A to Z of primary school music

I have been inspired by Dr Martin Fautley’s A to Z to compile my very own.

A is for advocacy. Can we stop it please? It doesn’t work.
B is for blogs. A school music blog is a brilliant performance opportunity for kids. Allows music teachers to differentiate, introduces children to new music, chance to get feedback on kids compositions and performances. I am so grateful to wonderful music educators Ally Daubney David Ashworth & John Finney for regularly leaving comments for my young musicians. 

C is for Charanga. Easy to be sniffy about it but is getting lots of non specialist primary teachers to teach music. Also for culture. Everybody has one – it just might be different to the schools. Also for Carnival of the Animals.

D is for djembe. I wish I had a set of 30. Never taught a class that didn’t beg to play djembe. Also for Dalacroze. Bouncing balls, throwing beanbags, waving scarves are brilliant at helping kids get below the skin of a piece of music.

E is for ear. Learning by it.

F is for film music. Such a shame it is often ignored in primary school. In my experience children are incredibly skilled at reading film music. We can use those conventions to help children explore features of the music.

G is for GarageBand. Smart instruments are great for allowing kids to create their own backing tracks.

H is for hubs. Under funded, have little leverage with schools but by and large doing their damnedest to support music teachers. 

I is for iPad. Every class should have one. (See GarageBand) it’s a video, audio recorder, a musical instrument & a visual metronome 

J is for joy. Not 24/7 but if you don’t have at least one moment of sheer joy teaching music a day something is wrong. 

K is for Kodaly. Genius way to teach music to children.

L is for listening. To each other, to the performers, to the teacher, to the music. Can’t have music without listeners.

M is for Musical Futures. I’m not sure exactly how they will work in primary but I have leant so much from them. Their training is superb & their staff are wonderful. 

N is for notation. A small part of music education that we turn into a fetish. Sound before symbol.

O is for Organisations. No more. We have enough thank you. 

P is for performance, Peter & the Wolf & getting physical. 

Q is for quirky. Most music teachers have their own. 

R is for recorders. They still have a place in the music room. 

S is for Sing up. I think that Sing Up has been the most successful government initiative I’ve actually seen in 25 years of teaching. It has got schools singing. Shame it is no longer free.

T is for Twitter. Without Twitter my music education would be sorely lacking. I am so grateful to the following tweeters : Alison Daubney, David Ashworth, Gary Spruce, Johnathon Savage, Jane Werry, Shelley Ambury, Anna Gower, John Finney, John Merriman, Martin Fautley  & Phillip Flood.  They have undoubtedly helped me raise my game and introduced me to authors and research I’d have otherwise missed.

U is for ukuele. You do know David Ashworth is kidding right?! 

V is for Voices Foundation – brilliant introduction to Kodaly. I can highly recommend their 5 day training course. 

W is for wider opps. 30 kids, 30 instruments 1 tutor 1 teacher. So much hinges on the tutor. It can be brilliant but there needs to be a better way to evaluate. 

X is for xylophone – Dr Fautley is right – we don’t have nearly enough

Y is for YouTube. Genius idea. Rich source of music 

Z is for zero hours contract. How on earth are we supposed to ensure good quality instrumental lessons when tutors are so badly paid ? 

Assembly about refugees


Paddington Bears story


“Living Like a Refugee”

You left your country
to seek refuge
in another man’s land
You left your country
to seek refuge
in another man’s land

You will be confronted
by strange dialects
You will be fed
with unusual diets

You got to sleep
in a tarpaulin house
which is so hard
You got to sleep
on a tarpaulin mat
which is so cold

Living like a refugee
is not easy
Living like a refugee
is not easy
Living like a refugee
is not easy
Living like a refugee
is not easy.
~ Lyrics to “Living Like a Refugee” by Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars


Britain to take an extra 20,000 refugees

Manars story


kindness of strangers

A review of my music teaching this year

One of the best things about teaching is that the summer holidays gives you a chance to reflect how your year has gone and the opportunity to make improvements the following year. It is a real luxury that we get the time and space to do this.

I felt  dissatisfied and downbeat about how my school year ended. Things were not helped by a last week Ofsted visit – and no, they didn’t want to talk to me or even pop their head round the door when I was teaching!

It really brought home to me how isolated the job of primary school music coordinator is. Now I have wonderful colleagues who are supportive of the work I do but the ridiculous pressure they are under means that I am increasingly isolated. Twitter has been fantastically helpful in helping me overcome this isolation and I am grateful to the many twitter music pals who have have helped and inspired me through out the year.

Anyway, below is a round up of some of my highlights. I don’t do this merely to blow my own kazoo but to help me gain a sense of perspective and to plan for next year.

