Sing for Pleasure Books

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These tiny books are actually very good.  Like all resources, some aren’t fantastic but many I use day in, day out in my lessons.  There are some very simple songs for young children, some accumulative songs, songs from around the world and there are some good rounds and singing games.  Mine came in a little file which is handy.  If you need a book if you aren’t that familiar with the song, they are easy to take with you for a reference.

Songs I use from the series:

1) Boom Chicka Boom

  • Boom Chicka Boom – all ages
  • The Hand Jive – Year 2 melody only, more parts for Years 3 and 4

2) Kumala Vista

  • Kumala Vista – Year 3 and 4

3) Tongo

  • Tongo – Year 3 and 4
  • Clap, stamp, slap, click – Year 3 and 4
  • Emmanuel – Year 3 and 4
  • Shalom – Year 2
  • Lazy Coconut Tree – Year 3

4) Popacatapetl

  • Ooo a lay lay – Year 1
  • Popacatapetl – Year 3 and 4
  • Pizza Hut – Year 3
  • A Young Austrian – Year 3
  • Young Peter the Fiddler – Year 6

5) Tall Straw Hat

  • I don’t use any songs from this book

6) Rock ‘n’ roll – a round?

  • Rock ‘n’ roll – a round? – Year 6
  • Junkanoo – Year 5
  • Waters of Babylon – Year 6

7) Lost in Space

  • Lost in Space – Year 6
  • Soualle – Year 6
  • Hewenu Shalom – Year 5 and 6

8) I’m gonna sing

  • Canon in Swing – Year 6
  • I’m gonna sing – Year 2 and 3
  • Tina Singu – Year 5 and 6

9) Ghosts

  • Ghosts – Years 2 and 3
  • Dem Bones – Year 5
  • Calypso – Years 3, 4 and 5

10) Bear Hunt

  • Bear Hunt – Early Years

Okki-tokki-unga 

  

  

I am going to review some well used singing books.  Okki-tokki-unga is a pretty old singing book by the firm AC & Black.  It’s really good for young children and probably best for EY to Year 2.  There are great action songs, counting songs and some singing games.  The full index is here:

  
  
Some songs I would not use anymore as they have smoking in, or are a bit military in nature.  Most are great.  An essential book for the music classroom.

Song Writing

I was asked by someone to get my six and seven year olds to write a song.  There are some children who can do this.  Most cannot.  Writing a song is not as easy as you think.  The way to start teaching it is to replace words to existing songs.  One way of doing this is to take a song like “London Bridge is falling down” and change the material that we use to build it up.  For example, “build it up with chocolate bars”, “build it up with teddy bears” etc.  The children love this and with one and two syllable words they start to learn about melismas, using more than one note for one syllable. 

The next stage is to replace words of an entire song to make the meaning completely different.  So instead of “Going to the zoo”, we can change it to “going into space” and change the verses to things we could find in space rather than at the zoo.  This stage is a lot more tricky for children because not only do they need to independently think of things in space, they have to make it into a sentence and then make the sentence fit the music.  This is where most children fall to pieces.  You can do a half-way activity where you give the children three sentences and they have to choose which one fits the song the best.  This gives them the opportunity to sing the sentence to the music to see if it fits.  To do this you need a good sense of rhythm and pulse and an understanding of how the first beat of the bar is stressed and it is not necessarily the first word of a sentence.  These are incredibly difficult concepts for most children and the main reason why I don’t move onto this stage until at least Key Stage 2.  This is why I believe that the main aims of Key Stage 1 music must be rhythm, pitch, aural skills and a large repertoire of known songs and pieces.  It is difficult to write songs if you haven’t experience of how songs are structured.  The more songs children know, the better their understanding of song structure will be.  

The next stage should be left to Key Stage 3 for most children.  This is to create their own music for their song.  In order to do this you need to understand melody and probably harmony.  Some children can make up an independent melody for their words but what normally happens is they sing it to an existing song but don’t realise that is what they are doing.  If you want truly original work, the best thing to do is to make a simple chord sequence and then a melody can be sung over the top which fits.  This is why a basic knowledge of chord progressions and harmony is important to be able to write good songs and why you can’t really start it until you have started learning harmony.

