Product spotlight: Focus on Sound

February 28, 2013 10:55 am by Emma Cooper

Created specifically for schools by a former teacher and examiner, Focus on Sound offers two comprehensive reference resources which help teach and assess listening skills and musical knowledge. Fully hosted online, they can be accessed anywhere, including on tablets and smartphones, and provide a great resource for the classroom as well as homework and revision opportunities.

Instruments features an extensive range of classical, jazz, folk, rock, pop and world music instruments, all demonstrated with images, video and audio examples. Furthermore, it provides advice for students and parents on what might be an appropriate instrument for them to take up. Sound Words is aimed at developing the listening skills required to identify the main terms at GCSE and A level, and provides clear definitions which are illustrated with video, audio and musical examples.

Built-in testing and assessment of the instrument and terminology knowledge allows you to monitor the progress of your students’ understanding and indentify weaknesses.

Focus on Sound has recently joined the Music Sales family of companies, and works nicely alongside Rhinegold Education’s printed resources. We caught up with the product’s creator, Simon Foxall, to find out more…

What led you to devise Focus on Sound?

As a class teacher myself there never seemed to be enough time to assemble materials like recordings, videos, listening tests and music scores. I felt the need to have somewhere I could find all these things really quickly, then be able to demonstrate them on a whiteboard or large screen. Something that was really easy to use, that provided lots of teacher/student interaction, and that the students could follow up with later in the lesson or at home.

Also, as a head of department I was always being asked to provide assessment grades and marks for students I’d often only see for one lesson a week. I wanted to devise a system that would give easy feedback on their strengths and weaknesses in all the main areas. The other thing I found was that at parents’ evenings I was frequently asked to suggest an instrument a student might take up, which is really hard to do.

Finally, as an examiner for Edexcel and OCR, I came to realise that the main reason students didn’t get high enough marks in the listening and analysis questions was that they simply didn’t know or understand the terminology. They didn’t really know what was meant by sequence, call and response, homophonic, recapitulation, etc. With Sound Words the students can test themselves until they really understand. Or, using the special whiteboard test mode the teacher can interact with the class.

What benefits will teachers see?

Younger pupils will rapidly build up real knowledge of instruments, timbre and the music of other cultures. GCSE and A level students will develop a thorough understanding of the terminology that underpins the exams. Above all, the software is about enhancing the students’ listening skills over a wide age range – from 10 to 18.

What’s your favourite element of the resource and why?

I’ve really enjoyed developing the videos. It took ages to find all the young musicians, and some of them really took my breath away. We had a wonderful young drummer, Ian Lewis, who demonstrated loads of grooves together with a brilliant young bass player Sean Davey. We were really lucky to get Mehboob Nadeem and Sanju Sahai on one of their brief stopovers in the UK between international engagements – they’re stunning exponents of the sitar and tabla. I’m also really thrilled about finding our Brazilian percussion player, Adriano Adewale. He’s an absolutely extraordinary musician with tons of genuine charisma. Students will love him.

How can people buy it?

Teachers can buy it direct from our website.

What do your customers say?

We’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback so far. A teacher wrote to me a couple of days ago to talk about how he had used the class testing mode:

I’m using the level 1 test on Orchestral Instruments as the basis for a year 7 Boys vs. Girls competition – it’s going down a storm! The students are really getting into it – from a listening to a fact recall side, they are really picking up so much – and it’s your product at the heart of it!  Brilliant stuff!

For a short demonstration of Focus on Sound, watch the YouTube video here.

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