Music - Bin there, done that

17th February 2012 at 00:00
Bang the drum for risk taking in lessons. Pupils will benefit

Five minutes in and I was already beginning to feel that the lesson was a mistake. Pioneering my new approach to polyrhythms and call-and-response patterns (well, it was new to my classroom), I had arranged the class in a semi-circle, facing me, with a number of upturned plastic bins in a variety of sizes, some balanced on plastic crates. Looking back, I am not sure why the group could not see that I was the master drummer. It was obvious to me.

Alex's was the first bin to break after a hairline crack in his grey "drum" exploded into a sizeable crevasse. "Look at this, sir," he shouted over the laughter. Then Laura's bin slid sharply sideways and landed inaccessibly under a table at the back of the room. This sparked a wave of copycat bin cascades as pupils grasped the opportunity. The laughter became hysterical and I was forced to abandon bins and kneel down, beating out rhythms on the floor. A lesson learned as well as taught.

It was not the best of lessons (it was observed by a member of the senior management team who, after witnessing the chaos, did not recommend that I be allowed to progress to advanced skills teacher assessment). But, looking back, I am glad that this lesson was part of my scheme of work. Taking risks has led to some of the best learning experiences for my classes. Delivering music education in a creative and engaging manner is a vital part of bringing the subject alive. It is much easier to spout from the front, but the pupils would have forgotten everything the minute they left the room. As it was, they remembered "the drum episode" for months and learned from it.

Taking risks is something is a hallmark of the best music lessons. Such lessons should always be carefully planned and the destination made clear. The journey may be less mapped out, however. How pupils will react and the creativity with which they will engage with the lesson might be unknown, but making yourself vulnerable as a teacher is always worth it.

I am still perfecting my manic laugh to go with the diminished seventh chord I play at the piano. My Year 12s can recognise it, though. Another risk that was worth taking.

Anthony Anderson is subject leader and an advanced skills teacher for music at Beauchamp College, Leicestershire

What else?

Test your pupils' knowledge of chords with s_mcsweeney's quiz.

Get your class in rhythm with African body percussion routines from Tribal Groove.

Try James Reevell's resources to explore the world of African drumming. Alternatively, look at Spacebootle's guide to digital drumming.

Find all links and resources at

From the forums

Music teachers discuss how exam boards deal with hearing-impaired pupils.

Do you have inspirational ideas to engage key stage 3 music teachers? Share them with others.

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