What can babies do

A rough guide for first-time music practitioners / entertainers on what babies (18 months and under) can do physically and some tips and suggestions to making your session plans.

A useful guide to read is the EYFS, Early  Years Foundation Stage which lists what a child can do in every stage of their early life, and how an adult can help them to move on safely to the next developmental stage.In the book it states “Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways”. It lists the prime and specific Areas of Learning and Development such as making relations and building self confidence and self awareness to listening and attention to speaking, moving…etc. It would be good if you look through the book. It’s useful to focus every lesson plan around one developmental area and sub-area.

All children are different and develop at their own rates.

page 2 and footnotes

Use this as a rough guide and if you are not sure, ask and use your judgment. At about:

  1. 4 – 6 months they will be making sounds 
  2. 5 months start crawling – some children may skip crawling completely.
  3. 7 months start standing by holding on to things
  4. 12 months start walking on their own – and for some it may take longer
  5. 9 months clapping and gradually they perfect this. Although don’t expect that they can clap the beat to an entire song until much later
  6. 24 months (two years) to walk and clap at the same time
  7. 18 months will be saying some words
  8. 18 months will be very mobile, move around independently and through a ball (or let it fall from their hands)
  9. 20 months putting words together. Don’t expect them to sing you the whole song but they can shout out a word every now and then and may carry a tune
  10. 24 months their attention span is short so activities should be around 2 minutes long and gradually as they get older make them longer
  11. After two years of age expect children to be able to do controlled and simultaneous actions with all limbs, to cross their hands and place them on their thighs, or place one hand on their tummy and one hand on their heads. 
  12. Babies won’t be sharing until well after 30 months old (2,5 y.o.) but will know that some things belong to them and some to others from about 18 months. At this stage it is easier if they share a toy with their practitioners rather than with other children. 
  13. Play hiding games, show pictures, pretend vocabulary (let’s pretend we are frogs), use animals and make funny noises – These are always a hit!

FURTHERMORE:

If you are in doubt about what children can do, ask the nursery practitioner of the group you need clarification on.

You are building intention. They will not sing with you loud and clear or clap every time when the song says so but it shouldn’t stop you from working on this verbal and action vocabulary. There is no set date to start developing individuality and self awareness. Babies learn very fast so be patient, they are processing. 

The ratio of adults per babies in nurseries in the UK is 1 nursery practitioner for 3 babies – you should not be in the count. As they get older the ration changes.

Most nurseries will group the children according to their age (months) into different rooms. When a baby turns above a specific month and / or their physical, social and mental development exceeds expectations, then they move on to the “bigger” room. The room with older children. You may not be informed in advance. You will have to adjust your session plan to who you have there and accommodate to the majorities’ needs.

It’s useful to prepare a progression of your activities and how to break it down to something simpler. This way you can easily adjust according to who you have on the day. 

This is only a rough guide. You may know children that started walking at 10,5 months and others were still wobbly at 16 months, or could do simultaneous actions with both limbs earlier. Ask and be alert for changes sooner than expected.

Even if children can’t physically do something, they can’t do it YET. That means that you can build onto that skill. You can still ask the 20 month olds to put one hand on their tummy and one on their head. You will show them how to do it and move on to another activity, or break that activity down and allow each child to interpret it as they want. Be considerate. Don’t push them to do something they can’t do yet but guide them, show them and encourage them to do it when they are ready. Babies give feedback instantly, so if they feel frustrated about something you will know. Calmly congratulate them for what they have achieved and move on to something else that is more familiar.

During this designated music time with babies, you are building intention, perception, anticipation and expectations, feel safety and confidence in their abilities to carry on with their development. All this through music and sound exploration. So you are also offering an experience, the world through the auditory sense. All these qualities are invisible for a while but are there and are being cultivated through systematic and careful preparation.

