Getting in tune

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Lesley Pugh questions a book that seems to promise everything for the harassed music teacher

COMPOSE YOURSELF! Key Stages 3 and 4. By Paul Harris and Robert Tucker. Faber Music pound;9.95

Describing itself as "the indispensable resource for the over-worked music teacher", this book is divided into 50 lessons plans or "focuses" arranged into three sections: "Laying the Foundations", "The Developing Composer" and "I'm a Composer!'. A pupil's workbook, available in sets of 10, accompanies the first two sections.

There is a clear progression in difficulty from the improvisation of music depicting colours in the first lesson plan to the last three lessons, which focus on composing music in sonata form, writing for choirs and developing a personal musical style. However, there is little recognition of what children bring with them from their primary schools or any attempt to build on that. As a result, some of the earliest work on rhythm and pitch would be more suited to KS2 or even KS1. On the other hand, some of the later lessons include a breathtaking range of concepts and presume a level of musical ability and performance skills rarely found in the average mixed ability comprehensive classroom.

There are some good ideas for interlinking listening, performing, improvising and composing but to describe them as "lesson plans" is misleading. The leaps in pupils' knowledge and understanding necessary to progress from one focus to the next make the book unsuitable for use as a course, unless the "over-worked music teacher" is prepared to supplement the ideas extensively. It is true that many of the courses already on the market are overly prescriptive. However, this book inclines too far in the other direction. A further disadvantage is that the suggestions for listening and ideas for composing are mainly based on the Western classical tradition and, yet again, women's contributions are given little emphasis.

This book makes ambitious claims for itself. Whether or not it fulfils them is questionable.

Lesley Pugh has taught music from nursery to A-Level. She is the co-author of Blueprints Music Key Stage 2 (Stanley Thornes) and Music in the Early Years (Routledge)

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