63/100 Colouring-In for speedy learning

Going back to the contents of my teaching pencil-case, let’s talk about “colouring-in”. I don’t mean the mindfulness colouring books which are the current fashion!

Here’s an example – the ABRSM Grade 5 piano piece, “Tarantella”


At first sight, the student I was teaching found it hugely intimidating. I copied the first page from her book – Whoa – copying? Let me explain; I absolutely insist on my pupils all having their own copies of all the exam pieces for copyright reasons, but if I want to do Big Writing and Colouring all over the music, I will do it on a copy in order to avoid covering the original in so many markings that in the end you can’t see the notes.

So, together, we went through the first page, and started colouring passages that were repeated:


So, all the sections in the right hand coloured green are the same – although the octave may be different. The two different left hand accompaniments are green, but shaded differently. Then there is a repeated blue phrase, a repeated red phrase, and a repeated purple phrase (red + blue makes purple, sort of) which stars like the green phrase.

Suddenly, the structure and patterns become obvious; the over-load of notes shape themselves into do-able units, and the volume of learning required comes back into focus.

I was never taught like this – but I think that I was quicker to recognise patterns, and assimilate the learning than many of my pupils. I remember the teacher who taught me to become a teacher pointing  out that most students won’t have the knack for learning piano (I am avoiding the word “talent” as that is only part of the equation) to the same degree as the teacher; that is why we have become teachers, and they probably won’t.

So, anything that simplifies the task of learning a piece thoroughly, promotes understanding of the structure, and encourages confidence and fluency, has to be Good. It eliminates a lot of the difficulty, and leaves more “brain-space” for working on interpretation, dynamics, musicality – the really important part of playing the piano (or whatever it is they are studying).

Have a go – colour in the different parts of a fugue, the various chord shapes, the broad-brush dynamics, all the intervals of an octave – whatever it is that you want to focus on. Even better, get the student to do their own colouring as part of their practise. Maybe just not all on the same copy, at the same time?


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62/100 My Piano Teaching Pack

This little bag (about A5 size) comes to all the piano lessons that I teach.


 And here is what lives inside:



  • A pair of castanets – for rhythm work
  • Some coloured pencils – for livening up notes in the practice books
  • Post it notes – for sticking temporary notes on the actual music pages because certain students don’t read their practice books
  • Small pair of folding scissors from a Chrsitmas cracker – for cutting up post-it notes to make “practice windows” (I’ll explain another time!)
  • Stickers – for sticking
  • Paul Harris Practice Starters – I use them as lesson starters
  • Dice – because you need them for some of the Practice Starters
  • Combined pencil sharpener and rubber, the type that collects the sharpenings (the red thing that looks like a rocket)
  • My favourite pencil – a wooden barrelled propelling pencil with a soft lead
  • A spare lead pencil “in case”
  • a glue stick – for sticking in bits of music or whatever.
  • blu-tac – not shown, because I have used the last little bit. I keep a small lump of it stuck into a corner of the pencil case.

The music underneath is there to show scale. My life has been SO MUCH simpler since I gathered this all up into a little bag. There is room for a metronome and a packet of tissues as well.

If you, too, are the sort of teacher who teaches here there and everywhere, I strongly recommend gathering these bits and pieces into one little bag.

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61/100 The Practice Adventure Trail

Last week, a young student hadn’t done much piano practice, which was unusual for her. Eventually, she admitted that she “was scared of the pieces”. She is preparing for the current ABRSM Prep test, and I think a lot of the issue was the difference in the presentation of the music to her Pianotime Tutor Book, as she is more than ready for the level of the material.

I carefully went through each of the activities that she was supposed to have been working on, but instead of writing it all in her practice book (which she had left at home anyway), I wrote it like this (but in a little more detail):


This is a really, really, wobbly re-creation of what I gave her to take home. But you can get the idea – which is to pretend that she is going on a piano adventure, over mountains, across the river, and then through a lovely garden of flowers. Each “event” represents a different activity/piece to work on for the week. I thought it would be fun to pretend that “Walking” and “Rocking” were obstacles to be overcome, as they are very simple little five-finger excerises.

However, I didn’t want the main piece, “Jogalong” to have any suggestion that it might be difficult or challenging, so I represented it as a walk in the park, through flowers and trees, on the way to reach the prize.

I’d love to tell you that it was a resounding success, but unfortunately she was ill on the day of her lesson this week! So, that will have to wait for another post.

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60/100 The Rhythm Clock

A rhythm clock is a pattern of 12 rhythms arranged in a circle like the hours on a clock.

Like this:



You can project this image on a whiteboard, and then start all kinds of fun learning activities. First of all, make sure that everyone knows all the rhythms.

You can clap/play a rhythm, or one of the children can clap/play, and see if they can recognise which one it is.

You can clap – gently – right round the clock, either with a count of 4 in between each pattern, or straight round without a break. (By now everyone’s hands will be a bit hot. You could tell them they shouldn’t have clapped so loudly, and issue everyone with shakers or other instruments.)

You can divide the class in two, and one group claps clockwise, and the other anticlockwise. Or divide into more groups, and play as a round, each group following the next, or all starting at the same time on different numbers.

I use this with djembe classes, playing quavers as tones, and crotchets as bass notes. You could play it using selected notes on various instruments…

Every time I get out the rhythm clock I find another way of using it…try using it as a starting point for composition or improvisation. I hope you and your students have lots of fun useful learning experiences.

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59/100 Music Resources from Oxfam



While on the hunt for music for “Cauliflowers Fluffy” I discovered that Oxfam have a whole load of resources for music – Hurray!

