Category Archives: Music

Producing a School Production – Top Tips

Following a recent post about choosing productions to put on in my school I began reflecting on what I’ve learnt over the years of producing, directing, choreographing, etc numerous shows, musicals, plays and concerts.

Here are my tips for putting on a successful production and, hopefully, staying sane at the same time.

  1. Get help. You need costumes, props, dance routines, lighting, sound and staging, not to mention singing and acting practice. This should not be attempted individually by anybody, let alone a full time teacher. Ask for help. I was fortunate enough to have a student teacher with a dancing background one year and this was a great help. I’ve also been lucky enough to make the most of some talented staff members who are both artistically creative and generous with their time. This may not always be the case and should not be taken for granted, but given enough time and a clear role, most people who work in schools will like to help if they can. Failing that, get your Head to ‘assign’ help.
  2. Plan ahead. Get to know the script well before casting. This will avoid giving the confident but tone deaf child a solo you hadn’t spotted. Make some kind of rehearsal schedule so you know what scenes you’ll be working on during each session and who you will need. Identify the big scenes with most of the cast members in to rehearse at Drama Club or such like, it is easier to snatch moments with key cast members to rehearse smaller scenes as the performance date approaches.
  3. Learn the songs. Obviously. But learn them as far in advance of the production as possible so the children can dance and act freely without worrying too much about the lyrics. This also means the whole ensemble will sing loudly, confidently and hopefully tunefully come the big night.
  4. Keep it simple. Well, as simple as you can. No-one watching is expecting a Tony Award winning production. Most parents just want to see their kids say a line or 3 and they are hoping the show isn’t too long! If it’s actually quite funny as well then that’s great. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to deliver something that is perfect because that is impossible. It’s really, really hard work to put on any production, it’s more important that as many children as possible feel they are part of it, have contributed and most important of all, that they have fun doing it. Speaking of which…
  5. Have fun. This is one of the precious few times in school where your children get a chance to perform. For some, it might be the only thing at school that they feel any good at. It can often be the thing they remember most about school in the years to come, so make sure they have a positive experience.

Producing a School Production – Moving to Musicline

When I joined my current school they had a growing reputation for fantastic, memorable and somewhat lavish productions. Famous shows, big, outdoor staging, expensive costumes and hired sound equipment including radio mics for leading cast members.  It all meant for fantastic and enduring performances for the children involved and the audiences alike. I was very impressed with what I saw, and was part of, in my first year we put on ‘The Lion King’ and in my second year it was ‘Footloose’. Doing shows the children had heard of meant there was a buzz about the productions long before any performances.

However, as staff changed, budgets tightened and I became responsible for the Summer Productions, I felt the burden of responsibility to produce a quality performance, just, with less lofty ambitions. Searching for a show to put on I came across www.musiclinedirect.com. A company who write shows specifically for primary schools. Although their stories are often well known, they do not have the famous named productions that we had used in the past, but that means the rights to put them on are considerably cheaper (like hundreds of pounds cheaper). Conscious that cheaper shows may mean poorer quality I was keen to sample the script and music, these are readily available on their website. The scripts are funny (actually funny to grown ups and everything) and the music is good, not ‘Mercury Prize winning good’, but ‘catchy pop song good’ and the songs are largely easy to sing and learn. This a massive bonus.

So we went for ‘Shakespeare Rocks‘ (well it was Shakespeare’s anniversary that year wasn’t it?). The script and music didn’t disappoint. With speaking roles for over 40 children it was a real ensemble piece. This meant more children had more lines and felt more involved than in previous years. While the songs weren’t previously known to the children, they certainly had a familiar sound to them and some were incredibly catchy.

The following year we went for ‘Robin and the Sherwood Hoodies’ and again the show was fantastic. This year I also invested in the dance routines. These are very simple, but it was just one less thing I had to worry about. We had different groups of children in at lunch times and could just play the clip for their dance and crack on. Simple but effective. All of the moves are well within the children’s capabilities which enables them to focus on doing the simple things well which is important in making a coherent production with a bit of quality.

With both shows we have done the humour shines through. Many jokes the children understood and enjoyed sharing with the audience and more than a few were just for the parents. If you enjoy a cheesy pun, then you’ll love a Musicline production.

One gripe is that Musicline could do something about having more female leading characters. Logistically it would help as I have many more girls than boys auditioning for parts. But more importantly I think it sends the wrong message to our children that males are the heroes of all these stories. To be fair, this is a problem in theatre on the whole, as it is in films, literature and other art forms.

Having found, enjoyed and grown to trust Musicline musicals I look forward to exploring more of their catelogue of productions and seeing what they come up with in the future.

Using ICT in Primary Music – with Musical Futures

As the music leader at my school I was on the look out for some training that would give me some ideas that I could use in my own teaching and pass on to other members of staff.  Thanks to twitter I came across a course called Finding Your Voice, run by Musical Futures. You can find out all about them by visiting their website for yourself (and I recommend that you do) but given the course outline it seemed perfect for my needs.

