Issue 140: Welcome to The Jungle

Ugh. My first full week of teaching this term. I was ready for an early night by Friday!

That’s not ”Ugh” because I don’t like the teaching, I hasten to add, but “Ugh” because I’m feeling a bit stunned by the combined experiences of the week. I have classes ranging in age from infants up to year six, and group lessons, and individual lessons, and back-to-back “carousel” class teaching where the children spend the afternoon going from kick-boxing to ukulele or samba (that’s me) to drama. Plus the travelling in between from school to school.

This term I’m teaching in eight schools. I load up prepared for infant percussion, djembe, samba, descant recorder, treble recorder, ukulele, keyboard or piano, depending on where I am and when. Not forgetting my packed lunch, sound system (if I need it) and mp3 player.

Oh, and I did forget my mp3 player – left it in a local school, which necessitated some speedy re-thinking of all the next day’s lessons until I could go and rescue it. Oof – that was a tricky day!

I have created a new page for the site, where I am steadily listing all the songs I use for beginner ukulele lessons. I shall try and add to it every week. Eventually I plan to do this for other instrument groups as I go along.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this week’s posts.

Flying birds divider



Posted in The Jungle | Leave a comment

140: More on Beethoven’s Fifth

I think that the important thing that I need to remember is that year 5 and year 6 children are exactly that – children. Some of them are probably still only 9 years old.

I reckon that is my number one error when planning these lessons to do with composing music based on elements from this great Symphony.

What I was aiming for was to get the children to combine a melodic pattern and a rhythmic call-and-response pattern, in the way that they had just seen and heard in the first part of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

I told them what to do, I showed them what to do, I attempted to divide them into sensible combinations of children, started handing out the instruments, and then

well, I choose a description from any of these and it would be close to what happened next;

  • hive of activity
  • enthusiastic musical exploration
  • pandemonium
  • chaos

It was not helped by being confined to the classroom, due to a timetable melt-down. In the end I sent three groups into the corridor outside, leaving far too many still in the class room. Would you believe that 7 sets of chime bars, 7 shakers and 7 tambourines could be so deafening.

I could see a sort of emergence of what I had hoped would happen beginning to take some kind of vague and shadowy structure as I went from one end of the class to the bottom end of the corridor checking that everyone was OK, and nothing too dodgy was happening.

At the end of the lesson, I called everyone back into class, sat everyone down quietly, and invited a couple of groups to play what they had composed so far.

Sheer magic. Out of the terrible cacophony, each of the two groups, working together, produced more or less exactly what I had been asking for. How on earth did that happen?

I’ll tell you something else. A number of the children have come to me after the lesson to get the name of the music we have been listening to and ask where they can buy it. “Is it on I-tunes?” I call that a Result.

Flying birds divider


Posted in Class Teaching, Composition, Lessons that have happened | Leave a comment

140: The Telephone Song Lesson


I’ve put this song in The Jungle before, but here it is again with chords. I had a great time teaching three year 4 classes, and then a mixed year 3 and 4 class to sing and play this song earlier this week, and it worked like a charm. Totally brilliant. I love it when a plan comes together!

The year 4s are all aged 8 going on 18, and rebelling at the idea of singing “baby” songs – but unfortunately when it is your first lesson on an instrument it is bound to have to be a bit simple. It made for a fairly tough first lesson, probably not helped by the fact that they had just come in from kick-boxing. So I was bracing myself for another – shall we say - ”lively” afternoon, when I suddenly remembered this song. It sounds so much more grown up than Row your boat.The Telephone Song

First off, I explained that the song was about two people having a conversation, and then taught it. I didn’t bother with the singing game, just did line by line “listen and copy” until the song was reasonably secure. Then we did some “watch and copy” movements in time to a drum track with a strong rhythmic beat (“Syncopate it” from “Music Express – Developing Skills” which is probably my most used resource).

On to the ukulele bit. Having sorted out how to hold and strum the ukuleles, I used the track again for strumming in time to a beat; switching between “once per bar” and “twice per bar”. NOTE – if you start the children off by having them put their thumb on their nose before you strum, there is a good chance that you will get most of  them strumming DOWNWARDS with their thumb instead of upwards with their whole hand!

I carefully explained the C chord, which we had done last week, and the C7 chord, and how to read the chord chart – this is worth a whole post on its own – and gave them the task of working in pairs to learn how to play the two chords. This gave me a chance to go round the class and sort out problems.

Then we were off. I wrote the chord sequence up on the board and played it to them;

  • C             C7
  • C             C7
  • C             C7
  • C    C7     C    C7
  • C    C7     C    C7

and in slow motion we went through it together a couple of times. After the chord changes were beginning to become recognisable I speeded up slightly, and then began singing it. Whahay! They were soon all joining in, and I have to say it sounded Very Impressive. Smiles all around, and no (major) behaviour issues this week

Flying birds divider

Posted in Class Teaching, Lessons that have happened, Ukulele | Leave a comment

140: Engine Engine, Number 9

I suddenly remembered this song when I was teaching ukuleles this week. You can sing the whole song to a C7 chord, which must be the easiest ukulele chord to play (a no-fail item in the end-of term showcase?). Strum twice per bar.

