Category Archives: Games

TeachMeet 2011

This evening I’m heading up to TeachMeet 2011 chez Scottish Book Trust as one of the 7-minute presenters.

My theme is Literacy, Numeracy and Games in Instrumental Lessons. Seven minutes will allow a an average of 6 seconds per slide. So it will be a broad brush, hurried affair with the intention that people can download the ppt from here.

So here it is: Literacy-Numeracy-Games-in-Instrumental-Lessons

World Cup Anthems

I was delighted to receive, from friend and colleague, Gordon Wood, the anthems for all 32 World Cup teams. In addition to the notation for each tune, there is a short history of the tune and, in some cases, lyrics. Not only a labour of love, but a rich task. Generously, Gordon encouraged me to pass them on to as many people as would find them useful.

Here they are:

Algeria   Argentina   Australia   Brasil   Cameroon   Chile   Cote d’Ivoire   Denmark   England   France   Germany   Ghana   Greece   Honduras   Italy   Japan   Korea   Mexico   Netherlands   New Zealand   Nigeria   North Korea   Paraguay   Portugal   Serbia   Slovakia   Slovenia   South Africa   Spain   Switzerland   Uruguay   USA   Wavin Flag   Wavin’ Flag Lyrics

In order that these can be accessed by as many people as possible, I’ve converted them to pdf format. These are mostly in keys suitable for military band. If you would like the original Sibelius files, so that you can transpose to suit particular instruments, just post a comment and I’ll email them to you.


In our enthusiasm for learning through gaming, might we be overlooking one of the oldest games in the world – chess? There is sufficient belief in its contribution to learning in general, that countries as varied as America, Russia and Venezuela include the game – and its study – in the curriculum. Closer to home, Chess Scotland is very active in school life (look for Schools link in menu on left-hand side).

Google Alerts threw a pdf document my way entitled the Benefits of Chess in Education, in which, like music, chess is shown to strengthen other domains – reading, maths, logic, planning, problem solving, juggling options. There appear also to be social and behavioural benefits.

The chess community has not been slow to augment traditional over the board games and analytical books with a variety of hi-tech and online resources: chess computers; software; websites; gaming sites. YouTube features many instructional videos on openings and endgames in addition to more performance-based films such as this amazing blitz game (even the physical co-ordination is impressive – let alone the mental performance):[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] 

or this simul, in which Garry Kasparov defeats 25 opponents:[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Perhaps, though, despite all this, the game of chess continues to labour under the image of being a geeky game? Well, not in South Bronx, where the Dark Knights record against schools which can afford private coaching is very impressive.


I spent Friday afternoon at NBHS in a very enjoyable, whole school CAT/CPD event on Literacy. One of the features I especially enjoyed was the cross-curricular nature. I often find myself questioning the wisdom of our discrete Instrumental Instructor In Service days, wondering if so much micro at the expense of macro is a good thing, given the direction in which Scottish Education is currently heading.

The event comprised two sections:

  • all staff – randomly grouped – discussing and sharing what we considered literacy to mean at various age groups from 0 to 25 – led by Karen Haspolat (QIO) and Mary Howie (Literacy Adviser).

  • a chosen workshop from a list of five – I chose How We Learn To Read presented by Hilery Williams

Within a few minutes of discussing our given age group (13-16) it became clear that the definition of literacy was becoming boundless and our post-its included the following literacies: traditional; digital/web; musical; physical; social; inter/intra personal; foreign language; political; sexual (meaning – sense of appropriate behaviour); moral; economic. Many of these quickly necessitated sub categories. Language, for example, distinguished between reading, writing, listening & talking, while Music featured playing, listening, composing/arranging/improvising. Both also contain higher order skills such as critical commentary/review; pastiche; a sense of appropriate register e.g. is this level of irony suitable for a wedding ceremony?; or is a pipe band the best medium for this lullaby? I was very impressed with the presentation of each group’s findings which, without exception, seemed comprehensive – even although the given age range may have fallen quite far outside the area of professional expertise.

How We Learn To Read was entirely hands-on and practical – and fun. Hilery guided us through them with a gentle hand, which sustained a sense of challenge, and an infectious joie de vivre which belied the time of the week and the previous day’s house move! The activities had been very well designed and selected to allow us to discover, often by stealth, how we may have accrued the various literacy skills which we now take for granted. A vital part of that discovery necessitated discussing the strategies that we had used to arrive at our answers. Having turned 49 that day it struck me that my formal introduction to reading had begun 44 years before and that I had very few memories of the process – although I can recall sounding out and seem to remember using a book mark to discourage the eye from wandering into the wrong line. Again, I felt that the cross curricular nature of the teams accelerated rather than impeded effective team-work. Our table featured Art; Modern Languages; Computing; Guidance & Instrumental Teaching.

Throughout the tasks, I tried to keep a corner of my mind free to consider the parallels (no matter how inchoate) between traditional and musical literacy. The first activity involved concentrating on syllabification by means of a jigsaw whose individual pieces contained only one syllable. Within seconds of the pieces being spilled out, I found myself gravitating towards syllables which could only be found at the end of words. Why this should be I remain unsure – particularly as the capitalised beginnings ought to have stood out more. Fortunately our mercurial Modern Languages teacher had already identified and lined up the beginnings and pretty soon we were all able to predict the syllables we needed to find to complete the four words. It was interesting to note how prediction played as much a part as identification in this task. This is certainly a feature of musical sight-reading. Perhaps my fascination with endings constitutes one of the parallels with musical literacy. I would contend that one of the first steps in playing a phrase musically is to make the ending sound like an ending. It is an easier notion to grasp than making the middle sound like a middle or the beginning like a beginning. This has implication for interpretation, performance, composing/arranging. One level of listening would be for pupils to consider what it is about the content of a particular passage that makes it sound like an ending. A slightly more tricky one could include the question, “what is it about the content here which makes it seem that the ending is just around the corner?”

