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Mix it with the melody maker

Susan Wilding explains how teachers in Bolton are getting pupils to sing

Taking part in a live musical experience is a great way to introduce children to singing. This can be in the classroom, a school assembly, a choir or part of a massed choir for a special event, but the essential ingredient must be the same - children need to feel involved and excited by whatever they are doing.

It is often difficult to persuade children to start singing in Years 5 and 6 or expect them to continue at key stage 3 when they have not been part of an established singing tradition from an early age, and even then their enthusiasm often wanes as adolescence approaches.

Bolton Music Service has worked hard in recent years to address this problem by providing a wide range of opportunities for singers of all ages.

Jane Hampson (head of Bolton Music Service) and I are part of a committed team of teachers and musicians who are involved in developing a successful choral structure.

In schools throughout the local authority, teachers are singing with their children in classrooms and in "Big Sings" - approximately half an hour per week or fortnight when a whole key stage comes together to enjoy singing.

This also serves to meet requirements of the Qualification and Curriculum Authority's skills programme.

A team of curriculum support teachers from the music service encourage and support teachers in this approach, but additionally schools are visited in rotation by a combined team of music service curriculum and instrumental staff who bring a Music Live experience.

The whole school, where possible, becomes involved as musical elements are demonstrated, snippets of well-known themes are played and children participate. Singing features strongly and the complete experience creates the desire to take part rather than to remain a passive observer. The Music Live experience boosts not only the interest of the children but also that of teachers who have the responsibility for their school choir.

Susan Wilding is a consultant to Bolton Music Service and runs Music Made to Measure

Five ways to get your class singing

* Find the singing voice Use singing games that help children match their voices to a specific pitch, choosing games appropriately according to the age of the children.

An enthusiastic teacher who is prepared to demonstrate encourages and gives confidence to children of any age.

* Choose melodically achievable songs

Many teachers fail to assess the vocal range of a song accurately and choose songs which are either too low or have difficult jumps. Both of these reduce the satisfaction of singing a song, even for young children.

* Make the song interesting

Include dynamic and tempo variations, use rhythmic or melodic ostinati as an accompaniment, add a chant or an introductionlink between verses.

* Use a varied repertoire

Songbooks on all our shelves contain golden oldies but many of these are an acquired taste. Current publications are available containing songs and performance suggestions to excite us as well as our singers.

* Perform live to an audience

One class performs to another or to their key stage. Pursue opportunities for the choir to take part in an event where they will encounter similar singers. Arrange a Sing Day involving several schools and encourage parents to attend.

* For more tips and ideas, go to the Get 'em Singing, Keep 'em Singing! seminar in Seminar Theatre A at 2.15pm on Thursday, March 17 presented by Susan Wilding and Jane Hampson.

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