Category: Uncategorized

Keyboards

I think every child should be able to play the keyboard by the age of 10. By being able to play the keyboard I mean:

  1. They can switch it on, put the headphones in and know the letters names of all the notes including sharps and flats
  2. They can change the tones and discriminate between at least thirty of them from sound alone, using correct instrument names
  3. They can change the rhythms and make them faster and slower and know the difference between different time signatures
  4. They can play melodies by rote with one hand from the guidance of the teacher modeling from the front
  5. They can play melodies using treble clef notation with one hand using all five fingers
  6. They can play simple pieces with hands together
  7. They can play single fingered chords using their left hand
  8. They can play fingered chords both in the left hand and right hand
  9. They can play a simple piece with a melody and left hand single fingered chords
  10. They can play with a partner and on their own
  11. They can record themselves playing
  12. They know how to compose their own melodies using staff notation
  13. They can pick out a tune from a simple melody from listening alone
  14. They can improvise a tune using a few notes

This is not an exhaustive list but if we could manage to teach this it would make our secondary colleagues very happy as half the time they are starting from scratch with many students. Buying the keyboards is not always the biggest burden, it’s the set up and the rooming that needs the most thought. If you are going to do it properly you really need a room set up with fifteen power points as if you are dealing with batteries, recharging and moving keyboards around you end up with broken instruments and chaotic lessons. To set up the room properly takes quite a lot of thought and we still haven’t got it right where I am at the moment. The problem is that music rooms are often multi purpose, we need space for choirs, orchestras, dancing so setting up keyboards semi-permanently is not easy.

Something I will be experimenting with soon are the keyboards that are powered by and use the sounds of an iPad. This could be a game changer in a normal classroom. They are low cost but I am going to try one out at home before ordering any for school.

Children love using the keyboards generally. They get frustrated as if the keyboards are not set up with enough scaffolding, the children with no experience of how they work get quickly discouraged. I find it best to put the letters of the notes on from C-C in two places using stickers; some people think method this is of the devil but it saves a lot of questions and normally means everyone can get some work done. I also put Treble clef and Bass clef reference cards on each keyboard so the children can work out the notes themselves. It also helps if the children have used xylophones before they come onto the keyboards. In our school from Year 4 onwards the expectation is that children will be using keyboards for about a third of every other lesson. So in total, from Year 4 to Year 6 we are talking about 50 hours of Keyboard tuition. That should be enough to teach all the points above but it is also good to have a keyboard club for children to go to if they want to take it further or simply practice the music they have been given in lessons. I always let them take the music home – we are fortunate that a lot of our students have keyboards at home and those that don’t have the opportunity to play in school.

Keyboards Rock!

Singing Practice

At our school we have singing practice for all Primary year groups. I am currently doing Y3, 4 and 5 and it’s probably the best lesson of the week.

There are many aims for singing practice but my main aims are:

1) To encourage communal singing

2) To learn to sing in parts

3) To learn songs from around the world (we are in an international school)

4) To sing a range of songs past and present, using different accompaniments

I’ve developed an eclectic repertoire to achieve this. Here is a short sample of some of the things that have been successful.

Firstly, I don’t spend a huge amount of time warming up. This is not considered good practice so you are best to ignore me here but unless you are aspiring to be a professional singer I don’t think we need to do too much. I start with something like the 1, 121 scale game, and some simple scales ascending and descending to different sounds. I try to make it fun but also use musical vocabulary so will ask the children to sing staccato ascending and legato descending and I will also use Italian terms to sing s scalic passages louder, quieter, faster or slower.

