A More Accessible and Versatile Clarinet?

Would you like to play a simple, versatile instrument with a good clarinet sound that’s light and easy to carry around and works great for playing jazz and folk? Yes?- then you need a chalumeau. This isn’t, as you may think, some newfangled instrument but, rather, a very old one. The chalumeau seems to have been the forerunner of the clarinet. It is a a recorder-like instrument but played with a single reed. It was essentially a diatonic instrument with a range of a ninth and came in various sizes, each producing the notes of a different scale. Some chalumeaux have pairs of half-holes for the lower notes, as do recorders, and this allows for some chromatic notes. Over the years, instrument makers have experimented with adding one or two keys and, eventually, this led to the instrument we recognise today as a clarinet.

Early music afficionados have often had reproductions made of chalumeaux and early clarinets. Naturally, these were expensive to produce and so were available only to a small circle of people. Then, a few years ago, a British firm created a chalumeau tailor-made for the “Wider Opportunities” scheme introduced in UK schools. This was a very modestly priced instrument in one piece and virtually indestructible. I blogged about it in my post “Chalumeau Clarinets and Wider Opportunities”  There are now several thousand of these instruments in use in UK schools. It is not only children who can benefit from these instruments, though. Anyone who wants to achieve a clarinet sound without the weight and complexity of the modern instrument will appreciate this alternative.

Having no keys and rings, the chalumeau responds much more readily to pitch modifications as practised in jazz and many folk music styles. Several instrument manufacturers have created their own versions, with or without one or two keys to extend the range. Online stores for folk instruments are good places to look for them initially.

To whet your appetite and demonstrate its versatility, here’s the response of clarinetist Heribert Eckert when he encountered one at a trade fair:

Using Tonic Sol-fa in the Classroom

Here’s a great opportunity for UK teachers to find out about tonic sol-fa in class teaching: “Kodaly in the Klassroom” is a weekend course (14th – 15th May) set up under the auspices of the British Kodaly Academy. The website says that the course is suitable for

“Anyone interested in classroom music teaching (preschool and primary). There is no need to be a music reader. This workshop is also suitable for instrumental teachers who want learn the Kodaly principles. Very useful for “whole class” teaching.”

The Kodaly Approach is today’s most wide-spread tonic sol-fa based teaching ‘method’ and there are associations and music schools dedicated to promoting it in many countries. So, if you are not in the UK, the chances are that there will be a group offering similar ‘introduction to Kodaly’ opportunities in your own country.

Of course, the Kodaly Method is about so much more than sol-fa! It is, rather,  an holistic approach to music education through singing. ‘Method’ is a misnomer and the term is no longer used by Kodaly practitioners. It is extremely difficult to capture this approach and pin it down within the confines of a textbook but those seeking a brief introduction may find Susan Brumhill’s “First, We Sing! Kodály-Inspired Teaching for the Music Classroom!” helpful.

iPad and a Christmas Singalong for Seniors

At this time of year, care homes, lunch clubs and community groups often want to have a a good singalong. All too often, though, they don’t have anyone with sufficient confidence to lead one and provide instrumental support. That was the obstacle encountered by the ladies who put on tea parties for the senior members of our parish. For some reason, all those they usually call upon were unavailable and I was asked, at the last minute, to step in. My solution was a simple one that’s available to many carers, so I thought I’d share it here.

We don’t have a piano in the church hall at the moment and, if we did, I would have been reluctant to use it. I know from experience that making eye contact with members of a group and singing, even unaccompanied, engenders confidence and involvement far in excess of anything possible when dividing my attention between direct communication and providing an accompaniment. In the past, when lacking an accompanist, I have kept myself free to facilitate by providing accompaniments through a computer system running professional music software. That was some years ago, though, and the technology has all changed, with the result that many of the Christmas music files don’t play back correctly on my current software and equipment. The old stuff is buried, deep in the garage, underneath the remnants of my old kitchen! Then, “Yippee!!!” – the iPad came to the rescue.

 

 

For a singalong, it’s important to be able to quickly adjust the speed and pitch of the music to suit the assembly. On the iPad I used the very simple Jam Player app to do this. The app also allowed me to move very quickly between pieces, which is another important consideration in this context. The accompaniments were nearly all  my own musical arrangements but a less experienced musician could use music downloaded from iTunes or other online sources. Jam Player will load the music from the Music folder into which the iPad automatically saves downloaded music files. My only quibble with this was that the first playback started automatically as soon as the file loaded, so I had to get in quickly and click “Stop”, so that music started at my convenience, not that of the iPad! That isn’t too big a deal, though, in an informal gathering.