And this is ultimately why asking seven year old children to write a song is not only a difficult thing to do but actually an unfair thing to do, as we are asking young children to do something they are simply not prepared for.  There are exceptions, there are some children who can write a song with little to no help.  But because of these exceptional children, we think all children should be able to do this when I have just shown how difficult an activity it really is.  If you really want to teach children songwriting, the best things to do are to learn an instrument like a ukulele, guitar or keyboard and learn how to construct simple chord sequences.  I would not be bringing in proper songwriting with original melodies and harmonies until Year 9.  There is nothing to stop younger children having a go and writing their own songs but it should not be an expectation for children to be able to do this until they have a good knowledge of melody and harmony.

Knowledge-Directed

Daisy Christodolou said something very important in one of the Michaela debates about education.  She said that the debate between traditionalists and progressives was not “teacher-directed” vs “student-directed” but rather that traditional teachers were “knowledge-directed”.  The learning in a classroom should be directed by the best that has been thought and said, not by the whim of teachers or students.  The reason this is important is because progressives like to portray traditionalists as trying to control the learning in their classroom with students being passive recipients of what they say rather than critically thinking about what is said.  Knowledge-directed is something else, you can critically think about the best that has been thought and said – people have been doing this since at least the time of Socrates.

I have shared the aims of what I am trying to achieve in the music classroom and these are based on powerful knowledge.  With this knowledge, students are freed up to independently learn, become creative and critically think.  For example, being able to read notation means that the single biggest barrier to learning an instrument has been taken away.  Notation is a transferable skill, if you can read clarinet music, you can also read violin music.  Understanding the chronology of Western Art Music will help you understand why composers wrote what they did and what they were building on or rebelling against.  It is impossible to understand early 20th Century music without a good grounding in Romanticism, especially Wagner for this reason.  And of course, composition is much, much easier when you understand basic harmony.  The idea of composing with little knowledge of harmony is a big mistake.  Sadly, the main delivery method of composition in the KS2/KS3 classroom is without any prior knowledge of harmony.  And that is why in most cases, it is a complete waste of time.  

The best way to decide what knowledge you want to teach is to think what the children ought to be able to do and know by age x.  If you are really unsure, the Core Knowledge Curriculum by Civitas is a good start and has a pretty good list of music for music teachers to teach.  At the end of the year I will release my curriculum which has detailed lists of repertoire to sing and play for each year group.

Vocal Repertoire

Before you start to think about your repertoire you need to think about your aims.  My aims for Key Stage 1 are relatively straightforward.

  1. To sing in tune
  2. To develop the head voice
  3. To sight-sing
  4. To learn singing games
  5. To learn songs that can be performed in public
  6. To learn songs to continue an aural tradition

1. To sing in tune

This is easier than most teachers think. There are very few children who cannot sing in tune.  The reason you get the “growlers” and the “mumbles” is due to poor initial technique.  This is where the Kodaly method comes into play.  Start off with lots of singing games in the so-me and la range and this will help the children to sing in tune with one another.  I use “Little Sally Saucer” primarily to achieve this aim but there are many other songs that achieve this.  From then on I go straight into full tonic sol-fa starting from “do” to “ti”.  Some teachers disagree with this and choose songs that use the pentatonic scale first but I don’t as I prefer a fixed “do” system in my teaching for many other reasons that I will go into in a later post.

2. To develop the head voice

After fourteen years of teaching, I am only recently starting to understand the importance of children distinguishing between their head and chest voice.  Chest voice needs little explanation but head voice needs to be explicitly taught.  The way to do this is to sing “oohs” at ranges above top C.  Then progress to sirens swooping from high to low and back again.  Children find this fun.  I always knew this and did this in lessons but the one thing I did not know is how top cathedral choirs get that fantastic sound from the trebles.  I have learned that they choose songs that start high, or alternatively transpose everything up as high as they can.  Then little by little, they slowly bring the range down to try to get the children to sing as much as possible in head voice.  I have done this recently by using the songs “Bibbity Bobbity Boo” which starts high and only goes lower in the second line, and “Castle on a Cloud” where I have transposed the whole song up five semitones.  Most songs start low and then get higher so if head voice is your aim you need to think the other way around and choose repertoire where notes start high.