I won’t divulge here the contents of every activity undertaken, lest there remain readers who have yet to undergo them. Suffice to say that there were many more than time allowed and I’d have enjoyed doing several more.

I hope to engage in further consideration with Hilery of the parallels between our respective literacies as I have an intuition that the similarities may well outweigh the differences. More immediately, I’d say I have been inspired to devise more games for lessons as the animation they bring to learning is undeniable.

Games already in use can be seen here:

1    2    3    4    5


Read Faster, Read Smarter

I decided to spend the last day of this week off attending a CPD event laid on by ELC. Delivered by Park Sims Associates, the course was entitled Read Faster, Read Smarter and its stated aim was to help “all who want to get through their reading at work faster and smarter.”

I was hoping that there would be some straightforward ocular content as this would surely be transferable (to some degree) to the reading of music. I was not disappointed in this respect and hope to share that (and this) with colleagues at Monday’s In Service.

I’ve no wish here merely to post online the content of a course honed over years by fellow professionals, so let it suffice to say that it was as good an example of active learning as I’ve seen. Many of the tasks had been cleverly designed to highlight a particular point by stealth, so that the habits of a lifetime, which often conspire to impede us, might be circumvented.

Well presented handouts were abundant, allowing us to concentrate on the task at hand which, I think the 16 delegates would agree, was at times very challenging. However, no-one in their right mind, would expect a physical skill to fall into place in a matter of hours. Like most skills, speed reading consists of a variety of strategies and an intuitive application of the appropriate one comes only with experience.

I look forward to developing what I learned today and, hopefully, to exploring further the parallels with written music. Having had some intensive concentration on visual intake, I feel now may be the time to seek out a book written by one of the presenters of Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind – “The Eye: A Natural History” by Simon Ings.



I suspect that many readers of blogs are also writers of blogs. That could explain why John Connell’s post on English usage and pedantry attracted so much attention – apart from the obvious quality of the writing, of course. I would imagine that most people would like to believe that they can write English proper when required, but stop short of the zealous, Canutesque protectionism to which we refer affectionately as pedantry.

If you remain unsure of your status as a grammarian, why not try Broadcasting House‘s short Grammar Quiz. The correct answers will appear on this Sunday’s programme (Sunday 30th November). As for the pedantry – you’ll have to ask your friends.

May I offer this little warm-up question?

Insert apostrophes, where required, in this sentence:

Is is indicative of Englands medias attitude, to air the answers to Broadcasting Houses quiz on English grammars trickiness on St. Andrews day?

Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind – 2

Peter Lovatt’s improvisation workshop, which followed hot on the heels of The Science of Improvisation, concentrated on verbal as opposed to musical improvisation. I imagine the reasons for this included:

  • not all present would have brought instruments

  • not all present were musicians

  • breaking into groups, working verbally would produce less racket than would its musical equivalent

However, being an guitar teacher, I’ve since thought about how to make use of parallels. I should perhaps point out here as a prelude to outlining my memory and analysis of events that, unlike the two longer seminars, I did not make an audio recording – the nature of the workshop simply wasn’t going to lend itself to that, as we were frequently to break into changing groups to try out the various ideas. I know how unreliable memory can be, but I feel I can remember most of what happened.

At the heart of the workshop was Continue reading Tune-In: Music with the Brain in Mind – 2

The sands of time

Over the festive period I played my first game of Cranium. I’m convinced that the time limit, provided by a cute little egg timer, watched hungrily by competitive opponents while inarticulate hands strive to depict the Millennium Dome in plasticine, adds that element of fun which friendly pressure can bring to bear. Over the remaining days of the holiday the idea, common in all sports, of exactly how long things take began to get a hold of me. How long it takes one to run or swim 100m is a very significant fact to a competitor or coach. Yet how long it takes one to perform a given calculation e.g. recite a multiplication table or conjugate a verb, seems to be entirely missing from many forms of learning.

I let the idea mature for a few days while heaving myself up and down my local swimming baths – thankfully no scrutinising coach, eyes glued to stopwatch, paced the poolside as I did so. I came up with a few games whose purpose is to speed up manipulation of aspects of theory of music which I then tried out over a few drinks with some colleagues towards the end of the holidays. Why not try this one out – mental calculation only – no writing!

Intervals (the distant between two notes) Go round the circle until you end up where you started – sharps and flats don’t matter – just letters. Here are a couple of examples:

  • direction is ascending
  • interval is 4ths
  • starting point is D (start the stopwatch as you announce the letter)

Answer: D, G, C, F, B, E, A, D

another one

  • direction is descending
  • interval is 6ths
  • starting point is F

Answer: F, A, C, E, G, B, D, F

I’d be very interested to hear, if anyone has the time and inclination to try these out, which parameters did you use and how long did it take? Where the descending ones significantly more challenging than the ascending?

Just in case anyone is wondering what use this type of thing is – rapid calculation of intervals is essential for speedy harmonic thinking. Bear in mind that alterations may also need to be made to some notes to differentiate between e.g. major, minor, augmented, diminished – so manipulation of the letters needs to be effortless. The comforting point, for me, is that the apparently endless range of options is, like most things, finite:

  • 7 letters in the musical world
  • 6 intervals inside the octave – unison and 8ve don’t count as this would simply amount to the following answer: A, A, A, A, A, A, A, A.
  • 2 possible directions (plus there are cheats to get round this)

At first glance it seems like there must be 7 x 6 x 2 = 84 possibilities. But, when you bear in mind that these journeys are circular, then calculating any given interval is akin travelling on The Circle Line line (no matter where you get on you can predict what station is next) the road ahead seems a little less uncertain.