then teacher education is failing our generation.

Reading Curriculum 21, I was both inspired and disillusioned.  If this new vision of how and what to learn to survive in this century is a manifesto for change, it would most likely take many years to reach my son’s schools, while teachers’ typical use of tech in teaching and learning is limited, so my own role in his education takes on even greater significance.  I feel he isn’t going to get these great opportunities (which will be the foundation of good citizenship and work-readiness), in school.

So it’s up to me and the more I see the value of tech in learning, the more critical I will become of a school system that doesn’t exploit it.

Digital Skills For Musicians

Digital skills for musicians; I’m not thinking of the core tools of recording, sequencing and notating, but the apps and services that let you take your music further, to connect with others, to promote your talents, to project your identity and to continually learn.

How’s this: there are 5 main areas of digital skills for musicians (I know my apps and services suggestions are not comprehensive).
Digital Sound. This includes editing, compressing, hosting, embedding, sharing, transferring and presenting.
Apps and services like Audacity, Garageband, Soundcloud, iTunes, YouSendIt, FTP, idisk.

Digital Images. Video, photography and graphics. This includes creating, editing, compressing, hosting, embedding, sharing, transferring and presenting.
Apps and services like iMovie, iPhoto,  Flickr, Photobucket, Slideshare, YouTube, Animoto, OneTrueMedia, Xtranormal, Vimeo, Quicktime,

Have your say (self publishing
).  Blogging, micro blogging, podcasts, wikis, buying a url.  Apps and services like Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, wikispaces, iTunes and audio hosting services.

Make connections  (social networks and communications). This is about being part of the global music community. Twitter (again),  Myspace, Facebook, Ning, Imeem, LastFM, forums, commenting, Skype, iChat.

Information (finding, organising and using).  RSS, social bookmarking.  Apps and services like delicious, google.

I have a nagging urge to create an online course; Digital Skills for Musicians.  Throughout my working life I’ve had some connection with education and in recent years my passion has been centred round digital technologies and the web.  In my experience, current music courses don’t offer convincing curriculum content for the things that I see as central to learning and working in the creative industries – the social web, self publishing, and all the openness and connections that exist because of Web 2.0.

Much of the discussion around musicians and the web assumes that ‘musician’ means band or songwriter, looking to win fans and sell music.  My own experience shows that ‘musician’ can be interpreted far more broadly to cover a range of work.
In fact, if I survey 100 of my colleagues making a living from music, only a small proportion are artists/bands directly promoting themselves to fans; the rest are composers, performers, producers, engineers and arrangers.  So I’d expect the content of the course to reflect this.


I’m not starting entirely from scratch with this; I’d want to build on the content and community at

I am not an expert in web tools for musicians but therein lies one of the many benefits of the social web – expertise is readily available and shared.  Through my own learning and development with digital tools and services I believe I am well placed to facilitate learning. The course will require each individual learner to personalise their development for their own needs and interests, and demonstrate learning with practical uses of the apps and services.  Getting such a course up and running (funded and validated) is a huge task!

I’ve started a wiki to develop some content (it will necessarily never cease to evolve). For each topic there are technical and creative elements;  how do you use the app or service and how can you exploit it for your own development?  So, what have I missed?

Here’s a slideshare presentation by Jane Hart; it focuses on organisations (business and education) rather than individuals, though the concepts translate to  an individual, managing his own development.


When I was heavily involved in music education I longed for a tool to create music notation in a browser.  I even started a little development with a colleague but we never got anywhere near the service now offered by Noteflight.  Here’s a basic example  (I can’t embed it with WordPress, only link to it.)

It’s in beta at the moment but my simple 4 bars were easy to create with intuitive tools.  As a demonstration tool of musical examples (chord movement, melodic shapes – many things related to music language) it is invaluable.  The sounds are basic and playback lacks any finesse, but that is true of notation packages, where the look is the priority and the sound provides the bare essentials of pitch and rhythm.

digital skills for musicians

My fascination for the digital skills and tools that help a musician work and evolve has lead me to have a go at a mind map, using a free web service called Mindomo. I can’t imagine I’ll ever actually finish this as it will continually change. Any help in improving it would be most welcome!

