Not many classic albums start with an eight minute song but “War Pigs” is a fantastic start to this album. It has everything you expect from a Black Sabbath album in a single song – bone crunching Tony Iommi riffs; thoughtful political lyrics by Geezer Butler about the Vietnam war; iconic vocals by Ozzy Osbourne and those amazing rapid drum fills by drummer Bill Ward.
The title track “Paranoid” is short (under three minutes) aggressive and incredibly catchy. It really should be a longer song but I guess if you have said all you need to say then that’s it. It’s a great contrast to “War Pigs” and was one of their most well known singles.
“Planet Caravan” is more a prog rock song than a metal number. Some really cool vocal effects and ethereal ambient atmospheres. Piano, flute and bongos – not instruments you usually associate with Black Sabbath but it really works as a follow-up to “Paranoid”.
Then, in my opinion, the highlight of the album. The bass drum enters in, the guitar slides aggressively, the voice declares “I am Iron Man” and then we get “that” riff. The band realized that Tony Iommi was a great riff creator but this is probably his best – so much so that the melody of the song is basically just words set to the riff. The song speeds up for a contrasting section and then returns to the familiarity of the riff. The outro features a fantastic guitar solo and driving rhythms. I’ve actually got Year 4’s to play this song on xylophones for a class assembly. You do need to put the F sharps on to play the riff and two beaters are a necessity for each child.
“Electric Funeral” introduces that “devil’s interval’ – the tritone and for good reason, the song is about nuclear holocaust. The beginning riff is exactly how I would feel if I knew that bomb was on its way. The lyrics are scary but I guess accurate. There are then some contrasting sections, I guess giving the sense of panic we would experience in those few moments before we are all annihilated. The riff of doom returns as the lyrics take a more supernatural theme of heaven and hell and we actually end with a fade out. After humans massacre each other with nuclear bombs we will all fade away.
“Hand of Doom”, reminds me a bit of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” with its contrasting quiet and loud sections. The song is about American soldiers coming back from the Vietnam War addicted to heroin. It’s another long song at over seven minutes but doesn’t feel overlong, probably because of the contrasts within it.
“Rat Salad” is a great instrumental track and really shows how good a drummer Bill Ward is. Fills, driving rhythms and just passionate playing show-off his ability.
The final track “Fairies Wear Boots” has great riffs, solos, drum fills and definitely has its roots in Blues music. Supposedly about an encounter Ozzy had with a group of skinheads, it is a super end to one of the best metal albums ever created.
Education Ideas – Playing Iron Man on xylophones! Also if you want to show the contrast between loud and soft “Hand of Doom” is a great example.
Let’s start this series of album reviews with one of the most influential that was on repeat on my CD player over and over during the late 90’s. It was also one of the first CDs I ever bought. I remember buying it in Wilko’s and being very scared to be spending £10.99 on an album – I was lucky enough to have a student grant but it seemed like a huge amount to pay for music. I had been working full time at Burger King for a year and this was over three hours pay (this was before the minimum wage). It was and is an obscene amount of money to pay for music and we can pay that money each month for almost all the albums in the world that have every existed. But was it worth it at the time? Oh yes.
The first song “Airbag” is a great track and the sound effects towards the end of the song in the strange outro really inspired me as I was doing a degree in Electronic Music and Politics at Keele University when the album was released. We had a studio at Keele called Studio 2 where we were cutting up tape using razor blades and looping them round microphone stands. Some of this music in “Airbag” I was sure I could recreate myself but some of it was way more complicated. We were desperate to get into Studio 1 where there was a computer program using Cubase and another with the university’s only copy of Protools. But we had to start in Studio 2 according to the course. Many of my fellow students were annoyed but I quite enjoyed the physical cutting and pasting of sounds. “Airbag” is a great song, especially for keyboard players like myself who have always been interested in creating strange sounds.
Next on the album is one of Radiohead’s most iconic songs – “Paranoid Android”. This was simply gorgeous, inventive, macabre, frightening, epic and very long. It was also one of the first songs that took me on a musical journey, a little bit like “Bohemian Rhapsody” with its clear but contrasting sections. I had a tough time with relationships in my early twenties and my flat mates knew not to come into my room if this song was playing! That exciting guitar solo ending with a 7/4 passage followed by the “rain down” part of the song was just something I had never heard before. And then finishing with that fast and unexpected ending. It wasn’t a song, it was an experience.
