The National Curriculum for Music states that:
“Music is a universal language that embodies one of the highest forms of creativity. A high-quality music education should engage and inspire pupils to develop a love of music and their talent as musicians, and so increase their self-confidence, creativity, and sense of achievement. As pupils progress, they should develop a critical engagement with music, allowing them to compose, and to listen with discrimination to the best in the musical canon.” (DfE, 2014)
Yet, when the word ‘Music’ is uttered in schools, it is often followed by an echo of groans by other teachers. It is one of those subjects that staff often find daunting to teach unless they have a background in it. Not anymore! Armed with some research, a musical background, an apprehensive set of colleagues and a little bit of trial an error, I have managed to improve the teaching and learning at my school.
I want to start by explaining that music has a vital part to play in a child’s brain development. Research has shown that being exposed to and participating in music is thought to improve motor skills, language, Reading and Maths, with some studies even showing it can help to increase SAT scores. I believe the most important tool Music can give children is confidence. Confidence to perform, to believe in themselves and to succeed.
To begin revamping your Music curriculum, the first step is to truly understand how the staff feel about teaching Music. What do they know? What don’t they know? What do they need to know? You might be surprised! We started with a ‘pub quiz’ about musical phrases and whilst everyone began that staff meeting with the classic ‘oh, another staff meeting’ attitude, I found the room was soon filled with laughter and people were having fun – what music is all about!
Whilst the staff at my school are some of the most talented teachers around, I discovered throughout the meeting that most were not particularly musical and because of this they lacked confidence. They were all very open about this, explaining that they found the language and technicality behind what was being asked very difficult to understand and they felt they lacked musical ability themselves. With their own apprehension came the prevention of allowing children to experience the wonder of music in their classrooms. So many children are not aware of the musical ability within them and it is our responsibility, as teachers, to try and nurture this innate talent and enthusiasm. Whilst my specialism lies in music, I am primarily a classroom teacher and so cannot be there to teach music across the school. I knew the staff needed support and it was just a case of finding a way to provide it.
I began the task of finding an online platform that would enable the teaching team to feel confident about their own abilities. I needed a resource that had access to planning which teachers could use alongside songs and tasks, enabling them to get to terms with the language and ways to develop the curriculum in their year groups. This was important because the time that would have been spent on planning needed to be directly focused on pre-teaching themselves allowing them to build their own confidence before stepping out into the classroom. I also wanted something interactive, meaning it could be used on our smart boards with videos and games to engage the children - and most importantly it needed to be fun! Hours and hours of research later, I came across the software for us. I appreciate that schools have different budgets and priorities, but on discovering Collins Connect Music Express I felt it was a reasonable price with an annual subscription cost.
Music Express is a fantastic resource. The format is easy to use and once you are logged in you are instantly on a screen with options to select lesson banks, song banks, warm ups, skill builders, instrumental resources and a glossary. The lesson banks are separated into year groups from Early Years – Year 6 and within these there are twelve topics.
I feel strongly that Music should not be a stand-alone lesson each week. As adults, we use music in everyday life to relax, get excited, comfort us when we are sad, as a distraction, to dance to and it is also included in most things we participate in for pleasure.
Music should be incorporated into the curriculum as much as possible, allowing both children and adults to experience it as part of their everyday learning. The topics on the software I chose all combine with other aspects of the curriculum. For example: ‘Pattern’ has a Maths link, ‘Story Time’ has an English link and ‘Animals’ has a Physical Education link. There are three lessons within each topic which are equipped with detailed lesson plans, interactive resources, and assessment sheets.
One of the most beneficial parts of this scheme is the glossary section. Here, you can find a full list of all the musical terminology. Whilst I would recommend investing in a scheme for Music if you don’t have a specialist Music teacher, a glossary type document for staff to access would be beneficial in any Primary school setting and reasonably easy to create too.
Whilst implementing a new scheme of work for the Music curriculum enabled the teachers to change their attitude, during this time I worked hard on altering the children’s mindsets too. Often, children associate Music with the singing assemblies they are involved in, where too often I have seen the same songs recycled through the years since I was at Primary School! I began by giving them a choice. I started the singing assemblies by using popular songs they loved, songs that were in the charts or their favourite films. Then, it was down to them. Every week I would allow the children from each year group who were participating with enthusiasm to pick the songs we would sing. What followed was magical. The children would leave the assemblies buzzing, dancing and singing with smiles on their faces – proving the research that shows singing provides your brain with a chemical release of endorphins, which make you happy. We have continued to learn modern songs, but now that I have their attention and they have a desire to learn, we have even given The Beatles a go!
I appreciate that many schools lack space, but this school is large and had a room specifically for Music. However, it had become a storage space, full to the brim with unused furniture and old art projects. I spent hours clearing this out and explained to the children they would have their very own room for their music lessons, equipped with a brand-new interactive whiteboard and a range of instruments.
The excitement began.
To give the children additional musical motivation, I explained that some of them would have the opportunity to perform at ‘The Brighton Centre’, where many of their favourite musicians have played, as part of a Christmas concert. They couldn’t wait and I had many children turn up to audition for their place. I was able to select 20 children and we rehearsed every week. Additionally, they were lucky enough to have music specialists from the Local Authority come in to rehearse with them, teach them body percussion and inspire them. The whole performance was fantastic, with 1,500 children and 1,500 audience members. The children were absolutely amazed. The lasting memories offered by free, outside opportunities to learn music should not be underestimated.
The feedback from staff, parents and children has been so encouraging and their support has helped the redevelopment of the music curriculum to be a success. While I had a background knowledge in music to help me implement these things, I truly believe these steps could be introduced by anyone.
Music is no longer daunting for the adults to teach and many of them have confessed they enjoy the lessons as much as the children. The children are growing in confidence and beginning to thrive too. However, I don’t feel it is complete and there are many steps I would like to take to continue to improve our Music curriculum. I want to focus on the important link between Music and mental health, give children more opportunities to participate in Music outside the classroom and find new and exciting ways to continue to inspire the school.
Department for Education (2014) Music programmes of study: key stages 1 and 2. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239037/PRIMARY_national_curriculum_-_Music.pdf
Edited by Jules