In one session Amazing Grace and Ghanian fieId call and response song Che Che Kule stimulated a discussion on freedom and human rights.
Music brings us together. It creates connectivity, artistry, cultural awareness, technical skill, emotions and intelligence. An imaginative child-centred approach to music can underpin development in so many different areas.
Today I look at music in primary education for years 7-12. Here the Kodaly method moves from simple/unconscious/physical learning (See Part Two) to progressively more conscious/abstract/head based learning. Now we use rhythm names and Solfa to create good inner hearing and the ability to sight read.
If the early years are the roots of the ‘musical learning tree’, then this next stage develops the all important stem, where unconscious and conscious intellectual learning begin to blend together.
Again, the child needs to feel listened to, responded to and appreciated. The teacher has to create a co-learning environment where each child can try, make mistakes, have a go on their own in front of others, succeed and encourage each other. A ‘feeling culture’ of absolute non judgement and complete inclusion is modelled by the leader – and the children quickly follow.
Simple ways to make it fun
Where possible, individual attention helps to build rapport. There are simple ways to make it fun. For example, each child sings or claps the name of their favourite activity as an improvised freestyle activity at the beginning. And you can shake hands with an individual message for each child as they leave.
Musically speaking, I would divide this age into two brackets: 7-9 and 9-12. For the younger group, I find it works best to mix ‘unconscious’, or play based learning, with some elements of conscious work. New musical elements can be introduced first through a game – in this way a child can do it before he/she thinks about it.
Syncopated rhythm can be introduced through a sung ring game and later introduced as a rhythm name on a rhythm card. There is never a feeling of something being too difficult – or that you don’t want to have a go – including learning to read music.
For Steiner, another holistic teacher, children of this age learn best through narrative form. I have created a sung narrative to teach notation, singing a story for each note’s place on the treble clef stave. It happens so gradually children absorb rather than consciously learn the notation.
Confidence grows with singing games
Improvising with call and answer can encourage solos or turn taking and other creativity. Slowly we use the note names to make spellings and eventually put them together with Solfa – where there is a movable doh. The children have already learnt Solfa independently, now they begin to put different simple elements together to make a more complex whole. We make moving Solfa “Harry Potter” staircases with the Doh starting on different notes. All done very organically, gradually and repeated – in small soundbites during each lesson – for a couple of years at least.
In the second age bracket (9-12), different elements start being pulled together. Eventually they are all reading note names and Solfa with ease. They can put these to the rhythm names they have played with – and they are sight-reading!
They still learn through play. Having absorbed relative pitch through jumping jack interval games and songs with these intervals in, sight-reading has become something they can hear in their head. They can sing out with confidence. Singing games remain the basis through which learning is cemented and extended. The games get more complex – creating physical co-ordination/body percussion sequences, playing with balls, using the whole class, working as a team. There is even a game involving everyone’s shoes!
Children are so used to turn taking that they think nothing of doing a solo – each child having a go at holding a round part on their own. They call them ‘Sing offs!’ Confidence grows.
Songs can become talking points
All this boosts memory skills, co-ordination, sequencing and team building. It is cross-curricular learning. Music enhances language, songs can become talking points. Folk songs, story songs and rounds can bring in elements of history, geography, social justice,.
In one session Amazing Grace and a Ghanian fieId call and response song (Che Che Kule) stimulated a discussion on freedom and human rights.
Kinaesthetic learning – through physical movement – can help make drier and more scholastic elements more fun. Using the hand based Solfa approach, I created a whole body approach to learn minor scales. With the children’s help we made different body sequences to learn the difference between the harmonic, melodic and natural minor scales. (This was for the top junior class). Every child was involved, every child was alight with enthusiasm and every one remembered the differences between them because the learning was engaging, body based and they had used their own creativity to do it.
I have never seen so much enthusiasm for learning scales! And their pitch was more accurate too. Imagine a whole class of children joyously singing different minor scales as they made body based shapes all singing at their top of their lungs!
In the second age group I invite the children to add their own verses to folk songs – to create alternative endings. And in the last two terms of junior school, child write their own songs, bringing together all of their learning. I use coloured bricks assigned to the Solfa names (green brick is doh, red is mi etc). I stick to using pentatonic melody for introducing song writing. This has been incredibly successful. The children have come up with three amazing songs in the three years I was able to do this programme in mainstream school.
The magic of making harmony
Other instrumental skills can be added in collaborative sessions with support of other tutors. Songs and melody are written and put together by the whole group. Some excel and develop a song writing bug! They come back with their own songs to share with the whole group. This is also the stage to introduce easy two-part singing. Children love it. Making harmonies adds a kind of magic.
In mainstream school I was not given the remit to teach recorder, but in private teaching I introduce the recorder at around 8. This instrument allows a natural progression – it flows on the breath, it’s easy to hold, see and play. Note learning is reinformed and reinforced. Some children are naturally more drawn to an instrument than using their voice and this gives them a whole new area of enthusiasm.
Learning on the instrument is carefully approached. A child is never asked – at this stage – to just play a piece. First, we clap it, hum it, say the note names, feel the note names, hum it again, and only then play it. Each step builds on the one before. By the time they play they already have a sense of the whole piece and they then just put it into the instrument.
Instrumental learning is a whole new aspect to learning. Ideally the child needs to have internalised all the musical and intellectual aspects of music making before trying to “put into an instrument`’. Different instruments suit different children- but all start well with the recorder as a secondary musical learning experience. Playing the piano and guitar for instance require the child’s brain to be able to process many things at once: two hands, note reading, rhythm, different clefs.
Musical skills and abilities are achievable for everyone – they just have to be taught in a child centred way that understands the developmental phase that the child is at. Music makes our brain synapses connect in a way nothing else does, it is heart, soul, mind and body. Surely leaving it out or belittling it in schools makes us collectively poorer in so many ways?
In the final part I look at using music education for teenagers, adults and special needs.
Featured image courtesy Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, photographer Robert McFadzean.