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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98/100 Lovely Evening – 3-part round

Here’s another round that I will be using with my beginner keyboard ensemble.


It works on a similar principle to Nanuma except that the last line is even easier – just repeated Cs. That will be useful for when a new person appears, unannounced, having never touched a keyboard before, which happens almost every other week. They will be able to join in with the group almost immediately!

I’ll have to make sure that the children are comfortable counting in three-time. I’ll teach a selection of 3-time rhythms, using “Listen and copy”, the words of the song and rhythm cards.

Then I’ll teach the first phrase as

finger numbers (1  23   14   33214    3321)

and notes (C   DE   C    F   EEDCF    EEDC).

Once that is secure, I’ll teach the second phrase, by duplicating the fingering but starting on E, just as we did with Nanuma. This will also introduce “new note A” (some of the children know the note already from picking out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”).

Again, extension activities will be playing the chords, or using the final line as a drone.

These two posts have made me very happy – I reckon that’s a good deal of my planning for the beginner keyboard ensemble sorted for the start of term!


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97/100 Nanuma – 4-part round

This is a traditional African round – you can find it in all sorts of places and song books.

Here is one version – sometimes the top note is a B flat, sometimes it is a B natural. It is a lovely thing to sing. I saw it done once in an inset, where everyone chose which line they wanted to sing, and wandered around the hall until they found other people singing the same line, and formed “clumps”.


When we sing this, a note closer to B flat sounds more “natural”, giving a C7 chord (now there’s a thought for ukulele groups). I’m going to use it with my beginner keyboard ensemble, so we will play a B natural for simplicity. Last term I managed to reach a point where most of the children were able to identify and play CDEFG by the last session. I realise that I will be starting again from the beginning, after a gap of several weeks over Christmas, so I will start with just playing the rhythm, below (probably on “sound effect” or “drum-kit” – that will provided endless amusement)

nanuma-chords-and-rhythm-onlyI‘ll then introduce the first phrase, as notes ( C C C C E D    C C C ) and fingering (1 1 1 1 3 2     1 1 1)

Once that is reliable, I’ll show them how the tune repeats itself, just starting on E, and then G (introducing the notion of the tonic triad of C along the way…)

When everyone is playing the tune in unison, we can set off on the adventure of a two, three, even four-part round. With ostinato accompaniment based on the tonic triads of C major and D minor, maybe?

I taught it this way before, years ago, and hopefully it will be a useful way back into ensemble playing for these youngsters. The couple of more experienced players (one of them has piano lessons) can add LH chords or ostinato accompaniments.


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