In a new series of guest blogs, Matilda Brown, composer and community musician, gives us an insight into how she uses Figurenotes with pupils. Matilda uses her work in special schools to demonstrate particular ways into using Figurenotes, which work wonders with beginners of all ages. Look out for part 2 and 3 over the next couple of weeks. 

Part 1 – Introducing Figurenotes to Group Music

Fun with colour, fun with shapes

I love getting to know my new music groups through fun warm-ups, singing songs, conducting games, and improvisation. No matter what level of musical experience the pupils have had in the past, this kind of group work creates an inclusive environment where everyone’s musical say is important. This practice also helps the pupils become aware of each other in the space, get to know each other’s likes and dislikes, and how it feels to put sounds together in practice for playing in a band.

Where does Figurenotes come in?

Figurenotes can become part of this initial process. Here are a few example of how I introduce Figurenotes to groups:

  • Colour Song Warm-up – Introducing colour through a song. Pupils love singing about their favourite colours.

Benefits: Introducing Figurenotes colours through a song can really help pupils to become comfortable working with colour in the future.

  • Play What You See – Pupils choose a colour. They then choose an instrument and match the instrument to their colour. When their colour is held up by the conductor, they play their instrument.

Benefits: It’s fun! This starts to introduce the pupils to following colours and can help with following a Figurenotes score. You can also introduce call and response technique.

  • Two Colour Conductor – Each pupil selects an instrument. The pupils are split into two groups; each group selecting a colour. For example, Group 1 is red (C) and group 2 is blue (F). When the conductor holds up the Figurenotes red circle, group 1 will play their instruments. You can introduce a chime bar that matches these pitches, so that your pupils start to recognise the pitch of the colour.

Benefits: Pupils begin to hear red as C and blue as F, as well as practising following both colour and the conductor. They also have to be aware of what the others in their group are playing, try to play together musically, whether playing to a beat or playing without a beat.

I develop this game by using different Figurenotes shapes to introduce octaves. I also use guitar chords C and F, for example, as an accompaniment. This helps the pupils hear the pitch of the note with the chords.

There are many other ways to use Figurenotes in warm-up exercises. You could focus on rhythm, learning about rests and sustaining notes. This is easily done using a short rhythm in a Figurenotes bar/box.

Examples from my work in Hampden Primary:

I work with two groups at Hampden and we use some of these warm-ups in our groups.

Group 1 love using their bodies to move to music. They like copying a leader/conductor. After working like this to a simple backing track, I assigned each pupil a colour. They would move their bodies when the conductor held up their colour. This was fun and gave them freedom to move to the accompaniment any way they liked. The pupils were learning about following colour and playing in turn. Their bodies became the instruments to simple Figurenotes notation.

In my second group, Paul was the conductor and he wanted to know how long to hold up the colour for. This was a great question! We decided that Red would be played for 1-5 seconds and Blue would be played for 2-8 seconds. The pupils love counting, so I started to introduce different length notes and rests.

After getting to know my groups, we start to write our own songs and structured pieces of music. It’s also productive to schedule in one to one composing and performing sessions, creating new tunes or finishing songs we started as a group. This is when I use Figurenotes a lot. I’ll explain more on this subject in part 3.

You can read the next stage of Matilda‘s blog, A Composer’s Perspective, next week. The final blog will explore composition with her groups at Hampden Primary School. 


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