How can we teach music during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Music can and should be taught to all pupils, statesUK Government
The Music Playtime About Us section contains detailed COVID-19 guidance on teaching music safely. In brief, singing is possible, subject to sufficient space and ventilation but, if you can't sing at present, consult theAll About Music Playtime section for the safest, non-singing activities.
Try the Spaceship Game for keeping children safely spaced. Using the largest space available e.g. outside or school hall, line the children up, safely spaced, having already put out safely-spaced hula hoops, one per child.
Each child walks to an empty hoop as you say their name, as below. The children clap in time as you say the rhyme. They will stand or sit one per hoop, facing the same way, for safe singing.
Sophie go to your spaceship
We're going to sing, and say a rhyme
Harry go to your space ship
We're going to sing and clap in time
Listen to the rhyme with clapping once you are logged in, in the Introductory section to Ourselves & Our Friends (both EYFS and KS1).
What do I get when I subscribe to Music Playtime?
Your FREE trial lasts for two weeks - no card needed! Subscriptions are annually renewing and you can cancel at any time after the first payment (you still get a whole year's access). Choose from:
- EYFS (15 topic-based units) £70 per year
- Key Stage 1 (15 topic-based units) £70 per year
- EYFS & Key Stage 1 (all 30 units) discounted to £120 per year
Each unit contains topic-based ideas and demonstrations with advice, sound files and videos, focused on the elements of music and covering the complete range of activities required for a balanced music education:
- Introductory Activities
- Songs and Chants
- Skills and Games
- Create and Explore
- Listening, Appraising and Movement
- Cross-curricular Activities
How do I cancel my subscription?
Cancelling is simple - just log in, go to your Settings and click Cancel. That's it!
Can I subscribe to Music Playtime for just one year?
If you know you want to subscribe for just one year, take out your subscription then log in and click Cancel to prevent it from renewing. You'll still be able to use Music Playtime until the date when it would have renewed.
Where do I begin with Music Playtime?
All the activities are suitable for young children. The Early Years level is designed for children aged 3-5; the Key Stage 1 level extends the children's musical skills and understanding into years 1 and 2. However, children's musical development depends just as much on what they have experienced as on their general childhood development so Music Playtime is ideal for mixed-age groups too. Please begin with the first topic, Ourselves and our Friends because this contains information you'll need for the other units. There is gentle progression through the topics, although they are self-contained and you don't necessarily have to keep to the given order, or to do them all.
What do you mean by 'sing-song' voices?
The best help teachers can give little children is to start simple and build on a secure foundation; this is why the Music Playtime songs begin with a very limited range of notes. The earliest sung vocalisations that children around the whole world produce are what we call a minor third interval, in other words two notes such as G to E (which you can easily play on chime bars.) It's the two notes that we chant when calling a friend's name in a sing-song way (there's a demo in the first topic to help you). If an activity suggests using sing-song voices, it means that you should sing in this way. This easy interval is often used in the EYFS level activities and the range is extended gradually at Key Stage 1 level.
How do I teach a Music Playtime song?
Children can learn a song by picking it up gradually as other children sing it. If there's a song you sing every day, such as a goodbye song, new children will hear it often enough to join in without any formal learning. It's the natural way in which songs are passed on down the generations and it's how folk songs survive without being written down.
To teach a new song, use a First Me, Then You approach. You could sing the song enthusiastically yourself first, or use the demo track. Unless the song is very simple, go through the words in a rhythmical way to start with. First point at yourself and say a little phrase eg 'Twinkle twinkle little star' then point towards the children indicating that they should say it with you. Repeat this to practise getting it right. Then teach, 'How I wonder what you are', and so on. Do this with each line of the song and then gradually put it all together until the children know the words of whole verse or song.
Next, use First Me, Then You to teach the song (words and tune) a phrase at a time. Some teachers prefer to preface this by teaching just the tune to lah lah lah sounds. Sometimes ask the children to sing without you singing, so you can give feedback on how they sounded - you'll see in the videos how I give feedback with the help of a puppet called Mrs Crocosaurus. Sometimes allow confident children to sing on their own. Ask for everyone singing and for beautiful voices, not loud voices. Finally, you might divide the group into two, ask them to sing for each other, then talk about how it sounded; this way the children are also practising purposeful listening.
How were the Music Playtime songs chosen?
The songs are specially chosen to be singable in tune by young children. The voice is a 'grow-your-own' instrument and it can take young children a long time to 'find' their singing voice as opposed to their ordinary talking voice, particularly if their parents have not sung with them. Young children do not have the capacity to keep in tune if they sing very loudly, despite being able to produce ear-splitting shrieks! It's better to ask children to sing beautifully than to sing loudly.