I have been looking, without success,  for  equally simple audio playback with pitch and speed options for PC and Android. There are, though, several players for both operating systems and many non-specialists will be familiar with one or more of them and use them to play their own music collections. Some like  Microsoft’s Media Player will allow the user to edit the speed but the controls aren’t all on one screen like Jam Player’s simple knobs. Slightly more tech-savvy folk may be happy to use a separate app like “Amazing Slowdowner” for editing  files prior to use.

On the PC, Full Pitcher’s “MIDIgrid” and “GridPlay” software provides a very simple playback facility for midifiles, where numerous tracks can be presented on a single screen, ready for playback in quick succession. The end-user doesn’t have to know anything about MIDI or music to use this software but can just “click and play”.

Would you like to ask me a question?

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Support for Non-specialist Music Teachers

One way in which I try to achieve the Full Pitcher aim of widening music access is by supporting non-specialist teachers through resources made available on the website. This includes online playback of all the music, simple software to deliver my own teaching materials and activities, tried and tested over a long career teaching a wide range of ages and abilities (my avatar photo has been around for a while! ), classroom projects, creative activities for children, songs to share

Online Music
Online playback enables teachers, unable to read music or play an instrument, to learn new repertoire. Where they are able to access the internet in the classroom, they can explore the online activities with pupils and use the playback as accompaniments. The website is available worldwide, 24/7, and this is particularly helpful where teachers are working in isolated or poorly resourced settings. The music is available as pdf downloads, of which a significant proportion are free. If the music is too high, too low, or needed notated for a different instrument, I am happy to respond to requests for adaptation.

Creative Software
GridPlay is a non-editable version of MIDIgrid, a remarkable piece of authoring software, which I have used to support my own teaching, from pre-school to adult education and with all abilities. GridPlay Level 1 (3-7) Level 2 (8+) and Carers/Teachers (severe special needs) are not prepackaged lesson plans, suitable only for one situation, on one occasion. Rather they are ‘tool boxes’ of repertoire, virtual instruments and activities which have resourced my own teaching and which I now make available to others.

Inspiring Confidence
As I have done all the work ‘behind the scenes’, it is not necessary to have any special knowledge of computers or music to get ‘hands on’ with the software although, of course, some musical experience can enable wider application. Nor are these intended just for use seated around the computer, although they can be used in that way. The accompanying e-books  suggest how each activity can be carried out away from the computer and integrated with singing and acoustic instruments.  The latter is the preferred way of using the resources. GridPlay Creative Explorations Level 1 and Level 2 comprise virtual instruments, lyrics of songs, some with sheet music and all with backing tracks, teacher notes suggesting individual and class activities for each grid.

Songs and Activities
T
here are numerous songs  for which lyrics and playback are provided online,often associated with free PDF free downloads. These songs, located on the Seasonal and Kids’ Pages of the website, are all accompanied by simple creative activities.

Classroom Projects:
The “Creative Classroom” projects pages cover all key stages. There are also teacher notes for non-specialist teachers with copious suggestions for using the Easy/Classrooms Ensembles  as a basis for improvisation.

Fireworks – A Round for Bonfire Night

fireworks-114-edit

The lyrics of this piece also work well as a spoken round and repeated phrases. We can play with words like “fizzling”, “spitting”, “whoosh”, “shoots” to create sound pictures, so even non-singers can get creative with this one!

This can be sung in unison or as a round. Place lots of emphasis on the consonants of the words, creating vocal sound effects. Selected words and phrases can be used as a repeated accompaniment. Create your own ‘firework-display’ by singing or reciting sections, in your own sequences or combinations.

