Year 3 – First lesson of the year (with Xylophones)

 As the children come into the Music Room to sit down, one boy asks “What are we doing in Year 3?” The answer is that he will be doing lots of musical activities that he did last year but at a greater level of complexity and skill. I just tell him we are playing xylophones today.

It’s the first lesson of the year so I spend some time going over everyone’s names. I try to make it right around the class recalling each child’s name. I realise there are various singing games that could serve this function but a simple recall on Lesson 1 works best for me. Remembering names has never been a strong point of mine and I am determined to work at it this year. After all, there are only 383 names to remember!

Next, we make sure that everyone has a Music Partner. Some are able to continue with the same partner as last year but some children have left and others have joined so there is a need to establish all the pairs straight away. They are mainly mixed ability pairs; this is in an effort to help the less able keep up with the activities ahead.

I start with a simple song called ‘Where is Mary?’ by the wonderful Ella Jenkins. It’s only two chords (Dm and A7) so I can manage it on the guitar! It gives a chance for the class to sing back their answer of ‘I don’t know’ over a minor triad (up and down). Also, it continues the focus on names as we soon move on from Mary to the names of children in the class. Each child who is named becomes the next person to lead the song.

I stand up and sing Bobby Shafto, with a simple three-note tune (la/so/mi), not the traditional more complex tune. The class know this from last year and all join in. I scan the class to see if everyone is singing. “Is your partner singing too? You can sing it to them.” I pick up on the fact that several children are showing the beat in various ways and I ask the class to stand up. We all clap the beat and sing. I ask the class to sing it and clap the rhythm. In Year 3 they should be able to differentiate between beat and rhythm and nearly all do. We clap the rhythm again with Thinking Voices i.e. singing in your head and not out loud. Even in Year 3 there are some who do not clap this simple rhythm accurately. I urge them to listen and keep the rhythm really accurate. Each pair forms a ‘boat’ by holding both hands and we all rock to the beat. This takes a few tries to get the whole class doing it accurately and together. One or two pairs are not on the beat and it is invariably because they are not singing so I pick up on that. The more times we do it the better it gets as the children focus their minds and bodies on the task.

We walk through to the big hall and play the ‘Bobby Shafto’ game. This involves sailors in the boats and a shark in the water. It is quite raucous and good fun. Inevitably there are children who are upset not to be a sailor, or because they didn’t have a chance to be the shark. Playing games is the very best way for children to learn about self-regulation without actually being ‘taught’ about self-regulation. There are a lot of ‘literal-minded’ approaches in today’s primary schools and simple truths like this can be forgotten in the desire to codify and regulate all aspects learning. Teaching is not telling. As teachers we have to lead by example and give children experiences that will help bring out the best in them and help them experience difficulties that they can overcome in a supportive and loving environment. The intention is also to form an impression in the children’s minds that Music Lessons are fun!

Back in class I sing ‘Hello Everyone’ on two notes (so and mi). The class sing back. I take some time to remind them about breathing in while I sing so they can sing back with full lungs. I am emphasising that we want to make a beautiful sound, even with these two words and two notes! I ask them to sing back to me with pitch-names (so/mi) and hand-signs. I have to work hard to get every single person to do this. It takes a lot of energy to really insist and push for 100% involvement. I extend the activity to the third pitch that they are familiar with (la).

so – la – so so – mi

I write out the rhythm of ‘Hello Everyone’ with rhythm-sticks (ti-ti and ta) and we add the letters of the pitch-names underneath each stick. I then demonstrate what this looks like on the stave. The children can name the notes G, E and A on the stave with a treble clef. I like to call it a G clef because that’s what it is.

Having read this on the stave I point to another stave on the board where we can see the notes of another la/so/mi song called ‘Round and Round’. They know this song well from last year and it has an accompanying Circle Game. They sing the note-names from the stave and many realise that it is this song. They also sing it with pitch-names and hand-signs. I explain that singing this song and singing it with pitch-names and hand-signs is their ‘Weekly Music Challenge’. I hand a small note to the T.A. so that their class teacher knows this is something that they can do together a few times before next week’s lesson.

I then explain that if we can sing it then we can play it on the xylophones. Naturally this causes considerable excitement. I take time to go over basic technique (holding the beater, where and how to strike the instrument etc.) I demonstrate myself and then choose a capable child to demonstrate as well. By now everyone is itching to have a go. With the T.A.’s help we hand out the xylophones and beaters in double-quick time and everyone starts having a go. There are two to a xylophone playing an octave apart. As with the earlier hand-signs and rocking to the beat it takes a few tries to really get it together so that the whole class (more or less!) plays as one. Again, I draw attention to this so that gradually we begin to realise that nothing really good is achieved immediately!

We’ve squashed a lot into the hour and everyone files out of the Music Room for a well-earned break in the playground.