LSO & Stephen Hawking SEN School

We had a wonderful day returning to our friends at the Stephen Hawking SEN school in East London.

This time we were joined by two musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, the lovely Robert and Hilary, who have also been working with the children in the school.

We set up the rigs, played music, sang and danced and had a thoroughly lovely day!


Below is a short film we made about our day there


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Figure notes – a new notation system

It’s always really interesting to see how people are trying to make music inclusive and readily available for everyone. This is why we’re really interested in a notation system called “Figure Notes” which we were introduced to when attending a BBC Ten Pieces event. Musical notation can look really daunting on the page, especially if you are just beginning to learn how to read it. “Figure notes” is a notation system based on shapes and colours. Basically you play what you see! This is a system that works very well for children with special needs or disabilities. It is used a lot by Drake Music Scotland, a charity that creates music opportunities for children and adults with learning difficulties.

Figure notes

There is a different colour for every note within an octave (a stretch of 8 notes). For example if we start on the note C, C would be red, D is brown, E is then white etc. It works mainly for piano because coloured stickers can be put on the notes. With each note having a colour, each register also has a shape. So the middle octave on the piano is circles and then the register below is squares. For example, we know that C is red, so if it was a red circle we would play middle C, and if it was a red square we’d play the C an octave below. The shapes then change size to determine how long you would play each note and therefore you’d start to read the rhythms too.

Figure notes

This all works for the natural notes but obviously in music we have sharps and flats too. A sharp (#) next to a note means we go a semitone (half a tone) higher than the note and a flat (b) next to it means we go a semitone lower. In this system of notation, they simply use arrows to point in the direction needed to go. So if we were looking at a brown circle (a D) that had an arrow pointing to the right, or higher up the piano, that would mean you play a D# because the symbol tells us to go higher. Likewise, if you see a brown circle with an arrow pointing to the left, or lower down the piano, that would mean you play a Db.

When learning a system of notation like this, it’s really important that the student can progress to reading traditional notation when they are ready. To bridge this gap, “Figure Notes” uses coloured notes, which starts to look like a musical stave but the notes are coloured in.

Figure Notes coloured notes

BBC Ten Pieces Live!

On Wednesday 13th May 2015 we were lucky enough to go to BBC Ten Pieces Live at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank to hear the BBC Concert Orchestra perform the Ten Pieces of music that formed this project. It was such a brilliant event, with the hall packed full of excited children that couldn’t wait to hear the music. Their enthusiasm and excitement was palatable and I loved how they started clapping when the pre performance music came on. You’d never find an adult doing that, spontaneously clapping along to the intro music, just because if felt good to, in a hall full of other adults!

BBC Ten Pieces Live

The children had their excitement rewarded as we were taught how to sing Zadok The Priest by some of the BBC Singers, led by Rebecca (a wonderfully enthusiastic lady who I’ve been lucky enough to do workshops with before) and later on taught some of the body percussion parts to the Anna Meridith body percussion composition, Connect It. With these two audience interaction pieces interspersing the rest of the pieces, the children were enraptured by watching a live orchestra play and feeling a little bit emotional it bought a tear to my eye seeing their joy, and goosebumps on my body hearing the whole of the hall (about 2,000 people) singing Zadok The Priest with an live orchestra.

What a day! As some of you might know, the inspiration lady who was leading this project, Katy Jones, sadly died a few weeks ago. I couldn’t help observe what a wonderful legacy she has left. Lucky children.


BBC Ten Pieces tour at Stephen Hawking School

As part of our schools tours we always make sure we work with some non mainstream pupils. In the past we have been to Great Ormond Street Hospital and Willow Dene and this time we were lucky enough to visit The Stephen Hawking School in East London. This school was suggested to us by our friend Hannah who used to work there, thanks Hannah! This school caters for primary school children with severe learning difficulties and well, needless to say, the work they do there is amazing. We were blown away by the care that goes on there. Each child is lovingly nurtured and encouraged in their own development. For the day we were there we did open play sessions with the children and played them some of the Ten Pieces by singing the pieces down the telephone rig or playing tunes on the bells.

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The children loved playing with the different aspects of The Rig, I think the cutlery windchime was the most popular, even being played with feet by children that couldn’t use their arms. There were some great samba grooves going on and we all got dancing at one point, loads of fun!

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We loved working with the children and very much hope we can go back there! It’s an amazing school with wonderful staff. If you would like to know anything else about the school, please visit their website here:

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Photos taken by Steve Foster at Stephen Hawking School and with grateful thanks to the parents and carers that let us use these photos.

