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”.

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A Strummer for 1-Handed Guitarists?

I was very interested to see this contribution to the Disrupt SF Hackathon 2013, in which Yu Jiang Tham introduced ‘Strumbot’, an automated guitar strummer which he had, literally, created overnight. With this, a metal lever moves the pick across the strings according to strumming patterns controlled from a computer, leaving the performer free to concentrate on the chords and lyrics. Yu Jiang created the device to accompany his own singing because he felt “rhythmically-challenged” in the strumming department but I’m sure it would be possible to adapt it  so that a 1-handed player could control the strum patterns with foot-switches. It looks as though this might be a solution for some guitarists.

Yu Jiang intends to work on refining this prototype and would welcome readers’ feedback on it. For many, of course, it’s the picking that’s the main thing and they would prefer to automate the chord-formation side of things but I have been asked for information about mechanical strumming, so for others this could be a distinct possibility. I understand that Yu Jiang is interested in looking into chord formation, as well, so do all contribute your comments.

Update 7/02/2014: Here is another adapted guitar with a pedal-operated strummer. With this Ian Pearce can play again  after 47 years:

1-handed Recorder for a Beginner?

I was recently asked if I could suggest an instrument to enable a 1-handed child to join a beginner recorder class and thought my reply might be helpful to others:

Lovely to hear about your young would-be recorder player! The good news is that there are 1-handed recorders available and, depending on the child’s disability, may not be strictly necessary but there’s quite a bit of bad news too!

A 1-handed recorder makes all the notes available by adding keywork that can be raised and lowered using just the fingers of the available hand. This means that, once the notes played with just one hand have been mastered, the player must use a totally different system of fingering (ands this varies from one manufacturer to another). The teacher taking a class of players using normal fingering would not know this system and would have to familiarise themself with it without the benefit of having learned the new instrument. Of course, this would be eased by the class only needing to learn one new note at a time. The more complex system of fingering is also challenging for the child and may be beyond her if she has learning difficulties. A child with cerebral palsy is likely to have poor finger control and coordination, adding to the problems.

Although, I have taught a player on two different systems of 1-handed plastic recorder, I am unable to track down either of them at the moment. One was manufactured by Yamaha but there is nothing about 1-handed models on either their global or USA sites. You’d have to contact them directly to enquire. I believe Aulos also do one but, again, I can’t locate a supplier. Quality wooden instruments are available but expensive (over 600 US Dollars) and I wouldn’t recommend such an investment at this stage. There is an Aulos instrument in six sections (as opposed to the customary three) that can be customised to the needs of a player who has 6 digits available between the two hands. This is available from an American source at  http://www.rhythmband.com

Again, the cooperation of the teacher would be required to set it up.

If the child can use all the fingers and thumb on one hand, the first five notes can be played on a standard recorder and I would suggest getting one of these, very modestly-priced instruments to see how she gets on. Simple music for this stage is available in pdf format from the Full Pitcher at


These start with reminders of the written notes, warm-ups and tunes for just the first two note. Using these she could get in the extra practice and home support, likely to be needed by a child with special needs.

Do let me know how you get on and get back to me if you have further queries.


Access to Music: 3 Magic Flutes in ‘Joyful’ Performance

Here is a performance not to be missed! In this YouTube clip you can see three young musicians from My Breath My Music playing their Magic Flutes along with members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The Magic Flute is a wind instrument developed by My Breath My Music to allow young people with severe motor impairments to participate in live performance. No hand or arm movement is required, the pitch being controlled by changing the angle of the mouthpiece by means of head movements. You can read about the development of this exciting instrument in a previous post at “the true story of a magic flute”    Here, Christian, Glenn and Karin join members of the orchestra in playing an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. How L van B must love this performance!


Music Resources for Special Needs Groups

I describe myself as a teacher and facilitator but, in reality, all teachers are facilitators: we try to make pupils aware of, and develop confidence in, their abilities: to enable them to do what they can do. Over the years, as a freelance teacher and independent educational consultant, I’ve been asked to adapt my ideas and resources to many special needs situations. I’ve been approached by carers and teachers who believe passionately in the value of music to those in their care but they seldom dream that they, themselves, can provide such musical experiences.

Often working alone, without an accompanist, I turned to technology to fulfil the latter role so that I could engage fully with the participants. Soon, the amazingly versatile ‘MIDIgrid’ software, developed at York University, became an essential resource. This is ‘content-free’ software, something like a word-processing and presentation package for music. I found that, in addition to providing speedy access to customised backing tracks for the sessions, I was able to use the software to create virtual instruments which could be played with a range of special access devices. Having established a computer-based system with resources that had proven their worth in a range of situations, I saw that this was a way in which I might enable carers to run their own sessions. In 2005, York University created GridPlay, the Full Pitcher’s read-only version of the software, which I could distribute with my resource packs.

