Saturday, 21 March 2009

Conducting Tick Tock

This exercise is especially well suited to children aged between five and eight years and can be played with a large class. Ideally you will need plenty of instruments but there are perfectly good work-arounds that I'll detail at the end. I have found chime bars (I'm a bit of a fan of chime bars) to be useful in this context. I'll assume you have one for every child in the class but bear with me if you haven't; as I said, there are plenty of alternatives.

  1. Arrange your group in a circle that includes you and any adult helpers you may have. It is important that your circle is 'true'. Everyone in it needs to be able to see everyone else. And they all need sufficient elbow room to play their instruments.
  2. If you like, play a round or two of Quick Tick Tock. This will make sure everyone is as attentive and engaged as they are able.
  3. Split the group down the middle, one side of the circle being 'ticks' and the other side 'tocks'. Don't include yourself if you are the only adult present. If you have a helper then include yourself in one group and the helper in the other. Explain which side is 'tick' and which 'tock', count 'One, Two Three and' (or One, Two, Three, Four) to begin. It may take a couple of starts to get this right but one side should tick and then be silent while the other side tocks.
  4. Almost certainly some children will be ticking and tocking. This may be because they are looking across the circle at the other group. Ask all the 'ticks' to put raise their hands so they can see each other. Suggest they look at the others in their group while playing the game. Do the same with the 'tocks'.
  5. When you feel the clock is running as smoothly as can be expected, hand out the chime bars. To avoid unwanted noise, place the bars on the floor 2ft (60cm) in front of each child with instructions not to pick them up or try to play them with their feet. If you are really well supplied you can give bars you can give the 'ticks' the notes of one chord and the 'tocks' the notes of another but this will need some forethought if you are not to lose the attention of the class.
  6. Demonstrate the wonders of the chime bar. How to hit it so it rings, how to dampen it and the sound it makes when you strike its sound box with the beater. Now stand in the middle of the circle and demonstrate your signal for stop and instruct the children to look out for it. Ask them to pick up their chime bars and experiment. This will be noisy but hopefully enough of them will be notice when you signal an end that the rest will look up or be nudged by their neighbours.

  7. If need be tell everyone to put down their instruments while you speak. Now tell the 'ticks' you will want them to play their chime bars so they ring and tell the tocks you'll want them to hit the sound box with the beater. Set the 'game' in motion again and let people voice the ticks and tocks if that helps. Once this is running smoothly you are ready for the next stage.
  8. Demonstrate signals for loud (raised arms) and soft (arms down). Get everyone ticking and tocking loudly and quietly in response to your signal. Stop them tell the two groups to respond only to the arm nearest their side of the circle. Now demonstrate the art of making one side play soft, the other loud. Now swap them round. Both loud then both soft. And finally, ask for volunteers to conduct the 'clock'.

I have seen children with various shades of SEN (special educational needs) positively beaming when given a chance to conduct. And after seeing this, 'dancing' orchestral conductors need no explanation.

And the work-arounds? Basically, as long as the players on each side can make a sound similar to each other but different from the other group then that is good enough. Chime bars on one side, untuned percussion on the other, for example. If you can only improvise enough instruments for half the group, the other half can clap.

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