Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Shadowing a creative music-making day in a primary school August 1, 2010

On Tuesday 13 July I observed a day in the life of a music teacher at a primary school in Oxford.


I was impressed to see how music was used as a crowd control. As soon as the CD was turned on it gained the pupils’ attention and they listened (fairly) quietly and it kept them occupied as the rest of the school filed in. The assembly was based on a dance that year 3 had created after looking at the The Arnolfini Portrait. Again, I was impressed how respectfully the other pupils watched.

Choir rehearsal

The auditioned choir had a second rehearsal of a pupil’s composition, which will be sung at a performance at the end of term. With the support of another teacher leading the sopranos, the teacher taught the tunes by played the melody on the piano and the pupils singing it back. Certain difficult passages were isolated and an octave interval was demonstrated by singing ‘Somewhere over the rainbow.’

Free lesson

While normally spent preparing for the next lesson, I heard about the teacher’s career progression and what the classes had been working on this year. One of the themes had been opposites, looking at high and low, happy and sad and night and day.

Year 3 Class 1

The class cut out pictures with corresponding words to describe them with Morse code underneath to depict the rhythmic lengths. Once they had decided which order to stick down the pieces of paper, they performed the rhythmic notation on percussion instruments. At first, I though it was a excessive to have the pictures, but I realised that it helped the pupils decide which order to place the musical notation, as they could create a story using the character and situations. It was very interesting to see how they worked in pairs to produce the performance, some dividing the work, others alternating between long and short note values and groups joining together to perform in a round. The Morse code as well as matching it to the rhythm of words was a great way to simplify musical notation and all the pupils completed the task without too much difficulty.

Year 3 Class 2

The class rehearsed and then performed their Alice in Wonderland compositions to the class. They had previously discussed the story and identified moments such as the running rabbit, falling down the hole, growing and shrinking etc. Typically, they used descending and ascending scales to depict growing and shrinking and a cymbal crash for Alice landing at the bottom of the hole. The pupils had carefully thought about ways to depict these actions, though it was sometimes hard to follow as an observer not knowing their exact version of the story.

Year 5 Class 1

The class re-created a Samba Carnival. The pupils were tested to see if they could choose an instrument according to the teacher’s brief. At first they echoed the teacher’s rhythmic patterns set to words and then structured a short composition by building up rhythmic passages. We then processed around the playground performing our composition.

Year 5 Class 2

The final class of the day created Jungle compositions to be used as background music for a wildlife documentary. They had to think of a beginning, middle and end but otherwise were given the freedom of which instruments to use and how to use them. This produced some very imaginative compositions with animal calls, repeated patterns and atmospheric sounds.


I learnt how classroom lessons can be fun and creative though a lot of time is spent getting the pupils to collaborate. Unlike family workshops there is less adult supervision, which gives the children more control on the direction they want to take their work, but more scope for digression. Furthermore, I didn’t realise it was an option to take a PGCE in primary school level music, which is certainly something I am looking into. I remember Primary school music lessons being torture for me when I was younger, but having a specialised teacher means that the lessons can be more adventurous and varied – equally stretching all abilities.


One Response to “Shadowing a creative music-making day in a primary school”

  1. Louise Says:

    It’s interesting to see how someone else sees things. You do spend a lot of time on “social” things with this age – if they are not happy, they don’t work, so we develop strategies for group work to try and get them to work with lots of different friends and abilities. Not sure if you CAN do PGCE in primary music – I just did a PGCE!

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