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Music: Get into the groove

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By Richard Slaney from

Explore the orchestra with these inclusive, ICT-based activities that will be music to your ears!


Music is a great way of combining cross-curricular skills

Finding new approaches for teaching children about the orchestra can be tricky. Making and playing their own instruments can be a good basis from which to introduce the subject. However, composing music, based on the knowledge children have of instruments and sounds, will inspire and delight. That’s why the Philharmonia Orchestra’s The Sound Exchange website (, and in particular its Groove editor, provides an exciting alternative to investigating instruments using ICT. From introducing an orchestra using live footage, to composing music using the sequence sampler, there’s plenty to explore.

About the Philharmonia Orchestra

The Philharmonia Orchestra performs almost 200 concerts a year worldwide, with particular focus on their residencies in London, Leicester, Bedford and Basingstoke. But today orchestras have expanded beyond live concerts – it’s amazing how often children will hear an orchestra without having ever been to a concert. For example, as well as recording sessions for radio and CDs, the Philharmonia does lots of work for film, jingles for adverts and most recently video games. If you’ve played any of the Harry Potter games, you’ve listened to the Philharmonia!

The Philharmonia Orchestra are also keen to have your feedback about ways in which certain resources can be used – the site has always evolved from feedback and inspiration from those who use it most! Contact Richard Slaney with your ideas and comments.

Why not share your comments about this article and others on the Junior Ed PLUS forum

The activities that follow are based on content provided, for free, on The Sound Exchange website. The Sound Exchange Sample Sequencer is a piece of remixing software that children can use to compose their own music, encouraging hours of fun mixing instruments, beats and rhythms together.

The activities link well to Music QCA Units Painting with Sound and Journey into Space; ICT QCA Unit Manipulating sound and National Curriculum links – ICT 2a-c and Music 2b; 3-c; 4a-d and 5a-e.

Play the orchestra

Show the children the Poster, ‘The orchestra’. Talk about the four different families or sections that make up an orchestra. Can the children work out what instruments belong to which section? The Sound Exchange has a comprehensive list of notes and sounds that match the sections of the orchestra that can be downloaded for free – a great way to get children to listen carefully to the differences in pitch and tone, for example.

Once the children have been introduced to an orchestra and are familiar with the different sections, launch the interactive game Play the orchestra! Each musician makes two sounds – one when you roll the mouse over the musician and the other when you click.

The children can also put their knowledge to the test by playing the guessing game Guess what.

Virtual concert

It’s not everyday that an orchestra plays near you, but front row seats at a virtual concert can be the next best thing! Stimulate a class discussion about what happens in a performance, what the conductor’s job is and what the players have to do by watching the Philharmonia perform online from a concert performed in April 2005.

As with many of the extracts on the site, the performance can also be used as inspiration for cross-curricular activity – as the inspiration for a piece of creative writing, dance or artwork for example.

Sample sequencer

This is where the fun and creativity starts! The Sample Sequencer is a free piece of software from Philharmonia allowing you to compose or play with any instrument in the orchestra.

The children will love the fact that they can compose their own piece of music – applying all the knowledge they’ve developed about different instruments and the balance of sections – to create their own masterpiece. Why not start with the ‘easy’ sequencer online? This piece of software allows children to remix pre-recorded pieces of music bar by bar. Once they’ve chosen a piece from the library they can listen to it in a variety of different ways – try soloing the different parts (brass, wind, strings or percussion) and asking the children to identify the different sections. They can also experiment with panning – moving the sound between the left and right speakers to make it sound more orchestral, like they’re in a concert hall. Then, when they’ve experimented with the piece, they can try creating a series of remixes – moving the bars around in each case to see what happens. They could also add percussion sounds and balance the instruments’ volumes. They can then save their remix in the online library for others to hear.

Talk to a real musician!

The Philharmonia forum is a great way for the children to talk directly to the musicians in the orchestra. Invite your class to come up with a list of questions and the Philharmonia Orchestra will make sure they get one of their musicians to respond!

Creating the sound

Now onto the next stage – the full sample sequencer. Download the application from the website (it works for PC or Mac). Then, simply use the onscreen piano keyboard which corresponds to the QWERTY keyboard – the A key is C, the W key C#, and so on. Select an instrument and start to play. This creates another opportunity to discuss the different instruments of the orchestra and to discuss other core music curriculum ideas – pitch, tempo, beat, and so on.

Once the children have recorded their melody, they can then edit it by altering the pitch and segmenting the melody, using copy and paste, to build up to a full orchestra. You can continue exploring instrument sounds by asking the children questions such as: Which instrument has the lowest note? Which instruments go together well?

The full sample sequencer can also be used in live performances (why not have a Tam-Tam in a class assembly composition?) and if you’ve got a microphone you can also record your own sounds into the sequencer.



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