The third song “Subterranean Homesick Alien” has keyboard sounds that were beautiful and romantic yet tinged with nostalgia and something scary. The title evokes the Bob Dylan classic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” but doesn’t sound anything like it. Tom Yorke says the song came from a school exercise where you had to imagine you were an alien on earth for the first time and to describe what you see and feel in your hometown. I wonder if we do story writing like this in schools these days?
“Exit Music (for a film)” was something I was excited to see on the album track listing as I was really into film music at the time and very influenced by Hans Zimmer and John Williams. It is such a sad song – a very depressing and sad song. But so beautiful and well crafted. The harmonies are clever and unorthodox in most popular music. The drums only really kick in three minutes into the music and turn this understated song into something truly epic. Try not to listen to this song on repeat if you want a sound mind.
I thought “Let Down” would be a let down as no album has five great songs one after the other. I was wrong. I absolutely love the guitar work on this song. In a very dark and emotional album, “Let Down” is a song about emptiness yet actually sounds uplifting despite the lyrics about being “crushed like a bug in the ground”.
Can this album sustain yet another great song? Well guess what is next – “Karma Police”. I remember seeing this song and thinking about Leonard Cohen’s “Jazz Police”, which I found hilarious – I still don’t know whether “I’m your man” is a Cohen album that should be taken seriously or if he is trying to make fun of himself! “Karma Police” is a fantastic song – who hasn’t wanted the karma police to arrest someone who really deserves it and punish them appropriately?
“Fitter, Happier, More Productive” was a very timely song for me. I had been studying early musique concrète by Pierre Schaefer at university and it was interesting to see how you could put some of these ideas into a piece of popular music. We were always encouraged to make atonal music at university, which I found annoying and pretentious yet I always thought these ambient sounds could be beautiful and accessible. Another piece of music it reminds me of is “Memories of Green”, from the Bladerunner soundtrack by Vangelis. The monotonous computer monologue was something I don’t think I’d ever heard before and it really works. Listening to the song now makes me think I am a “pig in a cage on antibiotics”. It jars you because we are fed these uplifting and life-affirming messages constantly. I’ve just been writing my New Years Resolutions and could probably have fed it into the computer and something similar will come out. 25 years and this track has come back to haunt me. I’m the piggie that has been brainwashed.
“Electioneering” is a classic rock song. In 2022, with so many elections and non-elections we still get the same promises and mistakes from our political leaders. Normally every album has a bit of filler and I guess this is OK Computer’s filler but quite honestly it would be the title track in any other band’s new release. In particular, the guitar-work at the end of the song is very admirable.
“Climbing up the walls” has a great sound effect rich introduction. The strings at the end are said to be inspired by Krysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima”. I remember studying this piece for my GCSE Music exam and thinking the extended techniques on stringed instruments were a bit ridiculous. But the Penderecki sure sounded like what I thought nuclear holocaust would sound like. This song is a rock song with intentional microtones in the string parts. It is a scary, frightening song. Tom Yorke used to work with mentally sick people and this is certainly a song that has these people in mind.
The next song is my favourite “No Surprises” – a beautiful, emotional yet suicidaladult lullaby. I’ll take a quiet life, a handshake of carbon monoxide with no alarms and no surprises”. This is the song I want played at my funeral. I’ve learned this on the piano and it’s one of my go-to karaoke songs. Probably makes everyone think I’m a depressed teenager but it is just a really well made and gorgeous song.
I’m not that familiar with the last two songs as I normally fall asleep during “No Surprises” but they are both fantastic. “Lucky” is a song about war and has a great solo. The last track “The Tourist” is a superb final song, really summing up this dark yet beautiful album. The lyrics tell us to “slow down” and are certainly poignant for 2023 just as it had been in 1997. We need to slow down, listen to some good music and stop consuming everything as fast as we can.
Teaching Points – There are loads of things we can teach children using OK Computer. You could do the exact same task Tom Yorke had and get children to write a story as if they were an alien come to earth observing their hometown for the first time. In the Music classroom I think I would go for “Fitter, Happier, More Productive” and reflect on the lyrics and perhaps even use it for stimulus for a Soundtrap soundscape composition, perhaps using sound bytes that children are bombarded with on social media. I think the main take away from the album is how to create beauty using strange sounds and dark lyrics and is certainly something that is relevant for students today.
Final Review – OK Computer is an album for when you are feeling sad but need beauty back in your life. Slow down, take away all other distractions and simply listen to one of the greatest albums that has every been created.
