During my lessons at De Leeuwerikhoeve I tested different singing games and song repertoire. It was not easy to estimate in advance which song and games would suitable for them because most of them never had any music lesson before. Their only reference is singing along with CD’s or moving along with dancers shown on the ‘digibord’, the interactive digital blackboard. Of course nothing is wrong with eduactional tools like CD’s or a digibord. But the question is if they are used as part of a curriculum of continuous music education or just as a single musical impression or experience. And – much more important – if the use of these stimulate the personal musical development of every single child in the classroom regarding musical skills.
In my first lessons I realized that the musical skills as well as the motor development of the most children were poor. Instead of singing a song it was mostly shouting or speaking, even of songs which they pretended to ‘know’. Also rhythmically most of the children had difficulty to keep a beat by clapping, tapping or walking. I started using a simple rhyme to develop some feeling for beat and rhythm:
1,2, kopje thee. 3,4, glaasje bier. 5,6, kurk op de fles. 7,8, soldaat op wacht. 9,10, ik heb een dief gezien. 10,11, de dief ben je zelf.
They liked this, especially when we had two groups, one that was counting and the other that was answering with the rhyme. After a while I was beating a steady beat on the drum while they were performing the rhyhme. Of course walking, tapping and clapping was involved on a certain moment. I asked individual children to perform the beat on the drum while another child performed the rhyme. After some lessons I was clapping a typical rhythm from the rhyme and they had to answer with the according words, such as:
Musical learning requires inner discipline and attention. The lessons were given after school time at 3pm. The children were tired and also the fact that they were obliged to follow the lesson made it difficult. Some of them were just ‘fed up’ with school and wanted to go home, which I can really understand well. Of course it was possible to draw their attention for some minutes, but to teach them like this for a full hour was actually impossible. At the same time some of the children had serious behaviour problems. There were many quarrels among them with a lot of anger. These issues had a major influence on their discipline. And I also believe that music lessons – also by the school staff – were not seen as a moment to learn and to develop children’s abilities but rather as an hour of superficial fun. If I would have sung along for 60 minutes with a karaoke-program on the digibord it would have come closer to their expectations than working an hour together developing musical skills.
As an example I give two singing games I played with them. The first is “Hallo allemaal”, a welcome song and a clapping game.
In the first four bars (with repeat) the beat is clapped by a clap in your own hands followed by a clap in each others hands with a partner. During the next two bars the rhythm is clapped moving up the hands from low to high. In the next two bars the first movement is repeated.
After some weeks of practice, with a also a conscious difference between speaking and singing voice, the children were singing much softer and with more aural attention to the sound they made. Of course, still a lot of pitch matching, voice development and further aural training would be necessary to provide in-tune-singing. It is actually impossible to reach this goal in the twelve lessons I have given. But I can only praise the children for what they have shown in this short amount of time.
The second example is the song “Ijsbeer”. It has a clear aba-structure which is good for responsorial singing and the physical experience of form:
After having played a circle game to experience beat and form we turned to the rhythm by singing, clapping and walking. At the the end we transformed the rhythms to percussion instruments. For example, two groups with different instruments were playing the a-parts or the b-parts. So at the end we were playing the rhythm in a responsorial way. As I mentioned, the motor skills were poor with some children. They simply could not clap or play the quicker eighth-notes in the tempo they sang the song. So we had to reduce the tempo according to their motor abilities. For me it was stunning to see that many of the children were lacking physical development to play on a drum. I think that this is an example of what Dalcroze was speaking about in the quote above.
Of course in both examples I was accompanying on a keyboard. I varied with that, sometimes a played, sometimes they just sang a cappella and sometimes I was singing along softly in falsetto voice or in the lower octave. As soon as they were getting more stable in pitch I stopped singing to let them sing a cappella again. If the children would be trained like this for several years from the beginning most of them would be able to sing in tune. Interestingly, they were not afraid of singing solo. After we had sung the icebear-song for some weeks it was easy to find a soloist for the b-part playing the role of the icebear. I clearly experienced the need of music education and the inner urge to express themselves musically (with a lot fun, by the way). The biggest problem is that it is not a steady part of the school curriculum and not a part of weekly training for the whole school time. Just giving twelve lessons in the afternoon, outside the school curriculum, is not sufficient.