I Don’t Know How You Do It

I Don't Know How You Do It - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersHow often do we say ‘I don’t know how you do it’, when – really – we do? It’s easy to assume others have hidden talents we don’t. But we all have things we are good at that we just take for granted.

How Do You Do It?

I was having coffee, just earlier today, with a dear friend. I was talking about some composing work that may be coming may way. He said ‘I don’t know how you do it’. To which I replied ‘what?’. ‘Just make something up, out of no-where’ he replied.

The friend in question is an architect. I asked him ‘well, how do you go about designing a house?’. He then proceeded to explain that he would begin with a plot of land (this was represented by the cutlery and condiments on our table). Then, he would see where the access to the property would be (a spoon became the gateway). Next, he would note whether a road ran alongside (a napkin). And, he would consider which way was North, in relation to the property, to see where the natural light would fall.

Given these parameters, he would decide where best to position the house, so that there may be privacy from the road. Ideally this would allow space for a garden to the South side, to make best use of the sunshine. He would consider, perhaps, having a kitchen somewhere where the evening light may fall upon a window (a pepper-pot) and locate a garage (salt-cellar) near to the entrance, where it would not obscure any views.

The Same Process

‘Well, it’s the same process’, I said. I will ascertain how long a piece of music needs to be; what sections are required. what instrumentation is desirable. Often – if it is a commission – I will be given a ‘guide track’, which will provide a ready-made set of parameters. From this, I can deduce: tempo; style; genre; degrees of texture and ‘layers’; whether there are repetitions and motifs; whether the piece is melodic, atonal or abstract. Once these constraints are in place, it is more or less a question of filling in the spaces.

We both agreed that the difficult bit is then to find some kind of inspiration to do the creative bit. And where that comes from is hard to define. However, once you have essentially created a playground within which to play (whether musically, visually, dramatically or whatever), then it really is just a matter of playing. Ring any bells? Of course it does!

Let Them Loose

As a teacher, you follow this process all the time. You give your pupils a set of parameters within which to operate and essentially let them loose. Obviously, if the underlying subject is mathematics, then the children won’t be allowed to roam too far. But in more creative subjects, they have freedom to explore.

As someone whose connection with education is through creative movement (or – for want of a better term – ‘dance’), it is often apparent to me that many teachers are a little intimidated by this subject. Many ask ‘how do you do that?’ – or, more often, ‘how should I do that?’. To which, the answer is: you don’t have to. Or rather, you don’t have to do anything beyond your already considerable capabilities.

What? Me?

‘What? Me? Considerable capabilities?’. Yes. You. Stop and think for a moment. How many people outside of the teaching profession think to themselves ‘how do they do that?’. I can tell you: a good many. Plenty of people – myself included – would be filled with dread at the thought of having to inspire, lead and nurture young people on a daily basis. What you do is, in short, amazing.

So, any fears you may be harbouring over teaching subject areas that fall outside your natural comfort zone are unfounded. Especially when you pause to consider that you do know how to teach. And, by extension, you can teach anything. Very much like designing a house or composing a piece of music, it really is just a question of defining your playground. Once your pupils understand the parameters within which they are allowed to play, they will naturally get on and do that: play.

You Already Know

And what is primary education at its best, if not structured play? Interestingly, in demonstrating to me how he designs a house, my friend resorted to a form of play. Our table top became the playground and our imaginations did the playing. So, in answer to the question: ‘how do you do that?’, the answer is quite simple: ‘you already know’.


Unexpected Inspiration

Do ‘Something’

Unexpected Inspiration

Unexpected Inspiration - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersSometimes, inspiration can come from an unexpected source. So, we need to keep an open mind and avoid pre-judging those around us. You never know where your next source of unexpected inspiration may be lurking. Possibly right under your nose…

Cheeky Young Thing

Over the Christmas break, I met – as is the tradition – with members of my extended family. One of whom, is a cheeky young thing who works as a sports coach in schools. He also runs a local girls’ football team. We’ll call him Dan.

On the surface, this young chap seems like a ‘blokey’ bloke. By his own admit ion, he was never academically gifted. And his language is peppered with youthful jargon. So, when Dan chose a career in sports, nobody was too surprised. But any assumptions that this reflects a lack of sensitivity or emotional maturity on his part are seriously misguided.

