Skip to content

Classroom Layouts

classroom layouts - designing a new KS3 SoW

Part 3 of the Designing a New KS3 SoW series.  

Reflecting on the teaching and learning that’s taken place in my Music Department over the last few years, I have to conclude that we have become very strong at delivering the informal learning model from Musical Futures.  We’ve also done a great job of integrating the classroom workshopping elements of the non-formal teaching model.  The success of the former has largely been down to our workstation setup that we created, which combines typical rock band instruments, a Mac, a mixer and a headphone splitter to create a suite of ‘virtual practice rooms’.  This has been a really successful model and I’ve demonstrated it to other music teachers numerous times, perhaps most notably at Play, Learn, Live in 2011. 
As I was pondering the eighth of my KS3 SoW Design Tenets (“If it can be delivered using informal learning and non-formal teaching, then it should be delivered using informal learning and non-formal teaching”), I reflected on how much less we’ve made use of the Band Instrumental Skills work than we used to.  When I asked myself why this was the case, I realised that it was because it is a lot of hassle for us to rejig the layout of the room to suit this approach.  This is especially true with the drum kits, it’s virtually impossible to move everything for a band skills lesson Period 1 and then get it ready for an informal learning lesson Period 2.  Many discussions that we’ve had in the Music Department have highlighted that we will be using the instrumental skills methods a lot more and, therefore, something needed to change. 
How popular musicians learn
Casually re-reading some of How Popular Musicians Learn , without really thinking about the above, I found myself reflecting on the importance of some of the very early ‘bands’ that people get in.  I’m sure that I’m not the only person who was in a band with three singer/guitarists and nothing else!  Although this leaves a seemingly eternal desire to have people playing bass, keys and drums, it also allows for an incredible amount of peer learning.  The opportunity to learn new chords, licks and techniques from someone who then wanted to learn something from you was invaluable.  
When you make the transition from these ‘everyone plays the same instrument bands’ to a ‘real’ band, the type of learning changes and you become the ensemble’s expert on your instrument.  In many respects, the band skills element of non-formal teaching reflects these early ‘bedroom bands’, while the informal learning approach better reflects the ‘garage bands’.  I feel that our pupils currently have more to learn form the ‘bedroom band’ setup and, as a result, our existing classroom layout would prove wholly inadequate.  
Our current layout
Before explaining what we will be using in future, it’s probably important to show what we have now.  The first thing that most teachers say when they see our workstations is that they must have been expensive to create.  In many respects, the answer is ‘yep, they cost a bomb’ but they weren’t created overnight.  The original version of the workstation mostly used components that were in the school when I arrived, plus a mixer and headphone splitter.  They were just three keyboards connected together to allow ensemble playing.  Eventually, I found the funds to add a computer and electric guitar to some of the stations.  These ‘version 2’ stations looked like this (please excuse the quality of the photo)…
I was never happy with the keyboard dominated version of the station, so I kept trying to find ways to add drum kits and a bass.  When I found instruments that were cheap enough, I bought them in and created workstations that looked more like this (note that the guitar and bass are out of shot)…
These stations work brilliantly and have been the cornerstone of many of our lessons.  If anyone wants to duplicate them, I’ve created a simple connections diagram below.  If you have any questions, feel free to tweet or email me. 
What next?
Our next step is straightforward, we need to adapt the workstations to emphasise the learning of the same instrument.  I don’t want to adversely effect the workflow of our existing KS4 and KS5 classes, who depend on the mic, MIDI keyboard and the ability to quickly add additional instruments to the station, so these characteristics need to stay in place.  I also want to keep one workstation available with every instrument permanently attached (allowing us to quickly record a conventional band when necessary).  We will, therefore, keep one workstation for this purpose and call it the ‘ensemble workstation’ using our best audio interface (with eight inputs).  
The new workstations will have five of the same instrument attached, plus the MIDI controller keyboard and mic.  The wiring diagram for each is presented below. 
Instrument workstations

 Ensemble workstation
We already have one workstation using multiple inputs of an audio interface and this will remain unchanged.  Its wiring diagram is below.  
This new configuration will only require five workstations compared to our existing six.  This gives us the luxury of an additional Mac, mixer, mic, etc that can be used for a variety of purposes.  We already have two macs that are used as flexible stations with a focus on individual work and, as a result, we can convert the old workstation into an additional ‘flexi-station’, which would look like this. 
Classroom layout

I must admit that I’m slightly concerned that this new setup won’t fit in the classroom.  We have a grand piano in the middle of the room already and that takes up quite a bit of room.  I’m thinking that the easiest solution is to lay out the stations as far from each other as possible around the outside of the room, giving us the ability to take up some space in the middle as required. 

What about the rest of the department?
This year, we finally managed to gain a second classroom that is used mostly by the Music Department.  For security reasons, we cannot keep computers in there, so we largely use this as a room for rehearsing ensembles and classroom workshopping.  It works perfectly for this and I have no desire to change this role.  
We also have two practice rooms and, at present, these are used mostly for band rehearsals.  We are, however, noticing a dramatic increase in pupils taking up instrumental lessons, so I intend to make the rooms better suited to this purpose.  Pupils also like to use these rooms as vocal booths when they are recording ‘polished’ versions of their work, so I’d like to retain the Mac and mic that is in each one.  
Has anyone else done this?
I’d love to know if anyone else out there has designed this sort of setup and, if so, I’d really appreciate being able to discuss it.  Anyone else that has observations, do please feel free to contact me about it – I’m not closed to the idea that I’m doing something stupid!