Today I attended this training and was not disappointed. They gave us loads of practical tips and activities to try in our schools but also a range of different ICT that they use to support Music teaching. This was particularly helpful for schools with limited resources and budgets. Again, check their website for the resources, including some excellent vocal warm-ups, but I wanted to use this post to share some of the ICT used and suggest some that I use already.

LOOPY – app

loopy

Loopy, as the name suggests, is used for looping sounds. There are a few looping apps available for iOS but this one is particularly child-friendly. I’ve long since been a big fan of Keezy, but Loopy offers quite a bit more. Unlike Keezy, Loopy allows you to actually loop, making composition easier and you can also get a rather handy metronomic count in. Create music by layering looped recordings of singing, beatboxing or playing an instrument.

A top tip is to go to settings and switch the ‘monitoring’ and ‘live input recording’ to off before recording, in order to avoid feedback. Loopy is available from the from the App Store for £2.29.

SoundCloud

soundcloud

 

We all worry about how we show progress. James Emberley, the secondary music teacher who delivered the Musical Futures training, presented SoundCloud as part of the solution. It is an online audio distribution platform that enables the user  to upload, record, promote and share their originally recordings.

Record at the start of a scheme of work as a baseline and then record again a few weeks later. Hey-presto PROGRESS recorded, without the need for the student to write anything down. If you record using the free AudioCopy app, you can upload directly to SoundCloud.

Launchpad – by Novation – app

launchpad

I have been using Launchpad for a while to create compositions across a variety of genres including Hip Hop, Trance and Drum & Bass. You can build layers and make arrangement without the fear of going out of time.

We’ve used it this year with our Year 3s as accompaniment to their performance poetry. It’s been great for teaching the children about tempo especially, but also dynamics, structure and texture.

Others…

As I come across more apps and tools that I particularly like I will update this post, but for now, here are some other apps worth exploring. GarageBand, Drummer (by Keezy) and the guitar and piano apps by Smule. While these other blogs have more useful suggestions Musical Futures and a couple from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

Friday @ #BETT2015

So today our only plan was to go along to some kind of talk or seminar. We failed. Nothing really caught the eye in the brochure and we were having much more fun exploring the stands loading up on complimentary coffee, lollipops and popcorn.

The first highlight of today for me was a rather pleasing few minutes I spent at the Sound and Music stand learning about ‘A Minute of Listening’. It’s a fairly simple idea where you play 60 seconds of sounds and the close their eyes and listen. Afterwards there are some questions that the children can think about and discuss. This can be the basis for whole lessons or more likely a daily calm moment of reflection. This will certainly help meet the part of the music curriculum related to listening and responding to a range of music. Also, it is claimed to help the listening skills of the children. Makes sense to me. More information can be found here;http://www.soundandmusic.org/projects/minute-listening  . It does sound like the sort of thing I could make myself, but it would take a bloomin’ long time and it’s just not going to happen. It’s £40 a term for the whole school.

We already use Accelerated Reader at our school and really like it, so went to investigate Accelerated Maths. As with the reading programme there are two parts to it. The assessment side, which gives levels, highlights areas for development and allows you to track and evidence progress.

The other side is the teaching bit. Pick levelled, targeted activities for each child in the class. Differentiation as many ways as you like/need. All jolly good, but a dramatic change of approach to the teaching and learning of maths across the whole school. Realistically I think we’ll just get the assessment bit for now, if budgets allow.

RMBooks is an on-line library from which you can borrow or buy books to use with your class. Have them on your screen or share with the children’s devices. Annotate the books to ask children questions  to use for guided reading or simply allow the children to follow along, or take over, during a class read.

After being excited by Fiction Express yesterday we went back and sign up for the free trail today. As an added bonus they had a couple of the authors there and we were able to chat to them further about the process of writing these episodic stories and allowing the children to be such an integral part of the creative process. Check them out: http://schools.fictionexpress.co.uk/en 

I have found the whole BETT experience to be a very positive one. Loads of great ideas and creative solutions to problems, even ones I didn’t know I had. The problem I had was that there is just so much to see and do. Although we were there for two days, I still felt as if I missed a lot. Another problem is that I have a fairly short attention span so struggle to focus on things when there is so much sensory stimulation all around. Flashing lights, loud music, presenters with microphones, people dressed in costumes and lots and lots of people. Despite all this I still found the trip extremely rewarding and came away with a wealth of new ideas and I am keen to return next year.

Recording a school CD

Last year I saw this tweet from @MySchoolCD and it piqued my interested.

Naturally my first thought was, ‘what’s the catch?’ So I investigated further.

It turned out that MySchoolCD were offering to give away a class set of African percussion instruments if you sign them up to come and record an album at your school.

Encouraged, I booked the recording and it all went rather well. Later I moved schools and have just repeated the process of recording an album with my new school.

In this blog post I aim to share my experience and the benefits of recording a whole school CD.

So what’s in it for them?

