A pitch for the rhythms of life

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Music Box. By Veronica Clark. BBC Education Book and Cassette Pack. Pounds 12.99. Listening to Music - Elements. By Helen MacGregor. Book and Cassette Pack. A C Black Pounds 14.99. Age range: 3+.

Veronica Clark is head of an infant school in East Sussex and knows exactly what interests young children. Her book puts music where it belongs, at the heart of daily life in the classroom.

The material in Music Box is divided into familiar themes such as Machines, Space Travel, Big Bears and Little Bears and Bedtime, each of which comes under broader seasonal headings. Teachers can work their way through the year or dip in for ideas. Non-specialists will be encouraged by the inclusion of many familiar songs and rhymes with simple tunes, though the lack of material from other cultures is disappointing. Most of the songs are set at a tempo slow enough for teacher and children to sing along to comfortably.

Children love sound and movement stories. Several Music Box units are based on familiar tales such as "The Gingerbread Man" and "Little Red Hen". Suggested activities include listening, rhythm and pitch, and sound discrimination games. The cross-curricular links at the end of each unit show how music can enhance learning in language, maths, science, art and craft, drama and cookery.

Listening to Music - Elements is an exciting and truly multicultural package. Children from all cultural backgrounds are aware of fast-slow, loud-soft, the idea of beginning, middle and ending. By applying these familiar ideas to different types of music, the author leads teacher and children to greater musical understanding.

Each section focuses on one of seven musical elements: duration, tempo, dynamics, pitch, timbre, texture and structure. Explanations are given for non-specialist teachers, introductory games are described and the children then listen to a piece of music that illustrates one of the elements.

The cassette includes recordings from different cultures and ages: China and India; the court of James II; the 1930s Big Band scene in America, right up to the present with Simon Jeffes' "Pythagoras on the Line" (1993), for computer. It is a pity that such an interesting selection of music is marred by the presenter's dull voice.

A wide range of activities for building musical skills is presented in progressive order. Children will enjoy chanting rhymes such as, "I like banana, yellow banana" to an African drum rhythm on the tape, singing the traditional folk song "Punchinello", moving to the Alpha music, dancing to a traditional Indian song with ankle and wrist bells, doing the "clock improvisation" and the grid score game.

The presentation is clear, the illustrations bold and humorous, with useful teacher aids, such as photcopyable cards for playing crocodile snap.

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