36/60 Getting the children in and out

Most of my “transitions” with a class of primary school children happen in quite an orderly fashion, but I have one class of year 3s who chitter like a a cage of agitated monkeys as they move from classroom to hall.

It should be so simple; First they bring their chairs and arrange them in three pre-arranged rows. Then they go back to their classroom (just across the corridor from the hall) and fetch the guitars, which are stacked up in a great random pile in the cloakroom. They arrange the guitars in a long row, away from the chairs, with the name labels showing. Finally they look along the rows until they find their guitar, and put it beside the chair on the floor beside them.

In my dreams. What actually happens in that they trickle into the hall, chittering in increasingly high-pitched voices, all bossing each other around.  The chairs are abandoned in disorderly rows, far too close together. They then queue up to tell me that this isn’t their guitar, or they can’t find their guitar, or they forgot their guitar, or Simon is sitting in Mary’s seat, or they can play their guitar or they can’t play their guitar or they need a drink or they need the toilet or….


Now that I KNOW that I am not preparing for a Christmas Concert, I can dump the guitar curriculum, and focus the next few lessons on how to transition from class to hall and back without all this fuss!

Getting them back is so much simpler; I issue these simple instructions, warning them not to move until I say “go”

  1. Don’t move until I say “go”
  2. You will firstly take your guitar to the cloakroom if you take it home, or to me if it stays in school
  3. Don’t move yet
  4. Then come back and fetch your chair and take it back to class
  5. Don’t move yet
  6. Do you understand what you have to do?
  7. Alright, off you go.

Then I start singing one of the songs or chants that we’ve been doing (“Yonder come day”, “Children go, I will send you”, Grandma, Grandma, sick in bed“). They all join in singing as they process like a trail of ants carrying guitars or chairs.Somehow, the singing keeps them focussed on the task, and they don’t start chittering and wittering and messing about.

Now to fathom out how to get them into the hall without losing the plot…

contrary motion divider

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35/60 The finger puppets have arrived!

I posted a while ago that I had ordered some finger puppets.

It was over a month ago! I’m more used to deliveries taking a matter of days, rather than weeks, or even a month. I had pretty much given up hope, and at a cost of just a couple of pounds, was ready to write it off as a bad experience.

But, here they are!

As you can see, a young pupil (aged 5, third lesson) has arranged them on all the pairs of black notes on my piano

Finger puppets 1 finger puppets 2

and the cat and dog have snuggled up together on C and D.



finger puppets 2


I am SO pleased with them, that I shall order some more at once! The mouse’s pointy nose has made it very quick at sniffing out different note, with the pink elephant (pink? why not, if the hippo can be bright blue…) running a close second. How did I ever manage without them.

contrary motion divider


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34/60 Christmas is a time for sudden progess

At this time of year I switch to focussing on Christmas Carols. With careful choice of book, many of the students will make great gains in confidence and motivation.

As well as choosing “off-the-shelf” books, I’ve also transposed carols into unlikely keys to introduce new key-signatures in a stress-free, low-technical-demand setting.

So, for some cellists transitioning between Grade 1 and Grade 2, I printed out Jingle Bells, Little Donkey and Away in a Manger in F major and Bflat major. Teaching the carols at the same time as the scales made it possible for them to learn the new fingers, hear when they had got them right, and also have to tunes for the Christmas holidays. When they came back in the New Year they were more than ready to make short work of learning their exam pieces, without having to cope with unfamiliar finger patterns as well.

Pianists will develop note-reading skills; I’ve been using the new Paul Harris “A Piece a Day” series this term, but I’ve put these to one side in favour of Pauline Hall’s “Pianotime Carols”  for beginners, or Alan Bullard’s Pianoworks Christmas for post grade 1. The students are able to get to grips with a new carol most weeks, and develop a renewed interest in practising if the happen to have gone off the boil recently!

I’m sure teachers of other instruments will have their favourites… feel free to share your recommendations below.chick singing

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33/60 Ballet with year 1 and 2 – next lesson

A few weeks ago I posted on this topic; what happened was that I thought I would be teaching in the hall (no IT, no big screen, just me, the children, instruments and my music system) when I was “bounced” back into the classroom because the hall was needed for the gymnastics class.

So, music and movement was “out”, but the opportunity for using the interactive whiteboard was “in”. Mt topic for the half term was pulse and metre – identifying two-and three- time.

We sang songs, did musical activities and so on, as planned, but had to reduce the amount of movement that could be done in the cramped classroom.

However, having the use of the whiteboard was great! We watched clog dancing!

First off was the clog dance from La Fille Mal Gardee

clog dance la fille


which caused a lot of interest and comment. We watched it several times. The children loved the comedy and the story-telling, and the way the music and dance worked together. We kept the pulse by tapping on knees, and noticed how the dancers also kept in time.