Once the album is recorded, they sell it. Your school (or school charity) gets at least £1 for every CD sold and they get the rest. The price you can sell it for depends on the quantity you sell. Suggested selling price is £7.99. There are 3 different options you can sign up for, but on both occasions  I went for the ‘Zero Risk’ option. Mainly because it meant I wasn’t tied down to selling any guaranteed quantities. Basically I’m not too comfortable with risking school funds and being left with CDs that I can’t shift. If you are willing to commit to more sales then you can get a better deal overall.

What’s in it for you?

Firstly we got a class set of African percussion instruments. Useful. Especially if your topic is Africa.

Secondly, you hold a whole school art competition to design the album cover. In our school this was judged by some member of the senior leadership team and we gave the winner a copy of the finished album as a prize.

Thirdly you get to meet a large part of the music curriculum while giving the children purpose for their work and a very memorable experience.

We practised in whole school assemblies and each year group had their own songs to sing. It gave the children a real reason to work hard at improving their singing as an ensemble and listening to each other as well as the music.

Recording

The day of the recording itself is pretty straight forward so long as you have rehearsed and communicated clearly with the rest of the team so they know what what is going on.

The engineer arrived by 10am and was set up within 20 minutes. We recorded most songs in 2 takes (so allow 15-20 minutes for each one). The engineer on both occasions really useful. He was keen to do a good job and was happy to record as many takes as was needed. I was really struck by the fantastic behaviour of the children. It was obvious they were completely engaged with the process from the moment they walked into the hall and saw the microphones set up. They sat straighter, listened more intently and sang better than I had heard before.

Overall I found working with MySchoolCD to be a positive experience and one the children will remember for a long time to come. While the percussion instruments were a welcome bonus, the main benefit was the sense of purpose it gave to our singing and music within the school. The children and staff all upped our game considerably because we had something to work towards that we can now listen back to and be extremely proud of.

Using Keezy in the classroom

I first came across Keezy being used by Reggie Watts on Sky Atlantic’s Setlist. He uses the app to record beats and loop them before working his vocal magic over the top of them.

And this is a great demonstration of the musical possibilities.

This inspired me to begin exploring Keezy myself. At first I thought I might be able to work it into my own musical repertoire and then remembered I am a primary school teacher and not Ed Sheeran.

Then I wondered how I might use Keezy with the children in my school. It is visually very bright and stimulating as well as being very simple to use so I thought it would appeal to the children. I have a responsibility for leading music provision at school and as part of that role design learning journeys from which the class teachers plan their lessons. These learning journeys give a basic outline of objectives and an expected outcome. This term we are writing stories about travelling through the human body. Once the children have written their story they will pick a favourite section/passage/paragraph and read it into Keezy. They will then use the other 7 channels to record sound effects to accompany the story. They will also need to write a graphic score to show when each sound effect is needed.

During discussions with colleagues it occurred to me that Keezy could have many uses beyond music lessons, particularly in Literacy. Initially we thought it could be useful for less confident children to say sentences into the Keezy meaning they could play it back as many times as they needed while writing it down. The more I thought about it, the more uses sprang to mind. I have included a few below.

Music

  • Practising harmonies
  • Singing in rounds
  • Recording samples and creating original compositions
  • Recording sound effects and creating graphic scores to accompany stories

Literacy

  • Practising sentences – Record each sentence you want into Keezy before writing it and play it back as many times as you need
  • Extending sentences – Write a simple sentence (The bus was red) on the board and in groups the children take turns to pass the iPad around adding a word or two each time to improve and extend the sentence. Listen back and discuss to the outcomes as a class.
  • Building sentences – In groups the children say 2 verbs, 2 adjectives, 2 adverbs and 2 nouns into Keezy. Pick four at random and include them in sentences on mini-whiteboards.
  • Matching sentences – The teacher records compound or complex sentences into the app. Half the sentence into one of the coloured rectangles and half into another. The children then match the two halves to complete the sentence.

History

  • Some of my colleagues  recently used Keezy in their history lesson. They recorded four questions into the four tabs on the left hand side and the children had to find out the answer and record them into the tabs on the opposite side.
If you have any innovative uses for Keezy I would very much like to hear them and I can included them in updates on this page (naturally you will be credited for your genius).

Downloading

The catch was that I couldn’t actually get Keezy on my iPads in school leading to me asking @pasql (the co-founder of Keezy) what that was all about. He kindly informed me that…

Useful. However, it still didn’t work for me. The simplest way I found was to go onto Safari on my class iPads and google ‘Keezy’, click on the first link that comes up and download. The draw back with this was that as it wasn’t through the App Store I had to load it individually on to every iPad in the school! (thanks to @NeilHall21 for the help with that).

Keezy is great for all ages. My 18 month old son can even use it. He has recently been exploring the demo that come in the library and created some tunes that don’t sound too dissimilar to Aphex Twin.

So I see Keezy having educational uses from very early years right the way through reaching way beyond the music. It’s also FREE!

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