It’s the first music lesson of the Summer term for this year group. I need to make sure it’s fun and stimulating and challenging, just like every other music lesson! The class troop in after playtime and some children clearly don’t want to have to sit down after the intense excitement of running around in the noisy playground with their friends. The lesson will appeal to this natural desire to move their bodies and play.
Some pairs of friends sit together. Although they may distract each other I don’t bother to split them up, they will need to work with partners shortly anyway.
I hum some very simple two-note phrases. They hum them back, or most of them do. Some are still settling in. I add an extra pitch to this little warm up routine and after the class have sung a few more back I start to indicate the pitch with my hand. Some instinctively copy me. I ask “What am I showing with my hand”. A girl uses the vocabulary of ‘pitch’ to answer me.
I sing Hello Everyone and we play the ‘Guess-the-Tune’ game. A pair of two-note ‘pitch-pictures’ (zig-zags up and down, one starting high and one starting low) are drawn on the board and labelled A and B. I sing ‘Hello Everyone’ and the class have to guess which one I have sung. First to five wins! It’s simple and effective for motivating everyone and it helps establish a fundamental aspect of musicianship: being able to recognise the movement of pitch in a melody.
Next I remind the class of a song called ‘Miss Miss’* The following lyrics show where the rests (^) are:
Miss ^ Miss ^
Little miss miss ^
When she misses she misses like this ^
I show a simple two-beat pattern (pat leg and then clap). This is copied by the class and then volunteers offer alternative two-beat patterns. Effectively we are providing a simple ostinato accompaniment to our song. Again it is simple but effective. Everyone is engaged and it means we have started the lesson in a place that everyone can take part in and succeed. This exercise is also subconsciously preparing an understanding of the ‘rest’ in music.
When it is extended to be a partner exercise it is more challenging; the two actions need to include a partner (usually clapping hands together). Two boys really struggle and one boy always claps his hands together before the song has begun. I encourage him to practise saying ‘Miss’ and clapping his hands at the same time. He practises and gets it right. I draw attention to this as I like to tell the class that my favourite thing in lessons is when people improve.
Next we move onto another ‘Miss’ song, this time Miss Mary Mack. Having attended a Royal Academy of Music workshop with Caroline Walsh yesterday evening I had been reminded of a body percussion sequence that can be done with a partner while singing this song. It is very hard for many and after a few minutes of practise only one or two pairs of girls can do it. This is not an issue. It means it is something that we can come back to and practise. I tell the children that this is what musicians do, they practise!
We move onto something that many musicians also do: reading music. They know how to read crotchets (ta) and quavers (ti-ti) from rhythm cards. We run through a sequence of cards. We follow this by looking at the written rhythms of three simple songs that the class know. After reading each rhythm I ask them what these songs are? A few hands go up. For many this is very demanding, in fact it is the biggest challenge of the lesson. Nonetheless, there are children in the class who successfully guess the three songs.
After this very challenging part of the lesson, that may have alienated some, I end with a funny song that they don’t know: Buy Me a Banana. It tells the story of a child who wants a banana and a mother who is very stressed out and buys the banana and peels the banana and eventually, to the horror of the child, eats the whole banana. It allows for lots of exaggerated emotions in the singing (irritated, cloyingly sweet, angry, crying and so on). The class love it and immediately demand to hear it again. On a second rendition lots of children start to join in. In this lesson music has been presented as active, intellectually and physically challenging and great fun.
*to be found in Lucinda Geoghegan’s superb ‘Singing Games and Rhymes for Early Years’