Creative Thinking

Over the course of our conversation, my admiration for this young man – which was already considerable – grew. He displays a remarkable degree of creative thinking and a real depth of psychological understanding. It’s quite possible that Dan is, himself, unaware of these talents. Nonetheless, he applies them to great effect.

When Dan began coaching girls at his local football club, take-up was low and expectations even lower. He realised, however, that the important thing was the girls felt this was their club. Moreover, he identified the fact that the parents also needed to be invested in their daughters’ efforts.

Parental Interest

Previously, parents had dutifully ferried their children to and from games and training. They would gather on the touchline and have a chat, whilst their little one got on with whatever it was they were doing. So, without meaning to, they were giving the signal that they were either not interested or did not believe in what their youngsters were achieving.

Dan set about involving parents in subtle ways. They would run the touchline, provide refreshments and organise end-of-season festivities. Over time, it became as much their club as their offspring. Correspondingly, the children felt this was now something about which their parents cared and in which they took an interest.

Raising Spirits

One girl’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Dan knew he would not be qualified to provide any counselling. He also understood the importance of respecting boundaries. So, he sought a way in which he could raise this girl’s spirits and also relieve any awkwardness among her teammates.

He struck on the idea of telling jokes to the girls on the journeys to and from their various matches and tournaments. The internet, of course, is an endless source of material. With a little judicious searching, it was possible to find age-appropriate (and sometimes awful) puns, jokes and riddles to while away the miles.

So, Dan was able to find a way of diverting a troubled young girl’s attention away from her worries, without singling her out. This helped create an environment of togetherness for all the girls. And it has become embedded within the club’s culture, long after the girl in question’s mother has made a full recovery.

Support & Respect

The team has grown in numbers and strength. Various age-groups are now catered for. And additional coaches have been engaged to help with the club’s growing popularity. All of which has been achieved through an understanding of the team as individuals. They are young people with needs and concerns. And each wants to feel the support and respect of their friends and family.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Dan’s day job is in sports in primary education. He clearly understands the importance of ownership for his young charges. He can teach all he likes but it only becomes meaningful to the youngsters if they feel that the achievement is theirs. Similarly, he recognises the value of inclusion. All are welcome and each is valued.

False Assumption

So, any assumptions I may have made about this beer-drinking, football-loving young geezer were wrong. Dan gives each of his young charges the opportunity to show their worth. And he understands the importance of including those around them. The youngsters, therefore, feel supported and their families share both the responsibilities and rewards.

Unexpected Inspirational Leaders

Whilst these principals may be familiar to all educators and facilitators, we can do well to afford the same courtesy to those about us. We may inadvertently make assumptions about our peers that we would not about our pupils and children. You never know what talents may lie hidden within your colleagues – or, indeed, family members. Nor can we always guess where the next inspirational leader may be lurking!


Women’s & Girl’s Football – The FA

PE… or Not PE?


Ask The Universe

Ask The Universe - Dance NOtes creativity blog for teachersSometimes it’s good to stop and ask yourself what you really want. It’s a common pastime, this time of year. But how often do you ask yourself – or the universe – “what could I do with, right now”?

New Age Thinking?

This may be, for some, straying uncomfortably close to esoteric thinking. It could be the kind of ‘ask and you will receive’ New Age-ism that makes you want to fetch a bucket. But bear with me: it’s not all crystals and unicorns.

The fact is, whatever the processes and mechanisms, focusing on an aim or aspiration can yield surprising results. And there really is no mystery here. When we apply our thinking to something we would like to happen, it is more likely to occur. (I expect we have all had the experience of bumping into someone we had just thought of for the first time in ages.)

Stacking The Odds

The reason is that we are mentally creating the environment needed for that particular outcome. This may lead us to look something or someone up, go to an appropriate location or take part in a relevant event. That way, the odds begin to stack in favour of what it is we hope to achieve.

Which takes us back to an idea discussed in an earlier post.  The strategy of just doing something when we may feel there is nothing to be done. It also echoes thoughts, expressed in these pages, about not worrying unduly about specific outcomes. The key to moving on, after all, is to move.

Shifting Thought-Processes

And this may not necessarily mean physical action. The ‘moving’ may require a period of stillness:  stopping that which may be the cause of a blockage in the first place. We can then allow our thought-processes to shift. And then ‘actual’ movement may follow.