BBC Ten Pieces schools tour, spring 2015

We were so thrilled so received a second round of funding from Arts Council England to work on part two of the BBC Ten Pieces project. In autumn 2014 we had put together a schools tour that covered five of the ten pieces and this second tour enabled us to run workshops covering the other five pieces.

We used the same set up as last time but with some new Rig adaptations from our fabulous new Blacksmith, Steve.

In the workshops the children learnt about programmable music boxes and bone conduction as we played ‘Zadok The Priest’ by Handel through our Music Box Mini Rig.

The Rig - Film Day 2015-02   Music Box Mini Rig

On the hand bells we looked at ‘Night On A Bare Mountain’ by Mussorgsky (we all practiced our Russian accents saying his name!) and ‘Mars’ by Holst. The children learnt that the thickness of the metal changes the pitch of the bell.

Bells Mini Rig close up The Rig - Film Day 2015-02

We covered ‘Short Ride In A Fast Machine’ by John Adams and other general musical questions in the ‘Pairs’ playing cards game. The children remembered facts that they had read on the cards and we talked about these later in the workshop.

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Lastly, we composed our own body percussion piece, inspired by Anna Meridith’s ‘Connect It’. The children created their own sounds and movements within the piece and with the older children we added the idea of a musical canon. They were all so thrilled that they had created their own piece of music, and were excited to carry this on with their friends in the playground.

Phew! Well done everyone involved – another successful Rig tour!




Our day at Plumcroft School

We spent a wonderful 2 days at Plumcroft School where we worked with lots of wonderful children and made a video to prove it!

They have put it up on their website with a lovely description of our time together…



BBC Ten Pieces schools workshop tour 2014

What an exciting adventure we’ve just had!

Funded by the generous people at Arts Council England, we have visited 10 schools across South London over the last 6 weeks and conducted wacky musical workshops based around the fabulous BBC’s Ten Pieces project that aims to encourage a generation of children to get creative with classical music. We took 5 of the published Ten Pieces and together learnt about their composers, instruments, melodies, rhythms and fun facts!

Team Rig having all the blurry fun

Team Rig having all the blurry fun

We used our Bells Mini Rig to play the tunes of Grieg’s ‘In the hall of the mountain king’; Beethoven’s ‘Fifth Symphony’ and Mozart’s ‘Horn Concerto No.4’; we used our improved Rhythm Mini Rig to improvise storm sounds like in Britten’s ‘Storm from Peter Grimes’; we learnt facts about all 5 pieces by playing games using our bespoke playing cards; we learnt the scary and thrilling stories of Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ and the Grieg by playing a quiz; and we heard the beautiful melody of the Stravinsky through our *NEW* Music Box Mini Rig which has 1940’s car horn ear trumpets at each end…..and all of this in an hour…. pheeeew!!

Our new and improved Rhythm Rig!

Our new and improved Rhythm Rig!

Filming the music box Rig

Filming the music box Rig

But that’s not all… our website now has 3 more ‘How To…’ video guides for everyone to watch and you can see a video that shows us leading the workshops in Plumstead School! Even if you didn’t participate in the workshops, have a look and try making yourself an instrument at home – what about a home made Hosepipe Horn?!

Here is our video taken at Plumcroft primary school of us running our workshops…


Rig science day!

How lucky we are here at The Rig!

Last week we met the wonderful Dr Mark Richards – head of Physics outreach at Imperial College London.

As part of our grant from Arts Council England, we wanted to increase our knowledge in regards to sound waves and the conduction of sound and have an expert look at some of our designs.

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We spent a marvellous and informative 3 hours with Dr Richards who inspired us with his extensive knowledge on the subject. If only all Physics teachers were as handsome and charismatic, we may have signed up for science sooner!

Learning about sound waves

Prior to this, we had taken a trip to the Science Museum to gain inspiration from the experiments in their Launch Pad learning zone for children. We found a sound experiment very similar to our Oven Tray Headphones that uses a piece of copper rod connected to music that you clenched your teeth around to hear the music through bone conduction.

Sound experiments at The Science Museum, London

Sound experiments at The Science Museum, London

Copper/sound experiment

Copper/sound experiment

Copper sound experiments at The Science Museum

Copper sound experiments at The Science Museum

So now, fellow Riggy Wiggers – we’re all scienced up, and can tell you all about the waves created by our Water Gongs or why the copper tube conducts the sound in our Music Box Mini Rig!

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Playing a hosepipe like a trumpet!

Here at The Rig we are constantly looking for new ideas and new ways to make music. For one of our latest projects we are turning hosepipes into French Horns.

Here is one of Becky’s friends, street performer Pete Dobbing, playing one of these in his street show during Edinburgh Festival 2014.