Creature Songs based on Collective Nouns
This collection of songs based on Collective Nouns grew out of a fascination for the weird and wonderful world of animal nomenclature and here we celebrate the sometimes random but mostly apposite names given to groups of creatures.
Our aim is to continue to expand and develop this repertoire as we find further inspiration amongst the wonderful world of words that describe and categorise the world around us.
Ask yourself which creatures would you associate with the following modes of self-transportation? Hop, skip, jump, run, slither, glide, fly, swim, burrow, climb, soar, hover, creep, crawl, wriggle. How many do you not know? Probably very few, if any! Yet if asked to match creatures to their respective collective nouns, listed here, how would you fare? Answers and more in section 11.
A Ambush B Business C Caravan D Drove
E Exaltation F Farrow G Gaggle H Hedge
I Implausibility J Jitter K Kindle L Labour
M Mob N Nursery O Ostentation P Prickle
Q Quiver R Rhumba S Stench T Thunder
U Unkindness V Venue W Waddle X X-ray
Y Yap Z Zeal
You could adopt a step-by-step approach to getting to know a song, e.g. Flambo or Spiders! Why not learn it first as a poem to enable the reader to feel its rhythms, then chant it, then get some movement going and then add the tune? Another approach might be to introduce a song as a whole e.g. Butterflies and ladybirds where the opening unfolds and develops naturally and sequentially, such that it is unnecessary to unpick its component rhythm, melody and words.
For each song or miniature you will see the original poem, followed by supporting information - Fascinations, Musicking and Learning moves - followed by the Music score and an example Demo track and a Backing track. All Song lyrics may be found together in Resource No 2.
To 'fascinate' derives from the Latin 'to charm or spellbind' and here you will find information and facts of an unusual nature about our featured creatures to interest and entice you, to stimulate and provoke you to explore more. Healthy learning habits are developed as you are encouraged to think and use your collective imaginations, individually and collectively, following your instincts.
'To music,' is to take part in collaborative everyday music-making activities in all their various and wonderful forms: performing, listening, rehearsing or practising, composing or songwriting, dancing and moving. Musicking might be considered to be everything we do through music that is driven by a musical imperative; as we practise and develop our musical activity (our musicking) then so it becomes the melting pot for wider learning and transformative experience. Musicking, according to Small (1998), is a 'communal and functional human activity which affords people a means to explore, affirm, and celebrate their identities'.
Small, C (1998) Musicking: the means of performing and listening, Wesleyan Univ. Press.
These are suggestions for developing songs in interesting ways and extending activities beyond the realms of the regular sitting/setting. Our guidance may literally be about movement, or there may be suggestions regarding proven and effective strategies to employ in the space.
The main melody is always at the top of the music in the treble clef and, when there is more than a single voice, part 1 will always be the principal part.
Piano RH doubles the melody part [except Nos 1, 5 & 7]; LH uses treble/bass clefs. If there is no piano part play the lower part given.
Guitar chords are included for guitarists and keyboard players.
Suggestions are offered for suitable classroom instruments but adapt as necessary.
Have a listen to these to get an idea of how the songs might sound but please remember to leave room for performers' interpretations.
Use these when you are needing musical support to enable a performance but remember an unaccompanied performance is great fun, just as rewarding and maybe more challenging.
1. Butterflies and ladybirds
In need of a safe haven
From the unkindness of ravens
The loveliness of ladybirds departs
Ladybirds are also known as lady beetles or ladybugs, and in many cultures are considered to bring good luck. They come in many different colours and patterns, but the most familiar in the UK is the seven-spotted ladybird, which has a shiny, red and black body. Most people like ladybirds because they are pretty, graceful and harmless to humans. But farmers love them because they eat aphids and other plant-eating pests. In its year-long life, a single ladybird can gobble more than 5000 aphids!
Did you know that the buddleia is also known as the butterfly bush?
The harmonic structure in bars 1-8 comes from Pachelbel's Canon, a beautiful piece composed in 1680. The soft and high notes in the piano part represent the delicacy of our gossamer-winged friends as they flutter and flit their way through life. The 6/8 meter (of two groups of three quavers) creates a lilting feel to propel singers through the song and the phrases are purposely lovely and long, to encourage you to breathe only at the rests in the melody. Set in G major, and using notes D-E-F#-G-A-B, this melody will entertain any aspiring recorder, flute or violin player.
Use the Makaton signs (Resource 4) to animate the creatures in this song. Flutter your 'butterflies' around in time with the music bringing them to rest at the appropriate moment, keeping their wings (your fingers) beating gently until the ladybirds take over and scurry about.
