Issue 127: Welcome to the Jungle


Well, hi there, everyone!  Apologies for the long absence – you were not forgotten, in fact the Music Jungle was never far from my mind. It’s just that I’ve been unwell, with a series of colds and chest infections, and then we went away for a couple of days, and then the Easter weekend, with all its musical consequences, arrived.

Excuses, excuses? Or reasons and justifications? Well, whatever, here I am again, with three posts, and hopefully  on track for the Summer Term. This week, I bring you Ukuleles, Samba, and Angels. I hope your ears have had a nice rest over the Easter holidays, and that you are ready and excited (or braced?!) for the Summer Term.

back soon…


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Issue 127: The Ukulele is officially cool (or hot)


Here’s the official youtube of James Blunt singing “Postcards”

and here are the ukulele chords:

Ugh! those chords look to be a real finger twister to a ukulele newbie like myself. But wait, what’s this? Click on -4 in the transpose bar at the top of the lyrics, and the whole lot magically changes into something much simpler…

I have a feeling that is a site I shall be returning to again and again.


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Issue 127: Samba compositions

I’ve been giving some thought on how to add a composition element to the Wider Opportunities samba classes I have been teaching.

I’ve just six more sessions for one class, before we do a final “end-of-year” presentation.

I am planning to divide up the class into four samba bands (there are 43 children in the group), each with a couple of surdos, tamborims, ganzas, agogo bells and boomwhackers (which we have been using all year to augment the basic samba kit). The bands will then devise their own sambas, creating their own rhythms for each section, and maybe incorporating introductions, breaks and endings.

Obviously this is going to create an impossible level of racket and cacophony in the rather small and echoing school hall, but I am hoping that with the better weather we will be able to work out of doors in the playground (I hope none of the neighbours are on night shift).

For preparation, I will do some work where I will give sections new and random rhythms to play, based on short phrases; for example ”Mo Farah, running a marathon” or “Pizza, pizza, sausage and chips” or whatever comes to mind. Then each section can work together to devise their own rhythm, within a clearly defined pulse framework, so that they understand that the phrase has to fit into four beats. In order to develop independence in playing a rhythm, I will get the children to work in pairs to create and play another rhythmic phrase.

We can all play as a whole class at the same time at this stage of the preparatory work, and once all these phases have been completed, the four samba bands should be in a position to create and learn to perform their own sambas.

The children in this group come from two classes with wildly different topics, otherwise I would have suggested that they use their topic as a basis for the composition.

Hint; when doing “individual” composition work with large classes and noisy instruments in small halls, confiscate ALL sticks and beaters and tell the children to play their instruments with their fingers while they are practising. That keeps the number of decibels down to just about bearable levels.


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Issue 127: Angels

We stayed in the Abbey Gatehouse, Tewkesbury, for a few days before Easter. It is a Landmark Trust property, and you can find pictures of it here: I’m giving details, because it was such a lovely place to stay, but I warn you, there are 34 spiral stone steps to clamber up to get to the living room! It has the most beautiful carved stone corbels; four shields, a monk, a nun, and four angels, who watch over you.

Angel from Abbey gatehouse, Tewkesbury

They reminded me of the song, ”Evening Prayer” from Englebert Humperdink’s “Hansel and Gretel”. I can remember us singing this at secondary school, each of us holding the flimsy folded paper sheet music (how many of us could read the music?  Probably half a dozen of us.) I absolutely loved the song at the time, and although I had forgotten the words, the melody has stayed with me forever.

Here are the words, from the Wikipedia article about the Fourteen Holy helpers

When at night I go to sleep, fourteen angels watch do keep,

Two my head are guarding, two my feet are guiding;

Two upon my right hand, two upon my left hand.

Two who warmly cover, two who o’er me hover,

Two to whom ’tis given to guide my steps to heaven.

and here is a lovely version from the Metropolitan opera



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Issue 126: Welcome to the Jungle

I started working on this issue some time ago, but was side-tracked and never finished it.

So, here are four – yes, FOUR posts to make up for the delay.

There is a little arrangement of the anthem “God be in my head“, for small choir (soprano, alto, men), a mad watch and copy activity improvised on the spot, an account of a completely “acoustic” lesson (my mp3 player has run out of charge) and a whole host of lesson ideas based on rhythm cards.

I hope you enjoy reading the posts, and find something useful.



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Issue 126: God be in my head

I’m directing a little village church choir throughout Lent with a view to them singing at a special service on Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter Sunday).

As I had no idea how many people were coming (we had a choir of seven at Christmas) and which parts they would sing, and how experienced they would be, this posed quite a challenge to choosing suitable music.

