Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing

On first hearing this album, I had no idea what it was, but I knew I loved it.

Contemporary music label Cantaloupe Music always produce challenging and interesting releases, and this album from 2004 is no exception. Pairing New York-based composers and musicians with Burmese percussionist Kyaw Kyaw Naing, the disc is a fascinating collaboration between very different, but strikingly similar, musical minds.

Naing’s instrument, the pat waing, is the standout sonic feature. This traditional instrument, comprising 21 different tuned drums, is at the heart of all the music on this disc. Rhythmically virtuosic, the sounds are new, striking, but always a joy to hear.

At the album’s core is a focus on rhythmic complexity, alongside (relative) harmonic and melodic simplicity. There is a common thread here; this musical aesthetic chimes with both Niang’s Burmese roots, and the ‘minimalist’ philosophy of pioneers like Glass, Reich and Riley, to whom Bang on a Can owe so much. The label released Glass: Music in 5ths/Two Pages, at the same time as this record.

In the age of the rock band, the art-rock band, the electronic string quartet, the percussion ensemble, and a whole range of exciting chamber ensembles, Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a great listen, and a great piece of modern chamber music.



Buck Clayton (Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz)

To my shame, I usually don’t find the time to listen to Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz on BBC Radio 3. I have to make do with the podcast, which contains only edited clips of any music featured. The stories and insights about the music and musicians remain, but the full effect of the music itself is lost in this form.

Recently GSJazz aired a programme about the great trumpeter, Buck Clayton. Best known as one of Count Basie’s best sidemen, Clayton was a fine bandleader in his own right. The programme is full of gems; from Basie Big Band sides, to small group work, and tunes with great vocalists and musicians from the swing era. Clayton’s playing is melodic, sometimes exciting, sometimes beautiful, and always swinging.

The show is no longer available to listen online, and so I have compiled the music featured on the show into a Spotify playlist. I am pretty sure I have included the correct recordings in each case, but apologies if there are any discrepancies.

Please enjoy a small but revealing selection of music from this stalwart of the swing era.



Al Casey – Buck Jumpin’

Al Casey – Buck Jumpin’ (Prestige Swingville, 1960)

Guitarist Al Casey (the jazz one, not the rockabilly one) is probably best known as a member of Fat Waller’s rhythm section. This record, released on Prestige Swingville in 1960, showcases his acoustic guitar skills in his own band.

The title track, ‘Buck Jumpin”, is an extended version of his signature tune from the Waller band. It is a tour de force of pre-bop swing guitar playing; solo lines, chord work, the lot. The six minutes simply fly by. The rest of the record covers well-trodden swing repertoire, but it is great to here such a skilled guitarist swinging on an acoustic archtop, re-capturing the feel of Waller’s band. The rest of the musicians know how to ensure Casey’s guitar remains front and centre, and support accordingly. However, the bracing, R’n’B stylings of the saxophone solo on ‘Casey’s Blues’ jolt slightly with the rest of the band.

The final track, ‘Body and Soul’, is a highly sensitive version of a standard that has been invented and re-invented many times over since its composition in 1930. Both this tune, and Casey’s guitar, are great for nostalgic swing fans listening to jazz in the 1960s. Enjoy.



New Blog Address/Change of Content

From now on, I will post about music education at

The hot weather and (slight) let-up in school work has inspired me to blog again. Not only about school life, but also as an outlet for my own musical tastes. I read this article in the Guardian, and am currently reading this amazing book, both of which have prodded me further.

I’ve always thought ‘Play Fewer Notes’ was a cool title that reflected a more profound life philosophy, but has never really been suited to blogging about secondary school music. I do think it is a fairly good name for a blog about contemporary classical music and early jazz, so I will write about music I love on this site.

There will inevitably be some crossover, after all, what sort of music teacher would I be if I didn’t lay bare my musical passions for all to see? However, for the sake of clarity, if you are interested in my Recordings Workflow app, or my other writings on music education, head to  If you want to know what music I like, stay here.



Workflow for iOS acquired by Apple

Ok, I know this happened ages ago. Workflow, the powerful iOS automation app, has been purchased by Apple.

I feel compelled to comment briefly on this news, as the app forms part of my ‘sort your recordings out’ Recordings Workflow. Lots of colleagues use this, so might be interested in the recent acquisition of the app by Apple.

On first glance – this is a disaster. Apple have a track record of buying apps, taking the tech/talent, removing the app from existence, and then incorporating the genius of said up into their own software at some point down the line. However, Workflow is still available in the app store, and even better, Apple have made it free.

It isn’t all good news. Apple have, unsurprisingly, entirely ousted Google (and others) from the app. This means Google Maps and Google Chrome are gone, and my dreams of Google Drive integrations have officially died. They’ve also removed integrations with Pocket (my former read-it-later app of choice), but have, for now, retained integrations with Instapaper (my current read-it-later app of choice).