2. Gorillas and monkeys
Gorillas form a band
As monkeys holding hands
Go trooping through the jungle in the rain
Scientists have shown that gorillas live in complex social groups (bands), display individual personalities, make and use tools, and show emotions like grief and compassion. Some gorillas in captivity have learned to use sign language to communicate with humans. We shouldn't be surprised though - gorillas are one of our closest living relatives, and they share at least 95% of their DNA with humans.
Here is a snapshot of a wet, languid day in the jungle, so swing in and out again. The lazy and down-beat feel reflects the lyrics as not every day in the jungle is about high octane activity; some days you just have to hang out and chatter. Aim to learn the tune in a single session and notice how it tips down the first time and up for the repeat. Why not introduce different shakers of your singers' choosing and play crochet beats or find your own rhythms? But do not stop singing; multi-tasking is a great skill to develop in music-making. This song will work just as well unaccompanied with a glockenspiel taking over the piano solo. Can you hear monkeys swinging through the trees in the introduction and ending? Check out the physical and vocal warm-up routines below.
Use the posture and mannerisms of primates to warm up your body and get ready for singing. Picture an agile monkey - bend your knees slightly and bounce out the tension in your body. Now breathe in and swing your arms forward and back, looking up and reaching up to the sky as if you were swinging through the trees. Then reach down, bending at the waist, letting your head and arms dangle heavily towards the ground like a gorilla. Allow your arms to hang loose and just dangle there, folded over for a few seconds. Whilst folded, breathe in and out slowly and deeply three times. Roll up slowly, and once upright, breathe in and roll your shoulders backwards and forwards then lift and drop them with a sigh to relax. Clench your fists tight and beat your chest, then flick away the tension in your fingers with an 'aah'.
Now get rid of any tension in your face with a jaw-dropping yawn - bare your teeth gorilla style! Next, screw up your face as tight as you can before showing your fellow monkeys your best cheeky-monkey smile.
To warm up the voice, play around with vocal sounds: 'loo, lah, lair and lee' as shown in Monkey busy-ness below and emphasise the mouth shape as you outline the notes of the descending scale of C. Develop in subsequent sessions by raising the starting pitch, changing the vowel sounds and slowing the tempo.
Monkey slides: Pick your starting note and, following the leader of your troop, start with your arms low then swing them high whilst sliding your note through the octave and back down again using one of the loo, lah, lair or lee sounds from before. The key to this exercise is to keep it slow and pay attention to how far you are moving up and down the octave. You can also do this starting on the high note, descending.
3. Ratttlesnake rumba
My tail is like a rattle and I live in a pit!
Contrary to popular belief, rattlesnakes do not want to bite you, and would much rather be left alone. That is why they shake their tails, to warn off predators and save them the effort of biting humans who unwittingly stumble across their pit! Be warned, rattlesnakes are venomous allowing them to paralyse their prey and swallow it whole. A rattle is one of those instruments, like the maracas or cabasa which makes a sound or vibration within itself so it just needs you to move it or shake it to make music.
This song has two strong catchy melodies which have shared phrases in bars 2-3 and 7-11 and these help beginner-harmonizers feel more rhythmically secure. Sing the parts separately to help everybody learn the similarities and differences and repeat many times to build confidence; then divide your singers into two groups for the next two verses.
The cabasa rhythm has two elements which may be tapped/clapped: 8 repeated quavers 12312312 or the tresillo where you emphasize the number ones in bold. Who can tap the two rhythms in both hands at the same time? Learn each rhythm together then divide the group and take turns. When clapping is confident, explore using other shakers and woodblocks. This song needs a count-in, so why not play the cabasa rhythm until ready? As you sing, articulate the lyrics precisely, especially the passage of quavers in bars 1 and 6 and make the syncopated rhythms bright and snappy. Don't be caught out by the quaver upbeats which start each verse in the vocal Part 1.
When gathering musicians in a circle, a useful warm-up/warm-down is to pass shakers around silently - no rattling!
4. Crocs basking
Tigers ambush without thinking
Crocs basking without blinking
Snap jaws shut
Devouring any creatures that come near
Crocodiles are among our most feared carnivores because of their size, big powerful jaws and aggressiveness. At up to 6 metres in length they are the largest reptiles on the planet and have been around since dinosaurs walked the Earth. A bask or a float of crocodiles spells danger but you cannot always see the danger as they lie underwater with only their eyes visible. Watch out for those jaws or they might just swallow you whole!
