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Music is a compulsory element of the national curriculum in England for all children up to the age of 14. The songs we end up learning at school often stick in our minds for a lifetime, demonstrating the powerful effect that it can have on us.
Whether you are an expert musician eager to produce a show-stopping primary school Christmas musical that shows off all the skills your class members or year group have learnt, or are just a class teacher who wants some advice about the primary music curriculum and how to teach it, look no further.
Looking for the music programmes of study for KS1, KS2 and KS3? Find them here.
Quality, child-centred music lessons at school can develop children’s brains, increase IQ and develop children’s ability to problem-solve. Many studies have shown that high-quality musical learning has profound benefits for children in terms of wellbeing, academic achievement and the development of emotional and social skills.
The national curriculum in KS1 and 2 says that music lessons “should engage and inspire pupils to develop a love of music and their talent as musicians, and so increase their self-confidence, creativity and sense of achievement.”
Studies have shown that music activities in Early Years facilitate many different aspects of development and learning, providing one of the most effective influences on young people’s brain development at this key age.
Music is a multisensory experience and involves three ways of learning: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. It has been shown to activate all three cortices (motor, visual and auditory) of children’s brains.
In fact, Anita Collins, a neuroscience and education researcher has described the effect of it as “like fireworks going off in the brain [...] Music is a whole brain workout.”
The primary music national curriculum for KS1 and KS2 covers the following:
Teaching music in primary school requires facilitating children to “perform, listen to, review and evaluate music across a range of historical periods, musical genres, styles and traditions, including the works of the great composers and musicians”.
In order to fulfil these requirements - and satisfy a potential Ofsted deep dive - you need to make sure that through your music teaching you are covering each skill and element.
As Dr Elizabeth Stafford, director of Music Education Solutions, points out, when it comes to different types and genres, “the film music of John Williams, a song by The Beatles, the jazz of Miles Davis and the musicals of Sondheim could all be classed as being the very best of their respective genres and therefore worthy of study in their own right.”
The national curriculum for music in KS1 and 2 doesn’t provide any structural advice for curriculum design beyond end-of-Key-Stage expectations. It states that as pupils progress, they should “develop a critical engagement with music, allowing them to compose, and to listen with discrimination to the best in the musical canon.” Read more here.
The national curriculum aims to ensure that all pupils:
The KS1 music curriculum states that pupils should be taught to:
The KS2 music curriculum states that pupils should be taught to:
In Key Stage 2, children should be taught to sing and play musically with increasing confidence and control. They should understand musical composition, organising and manipulating ideas within musical structures and reproducing sounds from aural memory.
As discussed above, the curriculum for KS2 involves school students learning about musical notation (the way that songs are written down so players know the duration and pitch of the notes they are meant to play). Each note is worth a certain amount of beats. Here are some music note names to explore with your class members:
When you were young, you may remember primary school musical instruments consisting of a few dusty glockenspiels and a maraca or two. Nowadays, if you’re thinking about buying musical instruments for kids at your school, the choice is much greater.
Ukuleles have replaced recorders as the musical instrument of choice in many primary classrooms. They are easy to use and have a pleasant sound that is popular with kids.
Ocarinas are also seen as an affordable and simple way to get a whole class playing tuned instruments.
Tuned percussion instruments such as xylophones and marimbas are a great way to cover the KS1 music aims. Use them to accompany the choir in your weekly singing assembly.
Boost children’s musical knowledge by kicking off your next lesson with these music facts:
Here are some simple ideas from Sue Newman, director of Boogie Mites Music Programmes, to develop children’s literacy skills through musical play:
The following musical activity is based on Andrea Pyne’s ‘Don’t clap this one back’ idea:
Mary Isherwood, headteacher at Camberwell Park School in Manchester, suggests the following music activities:
Music therapy is a technique that uses music to encourage children who find it difficult to express themselves verbally to share their feelings. It’s not about teaching children how to play musical instruments. Instead, it’s about using musical elements to help young people to fulfil their potential.
Within school settings, therapists may work with children to prevent exclusion, help to re-integrate students, or to boost a child’s psychological or emotional development.
As headteacher Mary Isherwood points out, music can be a motivator and a reward. It can be calming and relaxing in some situations and stimulating and engaging in others.
The key to using music effectively is to know your students well, and what you are trying to help them to achieve.
Search YouTube for ready-to-go calming playlists and use them when children are doing independent work or during meditation sessions. Classic FM recommends the following pieces of relaxing classroom music for children:
If you’re looking for a fun song for kids to sing to start off the new school year, this download includes free sheet music for piano and vocals, an audio backing track and lyrics sheets.
Combine music and Spanish language skills in KS2 with this series of short activities for children based around The Carnival of the Animals by Saint Saens.
Charanga Music features a large library of resources, songs, instrumental courses and creative apps. Find out more here.
Music Express is a digital primary resource. Take a look here.
Everything you need for every subject across Key Stages 1 and 2.