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March 21, 2019

By Brad Fuller & Peter Orenstein

The Philosophy (The Pedagogical Space)

We started with the catchphrase "It's All About the Gig" to capture the new spirit of the program. We knew we wanted our students to have authentic learning experiences centered around performing, composing  and listening to music and that our students should learn through music rather than about it. A gig in our program, in accordance with trends in the wider music industry, could be anything from a short composition using music notation to a live performance, or a video shoot. An ideal gig would bring a range of shorter activities, over time, into a larger container. For example, an 8 bar notated idea could be workshopped with a band into a multitrack recording that is performed live, captured in a video and hosted on a student designed webpage that links to a student generated YouTube music television show where students talk about their work.


Our second catchphrase “Music: With People, For People” inspires us to design and seek opportunities for students to work together and share their music with the community. That community extends to classroom teachers, music tutors, alumni and pre-service teachers.

Student performs with NBCSmusic

Finally, we greet each new class with “Welcome to Show Business!”. This greeting is the first step in breaking down the barriers to students who don’t see themselves as musicians.. We work with students to develop a growth mindset through assisting students to form bands of seven and saying “You’re in a band and you have a gig so let’s get busy”. Now that they are in a band, students are musicians and can now share an understanding that, as musicians, we are all on our own unique life-long journey where we can work at our craft each day starting from where we are at. This mindset fosters learning “just in time” rather than “just in case”.


The Physical Space

Once we had established our philosophical foundations, we turned our attention to the physical space. We removed the wall between 2 classrooms and installed a stage to allow students to learn their craft “On the Bandstand”. Next we thought about the activities musicians engage in when they’re creating, learning and rehearsing music and designed spaces for students to undertake these tasks in and around the main space. We call this process “Write, Record Release”. We deemed it critically important for us all to be able to see each other as we work so we used a combination of glass walls and silent rehearsal technology so we could be in the same space whilst having control over what we hear and how loud it is.


By creating a large open space we are able to collaboratively team teach with at least two classroom teachers in the space with up to 8 bands of 7 members (56 students). This scenario is often augmented by students having tutorials with their instrumental or vocal tutors during class time. We also have a long-standing partnership with local universities who send university students (pre-service teachers) for their required placements. Our record for pre-service teachers and supervisors in the space at the same time stands at 6.


We identified and constructed 7 stations:

  1. The Green Room: Everything in Show Business begins and ends in The Green Room. This is what we call our main space. A place for students to sit on lounges with their bands and work on foundation skills on their laptops. The space quickly transforms into the main audience area and comfortably seats 100.
  2. The Jam Station (7 individual stations- one for each band member): A space for writing, demoing and learning parts using a model of flipped learning called “In-flipping” whereby students watch curated instructional videos in class rather than at home.

  3. The Jam Rooms: A space for students to rehearse and workshop their compositions.

  4. The Stage: Our stage is equipped with silent instruments and headphones but can transform into performance mode at the tap of a virtual button via our iPad mixing app.

  5. The Creation Station: A space for interacting with music via iPads.

  6. The Base Station: A place for the band to check in with a teacher. The primary focus here is for students to showcase their individual work to the members of the band whilst the teacher facilitates a feedback session. The feedback is aimed at promoting either a better product through an iterative process or information that might improve the outcomes of the next project.

  7. The Suites: A place for students to overdub, edit, mix, and master their work and prepare to publish.


The Virtual Space

We wanted our learning space to be a decentralised zone where students and bands could move at their own pace. Given that students would be in bands, we had to move away from the approach where every student learns the same content or the same instrument in lock step with each other. The Blended Learning Station Rotation Model proved to be a great fit.


In their bands, students move about the physical space to a task specific station and access resources particular to that station from our virtual space (Moodle Learning Management System, LMS) on their BYOD laptops. The physical and virtual components of each station are designed to allow students to complete discrete steps in the larger project and store evidence of their progress in the LMS. Depending on the project, students would be ready for the gig after one or two cycles through all of the stations.