Things that went well:

The lessons.

The children made music. Every week. Sometimes it was great, sometimes it was average and sometimes it was so dreadful that we had to stop and start again. The children had lots of opportunities to explore the elements (or inter related dimensions if you prefer) through the music they made. We started with our bodies and voices. We actively worked hard to internalise the music. We learnt new skills and practised them. We struggled with finding the words to discuss timbre. I struggled with the balance between whole class work and individual improvisation. Sometimes I was too controlling. When I was brave and gave year 6 full ownership it paid off big time and resulted in extraordinarily good compositions. I didn’t find a very good balance between making music and notation. When we made graphic scores the kids wanted to ignore them. When we were learning the recorder the fine motor skills, dexterity and breath control meant that the reading of the notes from the stave came last. When I just concentrated on stick notion and got kids to compose simple rhythms they were able to read and write them accurately. Their reportoire increased massively. At the end of the year children had amazingly good recall of songs and music we have made throughout the year. Their recall of lyrics was much better than mine. We listened. We composed. We performed.

Sing up Webinar

St Teresa’s was transformed into a TV studio for the day and we transmitted a live broadcast to schools across the country. Two children from each KS2 class formed a choir that was given a live masterclass by professional vocal coach Gitika Partington. Our children drew national praise for their singing and behaviour. The webinar was organised by the national education charity Sing Up and it was the first time they have ever hosted a live webinar with children. The webinar featuring our school is still available to view on the Sing Up website

Screenshot 2015-07-06 20.13.03

Staff Christmas song

The staff gave a wonderful rendition of “Walking in a Winter Wonder Land” and made a Christmas video. The children were greatly thrilled and the video has had 1,229 times. It got a mention in both Times Ed & Education Guardian

Concert by Balwyn High School, Melbourne, Australia

Balwyn High are an award winning high school that give a European tour every 2 years. They were keen to visit a UK primary school and having look at our school music blog they decided we would be the perfect candidates! I invited neighbouring schools to come along. It was a stunning concert, many of the adults in the hall were moved to tears by the quality of the music and the international friendships that were made.


After school music clubs

This year numbers were lower but our children began to show real progress with our oldest students being prepared for grade 1 exams. Two of our yr 5 students are showing great promise with the violin and have been nominated for the Mayors Fund which will guarantee them free tuition and mentoring for the next 4 years.

Our guitar players took part in a special guitar recital which was very well supported by our parents.


Royal Albert Hall

Year 5 performed at the Royal Albert Hall with Merton Music Foundation. This was hugely successful and very popular with both parents and pupils alike.


Channel 4 donation of violins.

The school received 18 free violins from Channel 4 as a result of an application I put in to the TV programme “Don’t Stop The Music”. Some of these have already been lent out to our year 5 students. This year every child in yr 5 received tuition in the violin for 10 weeks. Since this project has finished 7 children have opted to continue with after school music lessons.

St Teresa’s Music Matters Blog.

The blog has gone from strength to strength. It is heavily used by our children whilst at the same time gathering an international audience. It averages 2000 visits a month. Children made short stop go animation films to match short clips of Chopin. These films were posted on the blog and attracted lots of visitors. Please see http://stteresasmusic.academyblogger.co.uk/

Year 6 Song writing project.

This years songwriting project resulted in some excellent songs. We chose 4 songs to take to Crown Lane Studio to record. The owner, Phil Merriman arranged for student session musicians to contribute to the recordings. This was an incredible experience for the children. I have had extremely positive feedback from secondary school teachers – several of whom have pointed out that one of the songs in particular is of a high GCSE standard! have a listen to the songs here


My own CPD:

This mainly came from twitter! I am really grateful to

Alison Daubney

John Finney

Martin Fautley

Shelley Ambury

David Ashworth

Gary Spruce

Sing Up

Musical Futures

Anna Gower

Ben Sellers

John Kelleher

John Merriman

Merton Music Foundation

and everyone who organised the TeachMeets I went to.

Things that didn’t go so well:

BBC Ten pieces project

My year 4’s had a great time going to the cinema to watch and we did some music making based on a few of the pieces but it never really took off. Am going to have another look at this as I plan to use the DVD again with year 4. Maybe it is a resource more suited to class teachers? Will give it another shot next year

Pre school sing a long

This is such a good idea that I am determined to MAKE it work! The problem I had was uniting the different groups! I got lots of enthusiasm from EY parents and kids when we did action songs, from teaching staff and office staff when we did Abba and from year 6 when we sang their composition but I couldn’t please all the people all the time! Maybe I just need to give it more time to evolve?

