22nd September – New Term!

If I’d posted this tomorrow, it would be three months since my last post.

No, I haven’t given up on this blog, it’s just that it’s been the Summer and I was more than ready for a break from school music, school teaching, school children…

But I haven’t totally abandoned music… I’m hoping to start taking lessons very soon, on my latest extravagance;

A Roland C-30 digital harpsichord.

A what!!!!!

I’ve wanted to have a harpsichord since I first touched one at a friend’s house when I was about seven years old. Over the following years I’ve had maybe half a dozen opportunities to verify that yes, I still want to play. If I’d been braver, I might have had harpsichord lessons at University, but I was too shy.

Now, having got a harpsichord equivalent, I’ve been steadily trashing my piano technique trying to get the hang of the new way of playing. It seems to me that everything I do by instinct on the piano (cantabile, legato, phrasing) has to be turned on its head, which is why I’m having lessons to find out how to get the right sound.

I’ll let you know how I get on.


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22nd September – Engine Engine Ukulele

I’m not scheduled to teach ukulele until next term, but a colleague is away and needs her classes covered. It’s a small class, primary-school-age students, and “I was just beginning to teach them to read tab”

I’ve discovered how to make Sibelius do ukulele tab notation (look through the instruments until you find Hawaiian guitar). Perfect.

Here come a series of old favourites, re-posted with TAB. This one is a very good one to start with.

Engine Engine ukulele








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September 22nd – Ukulele Telephone Song

This song uses C and C7. The TAB isn’t too challenging either.

It is a singing game; Singer 1 (was the previous singer 2) and Singer 2 (Henry) take turns, and the rest of the group join in at the end. In this version, Singer 2, Henry, has chosen Becca.

Next time round, Henry is now Singer 1, and Becca becomes Singer 2. Becca will choose a new person.

Third time round, Becca becomes Singer 1 and the new person becomes Singer 2. It’s much easier to do it than explain it!

I teach the whole song through, and then do the game once everyone knows all the song.

The Telephone Song uke

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September 22nd – Animal fair for Ukulele

This one uses chord C (sounds a bit odd once or twice, but just ignore it!)

You can sing/pluck the last Mon-key, mon-key as an ostinato part.

Animal Fair uke tab

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September 22nd – Mango Walk for ukulele

And finally, once you have learned the F chord as well as C7 and C. The TAB is more challenging – it just depend on how determined the students!

Mango Walk uke

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Tuesday 23rd June – Obtaining Silence

That magical moment just before a performance starts, the perfect synchronising of a whole class rest, rest, the quivering air at the end of a good samba when everyone has stopped together…

which is then ruined by a child who always wants to add their moment of individuality, who never pays attention, who is always fiddling with their instrument and playing something entirely different…

The trouble is that samba, and djembe, and indeed, many class music activities, are NOT improved by a child expressing their individuality and creativity at random moments. A class performance of a musical item requires everyone to do exactly what they should be doing all the time.

In my year 2 samba classes this week I played this old, old trick, and it worked.

I picked out the child – let’s call him Sam – not his, or her, real name – who was the main silence-spoiler. You have to be sure that their constant mistakes, tappings, and twitchings are not due to any learning difficulties, by the way, so take your time in choosing your child.

Challenge them to pick up their instrument without a sound, copy a rhythm (I chose to play and say “Sam is the best”) and then put their instrument down silently. Usually, they will do their most competitive best to succeed.

“Right,” you say. “How about that for a gold medal effort! Sam’s set the standard everyone has to reach.” Repeat the challenge for each group in turn, and for the whole class, comparing their effort with Sam’s. Keep an eye on him as the lesson continues – did he do a “stop” worthy of a mention? Did he manage to stick to his section’s rhythm? Did he come in on time with a call and response? “well done – all of you/most of you (choose appropriate phrase) are as good as Sam now – gold medal standard, everybody!”

