Skills Lab Academy: Professional Training for Music Leaders

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As our practical training programme, Skills Lab Academy comes to the end of its 2023 season, we’ve asked participants to reflect on their experiences. Trainee Music Leader, Charlie, looks back at his experience from March’s session ‘Music Making with Others’.

Defying train strikes, I traveled by car to East London from my home in Suffolk. Having been involved as a trainee co-leading classes on one of their Primary Schools Projects this year, I was looking forward to being back in this area for the next session of Skills Lab!

James Redwood sculpted the group into an array of seating arrangements, showing us how it feels to be in a circle, lined up in height order or grouped in a huddle, and let us feel the seismic shifts as he subtly altered his position in the group as a leader. An expert on leading group jamming sessions, he taught us a song which brought everyone together singing a section: 

“Hello *name*,  

How are you today?  

Hello *name*,  

What are you going to play?”.  

This was followed by a section where the selected soloist would play a solo on their instrument. He made this accessible for any level of musician by playing music using the white notes on a piano, but playing in D Dorian to make it sound magical. As an example, he used a woodblock which featured only those notes. He then flipped this around, teaching us a song which uses only the black notes on a piano for a participant to solo with whilst he plays sparkly chords underneath. He also talked about using pivot harmony to fake being an amazing sounding pianist by ear, taking a single note and then re-harmonising it with any chord you can think of as a gateway to playing around with more interesting harmonies. I tried it, it’s magic!  

For James’ grand finale in the morning, he showed us a fantastic exercise by spitting us into three break-out groups. Using notes from the Dorian scale, each group was asked to come up with a repeating pattern. Group One = 3 beat pattern; Group Two = 4 beat pattern; Group Three = 5 beat pattern. All the groups would play their patterns simultaneously, and the patterns would come back together on beat 60. A very accessible and clever introduction to minimalism. I was asked to come up with a chord progression in D dorian to play underneath the repeating patterns. I miscounted the beats, so it did not come together at 60, and James took ‘the hit’ and said it was his fault that it did not work, great leadership as I was pretty embarrassed that I had miscounted the beats under the pressure. Even though it did not finish at the correct time, it sounded fantastic and we all got the idea. I am definitely going to try this exercise in future workshops.  

In the afternoon we were joined by BBC Concert Orchestra violinist Sarah Freestone, who was discussing techniques for co-creating music with others. She discussed a plethora of techniques, and we tried one where we were shown a picture of an island in break-out groups. We were asked to imagine what the island would look like if it was inhabited by beings on another planet. Our group had no trouble dreaming up an island with sixteen suns made out of ice-cream and trees made out of candyfloss. We switched the drawing of our island with another group’s island, and set about creating music inspired by their picture. We ended up having to create music for a skull island (completely out of our sugar-coated comfort zone). Working from a drawing was an interesting catalyst to music making, which fired up everybody’s imagination and forced us to make music outside our usual comfort zones!  

These were merely my highlights, I left the day with many more compositional techniques and co-creation ideas! The music leaders packed a great deal into the day, and I left with a bright bouquet of new ideas. I look forward to planting these ideas in future music workshops, and I can’t wait to see what flowers will be grown by the participants.  


Written by Charlie Law, a Singer-Songwriter and Music Leader based in Suffolk, UK.  


Our last session of Skills Lab Academy 2023 is on 22nd May: ‘Skills Lab: Youth Voice’ will give participants a clear understanding of what is meant by the term ‘youth voice’, and explore how to effectively plan creative music projects with this concept at its heart.

The last few remaining tickets are still available to buy here. We hope to see you there!