For teachers who don’t consider themselves “musical”, music can be a very intimidating thing to teach. However, the essential musical skills of pulse, rhythm and pitch are all things you can have a lot of fun with.
Some of these activities may not be suitable in a socially distanced classroom, but most can be adapted fairly easily. These activities are suitable for Primary settings, but would also certainly make a fun addition to any secondary classrooms!
1. Singing instructions
How many times a day do you say, “stand behind your chairs”, “make a line”, “put down your pencils”? These are all instructions that can be sung with very simple melodies. In Early Years especially, singing the two notes that make up the “teasing” tune accurately is an important foundation of singing in tune.
Start with the children’s song ‘See Saw Margery Daw’:
Now, use the same notes for an instruction:
Even better, get the children to sing a response back to you, such as:
2. Rhythm games
Rhythm games are a great way to practice internalising the pulse of a song, without even realising it. My Year 6 teacher used to play “Cookie Jar” with us at the end of any day when there was 5 minutes to spare, and we never got tired of it! When they get good at it there should be no pauses in the game!
“Are you alright?” is another good rhythm circle game to try using call and response. The best thing about this song is, you can do it anywhere – all you need is to keep the beat in your head and ask someone “are you alright?”
3. Table rhythms
Table rhythms are another great way to practice pulse and rhythm, with the added bonus of getting to do something “naughty” and hammer loudly on the tables!
You can learn them as a class using a video demo such as this one or use the visual guide below.
For more rhythm activities and a way to introduce the concept to KS1, check out BBC’s Bring the Noise.
4. Singing warmups
Usually the best way to start any musical activity is with some fun warmups. Not only do the children love it, but it also helps them to sing better!
There are many warmup ideas out there, here are a couple of sources for warmups that I’ve used and adapted for myself.
5. Sing Up
Sing Up is an invaluable resource for songs on any and all subjects. You can find a song for pretty much any topic or assembly in their massive song bank. Not only that, but it has “echo” teaching tracks for most songs to help you teach them if you are not so confident singing yourself.
It does work on a subscription basis, but they do also have a selection of songs that are free to use. Well worth persuading your SLT to pay £80 a year to access the full resource. There are some examples on their YouTube channel.
6. 10 Pieces
These BBC resources make it easy to enthuse children about pieces of classical music, with introductory videos and full schemes of work, including how to link the pieces with other topics.
The plans vary in difficulty, but I would recommend Anthology of Fantastic Zoology by Mason Bates as a great place to start, and to accompany any animal-based topic.
7. Electronic music
There are some incredible online resources for learning about and making electronic music. So much of children’s favourite music is electronically produced, so this really speaks to their interests. My current pick is Ableton’s Learning Music website, which talks you or students through different aspects of making electronic music, with lots of opportunities to program their own music.
If you are lucky enough to have a set of iPads in your school, then GarageBand is an obvious place to go to make some electronic music as it should already be installed for free. GarageBand comes with loads of instrumental loops that you can quickly use to build a song. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the children pick this up instinctively! There is a tutorial for creating a song using loops here.
Max Kinmans teaches music at Hillbrook Primary school, who are currently on their Artsmark journey. You can see more of his music teaching videos designed for his students to home learn, including music assemblies, on his Mr Kinmans Music YouTube channel.
Music is also an excellent tool for promoting good student wellbeing. If you are looking for ways to incorporate music into a recovery curriculum, please see this helpful guide from the Tri-Borough Music Hub.