Category Archives: primary education

How to ‘sneak’ more music into your classroom!

10 'sneaky' tips.

Just a quick blog post as September is such a busy month! Hopefully like you, I am a little bit biased when promoting music in primary education, but it doesn’t take many years of teaching to realize that all teachers have their own specialism and want to promote their subject. It is only when you come to look at the timetable that you wonder where all the time is going to come from to fit it all in! From SATs to new initiatives it seems to be quite a common occurrence to reduce the curriculum and music, and the arts in general, seem to be the first to suffer. This is such a shame as there is a wealth of research into the physical, psychological and social benefits of a musical education.

With that in mind I have put together 10 short points to ‘sneak’ more music into your school day! In other words, times when you can include some aspect of music in a cross-curricular way that you may not have thought about before! If you do use some of these already then, congratulations – you’re well on the way to providing a well-rounded education for your children. Please feel free to add any ideas of your own in the comments section below.

So here they are, in no particular order:

1.Play music as the children enter the classroom (or even during wet play!) – this could be topic-related or from a particular composer or genre. I often use YouTube videos so the children can see instruments being played and performers enjoying making music. I also use this to promote good male role models for both singing and playing instruments. For instance the Piano Guys, 2cellos and Mike Tompkins have great videos.

2.Sing the register! You could sing a simple melody and the children could respond, by imitating, with their name. The same can be done for dinner registers too!

3.Use extracts of music or current songs to give the children instructions such as when to move places to find a different partner or for a particular job, such as moving to the next activity, tidying up or getting into line. Some teachers use a tambourine or maracas to do this but why not an actual piece of music? It is also a very good way to save your own voice!

4. Use simple, short motivational songs and the beginning of the day and calm ones at the end.

5. Play music on an interactive whiteboard or computer to stimulate discussion – pick a composer, topic, style or music about an event. The children could then contribute their own ideas and perhaps make a collaborative wiki or PPT!

6.Make a song part of your topic. The teacher Ashley Booth has done this successfully with ‘River of Dreams’ as part of a topic on rivers.

7.Use songs to reinforce subject content. For instance, I have a new song about to be added to Primary Songs called ‘Can You Feel the Force?’ with lyrics including the important scientific concepts we teach about forces. It’s one way to make it fun and provide another learning style.

8.Play music while the children are working and use it to manage the emotional atmosphere of the classroom. – calm to get them settled and energetic to get them moving and motivated.

  1. Use music as writing prompts or to set the atmosphere. The ‘Jaws’ theme springs to mind when trying to get the children to understand the idea of suspense. Discussing film soundtracks and the mood set can really help children to transfer these concepts to their own writing.
  2. Get the children to create jingles for persuasive language – great if you have access to ipads with GarageBand or similar. Why not add sound effects to written stories – such a lot of fun and can help with sequencing.

Well I hope you find this short list useful and whatever you do to ‘sneak’ more music into your classroom – have fun!

Have ‘Phun’ with Phunky Pharaohs!

Phunky Pharaohs!

Take your children back in time to the great age of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs… BUT… with a ‘phunky kinda pheel’!

Your children will love this new song about Ancient Egypt from Primary Songs which is packed with snippets of information ripe for further research, and they will delight in the rather interesting method of extracting the Pharaoh’s brain!
Whether you want a brilliant new song to support your Ancient Egypt topic or simply one that your children will have ‘phun’ singing, here are a few tips to get teaching right away!

1. Use some of the names as a warm up
You can use the rhythms of some of the more interesting Pharaoh names, such as Tutankhamun, Rameses and Takelot, not only to practise their pronunciation but to get mouth muscles moving, good breathing and posture, ready to start singing. You could set up a repeated pattern and change from one word to another or give words to different groups/rows and layer them.

2. Listen to the vocal track
Get the children enthusiastic by letting them listen to the vocal track. This track is sung by ordinary primary children who enjoy singing and is deliberately not perfect so that your children can relate to them. Unfortunately with some songs children find trained adult voices rather funny, so my intention is to make the vocal tracks of the songs more relatable. I also find that children want to move when they hear the track, which is great and gets them wanting to sing it.

