The basic curricular package on offer is ten hours per week, consisting of individual instruction, groupwork and practice. This basic package is supplemented by Music Weekends (usually one every third week), and workshops from touring professional artists.
We offer our S6 students a flexible package of SQA qualifications which lets them tailor the balance between their musical and academic commitments to suit their own forward planning. We offer National Progression Awards in Performing and Sound Production, a National 5 in Skills For Work – Creative Industries, and a small suite of optional units covering general musicianship skills.
All pupils of the Centre study two disciplines, and receive one 50 minute period per week of individual instruction in each of these disciplines. These two periods are classroom extraction periods, and every effort is made to minimise the disruption this inevitably causes. It is made clear to every Centre student that the onus is on them to catch up on work missed due to their music lessons.
In addition to instrumental and vocal technique and repertoire, the individual tuition also covers such topics as theory, harmony, and composition. From S3 onwards, accompaniment and harmony is a compulsory part of each student’s learning. This is done as a second study module which takes up half the school year, with the other half comprising a standard second study discipline.
Tutors devise a programme of instruction which is tailored to the needs of the individual student. Students are involved in their own learning, and often select specific material or types of material they wish to learn.
Much of the teaching is carried out without the use of written music. There is a strong emphasis on oral tradition in Scottish music, and students are encouraged to develop ear and memory skills at every stage. Although written music is often used in learning, the material is invariably memorised whether it is learned orally or from the printed page.
There is also a strong awareness of context and history in Scottish, as in most, traditional music, and tutors take care to make sure that students are made aware of the background, sources and history of the music they play. This extends also to contemporary compositions, and students are made to realise that they are part of a living and dynamic tradition which in addition to drawing from the past is constantly being refreshed.
Groupwork is a core part of the Centre’s work. Although there is a high level of individual instruction, the nature of traditional music is such that most performance is done in ensemble, and this is true of the performances of the Centre’s students.
Groupwork can take a number of different forms. At present the first half of the academic year is spent working in duos and trios. After Christmas, students are split by year groups and each year group becomes a “company” charged with the creation of a full length concert. This gives students the chance to continue to develop their band skills and even showcase their solo performing ability. Groupwork also includes singing and listening sessions, and there are opportunities for everybody to play together.
Students are encouraged to select and arrange their own material for groupwork. Tutor input to groupwork is more in the form of guidance than instruction, although more formal sessions are held on sound reinforcement and stagecraft skills.
If students play any instruments other than their two chosen studies, they can use these in groupwork, and everyone is encouraged to sing in the groups!
In the past, “unofficial” groups have been started by students on their own initiative, and this is something which is encouraged as long as it is not to the detriment of the official groupwork. Such groups are often used in performances and on recordings, and several have gone on to be very successful after leaving Plockton.
Practice time is a vital component of any musician’s development, and although one hour per day is allocated to practice, this should be viewed as no more than a minimum. Students have the option to choose which of the 2 evening practice sessions they do. Some students like to practice between 5:45pm and 6:45pm so that their day finishes earlier, while others prefer to opt into the Residence leisure activities and practice later between 7:45pm and 8:45pm. Senior students often have opportunities for extra practice during the day, and weekends are also a good time to fit in a little extra work.
This programme is monitored very closely and reviewed regularly. Evening practice is monitored, and often a tutor is present to assist. Students are encouraged to practise both individually and together, and are very supportive towards each other in the learning process.
The students have individual ‘Green’ folders which serve as practice diaries as well as a record of their individual lessons and groupwork sessions.
It is also possible, if circumstances warrant it, to occasionally alternate practice time with groupwork, or to substitute individual practice with extra groupwork if an important event is forthcoming.