This week we attended the Music Education and the Early Childhood Sector Working Together event at the Royal Albert Hall which included the launch of Music Development Matters. We were one of the 12 organisations that formed the Early Years Consortium for the Tri-borough Music Hub’s Tri-Music Together project funded by Youth Music that the event at the Royal Albert Hall was celebrating and presenting the project’s findings. Each consortium organisation brought unique skills and expertise to this fantastic project which focused on mapping the needs and training of the workforce of both Early Years practitioners and musicians working in Early Years settings. As part of the project one of the things Inspire-works offered was our What Can I Do With My Music Trolley CPD workshops which focused on teaching delegates playing techniques for percussion instruments commonly found in EYFS settings and learning several songs and rhythms from many cultures which are suitable to teach to EYFS children. In these workshops delegates also learnt how to combine percussive sounds to create soundscapes useful for story-telling and creative sessions and we provided ‘music trolley recipe cards’ that included detailed instrument techniques and notation of all the material used in the workshops.
When discussing using percussion instruments within EYFS settings, we've frequently heard Early Years practitioners say things like ‘we don’t use them much as percussion instruments are too loud’, ‘we don’t have the space’, 'we only use them occasionally for music circle time’, ‘we don’t know how to use them or what they’re called’ or ‘we think most of our instruments are broken or too big’. In response, our facilitators usually give the following top tips for using percussion in EFYS settings effectively:
Cut all sticks down in length. This is an instant win for ensuring the children play with more control and at a softer dynamic! Younger children would use a smaller tennis racket, cricket bat or violin due to their smaller proportions in relation to the object as it’s impossible for them to play with a full sized version. This is exactly the same for the length of a drum stick. We usually cut all sticks down to 15-17cm in length and lightly sand the end to give a smooth finish. It’s a quick and easy job with garden secateurs!
Consider removing all sticks! Most drums suitable for use with EYFS children also sound great when played just by the hands which will of course instantly reduce their volume! Experiment with varying the sessions so sometimes sticks are available and sometimes they aren’t.
Allow them to play, create & experiment with the instruments all the time, not just during music time. Eminent percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie recounted in her Key Note Speech at the MMA Conference in 2016 (and also in TES) how before her first percussion lesson her teacher gave her a snare drum to take home but purposefully didn’t give her any sticks. He told her to experiment with the instrument and see what different sounds she could create and feel. "I started tapping it and pinching it and scraping it, and the next week he asked how I'd got on. I said I didn't know. He said: "Now create the sound of a storm. Now create the sound of a whisper." Suddenly I had this picture I had to put into sound. This opened up my world. It was the best lesson I ever had. After that it was just constant exploration.” It’s foundational to EYFS education that the children should learn through play. Get the percussion instruments out without teaching them any music and observe how creative they become! You might find a xylophone is struck on the sides rather than the top which will create unusual sounds, sequences are created which spur on a song or phrase sung by another child. The xylophone then might become something other than a musical instrument, it might become a car or a bench and the children might create sounds on it to reflect it’s new use.
Play along to and move to well-known songs. Put on a CD/mp3 of a song the children would know well and that has a strong percussive feel to it (Mas Que Nada always works well as they know it from the Rio movie, Happy from Despicable Me also works very well), encourage them to pick up a drum that’s small enough for them to play and move their whole body. Try not to influence what they should play but as the track develops, demo a couple of movement ideas (e.g play the drum up high and then down low) and then let the children come up with their own ideas of how to move with the beat.
Make your own instruments. There are loads of percussion instruments that are easy to make for EYFS children and help stimulate them in other areas of their learning and development. For example, an empty Pringles tube has the exact diameter of a sheet of A4 paper. Get the children to draw or paint their own carnival designs on A4 paper and then stick it to the tube. Experiment filling the tube with different amounts of things like rice, chick peas and lentils. Then let them discover for themselves how different it makes the tube shaker sound. Don’t forget to tape on the lid before they have a go at shaking it!
Experiment with different environments. Last January during one of our projects in a nursery we took the drums outside. It was amazing to observe how differently the children played with the instruments outside rather inside. Some of the instruments that weren’t popular indoors seemed to generate more interest outside. As it was cold, the children also enjoyed playing the drums with their gloves on and listening to the sound echo around the outside space. In their play the drums also became more than just musical instruments and were transported to different zones in trailers and ride ons!
Be selective with what instrument groups you lay out. There are such a vast array of sounds and shapes of instruments in a percussion trolley and it can be overwhelming for young children to see and hear them all at one time. Percussion instruments can be organised into several different groups - e.g. wood, metal, skin, or tuned and untuned, or shaken and hit. Try making only one group of instruments available per day or session and varying them during the week. The results of their play will probably be more musical and will also be easier to manage the sound levels!
Be creative about how you set up the room. If you have a space that can be closed off, set up the instruments in a different way every time you use them (e.g. laid out in a circle or stacked up in a tower) and observe how the musical play varies as the children come into the room. Try experimenting with having a CD playing whilst the children enter the room and observe how their reactions to the percussion instruments change depending if the CD is loud, soft, lively music or peaceful music. Try theming your space to fit with a wider topic your EYFS setting might be exploring and use the percussion instruments to create musical soundscapes to accompany the scene (e.g. water & sea sounds, hot sounds, animal sounds, creating sounds to match characters of a story etc).
Get stuck in! Children always feed off the energy of others in the room. If you are getting right in there and joining in enthusiastically they will be more engaged with the activity for longer.
Always be encouraging and have fun! Celebrate all music making made by the children regardless of how small as it will encourage them to do more. Music making should be fun and enjoyable so make sure you set the tone by having a good time making music yourself!
Related resources from Inspire-works:
- What Can I Do With My Music Trolley?! CPD
- EYFS Workshop Visits (African Beats! Take Me to Rio! Caribbean Carnival! Gong Gang!)