Footscray classroom, October 2016
“My big sister learnt this song!” “My cousin can play this!” The excitement in the room was palpable. The look on the faces of the Grade One/Two students was a sight to behold. This is what bliss looks like.
In 2016 I took on a contract as a classroom music teacher in Footscray. Music teaching was not new to me as I had a music teaching position elsewhere in the late 1980s. Back then there was a focus on recorder playing – the sound paralleled with the scratching of fingernails down a blackboard. Now there is a totally different underpinning philosophy and direction, called Musical Futures.
In the past I may have spent a whole lesson on drawing treble clefs and musical notation. Don’t get me wrong – there is a place for this, but Musical Futures has children making music – developing individual and group performance skills, listening skills, peer teaching and making use of popular song. It is pleasing that improvisation and song writing are part of the program too.
All our junior school students had ukulele playing as part of their weekly music lessons. Our school has a class set of the instruments so each student has their own to use, including some left handed ones.
As well as strumming patterns we had applied C, F and G chords to many songs.
The skills taught in junior school are the nuts and bolts that scaffold what happens in Grade Three/Four upwards in having the classes forming bands that have drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and vocals.
Part of the Musical Futures approach is to use songs that are familiar to the students so as to bridge the gap between classroom music and that listened to out of school.
Without warning I put Riptide up on the screen. Wow – how good is this! What a surprise!
I was scared of dentists and the dark
I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations
Oh, all my friends are turning green
You’re the magician’s assistant in their dreams
The chords for this song are A Minor, G and C. In one part F makes an appearance too. As not all students are able to change chords quickly we divided the class into three groups – the A Minor group, G group and C group. On the screen there are chord cues that move along with the lyrics. There is differentiation. For those who can play and change chords they are welcome to do so. On the second play-along the students swap to another chord to play in the sequence. Students are welcome to sing along too.
Lady, running down to the riptide
Taken away to the dark side
I wanna be your left hand man
I love you when you’re singing that song and
I got a lump in my throat because
You’re gonna sing the words wrong
These young students were genuinely excited to play and sing along with this song. The reaction was the same in each of the eight classes that week. I sensed that the children had loved the chance to perform a song that is ‘grown up’, is enjoyed by older people including parents and older siblings, has been performed at the AFL Grand Final and would have been heard on radio, television, Spotify or YouTube.
It’s more interesting than my schoolday memories of the ‘Sing’ books, ABC broadcasts, xylophones and, yes, those awful recorders. I recall a visiting teacher who had a 12 string acoustic guitar and played some of the popular songs of the 1970s, such as Liv Maessen’s Knock Knock Who’s There. Not exactly exciting!
I am very glad that primary school music is now regarded as an important and credible subject in the curriculum. It is now more hands on, has elements of creativity and is not just singing – as I memorably witnessed in the Grade One/Two students happily playing along with, and singing, Riptide.