I have copied and pasted this ENORMOUS link into my browser and found a host of Harvest songs from all over the world. I’m really looking forward to doing “Mama will you buy me a banana” with year 3 and 4 as a lesson “extra”:


Otherwise, go to the Oxfam resources and explore what’s on offer:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/education, and scroll down. If you click on curriculum and choose music you will find 6 different sets; I’ve got

“Human Rights” as a topic in one school, so this might be useful


Happy Hunting…



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58/100 Cauliflowers Fluffy

Today I had another go at teaching “Cauliflowers fluffy”. Yesterday I was able to stream the song, lyrics, backing tracks etc using my www.singup.org membership, as an interim while we searched high and low for the CD, which we will need when we sing it at he Harvest Festival in church next week.

Today I found a battered red CD with a label stuck inside the cover; Cauliflowers Fluffy track 32, and thought life would be easier. No such luck. The CD has had a rough life, and now goes

“c-c-c-c-auliflowers fluf-f-f-f-f-y, cabbages-bages-bages-bages green”. The internet was down so I taught it unaccompanied – what a good job I’d had the chance to get a handle on the tune yesterday. I must be the only primary school music teacher in the country who hadn’t actually sung that song before.

There are a lot of words in the song for the children to learn. Yesterday I tried having pictures of all the vegetables to use as sort of flash cards. Perhaps the main failure was asking the children (year 1 and 2) to draw the vegetables on whiteboards? The cabbage was represented by a couple of leaf shapes, when I was expecting something more like a football. The marrow, (“fattening hour by hour”) was instantly recognisable, but that is becuase the only person in the room apart from me who knew what one looks like is the very artistic teaching assistant. Sadly, the child who took on the job of being “Mr Marrow” had changed his mind before we had got to verse three…

Today, with the older children, I tried hand signs to describe the vegetables. It’s quite hard to pull a face while singing “rhubarb sour” but a lot of the chldren can do it.  I was particularly pleased with “runner beans flat”… making my fingers run through the air and snap shut on the word “flat”. Well, I know the words now, even if the children aren’t too sure.

Three challenges left;

  • somehow get my hands on the music before next Friday,
  • train ALL the children to sing “turnips cream” instead of “turnips scream”
  • persuade them NOT to do the funny faces and hand mimes in church.

No sweat.

Edible Cauliflower & Olive Sheep-So cute

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57/100 Ukulele extras

By the way, you may be wondering about this year’s weird post-numbering system; I promised myself (and you) that I would attempt to get 100 posts up in 2016.

Back to the topic; I have discovered that I will be teaching ten 1-hour sessions of ukuleles to a year 2/3 class this term. A WHOLE HOUR! was my first reaction! I’m used to 45 minute sessions, but those extra 15 minutes…

WI’ll have to limit the amount of actual playing we do, as I have discovered that there are always some children in the group who strum so heavily that they give themselves blisters. I shall be doing all the usual games and songs, but have also devised a list of writing activities that they can get going on while I am wrestling with the technology (logging in, plugging in,) and tuning those ukes. Here’s the sort of thing that I have in mind;

  •   Draw a picture of a ukulele.  Label the soundhole, frets, strings, nut, bridge
  •  Make up new lines for “My Dog Has Fleas”
  •  Copy and clap these rhythm cards
  •  Make up your own rhythm cards and clap them. Each one must have four shapes on it. Choose from
  • See if your friend can clap them
  •  Make up a song about what you like to eat, using the tune of “Star light, Star bright”
  • For example, “I like chocolate cake, with some chocolate icing”
  •  Copy the chord chart for the chord C7. Now practice playing it. Take turns with a friend
  •  Copy the chord chart for the chord C. (1, 2, 3, easy-peasy-C). Now practice playing it. Take turns with a friend.
  •  Change the words of “Rain on the Green grass, rain on the trees, rain on the roof-tops, but not on me” to make a new song.
  •  Write the word FORTE in LOUD writing
  • Write the word PIANO in SOFT writing
  • Make some rhythm cards to play FORTE and PIANO

I’ve always got paper and a pencil case full of random pencils in my teaching back. The children can keep their work in plastic file pockets and take them away at the end of the ten lessons. I’m just waiting for them to ask “what is ‘soft’ writing’?…..” Have a look at this for ideas:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dNLAhL46xM  although you might want to be selective about which snips you share with the children.




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56/100 Those Mixed Keyboard Ensembles

This is my second year of teaching mixed ability, mixed age, mixed experience keyboard ensembles. There is a long history behind these groups, which is lost in the mists of time.

The situation at the moment is that there are around 13-15 on the register, who usually turn up, and range in ability from “this is my first day and I’ve never played any instrument before” to “I’ve been having individual lessons for four years”. They also range in age from 5 (yes, 5 years old!) to 15 (yes, 15 years old!)

As you can imagine, it is an “interesting” group to manage. A friend of mine once commented that music, and maybe chess, were perhaps the only activities where all ages could take part without an appreciable handicap of age. A mixed ensemble makes it possible for the abilities to be very varied as well…

I plan to start this term with La Cucaracha:


La Cucaracha


So, the children who arrive, never having touched a keyboard in their lives before, should be able to manage the bottom line. The ones who have been coming for a term or so, but have nearly forgotten how to read music, will manage the middle line (some tricky counting to keep them busy), and the others can get to grips with a dotted crotchet, counting the rhythm, and change of hand position and a pesky little B flat.

I’ve a couple more ensembles along this line. This would work as is for clarinets, and you could move it into D major for your violin/mixed string ensemble class. (It’s a nice little ukulele piece too; just F and C7 chords)

birds on a branch divider


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