Issue 34: The secret weapon – Wider Opportunities Classes

It very much depends on the instrument, and the age of the class, but I have found that the rate of progress in Wider Opportunities classes often seems to peak in the Spring Term, and then diminish in the Summer Term. I have been caught out before, when trying to teach “the next skill”, to find that the class seems to dissolve like chocolate left in the sun. They suddenly become incapable of coping with the most basic levels of playing and appear to have forgotten everything that we ever did.

Back in the beginning of the school year, teaching the children to read simple crotchet and quaver rhythms was ridiculously easy. Persuading them to read and play these rhythms, from notation, using one, two or even three notes was also achievable. And then, suddenly, with the addition of just one or two more notes, everything collapses and you reluctantly give in and start writing in numbers or letters over the notes to get anywhere at all.

After two terms, I am now at the stage with the various classes, of having several able players who can read and play five or six notes with ease and are racing ahead. Then there are several struggling players who wait to be shown, one-to-one, exactly what to do (“I don’t GET it, Miss” is a phrase that I loathe and detest). Finally there are the ones in the middle who are happy to have a go, and manage to succeed with a little encouragement along the way.

How can you keep all three groups happy at the same time?

My secret weapon for treble recorders, keyboards and C clarinet groups is… ABBA. Last year, I bought a “Spotlight” series book of ABBA tunes for descant recorder . I happily invested in this resource, simply because the choruses of Super Trooper and Mamma Mia can be played using CDEFG (DEF#A on B Flat clarinet). The backing tracks are very fast, but perfectly possible if each phrase is taught from memory, carefully, note by note, little by little.

Fantastic! The able players are stretched by trying to learn the main tune by ear at home, most children eventually get their fingers round the chorus, and even the least adept manage to get the bit that goes “DCDC;  CCDEDC ” every time it comes around. The class is energised and motivated again.




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