Music Education Solutions

Blog: Top Ten Tips for using World Music in the Classroom

To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different aspects of music education each month during 2018! This month’s Top Ten gives advice on teaching World Music, and is written by guest blogger Mike Simpson of Inspire-Works.

  1. Do your research. There are many great resources available on the web showing the key characteristics of many world-music genres/styles. Try not to make any assumptions about what a world-music style should sound like.
  1. Decide what key characteristics are important to share with the class. For example: West African music is full of call & response, the music is lead by rhythmic ‘signals’ played by the Master Drummer on their drum (not a whistle); Indonesian gamelan music centres around the largest gong with it marking the end of each cycle and the structure of the music is often dictated by the dancers who the drummer is watching closely to play rhythmic cues to signal to the gamelan orchestra when to change tunes, dynamics or tempo.
  1. Keep it practical. Benjamin Franklin said “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Demonstrate the key characteristics of the genre/style by getting the class to play them!
  1. Teach it aurally. Most world-music genres are best learnt aurally – as they are in their culture – the use of conventional music notation is very much a western-classical tradition! In Bali, gamelan is taught by two different aural styles; meguru panggul  and meguru uger-uger. For the first method (translated as ‘teach by following the stick/hammer’) the teacher sits either next to or on the reverse side of the instrument from the student and plays the melody/rhythm with the student copying. This teaching style is useful for modelling good technique and teaching big chunks of music quickly but each student only knows their part and may not understand how their part fits in with the wider structure and instrumentation. The Balinese say teaching by the second method, where the teacher is never addressing individuals but the whole group and each student therefore understands how their part fits with others, is a better aural teaching method.
  1. Use whatever instrumental resources you’ve already got. For example: Most hand-drums are good substitutes for West African djembes; The school drum kit can be pulled apart and used as the core of a samba band (toms and bass drum for surdos, snare for caixa); Create a classroom gamelan with glockenspiels/xylophones (using pentatonic notes A C D E G to replicate the slendro scale) and suspended cymbals played with soft sticks near the bell to replicate the gongs.
  1. Find out why the music is played in that culture. For example: West African music is often dubbed ‘music for purpose’ – every piece is played for a particular reason/occasion. In the Malinke tradition in West Africa (where the djembe originates), any piece titled “Soli” is played at a circumcision – knowing this may determine your repertoire selection! Samba drummers in Rio are always accompanying the samba enredo (song) that is given to their samba school as the theme for the competition at that year’s Rio Carnival. This will have determined the structure and feel of the music, choreography and also the design of the costumes.
  1. Understand that the culture has defined the music. For example: Respect for instruments and the teacher is paramount to Japanese taiko drumming which is evident in the martial-arts-like movements the drummers perform before and during each piece. Even when using classroom instruments to play gamelan, it’s important the students take their shoes off and understand why the Indonesians show respect to instruments by removing their shoes. West African music is passed down generations aurally by the Griot (the story-teller) who is also the voice of the community and passes on the history of the local area. The former West African slaves in Trinidad & Tobago carried forward this tradition with the Calypsonians voicing the feeling of the community through call & response songs which developed into calypso music.
  1. Try to immerse them in the culture to better understand the music. Use the web to put it all in context: Make sure the students see videos of the music in it’s cultural context. Show them pictures of the landscape and people. Show them videos of the music. Let them sample some of the food!
  1. Watch the videos before you show them to the class! Behaviours or clothing (or lack of it!) that are acceptable in one culture may not be appropriate to show to children in our culture. The Inspire-works YouTube channel has playlists of videos sourced from across the globe that are appropriate for classes to watch to back up your teaching.
  1. Have fun! Caribbean steel pans music is known as the sunniest music on earth, the Rio Carnival is the largest party in the world, dhol drums are played on mass at Punjabi weddings – try to pass on to your students some of the joy celebrated in the music’s home culture!


Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions® Limited. All Rights Reserved.

To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different aspects of music education each month during 2018! This month’s Top Ten gives advice on leading singing in the classroom, and is written by Dr Elizabeth Stafford.

