Do you offer general classroom music lessons at your school? Are you keen on developing a rich music programme with your team that includes orchestras, choirs, bands and a pathway for instrumental players? Here's a potential system for doing just that.
There are 3 key elements to this system:
The first element starts with engaging all students in a rich general classroom music curriculum. This should be centred on 'doing, doing, doing' music. Beginning from your early years program all the way to your seniors, students should be making music as much as possible. There are multiple philosophical and pedagogical approaches to how this should be done (see my blog post here for some possible perspectives), so I won't spend time detailing them here. Either way, take time to develop a sequenced, age-appropriate curriculum that focuses on giving students amazing opportunities to truly engage with what Christopher Small would call 'musicking'.
There should also be plenty of opportunity to link what is happening with classroom music directly with other elements of the system. A particular curriculum sequence that I have used in primary music for many years is as follows:
Year 3 - Students begin recorder karate during classroom music lessons. This can be integrated throughout the year, or it can be approached as a longer unit of work.
Year 4 - Students continue recorder karate during classroom music lessons. At the end of year 4, music teacher/s choose keen students to join a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) to transition to the Toots and Doods. These are mini flutes/clarinets made from a strong plastic and are super affordable. They can be purchased by the school, loaned to students and then washed and cleaned, ready for the next group. They are made by a company called Nuvo - see here.
Year 5 - Students begin their special Toots and Doods CCA with a woodwind specialist. After roughly one term, students progress to the Clarineos and J Flutes. Again, these are affordable, lightweight and, importantly, highly durable instruments! Students continue to learn essential woodwind techniques for the rest of the year.
Year 6 - Students transition to clarinets and flutes (you could also include saxophones). These students can then also take individual lessons or join your orchestra. Students continue working as a woodwind ensemble throughout Year 6.
After a few years with a consistent approach, you should have a massive group of woodwind players at your school!
If you'd like to know more about a potential classroom music curriculum structure that we've used, please get in touch!
An instrumental programme is much like a private music tuition centre, except that it is based in your school. There are different ways of structuring this. The system that I adopted was as follows:
- The music department contracts the required music tutors to work at an hourly rate on campus. The rate of pay is consistent across all tutors. Tutors are formally interviewed and welcomed into the music department as members of staff. They are included in all music department social activities too.
- The music tutors are invited to demonstrate their instrument to students during a classroom music lesson. The tutor can explore the instrument with the students thoroughly and invite students to take lessons with them. A physical note is given to each interested student (yes, an actual piece of paper - it's amazing the power of a letter in our highly digitised school contexts!). I have seen instances where parents/caregivers have been invited to a presentation to show off all of the various instruments on offer. I have found this to be less effective because: a) it perpetuates that notion that parents/caregivers should choose what their children actually want to do, and; b) parents/caregivers may choose an instrument based on pre-conceived ideas about its social value.
- Students return the expression of interest form (signed by parents/caregivers) given during the instrument demonstration session and lessons are arranged, either during school hours or after hours, depending on the systems/policies at your school.
- Buying instruments: Obviously, this is highly dependent on access to budgets, however, my preferred set-up was to have the school purchase instruments and the music department loans them to students. It will be important to decide whether a fee is charged for the loan, or whether this is included in general school fees etc. I have used both systems over the years. My basic policy was that all students taking lessons must have an instrument to take home to use for practise.
- Students taking instrumental lessons should be encouraged to join a CCA ensemble as soon as possible (see next section).
Co-Curricular Activities (CCA's)
CCA's are where classroom music and an instrumental programme can come together to create some magical opportunities for students. All 3 elements of this system are equally as important (hence the circular nature of the diagram at the beginning of this article), but CCA's can be quite exciting. CCA's can draw nicely on student engagement and motivation in the other two areas.
My approach is to encourage all students taking instrumental lessons to join a CCA of some kind as soon as possible. That way their instrument learning is immediately applied through an experience of making music in a group. I like to make sure that plenty of beginner CCA's are available to provide maximum opportunities for early-stage musicians to be involved. These students are the foundation of the programme, so this makes sense to me.
One of my most enjoyable CCA's to run is the beginner orchestra. My approach to running a beginner orchestra is focused on inclusion and togetherness. Yes, there are a number of traditions that often define how an orchestra should be run, but I have found that by including two simple rules, I have been able to build motivated, engaged orchestra ensembles that play lovely music.
#1 All students in the beginner orchestra must be having lessons on their chosen instrument.
#2 All students in the beginner orchestra must have an instrument to practise with at home.
Other than that, I pretty much believe that anything goes. After all, I'd much rather have students playing music than worry about rigid rules and formalities, such as which instruments should/shouldn't be in an orchestra. In my mind, an orchestra is a community, a family, and a home for students. Obviously, a balance of timbres and ranges in the group would be ideal, but it's not the end of the world if it's not all perfectly balanced to begin with. The most important thing (in my mind) is to get students playing together and having fun! If you'd like some more tips about how I like to run orchestras, check out my article called "10 Tips For Organising Your Orchestra Rehearsal" by clicking here.
The other element that connects the instrumental programme to CCA's is by timetabling for, and paying for, my instrument tutors to join orchestra rehearsals each week. That way I can have my violin teacher, for example, sit in with the beginner violinists and support them (and me!) during rehearsal. They can help adjust technique, organise music, encourage individuals, and demonstrate parts to the violin section. This little idea has helped to make rehearsals run smoothly and has supported countless young musicians over the years to be better players. Instead of thinking I can do it all by standing at the front and waving my arms, this approach distributes leadership a little and empowers the instrumental tutors to support student learning. Total win!