Month: August 2015

A Friend’s Room

A friend of mine who is also a music teacher has his room set up like this:


I love the stands and how the beaters are laid neatly on the instruments.  This is set up for 12 players and then the rest will play untuned percussion or singing.  Would love to do this myself but will have to wait a few years to save up.

Carpet Spaces

I have made seating plans for all my Y1 and Y2 classes.  It’s worked really well today.  Basically I have surrounded our most distracted children with focused learners so they have noone to feed off.  Let’s see how the rest of the week goes. 

Royal Wedding at the bottom of the Cupboard

I have managed to chuck needless paper and useless resources today.  This reminded me of one of the worst schools I have ever taught in.  This school had no instruments, no schemes of work and had been led by the same person for 30 years.  How on earth the school kept her on defies belief.  Anyway, I was teaching there for about 8 months and I got told off for trying to sort through a cupboard searching vainly for some instruments.  I just simply did not believe there were no instruments in the music department.  But it was true, there were no instruments, just cupboards full of rubbish that noone had bothered to sort through.  In amongst the crisp packets and coke cans I found a book about Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue for their “wedding” from Neighbours and also I found a wedding book about Prince Charles and Lady Diana from the early 80’s.  This was in 2007. 

I left soon after but the last time I looked she was still at the school and had been promoted four times.  Every job she did was a disaster.  Why do some schools keep promoting people who do such bad jobs?  I just don’t get it.

Mini Drum Kit


This is a mini drum kit for use with KS1 pupils.  It is pretty good quality but cheap.  The company that makes them is called Mr. Drumm.  We have some very good drum kit students at school.  My aim is to give them some supervised practice time and make sure that at least one pupil in every class can play the drums.  We start school early and so Drum Club will be at 7am.  Great way to wake up in the morning!

Bell Table


Here is my bell table for the children to select bells.  The bells at the back are the chromatic and extra range bells.  I got the bells from MES (music education supplies).  They are great and they are cheap but do not last forever.  It’s best to buy 3 or 4 of the octave bells and one set of the chromatic range for a whole class.  That will cost you about $100 in total.  Then you will need to replace one octave every 2 or 3 years as they get worn out pretty quickly.  This is an inexpensive way of performing music.  In a later post I will explain how we perform them in class.

Some Things That Make Me Cross

At the age of 14 most children will end their musical education in UK schools.  By this time they will have probably had 10 years of lessons.  Most schools have music lessons for an hour a week.  So that’s approximately 35 weeks a year.  That means they will have had about 350 hours of music lessons in their relatively short lifetime.

So why at the age of 14 do so many children tell me (thankfully not in my school) that they can’t play a musical instrument?  And why can’t they tell the difference between a violin and a cello?  And how can you get through 350 hours and not know what a bassoon is?   

Instrument of the Week

Every lesson (unless we are in the hall rehearsing for a show) we have the Instrument of the Week.  This is for a variety of educational and practical reasons.

Firstly, a multitude of problems happen on the first few minutes of the lesson.  Last year the following happened:

1) Children late due to taking register somewhere
2) Child upset because not been invited to another child’s party and was crying
3) Child had nosebleed and blood was splurting everywhere
4) Child late arriving as was been seen by another teacher for doing something silly
5) Child feeling ill and needs to see doctor
6) Child late as was in the toilet
7) Child overly excited about the lesson and going a bit crazy and needed a bit of calming down (yep this has happened)
8) Children not in any state to learn as a bird was flying around the hall
9) Children desperately and excitedly trying to tell me that their teacher had dressed up as a wolf and was blowing their houses down
10) Child crying as another child had kicked him in the foot by accident walking into the room.

Because of these and many more I have forgotten about, the beginning of the lesson can be taken up with talking or dealing with some individual children.  If you are dealing with this child what are the others doing?  This is why we have the Instrument of the Week.  It is only for 3 to 4 minutes and the children find their spot on the carpet and watch a short video featuring one or a small group of instruments.  I then ask specific children questions afterwards to test their observance and understanding.  I ask if the instrument is big, small, high or low and something about the music itself.  We the put the name and picture of the instrument into the correct family on the wall.  At the end of the lesson I always refer back to this to refresh their memories.

This time is also useful if I need to talk to a TA or put some instruments out if there has been no time to do this before the start of the lesson.  I will try to bring the real instrument out for the children to see if we have one.

What instruments do we do?  Well there are about 30 lessons taking away the lessons we aren’t in the room for educational visits, transition days and show rehearsals in the hall.  So that means 30 instruments of instrument combinations.  Here they are for Year 1:

1) Violin
2) Flute
3) Trumpet
4) Xylophone
5) Double Bass
6) Bassoon
7) Tuba
8) Piano
9) Cello
10) Clarinet
11) Trombone
12) Glass Bottles
13) String Quartet (Involves viola)
14) Flute, Clarinet and Oboe
15) French Horn
16) Timpani
17) Harp
18) Bagpipes
19) Saxophone (explain why it is woodwind and not brass)
20) The Drum Kit
21) Peter and the Wolf Strings
22) Peter and the Wolf Woodwind
23) Peter and the Wolf Brass
24) Peter and the Wolf Percussion
25) Piano Quintet
26) Wind Quintet
27) Brass Quintet
28) Rock Band
29) Orchestra
30) Symphony Orchestra

Year 2 is slightly different as we have mainly the same instruments but different music.  There are also some less well known instruments such as the ukelele, banjo, Thai instruments such as the ranat, khim, klui, ching and kong wong and lots of different combinations of instruments for the children to identify.