I am going to write some reviews of classic albums and say if there are any classroom activities we can create from them. The album almost seems like a relic of the past. Now we consume individual songs and the idea of a cohesive album is something we have lost to time. I’m going to try to write a review a day but I doubt very much I will be able to keep it up! It’s also a good activity for myself to get back into listening to music properly. I’ve lost the habit of just sitting down and listening and I want to get this skill back in the coming year. I also want to write about music, so hopefully my reviews will get better with time. I’ve gone with Radiohead’s “OK Computer”, The Beatles “Abbey Road” and Black Sabbath “Paranoid” to start with – all three are British bands but this won’t always be the case. I’ve chosen these albums first because they are very well known and I think there are some things we can use in our classrooms from each one. It’s a cathartic and enjoyable activity for myself but please comment if you have anything to say about these fantastic albums.
In my new school I found twenty plastic fifes. They are very similar to recorders but you play them like a flute. I’ve now started Y4 fife club on Tuesday lunchtimes as the extension to Y3 recorder club. The fifes will then go into the orchestra when they have got to a reasonable standard. I thought they would be a good entry point to learning the flute but the more I think about it, actually I would prefer the sound of the fife with our very eclectic orchestra. Just because of the instruments we have in school we have an orchestra currently with two fifes, tubular bells, flexitones, a bass guitar, a trumpet, a keyboard, violins, cellos, drum kit and some tuned percussion. I’m thinking of going down the Early Music route and turning it more into a contemporary broken consort playing predominantly Renaissance and early Baroque music with a modern twist. A colleague has even introduced me to “Bardcore Music” but I am not sure I want to get the kids playing a medieval rendition of Gangsters Paradise, as fun as it could be!
So far in our little orchestra we have played a few pieces that I have written myself and Suzuki’s “Allegro” but I am thinking about arranging Charpentier’s “Te Deum” and some Christmas carols. We also have loads of alto recorders in school and one tenor but I am unsure how to teach these as they are transposing instruments. Another thought I have had is we can turn this ensemble into an Irish band – interestingly, in Penang where I am teaching they have an annual Irish festival which we are invited to. I have a book of jigs, reels and hornpipes that I am going to look at arranging for the future.
Orchestra will certainly be a challenge but I think with a bit of strategy we can make something interesting. Almost all the children are not having instrument lessons outside of school so it puts quite a bit of pressure on me to train them up to play something. Strategically, I need to work out how to share the burden – we have some good musicians in the staff but everyone is so busy. We have two teachers who play the cello who say they can play a bit nearer Christmas time (after reports due) and an oboist but he hasn’t got his oboe in Penang.
Anyway, orchestra is going to be my big project for the next couple of years. I am used to be able to just give kids music and they learn it with their teachers and come to orchestra rehearsal able to play but I can’t do that here. If anyone has an ideas or advice, leave a comment below!
I have had the opportunity to sit in many, many assemblies over the last twenty years and I have found that class assemblies can be stressful, fun, educational, boring, inspirational and bizarre amongst many other adjectives. It’s really interesting to see what class teachers come up with and I find the most successful ones are when I can collaborate well with the class teacher.
In general you have the distinction between the abstract assemblies and the topic assemblies. Both can be great but I much prefer the topic ones that are normally on subjects such as the Ancient Aztecs, Volcanoes or Under the Sea. Abstract ones are more about values such as community or teamwork. I think the reason for my preference is that primary aged children respond much better to concrete topics whereas abstract is really quite hard for the younger students to understand.
School leaderships seem to value the abstract assemblies the best as they tie in nicely with PSHE and this is invariably delivered through the assembly program. Also abstract assemblies are often a lot cheaper and less time intensive. It is a lot cheaper to do an assembly about responsibility rather than make props for Thor’s hammer and dress up Cleopatra. And if you are lucky enough to have a TA they don’t have to have a week off creating Asgard. However, when I talk to students in secondary schools and adults about their class assembly experiences it is these prop and costume-heavy assemblies that they seem to remember. I have heard colleagues saying this is a waste of time and effort and not good for children’s learning. I would dispute that – you shouldn’t really put a price on a child’s memories. So many of us remember what we were in the school nativity (I was a cow one year) and it would be shame to banish these memories in the name of efficient learning.