Then came the Lancashire Wallopers;

clog lancsa completely different style in every way; noisier feet, a small band, dancing outdoors…

Finally, Dutch klompen dancers at a tulip festival

clogs klompenAfter we watched the klompen dancers a few times, we then adapted some of the moves to make our own dance, using the music from the video. I formed the children into two lines with sufficient distance between to avoid any accidents when they were doing some of the more extravagant leg movements…  

All of these dances can easily be found on youtube – search for La fille mal gardee clog dance, Lancashire Wallopers and Dutch clog dancing.

Watching youtube dances became a theme of the lessons; I’ll post some more in due course.

paperchain people wikihowimage from https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Paper-People-Chain

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32/60 The Elevator Song



This is a song to teach by rote; at the end of it you sing up the scale 1 2 3 4 5, and back down 5 4 3 2 1.

Once this is secure, you can then choose a floor; eg 3; and sing 1 2 3; 3 2 1; 1 3 1

It is useful for teaching the intervals of a major scale, and also for singing cleanly from one note to the next. Some practical exam aural tests require recognition, or singing, of intervals and this song is a good place to start.

When the first five notes of the scale are perfect every time, increase the number of floors to the full octave; 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. Just be careful trying to go straight to number 7; that’s a bit tricky!

Poppy divider

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31/60 Hoovering and Swooping


Product Details

When the children in the choir slide between every note in the song…

Image result for swooping paper airplane

It is quite hard to break them of this horrible habit. Every time there is a leap between two notes they slither from one to the next rather than moving cleanly.

“But we like it better that way” they chorus.

“Trust me, it doesn’t sound so good” is my harsh and uncompromising reply. It has taken a couple of weeks of careful work, singing the various pairs of pitches accurately and separately, indicating the pitch movement with my hand, getting them to copy the movement, and slowly reducing the empty space between the sounds until they are beginning (on the whole) to get the idea.

To give them their due, they have tried hard, and the improvement is tremendous in just a few weeks. Patience and Perseverance is the name of the game here. I feel a need to teach the “Elevator Song” again.

Poppy divider


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30/60 Happy Birthday to me

birthday google doodle

It isn’t my birthday just yet, but I am teaching ALL my piano and keyboard students to play “Happy Birthday” at the moment. Preferably from memory, as part of my “Active Repertoire” project.

Easy-Peasy, for beginners who know the letter names of the notes but not much else;

I just write out the notes, and show them how to play it using whatever fingers on whichever hands suits them best;

C C D C F E;   C C D C G F;       C C C’ A F E D;        Bflat Bflat A F G F;

There are a lot of technical elements, especially in the third phrase, for example;

  • jumping the hand to a new position (octave),
  • skips or hops, where you miss out one letter between notes
  • steps, where you play next door notes.

and the fourth phrase;

  1. playing Black B,
  2. semitones

It is also an opportunity to discuss dotted rhythms and scale fingerings.

Next Level Up

The student works out the notes, and then we add a simple LH using just F, C and Bflat

C C D C F E;   C C D C G F;       C C C’ A F E D;        Bflat Bflat A F G F;

F        C           C         F                Bb     F                            F    C  F 

and maybe write out the pitches on two staves, and discuss where the strong beats occur, and put bar lines just before them. I wouldn’t add the exact rhythm at this stage.

The Full Monty 

Having completed stage 2, I would use inversions to make a complete LH chord accompaniment, showing how the F chord( F A C) transforms so easily to a C chord (E G C) by just moving the two lower notes down, and then how F can move to Bflat (F Bflat D) by moving the two upper notes up. If the student is writing the notes out on a stave, now is the time to add rhythm and all the details, including time and key signatures, pause sign and double bar. Don’t forget to explain why the last note is a two-beat minim… because the song starts with an anacrusis… which is a crotchet’s worth of notes for the first “Happy” on the third beat of an incomplete bar…

I’m expecting to be “Happy Birthday’d” everyday for a week when my birthday finally arrives!

Poppy divider

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29/30 Teaching with a torch

I had a “light-bulb” moment the other day, when I was teaching a young lad who is good at playing by ear, but is finding reading the notes on the music hard work by comparison. This pen-torch

pen torch 2 crop

happened to be lying beside the piano, so I picked it up, switched on, and used it to “high-light” particular notes on his music;

pen torch 1 crop

for example         “That’s an E, and that’s an E, and can we find another E?”

He was very pleased indeed to be given the torch, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time “focusing”  in on various notes in his pieces.

The more fun ways I can devise to encourage the pupils to get to grips with reading music, the better.  This one was a winner.

Poppy divider

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