I’d love to know your thoughts and how it goes for you!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Lesson plan 1: Love our Body

Name of activity
Our lovely body
Age
0 – 12 months

Duration: 20 minutes

Aim of Activity: Learn the parts of our body and make sounds like clapping, and tapping
Skill:  Social skills: waiting for our turn, cooperate with our friends, listen and respond
Knowledge: learn our body and what we can do with it, learn the song Germ, Germ go away, practice standing and rolling a ball

Link to curriculum (EYFS)
“ Concentrates intently on an object or activity of own choosing for short periods”( EYFS, Development Matters, Communication and Language: Listening and attention, 8-20)

Link to overarching learning objective (EYFS)
“Begins to move to music, listen to or join in rhymes or songs”(  EYFS, Development Matters, Expressive arts and design: Exploring and using media and materials, 8-20 )

1. Warm up

2. Sing 2-3 songs

3. Sound story:
About a Germ that came to the nursery and climbs on the babies’ bodies.
Use something like scarves for props and sing the song Germ, Germ go away 

4. Listen to music and keep the rhythm
Music suggestion: Mozart Rondo Alla Turca you can listen to here

5. Table drum. 
Use rolling toys like balls and cars on the table.
Music suggestion: Dani Howard Argentum you can listen to here 

6. Sing two songs

7. Warm down (1 minute)
Listen to relaxing music, dim the lights
Music suggestion: George Karpasitis Lullaby available here

8. Say goodbye to everyone

Resources
Music source (iPad, tablet), table, rolling toys, small balls, scarves 

Download detailed lesson plan here. It includes what to expect from the children to do, what to ask the practitioners to do, as well as some song suggestions.

Let me know how it goes!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020, lesson plan for nursery schools music

Finding my voice as an Early Years Music Practitioner

Tips for introverts on managing communication

The Nursery made it clear to me from the beginning that they didn’t want a music entertainer (the word they used). The entertainer was defined as the person that gathers the children – and the nursery practitioners – around sings songs for 20 minutes and has a party-like feel. This is the very simplified definition of an Early Years Music Entertainer, but nonetheless, this is what I was told. They wanted their music practitioner to interact and involve the children in the process of music making through games and activities.

My intentions as well! 

This post is my personal experience.
It may inspire you. 

Back to our story…

I had to do something to keep the children engaged for longer periods. Some nursery practitioners were deliberately setting bad this just enforces that I had to change something in my approach. My manager came up with the ‘persona’ idea, not a clown, but a…a… caricature. I needed a hook like a magic music bag or a sparkling singing teddy, to keep the babies and children involved in the activities. She showed me a few videos on YouTube for inspiration, and pictures of their previous guy for the job, who was called something like “Sparks” and had a “magic box” with instruments, his guitar, and sang songs to the children. He had the “Magic” concept.

The guys on Youtube, were holding their guitar, singing very loudly, and the children with their parents were sitting around this main singer. This is the “Entertainer” style they explicitly told me to avoid at the beginning.  The parents were singing while holding their children to not move around much. The Singer used props and instruments as you would expect.

I was shown these videos to see how devoted the children were in the sessions of the Entertainer Music Man. The comparison was clumsy to say the least. The videos would start with all the children around and finish with just their parents sitting there. The children wondered off and didn’t come back. As these sessions were parents with their babies, so each baby had an adult for themselves, instead of my setting that was 3 babies to 1 adult. Also, they were men (sarcastic comment: 95% of the nursery practitioners were women so I wouldn’t be appealing enough as a guy would be!!!), singing loudly, with a guitar (and as we will see later, the guitar was a no go) and had minimum interaction with everyone. Again, a NO-GO.

Essentially, the nursery staff wanted a Guy to have party time with the adults.  

Looking past the clumsiness in the way they chose to inspire me into elevating my sessions, here is what I took out of our conversation and I think these are good tips for anyone to consider especially for introverts /and with low self-esteem like I was:

  1. Children love a good story. Anything to lure them into a fantasy world for just 20 minutes is brilliant! Possible ways to achieve this is by creating a mystery: the “magic bag with instruments”.
  2. To sing a bit louder and with more confidence. The children mimic behaviours so to see and hear someone speaking with confidence (sensibly loudly) will reflect on their way of singing and later on general speaking and behaving.
  3. Carry on with the 6 children that are participating instead of trying hard to get the 2 wanderers to rejoin the session is an advice to keep. Those 2 children will come back eventually. Confidence is key.

The nursery had a very solid child-led philosophy (I believe in this as well) so these are the topics that according to the videos, I should avoid:

  1. Singing a lot louder that the children 
  2. Not engaging with the children at all 
  3. A guitar or ukulele might be nice to have but as it was an extremely risk averse Nursery, a string might snap and injure a child or baby. So having them regularly was a big NO. 
  4. Giving a singing performance for every session 
  5. Not to keep the children in one position for the whole session but rather encourage them to move around purposefully. 

