Music education in schools is depressingly vulnerable to pressure from the core subjects; learning about the meaning and use of semicolons and millilitres can be made to seem so much more urgently necessary. More cheerfully, music education can be done well while using either the most rudimentary or the most advanced technology. You can get by with nothing more than voices and a few bits of wood, or you can play with multimedia devices and explore virtual worlds of sound.
Resources to support teachers need to consider both these facts. Music is by definition a time-bound art, and even where time is under pressure, it will have to be found if the subject is to be more than superficially touched on. Good resources help solve the problem, saving teachers many hours of preparation through the provision of well thought-out ideas. We need simple materials that remind us of games our ancestors might have played two millennia ago; and we need sophisticated materials that bring computers into play, getting them to produce dazzling visual analogies for what we hear.
ICT Activities for Music 11-14
By Andy Murray, Alan Smith and Bill Crow. Heinemann
Price: pound;54.99 (single user) or pound;159.99 (site licence + five extra CD-Roms)
A CD-Rom that supplements rather than supplants traditional ways of learning music deserves an enthusiastic welcome. ICT Activities for Music 11-14 contains a fine variety of things to do, things to hear and things to argue about. Pupils' response forms, informative articles and web-links, MIDI files and notated scores all provide opportunities for behaving in challengingly different musical ways. The technology allows listeners to focus on an unemphatic bass line or a slow rhythm hidden within complex textures, while a fully documented account of the composition of a new jazz piece will show them the creative imagination at work.
Around the World @ Christmas Time
By Sara Ridgley and Gavin Mole
International Music Publications
Price: pound;24.99 including two CDs
If you are looking for an ambitiousend-of-year blockbuster musical, why not meet the challenge of Around the World @ Christmas Time? It lasts for more than an hour and can use the talents of hundreds of children between the ages of seven and 14, with a minimum cast size of 30. Individual items can be learned in smaller groups and then assembled in modular fashion to create the entire show. Ranging from ancient Saturnalia and an early Hanukkah to the truce in the 1914 trenches and a modern calypso, it incorporates 20 songs that add up to a spirited sense of festive fun.
An Early Start in Music
Price: pound;12.99 including CD
An Early Start in Music at Home (same songs without printed notation)
Price: pound;9.99 including CD
International Music Publications.
Eileen Diamond's songs for the youngest children are catchy and instructive; they're fun to sing and you learn about music while you sing them. An Early Start in Music is an "activity songbook" whose target audience begins with new-born babies, and includes their five-year-old siblings, their parents and their future teachers. More than 20 pieces invite children to rock, move, wave, jump, clap and play. Plenty of repetition ensures that no one will get lost, and there is room for improvisation. Occasional dodgy words - are lions and tigers found "in the jungle"? - are more than compensated for by some fine melodies.
First Class Music
Price: pound;49 for a single user and pound;10 for an extra user This CD-Rom has a variety of possible applications. Using 375 different interactive screens, it explains how the elements of musical language can be combined. Standard terms like crescendo and forte are introduced in the context of listening activities, and users are enabled to do such things as identifying wrong notes within familiar tunes or building up melodic structures from patterns of motifs. Seven to 12-year-olds can use it profitably as can their teachers if they need a refresher course.
Assessment and feedback are provided.
Music Express (six volumes)
A amp; C Black
Price: pound;19.99 each
There's hardly a primary school without at least one of A amp; C Black's excellent song books. Music Express is a new and complete music scheme devised by members of the same editorial team. There are six half-termly schemes of work for each school year, each of them divided in turn into six weekly lesson plans. The CD-Roms provide very helpful supplementary materials from video clips to graphic scores. The musical ideas are firmly rooted in children's experiences, but the journey on which they are taken is generous in scope and inspiring in its nature.
Teaching Key Stage 1 Music
By Ann Bryant
International Music Publications
Price: pound;29.99 including CD
This is described as a "complete step-by-step scheme of work", which is true, in both a positive and occasionally negative sense. There are very clear lesson plans, 12 for each term. These in their turn are arranged in a firmly ordered and comprehensible structure, so that children's progress can be clearly planned and monitored. Some teachers will find their steps determined too prescriptively. Improvisation is mainly subordinated to the demands of learning notation, and the listening materials remain bound within the conventions of the standard orchestral repertoire. Nevertheless, there's still much to enjoy.
Flying a Round (2nd edition)
A amp; C Black
Flying a Round has been a primary favourite for many years. It brings together 88 rounds and partner songs, from traditional nonsensical squibs via thought-provoking meditations to the ingenious elaboration of Britten's "Abram Brown". It is reissued with a singalong CD, complete with demonstration versions, instrumental accompaniments and sound effects. Choric frogs, bulging bears and stomach-rumbling duchesses all feature among the protagonists of these songs, whose cheerful simplicity contains a wealth of musical nourishment. Producing shifting harmonies with your friends is not only a pleasure, it's a vital aspect of education in how music works.