Calling the tune

26th March 2004 at 00:00
When students learn about music they know and love, their enthusiasm soars, as does their self-esteem. Dorothy Walker reports

Please let us do this again!" That was the reaction from a Year 8 group at Ellowes Hall School, Dudley, after they wowed an audience of fellow students with a demonstration of their tale"Most of them have a really deep interest in music, they just don't associate it with the classroom. If you make some links, most students will respond to the other things you do in lessons."

At Kirklees Music School in Huddersfield, teachers have been working with local junior schools to encourage children into music, with a tempting line-up of options ranging from samba drumming to junk funk. "We wanted to give children across the board access to music, in whatever form," says Thom Meredith, acting principal at Kirklees.

"First, schools had workshop visits from a range of musicians. The following term, we gave the children hands-on taster sessions of as many instruments as we could lay our hands on, before asking what they wanted to take on. Every child wanted to do something, and the choices covered the complete range - everything from steel pans to trombones. The first term's lessons were free, and when they moved on to subsidised lessons, 44 per cent opted to continue, which is a wonderful take-up."

Kirklees also worked with pupils at a special school on a junk funk exercise, followed by lessons in how to DJ. Expert tuition on the mixing decks was provided by a teacher who originally trained as a classical percussionist. Combining skills such as these is becoming increasingly common, says Thom Meredith. "A lot of today's A-level musicians have come up through years of classical training, but the accomplished cellist might also be a wonderful bass guitarist or drummer. Children now grow up with this lovely cross-mix of styles, and it is important to offer this mix at an early stage."

The Kirklees project was one of the pilots in the Government's Wider Opportunities programme, designed to demonstrate ways of giving primary pupils wider access to music. As part of the scheme, the QCA has been identifying how classroom teachers can make links to children's instrumental lessons. Recalling his experience as a peripatetic music teacher, Tony Knight says: "I often felt that what I was doing wasn't being reinforced or built on, and children also saw it as a separate exercise. We have identified seven ways in which classroom teachers and specialist instrumental teachers can work together, and these will be exemplified for schools on DVD and on the web."

Nurturing enthusiasm for music can pay dividends across the curriculum, as staff at Tillingbourne Junior School in Guildford discovered through a project which used rap to motivate a group of disaffected Year 5 boys. The boys used the school's music technology suite to compose music on a theme of their choice, and worked with drama staff to translate the theme into dance, with the aim of performing the whole package for fellow pupils.

"Getting 10-year-old boys to dance is not easy," says Paul Wood, the school's head. "They always had the option not to perform, but in the end they all wanted to, and they gave their all. Their peers watched open-mouthed, and gave them a huge standing ovation. The glow of satisfaction from the boys was stunning.

"After the project, not only did the boys have a much higher standing among their peers, they were also more involved generally in lessons, making eye contact, answering questions and doing homework on time. They were walking with their heads held high."

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