A classical new world

Free online resource aims to ignite pupils’ enthusiasm for classical music, explains Dan Sandhu, Chief Executive of Digital Assess

This month teachers up and down the country were given access to a new free online resource, Classical 100, which aims to break down barriers and ignite pupils’ enthusiasm for classical music. 

Complementing existing teaching resources, Classical 100 has been developed by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) in partnership with Classic FM and Decca Classics and with the support of the Department for Education and Digital Assess providing the technology behind the project.

What is it?

Classical 100 is built around 100 recordings of classical music pieces that teachers can draw upon in lessons, school assemblies and other activities. Alongside a recording of each of the works taken from Decca’s world-renowned catalogue, there is information about the composer and the story behind the music.

The online resource will be continually enhanced throughout the academic year with a range of downloadable materials created and published from ABRSM’s network of primary school experts.

The listening resource is available free of charge via a website for teachers, the pieces of music have been arranged to allow teachers to tailor lessons using music, for example using the mood changing scale in a storytelling lesson.

The Classical 100 is not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive. The pieces are intended to serve as an introduction, which will inspire children to explore classical music further. 

Why the need?

The project aims to open up classical music to children from an early age.  Allowing children to hear and explore the music in an imaginative way will hopefully inspire a new generation to a lifetime of listening, performing, making and exploring the world of music. 

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP has supported the project as part of the Department for Education’s wider aims to improve music education in schools.

Music shouldn’t only be accessible to those who can afford it or to those whose parents play instruments or listen to it at home.  ABRSM highlighted in its 2014 survey Making Music that children from less well-off backgrounds are less likely to play a musical instrument and less likely to have had music lessons.

How can teachers use it?

Classical 100 can also be used to meet the National Curriculum’s Key Stage 1 criteria of ‘listening to, reviewing and evaluating music across a range of historical periods, genres, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians’.

Alison Walker, one of the music teachers invited as a judge to select the pieces of music explained how it can be used in the classroom, “The classification of pieces by levels of energy (represented by a mood changing scale), provides teachers with the tools to select a varied and interesting playlist to suit their particular requirements at any one time.” 

Alison was one of the teachers who attended the launch at St Charles RC Primary School, Ladbroke Grove. She went on to say: “Similarly, they can delve deeper into the 100 pieces and choose a piece of programmatic music with storytelling links to a particular topic, select a piece of music which is contemporary to a particular event in history or discover a composer who comes from a country whose traditions and cultures they are studying. The opportunities for further exploration from this starting point of 100 pieces are thrillingly endless.”

Teachers can use the flexible resource to raise the energy levels by selecting Bernstein’s ‘Mambo’ from West Side Story, or encourage a moment of quiet reflection with Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. If a class were, for example, exploring ‘story-telling’, the teacher could draw together multiple resources around Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf.

As another example, if a teacher wanted to exemplify the Romantic period, it would lead them to a list including Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. If they were exploring choral music, they could discover Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus from Messiah.

The technology behind the project

Classical 100 was developed by industry experts with a wealth of primary teaching knowledge and professional experience compiling syllabuses and other education materials and has been rigorously tested by a broad community of teachers, music services, and educational musical experts. The pieces of music were selected using Adaptive Comparative Judgement (ACJ) technology working in partnership with Digital Assess.  The use of ACJ allowed the music to be judged and ranked according to its suitability for classroom scenarios using an iterative and adaptive algorithm. 

Alison Walker explained the process, “The filtering process made use of the ACJ method, an approach that we can see huge potential for wider use in schools and universities for grading exam papers with greater accuracy.” 

Using Digital Assess’ bespoke software judges were asked to make decisions on the pieces of music allowing them to be ranked. Alison went on to say, “Over the course of three evenings I made a total of 177 judgements in three separate categories, and within each category selecting one piece from a choice of two which I felt most agreed with one of the corresponding statements: ‘which piece has the strongest sense of story?’,  ‘which piece is the most energetic’ or  ‘which piece most suggests dance and movement?’. The ‘winning’ piece, together with those chosen by the other judges, formed a hierarchy of pieces in each category, providing the Classical 100 product design team with a range of answers to map the results and form a framework of classification.” 

The use of ACJ involved the whole team of judges sharing their judgements on the pieces of music against set criteria; this collaborative process improves the inter-rater consistency between the judges, as well as significantly improving the reliability of the assessment process and is based on the Law of Comparative Judgement that states that people are better at making comparative judgements rather than absolute ones. This means that the final 100 can be relied upon by teachers as definitive, because it is the most accurate possible outcome of the combined expertise of the judges.

Schools can gain full, unlimited access to Classical 100 by registering at www.abrsm.org/classical100

For more information about education tech provider Digital Assess, please visit www.digitalassess.com