Having fewer 3rd party services on Workflow is a shame, but it is just how Apple do things. Perhaps deeper integration into the iOS software itself will be the upside to the deal.

Hopefully more people will now make use of this amazing app, as it doesn’t cost any money to get started. The more people use it, the more Apple will improve/innovate/add to it. Fingers crossed.

Education, Technology

A redesign of my ‘Recordings Workflow’

Many fellow teachers find my ‘Recordings Workflow’, first outlined in this blog post, quite useful for managing audio recordings.

I have spent some time tweaking the workflow, and feel I have come up with an improved version. It is available by clicking this link, and opening it in the Workflow iOS app.

There are two key changes I want to briefly outline; uploading to Dropbox instead of Evernote, and a more elegant system for making multiple recordings.

Uploading recordings to Dropbox

The previous version of the workflow would append recordings to an already existing Evernote note. This was really useful for sharing, and adding comments to work. However, the school’s move to Google Drive has meant that having the recordings in cloud folders is more useful (more on this at the end). Also, I am currently going through a painful divorce with Evernote, but that is a subject for another post. I have found uploading to Dropbox to have a few advantages:

  • In my testing, the upload times are MUCH quicker.
  • When mapping to your calendar/classes, Dropbox creates the folders automatically. Evernote would just bin the recordings if the class note didn’t already exist, or it was full.
  • If you make a recording and aren’t teaching a class, the workflow just dumps the recording in the root folder (again, Evernote would just bin the recording if it couldn’t find a class).

Making multiple recordings

I always found the repeat system, with variables, zeros, and ones, a little clunky. I feel I have refined the process with the new workflow. Now, after completing a recording, the app will ask if you are ‘finished’. Say ‘no’, and you will be prompted to make another recording. Say ‘yes’, and the upload of all previous recordings begins. If you are still intrigued, compare the two workflow commands to see specifically what I have done. Or, contact me and I will hapilly explain more.

Many teachers have got in touch with questions, queries or comments after using my workflow. Please keep the feedback coming; I am keen to help anyone if I can.

Bonus: Dropbox/Google Drive uploads

At school we use Google Apps for Education, so it would be ideal for my recordings to go automatically to folders with viewing permissions set up for the relevant students. However, the workflow app currently does not include an ‘upload to Google Drive’ function. When it does, I will celebrate, but in the mean time, I need to improvise. It is quite simple; I simply clone the Dropbox folder of recordings with a similar folder in my Google Drive. I use a ‘one-way sync’, so only new recordings are added to GDrive, and I can delete the ones in Dropbox to save space (Google Apps for Education gives you unlimited GDrive space). You can implement a ‘two-way sync’, which keeps both folders in sync at all times. Here are some options I explored:

  • A recipe in IFTTT like this one to clone a Dropbox and GDrive folder.
  • A service like CloudHQ which can sync files across cloud services.
  • Some clever work in terminal to sync two folders on your Mac.

Please contact me if you want to ask about any of this.

Education, Technology, Uncategorized

One Massive, Collaborative, Google Document

This seems simple, but I urge you to try it.

Before I deal with this post’s title, I need to briefly mention sharing and permissions.

Google Apps for Education has fantastic sharing options. You can share folders and files, and set specific permissions, from within the Drive interface:


Or, you can edit the permissions from within a document:


The interface is genuinely foolproof. Having the ability to edit permissions and share individual files and folders gives you a myriad of options:

  • A folder shared with a specific class, containing files only accessible by certain students
  • Files and folders accessible by your department, faculty, or the wider school
  • A private folder for personal files, within a department’s folder.

Here is one simple use case:

One Massive, Collaborative, Google Document for Revision

There comes an inevitable point during the KS4 Music journey when one must revise set works/styles, using the musical elements. I created a Google Doc, with a simple table for each set work on the Edexcel GCSE syllabus. There was a space for students to fill in key points for each musical element. A dull, but necessary activity.

However, rather than print a copy for each student, I set the permissions to ‘anyone from class 10c can edit this document’, and provided the link for the students.

Cue utter madness. 20 different coloured cursors flew around the screen. Students were writing messages, changing the colour and font of every word, and deleting each other’s writing. It was, to be honest, quite funny, and I was guilty of a few ‘rogue edits’ myself.

After this initial madness, students got down to work. Different students worked on different sections, before reviewing and refining what others had written. I projected a copy of the document, which looked cool as students edited it in real-time.

I commented on students’ misconceptions, asking for clarification or more detail. At the end of the lesson each student had a copy of the resource. Less able students had the correct info, and more able students were able to act as ‘moderators’, ensuring the info was accurate.

That is how I used collaboration on Google Docs to make a boring revision activity more engaging. It is one small example. The potential is huge, and something I am currently exploring. Watch this space.