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Junk music

Eileen Hyder suggests a fun way of improving teamwork and listening skills

A while ago I took my son on a "junk" music course to learn about making music with things most people think of as rubbish.

Before long my mind was whirling with possibilities, particularly as my Year 6 would be preparing for exams so this would be a great way to let off some steam, and I could see how it would help with teamwork and listening skills.

We began with rhythm. We sat in a circle and clapped steadily. A drum was handed around and students took turns to tap out something that fitted with the pulse. Those who were unsure could just tap once. Some were able to put together quite complex rhythm patterns. We then repeated this with clapping. Students had to indicate to the person that should follow them.

Everything was done by eye contact. The children had to watch and listen intently.

Next, I asked each child to make up a rhythm pattern that would fit a steady 44 pulse. We then went round the circle and, one by one, each child joined in with their own rhythm. The noise was amazing. Some children realised their pattern didn't really fit and changed it. Then, one by one, we dropped out, using eye contact to tell someone when to stop.

Another activity, was for the children to pass their rhythm on. They tapped it out on the hand of a partner, who had to watch and listen carefully to get it right.

The next stage was to think about notation, which can be difficult with rhythm. On the course, we used phrases: "I like fish and chips" represented 1, 2, 3 and 4.

They now had to think of a phrase to describe their rhythm pattern. Food and football featured strongly. As a Newcastle United fan, I found "Alan Shearer" to be perfect for the 44 pulse. Once the children had invented their own phrase, they could perform it whatever anyone else was doing. To add interest, I asked them to think about dynamics. Again, amid the noise of people banging out different rhythms, they weren't allowed to speak and had to think of symbols to tell the others in their group when to get louder or quieter.

Finally, we added movements. Some were simple, such as indicating to someone to swap places, with more eye contact. If they also swapped instruments, they had to pick up the rhythm. Sometimes we formed a circle and would make ourselves small when we were playing quietly, then stand up tall as the music got louder. Sometimes we stayed still but moved our instruments. At other times pupils worked with a partner - one moving around the other, twirling and dancing as the other played.

While all of this was going on we were collecting junk. We had old pots and pans, empty water bottles from drinks machines and bits of drainpipe. This in turn led to work on recycling. We included a section of our work in the school play. In it there was going to be a party so I decided we would send a character into the kitchen to see how preparations were going on. This gave us the opportunity to use pots, pans, kettles, baking trays, storage tins, rolling pins and so on. It ended with the children lined up along the front of the stage, giving an almighty roar and jumping off.

Eileen Hyder teaches at St Joseph's Catholic Primary School, West Berkshire Music Subject Focus, pages 32-37

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