They are singing our tune to their words

Music Education Now

The second half had started with the score Norwich 0 Southampton 0 and with my tribe (as away fans we numbered about 2,000 +) bursting into song, well just two songs actually.

There is ‘Come on you Saints’ and ‘Oh when the Saints’. The first falls a minor third on ‘Saints’ and the second is faithful to the original but with a clapping accelerando leading to exhaustion and fade out. The first is sometimes sung in a way that creates an echo effect.

The chorus masters pitch the songs so high that I settle for an octave lower that regrettably contributes very little to the overall effect. The man sitting next to me making tentative efforts was floundering between octaves, so I was pleased when he eventually latched on to my pitch.

We sang with all our hearts for a good fifteen minutes after which time the other side scored…

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A to Z of primary school music

Great stuff from Jackie

Primary Music Matters

I have been inspired by Dr Martin Fautley’s A to Z to compile my very own.

A is for advocacy. Can we stop it please? It doesn’t work.
B is for blogs. A school music blog is a brilliant performance opportunity for kids. Allows music teachers to differentiate, introduces children to new music, chance to get feedback on kids compositions and performances. I am so grateful to wonderful music educators Ally Daubney David Ashworth & John Finney for regularly leaving comments for my young musicians.

C is for Charanga. Easy to be sniffy about it but is getting lots of non specialist primary teachers to teach music. Also for culture. Everybody has one – it just might be different to the schools. Also for Carnival of the Animals.

D is for djembe. I wish I had a set of 30. Never taught a class that didn’t beg…

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The music learning revolution conference -1 #MLR

I had the pleasure of running an open space session at this terrific event last week. I showed a video and the expert participants immediately launched in with questions and challenges. So that was easy.

I was blown away by the final open space session on negotiation within traditional orchestras which I think none of us will forget in a hurry. Jonathan Govias doesn’t know exactly how his orchestral musicians improve their ensemble when he stops conducting them, but he knows that they do, he knows that it works, he has the videos to prove it and it was all fabulous. And if that wasn’t enough, he and his students then demonstrated how their playing of a piano quartet improved when they removed all visual cues by playing back to back. Many of us in the audience were entranced. Again, we asked what we were doing. There was no loud breathing so what could it be? They didn’t know. But they know they’re going to keep on doing it. Sometimes you don’t need a thesis to talk music or to make a musical argument.

On engaging with the Government’s agenda

Nick Gibbs has given a speech. He won’t make arts subjects part of the EBACC.

He says: “over the years, I’ve been asked to add scores of subjects – from intellectual property to Esperanto to den-building – to the National Curriculum”.

He says there has to be a trade off.

That is the environment we will live in for the next five years.

He is not going to change his mind because James Rhodes asks him to.

There are two ways to react: oppose or engage. I will leave opposing to others.

What the Government wants is inventions that earn money from overseas customers. It has learnt that this, not banking, increases the UK’s wealth.  To get that it does, indeed, need lots of numerate, literate and scientifically literate folk. But these folk need another string to their bow: irrespective of whether they are a creative scientist, tennis star, engineer, maths whizz  or fashion designer, they all need the ability to excel in some form of Non-Discursive Reasoning – of reasoning we can talk about, but which cannot be reduced to words.

Music is a type of Non-Discursive reasoning. It links to literacy via song and poetry. It links to maths because it involves holding patterns in your head through time. It links to science because it requires play.

Being able to engage in more than one form of Non-Discursive Reasoning is a Good Thing, possibly a very Good Thing.

You don’t need to be a neurologist to say this.

It follows that the “thinking-in-sound” approach readers of this blog are likely to favour is the likely source of the Academic benefit.


Other spirals: Life experience; Songs in my Head; Technique; Life Experience; Songs in my head; technique, etc

I have been wondering why the “spiral” in the Charanga on-line text book (it can be seen in Dr Fautley’s latest blogs here makes me vaguely depressed.