Next I will do either a round or a partner song. Rounds I take from the book “Flying a Round” and partner songs I take from the book “Banana Splits” which is the best introduction to part singing I have seen. I put the notation for partner songs on the board and we spend a bit of time with detailed questioning like which part is singing at bar 7, or how many crotchets are in the entire piece. These questions are to encourage children to really look at the score and not just at the words. Learning to navigate a two part score is harder than you might think and normally has to be explicitly taught for anyone who is not having private instrumental lessons. Rounds that have worked well are “I like the Flowers”, “Land of the Silver Birch”, “Kookaburra”, “Calypso”, “Junkanoo” and “Boots of Shining Leather”. Partner songs that work well are “I hear the bells”, “Down by the Bay”, “Tongo” and for younger children “Sing a little song”. I also do some songs that you can have one large group singing an ostinato while the other group sing the melody. When you do this it is good to start accompanied and then take the accompaniment away. The children really get something special from singing practice when they can hear themselves singing unaccompanied in harmony. Some good songs for this are “Popacatapetl” and “Zum Gali Gali”.

Next I normally put some songs from different countries if I haven’t already done it in the rounds or partner songs. I usually try to vary this with different accompaniments. Sometimes I will sing some African songs just accompanied by djembes, some Spanish songs with a guitar, songs with ukulele and sometimes some folk songs unaccompanied. I try to keep it live and use as little backing tracks as possible; it’s important to communicate to children than music takes skill and doesn’t just come out of a box. However, I do use good quality backing tracks if I need a bit of a break, or for a song as children are leaving so I can focus on getting them to exit safely, yet at the same time keep on singing till the very minute they leave the hall. The Outoftheark resources are very good for this, as are all the Singing Sherlock books. I try not to use too many YouTube karaoke tracks except for the last part of Singing Practice.

The last bit is really what the kids have been waiting for and it is to sing some of their favourite songs. I do these accompanied by the piano and make sure I change the key so they fit children’s voices. I will play them the original, normally as a lyric video as some of the videos are inappropriate, but for performing at assemblies I will always play live. Some music teachers shy away from popular songs but in the end the singing assembly is the children’s – I have my aims but at the same time the children should be allowed the opportunity to sing songs they like. I choose these songs by asking the children what they would like to sing on Bus Duty. So far we have sung “Titanium” by Sia, “Faded” by Alan Walker, “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, “It’s my life” by Bon Jovi, “The Final Countdown” by Europe, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor and one choice by me – “Country Roads” by John Denver. We need to promote country, we really do! It takes a bit of time to arrange some of these songs so they work with Primary aged children but it’s worthwhile. I’d never heard “Faded” until I was told it was a good song by the children and they really sing it beautifully. Some of the choices were interesting, “Eye of the Tiger” and “Final Countdown” are pretty old now but I think they have endured as they seem to appeal to energetic boys who are influenced heavily by their fathers! “It’s My Life” is also a bit of a strange choice but it’s a bit of a cultural phenomenon in China as everyone seems to sing it at karaoke. We are an all-through school and we get quite a few secondary students peeking through the window and they tell me they are a bit jealous that Primary kids get to sing some of these songs because they tell me they had “boring folk songs”. Keeping some of these “boring” folk songs is actually incredibly important to me and I think society as a whole, but the way to do it is to combine them with songs that the children really want to sing.

Singing Practice is still a work in progress, my next steps are to get a small group of musicians to play with me so I might incorporate some drums, bass, guitar, ukes, recorders or orchestral instruments but this will take rehearsals and scoring, so this is a job for after Christmas. I would also like to do some recording because the children do rise to this challenge and produce some awesome singing.

And finally, I couldn’t resist the temptation to “Rickroll”, so last year when I took Year 1 Singing Practice, I told them about this nice guy called Rick who was never gonna give them up, and never gonna let them down. Complete with actions. And it was good fun to Rickroll all of the Year 1 staff when I emailed them the lyrics! I wish I could show you the video of 120 five and six year olds singing Rick Astley, but we all know that the days of sharing videos with the kids in are over. Take it from me that they thought this was the coolest song of all time!

Have fun singing!

The Stampede

I haven’t always worked in Primary Schools and I have taught Music in some tough secondary schools in the Midlands. I think it is hard for primary staff and staff in leafy secondaries to understand some of the behaviour that can happen in secondary school corridors when discipline has obviously broken down.

