2017/6 Group exercise – Key stage 2

Following on from the last post about the beanbag/percussion game,

I tried the same thing with the next class who were Year 3 and 3 (aged 7 and 8). I moved through the preliminary steps more swiftly, and added an extra element by grouping the children in threes, one with the bean-bag, one with the shaker, and one with a small hand drum, to tap when the bean bag landed on the floor. So, the game was, one child threw the beanbag up in the air (we had previously discussed what would make for “successful” throwing, and several children had obligingly offered “sensible behaviour”, “remembering that this is a music lesson and not play-time” – whoop whoop!), a second child played the shaker all the time that the bean bag was moving, and the third child tapped the drum when it landed.

I gave them a few minutes to take turns with the beanbag, shaker and drum, and then added another element.

Grouping the children in fours, one threw the beanbag, one played the shaker while the beanbag went up, another played a jingle stick or bells while it went down, and one tapped the drum when it landed. This is a bit harder than it sounds, at least to begin with. I gave the groups a chance to try this out, again taking turns, and then invited each group to demonstrate.

We spent some time talking about what made it work – watching each other, making sure everyone is ready, counting in or signalling when the thrower was about to throw, and so on.

Moving on a step, I explained that the bean bag thrower was acting as a conductor, showing the rest of the group when to play. If I took the ban bag away, how would everyone know when to play? What about the conductor making changes, like playing in a different order, or for different amounts of time, or more than one person at a time, or louder and softer?

After some time to experiment, we watched each group in turn – the results were surprisingly different and all quite sophisticated. Next time I shall show them some clips of a standard orchestra, with particular emphasis on the actions of the conductor.

Noisy monkey

Footnote; I ran this lesson again with a different class of year 3 and 4 children at a different school the very next afternoon. This class were all dressed up for World Book Day, had spent the morning enjoying special session with a very lively story-teller, gone swimming, had lunch and playtime. I was expecting the class to be a little more lively, and a little less controlled – and this proved to be the case. In fact the whole session was altogether far more “hyperactive” than the previous one. I just did part of the lesson, and moved on to something calmer. You have been warned!

leaves divider


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2017/5 Classroom Percussion – Group exercise for Early Years

Here’s a lesson that went rather well today.

I remembered one of the games I tripped across while looking at Drum circle activities, on youtube, posted by a drummer called Kalani. (I was so impressed by him, that I bought a book!).

In his game, he threw a ball in the air, and everyone played one tap on their instrument when he caught the ball.

I’d half remembered the game, and made a different version. Here’s how it went;

The class of year 1 and 2 children came in and sat in a circle as usual. I took a small, light beanbag, and threw it up in the air, to land on the floor. (giggles all round). I asked the children to say (not shout!) “Thud” when it landed, which they mostly managed, and after one or two attempts were very good at. I let a few children have a go with the beanbag, and then added the idea of pointing at the beanbag as it went up and down, and saying “thud” when it landed. Finally, we said (quite gently) “shhh” as the beanbag travelled, and said “thud”. By now, a number of children had taken turns at doing the beanbag thing as the extra complexities were added.

So, we were nearly there. I gave a child a shaker, and their task was to keep shaking while the beanbag was airborne and stop when the beanbag landed. A few more goes, and we were ready for the “off”.

At this point we discussed what made a good “go” at the beanbag shaker partnership. Sensible throwing, watching each other, paying attention were all suggestions offered by the children. I paired up the children, equipped each pair with a bean bag and a shaker, and instructions to Be Sensible and Take Turns and let them loose.

It was fairly chaotic; but by clapping my hands for stillness every so often and inviting a pair to show their effort the to class, the excitement levels were fairly well contained, and the children spent about ten minutes in carefully watching and concentrating on each other; exactly what is needed for successful group percussion work in music.

In fact, it went so well with this class, that I used the same activity, pushing it further, with the following class of Year 3 and 4 children. Guess what my next post will be about!.

Flying birds divider

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2017/4 Organisation

I’ve been covering for a colleague for the last four months, which has been interesting in lots of ways. One of the things that she handed over was they way she organises her paperwork.

I remember when I was interviewed for this job; one of the questions was “There is a lot of paperwork involved in working as a peri music teacher; lesson planning, registers, contact details and so on. How do you think you will store this?” I was baffled by the question, and gave it careful consideration before tentatively suggesting “in a filing system at home?” as an answer. Where was the trap? Surely the answer was obvious? They smiled and nodded. I had got it right, there was no trap.