Start out by listening to the song which has a challenging pitch-range that needs a relaxed and fearless approach. Sing scales from low Bb to top F' with loose jaws and wide open mouths to access the higher notes. Singers should identify bars where the rhythm is made up of straight crotchets and practise clapping these crisply; how about introducing a sniff of disdain in the rests on the first beats of bars 2 and 4? When you have learned the first half of the song, clap the syncopated rhythms and use the accents to shape and make sense of the phrases. From bar 14 note that the rhythms are 'pushed' which means they land just before the beat - adding vim and vigour to the melody. Listen out for accuracy - these crocs need their rhythms to be razor sharp!
In this pitch-matching game the leader invites everyone to stand. Then, casting as watchful, unblinking eye at the assembly of crocs, the leader sings the words 'Crocs basking' starting on a note of their own choice. The leader signals for every croc to join in singing on the same note without blinking or moving their head/body, and holding the note as long as indicated. The leader watches and listening carefully and gestures to any fidgety or croaky crocs to sit down. The last croc standing is the winner and then takes a turn as leader.
5. Flambo of flamingos
Flamboyant pink flamingos
Stand watching as the hippos
Crash mudwards and begin to wallow deep
These tropical wading birds have long legs with backwards-bending knees, long curvy necks, and most noticeably, they are pink. We can admire flamingos or laugh at them (and often both), so we may as well learn something about them. Flamboyance is the collective noun for a group of flamingos. Flamingo comes from the Spanish/Portuguese 'flamengo' meaning flame-coloured and flamboyance hails from French, meaning to flame or flare. The performance indication 'with flare' obviously means 'with flair' but the pun was too good to miss! Hippos have numerous collective nouns, and a group of hippos is often referred to as a crash, bloat, herd, pod or dale.
Gather your singing hippos and wallow in the introduction until everyone is fully immersed in learning. Take the words flamboyance, flamingo and mudwards and play around with them on your lips and tongue before mouthing the words to one another, articulately but silently; practise lip-reading. Listen to the melody together and demonstrate the small intervals (semitones) on the piano which must be sung as accurately as possible. as you sing, think of a flowing musical line which is easier if you stand tall and take in lots of breath. You may need to focus on bar 12 which is the hardest! Use these suggestions for percussion in bar 9: claves or woodblock and in bar 13: tambour or drum.
Flamingos stand on one leg because it is physiologically easier for them to do so. The way their legs work means they can rest all of their weight on one side without having to use their muscles to maintain balance. The question is, can you stand on one leg, without wobbling or swapping legs, whilst singing 'a flamboyance...' until the hippos return at bar 14? Who can stand on one leg for the whole song? Now swap legs...
6. Giraffes and lions
Giraffes forming a tower
Have the height but lack the power
To resist the pride of lions
Giraffes can survive for up to 25 years in the wild and, with the exception of mothers and their offspring, live independent lives. They are nature's tallest vegetarians, being experts in picking out nutritious leaves from the spiky thorns of the African bush. They do this with the help of their extremely long necks and very dexterous tongues. Wouldn't they make fine singers? Probably not since they make very little noise except at night when they produce a deep, spooky humming sound, almost like chanting. Lions are the primary predators of the Giraffe, but what might be the biggest threat to the lion? Answer: humans.
Warm up by stretching the body as tall as possible and expanding the lungs by breathing in deeply and making those nostrils quiver. Feel the lilting phrases in this bluesy minor mode number, with its natural dynamic rise and fall, and sing to 'la'. Listen to how the melody builds and climbs towards 'power' and descends and softens towards 'hunt'. The challenge is to resist the desire to breathe in the middle of that long opening phrase until after you have sung 'pride'. For the roar use the whole face to express yourself, mouth wide and eyes agog. Instrumentalists might like to try playing this tune (bars 8-18) which stretches an octave and a tone, from middle C to top D'. In bars 19-34 notice how the harmony grows in 3rds - a good way for children to encounter singing in harmonies. Practise bars 35-38 which is tricky and remember to keep the rhythms even. The main tune is reprised a tone up and the song closes with more roars!
Divide singers into groups of eight and ask them to arrange themselves in height order without speaking! Which group can assemble their line the quickest and quietest? Once 'sorted', groups must call out numbers sequentially and rhythmically where each singer is responsible for a number. Then have some fun with pitching scales ascending/descending using numbers, 1-8-1, where singers each intone a note of the scale.
7. Iguanas in a mess
I'm a lizard and I'm lounging in the forest canopy
I like basking, so I'm asking why is it so hard to see?
