For a child to grow up with an appreciation and desire to listen to music is a wonderful gift. Things like going to concerts or buying records is something that can be enjoyed throughout your life and is a fantastic way to experience and feel inspired by the creative output of others.
On the other end of the spectrum, for children to develop skills in musical composition offers a unique outlet for creativity and can produce a real sense of accomplishment from the completion of a new work.
However, it's musical performance which is, in my opinion, the most important and powerful of the three strands of music on the curriculum. To my mind, inspiring children to the point that they want to pursue musical performance (at any level) is the ideal end point of music education in the classroom.
The reason I think this is because I believe the ultimate goals of music are for it to be both a medium of expression and as an experience we can share with others. You can certainly express yourself through the types of music you like to listen to or from the compositions you create but it is performance that brings this expression to life and enables you to connect with the other people you perform with sometimes on a level beyond our conscious state.
While performing music in the classroom can seem like something we take for granted or which can seem be trivial, as a teacher just know that the activities you pursue in musical performance in the classroom can help move the children one step closer to developing this love for performing music which can in turn have a life long impact.
To help with understanding the best approach to take with this, here are our 9 practical tips for performing music in the classroom:
1. Listening to Music Helps as a Precursor to Performance
When I use to play in youth orchestras growing up, before we would go to rehearse a new piece of music we would all be required to get a recording of that piece and listen to it. This practice is done from youth music making level right through to the finest orchestras and ensembles in the world. Listening to a piece before you perform it helps you to understand things like the style of the music, the speed and most importantly how the melody goes.
If you want to learn a new song or piece to perform, getting the children to sit and listen a full recording of the piece will help inform their composition.
If you’re performing an instrumental piece, a good tip for managing this is to not hand the instruments out until after they've listened to the piece of music so that they don't get distracted!
2. Use Call and Response as an Introduction to Performance
If you can sing or play a melody or even clap a simple rhythm, a call and response is a great way to cross over between listening and performance. The children first have to listen and assimilate the musical information before performing it back to you as an imitation of what they heard.
Once the children understand the concept of this you can then ask one of the children to lead the exercise. This means they will have to compose on the spot in front of the rest of the class so that they can perform back his/her short composed sequence.
Incorporating different musical elements such as varying the dynamics or even the speed can be a great way to change up this exercise.
3. Get the Class Singing as Often as Possible
This could be as simple as singing a nursery rhyme for junior classes or it be could be performing a pop song they know; the important things is to choose songs that the children will enjoy singing and something that is easy for them to sing.
One thing to be aware of when children sing is to try to make sure they don’t shout or hurt their vocal cords. An important first step to ward against this is to do some easy warm-ups. These could be simply humming quietly on one note or doing a simple ‘do, re, mi’ call response exercise either with you singing or following a recording (like our Jazz Cat resource).
You can read more about our tips for singing in the classroom in our blog.
4. Use Body Percussion
Body percussion is something that we all have easy access to and allows a classroom of children to get inventive with the type of sounds that can be made from their body. An easy place to start is with obvious body percussion sounds such as hand claps and foot stomps. With just these two you can try and recreate some famous percussion beats in well known songs (for example We Will Rock You or The Friends theme tune).
You can also get creative and ask the children to come up with alternative body percussion sounds for a performance. Here’s a great video of Steve Hickman demonstrating the range of different body percussion sounds he can make:
If the class gets confident with body percussion, why not get them to accompany themselves to a song they have just learnt.
5. Get the Class Playing Simple Instruments
If your school has access to simple percussion instruments such as triangles or shakers, then again a good place to start is by performing along to a piece of music the children are familiar with. This can develop on to performances of new compositions or following along to a pre-existing score of some kind (such as one of our graphic scores).
When performing with instruments, we tend to recommend schools split their class into a maximum of 4 groups and choose different sounding instruments. Another important tip is to ensure that none of the instruments are too loud so that they don’t derail the entire lesson. The best way to avoid this is for you as the teacher to play each type of instrument as loud as possible before the class to ensure they are suitable.
Performances don’t have to be limited to percussion instruments and if you can get access to other tuned instruments such as tin whistles or keyboards this would also be great.
To read more about our advice for using instruments, check out our blog on using instruments in the classroom.
6. Get the Class to Swap Instruments
If you are using, for example, four different types of percussion instruments in the classroom asking the groups to swap instruments so that each child gets a chance to play each of the different instruments. This is a good way for the children to experience the variety of sounds from each instrument within a performance.
The other reason for this is because percussion instruments can have different levels of difficulty when they are performed. Of the most common instruments we tend to see in schools, shakers tend to be the easiest, then boomwhackers/drums, then chime bars and then triangles, which are typically the hardest. Swapping instruments allows each child the chance to build the dexterity for performing each of them.
7. Vary the Performance Style
Whether you're performing through singing, body percussion or instruments, once a class has developed a proficiency with the basic performance you can start to add additional layers of complexity.
An easy first step is by changing the dynamics of a piece. An example might be singing a first verse loud and then the second verse quiet. You can also change the dynamics gradually by indicating to the class through hand gestures when you want them get louder or when you want them get softer.
Other ways of varying the performance style can be through speed or tempo a piece is performed at or through elements like the length of the notes (whether you want them performed short and staccato or long and legato).
8. Perform to an Audience
Performing to an audience adds a new level of pressure to the art form in the same way that performing in a school play or public speaking does. Presenting music in front of a new group of people who are there to listen to you can seem daunting, but it’s also a great skill to practice and makes the activity all the more enjoyable - particularly if they get a round of applause!
You could organise this by simply teaming up with another teacher in the school to allow each class to perform in front of one other. This could be a song the class have learnt or a new rhythmic composition they have been working on. You could also organise a performance in front of the full school or parents at a Christmas or end of year concert.
9. Encourage the Class to Take Up New Instruments
The Irish primary music curriculum aims to give children the basics of music from which they will be equipped to go and explore music more in their life. The next step beyond this for the children could be learning an instrument or developing their singing voices further. If you as a teacher feel confident enough with teaching music, why not set up a school choir or traditional group. If that’s not something you’re able to do or feel confident with, you can still encourage the children to take part if such an outlet exists or, if it doesn’t, encourage the school community to set-up and invest in after-school groups or classes to help establish your school's musical culture even further.
I hope these tips have been useful and you are able to implement some of them in the classroom. The most important thing to remember, are the activities you as a teacher do in delivering the performance strand of the Irish primary music curriculum really can give children a great grounding in music which can impact their relationship with music for the rest of their lives.
If you enjoyed this blog, why not sign-up to our free pop songs for children course which gives teachers a list of suitable songs and their recordings which can be sung in the classroom: