Music at School


The only way I know how to feel something is to make a mix about it.

One of my favourite things to do as a teenager was to make a mixtape. Self indulgent? Yes. Time consuming? Always. Satisfying? Beyond words. I had mixtapes for everything (and everyone .. including my dog “Shoona”). Now, before I continue, a word of warning: mixtapes are mixtapes. Not ‘mix CD’, ‘playlist’ or even ‘mix tape’. Please. They are WAY more refined. Mixtapes are not a random mix of favourite songs, they live on magnetic tape and are painstakingly created according to nine strict rules:

1) Mixtapes are for others. Actually, they are specifically for one person. One mixtape per person. No duplicates. A mixtape is a very personal thing; you can’t just create a Spotify playlist and share it on your favourite social media site. You must know the person’s musical taste before you begin their mixtape.

2) Mixtapes are musically intelligent. A mixtape is not something you can throw together and hope that it works. A mixtape full of top 40 hits just isn’t a mixtape. If you add One Direction or Beyoncé you have failed. Mixtapes show how musically educated you are. They give the impression you listen to lots and lots of music, frequently visit gigs that are at venues other than O2 or Wembley, and spend your Saturday mornings at the local independent record shop. Use covers, live versions, acoustic versions, orchestral backing etc etc. Anything that makes you seem in the know.

3) Mixtapes have a theme. I don’t mean that all the songs should be Disney songs (necessarily). What I mean is that there should be some kind of musical or thematic glue that subtly holds all of the songs together. Here’s some examples: Songs that have the word “girl” in the title, songs that use hyperbole, songs about summertime, Disney songs by Indie artists, songs containing saxophones, songs about two or more things

4) Mixtapes have an order. Mixtapes tell a story leading the listener from one song to the next in dramatic fashion. One of my favourite films, “High Fidelity” staring John Cusack, traces a record shope owner and the 5 mixtapes he creates over the course of the film. The main character, “Rob Gordon”, at one point says

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, ….  then you got to cool it off a notch.”

6) Mixtapes are only as long as they need to be. The worst thing is to make a boring, 16 track mixtape. Don’t overstay your welcome. Don’t feel like you need to fill the tape. The optimum length is 7 songs – 7 songs that complement each other are far better than 20 songs that don’t.

7) Mixtapes NEVER have repeating artists. This is huge. Never, ever, ever have the same artist on the same mixtape. The only reason you can repeat an artist is if your theme requires you to i.e. your theme is “Pairs” – you can then have two tracks featuring the same artist.

8) Mixtapes are mixtapes. Having a good variety of tracks is a really key to success. One depressing track followed by another and another and another is a fail. Mix it up.

9) Mixtapes have a Identity. Give your mixtape a name. My top tips are that you use the person’s name, the theme and add Vol 1 at the end (but really you can be as creative as you like). For example, using the themes from point 3 above:

  • “Patootie Vol 1” (Songs the word “girl” in the title. A patootie is a pretty girl).
  • “Stopping traffic” (songs with hyperbole).
  • “Out Late with John Vol 1” (songs about summertime)
  • “Independently magical Millie Vol 1” (Disney songs by Indie artists)
  • “Bird Songs Vol. 1” (songs containing saxophones) – named after Charlie “Bird” Parker one of the greatest saxophonists of all time.
  • “dRum” – songs about drums or alcohol

So, post your mixtapes in the comments below. Here’s is one to give you some inspiration:

To: My future girlfriend (I hope!)

Theme: Use of hyperbole and love

Title: “Stopping Traffic Vol. 1”


  1. Best Day Of My Life – (Beach Avenue acoustic cover) by American Authors
  2. To The Moon & Back (Extended version) by Savage Garden
  3. I’d Die Without You (Childish Gambino version in the 1Xtra Live Lounge) by PM Dawn
  4. Fast Car (Boyce Avenue feat. Kina Grannis acoustic cover) by Tracy Chapman
  5. Every Breath You Take (Aaron Krause feat. Liza Anne) by The Police
  6. Daughters (Rendition) by SoMo by John Mayer
  7. She Moves in Her Own Way – The Kooks

Here is the mixtape on You Tube:

Tubular Bells Variations

Year 9 pupils have been making variations of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. Looking at timbre and structure, pupils were given the notes to use and asked to experiment with different sounds and textures.