Once I started the job, I nearly drowned in paperwork. I’ve gone through several different methods over the years, and my colleagues is one of the best. She has a clear plastic wallet for each school, with the register, planning sheets and contact details for all the pupils at that school. Every morning, I just picked up the wallets for the day, shoved them in the black bag,

black bag

and I was done. I did add extra copies of music for the two keyboard players who NEVER brought their music, and syllabus sheets as I am unfamiliar with the requirements for Trinity cello exams or ABRSM viola exams but her system is brilliantly simple.

I don’t teach so many instrumental or class lessons these days, so I have now slimmed it down to a

  • shiny red notebook for all my day-by-day lesson planning, and short record of each lesson
  • wallets in the style of my colleague for the two places where I do instrumental teaching
  • a couple of display books packed with the term overview and resources for class music teaching
  • an overloaded wallet with material for the private piano teaching at a particular school (but the lesson records go in the red notebook)

red notebook

The system is working; I just pick up the wallets/books for the day and put them in the black bag, check that the shiny red notebook is there, add my piano teaching pack and off I go. The samba whistle, ocarina and a few stuffed toys are permanent occupants of the bag, and my repinique and cheapo ukulele live in the car.

I’ll be fine, so long as I have remembered my lunch – but, just in case, a packet of cup soups and a box of instant porridge also lives in the car!

birds on a branch divider

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2017/3 A Snail song for young children

I found this song and game on youtube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Oz5wOq8qLY

snail song 1

no, back a step, I found the song on www.singup.org which is a great song site, but you need to PAY MONEY to join it (but loads and loads of resources). I’m fortunate to have membership through one of my various places of work.

It’s a little “so-mi” song. You’ll have picked up the tune and words within a few seconds of watching the youtube clip. The game is so simple; the leader leads the children into a spiral, and when they reach the centre, they turn and lead the children out. Magically (or topologically), the children end up back in a circle but facing outwards.

snail song 2

The leader continues back into the spiral, and out again, and, with more magic (or topology) you all end up back in a circle facing inwards.

I showed the video clip to the children (reception, year 1 and year 2) having introduced it as “some teachers having a music lesson”. In fact, the first class I used this with, I had the clip running as the children came into the hall; they couldn’t take their eyes off the screen as they walked in and sat down.

We discussed what we had seen and heard. I made a big deal about walking slowly, not rushing, not pushing or pulling, carefully following in the steps of the child in front, and then we had a go. It more or less worked first time; the things to be aware of it that the children at the tail of the snail will find themselves being pulled along to catch up, and will start running rather wildly (strategic positioning of adult helpers near, but not quite at the end will help control this) and also, when we ended up facing the wrong way, several children wanted to “fix” this by turning round.

Then we watched the video again to compare how we managed with how the teachers’ effort.

This was well worth doing. I didn’t repeat the game in the same lesson as I reckoned some of the children would not be so fascinated a second time and would start pulling and pushing, but I will incorporate it into future lessons as part of a longer series of activities. Next step – maybe learning to play the song on tuned percussion?

snail compressed 50 50


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2017/2 Teaching Ukulele TAB



I’ve a couple of ukulele classes to teach this year. One group, of year 5 and 6 children, have already done ukulele as a class instrument a couple of years ago, so I didn’t want to just follow my tried and tested route.

So, in order to provide them with a completely new angle, I thought I would start by teaching them to read TAB.

We started the lesson by checking the tuning using the song “My Dog Has Fleas”, which they all remembered with affection from last time. That sorted out tuning, holding, plucking, and they were mostly quite quick to get this right.


I revised the parts of the ukulele, especially the frets, and the spaces in between where you put your fingers, and how these spaces were numbered 1-top space-finger-1; 2-second space-finger-2; 3-third-space-finger-3.

Then we strummed open strings while we sang “Concentration”. I handed out a sheet like this:


and explained that this had the MUSIC NOTATION and the TAB NOTATION, and it was TAB we were doing today. (At this point I came over all ferocious, and made sure that they were listening, as if they missed this explanation it would take forever to get them back on track!)