The Creative Arts side of the assemblies is what I am most interested in. Much of what I have seen is beyond my abilities. I once saw the most incredible International Fashion Show that must have taken a lot of time and effort. It did help that the class teacher was fantastic at this sort of thing and it really helps to work to people’s strengths. I did a class assembly yesterday with a guitarist teacher and together we did a great song about dinosaurs that the kids loved singing. They sang so well because the teachers were passionate about performing. People are mirrors and enthusiasm is catching.
I have some rules about class assemblies that I think can be helpful for everyone. Firstly, each child must say something, play something and sing something. The parents coming to see the class assembly have often taken time off work, have had to reschedule appointments or even rearrange childcare for younger siblings. They have come to watch their children, their eyes are not on other children – they are on their own. If a child has spent the assembly doing nothing we haven’t just let down that child, we have let down the parents too. I always tell the children that this is our way of giving back something to parents for all the lovely things they do for their own children. Kids don’t buy expensive presents for their parents but they can give their time and their enthusiasm as a gift – parents have memories too. The other thing I try to insist on is to use recorded music as sparsely as possible. Getting the children to produce the music for the assembly is better than subcontracting it to Jack Johnson. And if you are going to do a song by Jack Johnson, don’t use the song track – the parents have come to hear their children sing, not the voice of Jack. A school I used to work at blanket-banned backing tracks and it worked very well but it does mean that you do need some instrumental expertise. Sometimes the kids themselves can accompany but remember that accompanying is a very different skill to performing – kids who are amazing at playing solo aren’t necessarily the best at accompanying others. The other rule I have, that I know is controversial, is that a class assembly really is not the forum for learning a song. Class assemblies aren’t a vehicle for showing the process of learning, they are about a final product – the end of a journey. Teaching a song that kids don’t know in an assembly is fine but not really the place when parents have come to watch their children perform. I know some educators won’t agree with this!
Covid has had an appalling effect on the performing and creative arts. You would think that school leaderships would now be investing in music, drama and dance because of the missed opportunities. However, the bonanza in the arts is not happening as schools seem to be saying that the kids have missed out on academics and we need to bring them up to standard. I understand this but I do think it is wrong. Throughout history when times were hard and even when music and art were banned, the human spirit rebels. During the Stalinist purges with the execution of musicians and composers for wrong-think, music did not stop. Sometimes like Shostakovich, music is quietly put in a drawer but it should not remain there. As educators we need to stop and think about what has value, as well as what children need to be able to do in order to pass an inspection. Class assemblies are something that need to come back if they were taken away and be encouraged rather than diminished. I guess as a music teacher I have a bias towards the arts but I do think that we all know deep down that we have undervalued this part of children’s education and I encourage you all to set aside the maths and English for an hour or two and bring creativity and joy back into our schools. Put on a class assembly if you can – you won’t regret it.
Here is a simple Orff piece to learn to play music in ternary form. There are multiple ostinati as well as the melody and accompaniment. I have tried to make Section B as contrasting as possible to Section A with different instruments, dynamics and articulation. Feel free to download and use for your own classes.
There are many traditional Chinese instruments. In Year 3, I introduce four of these instruments, starting with a listening video of the famous song Molihua. The four instruments I expect all children to recognise from sight and sound are the gǔzhēng, the èrhú, the dízi … Continue reading Chinese Instruments
I’m probably not the only person who thought the song “Donkey Riding” was about the sort of animals that young children ride by the seaside. It’s actually a Sea Shanty about riding one of these machines in the picture – a steam donkey. Currently this lesson is in my “Animal Music” Year 3 unit but I will move it to my Year 4 “Sea Shanties” unit not only because of the subject matter but also as it is a fraction too difficult for the Year 3’s.
The problem isn’t the music, it’s actually the partner pat, clap and patch movements. The kids in Year 3 are finding this very hard and I think that Covid has had its effect here – social distancing has meant that kids are not used to touching one another so they simply have no idea how to do clapping games with one another. I am pretty sure two years ago I could have done this sort of activity with Year 2’s but now it’s going to have to be moved to Year 4 because kids are really struggling to do simple patterns.