Below are three variations from one class and pupils have been asked to comment on the sounds that have been used in each, whether they are a good choice and if so (or not) why not. Finally they have been asked to comment on whether the piece works as a variation of Tubular Bells

The music of Star Wars

I’m not a huge Star Wars fan. I like it- a lot – but I’m not a Jedi or anything. That said, I’m looking forward to the new film and in readiness for it I’ve started watching the films from the beginning. I was amazed by how much of the story I’d missed (really … it’s quite embarrassing). Anyway, the main thing I’d missed was that the music for each film continues for the whole film. There is no let up at all.

Continuing from my last post about Star Wars I thought I’d bring a little music quick from the people at Sinfini Music.

What do you know about the music of Star Wars? Here’s a quiz: (don’t forget to post your result in the comments)

Year 10 Abstract Music

This term Year 10 GCE Music pupils have been looking at modern classical music like Minimalism and Electronic Music. To prepare for writing a minimalist piece of music they have completed a research based task that looks at the life and works of one modern composer. They have also began to develop some harmonic ideas. To help with this latter task they have been exploring harmony and timbre by writing a short Abstract piece of music using Propellerhead’s Reason 7. Here is their work with each pupil commenting on two of the pieces and making music comparisons between them.


Here’s a PDF file with all of the GCSE Music Set Works summarised by musical element. This is a really useful document that will help with revision (particularly the extended writing question).

Writing a minimalist piece of Music – Philip Glass Style

There are lots of different ways to start writing a piece of minimalist music: you could start with a melodic idea, a chord progression, a bass line or a rhythmic idea. Which ever way to decide to start, the important thing is to know the style of the music you are writing in. A good research project based around a composer is a good way to do that. Your project should not only consider the life and influences of the composer but more importantly the musical features. This not only involves lots of research, but also lots and lots of listening. IN this short post I’ll help you write a piece of music based on the music of minimalist composer, Philip Glass.

Having completed my research I’ve discovered that Philip Glass is known for writing melodically beautiful and simple music. The pieces of music that I listened to where:

  • “The Truman Show” – film score
  • Glassworks
  • Metamorphosis 1-5
  • Koyaanisqatsi

What I discovered from listening to the above pieces of music is that his music contains four or five chords, in a repeating sequence. Each chord contains an anchor note (a note that is common in all of the chords). So, I choose to base my chord sequence around the note A and improvised on a piano to come up with these five chords: (which all contain the note A)

  D, C6, Bm7, Bbmaj7, Am7

Philip Glass take the chords he uses and applies a technique called diminution to sequentially half the note values (i.e. from semi-breves to minims to crotchets to quavers). This will happen over several bars and may include (particularly when it gets to the quavers) arpeggio patterns or alberti bass patterns.

Philip Glass melodies are tonal (they belong to the same key and chords as used) and are fairly uncomplicated. Setting my chords going in a loop I can improvise a simple melody, choosing notes from the chords as a starting point.

Finally, rubato is added to give the piece a fluid feel.

A Full Head of Dreams

Amidst speculation that Coldplay’s latest album will be their last, “A Full Head of Dreams” is due to be released on 4th December and certainly will head to the No.1 spot on the UK Album chart just like all previous releases of their albums. Chris Martin had previously suggested that this new album (their 7th) could be their last. This would be seriously disappointing as the band is one of the most streamed bands in history.

My favourite Coldplay song is “The Scientist” which was inspired by a song that one of the band members in my favourite band wrote. George Harrison, a member of The Beatles, wrote a song called “All things Must pass” and this is the song that Chris Martin (and others) based The Scientist on.

What is your favourite Coldplay single and why?


Sing a song!

What a great article I’ve found today from The University of Oxford about singing. Here’s some quotes:

The physiological benefits of singing, and music more generally, have long been explored. Music making exercises the brain as well as the body, but singing is particularly beneficial for improving breathing, posture and muscle tension. Listening to and participating in music has been shown to be effective in pain relief, too, probably due to the release of neurochemicals such as β-endorphin (a natural painkiller responsible for the “high” experienced after intense exercise).

Singing has also been shown to improve our sense of happiness and wellbeing.

So why not join a choir? We have four choirs for your to get involved in that run on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So why not come along and join in!

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