Music for sweet harmony

23rd October 2015 at 00:00

Whenever you read one of those lengthy, beautifully photographed interviews with a famous musician and they’re asked about their early experiences, they always say something like “I grew up in a house full of music”, or “My parents had really varied taste – the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis (Presley and Costello), opera, Bach, Beethoven…”

When I got my own classroom I wanted to emulate that experience a little. First, because of the profound formative effect – I wish to be namechecked in Guardian Weekend in 30 years’ time by some genius who first heard Louis Armstrong in my classroom (take note, kids). But also because I saw music used to great effect in other classrooms during my training.

In order to do this, I have three key strategies. The first is “morning music”. Every day for a week I play the same piece while the children come in, register, get set up for the day and gather on the carpet.

Second, I underscore all transitions and tidy-up time with an online musical timer which plays a song and shows a countdown on the smartboard.

And third, I use music to maintain a calm, reflective atmosphere during writing time.

The choice of morning music has been a process of trial and error. You can go “inspirational” – What a Wonderful World, Happy or Good Day Sunshine. Or there’s the “calm and peaceful” start to the day – Pachelbel’s Canon, Vivaldi. Finally, you might try “current favourite” (although it can be challenging to find one of these without swearing or lewd content). At the time of writing, that’s Uptown Funk and 1D.

I find that if you want to get anything done then calm and peaceful does not work: children tend to chill so far out that they’re basically walking round like zombies, staring lovingly at their pencil case and taking a drink from their water bottle as they contemplate the scenery.

“Current favourite”, meanwhile, just creates a temporary disco and inspires very little progress, except in the form of knee slides.

What you need, I’ve discovered, is something peppy and positive but not a whole-class singalong.

I’ve also applied trial and error to the use of musical timers for transition. Again, a calming choice such as The Pink Panther Theme for tidy-up time ensures painfully slow progress. But you go for something too well-known or upbeat, like Star Wars or the BBC cricket theme, then your class will resemble a time-lapse video of the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios. Classical, busy and slightly military is the way to go here.

As for background music for writing time, for some reason my go-to choice has turned out to be a spot of wordless French electronica. It’s a total winner – the music goes on, the talking stops and the writing starts.

Susannah Jeffries is a newly qualified P2 teacher in Dunfermline, Fife. She tweets as @MrsJTeaches

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