Tuesday 23rd June – Obtaining Silence

That magical moment just before a performance starts, the perfect synchronising of a whole class rest, rest, the quivering air at the end of a good samba when everyone has stopped together…

which is then ruined by a child who always wants to add their moment of individuality, who never pays attention, who is always fiddling with their instrument and playing something entirely different…

The trouble is that samba, and djembe, and indeed, many class music activities, are NOT improved by a child expressing their individuality and creativity at random moments. A class performance of a musical item requires everyone to do exactly what they should be doing all the time.

In my year 2 samba classes this week I played this old, old trick, and it worked.

I picked out the child – let’s call him Sam – not his, or her, real name – who was the main silence-spoiler. You have to be sure that their constant mistakes, tappings, and twitchings are not due to any learning difficulties, by the way, so take your time in choosing your child.

Challenge them to pick up their instrument without a sound, copy a rhythm (I chose to play and say “Sam is the best”) and then put their instrument down silently. Usually, they will do their most competitive best to succeed.

“Right,” you say. “How about that for a gold medal effort! Sam’s set the standard everyone has to reach.” Repeat the challenge for each group in turn, and for the whole class, comparing their effort with Sam’s. Keep an eye on him as the lesson continues – did he do a “stop” worthy of a mention? Did he manage to stick to his section’s rhythm? Did he come in on time with a call and response? “well done – all of you/most of you (choose appropriate phrase) are as good as Sam now – gold medal standard, everybody!”

Sam is receiving attention and reward for being a leader in good samba playing (a novel experience – he’s usually in trouble for bad behaviour!) and the whole class is on their mettle.

It was great – two classes sounding pretty good. (There was a different “Sam” in the other class, but the technique worked on him/her as well!)

This doesn’t always work. I have another class (not samba, this time) where the only way they can achieve a reasonable level of ensemble is if a certain individual is away, or if I have sent them out. After nearly a whole year I have still not found the way to get them to set aside their own desire to lead, to be in charge, to do their own thing, whatevs.

That person doesn’t seem to care about working together, teamwork, making music together. But I do. For that individual’s sake, for the sake of the class, for the sake of my sanity!

fanfare for the common ant



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