Why I don't go near the ground that's where danger can be found
I'm a lizard and I'm lounging in a tree
Strong jaws, sharp teeth and tail that's like a whip
Don't mess with a mess of chilled iguanas
Iguanas are the largest lizards in America. They have a very long and sharp tail that is used mainly for defense - an iguana can punch or whip an enemy with its tail. Since they do not need to actively hunt for their food, iguanas are very laid back creatures, typically spending their days lounging in the sun to keep warm and, from time to time, getting up for a snack. Green iguanas are tough. They can drop from a branch up to 12 metres high, hit the ground and survive!
Rapping is the art of giving poetry life, bringing out the character within the words and injecting rhythm and energy to create your own unique interpretation. Whisk up a suitably cool rap beat on a keyboard and keep repeating verse 1 over and over, putting a gentle stress or emphasis on every word highlighted (see Resource 2), until it begins to groove or attain a life of its own. Think of whisking eggs - good things come to those who practice and persevere. Enjoy the taste of the words on your lips as you fill in the words between the stresses and repeat the process for the refrain and verse 2 as you find your rapping voice.
Time to chill out and get into the groove. It is essential here to loosen up and adopt the stance of a cool, laid back lounge-lizard. Keep your knees 'soft' and bouncy, raise your arms out in front of you and bend them at the elbows, hands forming loose 'fists'. Feel the slow steady pulse of the Hip-Hop style and make small leaning movements forward, back, left and right (or any combination thereof) on each of the counts 1-4. Once comfortable with this, add in some steps to the side and continue the counting of four beats. Step to the left [on 1] and clap [on 2] step to the right [on 3] and clap [on 4] keeping your body loose and relaxed. Research rapping dance moves on YouTube because there is a wealth of exciting information on the internet.
Grab a suitable percussion instrument (suggestions include claves, woodblock, castanets or tambour) and learn each 4 beat ostinato together. Repeat as required to build confidence and achieve whip-cracking accuracy before moving onto the next rhythmic pattern. Remember the 'sniff of disdain' introduced in Crocs? Why not use it here to achieve the required rest in the second, fifth and eighth bars? When secure with the rhythms, combine pairs of ostinato patterns to make an 8 beat pattern: bars 1 and 2 go well together as do bars 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8. Two of the rhythms are very similar except for a note - can you spot them? Use the accents to shape and make sense of the phrases which you will discover are all taken from somewhere within 'Iguanas in a mess'. Can you identify each phrase from the song? If you are struggling to maintain rhythmic accuracy, saying the words (quietly!) to yourself whilst playing might help. Select rhythms to play together and begin to layer your sound - you could potentially have all eight rhythms being played simultaneously. Play around with different combinations and sequences of patterns to make your own phrases. The challenge is to maintain your cool and play through all eight bars in a continuous percussive masterpiece.
8. Hummingbirds and parrots
Hummingbirds that shimmer
Daylight growing dimmer
Pandemonium of parrots taking flight
Shimmer of tiny hummingbirds
Were not the only ones who heard
A pandemonium of parrots taking flight
Birds seem to attract attractive collective nouns - what a choice set for hummingbirds: bouquet, charm, hover, glittering, shimmer and tune. The word pandemonium, often proceeded by 'complete', is a noisy disorder or confusion and the opposite of a shimmer of hummingbirds. Notice that pandemonium uses all five vowels: a-e-i-o-u, (although when we sing there are more than five vowel sounds because the five combine with each other and also other letters!). Can you name the only musical instrument that contains all five vowels? Answer: Tambourine.
It is important to communicate the calm of hummingbirds followed by the confusion of parrots - best learned and rehearsed as separate sections before stitching them together. Begin by humming the first eight bars as two gently moving phrases in sequence. Stand and sway in rhythm imagining the hummingbird moving from flower to flower drink nectar. If you have ever seen the flight of hundreds of noisy parrots then the word pandemonium is made to describe it. Learn the five note phrase in bar 9 and listen out for the effect created as the 'pandemonium' is first overlapped in bars 10-14 and then layered in the coda. You are making 'polyphonic' music which involves many sounds or voices and lets your lips buzz for the final 'ummmmm'.
The learning moves for this piece stem from Dalcroze eurhythmics which teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement. Here, a gentle swaying movement to the waltz-like melody teaches an awareness of the pulse and develops an understanding of phrasing. The regular movement is followed by the ordered chaos of the pandemonium bars in which the gentle swaying movements become a phrase of 3+2 beats. The effect of the Lydian mode creates a shimmering effect, especially when played on the piano with the sustaining pedal depressed.