  1. It’s about THEIR singing not YOUR singing. You don’t have to be an amazing singer yourself to help your pupils sing better. (In fact some of the best known choral conductors are pretty average singers!)
  2. Confidence is key. Fake it till you make it – if you act like you know what you’re doing, your pupils won’t question you, even if you feel more Florence Foster Jenkins than Florence Welch!
  3. Singing is a physical activity. Get your class warmed up by doing some PE style starters to get them moving, and encourage them throughout your session to put real physical energy into their singing.
  4. Vocal warm ups don’t have to be scales. You can sing a simple song, play a singing game, make random noises, anything that gives your voice a little workout before singing.
  5. Invest in the best resources. Nothing makes a singing session fall flat like repertoire with twee words that your Granny used to sing when she was at school. Try Out of the Ark, Edgy Productions, and Sing Up, for some really exciting, up-to-the-minute repertoire.
  6. Careful of your posture. Your pupils don’t always have to stand up to sing, but if they do sit down, make sure they’re not tilting their heads up to see you or the whiteboard. Their chins should be at a natural level, not pointing upwards, so you need to make sure that any resources you use, including your own conducting, are at eye level.
  7. Use your hands. You don’t have to conduct like a maestro, but just showing where the tune goes up and down with your hands can be an enormous help to your pupils when they’re learning how a song goes.
  8. Take a deep breath. Almost every common singing problem can be headed off by taking a lovely relaxed deep breath before you start each line. Encourage your pupils to breath into their tummies (yes, we know this is biologically impossible!) rather than raising their shoulders when they breathe.
  9. Don’t be American! Unless you are American, in which case continue as you were! Encourage your pupils to use their own accent to sing (they don’t have to put a posh English one on either!), as this will keep them relaxed and result in a better overall sound
  10. Enjoy it! Singing is meant to be fun!

Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions® Limited. All Rights Reserved.


Music Education Solutions has been nominated for not one, but TWO awards!

We are finalists in the Educational Resource Provider of the Year category at the Education Awards, alongside the Shakespeare Schools Foundation and Shoutout UK. Judging has already taken place, and the winner will be announced on 6th July at a ceremony at Edgbaston County Cricket Ground.

Our pBuzz KS1 Music Teaching Resource which we created in partnership with Warwick Music Group has been shortlisted in the Best Music Resource category at the Teach Primary Resource Awards. The winners will be featured in the October issue of Teach Primary.

We’re really delighted to have been nominated for both these awards!

Every month in 2018 we’re giving away fabulous prizes to celebrate our 10th Birthday. June is our birthday month, so we have an extra special prize on offer!

You could win a free 1.5 hour INSET session for your school, music hub or service!

Check our Facebook page for all the details of how to enter. Good luck!

For a limited period, we are offering early bird discounts on bookings for our three main events, the Singing Strategy Symposium, Curriculum Music Conference, and First Access Forum. Check the Courses and Events page for full details.

To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different types of teaching each month during 2018! This month’s list is written by Dr Elizabeth Stafford

1. Don’t listen to anyone who says whole class instrumental teaching ‘doesn’t work!’ If it doesn’t work for them, it’s because they’re not doing it right! There is a reason that so much funding has consistently been put into whole class instrumental teaching since 2003, and it’s not just to do with economies of scale!

2. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Wider Opportunities, First Access, WCIT, WCET, it’s all the same thing! So don’t get hung up on the terminology. Although, if we could have a vote just to call it one thing and stick to it, you wouldn’t hear us complaining!

3. Treat it as a music lesson, not an instrumental lesson. This is where most people who think ‘whole class instrumental teaching doesn’t work’ go wrong (see above.) It’s not about perfecting instrumental technique and getting everyone to Grade 1 standard at the same time as they would have got there with individual lessons (although good for you if you can do that too – you overachiever, you!) It’s about using an instrument as the carrier for musical learning – after all, the majority are probably not going to carry on playing that instrument at the end of the programme, so why not focus on some transferrable musical skills that they can take forward instead!

4. Watch it before you do it. If you haven’t taught whole class instrumental before, don’t assume that it’s just like teaching a normal small group lesson but with loads more kids. It’s a different beast entirely. And if you’re a primary teacher who’s introducing a whole class instrumental programme, don’t assume it’s just like primary music, but with instruments. The best whole class programmes meet in the middle between instrumental and primary music pedagogy, and the best way to understand how that works is to watch someone else do it (as long as that person isn’t one of the ‘it doesn’t work naysayers!). If you can’t get out to watch a lesson live, there are some great video examples on the Music Mark and Inspire Music websites.

5. Involve the school. Even if your whole class instrumental programme is used as PPA cover, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of any chance of school involvement. Whole class instrumental programmes are most effective when they are integrated with the other musical things going on at school. At the very least you should find out what the pupils have done before, what other musical things they will be doing during the year, and what the school is hoping you will have covered by the time you hand them back at the end of the programme. Which leads us on to…

6. Have a continuation plan. It would be a shame if all the things that your pupils learn with you get forgotten once your whole class instrumental programme ends. ACE encourages music hubs to have continuation programmes in place, but of course not all schools are willing or able to host these. And what about the children who don’t elect to join the instrumental continuation groups? Chat with the music coordinator to ensure that the school is ready to develop all the pupils musically from where you left off, and is ready to help some of the pupils access instrumental continuation routes, even if these are not available on site.

7. Be creative. We’ve already said that this is a music lesson not an instrumental lesson, so that means you can include elements such as improvisation and composition which might not ordinarily be included in a traditional instrumental lesson. Even if your pupils have only mastered a couple of notes, they can still make up a short tune of their own to share with the class – plus while your pupils are busy getting creative, this gives you an opportunity to go round and assist anyone who really does need some extra technical input!