I split these digital skills into 2 areas – creative content in the form of media (music, audio, video, images, design) and web activity – how to promote and exploit your creative content online.

I can’t embed the map here (come on WordPress!) but clicking on the image will open the map in a new window, where my current notes become active as you roll your cursor over the map. (Can’t get the map to display in Safari.)

the social musician

I wonder whether I revel in the online social tools because I’m, well….not very sociable. Not a party bloke. The truth is I’m a disciple of the God of social media and I reckon getting stuck into blogging, myspace, facebook, rss, podcasts, ning and the rest has helped my business grow. That, and google ads maybe.

I don’t need persuading that I DO need to express myself online, but if you’re not sure, check out the more eloquent expert at This advice is directed more at musicians as commercial artists (doing gigs, selling songs) but the argument is equally compelling for the vast numbers of musicians who survive in media music, session music and music services. I recently asked a NY producer why he blogs and he put forward an argument that I subscribe to: people get to know you much better with a blog than a static website. Sure, the website can present the brand, but the blog connects you with the person.  The blog does what a drink’n’chat does, on a global scale.

I’ve also been able to show diversity in the service I can offer – I think that variety would look confusing on a static website.

As well as my work as an arranger and string player, I’m involved in some education projects, particularly related to (you guessed it) elearning.  And I’m looking for stories.   I’m doing some research to find out how creative industries professionals are using web tools in their business and I wonder if you could respond?

Do you use blogs, social networks or IM to connect with your clients,  and service providers (like me!)?  Do you publish your work online – (video, audio, podcasts, photographs, text) in social spaces (like YouTube, MySpace and Flickr)?  Do you collaborate, using google docs or wikis?  And most importantly, what benefit do you get from using these tools?

If you have a moment to respond, please tell your story by posting comments on the research wiki (just hit the discussion tab).

This research is part of the SPLICE project – to explore the technological practices of creative industry professionals.

What’s in it for you?  Maybe you’ll get some ideas from others to improve your own development.

the sweetest feeling

It was one of those days (yesterday) when I really felt a part of both the creative industry and the global community.  A day when all aspects of my endeavour came together sweetly – my passions for social web tools (for connecting and learning), the evolution of creative industries  and string arranging!  Looking back through the mails, messages, activities and chats, this is how it panned out.

Over night mails came from Ken Lewis (producer based in New York), asking about a sample recreation, Jen (my agent in Toronto) about Samplebase (Los Angeles) and an enquiry about strings (from Moscow).  There were notifications about discussions on the student social network I run (a Ning service) where John Blaylock (singer and writer for International One – now signed and recording debut album) was the guest host.  He totally rocks!  A band in Los Angeles were also enquiring about strings – found me with a google search.  Ken Lewis later agreed to trade some string work for a guest host slot on CCM Music (that is quite a coup!).

I spent the morning answering mails and prepping a presentation about web tools for learning, for staff at Mid Cheshire College.  A quick bit of fiddle practice (trying to get some jazz standards together with guitarist Jason Brown) then off to do the presentation (always a bit stressful) and found out more about the new Creative and Media diploma which is embracing the convergence of skills that all CI practitioners need to wake up to.  As part of the event, we posted a comment on Ken Lewis’s blog – his blogging is a great example of how to reach out from a website, not just present information.

Email updates also about some UK work – a hip-hop project, a movie (my old friend and extraordinary composer Richard Mitchell) and recordings for radio idents.

I’m chipping away at a long term project for Tim Duncan – preparing arrangements and scores for an ice ballet (to be recorded in Moscow end of May), so managed to put some hours in on this.

I just wanted to capture the satisfying feeling of all the bits falling into place!