Duo aim to jazz up music teaching

Kenny Mathieson looks at a new approach to teaching musical creativity methods

he Apple Banana Carrot Creative Music Resources for Early Years teaching pack is a bit of a mouthful, but it is the first in a series of steps aimed at teaching musical creativity and invention to children from nursery through to senior secondary level.

The pack and its associated teaching methodology is the work of two established jazz musicians, Tom and Phil Bancroft, and has been developed though Caber Enterprises, the company they set up specifically to work on the educational side of their activities.

The Bancroft twins have been involved in jazz education since the mid-Nineties, when they tutored short jazz courses in Aberdeen. That experience sowed the seeds of their current work, but with an emphasis on developing classroom teaching methods that guide youngsters from nursery level through to senior secondary, rather than simply concentrating on specialist courses.

The development of packs for both nursery and primary school applications has been a significant step in that direction.

The nursery pack is now being used in practical teaching by child care staff in 12 pre-school local authority partnership nurseries in Midlothian.

As well as supplying the physical teaching packs and resources, the Bancrofts offer in-service training sessions and site visits. The second in-service for the Midlothian staff took place in June at the Greenhall Centre, Gorebridge, and the participants reported back in some detail on the successes and problems they encountered in using the materials with their groups of children.

Some found particular exercises or projects highly successful, and others less so, but there was a general enthusiasm for both the material and the concepts behind it. Tom Bancroft was encouraged by the response. "The pack is very much in the development stage, and we are always looking at new things to include. This kind of feedback is invaluable.

"I think it underlines that different teachers will have slightly different results with their own classes - which is what we expected - but, overall, we are happy with what we are hearing from them."

The teaching pack contains a number of musical games and stories to use with the children, supported by audio compact discs (they hope eventually to include a multimedia CD-Rom as well).

Some musical exercises are also designed to support non-musical areas of the curriculum, including numbers, colours and body awareness. The materials and exercises are graded at three levels of complexity.

The aim is to nurture early creativity and basic musical skills in a non-threatening fashion. It is intended to be fun for both teachers and children, while avoiding the dreaded "BOIP".

"BOIP is brain overload in public," Tom explains. "We've all had that horrible experience of brain resources running out and freezing when we are put on the spot.

"We find that many people who are not confident with music can trace it back to a BOIP experience in school. With pre-school children, in particular, the choices we present them with have to be easy, and we are working on what we call intermediate achievable steps.

"We also think it is important to separate creativity from performance at this stage. We have to find the right levels of choice that will encourage their creativity without putting them on the spot or scaring them off. At the same time, we have to provide another level for them to move on to when that gets too easy."

In addition to exploring some of the games in the pack during the session, the Bancrofts also dispensed advice on the teaching process. They encouraged viewing teaching as a kind of performance and emphasised the importance of breathing, body position, eye contact and projecting yourself in getting across to the children.

They are hopeful that Midlothian may take the project a stage further this year by introducing the packs into their local authority nurseries as well, and are in discussion with other education authorities. They also are developing their primary level pack and plan to prepare a secondary pack, as well as one designed for specialist music teachers.

Caber, tel 0131 653 2202; e-mail education@cabermusic.com Paul Rissmann, animateur with leading Scottish orchestras, is talking on Creative Music Making with pre-school children using literature as a starting point at 10.30am, Sept 14

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