On a high note

Ardrossan is facing a quiet revolution. Next year, every pupil entering first year at the town's academy will be able to play a musical instrument.

It could be the most musical cohort in the country if, as believed, it is the first time in Scotland.

However, homes on Scotland's West coast are not ringing to the sounds of eager practice and there is barely a bed with a trumpet or clarinet stored underneath -because the instruments never leave school.

All of Ardrossan Academy's feeder primary schools are taking part in the Sound Start music programme. Each P6 has a full band of instruments purchased for them and the class is divided into groups of clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, euphonium and percussion, among other instruments. Each pupil, as part of their instrument group, has 30 minutes of tuition daily and the whole class comes together for practice as a band once a week.

Key to the project, says Brian Kerr, North Ayrshire's music service manager, is that children don't need the discipline of practising at home, or to remember to bring their instruments to school.

Stanley Primary is the first to have gone through the scheme and the P7s are continuing to learn as they share the instruments with the current P6.

Not only does the class perform tunes impressively as a band, but the school has seen attainment, attendance and discipline in the class improve.

Lesley Dick, the P6 teacher, says the pupils learned that unpacking their instruments quickly and quietly before they start playing benefited general discipline.

"After a couple of months those organisational skills moved into the classroom and because they had been receiving tuition in small groups, I felt more confident to teach four or five of them in a group because they were used to being in a group lesson and listening to each other," she says.

In nearby Saltcoats, children at Dykesmains Primary are taking part in the programme, but the school starts music learning from day one. These lessons focus on rhythm with games to music where children learn to recognise tempos and have their first experience of instruments with the old faithful - the triangle. In later years they graduate to the recorder and Sound Start in P6.

Funding came from the Scottish Executive's Youth Music Initiative and North Ayrshire is looking at alternative sources to continue the project indefinitely.

Mary-Rose Martin, Ardrossan Academy's headteacher, says the staff's job will be made easier by all the children being at the same ability level:

"We are very excited, I have been up to see the children play in Stanley Primary and I'm utterly amazed at what they are able to produce.

"It will have implications in that we will need to challenge them - they need to see there is progression. We have a responsibility to challenge, cultivate and motivate them further.

"But isn't that fantastic? To have 180 children able to play a musical instrument and it is not even at the basic level. Who knows what's ahead for us -perhaps even the Edinburgh Festival."

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