One of my main worries about any musical education is the lack of knowledge concerning basic instruments. It seems to be expected that children will just know instruments or learn them by cultural osmosis. Explicitly teaching what each instrument looks like, what it sounds like, what it is called and how you spell it correctly is not fashionable in our collective attempts to give a creative musical experience in class music lessons. I have heard people say it’s not important if children don’t know the difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone but I beg to differ – that’s the route to low expectations and ignorance.
I deal with this by having a weekly instrument of the week for Key Stage 1 where I explicitly teach each instrument of the orchestra and then moving on to world instruments and band instruments, always at the beginning of each lesson as the children are entering the room. In Key Stage 2, I give video examples of small groups of instruments for children to recognize and towards the end of Key Stage 2, I will show examples of orchestras, swing bands and other groups that use multi-instrumental ensembles. This all means that as children enter the music room they encounter good quality, well performed music. I also try to bring an instrument in, so my Year 1 pupils have all tried to play a violin, blow a flute mouthpiece and try to buzz a note out of a trumpet. I find when they try to do it themselves, they more readily remember the instrument, its name and its sound.
Our aim must be to get all children to know all orchestral instruments, the families, a good range of percussion, some world instruments, the parts of a drum kit and the names of various ensembles including what makes up a jazz band, a rock band, a concert band, an orchestra by the end of Key Stage 2. If we can do this then it will be a great foundation for learning in the secondary phase. If you think this is ambitious, think if we have 30 lessons a year and six years to teach a primary pupil music, why can’t they remember about thirty instruments in one hundred and eighty hours of tuition?