Finger-clicking good

19th April 1996 at 01:00
In 30-odd years of teaching, the lesson that has always gone down best, especially with younger primary children, is a classroom music session called the Body Band.

It was inspired by memories of a boy I taught in secondary school who had the unusual and slightly alarming ability to rap out recognisable tunes by hitting himself on the head with his fist. With him in mind, I devised the following lesson, which I delivered many times, often to classes and assemblies in other schools.

You begin by exchanging clapping rhythms with the children. The beauty of this is that you do not need to say anything - you just walk in and start. The children pick it up quickly and a sort of call and response clapped "conversation" gets going, with the class as a whole and with individuals. After this warm-up, ask for other suggestions about body percussion. This will quickly produce stamping and slapping the knees.

The next step is the crucial one, where you try to get the more esoteric sounds. Put a finger in the corner of your mouth, go "pop", then ask everyone to do it. With a bit of conducting and clapping you can get them all popping in unison. Keep an ear cocked for anyone who can do it particularly loudly.

Then ask for, or elicit, a range of other sounds. You should get at least the following: "pop", as above; "click", with the tongue on roof of the mouth; "whistle", preferably with two fingers in the mouth; "under-arm rasp", hand under the damp armpit, arm pumping up and down to produce a vulgar and very juicy noise; "two-hand rasp", a similar sound produced by two damp hands clasped and working together; "cheek slap", a gentle slapping of both cheeks, with jaw working to change the resonance.

You will probably get more, and depending on your level of sensitivity you may have to introduce some censorship. Again, listen for, and praise, the most sonorous individuals. (Astute teachers will have realised by now that this is a golden opportunity for otherwise unnoticed children to show a distinctive and admired ability. I found that this always happened.) From this point on, there is no limit to what you can do. You can put together a rhythmic whole-class performance, working through a sequence of sounds. Or you can divide the class into groups. Or you can have individuals of particularly rich timbre out to form a band. Add a child conductor, pointing to the sound he or she wants at any one moment, and you have a potential school concert item.

I have no idea what the Office for Standards in Education would think of it all. What I do know is that it is the most tremendous fun. Every time I have done this I have children clutching each other in helpless tears of delight. Is that not still a performance indicator of some sort? I hope so.

Gerald Haigh is a former middle school head u If you have a successful lesson which would interest other teachers, or if you know someone else who does, please contact Diane Hofkins, primary editor, at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Fax: 0171 782 3200

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