Lesson Structure

The structure of my lessons is always the same. This means the children know exactly what to expect. 

0 to 5 Minutes.  The Beginning.

The lesson starts with the children taking their shoes off at the door before coming in.  Then they sit in their place on the carpet.  I put on a short 3 minute Youtube video of the Instrument of the Week.  We then talk about the instrument for a few minutes and put it in the correct family on the wall. 

5 to 10 Minutes. Aural Time.

We have 5 minutes of aural skills.  I play on the piano and the children sing back what I play.  They use the Curwen hand signs and sing using the fixed doh Kodaly system.  I start by singing three notes which they repeat back.  After a while I stop singing and just play notes on the piano which they sing back.  We then do some rhythms every lesson.  The children clap them back using the Kodaly ‘taas’ and ‘tees’ but sometimes I will mix these up with minibeast rhythms for variety. This is whole class work and there is no differentiation.

10 to 20 Minutes.  Song Time.

We sing a song with the Kodaly handsigns on the board.  The children then have to work out which song it is (I always start with a familiar song).  We will then sing another 1 or 2 songs and one will always be new.  We always sing at least 3 songs per lesson.  One will be a partner song, clapping game or a round. 

30-45 Minutes.  Instrument Time.

We play a variety of games using instruments and I try to use Orff techniques as much as possible.  We perform as much music as we can.  This work is differentiated into easy and hard.  The easy work will be ostinati or simple rhythms.  The hard music will be much harder with melodies written in staff notation.  Our children can cope with this.  In Year 2 we have some children playing Grade 5 piano music.  Sometimes I will get the children to do some composition work in groups but this is not often, possibly once or twice a term.  The focus is on performing for Key Stage 1.  There are plenty more oportunities for composition in the following 7 years of their musical education.

45-50 Minutes.  Listening Time.

After packing away instruments we have a time where we listen to four sounds and work out what instrument they are.  This way the children can identify over 40 instruments from the sound alone by the time they leave Year 2. 

50-55 Minutes.  Performance Time.

One pupil will play a piece of music they have prepared for the rest of the class to listen to. I tell them when they are playing a month in advance.  There are 33 weeks of lessons in our school year.  In my class I have 24 children and everyone plays something after Week 4.  We listen in silence to the performer and then clap enthusiastically.  I then take the register and the children line up at the door as I call their name.

To exit the room they have to individually play a tune I set, clap a rhythm or sing something.  This is differentiated.  It is related to the lesson content and helps me work out if they have understood the lesson.  If the children cannot do it correctly, they go to the back of the line to have another go.  Yes, the same ones keep going back all the time but they do it with a smile and understand that we do this so that noone gets left behind. 

When they leave the room they put their shoes on and go back to their class. 

This means that my lessons are normally about 80-100% teacher directed.  I know this is relatively controversial but I will go into my reasons why in future posts.

This is a jammed pack lesson for 55 minutes but much of what we do is repeated week after week.  Why repeat so much?  Because that’s how little kids learn.  I do not believe that discovery learning is effective with this age, they need good modelling and direct instruction.  If anyone complains about this I direct them to John Hattie’s meta-analysis work on teaching techniques and effect sizes and ask them to inform me which technique is the most effective (clue: one is proven to be 5 times more effective and it’s not discovery learning).  Children only master material if they have done it at least three times over three weeks.  As music lessons are weekly, the repetition is even more important.  There is little point doing anything only once.  I always keep revisiting material too as they quickly forget. 

This is what we do for children in Year 1 and Year 2.  Early Years is different and I will write about that another time.

My Room

My room is a work in progress.  I hate cluttered rooms and busy walls so in my first year, last year I tried to declutter.  I got rid of three cupboards and binned a whole load of broken instruments and fixed quite a few xylophones and other simple percussion instruments.  I ripped all the backing paper off the walls and found a whole load of damp areas that have now been fixed. 

Now I have more of a blank canvas, this year my aims for the room are as follows:

1) Train the children to take off their shoes before entering the room so that when we get a new carpet it will last.

2) Make the wall displays attractive but not too busy.

3) Digitize as many paper, audio and video resources as possible and catalogue them.  Put all paper resources away in cupboards out of sight.

4) Improve the instrument stock and repair as many instruments as possible.  Bin anything that is broken or unusable.

Hopefully, these four simple, practical steps will make it easier and calmer to enjoy music making in my room.

What is this blog?

This blog is simple.  It’s about how to teach primary music in a traditional manner.  No gimmicks.  No progressive rubbish.  Just how to get children listening and playing music.  You won’t find many tips on composing here or any of the coolest new fashions.  But you will find some good materials and links as I develop the blog.  Enjoy!