The hippy element of our community (of which I may or may not be a member) sometimes likes to speak of ‘asking the universe’. You may prefer to think, rather, of focusing on your desires. Or, perhaps, following your dreams. All of which may sound a little dramatic. On a mundane level, however, it can’t hurt to spend a little time considering what you really want: now; this afternoon; in five-years’ time. Give it a go: you may be pleasantly surprised.

Good Creative Teaching

When it comes to our children and pupils, they are generally quite adept (again, particularly at this time of year) at voicing their wants and desires. And how often do we counter with ‘yes, but right now you should be thinking about…’? There is a school of thought that the word ‘should’ is best avoided. If we can replace it with ‘could’, then the focus shifts from requirement to possibility. And this, I would suggest, is the essence of good creative teaching.

So, rather than asking yourself and the children in your care ‘what should we do?’, try asking ‘what would we like?’. As with all things, it may not lead to quite what you expect. But at least you will be heading in a direction of your own choosing.

Happy creative travels!


Knowing When To Stop

Do Something

Dance Notes’ Creative Partner: Make a Move

Just Do One Thing

Just Do One Thing - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersI was talking with a friend the other day. He runs his own business, so needs to be creative in his daily thinking. He offered a great nugget of wisdom, which was this: if you are going online, just do one thing.

Now, this may sound rather limiting but it is good advice. The internet, as we all know, is like an endless rabbit warren. You go online to look for one thing and invariably end up, after some time has elapsed, somewhere else entirely.

Use or Be Used

So, my friend’s counsel is actually very wise. It represents the difference between using the internet as the amazing tool it can be and falling prey to its endless possibilities. But, surely, possibility is a good thing? Well, yes, it is. However, it’s the ‘endless’ bit that is problematic.

Whether you are a teacher, an assistant, a carer or a parent, you don’t have limitless amounts of time available. But it’s when we have the least amount to spare that we are drawn into wasting it through appealing diversions. So, we need to build ourselves a strategy to avoid this happening.

Subtle Manipulation

Generally, you will go online because you either need to look something up, find something out or fulfill a web-based task (say, filling out a form). The internet is so full of well-designed distractions, that it is very rare that you will only perform that one task. An ad will pop-up, directly in response to something you previously looked at; or a video clip will automatically launch into another, once it has finished; or you will be redirected to another page, once you have filled something in… and so on.

These things feel helpful at first but are actually subtle forms of manipulation. So, it is important to tell yourself, at the outset, that you won’t be drawn into engaging with whatever else appears, once you have completed the task in hand. Or, even, before you get to the thing you want to do.

Drive for Efficiency

But, you say, some of these things are useful. Yes, of course they are. But they aren’t what you are looking for right now. So, the thing to do is to make a note of the article, web address, email, company name, telephone or whatever it is that has caught your attention. You can then come back to deal with at a later time.

Again, you may argue that this is surely inefficient. Why not make the most of your time online now and get multiple tasks out of the way? And this is the real stumbling block: the constant drive for ‘efficiency’. Ironically, that imperative is the cause of a whole world of procrastination, diversion and inappropriate time wasting.

Mentally & Physically Refresh

What’s more, our brains aren’t built to cope with constant input. It is far better to do one thing and physically remove yourself from the computer, phone, tablet or implant (only a matter of time… and then, of course, it will be too late). Simply by moving away from your device, you will give your brain a chance to refresh. And the chances are it will then come up with something else you really do need to accomplish.

Even if this then means returning to your screen, you will have had some mental space. If you’ve also walked away, you’ll have had a chance to physically realign too. Let’s not forget the bodily demands of sitting in one position for prolonged periods, either.

The Here & Now

Children are often chided for not being able to stay in one place for more than a short time. Perhaps we should view this as a positive thing. Let’s allow them to roam, fidget, dance and play, in between the more focused tasks expected of them.

And, while we’re at it, we should only expect them to perform one task at a time. It’s what children are good at, being – in the main – firmly rooted in the here and now. It’s something we adults can often only aspire to.  So, perhaps we should let the children be our guides in that respect.

Just Finishing One Thing?

As they get older, our children too may be drawn into the vortex of online confusion. But it’s our duty to not only make them aware of the inherent dangers but also stand as fitting role models. And we can’t do that if we’re too busy ‘just finishing this off’ online!


Selfies & Photos (KS2)

We Are What We Eat (KS1)

Our creative partners: Make a Move

It’s Good to Talk

It's Good to Talk - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersThis week, I was reminded of the importance of getting out and talking to other creative people. Ironically, I’m writing this as I sit by myself in a railway-station bar…


In my defense, I have just come from a ‘networking event’. Yes, that phrase makes me shudder too. It conjures images of  a room full of people, desperately selling themselves to one another. However, such occasions do have their merits.