I don’t like the idea of silent corridors. Anyone who knows me would think I am the last person to advocate silent corridors. I talk to everyone in the corridor. But I have experienced some dreadful assaults in corridors and the stampede which I am going to write about. Although one of the assaults I witnessed was absolutely dreadful and ended up with a child in hospital and blood everywhere in the corridor, it was the stampede in a different school that has chilled me. The assault was between two disruptive and difficult students who were intensively jealous of each other. It was horrific and it was premeditated. The stampede was different.

A large group of Year 11 children were coming out ten minutes early from lessons and we had been told that no one could leave until the bell rang. The head had rightly seen that there was an issue and had decided we needed more presence on the corridors. She asked us to stand by the doors. Three staff were on two sides of the corridor and the children were coming down the stairs between us. The children on the front saw me (I’m a big guy) so went to the other door where a female member of staff was. They then basically charged at her so she had to open the door. She was knocked over and I couldn’t help as I was the other side of the stampede. She wasn’t pregnant thank God or that baby would have been toast. The children in the stampede laughed as they walked out the door. As far as they were concerned it was all a bit of fun and they had got one over the staff by being able to leave early by shoving us out the way. Even good kids had got caught up in the stampede. It’s just fun isn’t it?

If that woman was pregnant and had lost the baby, and if I was one of those kids in the stampede I would have been mentally disturbed by what had happened. I am not sure I would be able to forgive myself for that.

If we had silent corridors, most of the children would have gone with it. It would have isolated the main troublemakers from the good kids who would have nothing to do with it. And there were loads of kids who just wanted to learn. We have to let leadership teams do what it takes to protect children and staff from harm and for some schools, silent corridors is a kind way of doing this. They may decide to have silent corridors for a while or in perpetuity; it doesn’t matter – we should not be sniping from the sides and criticizing. No one is getting hurt, in fact it is designed to prevent hurt. Anyone who has experienced assaults or a stampede in a corridor even when it is staffed know why a school might decided to implement a silent corridors policy. It’s not for everyone. But I can’t think of any who do it out of a warped need to control children like some are saying, They are doing it because it is right for their school.

Discovery Learning by me – aged 6

I can’t remember too much about my first school but I do have evidence of a little trip I made when I was 6 years old with my friends Jonathan and Kelly from Selwyn Junior School in Plaistow in 1983. I have some memories and also I have a little newspaper article that I wrote that was published in a magazine.

The biggest memory was getting the chance to leave Miss Khodabandelou’s Class 1 and go with my best friends to do stuff with computers. I had recently got a ZX Spectrum bought by my mysterious grandparents that I had never met and I had excitedly told my mum how we could make it “talk” using the command “beep”. But this was much cooler as we were going to use a robot called a turtle. For a six year old kid on Free School Meals who had barely ever left Plaistow this was megacool. The only other trip I remembered was going to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the new robot exhibition. I was all into robots, computers, playing the recorder and the musical Cats. And dinosaurs. Everyone was into dinosaurs.

We got to the place and it was full of computers and ginormous awesomeness and there was a soft cuddly turtle that I hugged. Jonathan even drew a picture of me sitting on a chair cuddling the turtle. When I looked him up on Facebook 33 years later I found out he was a graphic designer. No surprises there. But something even more incredible was about to happen. There was a transparent robot turtle on the floor! And it could be controlled using a BBC computer using the programming language Logo. I had already used Logo before to make a green cursor move around a screen, probably one of the reasons I was picked for the trip.

We were given a task. A pure discovery-learning task. We had to get the robot turtle to go around a little maze without it going outside the perimeter. We were given a little bit of help – when the turtle went too far we were told to put a different number in, perhaps a bit less. But the part that was really hard was turning the turtle so it could go around the corner. For this we had to know a little bit about angles and crucially the idea that a corner was a right angle – 90 degrees. But we did not know this and so spent a frustrating amount of time trying to work it out. Finally (with help), we did get the turtle to go round the track, but only when we told to write in the code, “RT 90”.

