Sunday 17th May – Four Card Trick

I haven’t played this game for a while, but did it with a couple of classes a few weeks ago. Actually it was the same set of classes that I have just been talking about in the previous post:

In previous lessons, you make sure that the children are familiar with rhythm notation. I have only been using crotchet, crotchet rest, and pairs of quavers. From my flash-cards (downloaded from the Australian Kodaly website) I chose these four, and made sure that the children could say and clap them. We were using “Boom” for crotchet,, “sh” for the rest, and “whacker” for the pair of quavers.

For example;

rhythm 2 cropped

rhythm 1 croppedOnce this was secure, I arranged the four flashcards in a row (choosing Sensible children to hold them) and we clapped through all four cards without a break – do a count in first to make sure everyone starts together.

Now for the four-card trick; the object is to clap the whole four-card rhythm from memory. Let the children choose the first card to be removed – say the third one in this example. One last clap through, and away goes the card. The children clap through all four cards, doing the third card from memory.

At this point, a boy sitting near me turned round and stated ”I can’t do this, because I can’t remember things”. As far as I knew, he didn’t have any major learning difficulties, so I merely said “Give it a go, and I’ll help you”. I thought it was so sad that at the age of eleven he already had a label “can’t remember things” which let him off even trying. He was reluctant, but at least made a bit of an effort.

Anyway, back to the trick. You repeat the process until all four card have gone. They should be able to do clap all four cards, from memory, without a mistake.

Normally, that’s the end of the activity. However, this time I extended it by starting a discussion about HOW they remembered the cards. Did they associate them with the person holding the card, or remember the actions, or the pictures, or the words, or the rhythms? What about the effect of the repetition? Did they have to think about it, or could they just do it? The point of this was to get them reflecting on the Process of how Remembering takes place. Too often, I find that people/children seem to think that just being in the place where teaching is happening is enough for learning to take place, ignoring the fact that some effort is required from them.

Well, that’s a big bee in my bonnet about teaching and learning, and it was good to hear the children reflecting on how they remembered the four cards.

And reflecting on this earlier set of lessons, and how well they went, goes a long way to helping feel better about the lessons with these children last Friday.

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Sunday 17th May – Aaaargh

Every so often you have a day when you seriously doubt that you are any good as a teacher.

Friday afternoon was one of these.

I arrived home in a state of shock and exhaustion and self-doubt, but a few days spent reflecting on the lessons have helped restore my confidence somewhat.

Here’s how it was; three lessons back-to-back with year 6 on Friday afternoon of total chaos, zero teaching and learning, mega-voice raising and even resorting to using my samba whistle (it WASN’T a samba lesson either) to make myself heard above the children.

Friday afternoon is always a tough assignment; this is the afternoon where the three year 6 classes “enjoy” a carousel of extra activities while all their teachers share PPA time together. Currently the three activities are music, basketball, and PE. At least it isn’t kick-boxing this term!

On this particular Friday, they had spent Monday through Thursday doing the national SATS tests. As a reward, they had a non-uniform day on the Friday, with lots of non-curricular games and activities and probably sweets. By the time they came hubble-bubbling into my music class they were beyond everything. My carefully planned lesson only held them for so long, and then they lost all concentration. I gave up on the lesson and resorted to circle games, but to be honest, they (I mean the Known Boys, really) didn’t even have the brain-energy left for that.

However, we all survived, even the child I caught sucking a smallish and deadly square of polythene.

Once I had thought things through, I felt a lot better about the afternoon. I have taught that lesson before, several tines, and it has always worked. It should have worked with these classes as well. It was just the combination of the events of the week, and the events of the day, that set the afternoon up to be like it was. Oh, did I mention it was a Boomwhacker lesson?

It still left me exhausted. I ate cake and chocolate biscuits and croissants all day yesterday, and now feel ready and strong enough for this coming week.

But I have already marked off next end-of-SATS-week Friday-afternoon as “Unavailable for music teaching to year 6″. Just in case.

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Monday 11th May – ELEVENSES

yum yum; like Winnie the Pooh (the original, not the Disney version of course!) I do like a little smackeral of something in the middle of the morning.

Pound layer cake.jpg

But this is not a post about cake or biscuits.

This is an extremely simple game that I learned from a year 6 boomwhackers class last week. The children stand in a ring, and, in turn, count up to three numbers at a time until someone is forced to say “11″ and are OUT. Let me give an example;

Suppose Alex, Brian, Charlie, David, Elizabeth, Fiona, Gemma, Ian, John, Kieran, Louise, Megan and Naomi are standing in a circle. (And suppose the boys are determined to get the girls out, and vice versa, because that is apparently what usually happens)

Alex says ”one two”. Brian says “three four five”. Charlie says “seven eight”. David thinks for a second and says “nine ten”, forcing Elizabeth to say “eleven” and be out. Now Fiona starts with “one”. Gemma is safe, whatever she says “two three four”, Ian adds “five six seven” John miscalculates (or maybe he doesn’t like Kieran!) and eight nine ten” and Kieran furiously mutters “eleven” and is out.

