Skip to content ↓

Singing through an expanding domain in KS2

Published on 26/02/19

One of the most joyful parts of being director of music for a trust, is being able to support Key Stage 2 class teachers, who are not usually music specialists, in rejuvenating the primary music curriculum.

Our new ‘common core’ curriculum for KS2 has created a buzz around music lessons in our primaries which has been articulated by both pupils and teachers.

It’s really exciting! This rejuvenation hasn’t been brought about by bringing ‘relevant’ stuff (with which the children are already familiar) into the classroom just to ‘engage’ them, by hopping from topic to topic, by using vast amounts of technology, or even by playing lots of different instruments, but by really going back to basics.

An ever expanding domain of music theory is introduced in a carefully sequenced fashion, and perpetually quizzed through sight-reading, dictation, singing and playing.

From the first lesson of the scheme, the children (and the staff) realise that they really can do this thing called music, and they can read and manipulate this strange batch of signs and symbols that we call notation.

Every other week, I visit each of the five primary schools within the Inspiration Trust and deliver a ‘large scale’ music lesson, which often involves multiple classes in the same year group, or even across year groups, joining together in a space such as the hall.

In each school, I’ve hidden away a ‘Mr Stephens’ Music Box’ which contains all of the books and sheets that I might need. Other than those resources, I just use a piano, a white board, and a computer and screen.

We have sets of folders for the children which contain their current sheet music, some sight-reading materials, and a ‘show-me’ white board with staves on them, along with the necessary board pen and rubber.

In these sessions, I usually introduce a new piece of music theory alongside shed loads of practice of material already covered.

During the weeks in-between the class teachers run their own lessons with their class.

They reinforce and practise the material I’ve introduced, write in proper manuscript books at their desks, and try to transfer some of these to classroom instruments such as glockenspiels and recorders wherever possible (I provide regular CPD to help them facilitate that).

Alongside this, we also study a couple of famous pieces of classical music each term.

These are sequenced to line-up with the expanding domain of music theory wherever possible, and allow us to talk about many other important elements such as form, orchestral instruments and their families, the history and chronology of musical development, and much more.

The expanding domain is an important factor in knowledge-rich teaching, and I’m pleased to hear that colleagues here at Inspiration often use a musical example when trying to describe what progress means in an expanding domain: “If Sophie passed Grade 3 piano with merit this year, and passes Grade 4 piano next year, but still gets a merit, does this mean that she’s progressed?”.

Yes, of course, because the scales, arpeggios, pieces and supporting tests were all more difficult, and drew upon a larger domain of subject specific knowledge.

With this in mind, the material that we sing in our music lessons has been chosen to gradually increase the level of challenge, and has been mainly chosen from the repertoire lists that Trinity College London has prepared for its graded singing exams.

Pupils in Year 3 sing songs and exercises which are from the Initial and Grade 1 syllabi, or of an equivalent difficulty, and we gradually work up through the grades until we reach songs of Grade 5 difficulty, in Year 6.

Some consider this to be immensely ambitious (bearing in mind that a GCSE performance only needs to be Grade 3 to be classed as ‘at standard’ these days); I still think that the challenge is reasonable.

I know that they can do it! By the time our current Year 3 pupils get towards the end of the summer term, I’m expecting to be able to select half-a-dozen from each class to actually take the Grade 1 singing exam, and to gain a real qualification just from having taken part in their regular curriculum music lesson.

What an awesome side-effect of curriculum design! I’m hoping that my next blog will be about the process of encouraging and enabling these Year 3 pupils to take the test, and that I might be able to include a photo of lots of smiling children, proudly showing off their new certificates!

  • John Stephens is director of music for the Inspiration Trust