Month: May 2016



I am currently writing a set of piano duets for children and adults who have had about half a year to a years worth of lessons.  They are influenced by some Diabelli duets I used to play as a teenager where you play some simple tunes using ten fingers.  There will be nine or ten duets in total, I have written four so far.  Here is “Forget-me-nots” if you fancy trying it out:

Forgetmenots Primo

Forgetmenots Secondo



Instrument Carousel

Give a class of children a set of instruments with no instruction and I can guarantee you will have a set of broken instruments and a class of children clueless how to play them properly.  If you want children to play instruments correctly they need to know the following

  1. What they are called
  2. Where they are stored
  3. How to hold them
  4. How to play them
  5. How we put them away

For this to happen you need to have consistency, which normally means the instruments should be stored in a music room or on a music trolley.  Sadly in many Early Years environments this does not seem to be happening as what I have observed is that instruments are placed randomly around for children to play and given almost no instruction.  I suggest that you use the following method to introduce young children to a variety of instruments and to teach them how to use them.  Only then should you allow children to have access to instruments in a free choice environment.  I have done this successfully with 3 year old children.  I would repeat the process over four weeks.

  1. Seat all children in a big circle
  2. Take an instrument and say the name of it twice.  Tell children to say the name three times
  3. Say “I am going to give the _____ to _____”
  4. Play the instrument correctly
  5. Explain any misconceptions on how it is played.  For example say “Some people think you play the triangle like this.  That’s not right! This is how you play it!”
  6. Put the instrument behind each child and say that no one can play their instrument until the teacher says the magic word “play”
  7. Do this for every child until there is an instrument behind everyone
  8. Say to the children “Take your instrument, now play”
  9. Let them play for about 15 to 20 seconds.  Use the time to correct technique, especially on the cymbals and the triangle
  10. Say “Stop. Instruments on the floor.  Hands on heads.  Stand up.  Move to the next instrument”
  11. Make sure the children move clockwise to the next instrument
  12. Repeat process until children have played every instrument
  13. On the last round, tell the children to put their instrument into the middle and sit back down in their place where they were
  14. Then go around the circle and say “____ can you please put the _____away”
  15. Help the child find the instrument if they need help locating it.  Repeat the name of the instrument continuously and point to where it goes.  Do not put the instrument away for the child.  This their job.
  16. Continue for every child.  Do an inspection at the end so the children understand that putting instruments away tidily is an expectation
  17. When all the instruments are away, line the children up for the exit
  18. Say “Tell me the name of your favourite instrument”.  Do not accept one word answers, ask them to say “my favourite instrument is the _____”
  19. If they do not know the name of an instrument, let them watch four or five children say it so they know what they have to say
  20. Wait till all have exited
  21. Have a nervous breakdown, a glass of whiskey and recuperation time to recover from the ear onslaught

This is a very noisy activity but there is a lot of learning as long as you repeat the activity for a few weeks so they remember the names of the instruments and how they are played.  I then think it is a good idea to wait a few weeks and then go back to the activity as interleaving practice will reinforce the learning.  Only then should you allow children to have free choice of instruments and you still have to reiterate how they should be played.  If you do this then your maracas will not be in pieces on the floor and your bongos will not have holes in them. More importantly, the children will know the names of the instruments, how they should be played and where they are stored which will make instrumental activities much easier and calmer in the future.

Rainforest Adventure

rainforest logo.jpg

In Year 1 we have been on a Rainforest Adventure. The idea of this five week scheme is to get children’s imagination’s whirring but at the same time to have a structured approach and plenty of practice so we can illustrate a story with musical instruments.

I have found with the younger children that if we work in groups there are certain rules that make life a lot easier. Here are the rules for this topic:

  1. The teacher assigns the groups
  2. The groups never change personnel
  3. The children have a set routine to collect instruments
  4. This process is consistent and never changes in the five week scheme

The group layout is always the same.  There are four largish groups in the corners of the rooms.  Each corner has a music stand with the part of the story they are going to illustrate written down.  Here are the cards for the first week:

monkey rainforesttreefrog rainforest

anaconda rainforest.pnginsect rainforest.png

The first objective is that the children have to understand what instruments they need to find.  It’s a bit like a musical shopping list.  This is very important because you can get children leaving school at the age of fourteen not knowing the difference between a xylophone and a glockenspiel if you have not actually taught the names of the instruments explicitly.  I then tell the part of the rainforest story for the week and show the cards.  I then read out who is in which group.  I get them to sit together with legs crossed and arms folded in their group next to their stand.  For the first two weeks I tell each child what instrument they are going to play and where it is. No-one moves until I say it is their turn to collect instruments.  When the children know what they are going to get and where it is stored, I ask them to go group by group to collect their instruments and then sit down with instruments on the floor and hands on their heads by their stand. When everyone has an instrument and is sitting crossed legged on the floor with their hands on the heads I read the story.  The children play in the correct places.  I then ask them to move clockwise to the next group.  We read the story four times so each group has a go at each of the stations.  When the story is finished, group by group we pack away the instruments and when they are settled I read them the next part of the story so they have something to look forward to the next week.