3. To sight-sing

Sight-singing is a neglected art.  I have started to develop this by putting the Kodaly hand signs on the board in a selection of songs that I call “The Mystery Tune”.  The children sing the mystery tune in tonic sol-fa and then have to guess what it is.  They really like doing this.  I pick well known songs they have sung before, like “The Bear Went Over The Mountain”, “Old Mac Donald”, “London Bridge” and “Twinkle, Twinkle”.  In Year 3, I start to gradually bring in the traditional staff notation.  Sight-singing in the UK is pretty dreadful, if you compare it to places like Hungary, you can see that high standards can be achieved.  In my experience, Year 2 children should be able to sight-sing a tune with a piano or guitar accompaniment.  In later years I would expect it to be done unaccompanied.

4. To learn singing games

As I have written in a previous post, singing games work and are the best ways of increasing enjoyment, participation and singing in tune.  A substantial part of my repertoire for Early Years and Key Stage 1 is based around singing games and this is reflected in the repertoire.

5. To learn songs that can be sung in public

An embarrassing consequence of my enthusiasm for singing games resulted in this aim.  Basically, we had done so many singing games that when we were asked to perform a song in public, I couldn’t think of anything to do.  It would be a bit weird to just play a game in front of the audience and I am sure they would enjoy seeing their children having so much fun but there are conventions that we need to observe and it is important for children of all ages to learn how to perform in front of an audience.  So now I teach songs that stand alone for public performance.  Most of these do have actions but some are just a straight song where the children stand tall and sing their hearts out to their loved ones in the audience.  I tell the children that they get lots of good things from their parents like nice food, being looked after when they are sick, play dates, toys and trips to the park and this is our way of saying “Thank you” to them.  Parents want children to sing to them and that is the best present ever.  They want to see smiles and a strong performance.  Finding the right songs can be tricky – our performance songs this year include “Tomorrow” from Annie, “Never Smile at a Crocodile” from Peter Pan, “Colours of the Wind” from Pocahontas, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz and the songs “You raise me up” and the Carol King song “You’ve got a friend”.  “Colours of the Wind” is the most challenging.  I have put it into our repertoire for this year but on reflection I think I am going to keep this for Year 3 and 4, as technically it is quite tricky and there are a lot of words to learn.

6. To learn songs to continue an aural tradition

This is probably the most controversial of my aims.  Many music teachers do not think this is important.  I do because we had a guest musician some years ago who asked the children to sing a simple nursery rhyme and the children did not know it.  I thought their parents would have taught it to them or they would have learned it in nursery but I learned this was no longer the case.  The power of pop and YouTube has resulted in songs that we knew from a young age now becoming obsolete.  This includes folk songs.  This is a shame because it does mean we lose part of our identity as a nation and also means we have no common reference between generations.  Consequently I teach songs such as “When a knight won his Spurs”, “The Skye Boat Song”, “Greensleeves” and folk songs from other nations such as “Waltzing Matilda” and “Cockles and Mussels”.  Nursery rhymes are important but can easily be learned by simply putting on nursery rhyme CDs at playtime or by singing throughout the school day.  I think we should use these opportunities to make sure “The Grand Old Duke of York” and “I had a little nut tree” don’t fade away with subsequent generations.

