Are We Excited About Making Music?

At the end of last term, I received a “Thank You” card from an elementary level pupil, which expressed that most joy-inducing of pupil responses: “I’m excited about next year!” It really motivated me to discover new things about the music I teach and play and rediscover things I take for granted after a lifetime immersed in music. I’m so happy to share the excitement of the beginner and awed by the responsibility to ensure that the journey matches expectations!

The first thing I have to bear in mind is that lessons aren’t about what and how I want to teach, rather, what and how the pupil wants to learn. That’s fairly easy to ascertain by presenting the adult with choices of repertoire and trying different approaches to see how they respond. I think it’s more difficult, though, to get ‘under the skin’ of children. The latter do not have too many preconceptions about their tuition, they are reluctant to tell a teacher if things are not to their liking, and they have had limited exposure to the range of musical genres. Yet music is not a distinct body of knowledge to be parcelled up in portions digestible by the young, but a world which each experiences in a uniquely personal way.

How can we relive the discoveries of our own musical journeys and open the door on new experiences for our pupils? With that in mind, a few of the things I’m going to work on are

  • introducing pupils to new genres and styles through ‘quick study’ pieces, using arrangements that make few demands on the current level of technical development, through pupil/teacher duets and listening activities.
  • exploring scales through simple improvisation activities, taking a small chunk of the mode at a time.
  • where appropriate, linking pieces to more developed works of similar character on listening sites, also the same piece in different arragements.
  • focusing on the central role of rhythm in melodic structure and character and exploring this in improvisation.
  • as younger pupils seem to spend a lot of time on YouTube and similar sites, I will be encouraging them to share their favourite links with me, so that I can build on their discoveries.

My search for strategies to enhance pupil experience goes on and, meanwhile, I’m now excited about this new academic year! ūüôā

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:

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




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.




Christmas Carols – Creative Exploration and Flexible Ensembles

Christmas carols are some of the tunes most readily played by ear, so giving the performer a sense of comfortable familiarity and ‘ownership’ which paves the way for improvisation and creative arrangement. In the early stages, improvisation doesn’t need to wander far, if at all, from familiar melodies. The carols in my personal CD collection, for example,¬† take on subtle changes of character when performed, in turn, by a cathedral choir, a Celtic band, a pop singer and a flute soloist. Rhythmic ‘feel’, dynamics, changes of register, timbre and articulation all enable us to hear a tune anew.

It can be daunting for a teacher or music-leader to be presented with an ad-hoc mixed ability group but, at Christmas time, players of many different persuasions and skill-levels are united in a desire to share traditional music with their communities. This is a wonderful opportunity for creativity and cooperation, taking simple melodies and harmony parts and fashioning them into a group’s unique arrangement.

The Full Pitcher’s “Simply Carols” download series provides flexible arrangements of familiar carols for mixed ability groups of mixed instruments. The full score for each shows just one way in which the song can be performed by a group of instruments, with different parts combining in each verse. Groups can use this version, if they wish, or experiment with the timbres and characteristics of the group’s specific instrumentation to arrive at their own version. Silent Night (below) is one example. You can listen and download this score and a refreshing range of other seasonal music at


Have You Got A Musical Ear?

When musicians say that someone has a ‘good ear’, they are not referring to the physical apparatus of hearing: a person can be profoundly deaf and still have an acutely ‘musical ear’. It is the ability to internalise sound that is important to a musician, to be able to imagine a sound when its physical waves¬† are not present, in order to reproduce it in performance or to notate it.¬† Many lay people, (and, perhaps,¬† not a few musicians) think this ability is a rare gift, little short of a miracle. Why is it that many can share the same exposure to music, with some able to¬† memorise it and play it by ear while others can’t? The magic ingredient is awareness. We are predisposed to let most of what we hear go ‘in one ear and out the other’: we hear but we don’t listen. If we didn’t listen selectively, the barrage of sounds around us would drive us crazy!

Those with a good ear for music have just developed their awareness of how certain musical elements feel to the listener. Singers often recognise the pitch of a note by remembering how they have previously placed it in their voice. Instrumentalists may not be able to notate a melody but have no trouble playing it by ear because they associate the rise and fall in pitch with certain positions and fingerings on their instruments. Some have developed greater awareness and recognise the ‘signature’ of musical elements without reference to a voice or an instrument. Jaques Dalcroze, who developed the famous system of eurhythmics, claimed it was impossible for us to hear a rhythm without tiny muscular responses occurring within the body. I guess we are generally insufficiently aware of our bodies to notice. For most of us, context is important and aural skills developed out of context make very little difference to our musicianship. So, pupils can get full marks in aural tests for grade examinations and still be unable to play anything without notation or to absorb the style of a piece of music in a genre that is new to them. The time spent ‘teaching to the test’ for these exams could be put to better use!