We began, as is often the case, with an opportunity to chat informally. A panel of ‘experts’ then spoke on a topic that united us all. Next, a live act was introduced to entertain us. At least, I’m told they were there. From the  back, I couldn’t see and they were – frankly – ignored by all and sundry. And, finally, we were set free for some ‘B2B’ (business-to-business) networking.

As you may gather, the horrible corporate language is not something I hold dear. Neither are the specifics of this occasion of any particular relevance, so I won’t bore you with those. However, how the evening panned out for me personally was, I think, interesting and informative.


I suspect I was not alone in feeling this was an evening I ought to attend. At the same time, the idea of having to impress myself on a room full of strangers was daunting. Add to this the suspicion that everyone else present was more successful, talented and self-assured than me and you can imagine my discomfort.

BUT… there’s a very good chance that many, if not most, people present were feeling the same way. So, the only thing for it was to dive in, introduce myself and talk to people. Mostly, this led to genuinely interesting conversations and a reminder that it is, after all, good to talk. In a couple of instances, it also paved the way for what could be fruitful partnerships.

Simply Connect

The truth be told, I did actually make to leave, following the panel presentation. Fortunately, an instinct persuaded me to say hello to some people who had nipped outside for a cigarette. Somehow, this felt less intimidating than competing with the apparently super-confident throng at the bar inside. Thus emboldened, I returned to the fray and did manage to connect with some people there.

Again, the details are unimportant but common interests were established and emails exchanged. Whether or not anything concrete will materialise from these brief encounters is far from certain. However, the simple fact of having made connections felt like justification for making the journey. More importantly, it has also been a catalyst for looking again at some aspects of my work.

Overcoming Negative Feelings

Two things strike me about this experience, when thinking of its relevance to children’s’ education. The first is that the feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness are routed in memories from my own childhood. This makes me think it is of vital importance to do all we can, as educators, to help our pupils overcome such negative feelings.

Self-worth is a powerful currency. Sadly, it is all too often confined to a measure of ‘success’ or aptitude. However, the ability to be open, friendly, attentive and empathetic is arguably of greater value. Children need to be encouraged to recognise their own worth. If they see that others share their own innate shyness, awkwardness and lack of confidence, they will be more able to talk freely with one another later in life.

Shall We?

So, the second point is that how we get beyond those potential limitations is by connecting with others. Every project, collaboration, play, band, orchestra or dance company will have begun with a simple conversation. Somebody will have said to somebody else ‘shall we have a go at this?’ or ‘shall we try that?’.

I, like many, have made a career in the creative arts, in spite of constant doubts about my own capabilities. And I can report that just about every professional situation in which I have found myself has come about through a chance encounter. People often say ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. The implication is that those who have succeeded have had special access to the right people.

The fact is they have sought-out or happened upon the ‘right’ people. And they have done this by putting themselves in appropriate situations, regardless of any discomfort they may have felt. They have persevered, in spite of their personal misgivings.

Worth the Effort

And the real point is not that through mingling and networking we can all became famous artists. That is only ever going to happen to a select few. No, the point is that we can all benefit, both creatively and as human beings, by being more connected and open.

In the digital age, real-life interaction is more important than ever. It may feel intimidating, sometimes, to approach people we don’t already know. But it is always worth the extra effort. It really is good to talk.


Ourselves (KS2)

Rough & Tumble (KS2)

Our Creative Partners: Make a Move

What is Your Personal Truth?

your personal truth - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersAttending a comedy event last week, something struck me about what makes a successful act. Each performer needs to deliver a version of his or her personal truth. This is as true for a painter as it is a stand-up comic, as it is a singer.

Immersive Collaboration

The evening in question was hosted by an old friend I’d not seen for some time. He was a lecturer on the Performing Arts degree course at the university where I studied. One of the great strengths of that establishment was the amount of crossover between different disciplines. Therefore, as a ‘straight’ music student, I was able to immerse myself in collaboration with dancers and actors, as well as musicians from other backgrounds.

We chatted about how many former students from the university are still active in their chosen creative field. What all seem to agree is that we were given an environment in which we could explore, make mistakes and learn to ‘have a go’. In so doing, we learnt to put our whole selves into whatever challenges were thrown our way.