I have been struggling to express why I so dislike the practice of organising music teaching around the words “Dynamics”, “timbre”, “pitch”, “rhythm”, etc.  I found the word “static” helped. I knew from close observations that the words are not used in rehearsals of the rock and chamber groups in which I participate. But beyond that I could only articulate that I felt a dead hand on me when I looked through the many “resources” (another dead hand word) in our music cupboard organised around these words.

Unsurprisingly, John Finney came to the intellectual rescue by sending a link to this article by Thomas Regelski. This has given me enormous pleasure and filled up my notebook. Someone already had all the words I was struggling to find. What a relief!

So I turn with less anxiety back to the spiral, and wonder if it would be fun to play with some other spirals and see what we think?

Here’s my proposed spiral – I’m sorry I don’t know how to draw it on the computer so now it looks rather linear which is ironic given the original subject matter of Dr Fautley’s blog.

↑more techniques

↑more songs in my head

↑more life experience


↑songs in my head

↑life experience.

I got “Songs in my head” from the powerful title of Patricia Shehan Campbell’s book “Songs in their Heads”. I hope this is self-explanatory.

I got “life experience” from a passing comment from the music head in our secondary: “no, she’s not right – you need life experience to do this job”.

I got “techniques” from an accomplished violinist friend explaining why she had found it easy to return to violin after a number of years: “It’s all technique”.  But in “techniques” I include singing, playing instruments, using technology and knowing how to talk about music.

I would love to see some other spirals.  And to know how to draw a spiral with words in it on my computer.

Can Music lessons improve your use of language?

Why do music teachers shy away when they are told that music lessons should be used to improve literacy?  I’ve picked up from music teachers’ comments that they do this for historical reasons (the long struggle to keep music as a unique curriculum subject) and for quality reasons (resisting the dead hand of literacy jargon).

I believe we are missing a trick, that we have allowed others to invade and occupy our natural territory. I suspect that making up songs and making them better may be the perfect way to help children speak and write well.

If we spent the time from primary to KS3 making up songs and trying to make them as good as our favourites, the students would end up speaking and writing better.  A starting point in primary is making words scan. The lovely ukulele helps with this, having a natural dum-de-dum-de-dum-de-dum strum pattern.

Of course, we’d have to be good enough at this to fight off those who don’t get it yet think they do – I can picture page 43 of a “resource” telling us to write lyrics with more connectives, useful only for kindling.

I shall await David Ashworth’s new ipad app with interest, as I understand it to be all about writing good lyrics…..

Which music innovations are reproducible/scalable?

We’re suffering budget challenges and I’ve lost some hours.  My head came to explain/apologise, so I seized that rare moment to ask why he wasn’t cutting my one-to-one sessions where I take children out of maths and English to do music. I charge peri-teacher rates so these sessions are, on the face of it, the most expensive part of my work and a more obvious choice to cut. His answer was “Because we can see the value”. This was comforting, but also made me wonder whether I’ve failed to recognise which of the innovations in our school have the potential to be scalable/reproducible.So – here’s how it works.

– I take a KS2 child out of morning classes

– I follow their musical lead in a session of flexible length, depending on how long they want to continue. Over time (up to four years) they get better, though not in a linear way and not in a predictable direction

– if possible, I forge links with their family.

– no information is given to me about the child by school (other than medical conditions, etc)

– often lots of information is given to me in the playground by the family.

– I’m not asked what I do

– I’m not asked to write anything down

– No use of school-language. The child addresses me by my first name.

– feedback from teachers limited to “s/he likes it”. No review. No appraisal. I tell them if there is something they need to know.

– I work to maximise the chance of the child taking part in the inclusive orchestra (which has also survived the cuts).

And that’s it.

I wonder whether this kind of intervention model might work in other schools. The main skills needed are curiosity, a decent ear and some relevant life experience. That’s most of us then!

The trouble is, I can’t tell you what the head sees as the value. It’s his job to talk about that with his team in school-argot so I don’t have to. I have no doubt that the literacy classroom may be a more peaceful place when “my” kids are away with me but clearly there’s something in it for the child too. Something to like about school? I’ve no desire to name it really – that’s why I could never peddle it as a “tool” or “intervention”…..