This is highly structured for the first two weeks but in the third week I say “You should know which groups you are in now – go to your groups”. In the fourth week I nominate someone to be the captain and they organise who is getting what instrument.  This is normally a bit of a disaster but children do need to learn to organise themselves so it is a mini-step towards self-organisation. The fifth week is a little bit different, it’s an opportunity to make up their own part of the story so we spend a lot longer in whole class discussion so we can think what happens next and what instruments that can be used to illustrate the story.  I strongly believe that composition should come at the end of a scheme of work where children have had lots of practice performing and following set instructions.  It’s only when children have experienced how we can find and play instruments and have learned how music can be structured that we can create our own with thought and intention. And with Year 1, I still have it quite teacher-directed so there is plenty of guidance.

Every week it gets a little bit more complicated, there are more instruments, different instruments, obscure ways to play objects but the structure is always the same.  For a few stations, I explain certain ways you can play instruments to get an effect, such as stroking the glockenspiel like a cat from high to low to make the sound of a waterfall or using a four note repeated melody on hand-bells to evoke the sound of an ancient temple. The narrative structure is very strong with young children and they really do enjoy the idea of going on a rainforest adventure.

You might find the story below a little bit haphazard but it is designed with a beginning where we set the scene, a quest and many sets of difficulties that need to be overcome. There isn’t really an ending as the last lesson is the composition lesson.  But I might create a sixth lesson in the future where we finish the story off.  Below is the story I created and the resources.  Feel free to use the resources:


Rainforest Story

Rainforest Adventure Part 1

Rainforest Adventure part 2

Rainforest Adventure part 3

Rainforest Adventure part 4

Rainforest Adventure part 5




We have auditions for concerts at our school.  This is because we have a huge amount of children who wish to perform.  I have just auditioned sixty-four children for thirty places and I thought I would write how we have done it, as it could be useful for other teachers in a similar situation. This is for our Key Stage 1 children.

First of all we have scheduled two concerts.  One is a big concert in the hall where we have space for five performances.  This is quite a big deal in my school and we select the best performers but on a variety of different instruments.  We have some exceptional piano players at our school but the concert would be rather narrow if we only chose pianists. The other concert is a recital for twenty five children.  Any more would make the recital go on for too long so we have to set a limit.  I have selected only Year 2’s for the big concert but in the recital I have selected students from Year 2, Year 1 and from the Early Years so it reflects the whole of our infant school. We have students playing piano, violin, drums, guitar and singing in our recital.

The first thing I did was publicise that there will be auditions and I made a sign up sheet for parents to write down the name of their child, their class, and the instrument they were playing. These were all in five minute intervals after school.  I printed these all out and displayed them so parents could sign up.  I made two sheets, one for Tuesday and one for Thursday.  However, there were not enough spaces and parents had started to write their names underneath so I made another for Friday.

Auditions template

The following week we did the auditions.  To eliminate bias, I hosted the auditions with a colleague so we could make a collective decision.  I put a table out, some water for us, two pens and ten blank sheets stapled together so we could make notes.  Here is a template:

Audition forms

The children came and performed and we had a brief chat after each one and just jotted down some comments and which concert, if any we thought that child would be best to perform at.

After the auditions we got together to make a final list of the children who were performing.  Luckily we agreed on all of the children that we chose.  I then made a list of these children ready for the next step – to tell them collectively.  I dread this moment, the children are so young and it is a harsh lesson to learn that not everyone can be successful all the time. Even though they are very young I think it is important to tell them first.  The following day I gathered everyone who auditioned in the Music room and said how proud I was of everyone for auditioning.  I gave them all five team points each.  I said we only had spaces for thirty children but sixty-four auditioned.  We did a bit of maths and the children agreed that not everyone could play so we had to make a choice.  I said there will be plenty more opportunities to play in the future if you didn’t get chosen this time.  I then told them who was going to play and what instrument they would be playing as some had auditioned on multiple instruments.  I then gave everyone a sticker before they went back to class from registration.  They all took it in their stride, there was no crying and they all seemed genuinely pleased for their friends who were going to be playing even if they hadn’t be chosen on this occasion.

The next step was to tell the parents.  I printed out our decisions and put it on a stand outside the Music room.  We thought about sending out a letter but we really don’t want to make too much of a meal of this auditioning process so we just left it at that.

Audition Decisions template

The next step is to create a program for the concert.  I made a Google Form and sent it out with an accompanying letter electronically with the name of the child, class, instrument, name of piece, composer and their instrumental teacher name.  In a week or so I will collate all the information and make the program for our recital.

I am not 100% happy with our auditioning process, I have asked advice off colleagues and the SLT and this is the best we can currently come up with.  If anyone has any ideas how we can make the process fairer, less administratively burdensome or just better in general, please write in the comments below.