Electronic equality

Inspiring the next generation of electronic musicians: Caro C on the experience and importance of teaching music technology in primary schools.

Only five per cent of studio sound engineers worldwide are female, a poor statement on diversity within the industry. But, with education provision that encourages imagination and ambition using music technology whilst providing visibility of women working in the industry, surely this can be improved? Yes, lessons in traditional instruments are valuable, but we live in a digital world and it is computers that drive our entertainment industries, so perhaps it’s time for us to collectively start to refocus what options our children and young people are given in learning about ‘music’.

© Jeff Downs
© Jeff Downs

As an electronic music composer, producer, performer and studio recording engineer myself, I realised a few years ago that I could play a role in increasing the visibility of women in electronic music and audio engineering. Instead of being critical of the lack of education provision I could teach what I’d learned to the children and encourage young people, of any gender, to take their place in the industry.

I designed a five week ‘Introduction to Music Technology’ course and now deliver it in primary schools in Greater Manchester at level Key Stage 2, opening the eyes and ears of children from eight to 11 years of age to the art of modern music making. It’s a course that aims to empower the children, covering the fundamentals of electronic music composition; using virtual instruments with midi and sampling; as well as covering audio engineering principles, recording, mixing and music theory (incorporating tempo, rhythm, mood, harmony and melody). It’s a great pleasure for me to impart my enthusiasm and see the children’s creative and technical skills develop along with their curiosity.

We start the course with Delia Derbyshire’s original Dr Who Theme, made in September 1963 and which still has such resonance today. It’s a great example of early electronic music that most of the children know or recognise, so electronic music instantly has something to do with them – even if they didn’t know it before. Derbyshire’s Dr Who Theme is also great for deconstructing the layers and understanding the basic building blocks of an iconic piece of electronic music.

I then play them TV themes that use found-sounds, something I love to use in my own electronic music. Integrating found-sounds and non-musical objects is, for me, a very atmospheric and a quirky way of illuminating the magic in the mundane. It’s also a great opportunity to learn about recording, sampling and manipulating sound. The pupils work in teams to create their own TV theme to an imaginary TV programme. The outcomes are sometimes weird and always wonderful. The feedback from the kids has generally been that they have been inspired, really enjoyed the course and want to continue making electronic music both at school and at home if possible.

caro zapata 1 crop bigger
Caro C

Over the duration of the course the pupils become electronic music composers, producers and budding sound engineers. Many schools now have iPads now and Garageband software on Apple Mac computers, so the technology is increasingly accessible. Pupils learn how to use a common Digital Audio Workstation to compose, arrange, edit and mix a piece of music. They grasp the history and development of electronic music from analogue tape to the modern recording methods and cover the foundations of the possibilities they offer.

The courses are delivered in partnership with music provider One Education Music, also based in Manchester, UK. The course has been taken on as a  ‘New Initiative’ for the academic year 2015-2016 by Manchester Music Hub. Importantly, this means that schools have benefited from a 50 per cent subsidy towards the cost of the course, making it more accessible for more schools in the area.

Lindsay Thomas, Head of Music at One Education, said that: ‘The course develops self-esteem and leadership skills, as the children become tech champions and mentor staff and children in other classes. I believe that all children should leave primary school with basic music production skills allowing secondary schools to build on these skills and encourage a greater number of pupils to access the world of creative arts.’

You can hear the outcomes of these methods of teaching in pieces such as this from Medlock Primary School in central Manchester and interviews conducted with a group of girls, aged 10 to 11, who had completed the music technology course. It is lovely to hear them being so optimistic about opportunities for women and girls nowadays.

Caro C is an independent artist, engineer and facilitator in sound based in Manchester, UK. Her third album, Everything Gives to Something Else, uses electronic music, found sounds (such as ice cubes clinking in a glass and a hot pan sizzling under a cold water tap), piano and her own voice.