Practically perfect pitch and a tome with poor tone

14th November 1997 at 00:00
SINGING MATTERS. By Patrick Allen. Heinemann Pounds 39.95.

THEORY MATTERS. By Marian Metcalfe. Pupil's Book Pounds 3.99. Teacher's Pack Pounds 16.99 Heinemann.

The teaching of singing has generated almost as many half-baked pedagogical theories as violin tuition. But Singing Matters cuts through all the claptrap to focus on the essentials.

The advice given has been tried, tested and developed with a cross-section of key stage 3 comprehensive school children. It is therefore realistic, manageable and free of any preciousness. At the same time, it makes clear demands on pupils and teachers in terms of standards and repertoire.

The pack is organised into four sections, the first giving guidance on encouraging singing, and how to approach the projects and integrate them into the overall music programme. The advice on the use of IT will be particularly helpful.

The second section presents warm-up activities and games that help develop aural training and improvisation and composition skills. The core of the pack consists of 30 projects containing more than 100 songs with a wide range of historical and cultural origins. They can be sung in unison, in parts, a cappella or accompanied. Within each project is advice on teaching and performing as well as suggestions for follow-up work.

The final section is a collection for rounds, chants and "social songs". All the songs are pitched within an appropriate range for the average key stage 3 pupil, but there are also extension activities for more able or experienced children.

Since the advent of the national curriculum, most music publishers have concentrated on producing materials for non-specialist primary teachers. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the real concern is key stage 3. Patrick Allen's Singing Matters can play an important part in improving the situation.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Theory Matters, also intended for key stage 3. The pupil's book aims to provide clear explanations of basic music theory and to act as a quick and easy reference. It is supported by a bank of photocopiable sheets that can be used to practise concepts covered in the pupil book or for tests or homework. The materials are attractively presented and make some attempt to provide differentiated activities.

But it lacks any clear guidance on how to relate the theory to practice. Marian Metcalfe is co-author of Heinemann's highly successful Music Matters series. Given the heavy reliance of secondary schools on those materials, some cross-referencing between Music Matters and Theory Matters would have been useful. In its current form however, Theory Matters has little to commend it over publications of a similar ilk or even above the materials most key stage 3 teachers can easily produce for themselves.

Aelwyn Pugh

Aelwyn Pugh is inspector for curriculum with music for Liverpool education authority

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