Music - Open the door to music

5th October 2012 at 01:00
Don't just tell pupils what to do, use modelling to show them how

Sometimes teachers do the oddest things. I had a colleague who once stood for several seconds at the door to the music department, waiting for it to open, only to remember that it wasn't automatic. Then there was a university reference I once read: "This boy is destined to go through life pushing on a door marked pull." Certainly we have all been there: behaving as though we have lost our marbles.

I wonder if we ever take the same approach to music teaching. Do we expect doors to open by themselves in pupil learning? Or do we show pupils how to turn the handle and enter the building? Instead of just telling pupils about aspects of music, modelling aims to show them. It is similar to demonstrating, although modelling seeks to show pupils a whole process.

It centres on music-making - and the more of this there is in music lessons, the better. The lights go on, barriers to learning are broken down and pupils move forward. I used modelling recently with a class that was on the chatty side. Instead of an in-depth oratory of the details of musical form, I tried to model some examples in music. "This could be a first section," I said, improvising an idea at the piano. "This could be the second," I added, playing a contrasting set of chords, tonalities and melodic phrases. Without stopping, I blended this back into the opening: "Oh look, it's the first bit again." Somehow this seemed better than creating a ternary form diagram on the board and explaining its intricacies.

The instructions to the class? "Now go and do the same, only better." Compositions do not float down fully formed. They take time to develop and build. Musical modelling can bring the flattest concept into three-dimensional life and it can be extended to enrich many areas of teaching. Demonstrating ways to develop ideas in a one-to-one context could help your pupils off the composition starting blocks. Your exaggerated lack of dynamics and mechanical playing can help them to realise they need to find something to say in performing. "How to write the world's best essay" in your role-played scenario can make sense of written A-level analysis. Pupils may never understand this without you showing them.

Modelling isn't just a good idea: it gives the language of musical communication meaning. If music is a language in which I'm still working at fluency, at least I'm out of the phrase book.

Anthony Anderson is head of performing arts, a coach, a mentor and an outstanding facilitator at Beauchamp College in Leicestershire

What else?

Explore modelling in the music classroom using a strategy available at bit.lymusicmodelling

Kevin Rogers includes ideas on musical modelling in his chapter on Assessment for Learning in Teaching Secondary Music (Sage Publications, 2012).

From minimalism to expressionism, help pupils to compose contemporary music with a lesson from zoeage.



Scheming sketches

My School Improvement Doodle Book (Crown House Publishing) by assistant head and graphic artist Ben Keeling collates Post-it note sketches about vexing educational issues.

Games for class

Liven up lessons with upbeat music, keep a class curiosity box or write vocabulary as anagrams for a starter activity - just some of the games ideas shared by Waiguoren. bit.lyclassgames

Sailing to recovery

In 2001, Ellen MacArthur became the youngest person to sail solo around the world. She has since founded the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, which takes young people recovering from illnesses sailing to help them rebuild their confidence. MacArthur will answer your questions on 11 October in a live video webchat on the TES website: bit.lyTESwebchat

Submit your questions before or during the chat using Twitter hashtag #TESchat or email

Once upon a time ...

Trickey has shared a detailed lesson plan, card game and interactive whiteboard presentation on story openings to help pupils draw readers in.


Questions of empathy

Pupils can put their questions to neuroscientists and thinkers on empathy at a free event at London's Southbank Centre. The Empathy and Compassion in Society Youth Gathering will be held on 22 November. To take part email

Assembly of the week

Dyslexia Awareness Week, 8-14 October

Show that dyslexia does prevent success with Sarah Pirouet's posters of famous people who have it - from chef Marco-Pierre White and Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave to children's authors Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl.

After the presentation, tell pupils a bit about the condition - what does it mean to be dyslexic? How many people in the UK suffer from it? What can dyslexic pupils do to help themselves?


For an assembly for every day of term, check out the TES Assembly a Day collection.


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