The main role of the virtual space is to:

  • Provide information for each step of the project,
  • Provide written and/or video instruction on how to undertake the task/s
  • Furnish tools to create music
  • Allow students to undertake drills to assess their progress
  • Allow students to upload their work to facilitate collaboration and feedback
  • Provide a platform for students to publish their work.


The Virtual Tools

The LMS (Moodle) is the front end to a range of tools developed by MusicFirst and Google. We use:



How we use it

Auralia & Musition To help students to understand notation, aural, & theoretical components of their projects.
Noteflight Music notation.
Focus on Sound To ensure students know what every instrument looks & sounds like. Augments information in Musition.
Google Docs Embedded into our LMS to allow collaborative editing.
Google Slides Bands create documentaries in Slides giving the background of the project, and then record a screencast with narration. We watch these and present "People's Choice Awards" as voted on by class members.
Google Classroom Helps us to easily distribute and collect Google Docs through our LMS.
GarageBand We've created short projects for students to access the wonders of this app.
Apple Classroom & Apple Classwork Underpins our Creation Station and allows us to distribute & collect GarageBand projects created at the Creation Station.
YouTube Hosts our tutorials & student creations.


Blending Spaces with Project-Based Learning

Project Based Learning is a natural fit for musicians - we just substitute the word project with gig. The gig drives the learning we need to facilitate at each of our stations as the gig determines what we need to know in terms of the syllabus outcomes in the learning experiences of:

  • Performance
  • Composition
  • Musicology
  • Aural

Each station’s learning task/s is designed to satisfy learning outcomes that either help students to develop the skills they need to “nail the gig” or the knowledge they need to understand the context of the gig.


The NBCSmusic Video

We realised some time ago that you have to see our program to begin to understand it. We love having visitors to our campus but understand that’s not easy. So, we created a video to give people a stylised version of some of what we do in 1 minute and 55 seconds.



The video features a remix and rearrangement of a song written by Abby Fuller for an album we recorded a few years ago called Flame. If features Abby on vocals with students from Year 7 through 12 making appearances. Here are a few tips to help you identify what’s going on in the clip.

Scene 1 (00:00)

That’s Brad Fuller in the foreground in The Green Room talking to one of our bands with our pre-service teacher in the background.

Scene 2 (00:09)

That’s Peter Orenstein at The Base Station. This scene shows our approach to collaborative composition. Peter has worked with the band to choose a loop that will underpin the composition. That’s Soundtrap on the big screen TV and the students are wearing infrared headphones connected to the Mac Mini that is driving the screen.

Scene 3 (00:24) This is The Creation Station demonstrating how we integrate iPads into our collaborative compositional flow. We selected a loop to add to our percussion. Note how the students use their laptop to read their instructions and access tutorials and undertake the work on the iPad - a two screen approach. The app is imaschine2.
Scene 4 (00:34) This is The Jam Station. We supply an audio interface keyboard, instrument and headphones and the students bring their laptop to the station to access the instructions, tutorials, and recording software. The app is Soundtrap.
Scene 5 (00:51) This is The Jam Room (one of three). This space is for rehearsal and collaborative composition. The room in use is between our two other rooms. The wall facing into the main space is floor to ceiling glass and you can see the glass panel that allows us to see between the two rooms. Each room has a v-drum set, a range of guitars and a selection of microphones. You can see a JamHub in the video which has been replaced this year by a Presonus Quantum audio interface.
Scene 6 (01:07) We complete the recording process in one of our two identical rooms known as “The Suites”. We have a matched pair of Rode mics into another Presonus - this time a Quantum 2. We have a range of DAWs and virtual instruments for students to use. The app in this scene is Logic.
Scenes 6 & 7 (01:21) We showcase The Stage in performance mode. We draw the curtains, dim the house lights, turn on the speakers via iPad, activate the LED light show via iPad and pump just the right amount of haze to set the atmosphere. We mount a concert every Friday lunchtime for 30 minutes. You’ll notice some DSLR cameras in the video. In 2018 we added a 3 video cameras and a video switcher allowing us to do live IMAG to the screen behind the band and stream live to YouTube. You can see the exterior of The Suites in the background of Scene 7.


NBCS music Program