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Primary school music – Covid-secure ideas to kickstart your lessons

The virus has caused a decline in music education – use these simple Covid-secure activities to start teaching music again…

Peter Simons
by Peter Simons
DOWNLOAD A FREE RESOURCE! KS1/2 music lesson plan – Create a carnival-style samba band

Stop the music. No singing, no blowing, no scraping – Covid has come!

This is the message many teachers have received from their schools since March 2020 when the virus began to impact our education system. With so little support from the DfE on the matter, there’s been a huge decline in music being taught across the country.

Music is one of the key subjects that children learn, yet time and again I see the subject treated as an add-on; taught infrequently as a special treat or passed out to a local music service. However, by treating the subject in this way, children are really missing out on many important life skills.

Music helps develop pupils in so many ways and covers key metacognition areas which many schools are trying to address in their curriculum. But all is not lost, yet! Now is the moment to start the push back and make music one of the key subjects every child learns on a weekly (if not daily) basis.

Below are some simple ideas that can be used by anyone during Covid and beyond. Best of all, they can be applied to all year groups and abilities. Children won’t be developing just their musical skills – these activities touch on other areas of the curriculum without children (or you) even realising.

I hope they’ll motivate and inspire you to start delivering your music curriculum again. My advice is start small. Try one or two ideas out and build from there. You’ll be surprised how quickly children become musicians and the joy this can bring to your classroom.

Keeping the beat

Pulse is key to helping pupils develop their ability to play, sing and clap in time to music. Like any skill, it needs to be taught and nurtured. A child who has been sung to from an early age will find clapping a pulse really easy, but those who haven’t will struggle.

It’s vital that the first skill pupils learn is how to find the beat of the music.

I teach my children that pulse is the heartbeat of music. To find the pulse, listen to music, create dances and move different parts of the body in time to the music. For instance, punch the air, clap, tap your head, jump or pat your knees.

By doing this on a regular basis as a warm-up, all children will begin to find out what a musical pulse feels like and develop this essential skill. There are so many brilliant tunes out there to use, but my favourite is Wipeout by the Surfaris.

All ears

Musical games are vital for developing the listening skills of all pupils. We use hand drums but clapping or turning your chair into an African drum work just as well.

Start the listening section of your lesson by playing a short rhythm and allowing the children to copy it. Do this for a minute or so and then ask one of the children to become the teacher. It’s important that every child has a go at leading, so take your time with it.

Stop every now and again and ask why a rhythm was a good one to copy, or why that one was really difficult. This will help children understand that to be successful they have to keep their rhythms short and memorable.

You can then play a game called ‘pass the beat’. The idea is that the children must play their drum (or clap) as soon as the person next to them has played. The effect should be similar to a Mexican wave, but with drums.

Ask pupils to sit in a circle and choose a child to choose the direction and start the game off. Use a stopwatch to time the group. Once children have got the hang of it, they can try and beat their time and can come up with strategies to speed up the group.

This is great for developing children’s concentration skills. Add a level of challenge by regularly changing the direction of the beat.

Transferable skills

At my school I introduce different note lengths at different ages and pupils master these before moving on. In foundation stage we look at crotchets and quavers; in Y1 we add the crotchet rest; Y2 look at minim, minim rests and semibreve, and so on.

Over the years I’ve developed my own rhythm cards featuring tadpoles and frogs.

First, introduce each card to the children and talk about the note name and length. Counting to four, pupils can now try playing each card in turn. We use hand drums for this but you can easily clap, use pencils on tables or turn your chairs into African drums.

Next, while you keep a steady pulse, ask the children to have a go at playing all the cards without stopping. Finally, combine two cards and play two bars of music. Once children can read the notation you can start to have fun with these ideas:

  • Play two bars backwards
  • Split the group into two and have half play forwards and half backwards at the same time
  • Start groups off in a canon or round and keep repeating two bars
  • Try playing four bars
  • Tell certain groups of children that they can only play certain notes

Children can come up with ideas for extending this activity too. It’s a skill that is transferable to reading and will help develop pupils’ ability to speed read and look ahead.

I am extremely fortunate to work across a trust where music is considered to be of high importance and have been able to, with some mitigations, carry on with the music curriculum and keep children motivated, helping to protect their mental health through this difficult period.

We have to concede that for safety, restrictions are paramount and some elements of music in schools (due to room issues and ventilation) are not feasible currently, but don’t let this stop you. Embrace these changes as opportunities and unleash your creative side.

Now is the time to explore and teach music in a way that perhaps you haven’t thought about before.

Peter Simons is a Silver Pearson National Teaching Award winner and works at Thornhill Junior and Infant School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

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