30/100 Learning Show Songs

It’s the less fun, less interesting part of music – when you are teaching the songs for a music performance.

To children who are used to music lessons being a variety of activities – singing, pulse and rhythm games, listening, playing instruments, a whole lesson spent on learning the songs for “the show” can be less appealing. But still necessary, if you are going to get 9 songs learned in just four or five lessons.

Last week I kept the interest going with year 5 and 6 by issuing each child with pen and paper, and getting them to self-assess various random elements as we sang our way through about five songs. We were picking up on details – hissing snakes at the ends of words, or remembering the first line of verses, or whatever.

So, having picked on something, like the snakes, or “t” at the right place on the ends of “bright”, “night”, for example, I would get them to award themselves points out of 5 or 10 or some other score. Once or twice I asked them to asses how well they knew the words, or even how committed they were to singing a song as best as they could.

We started with some fun warmups (I like the Funky Warm-up and Stretch and Singing Zone ones from www.singup.org, or else a CD called

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For some reason, they were fascinated by the idea of self-assessment, and far more engaged with the lesson than they might have been. At the end, we worked out what the maximum score would be, and found out who had scored the most (“Stand up if you have scored 10 or more” – secure in the knowledge that everybody must have got at least 10). We worked our way up to – I think it was out of 55 – until there was just one person standing at 52. Everyone agreed that she deserved her score. Time up, lesson over, home time.

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29/100 Listening to Music

I’ve noticed that when I ask children to listen to a piece of recorded music, that is not exactly what happens.

They jiggle, interpret, pull faces, and generally react in a physical way. That’s sort of good, but, in my book, much more sort of unhelpful. I’m reluctant to be too fierce about insisting upon stillness, especially when their “interpretations” are rhythmic, and maybe even relevant (miming violins or flutes or beating a drum).

However I think it is important that they do learn to focus their hearing beyond the superficial first response. Otherwise they can miss the subtleties and layers that are present.

This week I have played part of “Peter and the Wolf” to two different year 3-4 classes (7-8 years). The first class, which has a superfluity of “class characters” all vying to be the coolest, wittiest, most individual person, barely listened at all. The children in question were so busy miming, grinning and frowning, conducting, that the other children were distracted from hearing the actual story. There is some relevance to miming a cat, flapping wings like a bird, grumping like Grandfather, but there is more hear than just the different instruments and themes.

The other class listened quietly, some with their heads down on the desks (have they been trained to listen to stories like that, I wonder?) and then were able to talk about the details – why did Grandfather’s music sound grumpy? How did the music describe the bird? Could you hear the argument? What made it sound like an argument?

This calmer, more thoughtful class behaviour is clearly impacting positively on their rate of learning. It is also far less tiring to teach – in one way. In another way, they make so much progress that I have to make sure that I prepare very full lessons for them than for the other class, which wastes so much time in settling between activities that planning time is much reduced as I know we won’t get through the same amount of material.

Based on this comparison, I’m far more attentive now to individual behaviour, and quicker to react to children who steal the attention from the task in hand. Starting with learning to listeni quietly and attentively to the rest of Peter and the Wolf.

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28/100 Singing games – “Over the garden wall”

Oh, I should have made it clear that it was Michelangelo who was 87 years old, not me, in this quote that I shared a few days ago.


Anyway, how ever old I am, I still like to add a little spice of danger into my life.

Which is why I daringly decided to teach this ball bouncing, partner game to a class of thirty year 3 and 4 children, which includes some “interesting characters” as a colleague used to call them.

Here’s the tune:

Over the Garden WallIt is a cumulative song, extra lines being added each time you sing another verse. The idea is that you bounce the ball from one person to another, so that the ball hits the ground on the first beat of every bar. (OVer the garden WALL, I LET my baby FALL etc)

I have taught this lesson before, and am beginning to get the hang of making it a chaos- and stress-free experience (depending on your own tolerance for chaos and stress).

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Step One: standing in a circle, with the “Known Characters” strategically positioned between grown ups (I include myself in that catergory) and Sensible Children, we started by learning the song, and clap;ping the first beat of each bar.

Step Two: I then demonstrated how you could bounce the ball in time to the song. Just one grown up, just one ball. So far, so good. I could feel the children twitching, as though wired with electricity, itching to get the rest of the tennis balls out of the bucket. I chose one of the more “volatile” children, and asked him if he thought he would be able to bounce the ball in time to the song. Just one child, just one ball. With the eyes of the whole class upon him, concentrating hard, he managed it. Result.

Step Three: I set out the “rules” of the “game” –  they could have a ball each, to bounce and catch by themselves, and anyone who dropped their ball was out, and the ball would go back into the bucket. Hiss of in-drawn breath, but they accepted the challenge. We sang through – well, I sang the song, they were all far to busy bouncing and catching. Result.

