Roll over Beethoven

24th May 1996 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh soothes the nerves of non-specialists worried by the prospect of teaching music. You don't need to be a specialist to be a competent primary music teacher. Good general teaching and classroom management skills are enough to get started. Many music educators feel that although there is a shortage of specialists, there is much that the generalist class teacher can do, given leadership and faith in his or her abilities.

In pursuit of this theme, Music for Youth, the organisers of the National Festival of Music for Youth will this year run a conference on Music at Key Stage 2 at London's South Bank on Monday July 8, during the week of the festival. "Many key stage 2 teachers are more effective at teaching music than they think they are," says Dr Janet Mills HMI, a conference speaker P a view echoed by Anne Francis, head of Brookside Primary in Stockport who will run a session on confidence.

"Teachers need to be shown that they actually do know a lot about music Q about styles, pitch, timbre. If you start doing activities with teachers you can get these things from them," she says.

Her in-service work with non-specialist teachers involves circle games, recognition of styles, discrimination between pitch and rhythm. "I want them to use their teaching skills just as they do in other areas, such as drama. " For the non-specialist, music is, she believes, "not simple, but it is understandable and manageable".

Jane Grint, music co-ordinator at Sheringham County Primary in Norfolk - another conference contributor - also believes that classroom music can be part of the repertoire of the generalist primary teacher. Sheringham's 480 pupils supply an excellent school orchestra and its own team of handbell ringers. The roots of these achievements, though, lie in good classroom practice - the approach at Sheringham is that that class teachers do their own music to the end of Year 4. There is a more specialist approach to a number of subjects after that in Years 5 and 6; Jane Grint covers all of the music in the four classes in those years.

The key to giving confidence to non-specialists, she believes, lies in good planning. "In key stage 1 they integrate music with their topic work, and the ideas of the specialist can be put in during the planning sessions." Similarly, planning is across each year group in the juniors, using Jane Grint for any help and suggestions. She provides resources, using material from published schemes and "lots of taped music, including songs on tape for anyone who doesn't feel at home with singing."

Jane Grint also does confidence-building workshop sessions with teachers as part of the school's staff development programme. One approach she uses is to get teachers talking about their own music education. "I look into everybody's background and we have a group discussion about their past experiences. One or two have had their confidence dented, partly because their experience has been that music is always taught by someone who can play the piano."

This kind of discussion, she feels, "gives me an idea where I need to help them, and where their particular problems are".

A common complaint is that the specialist musician always finds it difficult to understand the feelings of the non-specialist - so staff in other schools would probably appreciate this kind of discussion.

"It's always the specialists who talk about giving confidence," said one teacher. "It comes so easily to them that they genuinely can't see what the problem is. They need to stop and think it through and take nothing for granted."

Jane Grint says the biggest challenge is a large class and a lot of instruments - "30 children, and where do you go from there?".

And yet, she says, the coping strategies are more basic classroom management than music. "You just don't let them have all the instruments at once, and you play a lot of rhythm games with hand and body sounds. You also establish ground rules about signs for stopping and starting."

Nowhere is the confidence of the non-specialist challenged more than in the national curriculum's requirement that children compose music. This will be addressed at the conference in sessions led by, among others, Paul Herrington, music co-ordinator at Lawn Upton Middle School in Oxford. "For many teachers, " he says, "composition is a frightening word, because they think it means the sort of thing that Beethoven did."

In fact, as he demonstrates in his own work, and will show with the aid of Lawn Upton children, the creation and organisation of musical sounds is something that children enjoy and are capable of doing, led by a confident but not necessarily musically expert teacher.

Another area that gives cause for concern - as in art and drama - is progression. It is one thing to be able to lead children in a lively session, with some instrumental work, rhythmic clapping and singing. It is quite another to be able to see such a lesson as part of a progressive programme that leads pupils forward as they go through the year, and from class to class, until they leave.

Anne Francis - though still developing schemes of work as a relatively new head - is looking towards a music policy which will break down such elements as rhythm and pitch into small achievable steps, "so that a teacher would know, for example, that during the current half-term they were going to be working on, say, three or four beat pulses. Whatever music they did, that would be the mental focus. The next half-term there would be another focus."

Given that class sizes are rising, it is not realistic to assume that primary schools will be able either to take on more music specialists - or to use them as single-subject teachers if they do manage to recruit them. The key to progress, therefore, lies in the empowerment of the non-specialist class teacher.

But there is not, as Janet Mills is at pains to emphasise, one right approach. "We're not out to give a template. This conference will involve lots and lots of teachers, and the idea is that they pick things that will really work for them. It will be a positive experience - not focusing on what's wrong but looking to move forward."

Registration forms for the music education conference on July 8 can be obtained from Music for Youth, 4 Blades Mews, Deodar Road, London SW15 2NN, tel. 0181 870 9624. Registration fee is Pounds 17.50 and includes conference attendance and performances on the day. Music for Youth is sponsored by British Aerospace, Commercial Union, Glaxo Wellcome and the W H Smith Group in association with The TES

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