I believe it took a lot of clarity in the moment to identify what exactly I needed to improve in my delivery style so I don’t become a marionette that obeys other people’s visions without checking my values and abilities. It is good to test your limits and come out of your comfort zones but if you don’t feel comfortable with it, the chances are it will not be a success….

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music Practitioner or Entertainer

In a Nursery Setting

Being an Early Years Music practitioner or Early Years music Entertainer are two different styles of music enlightening, music delivery. Both styles are great for the children. The learning objectives may overlap, there are differences in the delivery style. There is a possibility to have traits of both approaches while leaning clearly towards one. That is what worked best for me even though it wasn’t very easy to learn how to do. 

Music Entertainer
I think of it as the Entertainer is the singer or actor on stage inviting the children in their storytelling or singing. In a nursery setting, as the in residence musician, it is more likely that you will be the singer that creates vibrant concerts. You will have a list of 10-15 nursery songs to sing with the children. You may be holding an instrument like a guitar or a ukulele but check before with the nursery school’s policy and risk chart.

Music Practitioner
The Music Practitioner is an explorer of sounds and plans child-led activities where investigation and experimentation are essential parts. Each song has a developmental purpose for being there and it might be repeated a few times with variations. This is my definition and how it was explained to me. I’d love to hear yours. 

Perhaps one of the best learnings a child can get through music time with an Entertainer that creates concerts is social etiquette (apart from songs and copying skills, and motor skills, talking, etc…). The course of the session is designed so that children wait for their turn and listen to instructions. 

And one of the best learnings from an Music Practitioner that created space through sound activities would be accepting and adapting to alternatives (apart from creativity, social skills, copying, motor skills, talking, and of course music properties). 

In both styles the children will develop

  • language
  • learn about numbers and animals
  • develop their motor skills
  • social skills, sing songs
  • create bonds with their practitioners and so on…

And both the practitioner and entertainer will still be

  • creating positive environments
  • setting boundaries
  • stimulate
  • support individuality and so on…

You can see as well, that it is the style of delivery that is at question here. And the style of delivery is what most clients are after. Whether you want to sing 10 songs in each session and have a party or want a child driven session, or something in between it is up to you and your personality and if you are able to adapt that is a bonus for you. You will have to please the adults as well as the children and one group is more important that the other. Do you know which one? Discuss with your clients what their vision is and plan accordingly. 

The main key here is: keep all (in reality is  most of the children, about 80%) engaged and taking part in the session. Whatever style you have your sessions are a success if you see the children interacting with you and each other, gradually staying focused for longer periods of time, and taking part in the songs and activities.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music For the Early Years

Music Education in Nursery Schools

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Of course I wasn’t allowed to take pictures so these are stock pictures

All the way back in the 2010s I worked in a nursery school. At first as a nursery practitioner in the baby room and a few months later I was promoted and my title became something like: the music practitioner in residence. I immersed the children’s and babies’ time in music across all six locations of the company’s nursery schools, all located in London, UK. My schedule was regular in terms of which day I would be at each nursery and what time I would teach in each room, and it would change every three months or so. 

Taking this job opportunity was very exciting and adventurous. I was constantly learning about teaching, interacting with adults and children and how music works with children and babies. It is safe to say now that my confidence levels on taking up this job were quite low, I had no idea what to do and I was learning on the job. I asked friends, and fellow classmates, and Google of course all the whats and hows and whys and as you might expect (not saying it ironically), the information was still a bit scattered. It’s not just piecing things together but also finding what would work best for me and the nurseries.

I organised and delivered music sessions with a lot of singing, and activities that allowed the children to explore, interact and learn about music and sound. The babies were from about 6 months old and the oldest children around 3,5 to 4 years old. Each session was focused for only one age group, babies, toddlers, preschoolers and the in between toddlers and preschoolers. This job comes with a handful of challenges, rewards, moments of exasperation and moments of contentment. There are many ways to think about this and to one that troubled me the most was:
Is my primary purpose to entertain or educate? The answer may be obvious but as I will explain in a following post, it wasn’t as simple. I wanted to have a very creative approach, one where the children would be investigating and experimenting with throughout the 20 minutes of their session.

