Dual coding and direct instruction in KS3 music

I thought I would share a video I’ve made for my trainee teachers about how to present musical information to KS3 classes. (Apologies, by the way, for the sound quality – it’s the best I could achieve quickly on Loom, and I plan to re-do it when I have time and a better way of doing it!)

Some of my lockdown reading has been Olivier Caviglioli’s excellent book on dual coding theory, and the brilliant Sherrington/Caviglioli Teaching Walkthrus. I was also inspired by Steven Berryman’s blog post here. Creating resources is one of my favourite parts of teaching, and I’ve always been interested in the best ways to use visuals to help explain musical concepts.

A lot of the material in the video is from Little Kids Rock – the quantity and quality of the free resources on their website is mindboggling. If you’ve got time on your hands you could do a lot worse than spending a day looking through it. The two enormous workshop powerpoints, and the teacher manual, are just brilliant. And that’s before you even start looking at the song bank – I would recommend the scaffolding videos in particular.

I’ll be posting in the next few days with a whole bunch of GCSE flipped learning/revision videos that I’m in the process of making. Hopefully these might be useful in setting remote learning tasks.

Plans for 19-20

I can’t quite believe that it’s almost a year since I wrote a post!

So what’s new?

We haven’t changed our curriculum map significantly: the only thing that’s going to be really new next year is a Stormzy/Mozart project at the start of Year 9. I’ll write about this more in due course (once I’ve sorted it out!) but it will involve exploring some Mozart and some Stormzy through performing, and then getting students to make comparisons between them. We’ll look at the idea of structure, repetition and variety, harmony and melody, and unpick as much as we can how the pieces are put together. We’ll also look at their different historical/cultural contexts. Then students will be asked to describe the merits of each using correct ‘mad t-shirt’ musical terminology. Anyway, more to come on that one once we’ve a) planned it properly and b) done it with students.

The one big thing we’re pushing next year is behaviour and attitudes. We are struggling a bit with this on a school-wide level, and feel that we need to be more explicit about what our expectations are. In music and drama, we have noticed an increasing tendency for students to regard our subjects as play rather than work, and we want to nip this in the bud too. These are the things we have decided to do:

  • Have a set of specific expectations that are common to music and drama so that we can create routines that are common across the performing arts
  • Increase the learning demands that we place on our KS3 students
  • Keep referring back to why we are doing what we’re doing: essentially doing a bit of PR for ourselves to try and counteract EBacc mentalities


I know this is absolutely not rocket science, and pretty much every school has their own version of these. We just wanted to have our own versions of the generic school ones, where the ‘what is disruptive behaviour’ is balanced with the expectations, so that we can be really specific when giving praise or sanctions. We have found students increasingly likely to question absolutely everything. Hopefully this might help. Clearly, having these on the walls is just the first step – we actually need to refer to them and use them to help us create good routines – but we are looking forward to having a cohesive approach across the two departments.

Increasing the learning demands

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The knowledge organisers I have created for Year 7 and Year 8 can be found in editable PowerPoint format on the ‘knowledge organisers’ page. Feel free to adapt and use them. 

We don’t want to decrease the amount of time we spend on practical engagement with music in our lessons. However, we do want to be more demanding of students and what we require them to learn. To give an example, we have been frustrated by students who still haven’t learned basic essential knowledge, such as the difference between a note and a chord, or the difference between a flat and a minor, by the end of Year 7 – not through any learning difficulty but out of laziness or reluctance to treat this knowledge as important.

We intend to do this by

  • having a series of knowledge organisers for KS3 (we already use them extensively at KS4 and 5), which are used in lessons and as the basis for retrieval practice homework
  • just having these is not enough by itself – we intend to refer to these in lessons all the time
  • using Plickers for really quick, low-stakes testing, frequently. This will be on top of more formal quizzes set for homework using Show My Homework. It will enable us to keep closer tabs on students who aren’t engaging with the content effectively, and give us more ammunition with which to tackle this

Doing our own PR

Again, this is something that we have planned alongside our drama colleagues, and they have direct equivalents of these posters for their studios in the same format for a cohesive message. As before, we are planning on referring to these constantly – just having them on the wall is not going to be enough. We really want to focus on pointing out the benefits of what we’re doing in our lessons in a relentless kind of way!

