How I use hocketing in my whole class ensemble guitar teaching

Written by: Anita Holford

15 May, 2020

Nick White is a music tutor (guitar, piano, keyboard), who’s been working for Essex Music Education hub for eight years. He first came across hocketing in 2016, through a training session run for the Hub by Michael Davidson of Hertfordshire Music Service. This blog is a follow up to a fuller blog about whole class ensemble teaching and hocketing.

When did you first come into contact with the hockets approach?

It was part of FAST training, a week-long intensive course for whole class ensemble tutors (called Play-It in Essex).  We took part in the training, then wrote an essay about what we learned and how we’re going to use it.

The tutors had specialisms in a range of instruments, although Michael delivered the session on guitar, and we used a mixtures of guitars and ukuleles. It was only an hour or so session, but I think for most of us, we immediately grasped it and thought it was a really good idea.

What are the benefits?

I use it a lot in my whole class guitar tuition and it works really well. The school I’m teaching is in an area of deprivation, near Colchester’s largest council estate, so some pupils are facing a range of challenges. You usually have around 20 per cent who get it, and want to go faster; 15-20 percent who struggle, and the rest are in the middle.

Hockets helps because they make quick progress. Rather than having to learn lots of chords or notes before something starts to sound musical, they’ll hear something that makes sense quite quickly – it’s a quick win. That’s particularly important for young people who might struggle with concentration and learning.

It also works well for differentiation. If you give them four chords, it doesn’t matter if some can only play one chord. They learn that all of their contributions are valued and go to make up the piece. And that encourages them.

I had one pupil who only had one finger on one hand, but he was able to play one chord, and so he was still an important part of the whole.

How have you applied it?

I usually choose two or three pieces that I want them to be able to perform by the end of term, having asked pupils which ones they’d prefer from a selection. I choose easy pieces with around 5/6 notes or chords.  Things like, Mamma Mia, and the riff from Shape of You by Ed Sheeran.

By the end, most pupils will learn to play four notes, a few will be keen and want to play all 6, there will be one or two who are struggling to play more than one, or two.

You can split them into groups and have some playing one chord, some more than one chord. And they can self-differentiate too. But no-one feels left out or left behind.

If someone really can’t get hang of it, they can do rhythm, or body percussion. Towards the end we also might get people learning instruments who might ask if they can use their keyboard, bass guitar, or sing – still using the hockets approach – and that works well too.

Are there any wider benefits?

Hocketing can help with behaviour: you don’t have them disengaging so much, and it builds their confidence fast. So that helps not only with behaviour in my class, but probably also with confidence in learning outside the music class.

It really builds listening and concentration skills – they have to pay attention to see where their bit fits. At a certain point, I stop pointing or shouting the chords or groups, and you know they’ve got it when they can carry on themselves.

It also builds collaboration – stronger pupils help weaker ones because it’s a collaborative effort.

What tips would you share with other tutors about how to apply this approach in their teaching?

I’ve found it works really well, and it’s certainly worth trying.

Keep what you’re doing simple and build up slowly.

If you’ve got material you already use, think how you’re going to build up to that using hocketing.

Like any teaching, it rarely goes how you plan it to, so be flexible and work around your learners.

Hertfordshire Music Service is a founder member of the Alliance for a Musically Inclusive England (AMIE). Its MusicNet East programme helps music services to become more inclusive by providing a peer network, resources and tools, and funding for action research on the barriers and drivers to inclusion.  Find out more here: www.musicnet-east.org.uk. Visit the AMIE Musical Inclusion Resource Hub for tools and guidance, blogs, videos, case studies and more, to help you break down barriers to music-making.

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