Month: December 2017


I had a very successful lesson today improvising around the pentatonic scale.  What I find works is when you put improvising at the end of a scheme of work.  The Year 3 children had all learned how to sing and play the Chinese song Molihua (Jasmine Flower) on tuned percussion instruments.  They had learned the melody by rote and by reading it through the notation.  Some had played without annotation, others had written the letter names of the notes themselves (I don’t do this for them anymore!)

They all knew what a scale was, what a pentatonic scale was, and what notes to take off on their xylophones to play a pentatonic scale.  They had also been assessed on their ability to play Molihua and their performances were videoed and shown to their parents at parents’ evening (parents were really happy with this as they could see exactly how well their children were doing).  I had also given the Year 3’s a pretty tricky test, that they revised for using a knowledge organiser, most of whom got over 20/25.

So when it came to improvising the children had both knowledge and skills and didn’t need to think too hard about the content so they could focus on the skill of improvising.  I told the children what improvising meant and how it wasn’t about just playing any old thing.  I also explained that the best improvisers knew all their scales and used the scales to make music.  We all agreed we knew the pentatonic scale well and I modeled the improvising task with another pupil with all the class watching.  We both played Molihua and then I said her name and she improvised and then we both came back with the melody.  I wondered if I should bring in the term “rondo” but thought that was a word I could save for another time.  Improvising was enough for this lesson!

We then got the instruments out and I played the piano to accompany the children.  Everyone played the Molihua melody and everyone got a chance to improvise.  I didn’t spend much time on working on how to improvise really well – today was a lesson to just have a go and to be unafraid of creating music as you play.

I think the reason this lesson worked was because the improvisation part comes at the end of the scheme.  I also think this is a good model for any composition work that we do in Primary School.  Composition and improvisation needs to come after listening and performance.  Music teachers often bring in these tasks way too soon and what ends up is a free for all devoid of thinking, planning and dare I say it, creativity.  If you are doing a composition task in the first lesson of a scheme or at the start of a lesson it is probably not a great idea as you really need to have knowledge and skills to create music well.

This lesson could lead in nicely to a composition lesson on pentatonic scales but I have decided not to because we are going to return to pentatonic scales in Year 4 where we will revisit the learning in Year 3 and develop it into not just being about Chinese music but pentatonic music all around the world.  I will use some more challenging melodies like “Arirang” from Korea and “Amazing Grace” and we will develop our improvising into composition with a focus on how to craft a melody.




The Orchestra

The Orchestra is alive with strange creatures called musicians
Who lurk behind a music stand and study compositions
Their hours of sitting motionless require clinical physicians
And they suffer from tinnitus from the adverse noise conditions
They perform in frosty church halls, no need to make predictions
The truth is that their feet rot and need to hire pediatricians
Listen now as I go through the sectional positions
And explain how this organism has come to its fruition

The percussionists all pretend that they are incredible magicians
Who can play a hundred instruments and are skilled in demolition
They play their little drums like soldiers with unlimited ammunition
And bang and crash like toddlers without social inhibitions
They count almost audibly to show that they have mastered addition
But most the time they joke about crazy American politicians
If you meet this awful tribe avoid their coalition
Or you’ll end up being visited by the Spanish Inquisition

Why the brass are in the orchestra is a mystery of tradition
They should be in a marching band or scouting expedition
They are very contrary and love to be in opposition
When other instruments are playing soft they roar in loud sedition
They are the first to leave the concert and in the intermission
And have a considerable appetite for alcohol acquisition
Spend no time with these hedonists, there’s no need for definition
The brass will make you wish for the return of prohibition

The woodwind are a pain as most require transposition
The flutes are the exception but are annoying aestheticians
They all believe they’re amazing and revel in renditions
Of ornithological, ornamental birdsong emissions
They like to discuss the merits of different scored editions
And talk of recapitulation and sonata form exposition
If you want to be a know-it-all and a cultural patrician
Join the woodwind union – if you pass their hard audition

The section of the orchestra with the most adverse competition
Is the strings with their hierarchy that shows their grave ambition
The violins see advancement up the ranks as their very holy mission
Yet no one knows what a viola is, they are always an omission
The cellos think they’re the embodiment of an instrument beautician
And basses bore us all with speeches from the European Union commission
Don’t even try to buy a harp, they cost half a million
Just avoid all the strings – and campaign for their abolition

The Orchestra is an unruly beast, they must be treated with suspicion
They should all listen carefully and not speak without permission
Instrumentalists think they’re clever, full of very wise erudition
They fancy themselves as philosophers – as Hegelian dialecticians
They need to know who is the boss, and must bow in recognition
That the conductor is the greatest so fall in subdued submission
So now my friends it is time to give my final admonition
Obey the baton for it’s wielded by the masterful tactician