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You will find this powerpoint on the ‘Do Now’ page. 

We also want to bring Mad t-shirt more closely into our lessons, at the same time as making a real feature of very deliberately broadening students’ musical horizons. The later knowledge organisers incorporate relevant Mad t-shirt terms, and a set of wider listening ‘Do Now’ activities will introduce students to a new piece of music each week. These are based on a set of 30 pieces of music drawn up in a very enjoyable department meeting, and is our list of pieces we really want our students to hear. You may well disagree with our choices – that is entirely your prerogative – but the point is that we want to make the point to our students that there is a whole load of music out there, and we want to show them some of it. Cultural capital if you like. Ultimately students don’t know what they don’t know.

The slides will be up on the board with the music playing as students come in (we have a large site, and no movement time between lessons, so they tend to arrive in dribs and drabs, and our corridor is small enough for us not to want them all congregating outside). Each one has some specific questions to go with the video, and a focus on one of the Mad t-shirt dimensions. The title and composer is always shown, as is the year of composition, so we can begin to build up a sense of historical context.

You will notice that I have added some pages to the blog, with a lot of these resources for you to have and use if you would like. Where possible I’ve put them in an editable format so you can tweak and adapt.

An experiment in using comparative judgment for GCSE composition

Image result for comparative judgement

Picture from ealjournal.org

Earlier this year I wrote (here) about wanting to try out Comparative Judgement with GCSE composition. Since then a collection of 63 example compositions has been assembled from 12 different schools, and 26 music teachers provided judgements via the http://www.nomoremarking.com website.

Teachers were asked to compare pairs of pieces, and choose which they felt was the better composition. A total of 597 judgements was made. No assessment criteria were used: teachers just used their knowledge and experience as musicians and teachers. The nomoremarking.com system then crunched all the judgements to establish a rank order for the compositions, and then used this to award each one mark out of 30.

Judges gave feedback on their experience of applying comparative judgement (CJ) to GCSE compositions, and teachers who had contributed compositions gave feedback on the marks awarded by the process, comparing these to the marks the same compositions had gained using exam board marking criteria.

What the judges said

The majority of judges thought that the 63 compositions presented were representative of the range (in terms of styles and quality) of GCSE compositions as a whole. Some, however, felt that there was a preponderance of mid-range pieces, with not enough really good or really poor ones.

Nearly all the judges reported finding the comparison process easy and relatively quick. They found it liberating to rely solely on musical ‘guild knowledge’ to decide which was the better piece in each pair. Some judges found it difficult to compare pieces that were very different in style. Others reported finding it hard to shake off a feeling of their value judgements being influenced by their well-established knowledge of GCSE assessment criteria, which has become ingrained over time.

In some cases – particularly with film music compositions – it was felt that knowing the candidate’s brief would have helped in making judgements. However, generally, feelings were split between feeling liberated by having no supporting documents, and wanting the clarity that knowledge of candidates’ intentions might bring.

There was an overwhelming appreciation of the opportunity to hear coursework from other schools. Some judges felt reassured that what they are doing in their own schools is along the right lines. Others felt inspired by the different styles and compositional processes they heard, and feel emboldened to try out some new ideas in their teaching.

How the CJ results compared with ‘real’ GCSE marks

The vast majority of teachers who had contributed pieces to the study found that the marks awarded by the CJ process were lower than those that the pieces had gained using exam-board assessment criteria. This was particularly true with the best pieces, with the difference evening out as the quality of the pieces declined.

I think I can explain this (although I am no statistician, so please put me straight if I’ve got something wrong):

  • The CJ algorithm takes the data from the comparisons, and then distributes the rank order of pieces onto a bell curve centred on 50%
  • GCSE criteria make it relatively difficult to award marks in the bottom couple of bands, provided that the candidate has offered a completed piece of sufficient length
  • Therefore (and I have no statistical proof for this) I can imagine that the curve for actual GCSE marks would have its peak above, not at, 50%.
  • A contributing factor could be that the standard of pieces of contributed to the study was of a higher general standard than the average anyway.

How could CJ be used by music teachers?