What has this to do with music? Instead of saying the numbers out loud, you play your instrument the number of times, etc once, twice or three times, instead saying he numbers.

So, the above game would have gone Alex tap-tap, Brian tap-tap-tap, Charlie tap-tap, David tap-tap, Elizabeth (and probably the whole class) “ELEVEN” and so on.

I was just going along with the class to fill in that last awkward five minutes before going-home-time on a Friday afternoon, but this is actually a very good little game. It will only work if the children are ALL paying attention, ALL keeping quiet when it is not their turn, ALL keeping count. Which is basically most of what a good music lesson needs; focus, awareness, listening.



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Sunday 26th April – Play and Stop

At the beginning of the week I embarked upon my first ever time of teaching recorders to year 1 classes. I was feeling my way here…

Following a chat with a professional recorder player who teaches recorder at every level from beginner to post-diploma, I covered up the thumb-hole of every recorder. I’ve used washi-tape, in the hope that it will peel off more easily than ordinary stickers. I’ve used washi-tape for labelling the recorders too. Capuchin plays the recorder


Before the first lesson, I went and had a word with the class teachers about their classes; special needs, behaviour issues, etc. Hmm. I won’t go into the details of that important conversation. Suffice it to say that afterwards I sat down and had a Hard Think. The first priority seemed to me was to find some way for making it really fun for the children to STOP playing their recorder!


OUP’s book VOICEWORKS PLAY has a great little song called WALK and STOP which exactly fits the purpose. It’s easy enough to make up your own version:

Pick a simple tune; let’s choose Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Change the words to

“First we clap and clap and STOP………………………pause, catching the attention of all the children….. and then continue “Then we clap and clap and STOP!…………….. pause again……. “Next we clap and clap and STOP!” ……………………..  “And we clap and clap and STOP!”…………………….. “This is how we sing our song, won’t you come and sing along”.

The STOPs should be a complete surprise the first time, and the pauses be full of suspense and of unpredictable length. Every child’s eye should be upon you, waiting for some clue for when the song will continue. Everyone should just SING, no moving, clapping or tootling along, for the last bit.

Change the actions for every verse – walk, jump, slide, pat, blink,  and then – playing the recorder!

This worked a dream – everyone understood the song and joined in, and when I got round to handing out recorders I was able to regain control instantly. Hooray indeed.


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Sunday 26th April – BOOMWHACKERS – WEEK 1

So how did week 1 go?

On the whole, I’m pleased. My decision to only use the shorter tubes until the children were used to playing them turned out to be a Very Good Idea Indeed. I also made certain that the lessons started calmly, by sending the rowdier classes back into the corridor to line up and come in again, “but quieter, this time, please”. They have a tendency to erupt into the classroom after an exciting 40 minutes of basketball or kick-boxing, which means that they are very likely to get Totally The Wrong Idea when handed plastic light-sabre look-alikes!

What did we do? After setting out the Ground Rules, each class (there were 3 classes each for year 4, 5 and 6) did a selection of the following activities;

synchronised penguins, but not how we meant


The leader (that’s me, to begin with) plays fast, or slow, or a repeated rhythm, and everyone copies. The leader closes their eyes to HEAR how well everyone else is WATCHING. Once the class has got the hang of it, I choose other children to lead. I reckon about 4-6 goes is enough; after then it tend to go unfocussed. It is worth spending a couple of moments talking about how it went; did the leader think they were good at copying? What made it easier, harder, more or less challenging?


Everyone should be totally familiar with this activity; I let children lead, allowing them 5 goes each. You need to make it clear whether you are playing “Don’t clap This-one-back” before you start to avoid ructions.


If you set up a steady pulse/count of 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 etc, then everyone plays on 1 (semibreves), then 1   3   (minims), then 1 2 3 4 (crotchets) and then “double” on every count (quavers). Then divide into four groups, each playing a different pattern. There’s lots you can do, with bringing groups in, layering, starting and stopping. Or by everyone choosing their own pattern, and moving aound the space until they found others playing their pattern and formed groups. Then, when I called “switch”, they changed to a new pattern, and formed new groups.


Josh started a chant of “Boomwhacker, Boomwhacker” which everyone in his class picked up on. So, after it had settled, I looked for ways to develop it. We tried playing the rhythm in turn round the circle, keeping the beat – that took a couple of goes to get going. Then, we tried different ways of making it more challenging; all the green players took a turn, followed by the purple, then the pink, then the red. harder than it sounds, as the colours were randomly distributed around the circle. The children began to notice how the different pitches suggested tunes.


This is really from the “pitch” section; at the moment I am concentrating on rhythm. But some of the children wanted to see how arranging the boomwhackers in colour (pitch) groups would work. So we changed places until we were in four pitch groups. Each  group played “boomwhacker” four times in a pre-arranged order, and we decided which orders worked best.