The kids love the movements and the song and it works very well as a simple keyboard or recorder piece. I’ve arranged it for all our musical groups but you are welcome to download it and arrange it yourself from the score here:
I wrote a little lullaby for a school concert a few years ago. It is also something I sing to my children to get them to sleep. Every parent should have a few lullabies to sing to their children and you are very welcome to … Continue reading Wandering Sheep
I made a Music Curriculum Map for my last school with some groovy pictures. However, now I have moved school I won’t get to use it! It worked pretty well and there are workbooks for each unit from Year 3 to Year 6. Each unit … Continue reading Music Curriculum Map
We are going back to Thailand for another contract but at a different school. For the first time for many years I will be teaching every year group Music from Nursery to Year 6.
I’m going to spend more time this coming year on Book Reviews and developing Orff in the classroom. I’m finding that teachers are becoming very reliant on the internet for resources and don’t know where to find sheet music for a song or activity. I will be making more backing tracks using Logic, more arrangements on MuseScore and I am also going to make some quality class assemblies. I think all these things will be practical for teachers worldwide.
I will also be sharing some of my own experiences using the Model Music Curriculum. I have started making a set of PowerPoints for assemblies that use the MMC. There is great repertoire in this document and I will be trying to get the best out of it.
Finally, I will be finishing off my musical Aethelflaed. I have about four songs left to go but a script to write. I am also hoping to join a choir and a band – two things I have missed in the last two years.
I hope everyone has a great start to a new academic year!
I’ve been playing around a bit on Logic and I have made some backing tracks for my Year 3 Rocking Rhythm lessons. The children move around in a carousel learning to play four different rhythms that we learn to read using standard Western notation. They start easy with just one bar ostinati but then progress into two bars. We use normal classroom percussion instruments, about 6-8 children in each team and when we have played the music we move to the next station and learn a new rhythm. It’s a fun way to play and learn the basics of reading and performing rhythms from notation. Watch this video to give you an idea of how it works.
After four years I have left China at short notice. I had a new job lined up at an IB school in China starting in August and was excited to start this new curriculum. But after sixteen months of not seeing my family and being told that the authorities were not going to even consider letting dependents in until February, I decided our Chinese adventure was at an end. So I am writing this post on the plane back to Vancouver.
It was a great four years but honestly the first two were the best. The things we achieved in those first two years were quite amazing. I wrote a pirate musical for Year 1, we put on loads of shows, events, competitions, bands, recitals – basically we made so much music. The last two years with a different manager were not as satisfying, as the focus switched away from performance to curriculum but that did mean I was able to finish my Key Stage 2 scheme where we have six units for each year group with a workbook, six powerpoint files and a medium term plan. These 24 units meant we moved away from presenting a Music curriculum to the children doing a Music curriculum. In the past, some children could coast through without paying attention, but the addition of the workbooks meant kids had to think harder about what they were doing.
I have no idea what to do next. I have a young family who need me and it looks like I will need to do something different. Currently its looking like remote piano teaching so we are looking at moving to New Brunswick where the time zone could make this possible as most my clients would be from China. I would consider another international Music job but realistically in the current climate it is going to be very hard to find one where they can afford to hire a teacher with three dependents. If you can, get in touch!
The last thing I will say is how much I love China, the language, the culture and the people. This place is absolutely fantastic and I know I am going to suffer from reverse culture shock when I get back to West. I hope one day to come back.
Our students have finished their multitracked GarageBand project. I have permission to use this piece by one of our students and his parents so we can see how he has got on.
This child is ten years old and previously, like the rest of the class he has done a sequencing activity on the iPad multitracking a medieval melody. So he has had a bit of experience multi tracking. So I think it is safe to say that this is his second or perhaps third multitracked piece.
The task was to make a 24 bar multitracked piece of music with at least five different parts. One is a drum part which he didn’t have to do much for as the loops automatically write themselves! He then had to make a chord sequence using the chords C, Am, F and G and using the autoplay, put this onto guitar, bass, keys and strings. He also had to make a live ukulele part using the four chords that we have all learned. Finally he had to create a pentatonic improvised track using a keyboard synth sound. And to finish he had to mix it, do some panning and then upload to Class Dojo as a screen recorded video. Here’s how he got on:
It’s not bad for a ten year old beginning to use GarageBand. I gave him so feedback on Class Dojo that I think he needed to work on the beginning and ending and tidy it up. I haven’t taught the children about quantising yet. In fact I would prefer not to so they can play things in more accurately! He gave in about three drafts before running out of time so the ukulele part is a lot better than it was – his first attempt resulted in a quizzical look from myself and an acknowledgement that he was going to have to do it again! He also had forgotten the pentatonic melody the first time. I think he did quite a good job of this as he is using the keyboard function on GarageBand and not an external keyboard. It could definitely do with a bit more accuracy, especially with the timing.