The strongest feeling that came out of participants’ feedback was the benefit they gained from listening to coursework from other schools. Everyone seems to very much appreciate the opportunity to hear what other people are doing.

If you can team up with some other centres (because the whole process is done online, it doesn’t matter whether they are near or far), putting some or all of your GCSE compositions through the CJ process could help you use the hive-mind to establish a valid rank order. You can then fit the established rank order to your exam board’s criteria in order to award marks. Along the way you have the CPD of hearing other centres’ work.

The CJ process is not difficult to administer – all the difficult stuff is done by the nomoremarking.com website (and is free). It just needs one person to coordinate, who needs to anonymise the recordings of the pieces (plus supporting documentation, if you decide to include it) and make them available to all participating judges via Google Drive or similar.

For your interest, here is the composition that came out in the CJ process as the highest-scoring.

I would very much like to thank everyone who has taken an interest in this experiment, whether as a judge or through contributing coursework. The service offered by nomoremarking.com is a remarkable and very clever thing, and it’s pretty amazing that it’s free.


Plans for 18-19

CGD pano

This was a lesson during our Year 8 work on Blues, where the emphasis was on playing the blues chords with good hand position and inversions. Those wearing hats were the ones who demonstrated that they could do this really well. Aside from the hats being a fun way to keep tabs on students’ progress, single-focus assessment like this has been something I’ve particularly enjoyed this year. The panoramic pic makes my classroom look huge – it’s not really that big!

I haven’t blogged for a while about what’s going on in my classroom and department, so now we’ve finally reached the summer holidays, I thought it might be a good time to share my thoughts about what we’ve done and what we’ve got planned for 2018-19.

Last August I wrote about our plans for the year 17-18. These involved a fluid approach to SoW planning, without fixed-length projects, and the intention to try and keep plates spinning with regard to instrumental skills, singing, and musical understanding. A lot of what we tried out, we liked very much. The changes we have made for next year involve – as ever – moving some things around, taking some things out, and putting others in.

Last year’s curriculum map

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Next year’s map

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What’s changed, and why?

  • We want the beginning of Year 7 to be even more explicit about establishing routines and some basic knowledge and skills. Early on we do a 3-chord mashup based on Next to Me by Emeli Sandé (C and Am with optional G – perfect for ukes and also for getting straight into playing inversions on keyboard, with just a thumb to move from C in second inversion to Am in root position).
  • Playing Link Up (from the Lucy Green book Hear, Listen, Play) was too challenging for the first term – it is a brilliant thing to do, but we needed a more basic play-by-ear melody, which is why we’ve gone for Oh When The Saints first. There are still plenty of ways to differentiate this for the ablest (different key, add an accompaniment).
  • We were also surprised at how difficult it was to do classroom workshopping (MF-style) so early on, and felt that this would actually be more beneficial later in the year, once routines have been established, rather than trying to establish the routines through the classroom workshopping.
  • Just Play is still something we love very much indeed, especially now there are even more playalongs to choose from, particularly easy ones with just 3 chords. It is a great way to build up skills in a hugely differentiatable way, while building and maintaining good routines for practical work. We wanted it to be something that percolates through the whole of KS3, and so, along with singing, it runs alongside everything else we do. This might be as whole lessons in between other things, or parts of lessons where there is a split between JP playalongs and other work.
  • We actually decided we wanted to be a bit more upfront about teaching the basics of rhythm and pitch notation. We acknowledge that fluency of notation-reading is not really achievable on one hour a week unless you make it an absolute priority, and build things up so that students practise between lessons. I don’t believe it is feasible if what you’re trying to do is provide a really broad KS3 curriculum; however, we wanted all our students to understand the basics and to be able to work rhythms and melodies out. So, Underground Music (a John Paynter project that is as old as the hills… well, it’s certainly from the early 80s, when the up-to-the-minute place for music teachers’ resources was something called Music File) has officially returned. It involves performing a rhythm piece by Paynter called And All Stations To… before creating and notating a rhythm composition based on tube station names. It’s simple but effective! For pitch notation we use Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know, which has just the right level of difficulty, and again is easily differentiatable for those who might already be fluent readers.
  • Last year the Hamilton effect transformed the work we were doing on musical theatre. Alexander Hamilton has proved an incredible song to do as a classroom performance, with everyone learning how to play it and how to sing/rap it. The kids adore it and it covers some great technical points about how a chord sequence can be used effectively in songwriting. This, and a subsequent rap composition, has taken the place of our old musical theatre project that used the chords from Michael Nyman’s Time Lapse. The old project was simply too long, and when doing it with multiple classes, we began to feel somewhat tormented by the Time Lapse chords… we also didn’t feel that our students actually learned enough from the project – so it had to go. Doing a rap composition has enabled us to focus on creating a good accompaniment out of chords, with variety in texture, and thinking about lyrics and rhythm over the top without the complication of melody.
  • Oh my word our students have LOVED doing Für Elise by ear! I wish I could email Beethoven and tell him what a hit he has with the youth of today. They love it as much as they love Hamilton! This is why we’ve put The Entertainer in as an additional play-by-ear, although other pieces may get tried as well, depending how the spirit moves. We have found it really beneficial to pick apart the thought processes that go into working out a piece by ear.

