Starting on the right note
Lesley Pugh looks at course books for specialists and non-specialists
Both of these books are complete schemes of work for the specialist or non-specialist teacher of music. Each is accompanied by a CD, which will be invaluable for the those who don't play the piano.
The foundation course is divided into six chapters, with 10 lessons per chapter, each based on specific musical concepts. The plans are well structured and clearly presented, and provide useful guidance. Performing, composing, listening and appraising are well integrated and there is a variety of interesting activities throughout. The extension activities included in some lessons also provide a good basis for differentiation.
The starting point for most lessons is a song composed by the author.
Although the range of pitch is suitable for young voices, the words are often trite and unimaginative. The recordings, featuring keyboard accompaniments, lack variety of mood and the intonation of the singing is often insecure.
Non-specialists particularly will welcome the simple explanations of musical concepts and the valuable advice on lesson organisation. However, the list of instruments recommended is very limited. Furthermore, the suggestion that teachers should make their own instruments sends out entirely the wrong message. How can children be expected to take music seriously when they have to put up with badly made instruments?
The overlap of lessons ensures there is a clear link between the foundation and key stage 1 courses. The latter follows the same layout, comprising 72 well-constructed lessons. There is clear progression and the book is justifiably described as a "proper course, not just a set of ideas". There are photocopiable lyric sheets for the Year 2 songs, which will be appropriate for use with young readers. The needs of specialists and non-specialists are well catered for by transcriptions of the songs in the book and demo and backing tracks on the CD.
The teaching of musical literacy forms a major element, with many activities focusing on the development of rhythmic skills. Photocopiable note cards are provided, together with interesting allied listening and action games, all presented in a format that is easy to understand.
However, despite the detailed work on rhythm, there is little attempt to incorporate this into the composition activities and the latter tend to be limited in number and variety. There is some pitch work using sol-fa but this is not sufficiently developed.
The list of suggested instruments is no more extensive than that for the foundation stage. The recommendation that there should be only one pitched instrument for the sole use of the teacher does not meet national curriculum recommendations for performing skills. It also goes against the notion of development and limits the range of possibilities for composition. Another potential limitation is the inclusion of photographs and instructions on how to hold and play the instruments. This could discourage pupils and teachers from experimenting with unconventional ways of playing instruments and discovering the wide range of timbre effects that this kind of experimentation makes possible.
The listening activities are restricted to the classical tradition and the only references to music of other cultures are Modest Mussorgsky's A Night on a Bare Mountain and the "Chinese Dance" from the Nutcracker Suite. The greatest weakness of this book, however, is the approach to assessment. The lessons themselves include no success criteria and the photocopiable grid at the end of the book is very rudimentary.
Despite their faults, these books are good value for money and provide a useful basis for developing a worthwhile music curriculum.
Lesley Pugh is co-author of Blueprints Music Key Stage 2 (Stanley Thornes, now out of print) and Music in the Early Years (Routledge, pound;15.99).