These experiences are from my current work teaching Music two days a week at St Teresa’s Primary School, and another two days for my local hub organisation, Merton Music Foundation.
Every year I ask my Year 6 classes to write their own song as a gift to the school. Before we start, I ask the children to bring in a song that they like. The only caveat is that it must be a radio edit (ie something that radio stations could safely play during the day). This usually kick starts an interesting debate about the nature of language, cursing and school.
We listen to a song and identify its component parts. We try to identify its ‘hook’ – ie what gets stuck in our brain? We look at how the song is built. We look at the use of “Pupils are eventually able to analyse the songs they have brought in.” patterns and language. We try to trace the melodic patterns. Once children can do this, they are then able to analyse the songs they have brought in. Being able to compare and contrast songs really helps demystify the process of composition, and gives the children a better understanding of how songs work.
I start by asking the children to come up with one strong idea for their song. They then refine this into one strong line. Of course there are many different ways to write songs, but I start with the idea and the lyric because I find it easier. This can be tough, and to the casual observer it looks like not much going on, with 30 kids stretched out on the floor of the Music room with very little evidence of writing. Once they have got the all-too-difficult first line right, the second line is usually easier. The children then start to explore musical ideas for the melody and style of song they want – still working individually.
We eventually share these song fragments with the whole class. At this point alliances begin to form. Some children want to abandon their own idea and are attracted to work on someone else’s idea. Some groups start to amalgamate. It has been different with every class I work with. At the end of each lesson I make an audio recording of the song scraps. This is invaluable, as the children can sometimes forget what they did the lesson before. I would like to say I keep them neatly date-stamped and annotated as evidence of their progression, but I would be lying!
Not all of the children are successful. Sometimes the most exciting ideas collapse and fizzle out. Occasionally a group having the most bitter disagreements suddenly find a perfect solution to a musical difference and flourish. By the end of the process I ask teaching staff to help me select the strongest songs that we like and think the rest of the school will enjoy singing.
We have built up a great relationship with a local recording studio, Crown Lane Studio. We then spend a day recording the songs. Once we have the recordings we share them “I make an audio recording of the song scraps.” on the school music blog, St Teresa’s Music Matters, so that our whole school community can enjoy them. What I would really like to do is get them shared far and wide, so that other Year 6 children can give us their feedback. So if you are a teacher reading this, please play the songs to your classes and ask them for their thoughts. I mercilessly track down musicians and music education experts on Twitter and ask them to leave feedback for my young composers. I think that having a blog platform is vital for this sort of project. It provides a giant stage for my young composers to safely share their music with the entire world!
Find the full collection at: www.stteresasmusic.academyblogger.co.uk.
So, my top tips:
- Don’t be afraid to let go! It can look messy and unstructured, but remain hands off and don’t provide solutions unless children specifically ask for help. It has to be their song and not your own!
- If you aren’t up with contemporary music, find someone who is and who can listen to the song fragments. It is really easy to just channel the latest song you have heard!
- It doesn’t have to be perfect! The only way to learn is to get stuck in.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from musicians you don’t even.
- Make sure you have a blog or an online platform to safely share their work.
- Good luck. Please visit St Teresa’s music matters blog.
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