With this series of articles I’d like to share with you some of my experiences and learnings from this process as well as some of the lesson plans and activities I developed and played with the children, what worked and what didn’t and potential improvements. So, if you want to find out more about the job of being a music practitioner, or want to incorporate more musical play with your children then these posts are for you.

I will be sharing some of my lesson plans, tips that I picked up, difference between an entertainer and a music practitioner, general advice for working with children, toddlers and babies, what to look out for when working as a musician in a nursery, and at some point I will also try to figure out if a musician (knows how to play an instrument, and studied music in university or conservatory, is serious about music and knows and appreciates the complexities of many music genres and subgenres which are and not limited to: classical music, contemporary classical music, folk, traditional, modern and pop music from various countries).

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Teach Composition in the Classroom – the right way

Part 3

Photo by Lea Böhm on Unsplash

Composition tasks could be focused around the Elements of Music, especially if you have already discussed about it while working on a song. For example, if the children are learning Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, you can talk about the form of the piece that is in ABA form. Or if you are teaching Oh! When the Saints, you might talk about rhythm. Use their experience of what they know to carry on learning and creating.

I’ve gathered the Elements of Music for you to have as a clear reference point. Different sources might use different words for the same thing, or say there are 5 elements only, or more. Adjust your findings for your teachings.

1) harmony (one sound existing around many other sounds), 

2) melody (the sound pattern, arranging one sound after the other), 

3) texture (how many sources of sound there are and how are they placed together),

4) rhythm (arranging short and long sounds to create a sound pattern), 

5) form (how to arrange bigger chunks of sound in time creating sections that may repeat), 

6) timbre (the colour or quality of the sounds chosen), 

7) dynamics (when to play louder or quieter), 

8) tempo (how fast or slow do these sounds progress through time)

9) other extra elements such as lyrics, or use of a video, dance, etc…

Thinking of music as a construction of sounds rather than only in the classical sense gives more options to you and the students. The children can approach music without misconceptions or predeterminations about what it should sound like. Whether the students are creating music with musical instruments, or their voice, or body percussion or, using objects in their surroundings, they will inevitably be referring to these elements while putting sounds or notes together.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

An easy way to create composition activities is to play with rules. You know that music, any type of music is set on arbitrary rules, or guidelines. Don’t use parallel fifths, play all twelve tones before repeating the cycle, hold the chord as long as you like, the rules are endless. Make up your own rules, allow the children to come up with their own rules, they absolutely love doing so, and thus composition has already started. You can research, or you will already know, different music rules that existed over the hundreds of years of what we call western music, and adjust those rules to better fit the group you are working with. I am thinking about the classical music of the western world because I am more familiar with, of course, apply my suggestions to better fit your needs. Use folk or traditional music or the music you feel most familiar with. I would also invite you to think of incorporating movement and drawing in your activities as these enhance the learning and creative experience. Sometimes it helps to not think of composition in terms of absolute music like playing a beautiful melody on the flute, and at the same time not all composition activities will be about turning noise into music. Experiment and improvise.

Improvisation is your first step to composing – that’s how I do it anyway… If your learning time is limited you could improvise for just for 2 minutes at the start of the lesson to warm up the instrument, or get familiar with instruments, or their voices, their bodies, open up their minds. You can use these first few minutes to introduce the theme of the lesson through improvisation. They don’t have to know what the theme is but it will gently set the mindset of the lesson and your expectations. By playing all together it gets noisy but it also gives the chance to children open up and familiarise themselves with their environment in the music lesson. 

Photo by Alex Gruber on Unsplash

Be accepting of what the children will come up with, be open to simplifying or complicating rules. Create, improvise, sing, dance!

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

All thoughts and ideas writen here are through my own experience and observation.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Teaching Composition in the Classroom

Part 2

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If you’re still asking why invest time and effort in musical creativity, the short answer may be, and I’ll elaborate in another article more on the subject: 

  1. It brings forward needs for learning, like how to read and write notes, how do we indicate loudness and so on… Because now the student has to use them to right their musical piece
  2. Students spend time with their musical instrument and figure out how it works by themselves and for their own purposes.

Cool! Now that you are passionate about normalising composition in your lessons let’s dive in a little deeper. 

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Where to start? What do you do? How do we achieve an open-minded teaching approach, be truly inclusive with the students’ ideas of solutionising, and not get hung up on our own expectations ?

Top tip, we may be incorporating non musical elements to make points clearer and activities more appealing.

