By the time children finish at Primary school they will have written stories, poems, factual accounts, autobiographies essays and plays. But their own song? Hmm, possibly not. It just seems too difficult, too personal and, for many years, way beyond my comfort zone! And yet I’m aware children know hundreds and hundreds of songs. Their whole lives are wrapped in sound, from early nursery rhymes to the latest chart hits. Access to YouTube means that they don’t have to step outside to access songs and music from the whole world over.
Literacy in the choral music classroom is demonstrated when students are able to read pitch notation, manipulate rhythmic symbols, and execute dynamic and technical markings in the written score. Students are simultaneously singing correct pitches, changing the pitch durations according to the rhythmic structure, carefully raising or lowering the volume, and increasing or decreasing tempo of the notes based on the technical instructions notated in the score.
Mrs. Clarke’s third grade students step to the drumbeat as they enter my classroom, joyfully singing the school song. They quickly notice various music notes separated by ‘+’ signs on the board; they know this game well. Hands shoot up. I tap a student, who jumps into action and writes the number ‘7’. “Let’s show our work,” I say. “A quarter note equals–“, “ONE!” the students exclaim. “A half note–“, “TWO!” We continue this call and response for the quarter rest and dotted half note (see image below). “And what do we get?!” “SEVEN!” Smiles abound.
“The Rocksteady day in our school was a wow. I had several parents say to me how inspired their children were.” - Monica Paines, headteacher at Long Ditton Infant School, Surrey
Every parent today will be able to recall their own music lessons at school. Invariably, these memories will either be coloured by the dull experience of having had reams of dry theory drummed into them, or else the sense that they were irrelevant to all but those with access to, and an aptitude for, such traditional instruments as violin, clarinet and cello.
Think tension. Think Music. Think a knife and a shower curtain. Think a rocking boat and glinting teeth...
When teaching my pupils about tension in narrative, I turn to film scores. We’ve all been there: a darkened cinema, the heavy breathing of a potential victim, the slow building music, an increase in heart rate. The scene reaches its climax and the victim is caught by the ghost/vampire/serial killer/rabbit. Now play the scene without the music. Does it have the same impact? Does your heart beat in quite the same way? Why does a building “duh duh…duh duh” have us sprinting for the shore?
Primary music gurus Rhythmajig are working with schools to enhance pupils’ understanding of musical concepts and vocabulary, while assisting teachers with behaviour management and engagement. The online learning platform is designed to be accessible to all, adaptable to the instruments available in school, and, importantly, enormous fun. It also offers a unique scheme of work with outcomes above and beyond National Curriculum 2014. Teachers are able to take out a 30-day free trial to see for themselves.
In the classroom, percussion often takes a supporting role. It provides the accompaniment to pitched instruments and is often relegated to the role of ‘timekeeping’. This need not be the case. Whole lessons and, indeed, schemes of work can be built around percussion and there’s no shortage of options in this regard. Djembe drumming and body percussion are two popular and inspiring options embraced by many music teachers. With 2016 being the year of the Rio Olympics, another percussion option is well worth exploring – samba drumming.
Manchester-based music ensemble Psappha have created Psappha Kids: Music Explained, a film-based resource specially devised to support the teaching of classroom music for children aged between 7 and 11 years. The resource is available free-of-charge, and is suitable for both non-specialist and specialist music teachers alike.