Brexit still divides the UK: fifty fifty ish, no consensus politics at work by politicians who have no regard for a consensus, or businesses, or their constituents, just their own agendas.

Covid-19 divides the UK, into: those who have experienced some discomfort and then moved on, those who are very worried by how it might affect them, those who have been very poorly and are now trying to come to terms with the after effects, those who have lost people close to them, those who are trying their best to follow the guidance and keep going and those who do not care about anyone but themselves, have not changed their behaviours, and continue to live like there is no chance of them becoming infected and then infecting others.

In 2020 we have not been able to celebrate life and death in any meaningful way.

Hospital for any treatment has been quite a solitary affair, births may have been the slight exemption when both parents could be present, visiting times were suspended very early in the year for nearly everything else. Death has been a very difficult, have we really had the opportunity to come to terms with what has happened with the support of friends and family? I have not. There are so many things that need to be discussed and by the time we are able to air these thoughts and ideas many will be buried, forgotten, or there to jolt the conscience at unexpected times.

2020 has been the year that schools never shut.

Teachers have not been advised to wear any PPE in classrooms and children have been able to spread the virus to families that otherwise were taking all precautions. School building policy, for many decades, has been to cram as many pupils in as possible into ever smaller spaces, not good for any distancing when needed. Remote learning has never been properly funded and many pupils have never had the equipment to access their online lessons. Another lost generation unless the year is wiped-out/forgotten about and why not start next September (2021) as though it was 2020 cohorts? From teaching year 5 and 6 pupils I know how difficult this is as some are ready to go now and others would benefit from an extra year but continually playing catch-up is not the way to inspire/engage/teach a generation of pupils.

2020 the positives and negatives.

Far too many negatives and only a few positives, the balance to the year was all wrong. It looks as though the start of 2021 will still be skewed towards the negative although there is hope in a vaccine. I have hope in a vaccine. As to Brexit? I would prefer no barriers to travel and education, communication and security, but at the moment they seem to be the prices to pay for isolation.

© P. R Birkby 2020

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Calling All Xylophonists

2 Marimbas

Keeping ensembles going during the last few months of isolation has been difficult and in some cases impossible. The meeting apps are passable for discussions now that most people has learnt the etiquette of multiscreen meeting but for ensembles they are nowhere near ready. I have tried collaboration using the shared recording app Bandlab which was good for the band members that dabble with technology and impossible to fathom for others. In the end I made a backing track, sent each band member their part and the track and asked them to record it and return it. A few hours of matching and mixing in the studio and the track was ready to return for a listen. Hours and hours more in the studio and the track was ready to broadcast. To see the first attempt at this plus fun with video visit Dr. Pete’s Salsa Band page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DrPetesSalsa/ from Friday 19th June.


The next project is bigger and better than the last and features the xylophone. At least eight xylophones in the score, although some marimbas are allowed as well, and the final work could easily include more parts depending on demand. Added to the eight xylophone parts are also timpani, snare drum, bass drum, clash cymbals and a one player percussion vibra-slap, maracas and triangle parts.

All I need now are the players to record it. The instruments needed are one and a half octave junior instruments (2 parts) in the key of Eb, 3 octave C to C (2 parts), 3 and a fifth octave F to C (2 parts) and 4 octave C to C (could be marimba).

I am looking at an initial deadline of 1st July 2020 to get the recordings to me in whatever format possible, from the phone as a voice memo, video or proper recording using studio techniques, any method the easiest way possible for you. If enough people are happy to be filmed then the miming to the finished track can be organised later.


To be part of this project please email drpetescomposition@gmail.com and I will attach all 13 parts to Xylophilharmonic with the backing track in Mp3 format for xylophonists to choose the most suitable part. This is a two week project to get the music together and hope you can be involved.

Any questions please don’t hesitate to ask and if you know of someone who would like to get involved then please pass the information/music on.

(c) P R Birkby 2020

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2020 Parlour Music

With music students in the UK not able to work in bands and ensembles due to social distancing and closed venues it seemed the right time to compose music for the home ensemble. Not a return to the Victorian parlour music of piano and voice but all drum and rhythm orientated with accompanying instruments.

Part of the tambourine family

Just right for the lapsed brass, guitar or keyboard player to dust off the instrument and join the drummer in the family as they play on the practise pad (book, pan, chair…) or drum kit if they are lucky.

Three books of original material now published at https://payhip.com/prbpnews

For drums and guitar (including TAB): https://payhip.com/b/384L

For drums and brass: https://payhip.com/b/z2C5

For drums and keyboard: https://payhip.com/b/FLMB

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Coordinate those hands and feet

A series of exercises for musicians. Especially useful to percussionists and drummers and those instrumentalists that tap their foot in time to the music.


A series of exercises devised with the aim of consolidating rhythmic awareness: how certain rhythms relate to others, how to divide the beat into equal parts and how to develop the coordination between hands and feet.

