Music dictation

For those of you who don’t know, I spend two days a week teaching children in disadvantaged schools. These are my favourite days of the working week, actually. They are the most exhausting. I come home completely drained – I feel a bit like a wrung-out flannel. But I absolutely love guiding these kids through their music lessons.

Most of these little people I see every week have experience more in their short lives that I have in my much longer one. Some of their stories break my heart, and when I am tired and worn out at the end of the year I come home and weep for them. But I am also amazed by their resilience and their resistance – and encouraged by their laughter and smiles when I see them. They are the best kids in the world, and I am hopeful for every one of them. They are our country’s future, and deserve all the love and compassion and care that teachers give them.

But this is not one of my many rants about how teachers are unsung heroes and are woefully underpaid. Nor is it a rant about arts in schools and how it is dangerously underfunded. It is a post about a new thing I’ve started teaching at one of my schools.

After talking with a wonderful university lecturer just before Christmas, I decided that I would teach the older kids at one school in particular rhythm dictation. For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about, it’s when the teacher claps a particular rhythm, and the listener writes it down using music notation. Writing this post now, I realise that it might sound a bit dry and boring. Actually, it is a bit dry. It’s music theory. But I thought I’d give it a go.

And who would have thought? I tried it on three groups of thirty children. And they LOVE it. Not a bit – but a whole lot. I did it again yesterday using crotchets, quavers and rests. And every child gave it a red-hot go – and without exaggerating, nearly all of them got it right. Kids who can’t really spell could write correctly what I clapped at them. Kids who really struggle with conventional learning were achieving. There where whoops of joy as I gave the answer to each little dictation. The only problem I had was regular complaints from these little people that there were no semiquavers being used. The three class teachers who I asked to revise it in their class over the week all did it – in fact one teacher does it a number of times during the day to begin new lessons (like an art lesson, or a maths lesson), because the kids like it so much.

It was a lesson to me to not presume that children would like something because I don’t. Or because other teachers tell me it’s boring. Or people tell me that ‘kids like that won’t respond to that sort of teaching’.

Roll on next week. I shall include semiquavers!