Warming up

With each class at the Language School I do the same series of warm-up games for several weeks in a row. I’ve learned to do this (my instinct and preference as a teacher is to create new things all the time), because the repetition means that the students start to build confidence in what we are doing and what they need to do to take part, and I can actually see what they are capable of. When they are doing something unfamiliar, they are just working out what to do by copying the others, and they don’t always understand what is going on, and how it all fits together.

Both middle and lower primary students start with a game I call “names in the space”. I set up a rhythmic pattern in 4/4, of claps, followed by two spaces. I start; I say my name in the first space. In the next space, the students all repeat my name. Then, the person next to me in the circle says their name in the next space, and in the space after that the group repeats that person’s name. And so on, around the circle.

The game is useful in several ways – it challenges their oral language because the game requires them to ‘land’ their voice in the space, (separate to when they are clapping). They have to wait their turn. They have to stay engaged, as everyone must give the response in every second space. It also reminds me of all their names, right at the start of the lesson!

When things fall apart, it is usually because someone has missed a space, or said their name at the wrong time, and in the next space no-one is sure whether to repeat the person’s name, or wait for them to say it again. But with practise, this game can have a lovely flow, and is a strong way to start the music lesson.

I also do some call-and-response body percussion. and with Lower Primary this ends up being a repetition of 4 bars of a body percussion dance. (It started as one bar, then we added a second, then some weeks later a third, and finally the fourth bar). So I start by inventing new things which they echo back to me, then gradually start on our ‘dance’ and as the students realise they already know it, they join in, so that we are working in unison.

I do all this without any verbal explanation or introduction. Too much talking can isolate the newer students who have so little English and rely on visual cues and clues to participate in the class.

Middle Primary warm-up games are more challenging. I want them to develop their skills for performing contrasting rhythms and melodies, so our warm-up games consists of tasks where they must focus, or be aware of, two or more different sounds. Because we are working rhythmically, we also need to have a strong awareness of pulse, and of maintaining consistent speed. We start with a metronome on the floor, with its pendulum swinging side to side (again, a strong visual clue) and try to clap in time with it. We might try doing 4 claps each around the circle, or 2 stamps each, aiming for each one to be exactly on time with the metronome. We vary the tempo, so that they get used to the feeling of staying in control of the tempo in different speeds, and what it feels like to get out of time (and how easily this can happen).

It has been a cold winter this year, so we started composing ‘cold’ music – choosing sounds and playing techniques that gave a sense of ‘coldness’. We’ve also written three rhythmic phrases, using words about the cold (link to their literacy and vocab development here) and I use the rhythms from these phrases in the warm-up. I choose one and we clap it, person by person, around the circle. No gaps in between the phrases, so each person must be ready.

Next I introduce a second rhythm. I start off the first one, sending that around the circle, and when it is about half-way around, I send the second rhythm around. So, the children in the second half of the circle are still waiting for the first rhythm to come to them, but they can also hear the second rhythm being played.

This is a tricky game, but it teaches the students to (a) separate sounds in their heads,(b) not speed up or clap louder in order to drown out the sound of the other rhythm, and (c) be ready for change.

We managed 2 circuits of the first rhythm and one circuit of the second rhythm on Friday. That felt like a big achievement, so I am curious to see how it goes next week.

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