Curriculum Case Study: KS2 Whole Class Instrumental Curriculum

In this series of blogs Dr Liz Stafford discusses the curriculum design projects we have undertaken here at Music Education Solutions®, showing the different approaches used in order to fit the bespoke requirements of each brief.


In 2021, the team at Music Education Solutions was commissioned by Kapow Primary to develop a whole class instrumental teaching scheme for KS2, for use alongside or as an alternative to the Kapow Primary Music Scheme of Work. This curriculum was to be compliant with the newly released Model Music Curriculum, expand the range of musical styles offered in the original scheme, reflect the incremental learning approach recommended by Ofsted in their Music Subject Research Review, and be suitable for non-specialist teachers to use. In order to make the curriculum as accessible as possible for non-specialists, and also cost-effective for schools who had already resourced themselves according to the main Kapow Primary scheme, tuned percussion was chosen as the focus instrument.

Curriculum Structure:

As is appropriate for a whole-class instrumental project, this curriculum was to be structured around the learning of specially-composed music, with one piece acting as the focus of each half term unit. When using more complex instruments (e.g. brass or strings) for whole-class projects, it is common to introduce a new note with each new piece. However when using tuned percussion, once you can play one note you can play them all! This therefore freed us up to use the notation strand of the Model Music Curriculum as the main structural driver in our scheme, introducing rhythmic and pitch symbols progressively over time.

We wanted to ensure that the children would build up a repertoire of pieces that they could perform many times, rather than just focusing on one per half term and then forgetting all about it. An opportunity is built in halfway through the scheme for a review of learning - revisiting and rehearsing the pieces already learnt before moving on to the next new piece – and the whole scheme finishes with a celebratory performance of all the pieces learnt during the course of the year.

Curriculum Content

As this curriculum was to sit alongside an existing curriculum as either an alternative or an additional method of study, we had to make sure that it covered all elements of the National Curriculum, and as previously mentioned we had been asked to make it align with the Model Music Curriculum too. We also needed to ensure that it was flexible enough to be used in multiple different year groups so schools could choose to position it according to what worked best for them. This was no mean feat! Eventually we were able to ensure that this one-year curriculum covered the whole Model Music Curriculum for Year 3 (performing, composing, singing, listening etc), plus all of the requirements relating to Instrumental Performance and Staff Notation for all of Year 4 and most of Year 5!

Another aim for this project was to introduce a range of musical styles from around the world, making the curriculum more representative of the multiple communities that schools serve. Six different musical styles were chosen and presented without making comparisons or value judgements about their ‘worth.’ Only the very last musical style chosen comes from a Western tradition, and this was specifically chosen because the style is heavily influenced by some of the other musical styles introduced in the scheme. This was a nice opportunity to turn the usual messaging around western musical styles on its head; often we talk about how popular and traditional music styles are ‘influenced by’ or ‘reflect’ western classical music, but there is not often a lot of discussion about this happening the other way around! Musical styles from South Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Indonesia, India, and North America are included within the curriculum.

Curriculum Progression:

Anyone who has read one of our other blogs on curriculum design will know that we always plan on a spiral. What is a little different about this project is that due to the alignment with the Model Music Curriculum, the core of our spiral is notation. Each piece was designed to build incrementally on the techniques and knowledge of the previous piece, including known features alongside new content. For example the first unit (South Africa) introduces semibreves, minims and crotchets, and the second (Caribbean) revisits these and adds in quavers. In terms of pitch progression, the pieces start out with letter notation provided over the top of the notes on each score, then gradually as the pieces progress, only new pitches have letter notation, until pupils are eventually playing entirely from unannotated staff notation. By the end of the year, pupils are identifying and responding to performance markings, accidental notes, and other complex notational features.

Curriculum Support:

Kapow Primary is well-known for their integrated approach to CPD and curriculum, with each lesson accompanied by a teacher video that explains and demonstrates the lesson content. This curriculum was no exception to that, and teacher videos were provided for each lesson, as well as a set of free-standing teacher videos about staff notation for teachers who are not music readers. Full lesson plans and resources for both teaching and assessment are provided in accordance with Kapow Primary’s usual approach. We chose to provide each instrumental piece in a variety of formats. It is usual to have a guide track and a backing track for pieces, however, we went one further for this project and provided three different versions of the audio tracks; a guide track (with melody) to play along to while rehearsing, a backing track (without melody) to play along to in performances, and a demo track for the teacher’s sole use which includes demonstrations of the type of creative responses the children might make in the improvisation sections of the pieces. This third type of track was created because we knew that the teachers might want examples of what the creative activities within the pieces would sound like, but we didn’t want the children to hear these and be steered into just copying them instead of coming up with their own ideas.

Curriculum Impact:

When this curriculum was released, there was certainly a lot of buzz around it! Teachers from as far away as China have been in contact to say how much they have enjoyed using the materials, and a frequent question is ‘when are you going to do more instruments?’ These are good signs that schools are finding this curriculum useful and impactful!

Dr Elizabeth Stafford, February 2023. Copyright © 2023 Music Education Solutions Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Further information and support:

Click here to read more blogs about curriculum design

Click here to access our course on Curriculum Design in Music

Click here to access a free trial of the Kapow Primary music scheme

Click here to watch a video demonstration of the Kapow Primary Instrumental Curriculum songs

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