Although children can vocalise a wide range of pitches, they are still learning how to control the pitch (imagine trying to sing an operatic aria if you are not a trained singer!). Many Disney songs and songs from shows have difficult intervals (the distance between two notes) and an extensive high to low pitch range that young voices cannot correctly reach. Songs that are difficult to sing are not included here, but children will love to listen and jig around to them and, of course, it's fine for them to join in with the singing in this context.
Which instruments do we need for Music Playtime and where can I buy them?
Improvised musical instruments are easy and fun to make but, should you be looking to buy some instruments, we suggest the Percussion Plus brand (UK-based). Here are some reasonably-priced suggestions:
Tuned Percussion Instruments
A set of single chime bars.
Medium rubber beaters such as the Percussion Plus PP068 orange ones (hard ones make too much noise!)
Untuned Percussion Instruments
A World Rhythm percussion pack containing 16 interesting, different instruments.
If your budget allows, some alto xylophones and a tenor xylophone would be great too. Don't bother buying the 'chromatic half' of a xylophone because you'll virtually never need to use it.
I recommend Percussion Plus instruments simply because I think their instruments are the best - sturdily made, beautiful to look at and excellent sound quality!
How do I avoid chaos when using instruments?
Children get excited in music lessons because they are being active with their bodies as well as their minds. You need to protect your everyone's hearing by making sure the decibel level is not too high and ensure everyone's safety by controlling the use of musical instruments and beaters.
Here are a few tips:
- Have the children sit in a circle so that you can see everyone clearly.
- Have a Stop and Quiet signal - when you silently raise both hands, the children copy you.
- Have the instruments set out in a way that is easy to access, not all in a basket.
- Give positive instructions in the right sequence, e.g. "Jack, please fetch a shaker. Now put the shaker down in front of you. Now sit with hands on knees until I ask you to play it."
- If you use beaters, make sure they are soft-headed to minimise the noise level.
- Use differentiation - give the younger or less able pupils less complicated tasks.
- Use scaffolding - a more capable child can help a less advanced child and both will benefit.
- Guide the exploration - always give an actual task e.g. ask a child to find out the difference when they either bounce their hand off a drum or keep their hand on the drum.
- Praise sensible behaviour - "Well done for putting the instruments away so quietly."
What is modelling?
Modelling is a very effective way of teaching in the context of music education. It simply means that the teacher does a musical activity or action first which the children then copy. An example would be the teacher and classroom assistant demonstrating the movements for the song, Tommy Tucker's Dog (Early Years: Skills & Games, Pets and Other Animals unit) in which the children learn to cross hands and turn in a half-circle.
How can we talk with children about music?
When we give a child the vocabulary to talk about something, we enable better learning and perception. This applies to us all - for example, if we call all music just 'music' we don't notice as much detail as if we call it pop, jazz or classical. Then we start to narrow it down further; pop could be 'rock' and 'rock' can be 'heavy metal'. We hear the differences more easily if we listen or play with someone who uses the words that describe them.
Fortunately, all music can be described and differentiated by referring to its elements. It's really useful to understand these and to have the right words in our own vocabulary to pass on to children so that we can talk about the music we play, sing, hear and invent. The elements of music make one kind of music recognisable from another. To make it easier to talk about music we give these elements special names and we can focus attention on each one at a time, or on more than one at a time. Most of the elements apply to all music, whether sung or played. If you are not familiar with them don't worry because you'll learn as you go on and you'll find an explanation of all of them in the glossary.
Why is music-making important for young children?
The main reasons are that music is intrinsically rewarding, educationally important and culturally significant. Every child has the right to a music education. As an added bonus, musical learning illuminates other curricular areas and helps children's development in these ways:
- communication and listening skills
- motor skills
- personal, social and emotional growth
- expressiveness and imagination
- curiosity, exploration, creative thinking and critical thinking.
What is the difference between composing, improvising and playing by ear?
Picking out a tune you already know is generally called playing by ear. It's different from improvising, which means spontaneously making up music within a planned framework. It's also different from composing, which is making up your own original music from scratch. I've found, when teaching adults, that their default response to being asked to make up music is that they try to play a tune they already know whereas children are happy to doodle around and come up with something original. If the children simply play the bars of a xylophone up and down again, limit their choices by removing some of the bars and keeping just C, D, E, G and A (a pentatonic scale, as explained within some of the topics). You'll find that the quality of their creation improves.