I found what I needed for Christmas in “Voiceworks Christmas” by OUP; a series that I turn to again and again.

For Easter, I have made a dead simple arrangement of “God be in my head”, cunning constructed so that the inner parts have enough of a tune to make them more memorable, and also so that the parts all help each other to find their starting notes.

In the end, fourteen people came, and we had this just about holding together, unaccompanied. That gave me a bit of a warm happy feeling.

God Be In My Head voices

So, if you are looking for a simple little anthem – maybe this will suit you too. You are welcome to use it – but please let me know, through the comments.

synchronised penguins working together

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Issue 126: Surprisingly good listen and copy game

When I am teaching young children, I try and keep a careful balance between sitting still, moving around, action activities, songs, listening, and doing.

So what do you do when you need some kind of action activity in between quieter, sitting-in-a-circle activities and your mind is a blank?

The topic for my year 1 and 2 class is “Patterns in music” – specifically “Listen and copy” songs and activities. I needed some kind of thing to do that fitted with the topic.

“Everybody, find a space” I called (my mind was blank, but I had bought 60 seconds of think-time while the Teaching Assistants sorted the children).

TEACHING ASSISTANTS? Plural? Yes, really! Because I teach music off-site, in the village hall next to the school, I have two adults with me for this class, in case a child needs to be taken out, and a further adult looks after a special needs child. I can’t begin to tell you how cherished I feel at this school!

Anyway, my think-time was up, I had around 30 children, and three adults watching me with expectant faces.

So, I instructed them NOT TO MOVE, but to WATCH ME. I did a slow count-down-from-5-to-1 crouch down, yelled “Blast-off” and jumped in the air. Once the children had recovered themselves and were standing still again, I told them it was their turn.

What next? Umm. Commanding them to STAND STILL and WATCH, holding one hand like a policeman’s STOP sign, I whirled the other arm round and round three times, saying “Whooosh whoosh whoosh”. Sometimes I wonder about myself, I really do. The children, all together, joyously whirled and whooshed.  Not good enough – How many times did I whoosh? Just THREE? How many should they have done? Quite. Let’s see you do it again.

Finally, I waved my hands in the air and said “jabber jabber jabber”. This met with great approval, and was copied more or less exactly.

“For your final challenge, you have to do all three actions, in the right order, the right number of times, all together”. We checked that everyone could remember what they were, and off they went.

After all that, we sang a song and got ready to go back to class. The TAs are quite used to moments of madness in my music lessons. I’m not sure what the supply teacher made of it. I have a horrible feeling that the children will be expecting more whooshing and whirling next week.

Sliding penguin


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Issue 126: And when your mp3 player won’t work…

So that was nearly a disaster – ten minutes before the lesson, and I discovered that my new mp3 player was flat. As in no charge, not as in tonally flat.

I’m not sure if we are going to get on together. I used to use a Zen mosaic for teaching. I’ve still got it, but the line-out socket is worn and unreliable, so I have retired it from active service, and use it at home, where unexpected cut-outs won’t derail 35 over-excited children all being elephants or sharks.

I replaced it with a Sony Walkman, but we never really hit it off together. I missed the “just one track” facility of the Zen, and when I lost it (where? I’ve looked everywhere.) I was only slightly upset. I bought another Zen, thinking that I would prefer it. NO! It doesn’t seem to have any battery life to speak of. I switch it on, it says “Bye” and switches itself off, leaving me re-planning lessons at no notice.

So, what did I do today?

I grabbed a tambourine, loud, metallic shaker, and some jingles, that I found in lying around in a classroom and off we went.

We sang some action/game songs, (Kye Kye Kule, Concentration, Okki Tokki Unga).

We needed to do some movement – I’ll post that action game separately as a bonus post as this issue has been SO LATE.

In between, we played a focus game which always gets their attention; passing the instrument silently round the circle. Starting with the tambourine, the children listened carefully as it was passed from hand to hand. hey just about managed it. I complimented them on their patience; a problem with this kind of game is that the ones at the far end of the circle have to wait for ever for their go, and the ones at the start of the circle have to wait for ever after their go. We tried the jingle, which was much harder to control, and discussed what made it so difficult.

I knew that they didn’t have enough patience for a third “silent instrument”, so we passed the noisy cylindrical shaker round in such a way that each child turned it over, end-to-end, making a single sound.

With another chant, (“Lickety Split” from Singing Sherlock Keystage 2) time was up and the lesson was over.

Phew. Mp3 player now on charge, and hopefully ready for next time.

synchronised penguins, but not how we meant

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