With preparations underway to reopen primary schools, we wanted to address the area of music in schools based on the new roadmap from the Department of Education and Skills. We have consulted Dr. Luke O Neill from Trinity College Dublin on the subject and have been following studies from around the world dealing with music performance and education.

There is little detail in the roadmap in terms of how music lessons should take place in practice, so we have highlighted the relevant sections and suggested how our music curriculum content for schools could fit in with the new recommendations and measures. All schools will have general measures in place and, as we will discuss, most musical activities will be safely covered by following these overall recommendations.

One of the most important aspects of the Roadmap to Opening Schools is to ensure that children feel safe, calm and happy to be back in school and this is where subjects like music can play an important role.


Our review of the new guidelines is based on the three main documents:

Supporting the wellbeing of school communities as schools reopen: Guidance for schools

Curriculum guidance for primary school leaders and teachers

COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe and sustainable reopening of Primary and Special Schools


Let’s look at the three main strands of the curriculum to see how each may be affected by the new guidelines:


Listening and Responding

Thankfully, this area of the curriculum can continue following the general school recommendations. This strand covers a huge amount of ground, including: learning about different genres and cultures, learning about rhythm and pulse by tapping and clapping along, and literacy by associating sounds and symbols. All of our listening material is presented through our online content with the teacher playing songs and videos from the front of the class. Responding to the music through movement, questioning and visual response through drawing and creative symbols can all be achieved following the general recommendations for the school.

Listening and responding to music can be a hugely positive shared experience for children and teachers alike. It’s a great way for children to connect with each other and to help with “fostering social connections and friendships” as the Guidance for Schools document recommends. We have also made all of our listening content available to parents to promote the wellbeing of the children and the school community as a whole. The role of music and the arts is mentioned specifically in the roadmap as a way to encourage wellbeing amongst children as they return to school:

“Many will benefit from relaxation techniques and calming activities, such as mindfulness, drawing, physical activity, music, and relaxation/ breathing exercises”

(Supporting the wellbeing of school communities as schools reopen: Guidance for schools)

We have added to our range of listening content this year to include more artist profiles, more music from around the world and a special series of radio shows about a range of genres, artists and instruments. We have also added interactive quizzes, again controlled by the teacher on the classroom computer or whiteboard.


Composing

Most of the composing activities will also be able to continue by following general school guidelines, with worksheets, pencils and paper being the only requirements. Our composition lessons begin with listening and responding activities that include exploring sounds and literacy. There is a strong focus on exploring non-singing vocal sounds particularly with younger classes. All composition activities link with the exploring sounds strand unit of listening and responding. This allows the children to use their own personal objects and body percussion to create musical sounds where school instruments cannot be used. We will go into using classroom instruments in more detail later.



Singing

Over the last number of months we have all come to realise that many everyday activities now pose a risk to varying degrees. Where an activity poses a higher risk, certain measures should be in place to mitigate this risk. Singing is one of those activities, so we will need to adapt certain aspects of song singing in school.

Choir practices/performances and music practices/performances involving wind instruments may pose a higher level of risk and special consideration should be given to how they are held ensuring that the room is well-ventilated and the distance between performers is maintained.

(COVID-19 Response Plan for the safe and sustainable reopening of Primary and Special Schools)

We contacted Dr. Luke O'Neill with some suggestions for a safe way to continue singing in school. He confirmed that humming, saying words in rhythm and exploring vocal sounds are low risk activities that are fine for the classroom but that any vigorous singing, over an extended period of time, should ideally take place either outdoors or in the school hall with good ventilation (turn indoors into outdoors).

Based on this advice we would suggest a method of song learning and singing that we feel is educationally beneficial and something the children will enjoy. We have also created a series non-vocal warm-up videos for singing with children’s choir expert Julie Shanley, which have been added to our song singing lessons. This applies to all songs in our curriculum which come with listening examples and backing tracks.



We have summarised this suggested method for singing in five simple steps:

  1. Listen to the song - talk about the song
  2. Learn the words and rhythm - say the words rhythmically over the song
  3. Hum along with the song to learn the melody
  4. Warm up for singing - stretch and breath
  5. Perform the song outside or in a well ventilated school hall with social distancing.

This method of song learning and song singing also limits the time that we are singing for which is another important factor in limiting risk. We realise that Ireland isn’t the best climate for outdoor singing but we think most children would love the idea of getting to sing outside for 5 - 10 minutes to finish up their singing lesson. All schools will have to decide what works best for them so if outside or the school hall isn't an option, then a well ventilated room with social distancing is the next best thing.

“Planning for more frequent use of this outdoor space across the curriculum will help children to adhere to social distancing, engage in physical activity and build their sense of wellness and contentment”.

(Curriculum guidance for primary school leaders and teachers)

Depending on the facilities in your school, you may want to use a portable speaker or have a speaker system set up in the school hall for backing tracks for singing activities. All of the songs in out curriculum are also available to parents as part of the parents' course so the singing can continue at home.


Performing with Instruments

Another high risk activity is the sharing of objects like musical instruments. We realise that in most primary schools instruments are not only shared within a class but between classes. Thankfully there are many creative solutions to the issue of classroom instruments. Our performance resources at DabbledooMusic do not rely on specific instruments but encourage children to find sound making objects in their environment to make music with. Of course if the teacher or any of the children play instruments, or even have simple percussion instruments at home, they can be brought into the classroom to join in too.


1. Body Percussion

Body percussion includes clapping hands, clicking fingers and stomping feet. It could also be rubbing hands together or shuffling feet to create textures.

2. Using personal items at their desk

Every child with a pencil has access to a range of different musical sounds at their desk. Hitting it off the wooded table top or the metal leg, using a lunchbox as a drum or a pencil case as a shaker. These are all effective sounds that can be used in a classroom performance.

3. Homemade instruments

We have added a number of lessons this year all about making homemade instruments including a video lesson from instrument maker Ed Devane. These lessons are perfect for combining with STEM ideas where you can explore different materials and what they sound like. A simple plastic bottle could be used as a low drum (hitting the side) a high drum (hitting the lid) and a shaker by filling it with rice, pebbles or pencils.

Musical Equipment/Instruments – To the greatest extent possible, instruments should not be shared between pupils and if sharing is required, the instruments should be cleaned between uses.

(Curriculum guidance for primary school leaders and teachers)

A common sense approach should be taken regarding the use of school instruments. Sharing tin whistles is out (it was never in!) but the use of instruments that be easily cleaned could be an option for your school. This might be saved for special occasions or spread out amongst classes so that enough time is left to clean instruments between use.


Parents’ Content

Over the school closures we created a parents' course which is now included as part of the DabbledooMusic subscription for schools. We had a great response from teachers and parents and we hope that this content will continue to support the children’s enjoyment of music in school and at home. The content is largely based on listening activities including artist profiles, songs and 14 special radio shows exploring different artists, bands and instruments from around the world.

“promoting a sense of belonging and connectedness – so that people experience having meaningful relationships with others who understand and support them”

(Supporting the wellbeing of school communities as schools reopen: Guidance for schools)

Music is an important way for people of all ages to socialise, empathise and understand each other and themselves. We hope that music can be an important part of the return to school and give teachers and children moments to relax, have fun, get creative and connect.


Find out more about our full curriculum for schools at DabbledooMusic.com