Hands, feet and voices

13th September 1996 at 01:00
KEY STRATEGIES: MUSIC: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR TEACHERS By Alan Biddle and Lynn Dolby John Murray Pounds 20 MUSIC CONNECTIONS By Kate Buchanan and Stephen Chadwick Cramer Music Pounds 29.95 including CD.

Tom Deveson welcomes two new down-to-earth guides for primary teachers.

We all try to do our best with the national curriculum, though it's never made clear whether our paradigm should be Korea in 2000 or Kingston in 1950. A welcome, therefore, for two helpful guides which start not with blueprints and frameworks but with children, their hands, feet and voices.

Key Strategies: Music makes a clear and mainly successful attempt to translate national curriculum-speak into the language of terrestrials. This results in some dense patches of prose, but the aim is a good one. Programmes of study are described in ways that genuinely help the non-specialist, and are then exemplified across the elements of musical expression.

A detailed section on how to read notation gives, unusually for books of this kind, a gentle introduction to the world of dots and lines. Advice on listening is sensible, but perhaps a bit unadventurous and unspecified; Debussy's La Mer is indeed a fine piece for a weather project, but the tyro listener might want expert guidance to the pointillist scoring of the middle section's waves or the climactic brass of the finale.

The advice on composition is friendly and effective with some very interesting empirical accounts of what might be expected from children of different ages within primary schools. The advice on policy writing will be seized on by those from whom OFSTED demands its paper tribute.

Kate Buchanan and Stephen Chadwick are known in many schools for their inspiring work with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Teachers will be delighted to find a book that captures the spirit of those classrooms and halls full of singing, dancing and performing children. The "connections" of their title are those between music and its roots in our walking and talking, and between the sounds we make and the sounds we imagine.

The book falls into three parts. "Games" gives us lots of easy activities for odd moments or planned sessions, with opportunities to try out skills such as improving the weaker hand, jumping octaves and making "Mexican waves" from varying timbres.

"Basics" develops these activities into more organised forms, exercising aural discrimination, using words to produce varieties of syllabic patterning, working on numbers and related pulses, becoming familiar with graphics, symbols, grids and simple notations. These are presented with clarity and imaginative zest.

The final section is the longest. "Projects" demonstrates about 25 ways in which the Games and Basics can be mixed and matched to create substantial units of study in the classroom as well as valid and enjoyable pieces of music.

Forest incorporates work on both timbre and structure, using children as conductors. It goes on to encompass a variety of musical textures in timed sequences and an intriguing but comprehensible spiral score which comes to life on the CD played on classroom instruments. Satellite incorporates one of Chadwick's characteristically catchy and instructive songs and goes on to explore both pentatonic scales and improvised syncopations. Cotopaxi calls for intriguing changes of time-signature and some spirited hocketing in the style of the pan-pipes.

Two of the most engaging projects involve an old favourite, the Carnival of the Animals. Bird-Calls uses repetitions, note-clusters, trills and glissandi to create textures with a Messaien-like feel; the CD includes fascinating slowed recordings of real birds to show how natural patterns can be imitated on classroom instruments.

The Carnival of Animal Life cleverly incorporates riffs from Saint-Saens into another irresistible song and then shows how music can characterise an entirely new menagerie of creatures real and mythical. Its cheerful trust in children's imagination and its patient explanatory tone are both representative of this delightful and very useful book.

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