Issue 126: Welcome to the Jungle

I started working on this issue some time ago, but was side-tracked and never finished it.

So, here are four – yes, FOUR posts to make up for the delay.

There is a little arrangement of the anthem “God be in my head“, for small choir (soprano, alto, men), a mad watch and copy activity improvised on the spot, an account of a completely “acoustic” lesson (my mp3 player has run out of charge) and a whole host of lesson ideas based on rhythm cards.

I hope you enjoy reading the posts, and find something useful.



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Issue 126: God be in my head

I’m directing a little village church choir throughout Lent with a view to them singing at a special service on Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter Sunday).

As I had no idea how many people were coming (we had a choir of seven at Christmas) and which parts they would sing, and how experienced they would be, this posed quite a challenge to choosing suitable music.

I found what I needed for Christmas in “Voiceworks Christmas” by OUP; a series that I turn to again and again.

For Easter, I have made a dead simple arrangement of “God be in my head”, cunning constructed so that the inner parts have enough of a tune to make them more memorable, and also so that the parts all help each other to find their starting notes.

In the end, fourteen people came, and we had this just about holding together, unaccompanied. That gave me a bit of a warm happy feeling.

God Be In My Head voices

So, if you are looking for a simple little anthem – maybe this will suit you too. You are welcome to use it – but please let me know, through the comments.

synchronised penguins working together

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Issue 126: Surprisingly good listen and copy game

When I am teaching young children, I try and keep a careful balance between sitting still, moving around, action activities, songs, listening, and doing.

So what do you do when you need some kind of action activity in between quieter, sitting-in-a-circle activities and your mind is a blank?

The topic for my year 1 and 2 class is “Patterns in music” – specifically “Listen and copy” songs and activities. I needed some kind of thing to do that fitted with the topic.

“Everybody, find a space” I called (my mind was blank, but I had bought 60 seconds of think-time while the Teaching Assistants sorted the children).

TEACHING ASSISTANTS? Plural? Yes, really! Because I teach music off-site, in the village hall next to the school, I have two adults with me for this class, in case a child needs to be taken out, and a further adult looks after a special needs child. I can’t begin to tell you how cherished I feel at this school!

Anyway, my think-time was up, I had around 30 children, and three adults watching me with expectant faces.

So, I instructed them NOT TO MOVE, but to WATCH ME. I did a slow count-down-from-5-to-1 crouch down, yelled “Blast-off” and jumped in the air. Once the children had recovered themselves and were standing still again, I told them it was their turn.

What next? Umm. Commanding them to STAND STILL and WATCH, holding one hand like a policeman’s STOP sign, I whirled the other arm round and round three times, saying “Whooosh whoosh whoosh”. Sometimes I wonder about myself, I really do. The children, all together, joyously whirled and whooshed.  Not good enough – How many times did I whoosh? Just THREE? How many should they have done? Quite. Let’s see you do it again.

Finally, I waved my hands in the air and said “jabber jabber jabber”. This met with great approval, and was copied more or less exactly.

“For your final challenge, you have to do all three actions, in the right order, the right number of times, all together”. We checked that everyone could remember what they were, and off they went.

After all that, we sang a song and got ready to go back to class. The TAs are quite used to moments of madness in my music lessons. I’m not sure what the supply teacher made of it. I have a horrible feeling that the children will be expecting more whooshing and whirling next week.

Sliding penguin


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Issue 126: And when your mp3 player won’t work…

So that was nearly a disaster – ten minutes before the lesson, and I discovered that my new mp3 player was flat. As in no charge, not as in tonally flat.

I’m not sure if we are going to get on together. I used to use a Zen mosaic for teaching. I’ve still got it, but the line-out socket is worn and unreliable, so I have retired it from active service, and use it at home, where unexpected cut-outs won’t derail 35 over-excited children all being elephants or sharks.

I replaced it with a Sony Walkman, but we never really hit it off together. I missed the “just one track” facility of the Zen, and when I lost it (where? I’ve looked everywhere.) I was only slightly upset. I bought another Zen, thinking that I would prefer it. NO! It doesn’t seem to have any battery life to speak of. I switch it on, it says “Bye” and switches itself off, leaving me re-planning lessons at no notice.

So, what did I do today?

I grabbed a tambourine, loud, metallic shaker, and some jingles, that I found in lying around in a classroom and off we went.

We sang some action/game songs, (Kye Kye Kule, Concentration, Okki Tokki Unga).

We needed to do some movement – I’ll post that action game separately as a bonus post as this issue has been SO LATE.

In between, we played a focus game which always gets their attention; passing the instrument silently round the circle. Starting with the tambourine, the children listened carefully as it was passed from hand to hand. hey just about managed it. I complimented them on their patience; a problem with this kind of game is that the ones at the far end of the circle have to wait for ever for their go, and the ones at the start of the circle have to wait for ever after their go. We tried the jingle, which was much harder to control, and discussed what made it so difficult.

I knew that they didn’t have enough patience for a third “silent instrument”, so we passed the noisy cylindrical shaker round in such a way that each child turned it over, end-to-end, making a single sound.

With another chant, (“Lickety Split” from Singing Sherlock Keystage 2) time was up and the lesson was over.

Phew. Mp3 player now on charge, and hopefully ready for next time.

synchronised penguins, but not how we meant

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Issue 126: More ideas for the Large Class – Rhythm cards

Teaching a noisy subject like music to a class of nearly 40 children crammed into a small classroom can be a complete nightmare.

