Innovative Primary Music Curriculum at GIS

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Innovative Primary Music Curriculum at GIS

By Christopher Koelma, Primary Music Leader

The music team at GIS has spent the last four years developing a well-rounded, innovative and exciting curriculum for our students. The curriculum is centred on singing, instrument-playing, listening and composition and makes use of an abundance of resources available within the department. Linking the music curriculum with the 20+ Music CCA’s provided each week and the extensive Instrumental Music Programme (IMP) gives the students multiple pathways with which they can access music learning.

We have identified three parts of the music curriculum that have been developed or adopted by the GIS Music Team and contribute to the innovative music curriculum:

  1. Keyboard Towers
  2. Recorder Karate to Toots and Doods transition programme
  3. Year 5 and 6 Performance Focus

Keyboard Towers

Students at GIS all experience playing the keyboard during music lessons in Year 3 and 4. We are aware that at this age many children have already begun to take private piano/keyboard lessons meaning that within a classroom there are students with a variety of experience levels. In order to cater for all children, regardless of their experience, we have developed a self-directed program for students called ‘Keyboard Towers’.

The idea is that students can progress at their own pace through the levels of the keyboard towers (based on the Petronas Towers in KL – see right). For each level, students must perform a piece of music for their teacher and complete a set of music activities. Once they have done this, they receive a sticker to add to their Keyboard towers chart.

This system has taken 4 years to develop and we now have a program that allows for differentiation for student abilities, maximises engagement and provides an opportunity for student self-direction.


Recorder Karate to Toots and Doods transition programme

Students at GIS begin to learn the recorder from Year 1 and continue until they are in Year 5. The Recorder Karate concept was developed by Barb Philipak and is used around the world as a fantastic tool for engaging learners and motivating them to progress on the recorder. Students must learn a piece of music and once they accurately perform it for the class they are given a coloured belt to tie around the bottom of the recorder. Much like traditional karate, students start by achieving their white belt before progressing to yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, red, brown and finally black.

Many students will reach their black belt by the end of Year 3 and this is where our transition programme begins. Our woodwind teacher, Mr. Long, offers the opportunity to Year 4 students to join a special ‘Toots and Doods’ group. The Toot and Dood are instruments developed by Hong Kong based company Nuvo. The instruments have similar features to a recorder:

  • The Toot (like a small flute) and has the same finger positions as the recorder but introduces a flute mouthpiece
  • The Dood (like a small clarinet) has the same finger positions as the recorder but introduces a plastic reed (used on clarinets, saxophones and other woodwind instruments.

These instruments are small, lightweight and made of plastic making them highly durable and easy to use for students with small fingers.

Once the students complete a period of practice on these instruments, they then progress to the J Flute and Clarineo – which are plastic instruments that introduce the flute and clarinet finger positions (different to recorder finger positions).

The image below illustrates the transition programme:

Students who play Clarinet and J Flute are invited to join the primary orchestra and perform in a variety of concerts and events, both at GIS and in the wider community.


Year 5 and 6 Performance Focus

In Years 5 and 6 all students must perform a piece of music for the class during Term 1. This performance task is a supported project based on the following criteria:

  1. Students can choose any song (appropriate for school) and perform it for the class by either singing or playing on a chosen instrument.
  2. Students can perform solo or in small groups.
  3. The piece of music must be at least 1 minute long and no longer than 4 minutes.
  4. Students are assessed on their effort and preparation when planning the performance AND their audience skills when watching their peers.

Students then use a specially designed rubric to reflect on their performance at the beginning, middle and end of the project.

Doing the performance task in both Year 5 and Year 6 allows students to aim to improve their performance across the two years. It also allows teachers to reinforce the importance and expectations of what it means to be a ‘good’ audience. We would like our students to be supportive, encouraging and critically reflective about these performances and aim to eliminate any negativity associated with the experience.

The idea of introducing this task into the primary curriculum allows students to access music that they would like to perform and adds to our goal to encourage all students to ‘have-a-go’ at performing. Focussing on the elements of effort and preparation highlights the need for students to be organised and develop time management and rehearsal skills.

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