Mad T-Shirt

I don’t know who came up with Mad T-shirt – I first came across it on one of the GCSE groups on Facebook – but whoever you are, thank you. It is a great way for GCSE students to form (or consolidate) a mental schema for their knowledge about musical dimensions. We have adopted it for GCSE (we have made it OCR-specific), and thought it would be a great idea to have a KS3 version to use right from the start. This is how it looks:

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We plan to use this as a knowledge organiser for KS3 music. It is on the walls in all of our teaching rooms, and a full version (which includes all the definitions) will be available to students via their class OneNote notebooks. Individual sections will crop up in slides for all our practical work, and feature heavily in Do-Nows (see below).


A whole-school priority next year is going to be classroom routines (to be quite frank, we’ve had a dip in the standard of general behaviour at my school, and a whole-school focus on this is very welcome). One of the things that is going to become ‘standard’ is the idea of the ‘do-now’ – an activity that students get on with as soon as they come into the room. We have ‘Star Trek bells’ at our school (in other words, there is no lesson changeover time, so as soon as one lesson finishes, the next one theoretically begins immediately, even though in reality that involves 1,700 people moving around a very large site) so students tend to arrive in dribs and drabs, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that it’s better to get them into the room rather than hanging about in the corridor until they’re all there.

We saw this as an opportunity to do some good spacing and interleaving of some core knowledge, and also drip-feed some wider listening in to our SoL.

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I have already compiled quite a large collection of these. Some of them have specific pieces of music (as per the example above), while others are adaptable for use with any piece of music that the teacher can choose to go with the lesson (or provide wider listening):

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Students will answer either on a random-name-picker basis, or with a whole-class answer (i.e. holding up their fingers to show the answer to a multiple choice question).

Melodica love


I have so loved using a melodica in my teaching this year! It is invaluable when I want to lead a whole-class performance from anywhere in the room – students can see what my fingers are doing, and it is loud enough for everyone to hear. It is also a whole lot easier to hold up in order to model fingerings/hand position/chord changes than a standard keyboard.

A little tour of my not-so-new room

I have been surprised at how many people have commented how much they enjoyed my previous classroom-tour video. So here is another one, for the ‘new’ room that I have been teaching in this year. There are a couple of good home-made (and student-proof) storage solutions here!

Using comparative judgement for GCSE composing


Picture taken from David Didau’s blog learningspy.co.uk

A few weeks ago I went on a session run by Daisy Christodoulou, author of Seven Myths about Education and Making Good Progress? The Future of Assessment for Learning. Daisy now works for No More Marking, a company offering an online engine for comparative judgement.

I will not describe CJ in detail here, other than reproducing the image above, and direct you to the excellent demo on the No More Marking website. The arguments for it are very compelling.

So far, No More Marking has been used for CJ of English and History texts. I don’t know of the system being tried for music compositions as yet, but I think it would be really interesting to try it out. The process would be a little bit more complex and time-consuming than for text, purely because you would need to listen to audio rather than skim texts on-screen, but I still think it would be a worthwhile thing to try.