3. Start with the chorus
There is nothing to say you have to start at the beginning of a song! The chorus is catchy and a good starting point, alternating between two notes with some repetition. It also uses part of the harmonic minor scale that is a popular feature of Eastern-type music.

4. Move on to the verse

Once the chorus has been mastered, you can then move on to the verse which also uses features of the harmonic minor scale. It is a good idea to take make sure that the first words at the start of each verse are in time, so I start by counting the children in until they know it well. Also it is useful to practise the notes G A> B and C D> E separately as these can be quite tricky intervals to pitch.

4. To sing or not to sing the 3rd verse?
The third verse uses a different melody to introduce lots of Egyptian Pharaohs with really interesting names! Some will be familiar but most not. This is a great opportunity for the children to carry out their own research on these historical figures but also a chance to have fun with the words when singing the song! Listening to the verse on the vocal track might help with the pronunciation and also fitting the words with the melody, but if you are teaching younger children, you might wish not to sing this verse and use it as an instrumental instead. Your children could make up their own movements, as mine did, and have lots of ‘phun’!

5.The last note!
At the end of the song the last line ‘Boogie down inside a pyramid’ finishes on an E two notes above middle C. If your children are good singers they could aim to use the E an octave and two notes above middle C if they want to be adventurous and end on a high!

So have lots of ‘phun’ singing Phunky Pharaohs and let me know how you get on. ‘Pheel phree’ to send a tweet or an email – I love to hear!

‘Twas The Week Before Concerts!

nativity-play

‘Twas the week before concerts and all through the school
The teachers were frantic, preparing for ‘Yule’,
The state they were in had caused so much disquiet,
They longed for success and not simply a riot!

The constant repeat of ‘Away in a Manger’
Reminded the staff they were heading for danger!
And strained singing tones from the weary school choir
Only raised blood pressure higher and higher!

Rehearsals were fraught and then out of the blue,
Mary and Joseph went down with the flu!
And all of a sudden poor Rudolph did vomit
Just at the entrance of Dasher and Comet!

Mothers complained and some staged a walkout,
“My sweet little Johnny’s not being a sprout!”
“And my gorgeous Eliza’s no round Christmas pud.
It’s tea towels that make a Nativity good!”

Now the stage was all set and the scenery grand,
And everything seemed to be going as planned,
But Herod, while standing to wave to his mum,
Slipped on his cloak and then fell on his bum!

Innkeeper one said (he tried to be cool),
“Why, come in we’ve a great room with views of the pool!”
And the doll used for Jesus caused such an uproar
When its head came unstuck and rolled onto the floor!

But this time is so special and though teachers despair,
And go home humming carols with glitter in their hair,
As even more marking gets added to the pile,
The singing and laughter just makes it worthwhile.

So teachers remember that through all your fears
The smiles and excitement make memories for years,
Trust in the children and it’ll all turn out right,
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Prepare your Primary School Choir for Christmas!

bryn-coch-choir-christmasChristmas in July? Well that’s par for the course in the world of primary teaching! Preparation is everything if you want to fit Christmas into an already hectic curriculum! I usually start to think about Christmas in the summer holiday and my family get a bit disturbed hearing the strains of various Christmas songs wafting through the house when the sun is shining (hopefully!), there are umpteen lawn mowers going and there are no more choc-ices in the freezer!