This all informs the repertoire I choose.  I have a list of songs we learn and I divide it up into six blocks to go with the school year.  This is a little more complicated than it sounds as I try to make them fit into themes.  For example, Year 1 are currently learning about pitch so I am putting songs like “Hot Cross Buns”, “The Grand Old Duke of York, “Happy Sun High” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into this half terms repertoire as they all, in different ways, explore pitch and the concepts of high and low.  I think it is also very important to repeat songs, there is almost no value in learning a song only once which will be forgotten quickly.  All songs should be sung at least twice.  And, as with most learning, we need to revisit songs so that the brain has a chance to forget them and then relearn them.  This “spacing effect” solidifies learning.  Failure to space learning can result in the “Why they can’t do this?  I know I’ve taught them this!” phenomenum.  It’s not necessarily bad teaching, it’s just that the children have forgotten the material as there was no spaced practice.  This incidentally, is one of the reasons why the government is getting rid of modular examinations – students were learning a terms worth of work, cramming for the exams and then promptly forgetting it all.  Without modules you actually have to retain information over a longer period of time.

The end result is that I have a repertoire of well over one hundred and twenty songs and the expectation is that all children will remember them and sing them from memory by the age of 7.

Pitch in Early Years and Key Stage 1

  

When teaching early years, I often use three chimes when we talk about high, middle and low pitched notes.  I also get them to growl like the three bears.  This is with EY1 (3/4 year olds).

  

For EY2 we use Hot Cross Buns.
  

For Year 1 we use Rabbits to go with the Magic Rabbit Scheme.

  

This gets progressively harder.
  

And turns to staff notation in Year 2.
  

By the end of Year 2, all children should be able to play a five note tune using standard staff notation.

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…

INSTRUMENT FAMILIES

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

PITCH

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”

RHYTHM

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

DYNAMICS

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

TEMPO

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

17) To understand accelerando and rallentando 

SONG REPERTOIRE

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

PERFORMANCE REPERTOIRE

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

COMPOSITION

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

COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY

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

PUBLIC PERFORMANCE

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

LISTENING

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

AURAL SKILLS

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.  

Singing Games

Traditional, old fashioned singing games work well in Primary Schools.  They are common all over the world and all children should know at least a dozen by the time you leave Year 6.  Kids absolutely love them but that’s not the point – they learn so much through singing them.  Firstly, the repetitive nature means that you are continuously singing.  Secondly, the songs you sing are being reinforced by the whole group, encouraging reluctant or shy singers.  Thirdly, you have to combine singing with action.  Fourthly, the pitches of many singing games are the ones which are most natural to children so help them to sing in tune.  Fifthly, there are social benefits that help children to learn to take turns.  Sixthly, they are common all over the world so children get to sing in other languages and learn songs from different cultures.  

The best way to learn them is to learn them off other people who already teach them.  I learned many from some fantastic colleagues but the best were from an INSET course we did with Ex Cathedra.  My attitude when Ex Cathedra came to visit us at our music service was appalling.  I had looked them up on the internet about 9 years ago and it said they were a posh choir from Birmingham.  I thought, what could this group of singers teach us about teaching young children when they sing Mozart’s Requiem in cathedrals?  I could not have been more wrong.  They were absolutely brilliant and the material was perfect for young children.  Most the songs were traditional singing games but some were composed by the team and they got the balance of engagement and good quality singing right.  I enthusiastically recommend them, and if you are thinking about bringing in a musical workshop, book them in.  I have done many, many music INSET days and they were the best by a long way.  They have a new publication and CD on their website if you would like to purchase it but in all honesty it really does not make sense without seeing how the games are taught in practice.

Where else can you find Singing Games?  The best publications are the Singing Games books created by the National Youth Choir of ScotlandSing for Pleasure have many small books with them in – one is based on Polish singing games created by one of the education practitioners of Ex Cathedra.  Banana Splits , a book to help children learn to sing in parts has a few and there are a few from the Singing Sherlock series.  Some of the best places to find singing games are not from books but from people who know them – the guides, brownies and scouts have a tradition of singing games and are in most towns and villages.  Asking older members of society is also a good way to learn singing games – I was told a few by a headteacher who was nearing retirement and wanted to pass on the old traditions.  

