Shake, rattle and roll on

14th April 2006 at 01:00
At an Edinburgh music centre, children are learning to read and write notes, improvise with instruments and use their right brains, says Miranda Fettes

Eight children are sitting in a circle, beating out a rhythm on claves, drums, maracas and a tambourine. Keeping them all in time is Karen Jones, director of the Children's Music Centre in Edinburgh, the only centre of its kind in Scotland.

The children are members of Bound Into Sound, an after-school club for 5- to 8-year-olds.

Karen - as all the children call her - opened the centre in 2000, to provide music education for children aged 5 to 13, with two objectives: enjoyment and creative expression.

"My philosophy is simple," says the New Zealand-trained teacher. "I'm teaching children to create and enjoy music, not just to play notes."

The centre provides individual tuition in keyboard and guitar, after-school group classes and a guitar club. Bound Into Sound provides exploration in a range of melodic and percussion instruments, encouraging children to experiment with sound and rhythm.

Karen is on a mission: to promote music and creativity in schools and communities. Primary school music education in Scotland is woefully inadequate, she believes. "Mainly it doesn't happen. There's so little music education."

Of the little there is, there is little scope for creativity, she says, whereas she focuses on composition and improvisation.

"Most music teachers emphasise reading and playing already published music.

"Music is a language.

"We learn to talk, then we learn to read and write, then create with those skills. You write stories; you plan stories from start to finish. You improvise in conversation.

"I have just applied those same principles to the teaching of music. We learn to play and improvise first, then read and write, then compose for performance.

"This is the way I was taught to teach music. I didn't realise everyone didn't. Composition and improvisation is really good fun. It's a great step forward."

Teaching music to young children in a creative, interactive and fun environment helps to develop essential social, communication and creative skills for life, says Karen.

Round the circle, each child takes a turn at playing a rhythm on their chosen percussion. Four of the children have brought their own guitars.

Karen has taught them some simple chords and they strum A minor and G chords to the tune of "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?".

Daisy Merson, 8, says: "I've been coming for two years. I've learned a few tunes on the guitar."

Two children are playing a simple tune on keyboards, rising five notes and coming back down.

Catriona O'Donnell, 8, says: "I like learning the piano. I can play the backwards and forwards tune."

Her mother, Elaine O'Donnell, picks her up after class. They live on the other side of Edinburgh. "Catriona's thoroughly enjoying it," she says.

"It's the only group like this that I've come across, so I think it's worth making the trip.

"My son Euan has been coming for three years. He's progressed to the electric guitar."

Alex Rogerson and Owen Chalmers, both 11, arrive for their guitar class and play a song they have written, called "Emily". They have both been learning for five months.

"Karen is really amazing for teaching the basics and chords and rhythm,"

says Owen.

She teaches them some 12-bar blues, playing G, C and D chords. They each take a turn at improvising a tune while the others play the chords. The boys converse on guitar: one playing a few notes with a little slide guitar, the other responding with his phrase of musical dialogue.

Music is an integral part of our cultural heritage, Karen says. "It has to be fostered when people are young, so that it grows with them.

"The Scottish Arts Council and I are of the same belief that a more progressive music education programme is something worth addressing."

Karen believes that the existing education system is biased in favour of the left side of the brain. She cites neuroscientist and Nobel prize winner Roger Sperry.

"He theorised that there are two sides of the brain," she explains. "Very simply put, the left side is concerned with practical and intellectual functions, while the right is concerned with creative, emotional and intuitive functions.

"He suggested that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere of our brains. Creative, emotional, intuitive jobs, such as nursing, teaching and motherhood, aren't valued by our society.

"I believe our education system is still lopsided and that by teaching more creativity, we can change this.

"I believe this would help to create a more confident, accepting and inclusive society."

Scotland's Cultural Review clearly indicates that creativity in the arts is to be promoted, says Karen. "I'm thrilled to bits that at last people are realising how important it is to consider creativity in the curriculum.

"The best thing they could do if they're serious about creativity in music is to get some professionals and teach teachers. If you break creativity down to composition and improvisation, then it's probably easier to tackle."

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