Issue 99: Ground Rules

I’ve been spending some time this week planning next term’s lessons.

I’ll be teaching class music, recorders, small group samba, small group theory and also Wider Opportunities samba, djembe, ukulele and keyboard next year in addition to private piano and theory lessons. In other words the usual chop and change about, no day the same as any other. I’m not complaining – this is one of the things that I love about my work!

Every year, the first two lessons on every class teaching plan begin with the heading “Ground Rules“, no matter what the class, instrument, or age group.

It’s pretty straightforward. I can sum it up as “Don’t play your instrument, or talk, when I’m talking”. That’s a pretty bald and global statement, but in my experience it is easier to have just one or two hard-and-fast rules (“fast” in the sense of “stuck fast” rather than “swift”!). Easier for the children to remember, and easier for me.

For any instrumental class work to be a pleasure and a success, the children have to learn how to play their instruments AND how to NOT play their instruments, whatever they are. So we practise the basic skills:

  • putting the instrument down quietly and safely
  • picking up the instrument quietly, without starting to play it
  • holding the instrument quietly without playing it
  • stopping playing on a signal (I use various signals in different circumstances. The most useful one is raising my hand without saying anything, and the children are expected to stop playing as soon as they notice)

This need not be boring, if you make a game of starting and stopping. Or you can appeal to their naturally competitive natures. Put the children into groups, and reward the group that is most successful each time – maybe they get some kind of merit point, maybe they get extra playing time, maybe they get to give the signal next time.

I good game is passing various instruments round the circle without making a sound. Tambourines, shakers, and bells-on-sticks are good choices to provide a challenge.

The sooner you get these skills embedded into the class behaviour, the better, for everyone’s enjoyment for the rest of the school year!

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