I let the children sort themselves into groups of between 4-6 (which meant 2-7 in reality, of course!) to create a composition using rhythms, leaving enough time for the groups to perform to the class if they wanted to. It was interesting to see how the different groups developed their compositions, and also a good exercise in LISTENING without talking or playing their boomwhackers at the wrong time! I’ve picked up another idea from one of the groups which I shall post about separately.

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Sunday 26th April – BOOMWHACKER RULES

Sometimes I feel like the Wicked Witch of the East (Wizard of Oz), but that’s just part of teacher-life… I began the first boomwhacker lessons with the following warnings….

Anyone who whacks or taps anyone else, either on purpose or by accident, has their boomwhacker removed.

This provoked cries of outrage when I included “accidental boomwhackering” in this prohibition. But the children have to learn to be aware of what both ends of their boomwhacker is doing, otherwise, if they turn round without paying attention, the person next to them is going to be whacked. On the nose, in the eye, painfully. In the event, I was whacked (gently) by the uncoordinated child next to me, and just used my discretion to sort that situation out (none of the other children had noticed). And a “Known Individual” had his boomwhacker confiscated when he whacked the “Other Known Individual” sitting next to him. He was old enough to know better. I let him have it back after a suitable Time-out.

Keep your boomwhacker away from your face. Always. Do not use it as a microphone, loudspeaker or telescope.

Your mouth is where your lunch and your slobber has been; no-one else wants to come into contact with that. And if you are using your boomwhacker as a telescope, and someone accidentally knocks it, you are going to get a painful whack in the eye. Think about it!

Keep your feet off the boomwhackers.

This was mainly an issue when we were sitting on chairs; when we put them down on the floor between activities, some children had a tendency to roll them about with their feet. Well, the weather has been good, so their shoes weren’t muddy. This time. But it does tend to result in squashed boomwhackers.

There you go. I like to keep the rules to a minimum! I shall be going over the rules again next week. And the week after, no doubt…


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I’m in a slight flap about my Grade 1 theory group… I missed several lessons last term through illness, and it was a very short term anyway. So now we are all a bit behind with covering the syllabus and the exam will be upon us before we are ready.

Here’s a worksheet that I have prepared to revise the four scales that they need to know. I have written out checklists, in the hope that they will manage to get full marks for every question. Of course, that does rely on them READING the questions properly in the first place!

I tried to post a copy of the worksheet as I created it, with manuscript lines inserted for the answers, but was defeated by the technology. However, if you copy and paste this into a word document, you can create manuscript lines very easily by creating a table of 4 rows and 1 column, and reducing the font size to 4 or 5.


NAME…………………………………………………………….    KEY SIGNATURES AND SCALES QUIZ


Write a treble clef, the key signature of G major, and one octave DESCENDING of the scale of G major in crotchets.  Mark semitones with a bracket.                                                                                               

(stick a line of manuscript paper here)

Watch Out!!!

  • Did you use the correct clef?
  • Is the key signature correct?
  • Is the sharp in exactly the right place?
  • Did you use crotchets?
  • Is your scale descending (going DOWN?)
  • Did you start on G?
  • Do you have exactly 8 notes?
  • Did you end on G?
  • Are your stalks going in the right direction?
  • Are they on the correct side of the notes?
  • Did you mark the semitones in the right place? (count BACKWARDS if the scale is descending)

Write a bass clef, and one octave of F major ascending, in minims. DO NOT use a key signature, but add any necessary accidentals.

(stick a line of manuscript paper here)

Watch Out!!! 

  • Did you use the correct clef?
  • Should you have a key signature or not?
  • Did you use minims?
  • Is your scale going in the right direction? Should it be going UP or DOWN?
  • Did you start on the right note?
  • Do you have exactly 8 notes?
  • Did you end on the right note?
  • Are your stalks going in the right direction?
  • Are they on the correct side of the notes?
  • Do you need to mark the semitones or not?


Write a bass clef and the key signature of D major, followed by one octave of that scale ascending, in semibreves.

(stick a line of manuscript paper here)

Watch Out!!!

What do you need to check?


Write a treble clef, and the time signature for Common Time. Then write one octave of C major, descending, in crotchets. Remember to add bar lines where necessary.

(stick a line of manuscript paper here)

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Sunday 19th April – RABBITS, CHICKENS and HENS

At a recent staff training day that I attended, I promised to post up a couple of songs that I use. Here they are:


The Fir-Tree illustration by Vilhelm Pederson for H.C. Andersen's fairytale.jpg

The Fir-Tree illustration by Vilhelm Pederson for H.C. Andersen’s fairytale.jpg
Creative Commons




Rabbit Run C majorThe original post for this song is here, with some of the ways I use the song.


Who stole my chickens D major

I haven’t written up how I use this as a game song – that’s something for another day.

Birds Free Range.jpg


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