Mindful that making provision for someone with a disability is a very individual matter, the special needs resources were offered as a customised, created to order, product. This, however, has proved a bit daunting to many who don’t really know where to start. So, our new GridPlay for Carers/Teachers takes a different approach: the package includes the most generally useful resources, with unlimited post-sales support and customisation. Also included is a 43-page e-book, with ideas for using the grids, sheet music for several original songs and suggestions for initiating and sustaining music sessions for people with profound disabilities. Hopefully, this package will enable many more carers and teachers to make music with those in their care. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find the funds to buy in specialist provision, this will, hopefully, be ‘half a loaf’ for many who would otherwise go without bread. See:  http://www.fullpitcher.co.uk/softwareSN.htm

Grids from the GridPlay resource packs can be loaded into the parent program and, in the latter, users can create and save their own customised versions of the grids. In this way, teachers can create grids set up for different methods of access and can also save recordings made by pupils playing the virtual instruments.

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! :>)

Special Needs: Starting the Session

Setting the scene is important in any music session and in the classroom or rehearsal  space this usually begins non-verbally with the arrangement of the furniture that greets participants when they enter the ‘music space’.  If the session is taking place in the general living area, there may be limited scope for rearranging the physical setup but it’s vital that the the music leader should be able to get close to each participant and make eye contact. The best arrangement is to seat them in a semi-circle around the leader and/ or accompanist. Anyone who needs a wheelchair tray or small table to support an instrument or switch should have this in position, ready to receive an instrument at the appropriate time.

When sessions take place in the living space, televisions, music-players, etc., should be switched off well before the session. In this ‘quiet time’, attention will be engaged by watching the leader set up for the session. When the moment to begin finally arrives, the air of expectancy may be further enhanced by the leader playing a very quiet and simple tune on melody instrument, whilst endeavouring to make eye contact, or singing a song such as “Something Is Going To Happen”, written by Clive Robbins and Paul Nordoff, expressly for this purpose.

‘Gathering’ songs further secure the engagement and will pay dividends later in the session by focusing attention. This is particularly true of those which elicit both a verbal response and physical activity, such as tapping an instrument, clapping hands or raising arms.

See Living My Song Specials to download  sheet music and listen to two examples. You can also see the lyrics and listen to the music of “Come On, Everybody, It’s Music Time!” by clicking here.

Update 23/9/2914:  (The music of the latter song is the same as for “Come on, Everybody, Let’s Sing God’s Praise! which is a free pdf download on the Sacred Music page)

Interacting With Other Users

I was absolutely delighted that one user responded to the “Welcome” post saying “It’s really exciting to “hook-up” with other folks who are enabling all kinds of individuals to make music.” This is what I hope so much to facilitate through this blog and what I tried to initiate through the Full Pitcher Forums.

Ours is a large website and it occurs to me that many of you may have missed the links to the forums, which cover areas of interest identified by subscribers to the newsletter which this blog replaces. so, I have created a permanent page on the blog, “Discussions“, which explains the rationale behind the forums with a link to each one.

I hope, of course, that many more people will participate by commenting on posts, here on the blog, and on other people’s comments. When you post a comment here, your email address is not published but your comment is public. If you wish to communicate more widely with other users, you can do this by subscribing to the forums, where members can opt to send and receive private messages from other subscribers, in addition to posting publicly. There is also a ‘live-chat’  facility (limited to 3 subscribers at any one time).

I look forward to some lively discussions!

Family Music-Making With Our Resources

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.

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. Our GridPlay Level 1 software is a good example. This is not intended to be used by a solitary child, focused on the computer but as a shared activity in the home, playgroup or classroom, as we explain in “Using GridPlay with Young or Disabled Children

On this site, we make suggestions for using our online music scores as the focus of activities shared by groups of mixed age and ability. 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. There are similar family-fun pages for Spring, Autumn and  Christmas seasons. See: Miscellaneous Scores.

Most of our music is flexibly arranged, with optional parts suitable for beginners and for the basic instruments most likely to be available.Experienced players and beginners can each contribute at their own level. Parents may be surprised at the amount of practice their children will put in on music used in this manner!

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 do it 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 learning to improvise 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.

We want our family resources to be accessible for all so, if you need something different, please ask.

Welcome to the new blog!

Welcome to the our new blog, where we will post news and resources geared to the interests of all our user groups. Many of you have registered an interest in one or more of the following areas:
Instrumental Teaching, Classroom Teaching, Special Needs, Improvisation, Kids’ Pages

We will update this blog, rather than communicating with the interest groups via email. You will be able to subscribe to the blog to receive an email when a new post is added and we can have two-way communication, as you can comment on posts.

I look forward to meeting with you through the blog!

Audrey Podmore
(The face behind The Full Pitcher Music Resources)