When I start to put a programme together I like to combine traditional with modern on a roughly 50-50 basis to make sure that the children are stretched musically and that they become more familiar with traditional carols, which many children these days seem not to be aware of. I like to include some unusual songs that perhaps other choirs might not attempt – for instance, ‘When Christmas Comes to Town’ from the film Polar Express and ‘Once Upon a Christmas Song’ by Geraldine McQueen aka Peter Kay which went down a treat one year. My school choir also goes out and about in the community to entertain various groups of people so I tend to make sure there are always one or two ‘sing-a-long’ songs, which go down well.
My experience has taught me to start with a song that grabs the listeners’ attention and this is particularly important when performing outside. I remember starting one performance with ‘Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow’ just as a snow machine whirred into action (something we weren’t aware of at the time!) – it really helped to create the atmosphere! The backing track I used had a very good introduction which also made a difference and brought more people to listen.
If you have a pianist to accompany your choir then you are lucky and it’s great when your choir is performing in a school hall or concert venue. However, using a piano outside school can become more problematic. I have taken keyboards with me in the past but these days I prefer the reliability of a CD player/PA system and backing tracks. Although there is less flexibility in the performance itself, I find that the reduced stress more than makes up for it, and primary children generally rehearse to a set pattern of performance which gives them greater confidence.
So, how do I create my ‘playlist’? Well, I begin by searching the plethora of Christmas songs, both audio tracks and sheet music to determine those songs that are within the most suitable vocal range for the children. This can be very time consuming as there are many styles and often many keys that one song can have. I either write my own songs (all of the Primary Songs Christmas songs are in a suitable vocal range!) or arrange my own versions of the songs I want if I can’t find any in suitable keys. This becomes slightly easier with sound editing programs like ‘Audacity’ (free to download) where the key can be changed up or down a tone or two without losing too much quality. There are karaoke versions of many Christmas songs but I try and make sure that they have a definite ending rather than a fade out, as I don’t like to use these in performances. I also might edit a song if it’s too long and I have even added a key change or removed one if I thought it would be more appropriate for the children!
When I am happy with the song selection I save the playlist in a program like ‘Power2Go’, where I can easily access it and change the order if necessary and then I am ready to go!
Christmas is a great time of year for music and singing in primary schools and it can really bring a school together in a shared experience that no other curriculum subject can achieve. So I hope you enjoy your Christmas preparations if they are part of your school and please feel free to leave a comment or message if you think this has been useful or if I may be able to help you in any way.

Get your primary children singing before 9.00 am!

 

children singing

I don’t know about you but as a primary teacher I’m always looking for ways to include songs  and music in my classroom. Perhaps I’m biased, but I know the benefits that it can bring – greater concentration, better listening skills and a feeling of belonging to name a few. Settling children down when they first come into class in the morning can be tricky and I wanted something to bring order out of the ‘chaos’ without resorting to raising my voice or using hand signals. I’m always searching for primary songs online to help me support the curriculum but after spending precious time searching for motivational songs for primary children, I found that there were very few relevant fun, educational songs out there that could be downloaded instantly for me to use – hence the reason why I set up Primary Songs in the first place! As I pondered this, I realized that what was needed was a short, positive, energetic song that set the tone for the day and would become this settling tool. So I set about writing one and this resulted in the Key Stage 2 song ‘Good Morning!’, which I have used nearly every day for the past school year! Most children enter the classroom in a fairly good frame of mind but there are some who don’t for a variety of reasons and I have found that this song really helps them to develop a more positive approach to the day ahead.

Primarysongs logo

It lasts for 43 seconds and is easy to learn using the PowerPoint screen words. You could teach the song in a relatively short amount of time using the lead sheet and a piano/keyboard(even a tablet!) or simply put the vocal track on for the class to listen to and eventually, over time, they will pick it  up. I used the vocal track with to sing along to for the first term and gradually introduced the backing track without vocals in the Spring Term so that all children were confident by this time. Initially I let them move their bodies freely to the song and then after about half a term the class decided on some set movements that they could all do, which helped to reinforce the words, gave them a sense of belonging and provided an extra bit of fun! My class particularly enjoyed using the instrumental ending to really ‘let loose’ and shouted their year group loudly to finish. I found that over the year not only did the children’s singing improve but their attitude did too, and the fact that more oxygen reached their brains through singing meant that a few sleepyheads were woken up ready to start work! The children soon got into the routine of sitting quietly for the register once the song had finished, so there was no need for me to intervene. When all the children had entered the classroom (we have a staggered entry over 10 minutes), I simply started the track on my laptop with the audio coming through the speakers so, again I didn’t need to gain the children’s attention. So there you have it – how to get the day off to a positive start without straining your own voice! Perhaps you would like to use Primary Songs ‘Good Morning’ to start your school day? If you do, then please let me know how you get on. Happy singing!