Nest of vipers creeping
Spider clusters creeping
Although spiders don't have ears or eardrums they can still 'hear' you talking, singing or clapping from several metres away. Spiders use the tiny, sensitive hairs on their legs to detect noises through airborne vibrations known as sound waves. Current research indicates that spiders are interpreting these vibrations into neural activity - indeed the male jumping spider's courtship routine involves the arachnid equivalent of a song and a dance (although unimpressed females sometimes eat their suitors). The question is, are you confident enough to sing to a spider?
Modern composers favour chord clusters, typically of three notes or more, to blur the sound and make their music more intriguing. Messiaen, a French composer, said he perceived colours when he heard certain chords. Can you imagine a spider advancing towards you? How would you set that to music? Listen out for our sequence of spider clusters from bars 5-11 and spot the syncopated rhythms in bars 6 and 10 to suggest unexpected darting spider movements. Explore tapping and clapping tarantella rhythms from the song to improve coordination. Research informs us that tarantulas have a preference for right-handedness so please clap left-handed*. Why so? To avoid the attention of any passing tarantulas.
*Left-handed Clapping: right-handed clappers must clap left-handed - and vice versa for left-handers. This is where your dominant hand stays still, cupped with palm facing up, and your generally less coordinated hand does all the work: an instant way to develop better manual coordination and something you get to practise regularly.
What is it about spiders that we don't like? Is it the way they move and scuttle about? Which words (like scuttle) can you think of to describe spiders? When you have learned the song and are feeling confident, devise a dance using the following moves to help you spin a web, starting in a circle:
Spiders live in clusters Lean in to form small group clusters
And they really don't like dusters Use hands to push away imaginary dusters
As they spin their silky web all day Spin in a circle arms held high
Spiders have such hairy legs Stroke legs proudly
They like to hide beneath your bed Duck down as if trying to squeeze under a bed
Then creep out as you go to sleep Creep out and step forward on the stresses
If you close your eyes they'll go away Stand back-to-back with partner/elbows interlocked
If you close your eyes to God and pray Wheel around the space from side to side
SPIDERS! Stop abruptly looking as if you've spotted a spider!
10. Shiver of sharks!
Sharks produced a shiver
As they circled for their dinner
Gobbling up the little fish that came to school
Sharks do not have bones but they do have rows and rows of teeth that continually move to the front row. Once there, they only have about 10 days of life before they are shed or fall out during dinner! If you were to be so foolish as to attempt to stroke a shark you would discover its skin feels rough like sandpaper. Should you come face to face with this deadly predator our advice is to flip it on its back where it will promptly enter a trance-like state allowing you to swim to safety!
Think about how our mouths and teeth are important to communication - how many creatures can you think of that smile? Open mouths wide to stretch facial muscles, then smile showing your teeth like a shark who has spotted its dinner. Begin in a relaxed style and practise making sweet vowel sounds on la-(zy) and a-(zure). When this is secure and going swimmingly, introduce doubt into everyone's minds with the second part which outlines the bass part of the accompaniment. From bar 19 enjoy singing in the minor key, which is often used to evoke scary feelings. There are two tunes to get to grips with: Part 1 starts high and floats downwards while Part 2 starts low and swims its way up. Listen out for sharps and sing with 'fin'-esse and cutting-edge accuracy. Experiment with percussion instruments suitable to animate this section and build up for the dramatic ending with a trill (or shake!) on the final note.
Performance etiquette for sharks
'Look! There's a shiver of sharks' is not a casual observation - it is only ever screamed by swimmers and this song and game is not for the faint-hearted.
Playing the game Shiver of sharks involves swimming around in a school of fish except for one person who is chosen to be Sharkie. Rather like tag, the objective is for Sharkie to catch the rest of the fish and as the shiver of sharks grows so the school of fish diminishes until there is a solitary Minnow remaining. Before Minnow is gobbled up they should be declared the winner!
Singers should begin by standing in a circle singing confidently before swimming off together in their school of fish, looking to steer clear of Sharkie.
Hopefully there will be no shortage of volunteers for the Sharkie role! Gliding around with a dorsal fin (hand) held above the head, Sharkie preys on the school of fish, tagging victims and holding their hands (or putting hands on shoulders) to form a chain or shiver of up to five sharks.
As more fish are caught a second shiver can be formed with Sharkie breaking away from the chain to become a lone hunter once again. Every shark should exaggerate the tremble and shake when singing the words shiver and dinner.
Repeat the first 8 bars of the song for as many times as necessary until only Minnow remains before swiftly moving to the coda - also known as the tail!
Keep an ear out for controlled and expressive singing; note that cir-cl-ing = 3 syllables and gob-bling = 2 syllables. Singing and hunting multi-taskers with loose jaws are essential.