Some years ago, I published a little resource entitled “Rhythmic Reading Through Improvisation” It could equally well have been called “Rhythmic Awareness Through Improvisation”. It is based on the premise that most pupils find their own ideas far more interesting than those of teachers and composers of elementary pieces and will spend much longer focusing their attention on the characteristics of rhythmic phrases if they are being employed in their own improvisations and compositions. The same principle holds true for developing aural awareness of other musical elements: improvisation/composition provides an excellent context for musical learning. Tonic Sol-fa is another example of the benefits of context for aural training. It very quickly facilitates playing by ear in a way that interval identification tests, out of context, do not seem to do.

I revisited these ideas recently when I was introduced to the excellent ‘MusicalEar’ aural training software. This truly is the most musical approach that I’ve come across in a software package and it’s clearly a real labour of love! Training exercises are something most of us stick with because we know they will ‘do us good’ – a bit like taking a dose of medicine, but working the exercises in MusicalEar is thoroughly enjoyable and each is multifaceted. There are, of course, the basic elements of musicianship¬† but also music¬† in a variety of genres to explore, some with suggestions for students to try in their own compositions. It consistently links aural and notation skills. There is music to sight-sing with accompaniment, vocal backing groups and choir pieces to take part in. There is also a comprehensive section explaining the theoretical context of the elements studied and lots of ideas for further study. This is a great package for composers, performers and students working in any genre, by ear or from notation, to hone their skills. It will surely give teachers many ideas to develop with their own pupils. You can watch some videos on how it works here.

Singing Rounds in the Classroom

Singing rounds is a simple, accessible activity which provides opportunities for a wealth of musical learning and development. It is an easy introduction to the highly satisfying experience of singing in harmony. The only thing that holds back some teachers and their classes is the lack of strong leaders to aid beginners in holding their part. Since the advent of music technology with multitrack recording , though, backing tracks are available with each voice part played by a separate instrument, or group of instruments, so providing strong support for each part.

Singing in parts isn’t the only way to make use of rounds in class, though. Rounds, by their very nature, are built on very few¬† chords and, often, only a single chord. This means they can effectively be accompanied by short repeated phrases on a voice or instrument. Quite young children will soon learn to sing the melody over one of these repeated patterns, technically termed an ostinato (‘obstinate’) pattern. As they progress, pupils may be able to manage two, or more, of these accompaniment patterns. This is an easier experience of singing in harmony than singing the entire melody in parts. Special needs pupils, unable to learn the whole melody, may be able to sing, or play, a short ostinato.

Rounds also afford many opportunities for creative involvement including:

  • choosing an instrumental sound for an ostinato which will enhance the mood of the song
  • rearranging the sequence of phrases to create a new piece
  • improvising an ostinato, or even a whole new melody, on the notes of the chord
  • varying the sequence in which instrumental parts enter to create new orchestrations
  • composing an introduction section before the main melody enters.

Some years ago, when Becta’s Teachers Resouce Exchange was in operation, I uploaded two resources based on “A Bell Round”. This is the same tune used in “A Christmas Round” but with different lyrics. Level 1 was intended for use at Key Stage 1 and Level 2 at Key Stage 2. The resources comprised sheet music PDFs and MIDI files, describing a range of activities Now that, sad to say,¬† TRE is no more, I have adapted the resources to this site and they can be found at and Music and lyrics¬† for “A Christmas Round”, and several others, can be downloaded at

See also:

Sight-reading and notation

Many of the world’s finest musicians do not read music, so perhaps¬† we teachers worry too much about notation! Pupils have different learning styles with some depending more on aural ability, while others are ‘visual’ learners who are unhappy unless they have ‘the dots’ in front of them. Occasionally, we may encounter a pupil who is downright resistant to reading from the score and I have one of those at the moment – very frustrating! Nevertheless, the player who cannot sight-read is generally at a great disadvantage: opportunities for independent exploration of new music and playing in ensembles are far more limited for the non-reader. So, while I’m unfazed by the pupil who wants to take a predominently aural approach, I want to do all I can to foster reading skills.

Most of my pupils are exploring new pieces all the time, as they learn lots of quick-study pieces and I insist on covering a broad repertoire at each grade. We adopt a creative approach, with most using the commonly-encountered rhythmic and melodic patterns in
improvisational activities. The familiarity of these patterns to mind and fingers is key to elementary sight-reading.