I would like to invite you to join in with this process. Here is how it would work:

  1. You need to contact me to tell me you’d like to join in. Probably the easiest way to do this is to email me on jw@hayes.bromley.sch.uk. You might be a GCSE music teacher with coursework of your own that you’d like to get moderated, or a music educator who would just like to join in with doing the comparative judgements (the more judges, the better…). If this proves massively popular, I might need to put a cap on the amount of coursework we can handle, as it will be quite a lot of admin for me to do!
  2. You will need to send me some GCSE compositions in mp3 format. Just audio, no supporting documentation. This might be your whole cohort, or just a selection. It could be ‘live’ (i.e. this year’s coursework), or a previous year’s. It doesn’t matter what board you do, or whether it’s to a brief or free composition – for the purposes of CJ I don’t think this is important. We will need to set a deadline for this – I suggest Sunday 8th April. 
  3. I will then anonymise your coursework and create a Google folder with it all in, referred to only by a number (only I will know how the numbers link up with the schools/candidates they came from). You will receive an allocation of comparative judgements to make. These will be entirely randomised. The numbers for these will pop up on your screen via the No More Marking website. You listen to each pair of compositions and decide which one is better – just using your guild knowledge as a musician and educator (no mark schemes involved). Click on your decision and move on to the next until your allocation is finished (nobody will need to make more than 20 comparisons). The ‘window’ for doing this will be the fortnight between Monday 9th April and Sunday 22nd April (to give you a week of holiday and a week of term time to choose from).
  4. The No More Marking algorithm will crunch all the results and award a numerical mark to each composition. If you have contributed coursework, I will feed back to you the marks for your students’ work.
  5. I will ask you to complete a short online questionnaire about the process, to find out what issues arose, and what you thought about the results.
  6. I will then write up a summary on here about how it all went.

Don’t be shit: towards an ever-better KS3 programme


As Hanh Doan pointed out in her recent article for Music Teacher mag here, the best thing we can do to safeguard the position of music in schools is to stop moaning and not to be shit.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that my quest to not be shit is a never-ending one: one of the consequences of this is that I re-jig my KS3 programme every single year. While being a firm believer in ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, I do always want to tweak and improve. It is one of my little pleasures. I LOVE a little curriculum tweak.

‘Isn’t that an awful lot of work?’ I hear you ask. Well, no, not really, because I don’t write much down at all. Lesson plans, shmlesson shplans. It is an exercise in seeing the wood despite the trees: a map rather than a sat nav.

I’ve written before about our KS3 jigsaw, although it didn’t look as pretty as this last time I posted it: Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 16.12.18

This is a carefully-thought-out list of priorities, really… what we’ve decided is important enough to include in our precious KS3 curriculum time. As the years go by, I am ever-more aware that we cannot afford to waste any lesson time on things that are not musical. If the students are coming into my music room, I want them to be actively engaged in music while they’re there. Not colouring in an orchestra diagram, writing out a table of note-values, literacy or numeracy tasks, discovering things for themselves (yes, they might discover an E flat minor chord by accident, or I could just teach it to them in a hundredth of the time), answering ‘guess-what’s-in-my head’ questions, or doing endless self-assessment, peer-assessment or evaluation (yes those last three things are quite nice, but really not of enough value to spend precious time on them in music lessons – besides, they get an absolute bellyful of them elsewhere).

The great thing about this jigsaw is that it focusses the mind not on what students will be doing in lessons, but what they will be learning. One big consequence of this is that I have moved almost entirely away from a chunkular, topic-based, cook’s tour kind of KS3 scheme of work. You know, the sort of thing that goes 1. blues 2. junk percussion 3. musicals. I thought for a while that it was a growing aversion to genre-based SoL (remember that initiative in about 2008 that said that EVERYTHING had to be rooted in a genre, with loads of context, and you weren’t allowed to do a topic on a musical feature, say, ostinato? That. OK I do have an aversion to that, or maybe an aversion to being told I’m not allowed to do something…) However, I have come to the conclusion that it’s an aversion to music teachers saying that they’re doing keyboards, or doing musicals. What are you doing with the keyboards? And why are you doing musicals – what will the students actually learn? 