We’re interested in a holistic way of teaching music, and composition is part of this learning.

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Let’s start by aborting any notions there may be about (a) talent – it’s a different discussion – and people born composers, and (b) not everyone can teach composition. You might agree as well, school is the time when children get to observe, experiment and investigate what otherwise they wouldn’t have the chance to. Like how to do stuff and how the world works, how to think and problem solve using all of their senses in order to learn the whats and the hows. The Whys come through creativity.

Composition, musical creativity, in the classroom is an activity for every student and not only extra work for the (“talented”) few that might be up for the challenge. Of course, if you discover a child showing a bit more interest then by all means offer more material to work with. But you may consider presenting it like the bonus exercises they get in Maths, where those extra exercises are there for every student to decide if they want to solve them and the teacher will encourage as well.

Every music educator can teach music composition. You don’t have to win an IVORS award to do it. You don’t even have to study specifically music composition to qualify as the educator for musical creativity. If you think about it, not all primary school teachers have written articles for big newspapers or published books, yet teaching students to write essays, poems, diary entries and more is part of the national curriculum so they all teach it. The children finish primary school and know the process to writing a narrative. Throughout their school years the students practice different writing techniques, some abstract, some more concrete but the purpose remains to provide a set of tools and knowledge to use later on. 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash (cropped)

Adding music composition and creativity into our lesson plans will become a habit. Some teachers enjoy music composition written on 5 lines with a clef, and a key and time signature, finishing each piece on the tonic, regardless of what the children know about theory. This is acceptable. It’s closer to what the children are used to hearing and by practicing the same concept many times they will eventually realise what the more technical terms mean and how they are used (see reason 1 above). Other teachers use more abstract and kinaesthetic approaches, like tracing the periphery of an object with vocal sounds to play with aspects of musical form (see reason 2 above). The end product remains:  a musical piece (sound piece) written and performed by the students.

Identify your learning objectives for each lesson and that will lead to the best approach for the creative segment of the lesson. Every music educator is qualified to incorporate music compsition in their lessons and every student is entitled to being creative through music. It can be a short segment where the focus is on a small creative activity or creativng a new piece. But every time is for every child. I strongly suggest the Orff method for inspiration. Part 3 is following with tools on putting a your creative segment together.

You can read Part 1 here.

All thoughts and ideas written here come through personal experience and observation.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Teach Composition the Right Way

Part 1

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Okay, now let’s not think in absolute terms. There are many right ways to approach composition in the classroom of a primary school. As long as you are following the needs of your classroom and your musical beliefs then you are probably doing a good job.

My music teaching style follows loosely the Orff Schulwerk (Orff approach), where I combine music with drama, speech and movement in my lesson plans. Giving space to exploration and experimentation of sound even if it gets a bit noisy at times, proves to be valuable. In each lesson plan I have at least one activity of listen-and-response, one creative activity and and one performance activity in no specific order. I will also incorporate non musical activities during any lesson, like movement, drama, writing, because it engages the children to realise music through a different spectrum. Telling a story will later become a sound story, then remove any spoken words, and use musical instruments, for example. Or to show the quality of a sound: high, low, fast, slow, we will use some movement based activities. So creativity during the music lesson will take many forms before it becomes music creativity.

But you might want to go through a very direct compositional route. Maybe something like this one…

I was co-teaching a class with a music teacher that had more than 35 years of teaching experience, I had a handful. We agreed that the last 20 minutes of the lesson would be spent on composing. The composition segment went as follows: 

Task: to write 8 bars of music. 

  1. The children divided their piece into 2 lines where each line had 4 bars.
  2. We asked them to write the rhythm of the first four bars of the piece we were working on and repeat the same thing in the second 4 bars.
  3. Start the piece with a C or E or G
  4. The last note of the first line had to be G or B or D
  5. The last note of the piece had to be a C. 
  6. Write any notes they liked that belong in the C major ( the C major scale was written on the board)
  7. Play what they wrote
Rania’s personal

Is that something you had in mind? 

Fact 1: We had relevant results. 

Fact 2: During the process the children were confused, it took them ten minutes to just write a note down

Fact 3: Most children applied the scale to the rhythmical melody – not wrong but it happened because “that’s what they understood they had to do”. 

