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Musical notes

Rachel Hills explains how she helps the children of Charles Dickens to become composers.

"I start with warm-ups geared to the children's age and ability. It gets them focused and sharpens their co-ordination and listening skills. We do clapping games, passing a sound around the circle, call and response and body percussion at key stage 2. With key stage 1, we'll do action songs and learning the names of instruments.

"I'll introduce lines from the story or a melody or rhythm from the story. Then comes the brainstorming, which we do a lot of, talking over their ideas about characters or events in the book. I'll come up with the beginning of a melody and they'll add the words. We'll compose the rest of the music together.

"We do a lot of work on language. Syllables, particularly, are good for rhythm. With KS1 children, I'll get them to tap out rhythms and their names on drums. We also look at dynamics - music growing louder orgetting quieter, and I introduce terminology, such as crescendo and diminuendo. We focus on pitch, melodies, developing rhythmic skills and co-ordination in the process, by taking just one line from a story or poem to create a musical piece. The literature is the stimulus for us to create our own music.

"At the moment, we're working on music for Roald Dahl's book The Mildenhall Treasure, which involves a tractor. We've taken the story's climax and used two or three words in it to fit into a very mechanical piece of music, reflecting the tractor's movement. Finally, we get them to think about how to present their music, since performance is emphasised in the curriculum. Groups perform to each other and have learned how to give positive feedback. The children enjoy working with music in this way. Maybe it's because through music, every child communicates equally. No one is more or less important or proficient than another."

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