Logo and turtle graphics were the brainchild of progressive educator Seymour Paupert and the idea was we would learn more by having a go and experimenting with trial and error. And he may be right – perhaps the frustration of being unable to solve the problem was fundamental to the my memory I have of this day. Like I said, I can barely remember anything else. Although I guess someone taught me to read and write. But still, if we were told the crucial fact that a right angle was 90 degrees we would have completed the task much, much quicker. And in the end we were told the fact even after all the experimenting. Perhaps if we were told the fact earlier we could have done some more complicated mazes. Did the experimenting help me understand angles? Not really, because I wasn’t thinking about the numbers. I was only thinking about getting round the track. I remember getting very annoyed that that the bloody turtle couldn’t understand the command “Corner Right”. Stupid robot.

I think this is one of the reasons why discovery-based learning has such a low effect size compared to direct instruction. The argument should not be about which is more effective, because that argument has already been comprehensively won by direct instruction – the research says it is close to twice as effective. Professor John Hattie tells us we shouldn’t really be looking at any approaches that have an effect size less than 0.4, yet every school I have worked in is going down the progressive discovery route, even though it is under 0.3. However, there may be an argument that the process of discovery may make learning more memorable. And if you are less likely to forget it or have to relearn it, perhaps that is one reason why we shouldn’t toss out the whole approach. I still think that in Primary Schools we need to base almost all learning on direct instruction and in secondary we should loosen up and allow a bit more discovery once students have the core knowledge secure.

I guess my question to all those teachers who rate discovery learning highly is simply, why won’t you let kids get quickly and accurately around the mazes you set for them? What is the benefit of withholding information to complete tasks? If it’s genuinely to make learning memorable then I’m OK with that. But if it leads to frustration or misunderstanding, let’s just tell them what works.

Stop making us feel guilty for direct instruction

“Don’t tell children something they could discover for themselves”. Nice, wise advice. Normally nice, wise advice from a consultant or manager. Someone who probably teaches less than twenty hours a week. For many teachers this advice is advice that makes them feel guilty. They feel guilty because they have made a short-cut. Or twenty short cuts that week. Instead of having a lesson where the children research Indian instruments, you told them what a tabla and sitar was by putting up a picture on PowerPoint. 15 minutes v 1 minute – same result, they know what a tabla and sitar are now. Instead of giving children a song on an MP3 player set up with headphones and some instruments nearby and asking them to work out “Smoke on the Water”, you’ve put a cryptic phone number on the board 035 0365 035 30, instructed the class how to read tab and told them to play it on the thick E string of the guitar. Ten minutes later you have a few spare minutes to show them how to play E minor.

We could go for minimal instruction and more discovery. But we DO NOT HAVE MUCH TIME. We have to:

  1. Sort out the show
  2. Sort out the concert
  3. Sort out the instrumental staff
  4. Plan lessons
  5. Teach lessons
  6. Jump through management hoops
  7. Write letters to parents
  8. Plead with parents to get Johnny back to Orchestra
  9. Explain to class teachers that music teachers don’t need to make up lessons if they went on a course or were ill
  10. Explain to class teachers that it isn’t OK to double up two classes because one of their colleagues is off on a course or is ill
  11. Explain to SLT that putting on a last minute reward trip to the bowling alley isn’t a great idea at the same time as the orchestras last practice before the concert
  12. Photocopy all the orchestra and choir music. Again.
  13. Run back for the stands and microphones, as the venue that promised you them actually doesn’t have any
  14. Locate the missing drum mat
  15. Lay down gaffer tape
  16. Lay down more gaffer tape
  17. Have a long conversation with a manager which results in laying down even more gaffer tape
  18. Locate the missing child
  19. Locate the missing parent
  20. Locate the missing music teacher.

Discovery learning, inquiry based learning and project based learning are fine when you are privileged enough to have loads of time. For the rest of us, just let us teach the kids and don’t make us feel guilty about it. Direct instruction is fine. According to Professor John Hattie, more than fine – twice as effective as any of the other approaches. And if people who don’t teach kids don’t like us doing it, perhaps you should give up your privileged position and TEACH THE KIDS.