So, what does our KS3 curriculum look like now? Here it is:

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I have written before about Musical Futures Just Play resources and how brilliant I think they are. Other essential things mentioned in the overview are resources for playing by ear from Lucy Green’s brilliant book Hear, Listen, Play! which comes with audio for various pieces, some of which are specially-composed, riff-based ones like Link Up, which I do with Year 7s in the first term, and some classical ones like Für Elise, which I include because kids just love being able to play it, and I just love telling them that it is not, in fact, pronounced Furry Lies.

Classroom workshopping is taken in its entirety from Musical Futures resources, and the reason it’s there is because it does a lot of great stuff in a very short amount of time (much like Just Play). It gets students feeling the music, watching for cues, developing ensemble skills, learning how to compose and improvise, and understanding structure, all at once. It takes a bit of practice to facilitate it well, but it’s well worth the effort in terms of the leaps in musicality and confidence that students demonstrate. Body percussion stuff is derived from the inspiration of the wonderful Ollie Tunmer at Beat Goes On – check out the website for great resources and ideas, or, better still, get your local hub to get him in to do a workshop. The resources we use in Year 9 for band skills stuff are from Trinity Rock and Pop. Songwriting follows the MF SoL, which never fails…

Homework… the latest

I have written before about the changing face of homework in my department. Teacher input in homework is now entirely front-end: that is to say, I put quite a lot of work into sorting out homework resources in advance, and then that’s it. No marking, no feedback. We used to spend HOURS marking and giving the most amazing feedback ever on extended homework research projects (the best of which were amazing, but the general standard of which was pretty crap). Not any more – partly because one of my departmental colleagues now has a small baby, and the other is a head of year and spends most of his time chasing up behaviour incidents. None of us has time to produce detailed homework feedback that then doesn’t have any kind of follow-up.

So technology and a bit of forward planning has come to our aid. I use Office Mix (an PowerPoint extension that is quite addictive – the only downside is that it won’t run on a Mac) to create bespoke videos. Here’s one I made on how music is put together:

As a school we have recently got ourselves Show My Homework. It is brilliant. It was devised by a teacher (I hope they have made an absolute mint from it) and systematically eliminates every single crap homework excuse in existence. Homework is there on a to-do list when they log in (there is a phone/tablet app too) and parents have a log-in too. All the resources they need are there. Awesome. Through SMHW I can set a homework task to watch the video, and then answer a set of multiple choice questions on the content. This is marked automatically, and students can see straight away how well they have done (as can I, and their parents). So, a lot of front-end organisation, but after that, no hassle whatsoever. Time spent doing the prep is paid back in spades later on.

So, the knowledgey, theoryish, part of what we do at KS3 is covered by the homework, then followed up in lessons with related practical work. A little bit of flipped learning, really.

Formative assessment – freeing ourselves from the stress to assess

A really quick post (I’ve got moderation to do…) just to offload some of the thoughts in my head about assessment…

  1. Sometimes – or even a lot of the time – we need to assess things that don’t look like the final outcome.

formative assessment may 2017

If you are a rugby coach, you use drills to teach the skills you need for a match. If you are musician, you practise scales and studies to build up the skills you need for a performance.

We can’t just assess performances all the time.

Today with my Year 7s I was assessing how well they could play major and minor chords on the keyboard. There are different parts to this: knowing where the notes are, knowing what a semitone is, which way is ‘up’, remembering ‘4 then 3’ and ‘3 then 4’ rule for major and minor, and getting your fingers organised on the keys. That’s quite enough for one assessment!

Getting round them all, though, is a lengthy job. Life’s too short!

So I said that if they showed skills that were good enough to be an assessor, I would give them a hat. (Hats as motivators – never fails for some reason) Then they could help me work round and assess the rest of the class.

It worked brilliantly. Here they are in their hats (left over from a production of Cabaret):

Year 7 hats

2. Taking away ANY kind of numbers reduces the stress to assess.

We have moved from this:

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To this:


It used to result in a mark out of 60 (12 x marks out of 5). Now it doesn’t – it just goes on a spreadsheet to show who has demonstrated what skills, and whether they’ve done it really well or not.

So if you don’t assess all 12 things on the radar, no sweat. They just do the ones they can.

And relax!