Industry Voices – Richard Payne

Software is becoming an increasingly key part of music learning both in school and in out-of-school settings.  Matt was impressed by the range and approach of several MIA Members at the Music & Drama Education Expo in February, and has spoken with Richard Payne, Education Manager (UK & International) at MusicFirst, to find out more.

Tell us about MusicFirst, how it was established and what you do.

MusicFirst 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 anytime, anywhere.  Our team of music educators curates content, software, and hardware, and pairs it with the best support in the industry so that you can focus on what matters most: empowering your students to learn and make music.

How does this integrate with more traditional learning in music?

MusicFirst is a bit like an online tool kit, in that we provide the means for teachers to teach and students to learn. Although we include recommendations for age groups and key stages, our software can be used for any context the teacher wishes. For example, in a unit of work based on scales, the teacher could use a notation program alongside or in place of manuscript paper and a pencil, using Focus on Sound as a teaching resource similar to a PowerPoint presentation as well as using the same program for homework exercises and extended learning.

We cover performing, composing, listening, analysis, knowledge, history and music theory: we have a tool to help any musical activity you might wish to do in your music curriculum. We are all about supporting teachers to be as effective as possible, no matter how they teach music. 

 There are those who suggest that music theory and aural skills are no longer necessary, and that more free exploration of music is where it’s at.  What are your thoughts on this?

Our products can support either of those options, so in some ways it’s not a debate for us. All of the UK team have Music degrees and regularly play with ensembles, so we know and appreciate the importance of a good grounding in music theory and aural skills. Two of the team have been composers/arrangers, so we know how important it is for students to be free to explore musically too.

A lot depends on what a teacher is aiming at in their scheme of work. Preparation for formal exams such as instrumental exams or GCSE Music will require a key stage three that includes the more traditional aural and theory skill development. Equipping students to enjoy making and listening to music for the rest of their lives more informally might leave more time for free exploration. Using our software gives the teacher the option to do both – cover the ‘traditional’ aspects of music teaching whilst equipping students to explore on their own terms.

What’s your favourite album, and what’s the best live event you’ve been to?

That’s a tough question! Richard’s favourite album is Sting’s Field of Gold. For Matt Allen (Customer Support & Brand Ambassador, UK), it would probably be Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, with the best live event being either Sting and Paul Simon in concert at the O2, or playing with his son’s band, Puma Blue, at the Brixton Electric.

We love finding out more about our members, and it’s likely we’ll be knocking at your door with questions at some point.  If you’d like to beat us to it get in touch with Matt and he’ll send you a bespoke set of questions!

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