Fireworks

Bonfire Night is lots of fun,
Launching fresh fireworks one by one.
Fizzling sparklers’ silver light,
Spitting, spinning Catherine Wheels, spirals bright!
Whoosh, bang! Rocket shoots up high.
Then a shower of fiery rain falls from the sky.
Splutter, splutter, whizza, boom! Up into the sky
Shoots another rocket,  speeding high, so high!
© Audrey Podmore, 2003

Click Here to listen to the audio and download melody and lyrics of this, and other seasonal songs, from the Autumn Fun page

Family and Group Music Making

 

Activities shared by the whole family are the stuff of precious memories. And creative activities, in particular, are a potent way to build a strong family or group identity. At the present time, there is an ever-growing awareness amongst parents and educators of the many extra-musical benefits of children’s involvement in music. Sadly, though, the importance of the social milieu in which music is experienced is usually overlooked. Unless children observe that their parents and teachers are also emotionally involved with the music and value it themselves, only the most dedicated will sustain motivation. It isn’t necessary for adults to be skilled or knowledgeable musicians to enthuse youngsters, only to join them on their musical journey.

Computers have often been blamed for causing fragmentation in family life and encouraging children to spend long periods in isolation. But computers don’t have to be isolating. Today, there are many interactive applications that can simultaneously engage the interest of users with very different levels of knowledge and skill.

On The Full Pitcher website, we make suggestions for using our online music scores as the focus of activities shared by groups of mixed age and ability. The same principle is applied in our GridPlay software. One, of many examples, is the arrangement, ‘One Man Went to Mow’, on the Summer Music page. In this, the written parts are for experienced instrumentalists. However, the very simple tune of the song can be substituted for any of these parts. It is an easy song to sing and there are suggestions for involving a very young, or disabled child.

Often, lyrics and playback are available online for ensemble arrangements. When one or more members of the group plays an instrument the parts can be downloaded at very modest cost and they can play along with the online track. Our tuneful downloads for beginners on flute, clarinet, recorder, violin and cello have very simple piano accompaniments so that elementary pianists can enjoy ensemble playing from an early stage. Those parents who wish they hadn’t given up on the piano may find these arrangements a way back in!

Most music is flexibly arranged, with optional parts suitable for beginners and for the basic instruments most likely to be available. Suggestions are often made about ‘how to improvise with this piece’. Sometimes a lot of mystique surrounds the improvisation of music and people often think it requires lots of skills they couldn’t hope to have! In truth, it is a very natural thing to do. We improvise all the time in various aspects of our daily lives and music is, really no different. It has been said that all we need to improvise is ‘the courage to move from one note to the next’. What better way is there to develop the confidence and self-trust, necessary to explore,  than just ‘having a go’ and learning to improvise together in the accepting and sharing environment of the family circle?

Families with disabled members should be aware of our custom arrange & print service. We are very happy to supply custom-arranged prints to meet the needs of would-be musicians with disabilities that prevent the playing of conventional instruments, or who must play them in unconventional ways. Of course, a person doesn’t need to be disabled to play an unusual instrument!

We want our resources to be accessible for all so, if you need something different, please ask. If you simply want the music transposed to a different key, we will usually request that you purchase the standard version and then we will email you a custom part free of charge. If you want something more complicated like an arrangement for an Allcomers orchestra, we will charge a modest fee.

These are some of the places on our website to mine for family-friendly materials:

Kids’ Pages
Creative activities for parents and teachers to share with children age 3-7 (Level 1) and 8+ (level 2).

Seasonal Fun
Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas pages have lyrics, audio and melody parts for a seasonal selection of our Miscellaneous Scores, together with activities to share with family, friends or classmates. Downloads of ensemble arrangements can be purchased from the Miscellaneous page.

Music for Beginners
Our music downloads for beginners on flute, recorder, clarinet, violin and cello have very simple, but satisfying, piano accompaniments to enable those with elementary piano-playing skills to join the beginner in an ensemble experience, right from the start. These could be a way back in for those parents who regret abandoning the piano as teenagers, as so many do!

Miscellaneous Scores
On this page full ensemble arrangements of many pieces which feature on Kids Pages and Seasonal Fun pages will be found, as well as any other downloads for which we do not have a dedicated page.

 

Our family-friendly software:

GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level
Activities to share with younger children. No previous musical knowledge is required to start exploring. the included ebook has lots of ideas with which to get started.

GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level 2

Explore and improvise, right away. even if you do not play an instrument or read music. These grids have been used from age 8-Adult. The included ebook contains words and music for many songs, in addition to copious activity suggestions.

GridPlay for Teachers/Carers
Songs and activities to make music with friends and family, however severely disabled

 

 

New Chidren’s Music Activity Page

The latest addition to our ‘Kids’ Pages’ of creative approach music activities is a traditional 3-part round. Words and music are given for both C and Bb instruments, with suggestions for learning and performing the song. A jukebox presents audio files for unison and 3-part versions and each section repeated as an ostinato.  It is hoped that children will also create their own ostinato accompaniments. Readers of my earlier post on Singing Rounds in The Classroom who downloaded the materials to which it linked may find this page a useful additional resource.

