The new term is here! How did that happen? I’d love to share with you what we got up to at our end of term Big Fat Music Party back when the summer holidays were a dream waiting around the corner.
As usual we had a nice varied programme with plenty of audience participation. My favourite moment was when one of my young students sang a pirate song she had written for voice and piano. Every time she sang, ‘Aaaarrrr’! We had to call back, ‘Shiver me timbers!’ And when she sang ‘Shiver me timbers’, we all had to respond ‘Aaaarrrr!’
We performed a mass 12 bar blues jam. I kept a bass accompaniment going on the piano; there was a long line of people waiting to improvise on the treble. They improvised In pairs on a scale of their choice – major pentatonic, flat 3 pentatonic or blues. At any given time there were two students playing question and answer in four bar phrases. When one student had played enough questions, they went to sit down and the answering student shifted up to take the questions, and a new student from the line became the new answerer. Clear as mud? Well it was fun even if hard to describe. We had some really interesting combinations of students who had never played together before, listening well and jamming with each other.
I like to have at least one big fat number where I get everyone playing/singing together. This time it was Twist and shout.
What a tune! I’ve never really realised its potential as an out and out joyful teaching song before.
Twist and Shout – words and chords (downloadable PDF)
It has same simple chord sequence throughout the song which is what we like! (See Cyclical Chord Progessions). Apart from the times you stick on the one chord for the long ascending Ahs. Children love this bit. No, strike that, Everyone loves this bit! You can bring them all off, make a dramatic pause (make them wait, make them listen) and then bring the whole raucous band back in again. It’s instinctively easy to feel where the point is to rejoin, and they all come crashing back in with gusto. Rule one of a big fat jam: don’t be too precious.
Instrumentation on the night
Three people on piano, two playing um cha, one playing this bass part:
(kept simple for the confidence of the sudent – he had quite an important job with this part).
4 soprano ukuleles, 1 baritone ukulele
1 guitar playing strum, hit, strum hit, down up down up down up down up (hit the strings with your hand, not the person standing next to you)
1 trumpet playing this:
This is the sounding pitch; as the trumpet is a transposing instrument I wrote it out for him like this:
1 big drum
Lots of shakers and various percussion instruments
Lots of singers.
And my favourite of all – my daughter and her friend playing this drone on 2 violins:
I started the bass piano player off first, then brought in the two people playing um cha on the piano, then guitar, ukuleles, trumpet, violins, drum, percussion. By the time I had brought all of these groups in one by one, they had had lots of time jamming around their part to feel confident and get into a nice groove with each other. Then I brought us all in for the song.
We had a lyric sheet written up huge and hung on the wall, with a handy student-assistant (who had helped make the poster) pointing out to everyone where we were.
What I realised was that if I direct it all on the night I don’t have to worry about giving people things to remember, like when to change to this point, when to drop out etc. The students have their simple sequences to play, and otherwise await instruction. They can just enjoy feeling the music together, and they have to keep an eye and ear out for me whilst holding down their part. Great musicianship training, relaxing, and much more likely to succeed when getting 20 people playing a tune together without prior rehearsal!
For the end, we copied what the Beatles did when playing this song live. After the ascending ‘ah’s, they climb up from E to A, semitone by semitone. For those not playing the semitones, they waited to play a big fat A at the end. I sang, “Now it’s time to play…” to the semitone climb up so that we were all in no doubt when to strike the AAAAAA!
What a lovely lively band! I didn’t manage to record it, but a few weeks later, my family along with a couple of other families ended up jamming it around the tents at Priddy folk festival. We enjoyed it so much we performed it on stage at the open mic. This is ‘Big Jam’: as my husband pointed out, our first gig as a family. That’s my 4 year old son there playing the shaker.
(we didn’t really get the final climb up going in this version. Never mind, if in doubt, give the audience a big grin!)