Sunday 21st June – Encore, Frere Jacques!

Last week’s sessions on Frere Jacques with boomwhackers worked so well, that I devised a follow-on.

Once again, I divided the class into four teams, but this time allocated 2 each of the boom whackers for C D E F G A, and a couple of note charts for Frere Jacques. The challenge was for each team to learn to play the whole of Frere Jacques, WITHOUT any help from me. Here’s the chart:

  • C   D   E   C
  • C   D   E   C
  • E   F   G
  • E   F   G
  • GAGFE   C
  • GAGFE   C
  • C   G   C
  • C   G   C

WARNING – CHAOS AVOIDANCE ALERT – Make sure you do all the explaining how to read the chart (assuming they have forgotten from last time) and instructions BEFORE you divide up the teams and hand out the gear. If you have a well-known system for creating the teams, you may have to pause while several individuals immediately STOP listening to you and START trying to work out which team they will be in and who will be with them. Wait until you are reasonably certain at least 75% of the class know what they are supposed to do before you let them begin.

It was fascinating to see how different groups tackled the task. There were several different approaches, ranging from entirely random to some quite clever allocation of parts.

HINTS –  for line three; if one child has G A and another has G F it all becomes much simpler – also D and A have very little to play, so giving these players another colour as well helps to keep them interested.

After a couple of minutes, each team had a chance to play, and they mostly succeeded well enough that we could all play together as a class, and then – hold your breath and cross your fingers – play it as a four part round!

NOW, here comes the bit I was most pleased with;

If you go through the chart for each letter in turn, you can re-write it in a sort of summary form like this:

  • 1        2        3       4
  • C                 C      C
  •           D
  • E                  E
  •           FF
  • G       G        G
  •     A

In other words, C plays on beats 1, 3 and 4, D plays on beat 2, E plays on beats 1 and 3. F plays a “double beat”  or two quavers on beat 2, G plays beats 1, 2 and 3, and A plays just after beat 1 (but before beat 2)

If each team can manage this new arrangement, it will sound as though they are playing Frere Jacques as a four part round. Once again, having explained what they were supposed to do, I left them to get on with it (apart from going round sorting out disputes, keeping them on task etc.

Out of the nine classes, (three each of year 4, 5 and 6) two teams succeeded without any intervention from me; one group of normally “lively” year 4 boys, and one mixed year 6 team. A couple of teams managed it with a little help.

I was really pleased with this lesson, and also the previous one. I like the (social skills) emphasis on team working and problem solving, as well as the solid (music skills) practical application of reading simple notation and using pulse and rhythm skills.

You could do this on any pitched percussion. Where boomwhackers score is that they can be played without having to look at the instrument, unlike most other pitched percussion instruments.

fanfare for the common ant


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