Always increasing the challenge!
It’s a new year and it’s the first day back. I need something immediately engaging and fun to do. How to make it engaging? Choose a song that’s easy to sing. How to make it fun? Include a bouncing ball in the accompanying activity. And so we begin our lesson with ‘I Like Coffee, I Like Tea’*. The buzzing energy of post-lunchbreak overexcitement and overheating (!) is quickly channelled into a focus on getting this game right.
It’s a simple ball-bouncing and passing circle game; the need to keep the ball on the beat is what makes it challenging and, therefore, fun. They all know the song. Almost immediately we step it up to two bouncing balls to further increase the challenge. Once someone has touched the ball they must sit down and if the game breaks down then we all stop. Each time it stops the number of people sitting is added up and we can see if we did better than last time. It’s competitive and cooperative. Sometimes there is frustration when another makes a mistake but on the whole it’s good-natured.
Having brought everyone together in this way I then sing the song ‘Ding Dong’*. The ridiculous lyrics elicit a few laughs. Like the first song it only has two notes. It is quickly learned and so too are the accompanying actions (some claps and pats with a partner and some foot stamping). It gets more complicated when the class is organised into two concentric circles and the outside circle moves around to a new partner each time the song ends. This always creates a heightened sense of excitement and more laughter. And so it does today.
Now it’s time to move onto a more ambitious activity: singing ‘Down the River’** in canon. To start the lesson with this song would not have been easy but after 20 minutes of singing, laughter and fun it feels right. They know the song and, after some encouragement to really sing it and find the higher notes, the class is split into two for a canon. This works so well that I increase the challenge by asking everyone to repeat it but whilst walking around the room in amongst each other. It sound pretty good.
Finally we sit down (there had been some protest at all the standing, I think half the class just wanted to flop down and rest after their hot lunchbreak)! I sing ‘Hello Everyone’ using la, so, mi, re, do (pentatonic). The class sing these back in solfa with handsigns. I point to a vertical ‘lsmrd’ to help people along as this is a group activity with some more able than others. I finish by humming a few of the ‘melodic turns’ that are in our next song ‘Rocky Mountain’. Again the class sing these back in solfa with handsigns.
We look together at the stick notation*** for this song. I ask the class to tell me if they see any repeating patterns. There are two: ‘dddm’ x 3 and ‘lsmd’ x 2. Doing this analysis aids an understanding of the piece before even attempting to sing or play it. Next we sing it and finally, after reminding the class of how these pitches look on a xylophone, two volunteers play it. They struggle at first but it only takes couple of run-throughs to get it spot on. And this is for a new a song that they’ve only just sung! Some would disagree with analysing the song first without singing it through first. I’ve got time for this point of view but today this is how the lesson went and it was successful.
We end by singing ‘My Paddle’s Keen and Bright’ and canoe-paddling to the beat. The children have settled down by now and they don’t mind a bit of this sort of thing despite being at that age (between ten and twenty) when they might be too self-conscious. The lesson went well. I will do some work on rhythm-reading next week as we didn’t do any of this today.
*from Lucinda Geoghegan’s always reliable ‘Singing Games and Rhymes for Middle Years’
** ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ (BKA 2000) by Celia Waterhouse p.28
*** This is the rhythm of the song with letters beneath each ‘stick’ indicating the solfa, it’s a stepping stone to reading from the stave