YouTube tutorials available for:

Warm-up 1                https://youtu.be/13V7xQuNW1k

Warm-up 2                https://youtu.be/ggssbME-o4c

Warm-up 3 (Linear) https://youtu.be/FcllfcgCsgM

Warm-up 5                https://youtu.be/HpVD_hHcgh4

Download the written material from my sheet music shop Payhip.com/prbpnews:

Warm-ups 1, 2, 3 & 5                      https://payhip.com/b/VgcN


© P.R.Birkby 2020

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When Blog Turns To Vlog

0 Opening title

What once was a gentle pastime of thinking about a subject then writing five hundred words about it and posting with some appropriate images has become much more technical.  In these times of isolation on-line videos are now expected as well as on-line meetings and teaching on-line lessons.

Unfortunately the technology, and especially the broadband speed in many parts of the UK, are not quite up to the task in hand.  Teachers and pupils are having to adapt to time lags, delays and the fact that the person on the other end may at least freeze or at most disappear at a moment’s notice.

I have jumped in to this on-line Wild West with my own vlogs, hope it will become a series, all about composing and how to play with sound and become a composer.  The first vlog is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/pFWJGRryy7E

1 1 Sunrise over trees

Please have a look and if you can use it with your students please do. Will I still be isolated and vlogging in six months time? Who can tell, a different set of technology at work to crack that one. I hope all my creative colleagues keep going and get more young people involved.  These are very different times to anything we have experienced and we need to keep reinforcing the importance of the arts and culture to everyone in difficult times.

Keep safe and hope to see you at the end of all this.

(c) P. R. Birkby 2020

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Be Part of the Band

Out gigging at the weekend and saw this picture from http://www.musiciansunite.com that sums up our community Salsa Band very well. Thank you.

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Music Teaching

Always focus on what the student needs without being influenced by external pressures.

The best coaches get their students to believe in themselves. Inspire the students to do more than they think they can.

Mistakes and failures are the most valuable teaching opportunities. Promote experimentation, improvising and the environment to try things out. Feedback on everything that happens and you will both learn.

Never lose the excitement and enjoyment that music can give and pass on your enthusiasm for music to everyone.

(C) P. R. Birkby 0202 2020

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Beware the free online shop, goodbye Sellfy

Four sessions for hand percussion

When you are composing music and consider the self-publishing route beware the shopping with a regular monthly outlay sites unless you are going to be assured of selling 30 or 40 items of music per month. A brief history:

My music has been available online for many years now, I have always used ‘free’ sites to host the PDF downloads although never a shopping site, monthly rental format such as Shopify, as sheet music is never going to be in the blockbuster sales category. The ‘free’ part means there is no charge to host the titles and a percentage of the price is paid when something is sold. This model is great when used for recorded music on the Bandcamp site.

This week I was checking one of the hosts, the one where my music is all priced in dollars, and this was the banner message: Your current plan on Sellfy (Legacy) will be discontinued on Feb 1st, 2020. To keep your store active upgrade now. A pricey monthly fee for a site that has never promoted anything and has only hosted approximately 180MB of data. Bye bye to the time spent on creating the work in the right format for that site and for me goodbye Sellfy as it is not good business to pay for something that will never make a profit, composing is not a vanity project.

From February Payhip is the site for selling the sheet music as downloads, all priced in £s, with a few free musical (mainly percussion) crosswords and word searches. The recording are available at https://urbanskyline.bandcamp.com/ Some are free/pay what you want and others are priced in dollars despite my best efforts to change that into £s.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me in the past and hope to write music for many more of you to enjoy in the future.

Keep performing, composing, listening and having music as part of your life in 2020, best wishes, Peter.

Link to the Bandcamp site for recordings: https://urbanskyline.bandcamp.com

Link to download sheet music: https://payhip.com/prbpnews

© P.R.Birkby 2020

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Make jazz jazzier with a flexatone

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DIY Percussion 2

It is interesting to see from the blog statistics that DIY Percussion is a favourite. With this in mind here are some more DIY Percussion tips.

Never forget, it is all about the sound.

Listen to everything and sometimes you will find a sound that really appeals to you. Some of the instruments made/collected from this ethos are:

Square brass rod, about 1 yard long (a little less than a metre) that contrasts really well with a triangle.

A fire alarm, fired pot rather than metal, collect them before they are all put in the skip sound.

Different short lengths (in pairs) of curtain pole, sort of claves or pitched wooden clicks.

Splash guard (stainless steel) from an industrial kitchen, a great thunder sheet.

Keys, never throw them away, bunch them together to add subtle sparkle to many a track.

Recycle, as the sleigh bells in the picture, put together in different ways to give contrasting sounds.

Merry Christmas and have a new year full of sounds.

(C) P.R.Birkby 2019

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