To get you started, here are my favourite twelve singing games:

  1. Little Sally Saucer – circle game for young children
  2. Jump Jim Joe – partner song
  3. John Kanackanacka – partner song
  4. I hear the Bells – partner and group song in two parts
  5. A Young Austrian – action game
  6. Early in the morning – circle game
  7. A sailor went to sea – partner clapping game
  8. Hear the music – acting game
  9. Copy Andrew – copying games that I wrote
  10. Who stole my chickens and my hens? – competitive circle game
  11. Here comes Sally walking down the alley – line game
  12. Stepping out and stepping in – line game

Early Years Music

The current Early Years Foundation Stage is difficult for a traditionally minded music teacher to actually do their job.  I have talked to quite a few music teachers and they all say the same thing – that free-flow “active learning” is incompatible with whole-class music tuition.  There are two major problems.  Firstly, the Early Years coordinators do not want children to leave their environment.  Consequently, you are not allowed to take them to the music room.  This really limits what you can do practically and I can’t see logically why we are limiting the children to one place.  We should be taking children to new places like the library, the swimming pool, the art room and the music room from a very young age – I cannot see why this is wrong.  If we can take them to the adventure playground we can take them to the music room.  The second problem is that the Early Years staff are not happy with whole-class teaching and want you to do small group activities for only those children who want to go to music.  What this actually means is that children come and go as they please and do not really engage with what you are doing.  It is incredibly difficult to play a parachute game or teach an action song when at any time the children can be distracted by Johnny in the sandpit.  

The argument given is the children are too young for organised music activities.  That is complete rubbish.  Music Together and Kindermusik are companies that have organised musical activities for toddlers and young children for many, many years and there are MT and KM practitioners who work in schools.  And in my experience, as long as you have a variety of activities, there is no reason for children to not join in with class music activities.  Thirty minutes max with action songs, parachute games, bean bag games, scarf games, instrument time and perhaps a musical story.  But to do this you need space and a distraction-free environment.  And that is out of the question.

So what do music teachers do in reality?  Some go along with it and just accept they cannot teach the children effectively.  One teacher I know just takes the whole group of kids round the corner when nobody’s looking and then does a proper music class.  Another had a big argument with Early Years and won and now can teach the children in the music room but it wasn’t without a fight.  My plan is to get out of Early Years because it is pointless trying to teach children when there are so many pressures to actually stop you teaching.

It’s such a shame as it is a wasted opportunity.  But as I have found out over the last fourteen years, teaching ideas are endlessly recycled and I am sure we will go back to whole-class structured activities in a few years.  Government ministers are talking about changing it and I think they will in a few years time.  In fact, the main reason they haven’t is political – ministers were worried that they would completely lose goodwill with Early Years teachers because of the local authority cuts to Sure Start.  Subsequently they decided it was not worth picking a fight with nursery teachers.  But I am pretty sure we will see some pressure to return to more structured activities – Liz Truss was talking about the French nursery system a few years back and how structured activities work well there.  Whatever they do decide to do, change it is definitely on the governments radar.  And for me, hopefully my five years of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “The Wheels on the Bus” are over.  Even parents don’t get five whole years of this.  They get “Let it Go” instead… 

Boomwhackers


I am in two minds about these brightly coloured plastic tubes.  Yes they can teach pitch.  Yes they are simple to play.  Yes they are the same colours as the hand bells.  Yes you can get additional chromatic notes and octavators to obtain pitches an octave lower.  Yes kids love whacking them.  So what are my reservations?  Well simply, they sound crap.  And to make a reasonable noise you need to whack them on something hard.  And they always result in some behavioural issues.  And some pupils just can’t cope with instructional activities with them, they just want to bash them as hard as they can.  They are sturdy but not indestructible and they can bend if truly whacked.  Would I buy them if I was resourcing a music room from scratch?  Probably not, but I have used them in class, mainly because they demonstrate how longer tubes have a lower sound than shorter tubes.  You can’t show this on handbells, keyboards or pianos, you can on xylophones but Boomwhackers are good to show this important concept.  I have also used them to keep a steady beat and for simple ostinato work.  I think if they actually sounded good I might use them more often.

So Boomwhackers or an additional xylophone?  Get the xylophone.