Fact 4: It was a Year 6 classroom, 11 year-olds that more or less had an idea of how their musical instrument works, the clarinet, they could roughly read notes. But in terms of writing notes down that never happened. 

I think this was a well intended task for children of that age, but not suitable for this specific group. Writing notes down might seem so obvious and common but it’s a valid step, one that cannot be skipped. When I asked other colleagues about this activity they more or less agreed to it. I have my thoughts about this. 

This task is well structured, and it invites the children to fill in just enough gaps. The rhythm and the set of notes were already provided, as well as starting and finishing notes. So the children had to pick notes and apply them with the indicated rhythmical value.

But this activity didn’t fit those students, they found it too intimidating. It was their first time writing notes on a piece of paper and it was for a very short time. And of course, the discussion is about making composition a standard activity in a music lesson. So potentially there will be a learning out of this and the children will want to do more of it. This activity pushes the student into a composition pit but not down the composition path. It’s good if you want an activity for the last lesson of the term and have never to follow up later on – which is what it was. 

However, if composition is part of your music lessons from the beginning of the school year, no matter the age of the students, then by default, composition won’t be just a last-day-of-term activity, the children will get used to following composition instructions and when you do want to have a fun and more complex activity you would have more ground to work on.

If I could go back to that day, with the same children, same level of musical knowledge,  and do the same activity, here are some things I would do differently:

Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash
  1. Print a page where the rhythm is already above the music staff, and the key-notes are also given so they would just have to concentrate on writing a melody 
  2. Dedicate the whole 60 minutes of the lesson to do this
  3. Asked them to choose one bar from the last piece we were working on and copy it on a blank music staff and then choose another one from a different piece
  4. Write a two bar rhythmical melody using note values that they already know and then exchange with their partner to write in the melody
  5. Work out an example together before giving them full freedom to create

Though, know that it’s common for students to seem confused when they’re asked to create something new without any sense of direction given to them. No matter if it’s to create a music piece, write a passage, come up with a move, create a board game, write code, etc… Creativity often times feels like picking material out of a sea of chaos, it’s daunting. And if they only interact with that ‘sea’ one hour a week if lucky, creating smaller and perhaps a bit restrictive exercises and often might be more beneficial than one bigger one every three months. The more disciplines we use and invite the students to be creative in the more normal it will get to create stuff by themselves and later on.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When anyone is creating music they have to predict to some extent how the final product will sound, stay relevant to the theme, and notate abstract and arbitrary symbols with the intention of some person reading and understanding them. Composition is learning through process and continuous involvement with the craft. Not to find the next Mozart but to develop the next generation of thinkers and doers…

all ideas are my own

© Rania Chrysosotmou 2019

Music Composition in the Classroom

Easy activities to get primary school students composing

Photo by JFL on Unsplash

Sound and Music, which is a national charity for new music in the UK, have conducted a survey and discovered that music composition and creativity are generally overlooked in schools in the UK. You can find information about Sound and Music and their initiative here where you can also download the report here as well. Composition or music creativity is often overlooked during a music lesson. 

I’ve put together some activities and overall thoughts about teaching music composition in primary schools, for children between 5-11 years old and about 30 children in each classroom. Always assess your group of children and tailor to your teaching style. Everything is open to interpretation. 

My overall view on composition in primary schools aims to defy the rigid boundaries of classical music and concentrate on putting sounds together. I think one of our goals as educators is to set the bare foundations where students can later build on. Movement is an important aspect of music learning because it enhances the learning and it makes everything fun. Use the activities in a way that will serve your and your classroom’s purposes. 

I know, time is a major factor that determines what and how a lesson will take place. Focusing on performance, to read and play notes, is measurable by students, parents and the heads that determine if music is needed in the school. So it becomes risky to introduce this abstract concept called music composition. But I do believe it is worth it!

Activity 1

Ask the children to write on a piece of paper a note and give it a duration between a crochet, minim or semibreve. Display the papers on the board and arrange them in bars and perform it. The children will enjoy seeing that their own note is on the board  and anticipate to hear it being played, while you check they know their theory. For more advanced children, ask them to write an entire bar.

I’d suggest keeping a simple time signature, like 4/4 or ¾ and for the more adventurous 5/4 might work as well. Not using any time signature  is always an option and children will learn something different.