The Level 2 Kids’ Pages, of which this is an example, are directly addressed to children but, as with all our resources, we really hope that parents and teachers will explore and share music with the youngsters. We can’t overestimate the value of such shared activity!

Sing Together – A Round

Summer Songs for Family Music

Got a musical family? Then our summery songs and music activities may help you share music with family and friends during the summer break. Activities are suggested with voices and simple instruments.There’s a song to keep the children creatively engaged, improvising new lyrics, during long journeys, rounds to sing in unison or in parts,  and an arrangement of Schubert’s exhilarating “To Wander” with new lyrics. Words and melodies of all the songs can be downloaded from the “Summer Fun” page and, if you have more able instrumentalists in the family circle, full ensemble parts can be purchased from the “Miscellaneous Music” page. We are in the process of changing the way our music is streamed and tunes on the “Summer Fun” page now play on iPad. Lyrics can be viewed online . Please let us know if you have trouble viewing any of the files.

Schubert: To Wander  

Get Creative with 2-Chord Tunes!

2-chord tunes are a wonderful resource for a creative approach to music teaching! A vast number of melodies can be harmonised with just chords I and V – folk tunes, of course, but also melodies by major composers. See the teacher notes for a classroom project based on “Carnival of Venice”, which can be downoaded from our Easy/Classroom Ensembles page. This uses classroom, or other available,  instruments and body percussion. In my software package, GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level 2, though, one of the fifteen grids (mini-apps) is IVTUNES, in which I’ve designed a self-contained resource for exploring the subject. Teacher notes in the accompanying e-book make it even easier for a non-specialist teacher to introduce a project, with suggestions for using the computer as an integrated classroom resource.

A first step to improvising and composing 2-chord melodies is aural recognition of the chord changes. In IVTUNES, I have designed a grid with which pupils can practise this skill. Words, music and chord symbols for these tunes are included in the e-book. As each tune plays back, accompaniment patterns based on the the two chords can be triggered, allowing experimentation until pupils are confident that all sounds right. Beneath each chord’s accompaniments, cells contain individual notes of the chord, stacked vertically. Pupils can use these chord tones to accompany one of the melodies. Later they can record a 2-chord backing track over which to improvise their own melodies.

 

 

 

Creating Resources for Non-Specialist Music Teachers

Seeing so many non-specialist teachers struggling to teach music, it is sad that music coordinators, local authority advisors, etc., don’t make extensive use of  professional music software to create the repertoire/ materials  for non-specialists to access, as they require. I guess that the main hindrance is the lack of a suitable playback only version of some of the software. Even where these versions exist, though, they can still be too forbidding for the non-specialist and are mainly notation-based. But a solution has existed for many years, in the form of MIDIgrid. Although it was originally designed as a tool for composers, it is a superbly simple authoring tool and, even though I can play several musical instruments, read music, compose and improvise, I have found it invaluable to have my resource material available through this software. It means any repertoire I might need in a session can be recorded into a single grid. I can play a new backing track, without fumbling through a book or trying to locate a track on a CD and I can give my full attention to interacting with the class, without distraction. Full recordings, constituent tracks, virtual instruments can all be there on a single screen.

MIDIgrid is such a versatile tool that it has proved almost impossible to ‘market’. How do you describe software, the benefits of which are dependent on the user’s imagination? It was originally created at University of York, as part of the Composer’s Desktop Project, and I hassled York for a long time to create a cut-down version for teachers. This they did and, when the York Electronics Centre closed, I offered to publish and distribute it. They also created GridPlay, a playback only version through which I could distribute the resources I had authored.

GridPlay is a great way to put creative music teaching resources into the hands of non-specialist teachers! It treats the computer as a basic classroom resource, providing instant access to backing tracks, virtual instruments, improvisation resources, inclusive activities, etc.. Excepting where it provides virtual instruments for disabled users, the software is not essential to explore most activities described in the ebook included with each set of grids. The software is a limited version of MIDIgrid, without editing/saving. This means that beneath its simple user interface are some sophisticated MIDI facilities for those who know how to use them.  Visit my new blog at gridplaymusic.wordpress.com to learn more.