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When little ears get the big picture

'The inspector's mouth dropped open.' Jay Deeble describes one way to have an OFSTED music success

When I read about music teacher who had been criticised by an Office for Standards in Education inspector for making her music lessons too much fun (TES, December 14, 2001) I wrote in her defence to newspapers, to OFSTED, and to my MP. The Order says that students' enjoyment should be encouraged as well as their learning. That seemed to be that.

However, I now have the balancing story. I was talking to a primary colleague about her recent OFSTED inspection, which for her had been a good experience. She visits her school weekly to deliver music across the age range and has been doing so for just over a year.

She has always worked from a Kod ly methodology, that is, getting the pupils to sing, internalise aurally and then apply this in other situations. As part of her OFSTED lesson she had written a well-known melody on the board in manuscript. This was not prepared with the pupils in advance. She asked them to prepare the melody in their heads and then to sing it out loud as a group. Apparently the inspector's mouth dropped open: she had never seen that before in a music lesson.

The pupils had experienced music lessons which developed their natural skills in the same way as they had learned language. As very young children they had heard language used by their families and had started to copy sound and words themselves. They then used language to communicate. Later, they learned how to record a sound as a symbol and then to read collections of these symbols. That is what these children had done in music lessons, only it had been achieved over a shorter timescale.

They had enjoyed a rich aural experience where they had learned many different songs. They had internalised intervals (steps, skips and jumps) and could reproduce them accurately. Then they had learned how to place this limited vocabulary on a score and had moved on to a full stave. They read intervals and were secure in their simple rhythm patterns. So for them to read a simple melody within a limited melodic range and with no "trick" rhythm patterns was easy. Those children are ready to move on to music-making at a higher level, if someone picks up this experience.

For me, the aural approach, which mirrors the method of language learning that children pursue naturally, is the only way to teach. Children are programmed to process sounds in this way in order to communicate and so they can do this with non-verbal sounds, too.

Yes, some children take a little longer to do it than others; the same is true of language, but we do not abandon a method just because some children do not find it easy. We seek additional methods of support. Both the Orff Society and the British Kod ly academy run weekend and summer courses for teachers to introduce them to solf ge (applying solf-fa to a musical scale or melody)and they seem to be a good investment. In this case, they made an inspector's jaw drop - and what higher recommendation could anyone have?

You can find details of these on the Orff Society ( and British Kod ly Academy ( websites, or e-mail me at

Jay Deeble is press officer for the School Music Association, 71 Margaret Road, New Barnet, Hertfordshire EN4 9NT. Tel: 020 8440 6919

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