Skip to main content

Perfect pitch

Tom Deveson reviews a project pack of musical ideas for key stage 3

A thick square rugged shiny folder of nearly 200 pages with three audio-cassettes nesting inside the front cover, Music Matters has an encouraging solidity that promises answers to the prayers of those responsible for key stage 3 classes. These 15 projects have been written by real teachers and tested with real pupils in Sussex schools. They include lesson plans, photocopiable worksheets and ideas for assessment. Each project is designed to last for about six weeks of hour-long lessons.

Another encouraging aspect is that the national curriculum is conspicuously absent. These projects start with music and its pleasures and skills, not with the matrix of statutory requirements according to which it's taught. There is no reason why these ideas should not be used for national curriculum work, indeed the fruitful interaction of listening, performing and composing outlined here is precisely what the law requires. But teachers are free to adapt these suggestions to meet their schools' needs.

Add plenty of realistic advice on incorporating the use of IT into classroom music, coupled with sensible and well-tried recommendations on breaking individual lessons into manageable chunks of experience, and you have a package earning very serious consideration in spite of its hefty price.

Most of the projects focus on a defined area of musical language. "Next-door neighbours" is a general introduction to semitones and chromaticism. "Sandwiches" develops the idea of ternary form using a metaphor that many teachers of infants have found helpful before now. Other topics such as "Raga" or "Feelin' the Blues" set out to cover music with a specific cultural flavour; the aim here is not so much to produce pastiche as to explore structures from beyond the classical western canon that can then be used in composition.

Much of this will be relatively familiar to experienced teachers, both from their own good practice and from the similar worksheets available from the excellent cumulative series Music File from Stanley Thornes. Music Matters builds the separate lessons into continuous musical learning and so makes the "spiral curriculum" more than a piece of fading educational jargon.

Examples abound. Work on sequences, parallel motion, dissonance and consonance (here defined as "tense" and "relaxed" intervals) all lead to an investigation of Sky's Vivaldi and Vivaldi's own Winter. The same baroque idiom is then revisited in a subsequent project incorporating polyphony and imitative textures. A chordal progression and bass riff are found both in Peter Maxwell Davies' elegiac Farewell to Stromness and in the effervescent African vernacular of Jean Bosco Mwenda's Mother and Child. Work on modes moves from the Aeolian of Lieutenant Kije and English folksong to numbers by Phil Collins and Sting.

Some caveats need to be entered. Not all teachers will be happy with words of a song that treat family violence, alcoholism and madness as comic material or a setting of the Can-Can which features "Frenchy dollies in their frilly fol-de-rollies". The written assessments in Listening often require pupils to make eitheror choices to describe what they have heard; the very interesting work of Keith Swanwick at the Institute of Education shows how children respond positively and with increasing precision when they are asked to mark their perceptions somewhere on continuous lines drawn between pairs of adjective opposites. There is rather too much writing required from pupils here. "Do you think Fur Elise should have been left as (Beethoven) intended . . .?" is the sort of question that many pupils can answer better by talking and performing than on paper.

But there are rich pickings to be found here for any teacher with imagination. Perhaps the best advice would be to use the lesson plans as themes from which to develop your own pedagogic variations. You will then find many opportunities and occasions to fill the school with noises that give delight and hurt not.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you