Fostering Collaborative Music Learning During the Pandemic

A Partnership Between Hertfordshire Music Service and MusicFirst is helping with student engagement and overall mental health

Secondary schools in Hertfordshire county in the United Kingdom are finding that music and songwriting make a big difference in keeping their students engaged and connected during the pandemic, thereby helping students’ overall mental health.

Ben Stevens, Director of Music at Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS), helped drive the efforts to get more students to access audio solutions at home. Those solutions include Soundtrap’s online recording studio for music and podcasts – made possible through HMS’ partnership with MusicFirst with generous support from Arts Council England.

35 schools, nearly half the county’s secondary schools, are using MusicFirst and Soundtrap to enhance remote learning during the pandemic.

“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,” Stevens said. “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.”

Mark Taylor is the Director of Music at the Simon Balle School, one of the county’s secondary schools using Soundtrap during the pandemic. At Simon Balle School, one in three students learns an instrument from Year 2 to Year 13.

When COVID hit, students’ work on music compositions at Simon Balle did not stop. They were online and could continue their work with Soundtrap on an iPad or computer. 

Taylor notes: “Music is at the heart of what we do. Soundtrap engages students because they’re able to work at home and collaborate with other students remotely as a result of it being cloud-based and integrated into Google Classroom.”

Taylor added that students gravitate to various Soundtrap features, including songwriting, recording, and beats options that enable them to build a song from scratch.

The ability to collaborate remotely has been helpful for students during the pandemic. Taylor also emphasizes another critical facet of being able to use Soundtrap at home. “I always believe it’s hard to be creative on demand like ‘You’ve got to do your composition.’ And the fact that they can work on it at home, it gives them more independence.”

Ben Stevens also uses Soundtrap to help keep students who are disillusioned with school engaged in learning, serving as both a prevention and intervention tool.

“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.

On the prevention front, the goal is to provide a shared experience for young people where they can collaborate with other students and create their own music at home to keep them connected to school. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, at education support centers attended by students who have been expelled, Soundtrap and music serve a similar purpose.

“We engage them through music. It’s essentially an intervention, but it’s a mixture. It’s therapy. It’s education,” Stevens said.

About Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS)
Hertfordshire Music Service (HMS) is the lead organisation in the Hertfordshire Music Education Hub. HMS has been delivering outstanding music tuition in Hertfordshire for decades, and today over 450 staff teach more than 26,000 pupils every week. Its vision for 2020-30 is to ‘Enable all young people in Hertfordshire to discover or develop their own unique musical voice and express themselves through the language of music.’

About MusicFirst 
MusicFirst, the Digital Education Division of  Wise Music Group, was founded with one mission: to offer music teachers and their students easy-to-use, affordable, cloud-based solutions that enable music learning, creation, assessment, sharing, and exploration on any device, at any time, anywhere. The MusicFirst team is made up of current and former music educators with decades of experience with integrating technology effectively into the music curriculum.