Sincere Commitment

Which brings me back to my starting point this week. In order to fully immerse yourself in a creative task, you need to be sincere in your commitment to it. And the only way for that to succeed is by finding your own truth within the art you are conveying.

Even – or especially – actors need to heed this advice. Clearly, their craft entails adopting personae that are, in once sense, ‘fake’. However, for a part to be believable to an audience, it must also be believed by its performer. So, the actor will find their own truth within a role and convey that via the character.

Deeper Engagement

But what relevance does this have to creative work with children? Actually, a great deal. If a child performs – say – a sequence of dance moves that have been given him or her by their teacher, they will, most likely, simply recreate the physical motion. Whereas, should they be invited to think of their own moves, they will instantly be engaged on a deeper level.

Now, they have ownership of their craft. The movements will reflect their feelings and beliefs in relation to the subject. And, of course, this will stem from what is true for them. Which is why, once set a task to create something on a particular theme, most pupils will find it hard to contain themselves. Ideas are not a scarcity for children – and the most valuable of all are their own.

Sharing Our Truths

By delving into their own truths, children are engaged on an emotional, psychological and physical level, all at once. We all have a physical response to our ideas and feelings. Sadly, much of the time, these impulses have nowhere to go. Through physical creative work, however, we can all – children and adults alike – give shape to our own individual truths.

Not only that but we can then see, hear or feel the truths of those around us. These can then be assessed and appreciated. We can discuss the relative merits of each and perhaps incorporate them into our own thinking. And isn’t that much healthier than typing our respective viewpoints furiously into social media?!


The Circus (KS1)

Circus (KS2)

Middlesex University Department of Performing Arts

Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

See, Hear & Experience!

See, hear, experience - Dance Notes creativity blog for teachersTo keep creative, it’s good to maintain a healthy level of regular input. So, be sure to get out there. Go see, hear & experience new art in all its myriad forms, as often as you can.

Last week, I went to see Rambert dance company. They were performing three new works by contemporary choreographers. All three were hugely inspiring. Each had a very different flavour from the next and the audience was rapt throughout.


Before going to this show, I had taken a look through the program, together with a dancer friend. We had both recognised two of the choreographers but had not heard of the third. The piece she had created turned out to be – for me at least – the highlight of the evening.

So, on returning home, I looked up the person in question. She has worked as a dancer with a number of big-name pop stars. But her breakthrough as a choreographer came though her work with one Christine & The Queens. This was a wonderful coincidence from my point of view. You may remember, I previously mentioned the inclusion of dancers within several of this year’s Glastonbury headline acts. And the pick of those was – for me – Christine & The Queens.

Creative Touchstones

I find it fascinating to see which things resonate with me and how certain artists have a tendency to pop up repeatedly. This particular artist’s name is Marion Motin. I would urge you to seek-out her work and, if you get the chance, go along to see her piece ‘Rouge’ performed by Rambert dance.

But that’s just me. You must have your own creative touchstones. People who inspire you, perhaps in unfathomable ways. Performances that make you want to rush out and create your own masterpiece – whatever that may be.

The Stimulation Our Children Need

And, of course, the same is not only true of us but even more so for our children and pupils. At a time in which the creative arts are arguably undervalued, it is important that we do all we can to ensure our young charges get the stimulation they crave and need. This can be as simple as going to a local art gallery, attending a local theatre or listening to a concert.

And, in this digital age, I would suggest that experiencing these things ‘live’ and unfiltered is of particular importance. Any piece of art relies, to a large extent, on its audience. Viewing images of art works on a screen is not the same as standing among other gallery-goers and feeling their awe, wonder or – perhaps – indifference. Sensing the tension within the audience around you at a theatrical event is a completely different experience to watching the same performance on a television screen.

Making The Effort

So, whilst any exposure to art can only be a good thing, a certain amount of effort is required to maximise the impact of the experience. We need to mobilise ourselves to go out ‘there’; find the interesting stuff; seek what challenges us and remain creatively fresh. As role models for our youngsters, they too will benefit from seeing our engagement with the arts. And, as we all know, it doesn’t take much to pique their curiosity.

Happy hunting.


Alice in Wonderland (KS2)

Space (KS1)

Our creative partner: Make a Move


Knowing When to Stop

knowing when to stop - dance notes creativity blogKnowing when to stop can be difficult. It’s all very well having strategies and techniques for generating creative activity. But, how do you know when it’s time to switch off?