We all laid our ukuleles under the music for “Concentration”, with the pegs on the left and the body on the right. All of us. Every one. Then, I showed how the strings of the ukulele related to the four lines of the TAB, and how each line related to “My-the lowest line, Dog-the next one, Has – nearly the highest line, Fleas-the top line.”

We looked at the TAB notation for “Concentration”; 3 3 0 0 33330000 3 33 0000 0 0 0. We noticed (most of us) how the last 0 0 0 were on a different line. I explained that “3″ meant put your finger in the third space on the string that matched the line. I explained that “0″ meant take your finger 0ff that string.

I did my very best to show, explain and demonstrate how putting your third finger in space 3 on the “Has” string, and taking it off, as you pluck that string makes the tune for “Concentration” emerge from the ukulele. At the first go, one or two children got the idea. Once I was sure they knew what they were doing, I split us all up into groups lead by people who knew what to do. There was chaos for about five minutes, and then suddenly, nearly everyone caught on. It was a simple matter to sort out the two of three who still needed help, while the other children were given the challenge of playing the next tune on the sheet – another tune that they were already familiar with from previous years.

Within seconds, I was being besieged by excited children who had suddenly discovered that they could read and play TAB. Time was up, and the lesson ended on a high.

Now, HERE’S the missing step which I should have done next, except I hadn’t thought of it. In fact, I should have introduced this handout (there’s no whiteboard in the room where I teach) after we had revised “My Dog Has Fleas”;


If I had used this to explain how the TAB notation relates to the ukulele strings, I think I could have saved several children from teetering on the brink of saying “I don’t get it” or, even more to be dreaded “It’s too confusing”.

Roll on The Pink Panther!


snipped from ukulele.co.uk


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2017/1 Happy New Year!

Here we go, still teaching, still getting a buzz, still, even right at the beginning of term getting the “WOW” from seeing your classes succeed.

This term I will be teaching the usual variety of lessons, which will give me plenty to post about.

There is always so much to learn, as well as to teach – I do hope you are all enjoying your music teaching as much as I am.

Have a great term!


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100/100 Breathless

With any luck I shall be visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in January, especially to see this sculpture by Cornelia Parker;

Sculptural installation - Breathless

Here’s the description from the V&A link;

‘Breathless’ is a work commissioned specially from the British artist Cornelia Parker for display in the new British Galleries. It was specifically designed to fill the oculus or open space newly created between the two floors of the Galleries in a corner. It is made of 54 defunct brass band instruments which have been squashed flat and hung from wires. They are designed to be seen from both above and below, with polished upper surfaces and tarnished undersides. the work is an attempt by the artist to explore such ideas of duality as silence/noise, upper class/lower class, and death/resurrection.

I can’t wait to see it for real. Here’s another article about it from the BBC.



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99/100 We’re Going on a Bearhunt

I watched the animation of this famous children’s classic story on television over Christmas.


It’s been written down by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. I say “written down” rather than “written”, because, as Michael Rosen says himself, it is a traditional children’s rhyme.

Here’s a fascinating article from “The Guardian” newspaper about how the book came to be.

And here’s an official video from the walker books website of Michael Rosen performing it.

WARNING; If found this version of the video by going to www.walker.co.uk. If you look for the video on youtube, you will find a link to something called jointhebearhunt. When I clicked on it, my internet security software blocked it as a “dangerous site”, so I back-arrowed in a hurry. 

I’ve used the story before, with Early Years classes long before I’d ever read the book as I knew the traditional rhyme from somewhere else. I’d gather the children at one end of the space, and we’d start;

We’re going on a bear hunt

We’re going to catch a big one

I’m not scared  (my version didn’t have “what a beautiful day”)

…… oh-oh….

and then you add your obstacle….

We can’t go over it, we can’t go over it, we can’t through it, we’ve got to go through it.

….. off you go, with actions and sound effects…. until you get to the other side

All you do is repeat this, until you find the bear. The trick now is to prevent the children from running, screaming, back to where they came from! You are supposed to hurry back through all the obstacles, in reverse order, with the actions and sound effects, until you get safely home.

These days the children all know the story… which makes it perfect for turning it into a narration with percussion sound effects. They will happily choose instrumental sounds for grass, trees, mud, the river, and maybe one group doing Michael Rosen’s wonderful “dadoomp, dadoomp” footsteps in between each episode. Once you’ve got everything organised and working well, make sure you record it as the children will enjoy watching and listening to themselves.


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