First day back…

Today I taught at Pelican PS. We have a new music timetable which sees me teaching all the older classes on Wednesdays, and the younger classes on Fridays. After finishing last term on a bit of a high, feeling very at home in this school, and excited about my plans for the students, today felt surprisingly heavy and tiring. I suppose I am feeling pretty heavy and tired at the moment (the intensity of the conference, the rush back, the immediate transition into the new teaching term, nearing the end of my thesis edits… all taking their toll).

The first class I took today was one that had been quite unsettled for most of term 2. They were easily distracted, hard to keep on task, took ages to settle every time we stopped one activity in order to transition to another… At the end of last term, we had a composed a rather edgy little melody on xylophones, created a more soothing countermelody for the metalaphones, and had a ripping guiro riff, and a punctuating drum part as well. We’d worked with rhythms drawn from the rhyme Solomon Grundy, and though it sometimes felt like lifting weights for me (to keep them focused and working together), we had started to combine all these layers to make quite a satisfying piece.

I started the lesson today by asking them what they remembered us doing in our last lesson last term. (This was a bit of a ruse – in fact I hadn’t taken very detailed notes!) Well! I was surprised by how engaged they were by this question. Different children remembered different things (including some work we did with the egg shakers and metronome that I had totally forgotten about), and as they refreshed my memory, I began to ask more targeted questions, and their hands kept shooting up in the air to answer.

So that was a good beginning. We started our work by recalling the melody played by the xylophones. I got them to ‘play’ it on their bodies, assigning different pitches to different points on the body, from low to high. Together we figured out how to play the melody, showing these intervals. (This is a tactic I’ve developed as a preliminary step to working on tuned percussion, to get them to start preparing for the intervallic leaps).

Then we moved onto instruments. I accompanied on guitar. It sounded really, really good! Their teacher was beaming as they left the class. I think he felt really happy for his students – they are considered one of the trickier classes in the school, and perhaps don’t have lots of experiences of success. But they were a big success in my class today.

Next I want us to develop some song lyrics. I think the music that we have is going to be an introduction and/or bridge in a larger song. I’m not sure what the song will be about. But I have devised a plan for getting us started on the words. I had initially thought I might ask them how the music we have composed makes them feel. (As I said, to me it sounds kind of edgy). However, I don’t think children from ESL backgrounds can always articulate their sense of how music makes them feel, very easily. So I have decided I will bring a set of large-scale ’emotions’ cards with me to the next lesson. I can borrow these from the University library. They depict primary age children showing all sorts of different emotions. I thought I might get each child in the class to choose which card they think is most appropriate for this music, we will gradually eliminate cards until we have narrowed down the options to a single emotional ‘set’. Then we will decide on a scenario or detail to describe in our song, and hopefully the words will generate freely after that.

I think it may prove a more effective way of linking emotional responses (and depiction of emotions) in music. The ’emotions’ cards are from Lakeshore Educational materials. The set they have in the library is an old one I think, but judging from this website, there are many such sets still available.

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3 comments so far

  1. tutoringmatch on

    Have you tried this great idea?

    Having children draw pictures of the music they are listening to is always a fascinating way to see what they perceive from the rhythm, beat, tempo, melody, etc. This then encourages conversation and produces themes. From there it is not as difficult to come up with lyrics.

  2. musicwork on

    That is indeed a great idea! A logistical issue is that they are engaged in playing the music themselves – but if I recorded it, then we could listen back, they could draw, and as you say, those drawings would probably reveal all sorts of interesting perceptions. Another slight hurdle is that the music room we work in is empty of chairs/tables/drawing equipment etc, (we work sitting on the floor, or standing). But with a bit of planning between me and the class teacher, we could find a solution to this too. Many thanks for the suggestion!

  3. […] instruments.  I did this in detail in one project at the Language School, which followed on from an early exploration of the idea at Pelican Primary School, and the students engaged with the task very enthusiastically. However, when the time came for that […]


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