One of the problems with music teaching is that we so often work in very small departments that we rarely see other music teachers teach. So we plough on, reinventing our wheels on a weekly basis.
In the spirit of glasnost I just thought I’d share what I’m doing in my classroom right now, in case you’re interested, or just plain nosey. Nothing here is remotely my own idea, but I’ve magpied stuff from all over (there’s nothing I like more than stealing a good idea).
Musical Futures Just Play
Yes, yes, yes! Get some of this. Head on over to the MF website and have a look at the sample resources if you haven’t come across it before (you can create a free account so you can access everything on the website). Basically what it’s about is getting students playing chords on keyboards, ukuleles and guitars, and beginning to play bass guitar too, by just doing it. Along the way students learn about chords, bass notes, major and minor, rhythm notation and reading chord boxes, all by showing/doing rather than talking about it. It’s the ultimate musical music lesson. There are special cards you can print and laminate to help students play major and minor chords with any root note. To access all of the resources you’ll need to go on a MF training course, but if you can squeeze some training money out of your school it’ll be the best thing you go to this year.
This is an offshoot of Just Play. Each student has a pair of drumsticks. They stand in front of a standard plastic classroom chair and practise all the rhythm skills and coordination they need for playing a real kit. Along the way it’s all about beats of the bar, layers of sound and drumming along to some classic rock tracks (which need to be turned up really loud to be heard over the chair drumming). Some of the best times you can have in a classroom. If you buy drumsticks in bulk they work out really reasonable. There is nothing not to like about this. Unless you have a headache.
Iconic rhythm notation
I had not come across this term before (perhaps it’s an American thing), but it’s part of a goldmine of resources I discovered on the Little Kids Rock website. All it is is rhythms represented using numbers, like this:
So with this one, you would clap/drum/click/jump/whatever on the first beat of the bar. You quickly get to syncopated rhythms:
It’s also easy to set up multi-part polyrhythms, just by having several on the board at once. There is enough stuff on the LKR website to keep you going for years.
Learning riff-based pieces by ear
Hear, Listen, Play! by Lucy Green is one of the books I wish I’d written. Why didn’t I think of creating riff-based pieces, with individual audio tracks (all easily differentiatable, if that’s a real word – it is now), to get students working simple stuff out by ear! Once I’d got over an overwhelming feeling of DOH! That’s so obvious! it is blindingly brilliant. The book includes all the audio. You have to order it from OUP in America, slightly weirdly, but it’s well worth the expense (and the wait for it to arrive). There are some classical pieces in there as well, which I’m going to use with GCSE classes.
Video help desks
There are so many great tutorial videos on YouTube, so I thought I’d make my own for the pieces we’re doing in class. I use Explain Everything on my iPad to combine video footage (made on my phone or iPad) with notation. Here’s an example:
I use this for the initial modelling of whatever we’re playing, but then make it available via two iPads for students to have in front of them while they practise, should they need this (they often do).
I’ve also found the Acapella iPad app is great for creating visual playalong vids: here’s the one for all parts of Toca Bonito:
Since going to a fantastic CPD session led by Ollie from Beat Goes On, we have been body-percussion-tastic in many of our lessons. Co-ordination, imagination, ensemble awareness, improvisation, it’s all there. No resources required, no expenditure – again, there is absolutely nothing not to like!
Top purchase – a plectrum cutter
One of the best fifteen quids I’ve ever spent has been a plectrum cutter. Credit/gift cards and sturdy bottles recycled into guitar picks, plastic milk bottles into softer picks for ukuleles. Doesn’t matter if they get lost. Also quite therapeutic!
This is a KS4/5 thing. There are some things they just have to learn – factual stuff, terminology – and rather than waste time on any ‘discovery learning’ type activities (sorry, there just isn’t time) – I present this to my students in the form of a knowledge organiser. There is a great blog describing exactly how they work here. Here is a knowledge organiser I’ve just made for OCR GCSE (‘old’ spec) for the tango topic:
This forms the basis for explanations, listening questions, read/cover/write learning activities, frequent low-stakes testing (just give them the organiser with half the boxes blank as a quick test). Memory is the residue of thought, as someone once said, so thinking about this stuff, often, is what is going to make it stick. Once it’s there, you can hone exam technique and aural recognition of musical features.
Shitistics and progress in music
I have been very heartened by the enthusiasm for the concept of shitistics. Shitistics fans, you will not be disappointed for long – I will return to this in my next post.