With the plethora of song books now available in shops and online, primary teachers are spoilt for choice. However, this array of materials may tempt some teachers to cover too many vocal activities, leaving no time to revisit songs or exploit the learning potential. This can deny children opportunities to explore the musical possibilities of a familiar song.
Progression is a much-used term but it does not necessarily mean moving on to fresh material. The familiar can offer ways to deepen pupils' knowledge and add to their musical experience. Revisiting a song in a more challenging context can demonstrate how progression works in practical ways. If a song encountered in Year 3, sung in unison with an appropriate percussion part, is then revisited in Year 5 to a more exacting vocal standard, with harmonies and more demanding accompaniment, pupils will have experienced musical progression layered through a piece.
One example is the copyright-free song Storm, sung to the tune of What Shall we do with a Drunken Sailor?
Skies growing black; the rain is lashing (D min)
Silvery streaks where lightning's flashing! (C maj)
Thunder is rolling. Hear it crashing! (D min)
Here comes stormy weather! (C maj; D min on "weather")
(Chorus) Streets awash with shiny puddles x3
Here comes stormy weather!
Quick, run for cover; rain is teeming,
Over the pavements see it streaming,
People in doorways gently steaming,
Here comes stormy weather!
Teach the song in Year 3, aiming for tuneful and clear unison singing. Add simple accompaniments on untuned percussion, using repeated rhythmic patterns (ostinati) guided by syllable patterns, for example "Pour-ing rain" and "Wet wea-ther". Then revisit the song with Year 5, starting on the note A to accommodate the harmony. Introduce the partner song, sung to the traditional melody of Sinner Man, which also begins on A: "Rain's coming down, quick, run for cover x3Here comes the storm!"
Sing the two songs together. Both are built around the same two chords, D minor and C major, played alternately (see song lyrics). Encourage pupils to experiment with this simple harmonic structure. Use the original rhythmic patterns learned in Year 3 to encourage new ostinati set to pupils' own choice of words.
Sue Nicholls is a music education consultant who leads CPD training and is the author of music resource books
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