If music be the food of love….

Well maybe not love in the sense that Shakespeare meant, but there is no doubt that children love music. It is one of the ways that we get babies to respond to the world around them and music making groups for toddlers do amazing business, partly because there is nothing quite like seeing children play and smile when they make a noise with instruments.

As adults, music resumes its importance in enriching our lives. We like to listen to it and have a huge array of tastes and preferences. Some of us like to make music with others and again that comes in all forms. Music can evoke memories good and bad and can heighten our senses in both horror and slushy films. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

Now, we don’t need to have music in schools. For most of us, music won’t get us a job or a promotion. The vast majority will drop music before GSCE level and will give up playing an orchestral instrument sometime in secondary school (although I am very much hoping to buck this trend through coaching – another story…).

But Music with a capital M is not just about learning theory and identifying composers. Especially not at a primary school level.

So what is it about? Isn’t all education about passing a test?! Well, it certainly seems to be shifting that way and, more worryingly, if there is not a test attached to it, then time spent on it is a waste.

What a shame. Because music reaches out to everybody. There is no language barrier and no class, cultural or disability obstacles. Music is not gender specific and carries few stereotypes these days. It’s a perfect example of how everyone can have a go and get the same pleasure out of it.

In Foundation Stage and KS1, lessons need to have a balance of listeningplaying and understanding.

There are now some amazing programmes to create digital music with young children now, but nothing quite beats playing together with real instruments.

So, that should form the basis of your lessons.

Some listening.

This will take the form of identifying instruments, likes and dislikes, recognising well known pieces (modern and classical), moving, drawing or painting to music, imagining what the composer may have been trying to represent, exposing children to a wide range of music at every opportunity and some internalising i.e. recalling a tune accurately.

I recommend that you use music throughout the day – as the children come in, as a marker for certain times of the day, as a weekly piece in assemblies. I like the idea of staff recommendations for music to play as the children come into and leave assembly – it takes the pressure off one person and provides a great range of music without much effort.

Taking apart a piece of music musically and then drawing or painting to it is a sure way to make an impact.

I used Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to identify orchestral instruments and how music can affect your emotions and then we took 60 children and rolls of wallpaper and made some amazing art.

Some playing

You will probably have access to a range of percussion instruments. Children love to get their hands on these.

Composers use these to create different moods in pieces and you can do the same.

Making stories up with these instruments representing the characters is one great way of exploring the WAY that instruments are played and their TIMBRE (what they sound like).

Listening to Peter and the Wolf is magical and this can be recreated (on a smaller scale) with any fairy story. Once the children have played the instruments a few times and they are not just ridiculously excited about having them out, they will come up with all sorts of interesting ways to represent, the wolf, the bears, Goldilocks etc.

Record these ‘performances’ and they can then be shared with other classes and also evaluated by the children to improve for next time.

Storms, shipwrecks, volcanoes can also be represented with percussion instruments quite effectively.

Just as important is playing along to a beat and playing together – the very essence of music.

Use echo games to clap, sing and play along. Get children to use their bodies as instruments too, so as well as just clapping, tapping, slapping (to a certain degree!), open mouth and tap the cheek, chest thumps all make an awesome sound when a few children are doing it.

Voices make an amazing amount of noises too. Doing this sort of thing can seem ridiculous at first (to you and the kids) but they DO get over it and the results can be impressive.

Clearly singing and learning songs is something that should be happening too. There are a loads of new songs available through companies like Out of the Ark, but also more traditional or well-known from our childhood tunes can be found in books that you will find in the piano stool or tucked away in the Hall somewhere!

Books like Apusskidu and Banana Splits or anything by A&C Black are great for song inspiration.

Some understanding

How instruments make a sound and how music works is a revelation for most children.

This can dive into science and maths as you talk about 4 beats in a bar and vibrations etc. and some kids love to know all this.

Equally exploring how a composer can make us feel excited or sad is worth exploring as this makes music so much more accessible to everyone.

This will involve talking about:


Term Definition Quick Tips
dynamics the volume of the music. Loud = forte, quiet = piano,gradually getting louder =crescendo gradually getting quieter = decrescendo
pitch how high or low something is. The bigger the instrument, the lower it plays. On the piano, the low notes are on the left and on the guitar, the thicker strings are lower.
tempo What speed the music is playing Andante = a relaxed walking pace Adagio = 1 beat per second Accelerando = gradually getting faster
timbre Tone quality ie. the different sounds that different instruments make A great opportunity for a vocab link and creative exploration for language. What does this sound like?
texture How many sounds and how they work together Unison = everyone playing the same note Harmony = different notes playing at the same time

Exploring notation is reserved for KS2 in the new curriculum, but it can be as simple as drawing a picture.

The children will enjoy it and will start to apply a logic quite early on as they realise that no-one else can understand their amazing graphics and there is a natural move to stave notation.

The main thing is not to be afraid otherwise the children will pick up on it and think that music is something difficult.

It isn’t at this level. It’s about having fun and having a go.

No test? Brilliant! Enjoy it while you can!