Issue 95: Ah, could you take year 5 and 6 for music now?

So I had the luxury of ten minutes to plan an unexpected 45 minute lesson for year 5/6

No plans? no problem.

I took the crate of boomwhackers (I LOVE boomwhackers – sad, but true) and we were off.

I chose the red, orange, yellow, dark green and purple ones, not because I like the colours, but because that gave me a pentatonic scale, the colours being the pitches C D E G A and little C at the top. We have five sets, so that would have been 30 boomwhackers, except that one of the purple ones has been missing ever since the infants borrowed them for the outside play area a few years ago. Luckily the class has just 29 children.

I dished out the boomwhackers. There is quite an art to this; if you just say “right, everyone collect a boomwhacker” then I’m afraid you deserve what happens next. Even at the mature age of 11, All the boys want the Big Red Boomwhacker and there is a terrible scrum. I refuse to admit whether I speak from experience.

Your best bet is to firstly set out your expectations

“When you get your boomwhacker you will pt it down on the floor in front of you and NOT play it.”

and your sanctions

“If you hit anyone else with your boomwhacker, even by accident, then it is likely that you will NOT be allowed to have a boomwhacker again this term” (you need a bit of slack here, in case you want to back off slightly for a real accident, or the end of term is a very long time away)

Then you either allocate boomwhackers, ignoring all whinges and complaints, or you call the children up in groups (month of birth, what they had for breakfast, colour of their front door, what pets they have).

So I did all this, and then instructed them  to arrange themselves along the back wall in groups according to the size of their boomwhacker, longest one end, shortest the other.

We revised the term “pentatonic” – the usual suspects remembered it from when we did pentatonic composition way back in January, and to my delight some of the unusual suspects also knew.

Then, with each group playing in turn to a steady beat up and down the pitches, we made a pentatonic scale. Once this was going well, I added variety. Firstly, I instructed certain groups (even numbers, or green and yellows,) to do “double whacks” or “triple whacks” – changing the rhythm. We created new melodies by changing groups round “big reds, swap places with orange”, or “greens, swap with purples”). Quite soon, we were playing quite complex melodies and rhythms as a whole class.

Still thirty minutes to go.

I split the class into five groups each with a complete pentatonic scale (apart from the group of four, missing a purple player) and set them the task of creating a pentatonic piece using pitch and melody. The advantage of boomwhackers for this kind of lesson is that they are not as loud as, say, cymbals, drums, woodblocks and tambourines.

It was fascinating to see how different each group’s performance was. The children were very good at giving positive and encouraging feedback to each group, and sometimes able to work out the rationale that had been used to create the compositions. There were a variety of strategies for choosing and remembering rhythms; for example each player might have a set number of “whacks”, when it was their turn, or they might have been using an alternating pattern.

After we had listened and commented on each group’s performance, there was just time for the shark song (a reward for good behaviour) and a slightly more challenging version of Seven-up which I created on the spot. Oh, I can’t find a post on Seven-up when I search the site. Ho-Hum. I’ll put this game up next week!

Lesson over – we returned to the class in high good humour and I left them getting stuck into some serious work!


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