Activity 1b

You may go full avant-garde and instead of writing notes, write down sounds you can produce using objects in the room, your body or voice. The sound can be as short as 1 bang and as long as 4 seconds, for instance. Shuffle the papers and each student picks one out randomly. Arrange the students to their positions and listen to the beautiful specific randomness. You can introduce the idea of a conductor leaving it up to them to decide how the music will unfold. For this activity it might be good to call on being sensible. 

Activity 2

Link music history, discover new composers and musical styles with what the students are learning in other subjects such as English, Geography, Arts, History… I find that 20th century music is the easiest to experiment with. You would be looking at minimalism, serialism, atonal, aleatoric music, and the list goes on. I define the style in the broadest sense so the children don’t get confused or discouraged. Each time we talk about that style I add another small element to the definition. 

You can link serialism with the World Wars history. Ask the children to come up with a series of 7 different sounds or notes and number each individual sound from 1 to 7. Perform the series twice, the first time as is and the second time perform it in reverse, from 7 to 1.

Activity 3

Use the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to introduce to the children the idea of form in music, ABA structure, and invite them to come up with body movements to indicate each section. An example could be to wave your arms for A sections and bend and stretch your knees for the B section. Ask the children to work in groups and write their own set of moves on a piece of paper. Then exchange the papers with other groups and always finish with the performances. 

Activity 4

Take Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, write the last 4 bars of the song on the board. Ask the children to write their own piece using all the notes on the board, so use each note twice, in any order they like but keeping the first and last note as is. 

Activity 5

Invite the children to think of their morning routine and pick just one action, such as getting out of bed, brushing teeth etc… Ask them to try and mimic the movement using sounds from ordinary objects or musical instruments. Note it down using conventional or unconventional notation, and perform it. They can think about what they are feeling while they would do the movement, what they hear, see. This activity is comes ready with a beginning, a middle and  an end, it’s very concise and can be approached from many different angles. I wouldn’t try and guess what each composition is based on as it would subtract from the purpose of creating music, art.

Activity 6

Always sing, improvise, and listen to anything including folk music, which is very important. Ask the children regularly if they wrote a song they would like to share. This way they you are showing them that writing music is an ordinary thing and you are interested in their work.

I encourage you to check the Orff Method if you’re not familiar with it. It promotes a similar thinking and ethos. You can take part in day seminars or their incredible one-week summer school in York where they go into more detail about music education. You can find lesson plans online from other teachers incorporating this method and music creativity. Make these activities your own and have fun with them!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2019

Musical Respect

Fear – respect – being polite.

Fear of the authority is a physical and mental state no parent wishes his / her children every experience yet it is astonishing how this tool is being used. What is more horrific is how well people respond to intimidation even when it is used as the final resort. Did that happen because of lack of respect, poor demonstrations of strength and power, it was a habit? Teaching discipline and respect through fear and expecting it back through fear is a typical way to keep a herd of sheep. Not to inspire and raise children, not to have a band and not to be a person. But is that too idealistic???

One of the lessons I got from music from my early years was to be respectful. Be respectful of the score and the composer. Be respectful of the era and the historical facts. Be respectful of Tradition and Customs and those who came and played before you and those who are older and have progressed and your teachers of course. And most of the times or until you are older, no one truly explains why and what is this respect that we ought to show. My memory of how my peers and I showed this respect was by sitting quietly, not asking too many questions, being a bit passive with a positiv-ish more neutral attitude. But that kept us out of trouble (not an excuse).

This more passive way of receiving the gift of music later evoked another issue. Asking, researching and creating with confidence are skills that become harder with age. The fear of knowing something wrong is sometimes worse than not knowing that at all. Which might make sense as it’s easier to learn something than to unlearn and learn something different. Intimidation will make the student study, sometimes it might lit a spark but scaring people to get them inspired is a bit of a paradox. Fear keeps people in the dark. Love and passion move people forward.

I think it’s less likely to ignore the feeling of fear than the feeling of love. Essentially, an artist wants to evoke a feeling in the audience. Whether that audience is sitting in the hall, in front of a TV or a viedo-game console, or in a classroom, the performance should be excellent. And to keep the audience intrigued and concentrated offering fear a safe solution. I think it would be better though if at least in the classroom, during a lesson the feeling we want to evoke is love, passion and determination first of all on a personal level and people that are around us and then to music. Respect should come out naturally and discipline will be the internal power that makes us move forward. And know and teach why!

 

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017