An Endless Task

I spoke previously about separating out your inner ‘creator’ from your ‘craftsperson’. Generally, in my case at least, the former will know when an idea has run its course. However, the polishing and finessing can – if you’re not careful -become an endless task. Or at least, you may easily overlook when it would be a good time to take a break.

To give a recent example, I was working on a new piece of music last week. The initial idea had arrived some time ago whilst tinkering at the piano and I had stored this for later use. Bringing it into the digital realm, I was able to play around with different sounds, rhythms and textures. All of which is a fun process and one in which I tend to become very absorbed.

When Enough is Enough

The hard part is to know when enough extra layers and sounds are enough. Similarly, finding new sections to complement the original seed idea can be challenging. These need to be consistent in tone and style, yet provide enough contrast to make for an interesting whole. Plus, of course, you are always looking for a satisfying beginning, middle and end to any creative project.

Working digitally has its advantages and disadvantages, as we have discussed. The upside is that anything is possible. The downside is – you’ve guessed it – anything is possible. Even once parameters have been set, a structure has been established and a solid framework built, there is still scope to get lost amid all that possibility.

A Kind of Madness

For me, a kind of madness seems to set in. I reach a state in which I can’t leave the thing alone. I am constantly drawn back to see what would happen if I cut this, tweaked that or rewrote the other. And this is the point at which there is only one solution. Just walk away.

In the cold light of a new day, everything invariably becomes much clearer. So, if you find yourself in this situation – whether composing, painting, dancing or any other creative activity – try to recognise the fact that it’s OK to leave. The thing won’t disappear, just because you have left it for a few hours. It will almost certainly reveal what excited you about it in the first place, when you return at a later time.

Time to Leave

In the meantime, it’s a great idea to physically remove yourself form the situation. If your project is computer-based, switch off and leave the room. If it’s studio work, go outside. In fact, going out into the open is never a bad thing to do. Fresh air, wide horizons and even the change in temperature can be instantly restorative.

So, if you are stuck on something at this moment, you have my permission. Take a break. Now. Put the kettle on; go for a walk; have a lie down – whatever works for you. Then feel the difference when you come back, refreshed.


Plants & Growing (KS2)

The Environment (KS2)

The Scented Garden (KS1)

Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

Under Pressure

under pressure - dance notes blogToday being World Mental Health Day,  it was a nice coincidence to find myself reflecting on a recent mentoring success. This was with an Asperger’s sufferer who was feeling under pressure. The keys to this breakthrough appear to have been space and respect. And both were applied by the student himself. Let me  explain.

Shut Off

Some friends asked me, a couple of years ago, if I could help their son with his music making. For the purposes of this article, we’ll call him Tom. Tom had been studying music at school and doing well. However, he has a form of Asperger’s that means he has a tendency to shut off if he feels under too much pressure. Tom’s teacher had spotted his potential and tried to provide plenty of encouragement. Unfortunately, this had the effect of making him withdraw and lose confidence in his abilities. So much so, Tom was in danger of giving up music altogether.

So, Tom’s parents asked if there might be anything I could do to help. They were most keen for him to rediscover his creativity and were not overly concerned about academic achievement. He knew and liked my music, so they thought I would be someone he could trust and respect. Whilst they live at some distance from me, I said I would see what I could do remotely.

Flexible Arrangement

We decided that the best approach would be for this to be a flexible arrangement. Rather than keeping to fixed times or days, Tom and I would have an ongoing dialogue. Tom could share his ideas and thoughts with me and I would provide feedback. I could also give him a window into my working life; sharing thoughts on things that motivate and inspire me as they arise.

Over the following months, we sent emails back and forth. Tom would sometimes send a YouTube clip of him working on a piano piece or singing with his guitar. I would comment on his work; pointing out composers that may appeal to his style and making gentle suggestions about where to take things next. I also let Tom know about music to which I had been listening, radio programs that may interest him; gigs I had played or attended, and so on.

Shared Interests

As someone to whom ‘teaching’ does not come very naturally, this situation felt very comfortable and real. We were just two people with a shared interest in music, swapping thoughts and ideas. The fact that I have experience of creating and performing for a living was largely irrelevant. But it was helpful in showing Tom his own potential. Once he could see that we are essentially no different from one another, this gave him licence to see his own ideas as valid and worthwhile.

