A satisfying click echoes around the school foyer as the leads snap into their sockets on the PA system. A chord sounds on the electro-acoustic guitar, the microphone is on and the speakers buzz into life. The first notes of the student musician's song ring out. Welcome to Break-time Buskers.
Providing an opportunity for pupils to perform in an informal setting can bring a great musical atmosphere to a school. It gives pupils the chance to share musical expression and takes the walls off the music department. It enriches the learning environment and transforms a break-time. It is achievable, focused and doesn't demand hours of preparation.
Break-time busking can be the final destination in a journey of songwriting. Engaging classes in composition can sometimes be difficult. So why not help pupils to find their voices by demonstrating ways to develop ideas in one-to-one music tutorials? This can be more effective than detailed lectures on musical sequences, modulations, inversion of melodies and accompaniment figures.
Ask pupils to play whatever they can, even if they feel it is only a fragment. Ask questions. What do they want to achieve? What are they trying to communicate in their music? Suggest some possible directions and demonstrate what this might look like using whatever instrument is to hand. Make music and show them ways to voice a chord, approaches to extending and developing a melody, methods to create variety and contrast in a harmonic setting, techniques to build texture. Inspire your pupils to achieve and express themselves through their own music.
If pupils are struggling to get started, gather the class together again and lead them in a songwriting exercise. Use a simple set of chords for an introduction and first verse and ask the pupils to devise some lyrics before setting them to music yourself. Work out something quick, effective and memorable.
Give the class options for a chorus, playing some possibilities but asking them to make the final choice. Ask the group to design the song structure and when the song is finished perform it to the class, with plenty of expression. Finally, when the group is ready for more, stop and simply say: "That's what I want you to do. Now go and compose!"
Allowing inspiration to surface brings songwriting to life. When they have built their confidence, giving pupils a platform to perform through busking gives songwriting credibility. It provides an experience not quickly forgotten and is a springboard to further achievement. In turn it inspires others to be creative, too. Busking need not be a one-man band. It can be a chain reaction.
Anthony Anderson is head of music and performing arts, coach and mentor at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire. He is a member of the Representative Council for the National Association of Music Educators
Help your pupils become talented songwriters with Helen Tierney's project.
Or check out QCDA_Resources' unit on writing memorable hooks and riffs. bit.lyHooksAndRiffs.