Using scratch to compose music

I was unable to use the ICT suite for a single week so i don’t feel so bad about this one! Unless i get some technical support and a designated session in the ICT suite this will never happen. I am going to deop scratch and investigate sonic pi for next year.

Aims for next year:

1. Create better relationships with parents .

I never get a chance to talk to parents. I am going to ask if I can go to the “meet your class teacher’ meeting that each year groups hold.  I am going to ask parents to contribute their musical memories on the blog

2. Investigate the possibility of working with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

This is something a colleague at our hub has suggested. Watch this space!

3. Use sonic pi

Wishing music teachers everywhere a wonder summer holiday!

4. Create the perfect assessment model 

Yeah right!!!! Please tell me you didn’t fall for that one? It will take wiser and more experienced teachers than me to crack!

Happy summer holidays to music teachers everywhere!


“Being a 21st Century Teacher”

Well I’m not wearing a metallic silver catsuit which a childhood of watching 1970’s sci-fi had led me to believe would be compulsory by now.

I’m with Douglas Adams on his definition of technology as “the stuff that doesn’t work”. Once we get used to ‘stuff’ and can use it repeatedly without fear of it not working it passes from being “technology” to things. TV, radio, the phone – they’ve all made the transition from being technology to things. Its got that way with computing too but the downside means we use it as passive consumers, unaware of how it actually works.

Teachers from ANY century want to empower their students. We want to teach our students skills, share knowledge and develop their thinking skills. We do that using the technology around us. And it has been ever thus. Every new technology has presented opportunities for teachers to change their practise. Just in my lifetime I’ve seen teachers embrace radio broadcasts,photocopying,TV,computing, iPads and social networking.

None of it is a silver bullet. There are no easy answers or simple solutions that will solve the nations eternal existential crisis about standards of education.

But we are missing a trick if we refuse to harness the amazing opportunities that technology offers us. I would be doing my pupils a disservice if I didn’t offer them the opportunity to compose and perform with iPads, if I failed to develop their computational thinking with lyrical flowcharts, if I ignored the amazing access that YouTube gives me to music from all over the world.

I’m not interested in the Emperors New Clothes. I don’t want gimmicks or impressive tricks. What I want is to do is help my children make progress with learning music. I’m prepared to investigate and use ancient methods, modern stuff and even the stuff that doesn’t always work reliably ….. yet.

Write in haste? ….

I blame Gary Spruce. I was having a perfectly nice Friday afternoon sorting out some resources for my jazz lessons when he sent me a link to this music blog.

You can read it here.


Below is the comment I posted. I wrote in haste in a state of irritation. I am going to come back to this and write a more considered reply but in the meanwhile this is what I wrote under his article.

I am really dismayed by your post. For years I was nervous about teaching music because because of my lack of a traditional “classical” western education. I watched so called musicians who lacked the ability to teach primary school children attempt to teach music but then write off the children because their methods were inadequate.

You are right to say that primary music isn’t good enough but not because we don’t have an army of classically trained musicians ready to drill the children.

I believe that music is fundamental to our humanity. Every society has developed its own music. The oldest implement found was a flute. In some societies there is no distinction between audience and performer. If I had my way all teacher training would contain music education. I would share with all student teachers the work of Kodaly, Dalcrose, John Paynter – all deeply musical people who understood how children learn about music.

Despite my inability to play an instrument to grade 8 I am familiar with many different traditions of music education that I use to ensure the children in my classes make real musical progress.

I realise that I am unlikely to persuade you but I think it is important I try because when articles like this go unchallenged it cause many unconfident teachers to feel inadequate and to give up. ANY teacher who is willing to put in some time to understand music education can be a perfectly good music teacher.  There are so many valuable genres of music that are children are entitled to learn about. There is a reason that glockenspiels and triangles feature in the classroom. Every day I see children composing, performing and evaluating music. We listen obsessively to Chopin’s etudes so we can create stop go animations to match the melodies. We blow kazoos to mimic trumpets, we write songs, we perform at The Royal Albert Hall, we rip up paper to create a myriad of sounds to use in our compositions, we clap, we stamp, we chant, we sing, we rap, we listen, we play boomwhackers, we learn whole class violins with a proper tutor, we play recorders and we absolutely LOVE our glocks and triangles.

Now I’m aware that this is a bit ranty so I am going to stop now and maybe post a more considered response on my primary music blog.

If you want feel free to look at my school music blog. I don’t think you are going to rate it very highly!


Transition from primary to secondary school

Dear year 7 teachers,

I’m guessing you don’t get much in the way of information from your feeder primary schools about the musical experiences your  new children will have had. I’m  also guessing you probably don’t want hundred of pages of tick boxes with our oh not so careful “judgements” about their supposed abilities.