It’s definitely a task I would like to keep in Year 6 – the six week unit was called “Chordal Chaos” and the students responded very well to the instructional videos that I made. We have one more unit in six weeks time on the Blues and we will do one more similar task to this and I think that will be the one we will give into his secondary music teacher so she can see at least one of the creative tasks that he has done in Primary School as part of our transition. I think we will spend a bit of time on texture and form as that was the weakest feature of all the students. But to be fair to them I never specified that as success criteria for this task.
If you would like any more information on how the students did this task then have a look at the instructional videos here, here, here and here.
I work in a 2-18 school and currently teach 6-10 year olds Music. The main transition point for us, like most other schools is between Year 6 and Year 7. I have had many great secondary Music colleagues but interestingly not one has asked for any data about the kids I have taught, even though I have been teaching them for about five or more years. This isn’t because my colleagues don’t care but because they are totally unused to receiving anything in the past. When I do give them information they are normally taken aback and they feel I have gone above and beyond. I just want to share what instrument each kid plays and a bit about whether they were in the choir or orchestra. It’s great when colleagues are interested because I love talking about our kids musical achievements. It’s why we became Music teachers in the first place!
On Twitter yesterday one secondary Music teacher was mocking the Model Music Curriculum’s transition ideas. As far as she was concerned, this could jeopardise a successful start to the year as it would label children to who were the “musical ones”. I find this really hard to understand. Surely if you are a secondary Music teacher you would want to know who plays what instrument, what standard they have got to and see some of their creative work? But I think there are still many colleagues who have this reductive attitude that I experienced in my first secondary school twenty years ago that “they don’t know anything so we start again in Year 7”. It was only when I left that school and went on supply that I saw some fantastic things going on in primary schools and some of the great opportunities that music services were doing. So good I ended up joining one.
I don’t want to make extra work for anyone but I really think we need a better transition in most places. It is expected that in most schools something will be handed up to colleagues on their ability in Maths and English. We need something in Music. The Model Music Curriculum’s has this:
This seems relatively sensible and uncontroversial. The practicalities might be a bit more difficult as many secondary Music teachers could have 120 or even more pieces to listen to. That’s an awful lot of “Ode to Joys”! But I really do believe that something is better than nothing. The advocates for a fresh start in Year 7 are being quite disrespectful to the work we do in primary schools. We know these kids can play and compose and it would be good for you to know what they have already achieved.
Some other ideas that I have seen work are concerts where the secondary Music teacher was invited. However, almost every time that I have seen this mooted it has ended up in a cancelation. I guess it’s either negotiating cover with leadership teams or going to evening concerts. As some secondary schools have over ten feeder schools that would be a lot of concerts! It therefore makes sense to record something or encourage the children to show something musical that they have done in primary school when they first arrive in Year 7.
My school is affluent and has iPads for every Year 6 student and what I am going to suggest to the boss this year is we share the children’s Year 6 Garage Band sequencing projects and get them to record themselves playing or singing anything on their iPad either as a solo, as a duet or small group. I will encourage them to make it the most challenging thing they can do, not just Twinkle Twinkle! The children are used to uploading their work to Class Dojo so all I need to do is make a folder and save the projects for the handover. I will also share my markbook with the new teacher if she wants it, which includes all the instruments they play and what groups they joined. Hopefully it will ensure a smoother transition.
I really do feel that this transition is extremely important. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve seen the numbers but I remember the horrifying statistics on those children quitting instruments in Year 7. Hopefully things are better now but I think it is fair to say that there was a big dropoff between Year 6 and 7. Let’s try to do something for transition but please don’t mock the Model Music Curriculum for actually having the guts to suggest something. Let’s get behind the spirit of the idea, if not the letter – what we have now is far better than the vague and unambitious one page A4 document that we have been dealing with since 2014.
The Model Music Curriculum’s biggest controversy seems to be the repertoire lists in Appendix 2. There seems to be many people who dislike the idea of a repertoire list for a number of reasons. There are those who think it is authoritarian to have a list; there are those who are politically suspicious that a repertoire list is a method to enforce a certain style of cultural politics on young children; there are those who think there are serious omissions on the list and there are some who disagree with certain choices of music on the list. There are also a vocal group of people who think that the curriculum should just be about skills and any repertoire is at the discretion of the teacher. Repertoire shouldn’t even come into the discussion as far as they are concerned.
