Teacher Hub

How to... Create and manage breakout spaces

Written by Anna Gower21/06/24

For teachers interested in informal learning, band work or Musical Futures, using any available practice spaces is an essential part of giving students space to explore music making in a small group.

The tenets of Musical Futures informal learning suggest allowing students to work in friendship groups, choosing the music themselves and working out their own pathways to objectives they identify for themselves with the support of their teacher and any other musicians available. Of course, these approaches are not unique to Musical Futures, but can also be applied to any topics that require small group work and the use of practice rooms as break out spaces.

Before you start

Most school practice rooms are multi purpose spaces, used for everything from lunchtime practice to one to one or small group instrument lessons, and therefore it is useful to ensure that you have a plan for how these spaces will be set up, kept tidy and used. 3 things to consider before you start might be:

  1. Will you have an agreed set of rules for use of the space? These can be displayed and agreed by all students using the rooms; you can share them with any visiting instrument teachers too so that they can help to remind students of responsible use of both the space and the equipment throughout the week.

  2. What do you have space to keep in the room? Some teachers prefer to leave equipment set up and ready to go in the rooms, while others prefer students to collect what they need and return it afterwards. If you choose not to leave things set up then don’t forget to plan in time for collecting, returning and tidying at the end of every lesson.

  3. How much responsibility can you give to the students? A team of Music Leaders can help to tune and set up instruments before the lesson; you can designate this responsibility to students within the class, perhaps on a rota basis.

What should be in my practice room?

For Musical Futures informal learning, any instruments can be chosen; however having a backline set up in the room ready to use can be really helpful. Then students can add to this as they make their choices.

Items to consider include:

  • Drum machine/drum kit - These could be table top, digital drums (the Roland TD-02K is particularly appropriate) or a full or partial acoustic drum kit. Be mindful in a small space of keeping the volume to safe levels, so you might want to consider adding practice pads or mutes to your acoustic kit.  Remember that an electronic drum kit - and some tabletop drum machines - may need amplification.

  • Keys/piano - if you have larger groups, then students often like to share a keyboard or piano. Having 2 keyboards in a room or one larger piano is a good way to expand the options for students if you don’t have a budget for bass or electric guitars and amplifiers.

  • Means to amplify sound - when students are listening and adapting pieces, they need to be able to hear the original music. There are many ways to amplify sound that can be played from a tablet, laptop or phone (if allowed) including bluetooth speakers, or if the device has a headphone socket, then an audio lead plugged into an amp can also do the job. There are also various adaptors available to be able to plug in an audio lead from lightning or USB C ports on mobile devices.

Once you have these in place, and depending on available budget, you could add:

Storage and keeping things tidy

  • Storage - consider wall hooks for guitars and ukuleles, and to hang jack leads.
  • Teach students how to correctly coil and store audio leads, perhaps using a cable tidy.
  • Consider a guitar stand or rack if you have space in the room to stop instruments falling over or being left on the floor.

And finally:

The role of the teacher in Musical Futures Informal Learning means that a lot of time is spent trouble shooting, helping students to work to become independent in using and setting up their own practice spaces, and it is great when they eventually take responsibility for their own learning environment. However, it is advisable to teach them how to do this, rather than expect them to be able to manage straight away!

Work with your classes to come up with their own agreed rules, and suggest ideas for how they can use the time in the practice rooms most productively. If it isn’t working, then it is always possible to pull groups out of the rooms and remind them of your expectations and the responsibility that comes with being independent learners!