Movement in character

7th March 2008 at 00:00

Can you tell an elephant from a grasshopper? Music teacher Linda Fox knows the score

Why not encourage pupils to create music that mimics the fluttering of a butterfly or the scuttling of a crab? Animal movements can be used to highlight three important elements of music that pupils should be absorbing in Year 3 - pitch, tempo and dynamics.

But problems can arise because some children have not observed many animals in real life.

So when I play "The Elephant" from The Carnival of the Animals and "The Grasshopper's Dance" by Bucalossi, even though they know which animals are represented in the music, they do not always match them correctly.

I have had some years in which the majority of them have got it wrong. I think it's because some of them have never seen a grasshopper and possibly not even a real elephant - only Dumbo. And there's a horn call near the beginning of "The Grasshopper's Dance" that some decide is an elephant trumpeting, so they make a snap decision and "see" what they want to in the music.

The short poem "On Our Way" by the American poet Eve Merriam describes in lively, onomatopoeic language the movements of animals and insects such as a butterfly and frog, snail and squirrel.

First I ask the children to read it together from the whiteboard which, of course, results in a mechanical monotone. Then I read it myself, varying pitch, dynamic and tempo with each different animal, hamming it up like there is no tomorrow. Finally, they read it again, first with me and then by themselves. The improvement in expression is noticeable.

I then play the kind of movement of one animal from the poem to see if they can identify it. Glissandi up and down the metallophone with brief pauses in between always evokes the right answer of: "Swing like a monkey in a treetop," proving that the voice is a good gateway to transferring the descriptive aspect into instrumental sound.

It's a step on the way to making up short snippets of sound to describe an animal. I play further examples and ask, not just what animal it is, but, importantly, why they think so. Even in Year 3, I don't allow: "Because it sounds like a seagulltigerworm." I tell them the only thing that sounds like a tiger is a tiger. They have to explain the use of the elements in the music to say how it does its job.

Lastly, the children in groups of three choose an animal from a large selection and work together to produce a short descriptive passage.

I warn them off choosing three drums, and just playing tap tap tap at an indeterminate speed. My favourite over the past few years is the butterfly, with two children taking turns to rub a beater quickly between different pairs of notes on a small glockenspiel.

Linda Fox teaches at Kings Hedges Primary School in Cambridge.


"On Our Way" can be read on

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