Engine Engine ukulele

You can do actions; train movements with the arms, point down the line, jump on the word JUMP, hold out palm and point to it for “money back”. Yes – thumbs up, No – thumbs down, Maybe – hands, palm down, rotate from side to side to show indecision, So – hands palm up.

Getting the children to all jump at the same time is tricky – they have to bend their knees slightly during “If the train should” so that they can all lift off together on the word “jump”.

I’ve also experimented with changing the words; “We all like to go to school, going to school is very cool”

or topic based “Stone-age life was very tough, Living conditions were rather rough”. You might want to miss out the Yes, No bits. This could be a composition (work it out and write it down beforehand) or improvisation (just go for it) activity.

Flying birds divider



Posted in Class Teaching, Composition, Improvisation, Ukulele | Leave a comment

139: Welcome to The Jungle


I was on a two-day staff training event last week, with a lot of good input on the new music curriculum, assessment, and instrument specific sessions (keyboard and piano in my case)

My notebook is full of inspirational quotations, particularly from the excellent session on the curriculum delivered by Dr Ali Daubney. Here are two;

John Paynter (who was one of my professors when I was at York University) “making music is more important than music information”

Ken Robinson ….”recovering from your education for the rest of your life”

We also watched this Tedtalk;

Most Excellent!

This week, I have posted on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, how to relax (!), and my cunning plan for trying to learn the names of all the children I teach. 

I leave you with this little warm-up; The words are as follows, with the ones in italics spoken in the rests.

Pease pudding hot (yes) Pease pudding Cold (no) Pease pudding in the pot nine days old (no)

Some like it hot (yes) Some like it cold (no) Some like it in the pot  nine days old (no)

Then “sing” it again in your “thinking voice”, just saying the “yes” and “no” out loud. It’s a great little pulse and rhythm game.

Pease Pudding for Descant Recorders

Posted in The Jungle | Leave a comment

139: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

This was a manic year 5 and 6 lesson at the end of the first week. I think we all enjoyed ourselves – well, I certainly did!

If you get yourself to the BBC Ten Pieces website, one of the offerings is a shortened version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

go here; and click on “clips”

Before we listened to the music, I started with a bit of “listen and copy”, clapping the “dit dit dit Dah” rhythm, and getting them to clap it back. I did it S   L   O   W   L   Y, and fast, LOUD and soft.

Then I gave them a bit of background including the link to World War 2 and Morse Code before playing the music. It was a short lesson, so we only listened to the first 45 seconds. My plan was to focus on the rhythm of the opening phrase, and use that to create a composition using body percussion.

The children spotted the rhythm quickly enough, and we had a brief discussion on the mood and effect of the music (loud, fast, exciting, spy movies, jumpy, spooky, contrasts between loud and soft, sudden pauses and then rushes of sound).

I did the listen and copy exercise again, dividing the class into two groups and conducting them to recreate the effect of the first 45 minutes by doing slow-motion listen and copies, and then quick-as-you-can listen and copies.

Finally, the plan was to divide the class into groups (that worked) and hand out paper and pencil (that worked) and dish out copies of Morse Code (I had them IN MY HAND at the beginning of the lesson but could I find them now? – #resourcesfail). Once I had done a work-around the Morse Code issue ( used my master copy to write up some of the more rhythmically interesting letters up on the white board)  the groups set to and composed listen-and-copy pieces incorporating

LOUD (write it large) and soft (write it small)

Fast (write the dots and dashes close together) and s  l  o  w (space the dots and dashes)

2-parts (use two different colours)

Pauses before the next phrase (leave a gap) and quick follow-ons (write the phrases close together)

My music lessons tend to be very noisy and this was no exception. However all the groups produced and performed a notated composition at the end of the lesson, with dynamics and tempo changes. Result!

I was thinking of moving on to the next piece, but there’s a lot more to do with this one. More next week!

Pease Pudding for Descant Recorders






Posted in Class Teaching, Composition, Lessons that have happened | Tagged | Leave a comment

139: Relax. You know you need to.


I discovered this on twitter. Pure genius.

Are you feeling better now?

I suppose you could use it to discuss how you choose timbre to create a mood or effect, if you wanted to have an excuse for using it in a lesson.

Fun mje alafia F major

Posted in The Jungle, The organised teacher | Tagged | Leave a comment

139: Learning their names

Once again I am facing class after class of brand new faces. Or worse still, faces I have been teaching for a couple of years already but am still having trouble remembering names.

I’m trying a new tactic this term. So far, so good!

I normally do most of my teaching with us all sitting in a circle on the floor (the teaching assistants who work with me on a regular basis have modified their choice of clothes for music lesson days!).

Yesterday, I sent all the children to stand against the back wall, and called them over in alphabetical order; “If your name begins with “A”, come and sit down”.

Although I hit a bit of a snag with the infants. There’s Hissing C and Curly C and then there’s Ch and Kicking K and “J” for John and “G” for George…..  Aaaargh ….. we got there in the end.

Then we played a name game – “Concentration” – and I made a real effort to try and remember half a dozen names.

I’ll just have to see if this method of learning names will work. Let’s see; 17 classes per week, 30 children per class, I make that in the region of 500+ names…. I really wish I hadn’t just done that sum.

Fun mje alafia F major

Posted in Class Teaching, Lessons that have happened | Tagged | Leave a comment