I really like the list, not because I am trying to indoctrinate children into a political cult but because I respect the people who have made the list and I know how much work and discussion has gone into many of the choices. I am now listening to the Australian contemporary composer Elena Kats-Chernin and her ballet “Wild Swans” as a result of the list. I posted one piece called “Glow Worms” on Wechat Moments (similar to Facebook) and my Australian friends were delighted because they thought she was only known in Australia. I would probably never have come across her music if it wasn’t for the MMC. I would have been one of those people who hear it and remark it is from a famous bank advert, rather than know anything about this beautiful work.
My biggest problem with those who are venemously against the repertoire list is that without consulting others, any content becomes quite a selfish endeavour. We should listen to experts who work in the cultural sectors and it does not just need to be those who work in schools or in the universities to choose good repertoire. I am all in favour of a grassroots sharing of good practice but it does not mean we have nothing to learn from composers, radio presenters, famous performers or even the head of an examination board.
The repertoire list is useful, not harmful. Let’s get behind the Model Music Curriculum.
The Model Music Curriculum has arrived and already sparked debate. I want to talk a little bit about curricula in general and why this curriculum is practically useful.
To start with we need to be mindful that in primary schools, the majority of music teachers are not specialists. Everything we say about this curriculum needs to be understood within this context. The reason we have this new model curriculum is because what we had here was not working for many schools. It wasn’t working because there was no content and was incredibly vague. Here is the entire curriculum for Key Stage 1.
Compare the National Curriculum of England and Wales with the Alberta, Canada curriculum and you will see two completely different approaches. The Alberta curriculum carefully lines out what needs to be taught and when. This is just a snapshot of one element, rhythm and there is much more that I have not included.
Now I can understand the Alberta system because I am a trained music teacher. But for many teachers in the UK – much of this is specialist knowledge. This sort of curriculum is simply not going to work with non-specialists who probably have no idea what a fermata is. What the teachers in the UK were crying out for was content.
Because they needed content, the market provided. Music Express was the market leader and you probably have these books somewhere in your school.
There is nothing wrong with these books and I still use quite a few ideas from them myself. But children were coming out of the system into secondary schools who knew very little about music. It was not uncommon for secondary teachers to say that they had to start from scratch in Year 7. The majority of children did not play a musical instrument and Music was certainly not considered an important subject, more as a relief from the pressures of the big two – literacy and numeracy. And the government has rightly realised that schools should not have to buy into the market and so has specified content in the Model Music Curriculum. This seems to be the most controversial aspect of it but to me it seems to be very practical help for a workforce crying out for guidance.
And it is not only non-specialists. I work in a large school and we have multiple teachers teaching the same year group. So when we plan lessons, I plan Year 2-4 and my colleague plans 5-6 but we teach classes lessons we have not planned ourselves. Having done this for years with multiple people over multiple schools, I have found that they rarely read the medium term plans – what they want to know is the content. They love the workbooks I have made and they make their own themselves. Often they ask for PowerPoints for each lesson or to know what the end goal is and work backwards from there. The only person who has asked me for a lesson plan in the last ten years is my boss who I am sure rarely reads them carefully – there is so much more to have to do in a busy department. This isn’t because we are all lazy – it’s simply that the content is a lot more important than people have realised.
The Model Music Curriculum spells out the knowledge, skills and suggested content and so is a great document for specialists and non-specialists alike. For myself, what I will take from it is the huge repertoire list of Appendix 2 and see how I can broaden my existing curriculum. One thing I will criticise about myself is I can end up teaching the same content in multiple years because I know it works. This document will give me the confidence to explore some unfamiliar music and try to bring it into my curriculum to give children more breadth. It is also reassuring to know that we are on the right lines, as so much of what we are doing is in the MMC. It can also give me the confidence to defend our curriculum. Every now and then when the boss changes they want to put their own mark on what we teach or to try to tell us how we should teach. This document is empowering because I can tell my boss we are actually doing things in a perfectly acceptable way.
The word “model” in this context means “a possible and good example”. This curriculum is certainly better than anything we have had in my memory but more importantly it is practical. I don’t think the people who have drawn this up are that bothered if we don’t replicate it in its entirety; where they want to help is to get children learning, playing, creating and listening to a wide range of music and if we can think of alternatives that result in happy musical kids I am sure they won’t get angry. That is why it is non-statutory.
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