Yr4_Musicianship: knowing what you are playing

The children arrive.

I sing a very simple ‘Hello, how are you?’ to the class and explain that the response is ‘Very well, thank you’ to the same two-note tune. I still do not have a record of all the children who can pitch-match independently so I’ve made a list of a few names. After some whole class responses I ask these individuals to respond. In the end I have a complete record for this class of twenty nine: 17 can pitch-match independently, 5 sing with the correct intervals but below pitch, 2 more or less talk and 5 are too shy to sing solo.

I am holding two pictures: bluebells and cockleshells. We talk briefly about cockleshells…the traditional East End love of seafood…the language of ‘shellfish’…a description of what an oyster is…the fact that shellfish are not ‘kosher’ and what this word means…the similarity of kosher to ‘halal’. It is always interesting to talk like this and it shows how knowledge is a network of connected information; a fact that is easily lost sight of in a typical school setting of atomised subject-learning.

The pictures prompt the class to sing a simple song: “Blue bells, cockleshells, eevy, ivy, over; Bluebells, cockleshells, eevy, ivy, over!” It was last week’s ‘class challenge’ to sing this song with the pitch names and corresponding handsigns; the class do this very well. It has four pitches (la, so, mi, do or B-A-F#-D).

I draw attention to the Note House on the board that shows the four pitches vertically. Starting with ‘so’ I hum the pitch and the class have to show the correct handsign; there’s a competitive element to this. At first I just make single steps from pitch to pitch but later I do some bigger ‘jumps’ (e.g. do – so or D – A). Next I point to the pitches in the Note House and the class sing them; as before I move from the simple intervals to the less familiar. I end with so-la-mi (or A-B-F#). This is the start of a song called Mrs White and it is recognised as such by some of the class.

It’s time for being active. The class stand and sing the song while walking the beat followed by everyone singing it and clapping the rhythm. The challenge is then to do both at the same time. It’s immediately obvious that there is a wide collection of differing capabilities in the room. One or two volunteers demonstrate how it is done and I tell the class that this is their new Class Challenge. “It’s easy” someone says.

We look at this little melody written out on the stave. Three volunteers come forward one by one: first we have the melody played on a xylophone, next is added a steady beat on a hand drum played with a beater and finally the rhythm is played on a pair of claves. The demonstration is excellent. The class split into groups of three to do this. The first two or three attempts to do this as a class are fraught with complications: the need, at the start, to be poised ‘ready-to-play’ but not actually playing (!) the requirement to play at a regular tempo and not to speed up, the challenge of playing gently (drums/claves) or firmly (xylophones). The class play convincingly as one: ‘unison’ is a new word. I talk briefly about ‘uni’ meaning ‘one and ‘sonus’ meaning ‘sound’. We try playing the song as one long crescendo (another new word). It works quite well. The children are enjoying it.

Finally we put the instruments away and form two concentric circles to play a circle-game with the song ‘Love Somebody’: “Love somebody yes I do, Love some body yes I do, Love somebody yes I do, Love somebody but I won’t say who!” I wondered if the children (especially the boys) would sing a song with these lyrics. The game is a bit complex to describe but it involves partner-clapping and moving around. It’s a fun way to end the lesson.