'I realise that my class can't read, but you must remember that I'm not a reading specialist
- and besides, what would the secondary school have to do if I'd already done their work for them?'
|Imagine that spoken by a junior or middle school teacher, then imagine the cries of horror that
would immediately follow it. It is inconceivable that any teacher would even think along those lines. The development of literacy skills
is such a fundamental part of a teacher's role that it is almost impossible to consider the teaching process without
touching on some aspects of reading.
But if the unthinkable statement above began, 'I realise that my class can't read music, but you must remember
that I'm not a music specialist...' then quite a different reaction occurs. Heads nod sympathetically, teachers
understand the problem and the vast majority of our children continue to leave primary school as musical illiterates.
For despite the jack-of-all trades nature of primary teaching, music is still the odd subject out. Class teachers
with no scientific training teach basic science skills; those with no knowledge of football have a stab at running
a match (rule book in hand, perhaps!), and the system works very well. There are few teachers who would think of
opting out of art and craft with the excuse 'I'm not artistic.' And this is the crunch. For too long music has
been the property of the specialist, she who possesses insight into strange marks and squiggles on pieces of paper
and who will communicate something of these mysteries to your class while you take hers for handwriting. I think
the picture is uncomfortably familiar!
Most of us have willingly collaborated in this, believing it to be in the student's best interests ('I don't know
the first thing about music, and I'd probably put them off it for life'), while being rather glad we haven't got
to take that dreaded first lesson. The music specialists, with the best intentions in the world, have sympathised
with our fears and let us off the hook. Only they haven't really, because in the final analysis only a tiny fraction
of our primary students leave their schools with any knowledge of musical notation or instrumental skills at all.
Live Recorder is a response to these problems. It is
a course in basic musical literacy, to be taught by complete beginners to classes with no previous experience of music. It
can, of course, be used with smaller groups, but its main purpose is to be used by all students and taught by all teachers - or indeed by
all parents at home!
It has the following aims:-
1. To equip the student with a basic proficiency in playing the descant recorder.
2. To enable the student to decode, interpret and respond to written music notation. Further, to enable him or
her to use and apply that skill in writing their own music.
3. To show the student the direct links between playing an instrument and reading music.
4. To encourage the student to participate actively in music making.
5. To open up to the student a glimpse of the joy in learning and using music, and thereby to lay the foundations
on which their music can develop and grow.
The key to Live Recorder is the CDs or cassettes, recorded
on which are background accompaniments to play along with, together with recorded demonstrations of new rhythm
patterns and notes. These are all indicated by the cassette symbol. The practice exercises which precede each 'set
piece' are designed to develop new skills as gradually as possible, and of course it is very important that the
students have plenty of time to try writing their own practice pieces where indicated. (This also allows the teacher
time to catch breath!)
One of the reasons for the apparent 'wordiness' of the text, and the large number of questions, is that the student
can read through Live Recorder as a group with the teacher,
or as individuals with their parents. Hence the text is aimed at the student, with a sidelong glance at the inexperienced
Naturally, no tuition system has all the answers, and some students will need a great deal of encouragement and
reinforcement before they suddenly discover they can read and play music. But to work towards that self-discovery
and watch it happen is a quite devastating experience for any teacher who has had no musical training at all. We
have too long convinced ourselves that it is an experience beyond our reach - 'but you must remember that I'm not
a music specialist'. It is time to put music back in the hands of the class teacher.
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