Month: June 2016

Sing Together

This is a continuation of my series of relatively old books that are useful in Primary Schools.

What is “Sing Together”?

This is basically a book of folk and traditional songs.  There are a hundred altogether and there is a small book that pupils can read from with the melody and the words as well as a teacher book with the piano music in.  There are no chords written in, so it is not ideal for guitar.  This book is suitable for Key Stage 2 and 3.

Why is it good?

1) It has many well known folk songs that should be passed down to future generations.

2) It is widely used as repertoire for the ABRSM singing examinations.

3) The music is written out simply and clearly.

4) It is excellent for teaching notation as you sing.  For example you can ask the children, what note is the highest you sing?  What note is the lowest?  What note is the word “sand”?  How many beats are on the last note?  Why is there a letter “p” by those words?  What dynamic marking does it mean?

5) Having the notes next to the words is considered good practice in KS 2.  The Music Hub report undertaken by OFSTED mentioned that many schools did not go far enough in teaching singing and bringing the notation in at the same time.

6) The music is written with the head voice in mind.  If you want to get children to use their head voice, these older books are good as the more modern ones are often written in keys that are too low.  Most sung music seems to have gone down a tone and half in the last 30 years which is why we have so many children trying to belt out songs rather than learn how to use their head voice.

7) The repertoire is varied from all over the world.

Why is it not widely used anymore?

1) The format is old-fashioned.

2) The songs choices are old.

3) Some might say that it would not enthuse modern children to sing.

4) Singing from a book can result in poor posture and poor technique.

5) Reliance on reading rather than singing may put some children off singing.

6) No chords for guitar.

7) There are arguably better, more modern publications out there.

Verdict

If you have these books in your department, use them.  There are some real gems and some songs that we really must pass down like “Cockles and Mussels” and “The Oak and the Ash”.  The notation aspect is very useful, rather than just teach notation discretely, sing the notation.  I always find it is best to use George Odam’s phrase “the sound before the symbol”. Sing the songs and then go into depth about their structure, singing them again with attention to all the musical elements.  But do not make this your only singing resource, I would recommend many of the books by Out of the Ark as well as the excellent Singup.

Content

Music is often referred to as a skills-based subject and the actual musical content unimportant.  I would disagree with this approach strongly.  The idea that the skill influences the chosen repertoire is widely agreed upon by music educationalists.  However, what can happen is that songs and pieces that should be commonly known can end up not being taught.  For example, the first time I ever heard the song “My Favourite Things” from the Sound of Music was when I was twenty years old in University.  People were amazed I had never heard this song, in fact the first version I ever heard was the fantastic saxophone interpretation by John Coltrane.  Why did I not know it?  There was no music in my home – my grandparents who raised me only listened to Radio 4.  Any music I heard had to come from school or recommended from friends.  Was it important that I did not know this song?  Well it made me feel a bit stupid at the time and I did wish that I had come across it before.  No one likes to be on the fringe of a conversation because they don’t have the prior knowledge to engage with it.  It also explains why I had no idea what “blue satin sashes” were until my twenties, while my EAL children in Year 2 are fully aware of what satin is and what it looks like because of the reference from the song and the pictures I showed them as a result of learning the lyrics.  This is the argument that ED Hirsch gives for “Cultural Literacy” – things that you really should know so you can read a broadsheet newspaper, or have meaningful conversations where you are not having to blag your way through as you have no idea what the other people are talking about.  It really gets to the root of what it means to be an educated person.

So I would argue that we ought to have some common repertoire that students all over British schools can engage with.  I am making my own list but there is one that already exists here: at the Core Knowledge Curriculum for years 1-6.