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'Music - It's Good For The Soul' by Sophia Wallace

'Music - It's Good For The Soul' by Sophia Wallace

Here's a blog post written by Sophia Wallace and her experience as Music Leader at Rockliffe Primary School last year. 

I always think of teaching music like eating marmite, you either love it or want to run away and hide from it. I have always loved music and truly believe that it can be an inspirational force when used correctly. At Rockliffe Manor, we have worked to make music a central part of everyday life, from regular singing assemblies to weekly-taught music lessons in every class.

Universal languageThere are many benefits to music education. Firstly, early music education exposure appears to accelerate brain development in young children, particularly in the areas of the brain used for processing sound, language development, speech perception and reading skills. Music education research shows a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of objects). This kind of intelligence is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a book-bag with everything that will be needed for the day. Music can have a significant impact on children with special educational needs as it can be used as a method of communication. Studying music impacts the left side of the brain which is linked with language development; linking familiar songs to new information can help it become imprinted on young minds. Learning how to sing or play an instrument to a performance level can teach children the value of sustained effort and resilience, both values we hold highly at The Inspire Partnership. When children learn to make music together, they are taught the importance of teamwork and collaboration. They learn to listen to each other and develop a sense of trust. As well as working together, music also gives the children a means of self-expression and the opportunity to be individual, this can lead to greater self-esteem. Music can also help to develop skills that children will later use in the workplace, it teaches you how to perform in various situations and helps to develop physical skills. Lastly and most importantly, music helps children to conquer their fears and to take risks, this helps them to fulfil their full potential.

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With all these benefits in mind, I wanted teachers to feel comfortable with teaching music even if they didn’t feel as passionately about it as I do. I wanted music to be something enjoyed by the children, that opened their ears to new experiences and that they could enjoy together. We had been working on the profile of music for a little while at Rockliffe, through regular singing assemblies; the introduction of a school choir; the first Spring concert, where children were able to show off their instrumental skills as well as their singing abilities and the introduction of instrumental lessons, which allowed children who wouldn’t normally be able to access lessons to experience learning a new instrument. I was also able to reflect on the teaching of music across the Partnership through meeting with the Music Hub. We created progression documents for music which allowed us to consider the key elements we wanted the children to learn throughout their music education. These actions had raised the profile of music across the school and our next step was in developing teacher confidence to teach fulfilling music lessons in which the children were being exposed to new music and learning musical skills. For us at Rockliffe, this is where Charanga came in.

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When considering the teaching of music we know that listening and appraising are two of the key skills that children need to learn. This can sometimes be hard to resource for, do I choose music the children have heard before? Should I stick to classical music? Shall I just play them music that I enjoy and show them how cool I am? Well, it’s a bit of a yes and no to all these questions. The children need to be exposed to a wide range of genres, styles and time periods of music; this allows them to start to form opinions of what they like but also teaches them an appreciation of different types of music even if they wouldn’t choose to listen to it all the time. Classical music gives the children a chance to experience the sounds of the orchestra; we can talk about orchestral families and the pictures the music creates in the mind. Modern songs give the children a chance to connect with songs that they recognise and that, as teachers, we can sometimes feel passionately about. At Rockliffe, we found that Charanga gave us access to lots of different types of music that we could expose the children to and gave us the starting points with regards to the types of questions we could ask the children to think about while they were listening.

Alongside the performing part of each unit there is also the composing element for the children to complete. The composing area of the unit allows the children to be creative and improvise within given parameters so that their compositions can be played within the performance of the main song. The composing area is made of different levelled challenges for the children to work through and complete. They are organised in levels of Bronze, SIlver and Gold so that as a teacher you can include differentiation within the lesson by allowing the children to work through at their own pace. The challenges consist of repeating patterns set within the section and building up to complete pupil improvisation using selected notes. There is often an extension to the composing element where vocal improvisation can also be used alongside instrumental improvisation.

For the final performance, you can select singing or singing plus instrumental parts. This last performance rounds off the unit and teaches the children the skills they need to be able to create a complete rendition of the song.

One of the fantastic things about using Charanga is how enthused it has made everyone at Rockliffe about teaching and learning music. Teachers enjoy working with music they know - from The Beatles to ABBA - and the children enjoy recognising some of the different bands and songs too. One teacher told me, "Teaching music is so much fun now. It’s easier now I definitely know I’m covering all the objectives and the children love the different songs they get to perform." Our Year 5 teacher also told me, "I love getting the instruments out now because the children love it so much and I feel like I know how to help them and how to move them forward." From a music leader’s perspective, this is exactly what I wanted the impact of changing our approach to music to be.

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The children also expressed how much they enjoy music now. They started to ask their teachers if they could have music lessons more regularly. One child in Year 5 was particularly upset that he kept missing part of his music lesson because he had to leave early each day. He requested that music was taught earlier in the afternoon so that he didn’t miss anything. Children throughout the school have been enjoying music and have been exposed to a wider range of music genres than we’ve offered before.

Music has become a big part of our curriculum and everyone understands how it can benefit all children. Our new approach to the teaching of music has changed the way we feel about it as a community. My next aim for Music at Rockliffe Manor is to be able to share the new skills the children have learnt with the wider community, through regular performances. I also want to encourage more children to have individual and paired music lessons, so that as many children as possible have the experience of learning either piano or guitar. From a Partnership perspective, the next step is to create our own music curriculum, which would represent the different communities we serve; make links to our global curriculum and continue to challenge our children’s thinking in order to give them as many diverse experiences as possible. My lasting hope is that we can encourage children to have a love of music and an appreciation of all different genres of music so they can benefit from it the way I have.      


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