I am going to be asking my yr 6 kids to fill in a very brief music passport so you can at least pick out those kids who are fortunate enough to have already begun to make music an active part of their lives.

I would really like you to get a sense of what our children have done during their music lessons in my school so I am going to email you a link to my school music blog. I’ve categorised all the year 6 work so if you click here you wont have to wade through all our music but you can just follow the year 6 thread.  Some of of you will be too busy, some of you won’t consider it relevant since your are not in a position to re write your curriculum on the basis of what feeder schools tell you. However I do this in the spirit of placing a message in the bottle and tossing it into the sea. Please let me know if it reaches you or is helpful!!!

Here is the link


This is what my year 6’s have studied this year.

I have more detailed plans but I figured a summary would be more helpful!

Screenshot 2015-05-26 13.28.41

Carnival of the Animals

Who says lesson plans have to be filed away on a school server or printed out for a folder? I need to share some plans and so have decided to try blogging them. Here goes!

6 week unit of work for year 2.

Carnival of the Animals.

In this unit the children will be engaged in active listening which will involve  physical movement to help understand musical concepts including pulse, tempo and pitch movement.

We will

  • experience the different feeling of music in 3/4 and 4/4
  • identify the difference between smooth legato and jumpy staccato aspects
  • explore difference between sounds mimicking and suggesting animals
  • experiment with timbre
  • identify direction of pitch movements
  • create our own “Carnival of the Mini Beasts” and compose music to match characteristics of creatures children have been studying in class.

Week 1

March of the Lions

Children to listen to music as they enter the room. Copy teachers actions on first beat. Teacher to clap, stamp etc . During the “roaring sections” teacher to draw circles in the air.  introduce concept of Carnival of Animals. Kids to discuss characteristics of music & use to guess animal. Discuss instrument heard and get kids to demonstrate how the roar is made

Listen again to music. Children to march around circle on first beat of the bar as lions during the marching sections but to stand still and make circles during roaring sections.

Half of class take basketballs to bounce on first beat and other half take ribbon batons to make circles during roars. Switch over.

Week 2

The Elephant

Music playing as children enter the room. Teacher to start  pat – clap – clap pattern children to join in. Teacher to leave out every other pat.

Children to sit on the floor in pairs and roll the ball from one to the other to fit in with the pulse. This may be quite ambitious for some children but see if they can control the ball and work out the energy to make the ball roll for 3 beats before partner stops.

Children to stand and sway moving weight from one foot to the other in time with the music. When this is established move around the room in time with the music with a sideways motion.

Listen to the representation of elephant voice. Copy the melody with voice. Transfer onto kazoo.

Week 3

Comparing The Aquarium to The Kangaroo

Play the first 30 secs of both pieces to class. Get them to compare the movement of the music. They can either draw this on whiteboards or use their hands to represent.

Pass a glockenspiel around the circle. Children can either play as kangaroo or as aquarium. Rest of class to guess. Once children are clear they can begin to move around room in response to the style child is playing in ie they can jump if the music is kangaroo style of more fluidly for aquarium.

Go back to recordings and challenge children to jump in time with the kangaroo music. Use scarves and ribbons to move to aquarium. i also like to blow bubbles whilst aquarium music is playing!

Week 4

Comparing the aviary to the swan

Play both pieces of music to class. Ask half the class to brainstorm what they can hear for one of the pieces. Teacher can prompt with questions i.e. what instruments can you hear, how did it make you feel, is it one animal or more, etc look out for children recognising legato and staccato differences from wk 3

Use ribbons to match aviary music. Identify when pitch swoops up and down and match with actions.

During swan music children work in partners. One child is puppet swan and is and gently steered by their partner.

Week 5 & 6

The children have been studying mini beasts in class.  Working in friendship groups each group to choose a different minibeast. Groups to identify 2 characteristics  that this creature has. Choose up to 2 instruments to represent this creature. Make a graphic score to plan and guide their composition. Practise. Teacher to record. Children to listen and evaluate. Teacher to look out for some of the concepts that the children have explored physically in this unit. Assessment points will include:

  • Did the children organise their music in groups of 3 or 4 beats to match their animal’s movement?
  • Could they explain why they chose the instruments they did?
  • Did their compositions tempo and pitch movement match the animal?
  • was their an attempt to make compositions legato or staccato?

NB: These questions are not an attempt to ensure that all children must use all these features to have produced a “good” piece of music”. Rather it is a guide for the teacher to look out for to see if the teacher can find evidence of the children being influenced by the concepts introduced in this unit of work