Minimum Musical Expectations

After six or more years of music lessons totalling approximately two hundred hours of class tuition, we should have some minimum expectations of what children can achieve in Music.  There is something officially written down – it is called the National Curriculum of England and Wales and it fits onto one page of A4.  Compare it to the Alberta curriculum and you should be embarrassed as the expectations in this province of Canada are far higher than anything we have in the U.K.  To be fair, you can say that the Alberta curriculum is very prescriptive and exact on what needs to be taught whereas the U.K. curriculum is a basic framework you adapt.  

As Music in the National Curriculum for England and Wales is so vague, most teachers adapt it, as you could probably teach the whole content in two or three weeks if you were competent.  I have made a curriculum for Key Stage 1 that is similar to Alberta, but also has the content of the U.K. Core Knowledge curriculum published by Civitas.  This, of course, fits the N.C. for England and Wales because it is hard not to, as it is so embarrassingly basic.  I will share it at the end of this year as I am still not happy with the final paperwork yet.  But I will share the basic aims.  Remember this is my expectations for the end of KS1, not KS2.

All students will know…


1) The names of the four instrument families

2) At least four instruments in each family from sight and sound

3) How the instruments can combine and make different groups such as orchestras and bands


4) To sing in tune

5) To sight-sing using tonic sol-fa and the first six notes of the treble clef

6) To sing in unison, in a round, in partner songs and as a solo or duet.

7) To play well known melodies on xylophones and glockenspiels using graphic notation and the first six notes of the treble clef

8) To play handbells from number and letter notation

9) To play at least four notes on a recorder including “E”


10) To keep a steady beat

11) To read, clap and play rhythms using semibreves, minims, crotchets, quavers and semi quavers and rests

12) To play ostinatos

13) To combine rhythm and pitch


14) To play and understand music using the Italian terms fortissimo, forte, mezzo forte, mezzo piano, piano and pianissimo

15) To understand crescendos and diminuendos


16) To play music using different tempi using Italian terms such as presto, allegro, moderato, andante and adagio

17) To understand accelerando and rallentando 


18) To confidently sing the song repertoires of Early Years and Year 1 and 2 totalling over 100 songs


19) To play over 30 short pieces of music on instruments


20) To have the opportunity to compose music individually and in pairs


21) To compose music using the program Dance EJ for schools

22) To compose music using an iPad

23) To record music using an iPad


24) To take part in public performances including choirs, recorder groups, handbell groups, instrumental concerts, class assemblies and year group musical plays


25) To become aware of at least thirty pieces of well known classical music

26) To identify at least ten pieces of music from around the world by naming the country of origin

27) To listen to at least twenty pieces of music from the 20th and 21st century including Jazz, Country, Pop, Rock and Dance music

28) To listen to an orchestra playing live

29) To hear a public performance by professionals


30) To identify changes in pitch and rhythm

Can this be done?

Yes.  But your lessons need to be highly structured.  I do this by having the “Instrument of the Week” at the beginning.  This covers the majority of the listening repertoire and knowledge of instruments as each child will experience around 100 lessons before they leave KS1.  This takes five minutes of every lesson.  I then have “Rhythm Time”.  This takes about five minutes too.  By the end of Year 2, the children have the foundational skills of keeping in time and sight-reading rhythms.  We then have “Singing Time”.  This takes about ten minutes and we start with Kodaly warm ups and then go into two songs we know and one we don’t or only know a bit of.  We constantly revisit known songs so they become engrained into long term memory.  That covers the singing repertoire and most aural skills.  This all takes up the first twenty minutes of the lesson.

We then proceed into “Instrument Time”.  This is when we get instruments out to play tunes, read notation etc.  This covers most of the rest of the curriculum.  I try to keep composition to a minimum as composition skills are better taught in KS2 and above when the children have more experience playing instruments correctly and with precision.  I do teach some composition and put in improvisation too.  The limited amount of composition time is the most controversial element of my lessons.  It’s only controversial in the U.K. though!  All composition activities are highly structured and only ever performed individually or in pairs.  Small group composition never works well with KS1 students from my experience.  “Instrument Time” always takes the most time, about 20 minutes of every lesson.  

After we have packed away (and after “Inspection” to make sure it has been put away carefully), we have “Listening Time”.  I put up a short quiz of four instruments where the children have to work out the instrument from sound alone.  To do this requires a careful scaffold of information about instruments every single lesson.  It is only at the end of Y2 that it clicks with most children due to the constant exposure to the instrumental sounds they hear every lesson.  This is also useful as it serves to quieten the children down after the excitement of “Instrument Time”.  Again, this takes five minutes.  We then have “Performance Time”.  This is when any child can play their instrument to the rest of the class.  I then ask if anyone else wants to play next week.  My plans are to record these informal performances but I have not done this yet.  “Performance Time” happens in silence so we get used to really listening to what our classmates can play and the routine of listening to others in silence as a mark of basic respect.  I then finish the lesson (ours are 55 minutes long) with a recap of everything we have done in the lesson and what to look forward to in next weeks lesson.  Then we all line up for the “Password”.  This is the classic exit ticket for formative assessment so I know if they have been paying attention.  It’s normally a short tune or a rhythm that they have learned in “Instrument Time”.  If they can’t play it, they watch five other children doing it successfully then they try it out themselves.

I repeat this structure every lesson.  It’s quick paced and requires good time management but, my goodness, it works.  I have tried other ways of delivering lessons but all that happens is children do not retain the knowledge and skills over time.  The way I teach in this very structured manner works because the expectations are all known and valued by the students, the routines are engrained from very early on, and if they forget something over the week, they are constantly reminded every lesson.  Most music lessons are unsuccessful because they do not do this.  If you teach a subject that only occurs once a week then you will not have time to embed these skills before they get naturally forgotten.

Some music teachers will be horrified by this approach.  It is highly structured and the creativity police would probably have a fit as it is very teacher directed.  In fact it is close to 90% teacher directed.  But my kids leave Key Stage 1 knowing tons about music, they sing and they play really well and I have never had any complaints from parents or children.  In fact it’s the reverse – parents are always telling me how much their children love their music lessons.