8. Use your voices. Did we mention that this was not just an instrumental lesson?! Using singing and chanting is a fantastic way to internalise music. Whether you want to get to know a melody before playing it, explore concepts such as dynamics and timbre, or simply develop a stronger sense of pulse, singing activities can be just the ticket!

9. Read the research. Music Education Solutions®, Music Mark, Youth Music and even Ofsted have all published reports about whole class instrumental teaching. There is a wealth of research out there for you to discover, which will help you to plan and improve your whole class instrumental programmes.

10. Attend the First Access Forum. This national event for whole class instrumental teachers happens each year in June and is a great opportunity to chat to other teachers about your whole class instrumental challenges! This year’s event is in Birmingham on 8th June 2018, or catch next year’s event in Leeds on 25th June 2019!


Throughout 2018 we are giving away a different prize every month to celebrate our 10th Birthday!

Our May competition prize is a pair of tickets to the First Access Forum, which takes place in Birmingham on 8th June.

To be in with a chance of winning, pop on over to our Facebook page!


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To celebrate Music Education Solutions® 10th Birthday, we’re posting our top ten tips for different aspects of music and arts education each month during 2018! This month’s Top Ten gives advice on applying for Artsmark, and is written by Deborah Welch.


1 Firstly – what is Artsmark?  Artsmark is the creative quality standard for schools – it is accredited by Arts Council England and it provides a clear framework for teachers to plan, develop and evaluate arts, culture and creativity across the curriculum. The award is a practical tool for enriching the arts provision whatever the starting point.

2. Who can apply for it? It can be delivered by secondary, primary, special schools, independent schools and Pupils referral units in England.

3. So what are the benefits? Artsmark brings learning to life through arts and culture – pupil confidence can be increased with creativity in the curriculum, it can help encourage leadership skills and pupil voice and it can support children who do not find the curriculum easy.

4. How will it help my school? Embarking on the Artsmark journey will support your school in accessing practical resources as well as connecting with local cultural organisations. It will also give you an opportunity to reflect on the current strengths in your creative work across the setting and identify future plans and direction

5. But what do I have to actually do? Artsmark is all online so once you are registered you will be able to keep the paperwork in one folder – you can download the templates here. However, it is important to realise that Artsmark is very much a school development tool. It should be closely linked with your school development plan and once you begin to plan you should allow a minimum of 12 months to complete the award – the most successful schools take the full two years. You start by attending a Development Day run by your local bridge organisation. You can find your local Bridge Organisation here.

6. Loads of paperwork then? Thankfully no! You start with a self-assessment document which helps you audit the level of provision you already have. Then you attend a development day (which is free) where you will spend time considering the two pieces of paperwork – the Statement of Commitment and the Case Study. The Statement of Commitment is the beginning of the Artsmark journey and you outline your plans in a framework of six questions – you can only use 500 words for each question. Once you have completed this and had it signed by your Headteacher and Chair of Governors you submit it to Arts Council England. You don’t submit the Case study document until you are ready for a level of the award.

7. What are the levels? The levels are Silver, Gold and Platinum. Your self-assessment document will help you decide which level you feel your creativity and arts level currently reflects. It is important to remember that the level you are awarded when you submit your Case study is based on the impact your Artsmark journey has had on your school. Silver levels tend to reflect school that are emerging in developing their creativity throughout the curriculum, staff are developing expertise and there are clear results. Gold reflects schools that are really embedding creativity and developing best practice and Platinum school are those which are very much stretching both staff and young people, are able to offer advice and are making a big difference,

8. So how long does the case study need to be? Well, actually – not very! There are five questions – each one with a word limit of 500 words This is a very reflective document – you have the opportunity to explain how effective your Artsmark journey has been and outline the difference it has made to your school in terms of attainment and progress. You will also have the opportunity to highlight unexpected outcomes from your original plans

9. What else can I use to help me? You can use the Quality Principles to help you plan your Artsmark journey – they can be a useful tool while planning, delivering and reflecting upon your Artsmark journey.They are embedded throughout the new Artsmark award to better support schools to achieve their ambitions for high quality arts and cultural provision.

10. Ok – I think this might really work for my setting – what next? You can find out lots more at here and subscribe for the regular newsletter. Contact your local bridge organization to find out what support they are offering – many will do free briefings before you commit. You can also find out about Artsmark Partners – organisations who will have a range of offers for schools who are enrolled on the Artsmark journey.












Copyright © 2018 Music Education Solutions® Limited. All Rights Reserved.




Our February #MESis10 competition prize was a pair of tickets to the Curriculum Music Conference. We think it’s fair to say that Alyson Medley was delighted with her prize!