From football fans’ chants and cricket inspired calypso songs to Olympic ceremonies and South Africa’s vuvuzelas, sport and music appear to be inextricably entwined. They are each, in their own right, hugely significant cultural forms, almost always talked about in terms of the passion they inspire in people of all ages and backgrounds. And they come together so naturally and powerfully – in playgrounds, parks and stadiums – that it seems only logical for schools to explore their combined potential to inspire and enthuse children.
That’s exactly what Sing Up is attempting to do in the North East, through a new Vocal Force project that helps primary PE coordinators explore songwriting techniques – and shows them how to use singing as a tool on the field and in the classroom.
The project – known locally as Song Factor – is linked to a wider Local Authority campaign to promote health and wellbeing in children.
Sing Up Area Leader Shelly Ambury set about designing a workforce development programme for 50 teachers from nine schools. She explains, “The idea was to show teachers – especially non-music specialists – how music and singing can be used to deliver lessons on healthy living, SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) and sport.”
Each participating school agreed to make time for three whole-staff training sessions, as well as extra, in-depth sessions for Sing Up Champions. Early on in her planning, however, Shelly became aware that there seemed to be a lack of easily available material relating directly to sport.
“You’ll find lots of songs linked to almost every area of the curriculum, including PSHE, but very few directly support PE skills and themes,” she says. “That’s why we came up with the idea of a songwriting session especially for PE coordinators. We could have invited Sing Up Champions, but we wanted people who would be really focused on using them within a PE lesson – and of course we needed their subject knowledge!”
The songwriting workshop, led by Sharon Durant (Sing Up’s Workforce Development Resources Manager), aimed to create a set of songs that could be used by all teachers – regardless of musical ability or experience – to support the PE curriculum and to encourage communal singing at special events, such as sport-themed assemblies and inter-school sports festivals.
The group started off by discussing the sports curriculum, especially activities common to all the primaries, and honed in on the skills that could best be supported by singing.
Sharon says, “The workshop was built around song recycling. So the group took melodies from well-known songs – such as When the saints go marchin’ in – and brainstormed new words and ideas on different sporting themes. “I then helped them create lyrics – focusing on fitting the words to the existing melody, ensuring a clear rhythmic flow that would go well with physical activity, games or warm-ups, and thinking about actions to match the words, to help reinforce the message and imprint the learning."
Sharon says the collaborative approach was a good way for those who felt more confident about writing music to support those who might be daunted by the idea, adding, “Song recycling is a great way in for teachers because it removes any fear they have about writing music in the traditional sense. Just choose a song you know and love, and make your own words to fit whatever you're doing. It’s still a very creative and satisfying exercise that can open people’s eyes to the joy of composing and performing.”
Just ask Simon Otterson, Deputy Head and Advanced PE coordinator at Glynwood Community Primary School in Gateshead. The training boosted his confidence and helped him introduce a wider variety of exciting activities to his pupils.
“The only singing I would do normally is in assembly and the end-of-year production because I’ve never been musically trained and I’m not really confident in teaching music. The workshop has made me feel comfortable to pass on these [song-recycling] skills to fellow teachers and the kids, encouraging them to have a go at taking popular songs and changing lyrics for use in PE, dance and other physical activities.”
Simon put what he’d learned to immediate use, arranging for each ‘house’ in the school to work on supporter chants for their teams at the end-of-term sports day. “The kids were really engaged in the music-making, because it was closely linked to the big event. And because we’re a very sporty school, there’s a lot of potential for us to do more of this work throughout the year – we usually attend at least 15 inter-school tournaments a term.”
There were also particular benefits for boys in linking sport to music, he feels. “Music and dancing isn’t just a girl thing – it’s something boys can get a lot of enjoyment out of. But it can help overcome any possible resistance about singing not being ‘cool’ if you put a football slant on it – you suddenly get an overwhelming majority of boys wanting to do it!”
Jo Scott, PE coordinator and Year 5 teacher at Chopwell Primary School in Newcastle upon Tyne, also found the experience rewarding. Building a repertoire of songs that focus on particular skills – rather than generic ‘action’ songs that can be used in playground games or dance lessons – has provided a great boost for teachers and pupils.
“Much as they love kicking a ball about, our children struggled to understand what it meant to be an attacker or defender, so it was difficult to get them to play in a tactical way. I’ve used a chant from the workshop with my KS2 football club and it’s worked in getting the message across of what each player should be doing. And it gets them pumped up before a game!”
Top tips for creating your own sporty songs
You, too, can take music out of the classroom and onto the football field...
1. When working with colleagues on curriculum-specific songs, try to use a group of mixed musical abilities, so that the more experienced can make others feel comfortable. But make sure everyone in the group is encouraged to contribute, regardless of musical ability.
2. Make it as easy as possible to incorporate singing into PE – choose songs that children (and teachers) will know and find easy to sing. The idea is to boost the sporting experience with appropriate songs – not to turn football practice into choir.
3. Use songs that have a similar pattern of music to them – this will make it easier to change the lyrics and also for groups of children to perform different versions of the same song in rounds or altogether (for instance as call-and-response or partner songs).
Visit the Bonus Download Area to get some of the sporty lyrics from the songwriting workshop to use in your PE lessons. There are also lots of top tips on the site so you can have a go at writing a few lively lyrics.
Check out our pack, Get healthy, get singing. It’s got themed lesson plans, activities and the catchy song, Raise my voice by Carrie and David Grant. It comes with warm-ups about eating well, exercising regularly and being positive. For a copy of the booklet, visit the Bonus Downloads Area.