This week’s Boomwhacker lessons with years 4, 5 and 6 revolved around the song “Frere Jacques”. (If I knew how to add an accent to the “e” in “frère” , and could remember which direction they were supposed to go in, I would have added them. But I don’t know, and I can’t remember. So sorry and all that.)
It was really an exercise in team-work, which the nine classes, three in each year group, coped with to a greater, or, to be truthful, lesser degree. (Remember, these are the classes which are also spending the other two lessons of the afternoon doing PE and Basketball, so they are in an “interesting” mood when they arrive in my class…)
Here’s the lesson outline; They sit in a circle on chairs. I have got plenty of boomwhackers, enough for everyone to take part. On the whiteboard, I have written out the notes for each line;
C D E C C D E C
E F G E F G
GAGFE C GAGFE D
C G C C G C
I’ve got four colours of whiteboard pens, which is why I was able to colour-code the lines, choosing “red” for line 3 because it is the trickiest of all.
We sang the song through in French, and again using the note letters.
I explained that they would be working in four teams, each learning a single line of the song on boomwhackers. The plan was that, working together, each team would play their line, and if they all played in turn, we would be able to play the whole song.
This simple plan was pretty much enough to occupy the whole lesson.
I then counted up how many were in the class (ranging from 33 to 25), divided by four, and sorted the teams. Greens were given C, D and E boomwhackers, Blues got E F and Gs. Reds were given C E F G and A, and Blacks the remaining C and G (they were allowed to have one of each).
First I had to explain that the team colours were not anything to do with the boomwhacker colours, as some of the Reds tried to get all the C boomwhackers from the Black team, who were busy trying to tell me that there weren’t any black boomwhackers. I hadn’t seen that complication coming. Once we had got that straight, they all set to work. Sort of.
Sometimes a team would organise themselves into boomwhacker colour order, work together and play their tune without any help. Others paid no attention to each other, chatted, messed about. Some had Not A Clue what they were supposed to be doing – I wonder why?.
Just for you, here are the “technical” problems that each team needs to deal with;
- Greens are always flummoxed by the repeated C when they play the second “Frere Jacques”
- Blues take a while to remember to leave a gap between each “Dormez-vous”
- Reds come a cropper because their G has to play twice in each phrase, and the A and F have to be alert to get their notes in. Their C sometimes follows on from their E too quickly. It is tricky.
- Blacks go C G C G C G C G without leaving a gap. Or, they leave the gap and go C G C G C G.
Having given them a few minutes (and whatever clues they need) to get their lines working, I caused quiet to happen somehow. A few “Listen and Copy” rhythms worked quite well; holding up a hand for silence was ineffective, my samba whistle caused stunned silence (maybe not quite so loud next time?). We heard each team in turn, corrected the mistakes, and then attempted to play the whole song.
Now, the genius part of the lesson. If you swapped the teams over, you can just do it all over again; the children are more than happy to have a go at another line, hopefully learning from the previous experience.
NOTE Swapping the teams over is a non-trivial exercise in serious listening skills. take it from me; you ned to do this in a series of carefully sequenced mini-steps.
- Tell the children to park the boomwhackers under their chairs. STOP THERE.
- Say “Reds and Blacks, stand up. LEAVE THE BOOMWHACKERS UNDER THE CHAIRS. Now Swap seats” (You may have to say “LEAVE THE BOOMWHACKERS UNDER THE CHAIRS” several times.)
- Use a similar form of words to swap the other teams.
You can now repeat the previous part of the lesson. You might want to insert a short discussion on how to improve the learning/teamwork process at this point.
Depending on how things are going, and how much time is left, you can choose one of the following. Over the course of the week I made different choices according to the dynamics of the various classes.
- see if everyone can play their part over and over so that it sounds like a round (start each group in turn, sing along with any group that is going wrong until it settles). Encourage the children to listen once it is settled and going well.
- swap the groups again
- have a discussion about what teamwork involves, and how music lessons are not just about learning to play tunes etc, but also about using other skills/core values etc
- clear up and play a game like concentration, elevens, 7-up
On the whole, all things considered, taking an overview, it all went pretty well.
And the children seemed to enjoy it. Win-win.