I have had an ambitious idea for Primary School Music. The idea is that at the end of Year 6, children could be entered in for (if they wanted to) Grade 1 Recorder, Keyboard, Ukuele, Singing and Theory. The materials I have been making basically reach this end goal and I think the majority of children could pass it.
Recorder would have five years of study from Year 2 to Year 6 so that is certainly manageable. Keyboard is a little bit more tricky – we are introducing it to Year 4’s at the moment. I taught Grade 1 Keyboard for quite a few years, you really need two years for most children to pass Grade 1 Level, as this would only be part of the overall Music course you really would need four. I think if you started Keyboard in Year 3, there is enough time to get children to Grade 1. I passed my Grade 1 Ukuele last year – I entered with my friends 8 year old son. It wasn’t too tricky but I think for most children you are going to need two to three years to pass it. My friend’s son managed it in two. If we could start the children in Year 4 this is definitely possible. Singing is the easiest to administer and most of the repertoire you can put directly into the curriculum. I think if you started in Year 5 this isn’t too hard for most children to obtain. The hardest is Theory. The amount of theoretical knowledge is quite taxing for Grade 1. I think you would need to start it in Year 3 and really do a little Theory every lesson.
It’s not exams for the sake of exams, it’s something to aim for so we have well-rounded musical children. I don’t think it should be mandatory but for some children, if there is no end goal then they won’t work too hard. For some children this could be something they would really want to do. And for secondary teachers, they would inherit multi-instrumental children who can read music in Year 7. They would like that, I’m sure!
I’ve just finished writing some workbooks for Years 4, 5 and 6. I’ve written out all the music using MuseScore and put in theory exercises, listening exercises and opportunities for performance and composition. Each unit is six weeks long and each unit has a 12-14 page booklet. The idea is that all performances and compositions will be emailed in to me whenever the children want to (in my school they all have iPads and Email) and I will take the workbooks in every six weeks to mark. The children bring their workbook to class each lesson, they can choose to do homework if they want to, there is plenty of material to play and simple information to guide. I think they will be popular with parents who will know exactly what the children are doing in class and how they can help them improve. All the lyrics for the singing are included in the booklets as well. I will publish a few on this blog soon – I have written five so far; Spooky Music, Roundabout, Sea Shanties for Year 4; Space Journey and Cyclic Patterns for Year 5 and Form and Structure and Water Music for Year 6. I have used the excellent Musical Contexts website that we subscribe to as a base but I am developing the curriculum to make it a little bit more performance based with a little less composition and a lot more singing.
The approach I am taking is a mix of knowledge and skills but it has memory at the forefront – the hardest bit about formulating this curriculum is keeping the units distinct whilst leaving room for interleaving and spaced practice amid a multi-instrumental program. And the biggest challenge will be changing the culture where a set of final products will be expected every six weeks from music lessons. But they do this for other subjects, so why not Music?