Who Will Buy?

I have scored out “Who will buy?” – just the street seller bit.  I didn’t use the score, this is just from listening to the recording.  I wonder if it is almost correct?  If anyone has the real score can you have a look and … Continue reading Who Will Buy?

Ambitious Idea

I have had an ambitious idea for Primary School Music.  The idea is that at the end of Year 6, children could be entered in for (if they wanted to) Grade 1 Recorder, Keyboard, Ukuele, Singing and Theory.  The materials I have been making basically reach this end goal and I think the majority of children could pass it.

Recorder would have five years of study from Year 2 to Year 6 so that is certainly manageable.  Keyboard is a little bit more tricky – we are introducing it to Year 4’s at the moment.  I taught Grade 1 Keyboard for quite a few years, you really need two years for most children to pass Grade 1 Level, as this would only be part of the overall Music course you really would need four.  I think if you started Keyboard in Year 3, there is enough time to get children to Grade 1.  I passed my Grade 1 Ukuele last year – I entered with my friends 8 year old son.  It wasn’t too tricky but I think for most children you are going to need two to three years to pass it.  My friend’s son managed it in two.  If we could start the children in Year 4 this is definitely possible.  Singing is the easiest to administer and most of the repertoire you can put directly into the curriculum.  I think if you started in Year 5 this isn’t too hard for most children to obtain.  The hardest is Theory.  The amount of theoretical knowledge is quite taxing for Grade 1.  I think you would need to start it in Year 3 and really do a little Theory every lesson.

It’s not exams for the sake of exams, it’s something to aim for so we have well-rounded musical children.  I don’t think it should be mandatory but for some children, if there is no end goal then they won’t work too hard.  For some children this could be something they would really want to do.  And for secondary teachers, they would inherit multi-instrumental children who can read music in Year 7.  They would like that, I’m sure!

I’ve just finished writing some workbooks for Years 4, 5 and 6.  I’ve written out all the music using MuseScore and put in theory exercises, listening exercises and opportunities for performance and composition.  Each unit is six weeks long and each unit has a 12-14 page booklet.  The idea is that all performances and compositions will be emailed in to me whenever the children want to (in my school they all have iPads and Email) and I will take the workbooks in every six weeks to mark.  The children bring their workbook to class each lesson, they can choose to do homework if they want to, there is plenty of material to play and simple information to guide.  I think they will be popular with parents who will know exactly what the children are doing in class and how they can help them improve.  All the lyrics for the singing are included in the booklets as well.  I will publish a few on this blog soon – I have written five so far; Spooky Music, Roundabout, Sea Shanties for Year 4; Space Journey and Cyclic Patterns for Year 5 and Form and Structure and Water Music for Year 6.  I have used the excellent Musical Contexts website that we subscribe to as a base but I am developing the curriculum to make it a little bit more performance based with a little less composition and a lot more singing.

The approach I am taking is a mix of knowledge and skills but it has memory at the forefront – the hardest bit about formulating this curriculum is keeping the units distinct whilst leaving room for interleaving and spaced practice amid a multi-instrumental program.  And the biggest challenge will be changing the culture where a set of final products will be expected every six weeks from music lessons.  But they do this for other subjects, so why not Music?

 

 

When a knight won his spurs

Here is a simple two-part arrangement of “When a knight won his spurs”.

When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand
For God and for valour he rode through the land

No charger have I, and no sword by my side
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride
Though back into storyland giants have fled
And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead

Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
‘Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed
And let me set free with the sword of my youth
From the castle of darkness the power of truth

When_a_Knight_Won_His_Spurs-Score_and_Parts

Catch A Falling Star

 

I have made an arrangement of this for classroom use.  I would aim it at Year 5 or Year 6.  You can find the audio here:

and pdf’s here

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Alto_Metallophone

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Alto

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Bass_Guitar

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Bass_Xylophone

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Claves

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Congas

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Glockenspiel

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Maracas

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Score_and_Parts

Catch_a_Falling_Star-Soprano