In my last post I described a tactic I’ve developed at Pelican Primary School that, to my surprise works incredibly well as a way of introducing instruments, playing techniques, and building focus and participation. It involves just one instrument to be passed around the group, with each person getting to play it, one by one. Nothing else is taking place at this time. Everyone’s attention is on the person with the instrument.
The focus we get when just one instrument is passed around surprised me at first, and surprised the class teacher too. The first time I tried it, the kids had been really badly behaved – disruptive, unfocused, a little bit crazy… we started the one-instrument-taking-in-turns idea about two-thirds of the way through the lesson. Suddenly they were calm!
I wonder if it is the fact that there is just ONE THING going on in the circle. They all focus on it. Their interest in instruments is genuine… also, perhaps they see that they are going to get a turn, and so are happy to wait for that (and sense that they should behave well, or they might miss out). It is a visual activity as well as a physical one – they can see what is going on throughout the task.
I also wonder if they struggle with the noise level when multiple instruments are passed around the circle. Not only does this create confusion about where their attention should be directed, it may trigger a kind of panicked ‘chaos’ reaction in their brains.
Earlier this term a brass quintet came to perform for the students. The whole school was in the hall for the concert, and apparently they were pretty naughty. The next day in the staff room, teachers told me about it, shaking their heads in a kind of amazed horror at the memory of it.
It was at this time that I began to wonder if in fact these children don’t cope very well with too much noise (which is ironic, because they generate a lot of it). Unfamiliar or unexpected noise can be a very stressful thing. Hearing loss or damage can cause people stress and make them respond in a snappy way all of a sudden if constant jarring noise is inflicted upon them (like the players sitting in front of the brass in a confined orchestra pit, for example). I wonder if a lot of the Pelican students have a similar, reflex reaction to unfamiliar, loud sounds. They get overwhelmed, they feel a little panicked or over-excited inside, and they don’t have the self-discipline (or group discipline) to have a programmed, calm response when this happens.
Interesting… What can I do to help them? Develop their listening skills… playing music that gradually adds parts could help, as they will be actively involved in noticing and accepting each new part as it is added, and hearing/experiencing how it ‘locks in’ rhythmically… Encourage them to listen critically to recorded music and its elements… encourage attention to good quality of sound when they play… see if they can articulate how they experience live music in their heads and in their bodies, thus hopefully building greater awareness and understanding of the experience, both physically and mentally. And emotionally.