Autumn Week 10
It’s 9AM and so I start the lesson in a calm way. I just sing ‘Hello Everyone’ (A-F#-DD-D or so-mi-do do-do). They all sing back echoing this tune. I hum the same tune and ask the children to show me the handsigns if they think they can. To my surprise the great majority of the class are confused by this. We’ve been working on our new pitch ‘do’ for quite a few weeks now. Eventually I spot one girl who is showing me the correct handsigns and I invite her to show the class.
At this point there is a sense of recognition amongst the class; this re-connecting with their previous learning is reassuring. The lack of immediate understanding reminded me of what Jo McNally* said to me when I attended a conducting course where she was teaching. She said that solfa was an extremely effective tool when it is part of an everyday experience for the young learner. I agree with this but I’ve seen remarkable progress even with just the one lesson each week. This is especially so when teachers are taking on their ‘Class Challenge’ during the week and so extending the learning between the weekly lessons.
The singing of the class is good: a big, full sound and in tune. I’ve drawn a ‘Note House’ on the board. It has eight ‘floors’ for each note in the major scale. I introduced this last week. I sing up the scale with the pitch names ‘do, re, mi’ etc. Next I ask for someone to draw in where ‘so’ should go. We soon have do, mi, so and la written in on the correct ‘floors’ of the Note House. I draw attention to this four note ‘toneset’ that the class are familiar with, using the word ‘toneset’. Of course, it is also an introduction to the diatonic scale but I do not make this explicit nor use the word.
I indicate the tune of a simple song called ‘Ickle Ockle’ by pointing, with the correct rhythm, to the pitch names. The class pick up on the challenge and begin to sing it in solfa; it is a song that uses the same toneset. They needed a few goes to get this right. Unfortunately they were unable to recognise the song. I had to sing the song to remind them. Perhaps we have not sung it enough.
The song begins with this rhythm: ti-ti ti-ti ta ti-ti (Ickle ockle blue bottle). It’s not a rhythm that the class are familiar with. I write it up on the board and then I ask if we can work out the sixteen possible 4-beat rhythms that can be made with ‘ta’ and ‘ti-ti’. This is an exercise in logic as much as anything else and everyone is engaged trying to think of the final ones as we approach our grand total of sixteen different rhythms.
This exercise leads nicely into playing a ‘rhythm-passing’ game. With everyone sat in a circle each person is expected to clap a 4-beat rhythm in turn, keeping to a steady beat throughout. It’s an activity that requires concentration and is surprisingly difficult to perfect as a whole class. Some people clap silently, others fluff their own turn just because of nerves, one or two clap the beat and some lose the beat by clapping too fast or too slow. There are a surprising number of pitfalls for such a simple game.
It’s been 25 minutes and, other than moving into a circle for the rhythm game, the class have been sat down the whole time. I ask everyone to stand up and we move over to the Interactive Whiteboard. I have displayed the lyrics of ‘Snow Song’, a song from the Sing Up website. Each year group learns a number of songs ready for their own Christmas Show.
It’s a song with long, open phrases, simple but effective. It’s easy to take big breaths between each phrase and it includes some solo sections. When I play a recording of the song nearly everyone follows the words and listens intently. There is a little giggling at the solo section! I begin teaching the song phrase by phrase. Again the class sing very well echoing the phrases accurately. We try singing the start of the song with the backing track. It goes pretty well for a first try.
I end by playing the class ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’, another Sing Up song. Some of the children start doing pretend guitar and dance motions. It’s a fun way to end the lesson. I wish I could see this class every day.
*an excellent music teacher who has produced some every useful books of songs for children