Tag Archives: Music

Lifting our Young Voices

The single best thing I have been involved with as a teacher is taking my choir to Young Voices. Everyone involved comes in to school the next day still buzzing with excitement. Very tired, but very excited.

The children have a wonderful experience to perform at an iconic venue, like the O2 Arena, which is pretty cool. Furthermore, they get to perform with professional musicians, singers and dancers of an impressively high standard. This is an experience which will inspire and motivate the children and will live long in the memory. There are some really magical moments where you catch the children staring, open mouthed, as Natalie Williams begins to sing or Urban Strides are dancing. I like to think I can o a pretty good singing assembly, but this is a whole different level of inspiration.

Parents also came back having had an amazing evening of entertainment. This is not your average children’s concert, this is one you will really enjoy and you will get up and dance. Everyone does, you simply can’t help it. My mum and sister recently went to watch my niece at one of this year’s Birmingham shows and phoned me as soon as they came out, both full of excitement about what they had just witnessed.

For the teachers it’s a long day, and I’ve never been more alert than when leaving the O2 in the rain trying to repeatedly count children making sure everyone gets safely back to the coach. However, it’s a whole lot of fun. We sang, we danced, we conquered. All the staff involved loved it, and that cannot be said for every school trip or concert.

The shows are expertly put together by, Musical Director, Craig McLeish, who always meets the challenge of compiling and arranging a collection of songs to appeal to all ages pulling from a range of genres.

Here are some tips if you are thinking of taking your choir to a Young Voices event next year.

  • Go to the teacher’s workshop. It helpful and loads of fun.
  • As well as taking a banner, take some form of head ware that will help your choir stand out. Helpful for getting noticed as the audience enter the arena, also very helpful when leaving the arena safely at the end.
  • Encourage the parents to also have someway of drawing attention to themselves. The children love to know where their parents are and it is not an easy task.
  • Take water bottles to fill up.
  • Rehearse loads. Add your own dance moves.
  • Perfection is great. However, if it is unattainable for you and your choir, make fun the priority. You may not get all of the moves exactly right, but enjoy expressing yourselves through the music. The more fun the children have the more they are likely to be hooked by the performance bug.

What led me to Young Voices?

Music simply isn’t taught as much in schools as it should be. Music is so important for the sole and mind and the fact it gets squeezed out in place of extra SPaG lessons is a travesty. But it does. I know it’s not the only hard done by subject but it’s one I care about immensely so I will bang the literal and figurative drum for music lessons all day long.

The two main reasons, as far as I can tell, for music taking a back seat in modern schools are the congested curriculum and teacher confidence in delivering good quality music lessons. Both of these excuses are able to be overcome with will power and enthusiasm which has helped me increase music participation in my school in whole class lessons, individual tuition, clubs and school productions.

While I feel I’ve had some success in this area, I recognise this to be a national problem. I also fully understand the pressures on teachers to get results in the core subjects of reading, writing, maths and science, so explicit music teaching is not a priority. This being the case, I am always on the look out for opportunities for our children to perform and experience music at it’s best. I has previously written about how we recorded an album with the whole school and the impact it had, making use of ICT to help engagement and also given tips for putting on productions. The search for more new and exciting experiences for our children led me to Young Voices and I am very happy with the experiences I have had with them so far. No doubt I’ll be signing up to do it all again very soon.

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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