There is absolutely no fault to be inferred on the part of Tom’s school teacher. It was simply unfortunate that well-meaning encouragement was perceived as unwanted pressure to achieve. Having said that, this is a constant danger, especially when we live and teach in an environment in which achievement is almost always expected. Ultimately, however, motivation has to come from pupils themselves for them to gain from their learning experiences.

Beyond Qualifications

In Tom’ s case, I am happy to report that he went on to study music at a Higher Education establishment. He continues to write  music and enjoy his own creativity. Not only that, but he recently gave his first live performance at a local festival. This, for him, was a huge achievement and way beyond anything qualifications or certificates could provide.

It feels as though what Tom most needed was validation. He wanted to know that what he was doing was OK and that his efforts were legitimate. I revealed to Tom my own haphazard thought processes and creative workings. And this showed him there is nothing special about me, even though he had admired my work for some time.

Space and Respect

Tom has therefore become able to believe in his own potential to do similar, if not better, work himself. The motivation was already within him. Now, he also has the self-respect and mental space to act upon it.


Ourselves (KS1)

We Are What We Eat (KS1)

Selfies & Photos

Our Creative Partner: Make  Move

a Creative Challenge…

a creative challenge make me something like thisThis week, I was presented with an interesting new creative challenge. Essentially, the task was ‘make me something like this’. But what does that mean?

The charity, Make a Move, with which Dance Notes has a close partnership, had been asked to produce some guided-meditation recordings for a client. Michelle, who heads the charity and is a key contributor to Dance Notes, asked if I could record her as she talked through the meditation. And this led to a new creative challenge


We convened in my studio and Michelle asked if she could have a track she liked playing in the background. To make things as authentic as possible, she also had a volunteer to guide through the meditation as we recorded her speaking. I explained that, in order to keep the voice recording clean, I would send the music to Michelle’s headphones. I would then mix the voice and music for the final recording.

But there was a catch. Michelle did not have permission to use this music commercially. So, I offered to make something from scratch. And this was where the creative challenge came in. Whereas I have produced many soundscapes in the past, this was specifically to aid relaxation and sleep.

Do Your Homework

So, how do you set about achieving something like this for the first time? Firstly, you do your homework. I listened to the tracks that Michelle had been using and noted their key characteristics. I then set about creating something new and distinct. Importantly, though, the music needed to share the qualities that enabled them to serve their function.

This reminded me of a time, a few years ago, when I was regularly creating music to order for commercials. I had a very good agent, who understood what information I would need in order to fulfill a creative brief. It is astonishing how few people have this skill, though it’s actually not too difficult once you appreciate what is needed.

A Bit Like This…

Many people, when commissioning a piece of music, will say ‘oh, a bit like x’ or ‘something atmospheric’ or ‘energetic’. The problem is that one person’s idea of ‘energetic’ or atmospheric’ will be quite different from another’s. Similarly, to simply say ‘like’ something is open to interpretation.

If you are asking someone to create a piece of music for you (or a painting, a sculpture, a dance, a film, etc.), what you really need to do is tell them what qualities it should have. It is undoubtedly useful to have some reference material. However, without knowing what it is about that piece of work that really matters, there is scope for a lot of misinterpretation and wasted effort.

The One Element

In the case of music, the composer will want to know whether it is the style, the beat, the sound-pallet, instrumentation, genre, dynamics or whatever that appeal from the guide track. I could create something that, to my ears, sounds a lot like a chosen track but miss the one element that actually makes it work for the person who chose it.

Fortunately, in this instance, I was able to have that conversation with Michelle. She explained that she liked the electronic sounds, the lack of meter, the constant dynamic and the harmonic qualities of the guide tracks. So, right from the start, I had a set of parameters within which to work. I was therefore able to quickly deliver what was required.

Finding Qualities Within

Similarly, when working with children in dance, it is good to avoid saying ‘move like x’. Rather, it is better to ask ‘how does x move – what are its qualities?’. Then your pupils can try to find those qualities within themselves, rather than simply mimicking something they think you want to see. It’s a subtle difference but an important one.

The creativity comes from internalising ideas and owning them. One could argue that children already spend too much time trying to produce, on demand, what is expected of them. In creative work, they have licence to do the unexpected and feel good about their individuality.

I May Just Cry

And if you are ever in a position to commission some music from me, please don’t ask ‘can you make something like x’. I may just cry.


Our Creative Partner: Make a Move

The Scented Garden (KS1)