Step Four: I chose another child, and showed how you could bounce the ball between each other. Now I was sweating a bit, as I didn’t want to drop the ball and be out!

Step Five: Have three pairs of children, spaced inside the circle, trying to do the game. This is where they discover that as well as catching the ball, you have to be very careful how you throw it, otherwise your partner won’t be able to catch it and YOU WILL BOTH BE OUT!

Step Six: I paired up the children round the circle “one, two, one, two”, etc. Number Ones lined up along a a wall “Anyone who drops a ball is STILL OUT”. Number Twos handed in their ball and then went and stood opposite their partner.

Step Seven: Trial run – I let them have a few trial goes, so that they could find the right distance apart.

Step Eight: Absolute quiet. Nobody moving. Issue clear instructions; “I shall say ‘One Two’ and then start the song. If either of you drop the ball, you BOTH sit down until we start again.”

Step Nine. and Ten. and so on: Play the game.

Trust me; if you miss a single step, you WILL have chaos! But, by keeping it all very calm, and progressing stage by stage, you will have a Great Time! And we didn’t break any windows, not even when we finished the lesson by making up our own chants and games.

leaves divider




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27/100 We’ve lost the key

Yes, turned up to teach djembe, to discover that The Key to the room where the djembes are kept and the lessons happen, was lost.

Old Church key Compressed

No, not this one!

I hung around for ten minutes or so while various people scattered in different directions, but it became clear that the key was not going to turn up any time soon.

No matter – my mind had been busy turning over possibilities. I’m doing “Singing Playgrounds” with another year 3 4 class in another school (more on that in another post…) so I thought I’d just do singing games in the hall – no need for any equipment.

Ah, but the hall was not available. So, we crammed into the classroom (already set up for the next lesson, unfortunately, but we managed to clear some space) and I gave random answers to random questions “What are we going to do?” “where shall I sit?” “Would you like a cup of coffee?” while I set up my portable amp and searched through my trusty mp3 player.

The introduction to “Peter and the Wolf” made a calming opening (this is a lively class at the best of times, and this wasn’t one of those times). I was planning to do “Instruments of the Orchestra” as a listening project anyway. We listened to it twice, second time through to see if they could identify which instrument was being played, remember the name of the instrument and the character it represented.

I also had a bag of samba instruments with me – an agogo bell, tamborim, and ganza. This is because, in honour of the Olympic Games and also to create a cultural connection, I’m teaching a samba reggae rhythm from the Beatlife Samba Book adapted for djembe. (This group has found it difficult to combine rhythm patterns successfully, and I thought that, weirdly, the samba rhythms would actually be a bit easier.)

So I demonstrated the correct way to play them, without whacking someone in the eye with the tambirim whip, or chipping bits off the wooden stick on the agogo bell, or popping the end-stop off the ganza and releasing all the little beads – voice of experience here). I passed them round the circle, reminding them of the different rhythms

  • “Low, hi, low, ago-go” – agogo (on djembe B, T, B, TT T)
  • “1 2 3 4 5, ba-na-nas” – tamborim (on djembe  T T T T, B-BB)
  • “coca cola co – ca cola” – ganza (on djembe T T T T T, T-TT)

We then handed out a random selection of instruments, sorted them into metal, wood and shaker and had a go at creating the samba. It went pretty well – we had to keep the sound levels down because of the class next door but by the end of the lesson we had a a bit of a samba going, with different sections starting and stopping, following signals from the leader (me).

IF the key has turned up, we can have a go at combining the patterns using djembes, maybe with one or two cowbells and shakers to add some different timbres… Should be fun!

(The surdo pattern is “1, biscuit, 2, cup-of-coffee” (on djembe B, TT B, TTTT)

multiple djembes


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26/100 Learning and teaching

This is one of my favourite “teacher” quotes”

To teach is to learn twice. - Joseph Joubert

I’m back on track with harpsichord lessons, after taking a break for a couple of months (there have been pressing family matters which had to come first).

This might become a new favourite quote:

I am still learning. (at age 87) - Michelangelo



I’m constantly distracted during my lessons, because as well as trying to learn how to play the harpsichord, I’m also watching how I am learning, and how my teacher is teaching. Not a problem that most students have, I suspect.

I think what infuriates me most, is when I hear my teacher saying exactly the same things to me that I say to my own students – oh, how I should have realized this for myself! But I’m finding it very valuable to put myself in the position of being the student, and it is definitely having a beneficial effect on my own teaching.