Fluent sight-readers are looking ahead and recognising familiar patterns coming up. Each bar or so is rapidly memorised and executed by the fingers, while the eyes scan the next. Page-turners are often amazed at how far ahead the performer wants the page turned! We can practise this skill in the same way that school-children practise their spellings: Look at a bar of music for a few seconds, then ‘cover’ it and try to reproduce it from memory. Go back to the music and check the ‘spelling’. Repeat the process until accuracy is achieved. We can do this with each or any of the bars of a piece of music that is new to us before attempting the whole. It is good to note down the date and tempo and return at a later date to read it through at a faster speed.

In the field of literacy, the research behind the “Ladybird Keywords Reading Scheme” found that 12 words make up a quarter of all the words we read every day and 100 words account for half those encountered daily. Similarly, a few rhythmic and melodic patterns account for a high proportion of those encountered in music scores. My “Rhythmic Reading Through Improvisation” is designed to familiarise pupils with the patterns used in sight-reading tests at grades 1-3 and to make learning more fun. Part 1 uses just rhythms and mastering these generally has the biggest impact on sight-reading. Part 2 follows the same
sequence with pitched notes. Part 2 has to have a different pitch range for different instruments and I haven’t made that available online, as yet.

Easy Ensemble Music in the Classroom

An exciting aspect of music teaching is that of introducing diverse people to a shared heritage that each can enjoy and recreate in their own way! Thus, one of the first resources I wanted to make available when I set up the Full Pitcher website was a collection of arrangements that had enabled me to facilitate music groups made up of players of hugely different musical and technical skills, where the composition of a group was subject to change from week to week. Although the basic arrangements stayed the same, parts were frequently customised to the needs of individuals. The core arrangements I made available as Easy/Classroom Ensembles and Flexible Ensembles. For the website, many easy pieces were standardised to meet the needs of classes at Key stages 2 an 3. In my own sessions, group members, who were able to do so, were given the freedom to elaborate their parts, or I adapted them, and I frequently introduced improvisational activities which allowed everyone to contribute at their own level. Ideas for this kind of creative work with beginners  can be downloaded from the Easy/Classroom Ensembles page.

For the first few years, sheet music downloads were in the format of Sibelius ‘Scorch’ files, which meant that users could preview the written music and could transpose parts to any key before downloading. This had all the flexibility I wanted to offer but proved prohibitively expensive to run! ¬†It also meant peoples had to install special software and many found it confusing. I came to actually dread selling a score, anticipating the support that might be required! In 2006, I moved the site to a new hosting platform, where I could make the playback available in Flash audio, which is compatible with the vast majority of browsers and could sell PDF sheet music downloads. It isn’t currently practicable, or economically sensible, to offer parts in every transposition but, if what you need is not available on-site, the custom-print service will make a custom set of parts available at very reasonable cost. Printed Packs for the classroom ensembles, with multiple copies of parts for C, Bb and Eb instruments can be found at Packs: Easy/Classroom Ensembles

Happily, few teachers will have to cope with the the enormous range of ability and floating populations that characterised my community workshops, but all could surely benefit from having a few really flexible pieces up their sleeve for when things don’t go to plan! :>)

Piano: Absolute Beginners Can Improvise!

To some extent, improvisation is a state of mind. A lot of people feel they could never do it because they have a model in mind that is unattainable. When piano teachers adopt a creative approach to tuition, though, the pupil feels free to explore the simple resources to which they are exposed in the early days of tuition and it is more likely that they will continue to experiment when left to their own devices.

The latest addition to improvisation-based resources on is an article suggesting simple improvisatory activities for absolute beginners. The important word here is ‘simple’ because, in truth, great music is essentially simple and the same resources can be used by players at different levels of ability and experience, with very different results.

The article quotes the Dalcroze teacher, Laura Campbell, whose book “Sketching at the Keyboard” won the ‘Music Teacher’ Magazine Music Education Award in 1983. That publication and its¬† follow-up, “Sketches for Improvisation” is full of examples of famous composers building their works from the same simple ideas suggested to the readers. These courses have been followed by ” child piano pupils, amateur adult piano pupils, professional music students and class teachers”. Highly recommended!

So, what I am saying is: don’t dismiss the ideas suggested at the following link because they are accessible to absolute beginners. There are things we can all learn by focusing on the basic building blocks of music from time to time.¬† :>)

See: Improvisation for Beginner Pianists.