Archive for the ‘teamwork’ Tag

Experiment 3 – reading the grid scores

Translating the grids into a melody played on the glockenspiel was another story entirely! They all (but one) found this way too difficult. It showed me that there are some fundamental ideas about mapping out sounds that we can explore as a group first – such as the idea of reading from left to right (rather than down and up, as some of them were doing), the idea of different notes being represented by each subsequent horizontal line, the way that the grid note names (written out) will correspond with the notes on the glockenspiel in order. It was frustrating for them to go from the puzzle task, which they’d completed so well, to a translating task which left them confused and disengaged, but it was in fact incredibly useful for me and has given me lots to think about in how we might develop their skills in representing and reading musical sounds in different creative ways.

The second time I tried the ‘reading and interpreting’ step, I gave the group an introduction into how to read the grid score. I suggested that they try to figure out each note in relation to the previous note – is it a step up? A step down? A jump/leap up? Down? Those that solved the reading task used this system and again, they were proud of their achievement.

At the end of the 2/3 class lesson, I commended them on their teamwork, working in pairs. “It’s not always easy to decide whose turn it is,” I told them, “so you did well. Did any of you find that it was your partner who helped you figure out what to play?” And one person in each of the successful pairs raised their hands. “That’s great,” I said. “Sometimes your friend is the best teacher.”

These are 2 of the ‘pianola scores’ (I got the idea from Teaching For Musical Understanding, by Jackie Wiggins) for the folk song Zum Gali Gali:

Experiments in collaborative learning

At Pelican Primary School I’ve been exploring different ways to develop collaborative learning models in music – situations where students can work in groups to solve a problem together, and where they can help each other make progress. In general, they are not very good at this kind of work at Pelican – it causes quite a lot of stress.

Music lessons are only 40 minutes long, so I have to be very organised and have clear systems in place for how things are going to proceed.

Experiment 1

My first successful lesson along these lines involved teaching a 2-bar xylophone line to a class of grade 3&4 students. The 2-bar riff followed the chord structure of the pop song we are using as our ‘doorway in’ this term – Fireflies by Owl City. I’d invented the riff, and wrote the letter-names up on the board in order.

  1. Everyone learned the rhythm for the riff as a group, using call-and-response format. I clapped it, they clapped it, and we repeated this until it was performed accurately and confidently by the group.
  2. The students divided into groups of 4-5 on friendship lines. I directed their attention to the letter names on the board. Memorise these letters in order, using the rhythm you’ve just learned, I told them. You all need to have it memorised. When you’ve completed this you can move onto the next stage.
  3. Once memorised, the group was given a xylophone and pair of mallets. One at a time, try playing the riff, I told them. Help each other by singing the letter-names aloud. Each person tries it four times then passes the instrument to the next person.
  4. Once learned, one person from each group played the riff four times in a row, with accompaniment from me on the guitar and a selected student keeping the pulse going on the congas. Each person got to do this.
  5. We finished the lesson by singing along to Fireflies, alternating between the lyrics, and the notes names and rhythm of the xylophone riff.

This was a really successful lesson. They were very motivated to learn the riff – perhaps because it related to the song they like, perhaps because they had to wait their turn to use the instrument and the groups were small enough that the wait wasn’t too long. Perhaps the initial step of memorising the letter names had given them additional confidence that they’d be able to achieve this, they understood that there were stages they needed to progress through, and that as soon as they were ready they’d be able to move on (rather than have to wait for the whole class).


Two Fridays ago I co-led an all-day professional learning workshop for teachers on composing in the classroom for Musica Viva. Called Sound Safari, the course takes teachers through a range of possible musical starting points for interesting composition work.

We had a box of instruments to help us explore some of the tasks, and for the first time, I found myself enjoying boomwhackers and the possibilities they offer. If you aren’t familiar with boomwhackers, they are tubes of plastic cut to particular lengths so that when you bang them on the floor/your hand/your knee/your shoe etc, a specific pitch is sounded.

I’m not a big fan of them because – like any set of instruments that comes in different sizes, the students are completely focused on getting the biggest one. I don’t find the sound they make particularly inspiring. Young students also aren’t often immediately drawn to the sound, only to the size and the action of hitting it on something.

In our workshop, however, we explored using them in pairs. We were doing a composing task with words that use the letters of the musical alphabet (A-G). One of the teachers and I decided to play out the words CAGE and FEED.

We sat facing each other. We had 3 boomwhackers each – I had C, G and D, she had A, E and F.

We played the words as straight crotchets. We held one boomwhacker in each hand, and had the third pitch on the floor in front of us. After playing CAGE we had to put one boomwhacker down and pick up our third – once we got the hang of the coordination it was quite a good spectacle, I think!

I played (using ‘|’ to indicate a crotchet rest):

C | G |

| | | D

And swapped the G for the D after I’d played it. My partner played:

| A | E

F E E |

And swapped the A for the F after she’d played it.

It took us sometime to work out the best way to coordinate the boomwhacker swap. This kind of work in pairs has heaps of possibilities for extension in classrooms. After students have worked out how to coordinate the notes of two words between them, can they add a third word? Can they at some stage in their performance swap letters so that they reverse their roles (like jugglers?) Could they start to incorporate more interesting rhythms than just straight crotchets? Could they add some body percussion, claps or patsching? Can they go on to harmonise their words?

I wouldn’t say I’m converted completely to the boomwhacker cult, and I don’t know if the Pelican students would have the patience to figure out a routine like this without a great deal of adult support… but I can see that they offer some very engaging creative outcomes, and have quite a unique timbre that definitely has a place. Worth experimenting with!