You can end up spending most of the lesson bellowing “I’m waiting for you to settle down now” and other ‘waste-of-breathe, waste-of-time’ phrases. At the end of the lesson everyone is frazzled and grumpy and no-one is looking forward to next week.

So, get them going from the very beginning, doing something all together which is simple, impressive, and ever-so-slightly challenging.

I’m talking rhythm cards, of course, suitable for all ages, but surprisingly effective with the youngest children. I’ve even used them with Reception classes. Take it slowly with younger children, go faster with the older ones.

To start with, do some “listen and copy” clapping games; you clap a rhythm (like “my name is Jane”, “I like eating fish and chips” – just clap the words without saying them aloud). That gets their attention, and their ears “in focus”.

Extend the activity by getting them them to stay silent when you clap the rhythm of “Don’t clap this-one back”. As this is the rhythm that most teachers use to get the attention of the class, that’s a real challenge for them!

Now for the rhythm cards;

The basic units are crotchets  which count 1 beat and I call “Doo”, pairs of quavers, which are half-a-beat each (so a pair adds up to one beat) and I call “Doo-bee”, and crotchet rests, a sort of squiggle counting 1 beat of silence. I call them (unsurprisingly) “sh”. Younger children are encouraged to say “sh” out loud, older children have to be silent for the time they would have said “sh”.


They are so easy to draw, a child could manage it! (There’s a clue for another activity…..)

I start with flash-cards made from an A4 piece of card, folded into half to make two long thin strips. Choose any random selection from crotchets, pairs of quavers and rests. The only rule is that each card must add up to 4 – like the one above. Laminate them to make them last for ever and ever.

Go through the cards with the children – verbally first, then clapping, then on simple-to-use percussion instruments. I count them in at the speed that they are to go at (posh music word “tempo”) “1 2 3 4″ “doo doo-bee shh doo” or “clap clap-clap sh clap”  or “bash bash-bash shh bash”

To make this into a competitive game, challenge them to recognise the rhythm for “Don’t play this-one-back” (Doo Doo Doo-bee doo”. When this card comes up, anyone who plays it is “out” and has to put their instrument down. NOW they are paying attention!

How about having two different cards held up at the same time; Group 1 claps card 1 while Group 2 claps card 2? doodoobee-copy

Like this (sorry about the caption – rotate one thing, and everything else rotates as well!)

doo do-by doo sh Finally, when they are REALLY good, put on a backing track, and they can clap/play in time to the beat. That must be about three lesson’s worth of ideas…..


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Issue 126: There was an old woman who…

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.So she gave them some broth without any bread,And whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed. 



Of course, these days, “whipping them all soundly” is no longer considered to be an acceptable or effective method of behaviour management, and I am in NO WAY advocating a return to such barbarism!

And a bit less of the “Old Woman”, if you please!


But there are days when I feel exactly like the woman who lived in a shoe, and I know from conversations in staffrooms up and down the county that I am not alone!

Teaching music to large classes presents quite a challenges, especially if you find yourself teaching in a classroom setting  with limited space. I frequently have a class of around 35 young KS1 children in a classroom where there is not enough space on the carpet, and not enough table and chair space for all of them.

This is when you kiss goodbye to any idea of individual or small group work, reduce “music and movement” to a minimum, and find ways to deliver a full curriculum in a whole class setting.

I’ll be sharing some of the activities I fall back on in these situations.

Here’s one to start with:

Get everyone to stand up, make sure that they can all see you.

Put on some music with a strong beat in 4s - not too fast, not to slow. I use “Stay Home” from my Shrek CD.

Have the children copy the actions you make to the music. Keep it really simple; start by clapping in time to the music, then maybe touch your nose in time to the music, make your hands into fists and tap them together… if you are all cramped together, choose actions that don’t use up too much space. 

If you know how to do a hand jive then you are all set!


Later on, in future lessons, you can let some of the children lead.

As with all energetic and lively activities, stop well before the children have had enough and start to get wild and silly. Then they will be keen to do it again next time, and they will also learn that they have to control themselves and manage their own behaviour if they want to have fun. 

branch divider


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Issue 125: Welcome to the Jungle

I’ve been working with children who are preparing for Grade exams later this term. I do all the piano accompanying at a local primary school, so after half term we start rehearsing together. I’ve also got a couple of piano pupils who are working towards exams – a young Grade 2 student this term, and Grade 5, 6 and 8 for next term, if they manage to keep up the pace.

So it’s not surprising that two of the posts this week are about practising – about concentrating, and about getting your scales tidy! To lighten things up, there’s also a simple, but effective ostinato accompaniment for the song Kalele.

birds on a branch divider

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Issue 125: Kerplunkers at the Keyboard

You must know what I mean? When your students play their “hands-together” scales, and the fingers of each hand aren’t coordinated, so that the notes don’t sound together at the same time?

Snake keyboard divider

The solution to so many technical problems is usually to go slower, so that you have time to pay close attention to what you are doing. In the case of kerplunking in scales, the chances are that the finger of one hand is ready to play a note before the finger on the other hand has arrived on its note. The delay can be caused by having to pass the fingers or thumb over each other, or maybe by the interruption to the flow of the fingers due to moving from black to white notes (or vice-versa).

Try playing the scale slowly enough that you can actually touch each note before you play it. Do this a few times, and then gradually go a little faster, listening with acute concentration to make sure that the notes sound exactly together. You need to be super-sure that you are transferring cleanly from finger to the next, so that you don’t start holding notes down and creating a blurred sound.

birds on a branch divider


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