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Soundtrap drives an online revolution in UK students’ music learning and mental health

The Covid crisis has created opportunities for innovation in music education and affirmed music’s essential contribution to the health and wellbeing of school students

Despite the undoubted trauma caused over the last year, schools are fortunate that the pandemic didn’t occur a decade ago. High speed wi-fi and the proliferation of music education apps has made things possible that would have been unimaginable then. And lockdown has given impetus to technology developers such as Soundtrap to meet a new need that will remain long after schools have returned to some semblance of normality.

Hertfordshire and Wiltshire are two of the local authorities in England which have selected Soundtrap’s digital studio as a way of engaging students remotely in music creation, production and even DJ-ing, both as part of the curriculum and as an aid to strengthen students’ mental health.

Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) has helped 35 schools improve their online music offering in the county, in partnership with Music First, the digital education division of the Wise Music Group, and funding from Arts Council England.

‘We’re finding that with the right tools like Soundtrap, we can have a much bigger impact on the mental health of young people, the social isolation of young people, and re-engagement with general education as well,’ said Ben Stevens, Director of Music at HMS. ‘Students and particularly pre-teens and teenagers know exactly what music software and technology is out there, and they’re desperate to use technology in their studies. They’re all over it.’

The other advantage the Soundtrap system allows is remote collaboration, connecting them with their friends from home and through the school. ‘We found that music, songwriting, in particular, gives students a way of expressing themselves, and it helps them re-engage with education and the ability to express themselves. It’s them. It’s their own lived experience in a song,’ Stevens said.

HMS is also using Soundtrap to engage with students who have been expelled. ‘We engage them through music,’ said Stevens. ‘It’s essentially an intervention, but it’s a mixture. It’s therapy. It’s education.’

Wiltshire Music Connect (WMC), is the county’s music hub, again funded through the Arts Council. Keen to engage students in music across a broader range of genres, WMC has been working with FutureDJs to involve students who may not want to explore playing traditional instruments. FutureDJs has been designing a curriculum, including Continuing Professional Development (CPD) assistance for teachers to make DJ-ing a part of the broader arts curriculum, and using Soundtrap Seats for Pupils.

So far, three Wiltshire schools have taken up the scheme and more are expected to join. Michal Sorga, Head of Music at Matravers School, says, ‘At the moment, our students are receiving their full normal timetable of learning at home. In music, we are currently working with all of Year 9 (180 students) and Year 12 (6 students) using Soundtrap. The FutureDJs resources have been essential to our planning and have informed staff members with lesser knowledge, giving them examples of music and intricacies of the styles.’

The FutureDJs curriculum comprises approximately 80 lesson plans in the form of detailed handouts, worksheets, exercises and Soundtrap projects. All are supported with keynotes for teachers.

The Soundtrap materials and licences also offer CPD support sessions for teachers covering everything from managing their accounts to teaching composition and the broadest range of musical genres. The system allows teachers to interconnect with a network of music experts around the country to broaden students’ musical experience and to make all forms of music accessible and enticing.

As Hugh Shepherd, Tutor Manager at FutureDJs, said, ‘It’s basically everything our teachers need to give them the confidence to teach an engaging lesson – whether it’s how compression works or composing simple melodies or even creating a simple song using loops in Soundtrap.’

The pandemic has doubtless been a shattering experience for millions of young people and their teachers, but there is a silver lining in the new ideas and ingenuity that technologists, musicians, teachers and schools have employed to lead their students through this strange time. And this leap forward will have an impact on music teaching long after Covid-19 has become part of history lessons.