Clapping games are a good starting point

KS1 (4 – 7 yrs)

With this group, the first steps are to acquire and maintain a sense of the beat. Many of the activities involve copying and using simple repetitive rhythms. These may start as clapping patterns which later are played on a mixture of drums, bells and shakers. Some of these patterns may also be linked to story, song or rhyme.  This introduces the idea of rhythms in speech and shows the relationship with rhythms in music. All these activities contribute to a programme that meets many KS1 requirements.

“Rick ensured that all the children had the same opportunities to learn, spoke positively to the children at all times and made sure that the efforts of each individual were recognised by the rest of the class”  Teacher,  St Thomas’ Primary School, Birmingham.

KS2 (8-11 years) and KS3 (12 – 15 years)

Here the point is to consolidate the sense of the beat and to start inventing original material from given models. This often starts with rhythms played on the body which can then be played on drums – many of them learnt first hand from young drummers around the world (Morocco, W.Africa, India). After this, children are encouraged to make up their own – sometimes alone, sometimes paired. This develops both a rhythmic sense and bodily dexterity.

“He taught me how to play the drums and really now I think I’m quite good at playing them” Charlotte, aged 9

We also use call and response patterns using questions and answers from everyday speech as repetitive rhythmic templates. We think about why we choose to use certain words, how we emphasise them and how changing these will change our rhythms of speech. We make clapping patterns and later, instrumental patterns out of our original phrases – again, this draws on traditional learning methods from many countries. This activity is directly relevant to language and literacy work as it develops awareness of pattern, choice of words, tone, timbre and emphasis. Having established the paired format here, I may put 3 or 4 pairs together to create cross-rhythms.

“He taught me how to make up a rhythm and keep it going when everyone else played a different one against me” Ashley – aged 8

Cross rhythms are later developed, again using spoken phrases. Dividing the class into 3 or 4, each group is given a phrase to be repeated. Holding one against the others is a challenge. This can be developed further through clapping and then using instruments.

Musical circle games are often used: for example a collective (usually non-English) refrain is sung, followed by a 4 beat gap in which the participants improvise on instruments that are passed around the circle systematically. This gives repeated opportunities to try different patterns on different instruments in a very structured way. It allows each child to work at whatever level they can, as nobody is more important than anybody else. This has proved to be a valuable activity to bring out shy individuals and ‘under-achievers’, who can experiment without fear.

With certain groups more abstract musical ideas may be introduced. This may be listening to a piece of perhaps non-rhythmic music and then painting a response to it. These paintings can then be discussed by the class and used to provide their own original stimuli to new music.  All the activities described satisfy KS2 requirements.

The beauty of the approaches and material employed for KS2 is that they can be equally  appropriate for KS3 students. The patterns may become more complex and the expectancies higher, but the basic building blocks of creative work remain the same.

“The children all thoroughly enjoyed each session. They were completely caught up in the rhythmic clapping games which are, even now, a major feature of each playtime. Their inventiveness is amazing – children who perhaps had little confidence in their academic ability discovered that here was something at which they could be seen to do well. Children who perhaps found it hard to be part of a group activity were encouraged and gradually accepted by others as Rick was careful to praise every effort.”  Linda Hollington, teacher

Inset work with teachers

The activities devised for children are perfectly suited for teachers working with musical ideas. How advanced the concepts need to be will depend on the particular group. Teachers can then use or re-mould given ideas to suit the context and level at which they are working.

“Rick’s wide instrumental repertoire, his ability to cross artistic and cultural boundaries, his communication skills and his personal enthusiasm make him a valuable asset in any programme of arts education”,  Neil Rathmell- Arts Advisor Shropshire