Applause for the grocery way to music

9th December 2005 at 00:00
A fruity approach to learning about melody, rhythm and composition is being adopted in primary schools, Miranda Fettes reports

It may sound like something dreamed up by Jamie Oliver in an attempt to educate the nation's youth in healthy eating, but the Apple Banana Carrot Method has nothing to do with fruit and veg.

Instead it is an approach for teaching music creativity ,which is being extended across Edinburgh's council-run primaries as part of the city's Youth Music Initiative.

After a pilot last year in five schools, Castleview, Dalry, Forthview, Newcraighall and St Francis, where it was taught at all levels, the ABC Method is now being offered to every P5 child.

The programme, which is progressive and has been drawn up for nursery through to upper primary children, has also been adopted in Dumfries and Galloway and is being trialled in North and East Ayrshire, Midlothian, Shetland, Orkney, Perth and Kinross and Highland, at various levels. Its creators, twin brothers Tom and Phil Bancroft, are now developing it for use in secondary schools.

The two, originally from Oxford and now living in Edinburgh and Pathhead, both studied medicine at Cambridge university but kept a passion for music and have ended up working as jazz musicians and educators.

The ABC Method, born of an approach the Bancrofts created to teach jazz composition skills to adults, involves fun game-like activities using shapes and words instead of conventional notation.

"The method focuses on the psychology of creativity to make teaching and learning safe and fun," Phil Bancroft explains. "In nursery and lower primary it's about learning to count along with the beat and coordinate simple actions and sounds like claps, stomps, jumps and woos (a woo is a "Wooh!" sound voiced). Using visual cues and pointing and symbols, it's learning to listen and respond to musical cues in a very simple rhythmic environment."

The ABC Method enables nursery and lower primary children to compose short musical phrases by building a grid of animal noise icons - woof, oink, moo and meow - each of which corresponds to a sound, while using shape icons to teach rhythm. Thus square, circle and triangle represent one, two and three syllables respectively.

"They say the syllables, then they clap the rhythm of the syllables, then they play the syllables on their percussion," Phil Bancroft says. "We call it the say-clap-play sequence. Once the children start to respond to the symbols, they can start to create their own sequences and perform them. We were looking at a very simple way of trying to show children that anyone can create music."

Standard music notation, with the stave and notes, he feels, can be intimidating and put many children off. "It's trying to give every child a chance to compose," Phil Bancroft says.

With older children, the programme progresses from an icon-based format to working with handouts. "We start to use pitch," Phil says. "They can use pots and pans to make high sounds. They work with melody and start to write lyrics using the rhythm notation. It's developing a core set of creative skills: learning to compose, learning to play and learning to write standard notation on the stave at the same time."

The method is constantly evolving, he says, based on feedback from teachers: "We have in-service training days and use their feedback to evolve the resources. We're still trying to fine-tune things to make them as easy as possible for non-specialist teachers to use in the classroom."

David Fleming, the headteacher of Dalry Primary, which piloted the ABC Method across all year groups last year, says: "We didn't have a music specialist at the time and we wanted to give the children a joy of music.

This is a super resource and it's good fun. It makes music accessible to everybody."

Edinburgh's education leader, Ewan Aitken, says the council chose to adopt the ABC Method over other musical programmes (such as the Kodaly Method which the National Choir of Scotland promotes in its CPD for schools) because it was tried and tested and has earned the approval of participating schools.

"When we piloted it, it got a positive response. So we thought 'let's go with this one'," he says. "The only way to do it right across the city is to do it with one year group. So you just make a choice.

"It's fun and visual and it's got a breadth beyond music - that's one of the things we liked about it. It allows non-specialist teachers to teach baseline music skills, so you're going to get kids coming to the music teacher with more confidence."

The Bancrofts, with their medical background, are particularly interested in how the process of music creativity happens in the brain and why it can become unpleasant and threatening. They are now involved in a research project at Glasgow Caledonian University into the development of rhythmic skills in children.

Phil Bancroft, a saxophonist, says: "There are lots of studies suggesting musical activities help educational processes - learning, literacy and so on. So teaching this should affect the attention ability of the class, not only in music but across the curriculum."


As well as the Apple Banana Carrot Method, Edinburgh's Youth Music Initiative also incorporates:

* a "Voice Academy" providing after-school singing classes for P5 and 6 pupils

* Saturday morning sessions in violin, video and recorder for P6 and 7 pupils

* an Edinburgh Schools Gospel Choir for secondary pupils

* street drumming (sambacarnival drumming). In partnership with Edinburgh Samba School and targeted initially at SIP areas, P4 classes will be offered the chance to learn street drumming, in a whole class setting, to build musical skills and confidence. Opportunities will be extended to children in other parts of the city

* a programme of "taster" workshopsconcerts of traditional Scottish music for primary schools followed by a programme of instruction

* singing tutors in primary schools, particularly where there is no specialist teacher

* a three-year development officer post in vocal and choral music,

* "Singing for the Vocally Reluctant" and "Singing Stars" days in schools

* Two new appointments offering chanterbagpipe, while guitar, percussion and singing will also be strengthened.

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