Simple is best

9th June 2000 at 01:00
COMPOSING MUSIC AT KEY STAGE 3. By Lynne Burr, Fran Vicary and Steph Yates. pound;25 with audio-cassette and 28 photocopiable worksheets. COVER LESSONS IN MUSIC. By Rob Jones and Steph Yates. pound;25 with 28 photocopiable worksheets. Chalkface, PO Box 1, Milton Keynes, MK5 6JB. Tel: 01908 340340 www.chalkface.com

Both these books are by teachers and escaped teachers. They are practical but do not convey much passion for the subject.

The suggestions for composing begin with simple ideas involving repeated phrases and proceed via rondo and ternary form to the use of a ground bass. In doing so they bring in the Dorian and Aeolian modes. Some of the stimuli draw on well-tried conventions - the evocation of horror or spy themes - while others find their starting point within music itself, using calypso rhythms or a theme from Bach.

Each project develops the use and awareness of skills, though the advice tends to be prescriptive. "Phrase five: an organ sound using chords F minor and Eb" is an example. Pupils are expected to use keyboards and multi-track recording technique to gain the full benefit of the suggestions. The book is serviceable, though without striking originality.

The plans for cover lessons are necessarily aimed at non-specialist teachers and involve little use of specialised equipment - unless the human voice is put into that category. Some of the advice - "rap lyrics can, at times, deal with some dubious subjects" - might be found otiose by anyone who has met a live teenager. Many of the activities are about music rather than being musical in themselves: solving anagrams from the names of brass instruments or adding the number of Beatles to the number of strings on a violin. Others have extravagantly ambitious aims - "to learn about Indian music and instruments" - that are hardly borne out by the mundane ideas accompanying them.

The better suggestions are simple in scope but realisable in practice: rewriting new lyrics to well-known tunes or making up a jingle to sell chocolate. Future reprints should correct the spelling of Howlin' Wolf and remove an errant DNoNo from the Dorian mode.

Tom Deveson


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