So, what am I studying? Bach; the Prelude and Fugue in D minor from “The 48″ book 1, and the Italian Concerto, movements 1 and 2 so far. I did the Prelude and Fugue years ago on the piano, but have bought a new copy, to make sure that I learn it from scratch, fingering, articulation and all, uncontaminated by any pianistic ideas. Bringing out the different voices of the fugue is a challenge – the articulation becomes all-important.

My harpsichord teacher is a good mixture of encouraging and rigorous; so I am now less slip-shod with fingering (a product of too much sight-reading and “winging it” in my daily life) and more focused on playing with concentration and accuracy.

I also have more sympathy with my own students who haven’t done as much practice as they should have done – I too am finding it challenging to sit down and do the practice instead of reading a book, fiddling around on the computer, or any of a hundred and one things that need doing… Maybe I need to draw a practice schedule for myself!


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25/100 Labelling – use Washi Tape

“What is Washi Tape?” I hear you ask.

If you are asking me that question, you clearly do not share my Stationery Addiction. It is a Japanese version of masking tape, made with rice paper, and is Truly Wantable.

Here is the washi tape page on my favourite stationery site   (and yes, I will be emailing them with a link to this page of my blog in the hope of blagging Even More Washi Tape For Free.

MT 1P Basic Color gold washi tape


I will have to order some more as I have used nearly a roll of this in the past year. (Which is why I’m hoping that they will be persuaded to send my some for free!).

So, how have I used it -

you can write on it with biro or thin marker pen to label recorders and ocarinas and other instruments. AND THEN – here’s the magic bit – you can Easily Peel Off The Label Without Leaving Any Sticky Goo On The Instrument! In fact, you can ask the children to peel off the label themselves – they will be careful because they mostly want to save it – “where can we put this?”  ”Just stick it on your shirt.”

TOP TIPS for Recorders: stick the label just below the little wind-slit on the mouthpiece, and write the child’s name as clearly as you can. You may be able to read it from where you are teaching, making it easy to say, “Joshua, other hand on top” rather than “you, no, you, no, no, back one, yes, that’s right, put your left hand on top”.

And if you are teaching Very Little People (aged 5 and under, and something I seriously try and avoid) then you can vastly improve things by sticking some tape over the thumb hole before you hand out the recorders, Trust Me on this.

TOP TIPS for Ocarinas: stick the label on the Left Side of the ocarina, as you are playing it. The you can identfy the holes as “on the label side” –  as in “put your fingers on both the left hand holes, the ones nearest your name label”, Of course, if they have got it wrong, you may even be able to read their name from the label “Mikey, other way, which holes are nearest the label? Well done”.

MT for Kids animal washi tape


I’ve used this one as a cheap source of “stickers on a roll”. It peels off the page pretty well, and a little piece folded over the edge of the page makes it easy to find which piece you are working on in an anthology.

Well, this is my 25th post so far this year. Which puts me back on target to deliver 100 posts over the course of 2016. I’ve a staff training day coming up – hopefully I’ll acquire some new songs and warm ups to share with you afterwards.

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24/100 Splatty finger Toy

I follow www.teachpianotoday.com

It’s a great source of ideas, and I love this one:

The Amazing Finger Exercise Cup

DO watch the video! With the sound on!

I’m going to make some for my own students, and also as class music instruments.

This page gives links to a dozen ideas for fixing technical problems. Make yourself a cup of tea before you start browsing through the links – you could be some time.

Snake keyboard divider





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23/100 “Daily” practice record

We’re issued with a pre-printed A4 sheet to give to students that we teach through Music Services.There is a box for writing down what the student is supposed to practice, and another box with 7 circles and a dotted line for the carer to sign and make a comment on.

My first instrumental teachers always used notebooks – we brought them to each lesson, and the teacher would write down what we needed to do. I can remember my piano teacher writing out, step by step, how I was to practice certain bars or technical problems, and so I do the same for my pupils. Their note books are full of my attempts to draw a “good rounded hand shape”, maybe with a cute little mouse sheltering under the arches of the fingers, contrasted with “flatty splatty fingers” (and maybe a flattened splattened mouse).

Or scales, written out in letters with sharps or vital fingerings high-lighted, or on quickly drawn manuscript lines, or even the required notes lettered in on a diagram of a keyboard (very good method for chromatic scales).

Or specific preparatory exercises to approach a particularly tricky bit.

Or compositions written specifically for a young student to teach her baby sister, or mother, or favourite “My Little Pony”.

And then, especially for the younger children, the practice incentives. Sometimes it need to be a chart showing how many minutes of the 10-15-20-30 minute practice should be spent on each activity.

Or just some variously-shaped “circles”, to be turned into faces each time they practice. Like this:

20160307 faces comp

So, for the moment, I’m sticking with the note book for most of my pupils, as the official sheet of paper barely lasts me half a term….

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