Sam is receiving attention and reward for being a leader in good samba playing (a novel experience – he’s usually in trouble for bad behaviour!) and the whole class is on their mettle.

It was great – two classes sounding pretty good. (There was a different “Sam” in the other class, but the technique worked on him/her as well!)

This doesn’t always work. I have another class (not samba, this time) where the only way they can achieve a reasonable level of ensemble is if a certain individual is away, or if I have sent them out. After nearly a whole year I have still not found the way to get them to set aside their own desire to lead, to be in charge, to do their own thing, whatevs.

That person doesn’t seem to care about working together, teamwork, making music together. But I do. For that individual’s sake, for the sake of the class, for the sake of my sanity!

fanfare for the common ant



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Monday 22nd June – Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns 1


When teaching “Hot Cross Buns” to beginner recorder groups – well, any beginner woodwind groups, try changing the words to

Hot cross buns 2

“Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns, THREE-a-penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns”

It’s just that if the fingering is “1 2 3,  1 2 3,  3333 2222 11111, 1 2 3″ then the changed words fit the fingering. I’ve found that the children are far more likely to play a “G” on the third line if they sing “3″, rather than repeat the fingering of the first and second lines.

Just a thought – try it and see.

fanfare for the common ant



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Sunday 21st June – Encore, Frere Jacques!

Last week’s sessions on Frere Jacques with boomwhackers worked so well, that I devised a follow-on.

Once again, I divided the class into four teams, but this time allocated 2 each of the boom whackers for C D E F G A, and a couple of note charts for Frere Jacques. The challenge was for each team to learn to play the whole of Frere Jacques, WITHOUT any help from me. Here’s the chart:

  • C   D   E   C
  • C   D   E   C
  • E   F   G
  • E   F   G
  • GAGFE   C
  • GAGFE   C
  • C   G   C
  • C   G   C

WARNING – CHAOS AVOIDANCE ALERT – Make sure you do all the explaining how to read the chart (assuming they have forgotten from last time) and instructions BEFORE you divide up the teams and hand out the gear. If you have a well-known system for creating the teams, you may have to pause while several individuals immediately STOP listening to you and START trying to work out which team they will be in and who will be with them. Wait until you are reasonably certain at least 75% of the class know what they are supposed to do before you let them begin.

It was fascinating to see how different groups tackled the task. There were several different approaches, ranging from entirely random to some quite clever allocation of parts.

HINTS –  for line three; if one child has G A and another has G F it all becomes much simpler – also D and A have very little to play, so giving these players another colour as well helps to keep them interested.

After a couple of minutes, each team had a chance to play, and they mostly succeeded well enough that we could all play together as a class, and then – hold your breath and cross your fingers - play it as a four part round!

NOW, here comes the bit I was most pleased with;

If you go through the chart for each letter in turn, you can re-write it in a sort of summary form like this:

  • 1        2        3       4
  • C                 C      C
  •           D
  • E                  E
  •           FF
  • G       G        G
  •     A

In other words, C plays on beats 1, 3 and 4, D plays on beat 2, E plays on beats 1 and 3. F plays a “double beat”  or two quavers on beat 2, G plays beats 1, 2 and 3, and A plays just after beat 1 (but before beat 2)

If each team can manage this new arrangement, it will sound as though they are playing Frere Jacques as a four part round. Once again, having explained what they were supposed to do, I left them to get on with it (apart from going round sorting out disputes, keeping them on task etc.

Out of the nine classes, (three each of year 4, 5 and 6) two teams succeeded without any intervention from me; one group of normally “lively” year 4 boys, and one mixed year 6 team. A couple of teams managed it with a little help.

I was really pleased with this lesson, and also the previous one. I like the (social skills) emphasis on team working and problem solving, as well as the solid (music skills) practical application of reading simple notation and using pulse and rhythm skills.

You could do this on any pitched percussion. Where boomwhackers score is that they can be played without having to look at the instrument, unlike most other pitched percussion instruments.

fanfare for the common ant


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