Music to their ears

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: When the stereo I use in the classroom broke, it was like having one of the kids away. There was something missing, and I soon realised there are tunes I would now consider "essentials" in my teaching toolkit. On my compilation, I would need the "welcome to my classroom in the morning" track - the right mixture of buoyant optimism and enthusiasm, without whooping the class up before we've done anything.

I've enjoyed using tracks such as "Ain't nothing stopping us now" by Tower of Power, which has a Jools Holland kind of sound. If you prefer something more classical, try an up-tempo track from Mozart or Vivaldi. The duration is also important because the piece can have a Pavlovian effect - pupils recognise the end of the music and ready themselves for the day's beginning.

Sometimes music can provide backing to thinking or learning; the track has to be engaging enough to be noticed, but not distracting from what is meant to be going on. "Tender" by Blur seems to do the job, as does "Groovy Situation" by Simply Red. To my untrained understanding, the key seems to be an obvious pulse and gentle tempo - gentler reggae or country and western, classical waltzes or piano rags.

The real pearls, though, are those pieces that soothe and smooth, restore peace after a mad lunchtime or sustain it during reflective lessons. "No Woman, No Cry" by Bob Marley is one, as is "Blue in Green" from Miles Davis. The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams seems to have a similar effect, or the Adagio from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. All have the feel of opening a window to allow a cooling breeze to calm everything down.

Don't get me wrong. A classroom that pipes music constantly as background noise is no more suited to learning than an airport lounge. Equally, insisting on silence whenever music is played turns it into an auditory straitjacket. So let me nail colours to the mast and invite you to do the same. If I was stranded on a desert island classroom, here are the 10 tracks I would like to find waiting. My self-imposed rule is no more than one track by each artist, so...

1 No Woman, No Cry (Bob Marley)

2 Blue in Green (Miles Davis)

3 Concerto De Aranjuez (Rodrigo)

4 Staying Alive (The Bee Gees)

5 The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams)

6 Nightingale (Nora Jones)

7 Fields of Gold (Sting)

8 Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)

9 Banana Pancakes (Jack Johnson)

10 Walking on Sunshine (Katrina and the Waves)

How about you? Send your top 10 by email to teacher@ Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email:

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