Archive for February, 2014

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Reflections on Valentine’s Day

February 21, 2014

I am not a big Holiday In the Music Room person. Most of my career has been in schools where I only saw the kids once per week. To teach holiday themed songs and activities, I would spend the entirety of the month living Halloween or Thanksgiving.  While I adore the holidays, I never found a way to make this work without having it impact my curriculum in a negative way.

I am now teaching in a school where I see the students twice a week. I have been slowly, and judiciously, adding in holiday themed activities. With Valentine’s Day now a week behind us, I thought it was a good time to reflect on what worked (despite too many snow days to count.)

Last year I wrote a short little Valentine’s Day song that would work with a solfege identification activity I was planning to implement. It is very adaptable and can be used at just about any grade level, for both rhythmic and melodic assessment. Click on the image to see a larger, easily readable version of the song.

Hello, Valentine!

Melodic Identification:  The students enter the room to find hearts scattered around the floor. The hearts are about 6-12″ wide and have four beat phrases written on them with stick notation. Below the rhythms are the solfege pitches. The students take a seat and sing the song. When the song ends, I either sing or play a four beat melody that matches one of the hearts. The students must stay on their rug spot and try to find the matching heart. If it is located near them (their bottom does not have to leave the floor in order to reach the heart) then they can hold it up.   The song is in do-pentatonic, so any pattern with those pitches works well.

Rhythm Reading: I found a really cute “musical hearts” activity on Pintrest. It was basically just musical chairs while stepping on heart shapes, but I knew there had to be a way to make it educational. I found packs of 35 foam hearts at Target about a week before the holiday. On each heart I wrote a four beat rhythm pattern. Each pack came with four different colored hearts. This worked out great, as I color coded the patterns: aqua (quarter note, quarter rest, eighth notes, half note, and sixteenth notes); yellow (added ti-tika, eighth-two sixteenth); pink (added tike-ti, two sixteenth-one eighth); and purple (added syncopa.) My third graders each stood on a heart. As we sang the song, the kids walk around the circle, stepping the beat. When the song ended, they all read the rhythm pattern on which they stood. We did a few rounds where all kids read their pattern at the same time, then we did rounds where I called on specific students. This was a great way to very quickly assess their rhythm reading!

Rhythm ID: I created a rhythm clip chart with some super cute clip art I found on TpT. There are four patterns on the page, with a different color background behind each pattern. We first practiced each pattern. I would chant, “Read the yellow pattern please!” (or whichever color I wanted them to read.) Then the challenge began. We sang the song. I then sang, “Which pattern do you hear?” on so and mi. I performed one of the patterns from the card on my recorder. The students had to identify which pattern I performed and clip a clothes pin next to it. I was easily able to look around and assess who was correct.

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None of these ideas are terribly original or revolutionary, but I wanted to show how adaptable one song can be. Since the children learned the song this year I will really only need to review it next year. I did each of the activities with a different grade level, so the students will have a new musical challenge next February.

How have you made a song work for multiple activities and/or grade levels? How have you managed to fit in the holiday festivities without sacrificing concentrated curriculum?

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Loud and Soft

February 9, 2014

In early childhood music class, we focus on exploring opposites in music: fast/slow, high/low, and loud/soft.  These are concepts that very young children can easily experience, demonstrate, and identify.

One of my students’ favorites is exploring soft and loud. We sing lullabies and talk about what might happen if you sang it too loudly. “The baby would wake up!” “He would start to scream!” (You can definitely tell which kids have little babies at home.)  We sing the song “Bye Lo, Baby, Oh” and rock our arms, as though cradling a baby. This helps to develop an internal sense of the beat, as well. This year, the song has a greater meaning for the kids as I am visibly pregnant. They love the idea that their song will be sung to my baby one day soon. Since the song only uses so and mi, we are able to explore high and low pitch. (I do so love when a song provides so many learning opportunities!)

Bye lo baby oh

Once we have talked about soft and loud, and what is appropriate for a lullaby, I share this gorgeous book with the students. They are transfixed by the illustrations as I sing All the Pretty Little Horses. The haunting melody is one of my favorites. It is so gratifying when you finish and the students start calling out, “Again! Again!”

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The students are now ready for one of the best Sesame Street videos around. I have to admit to not being a big fan of Elmo. Sorry, that little red guy really gets on my nerves. That being said, when paired with Rick Gervais, I just have to giggle. This is such a great example of loud and soft, and exactly why we sing lullabies gently.

My husband, also an elementary school music teacher, shared a great extension activity with me for loud and soft. He tells the story of a great castle. If it is close to Halloween, he might say it is haunted. The students are going to explore the castle, but they don’t want anyone to know they are there. They must be VERY quiet! He puts on “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg and the students begin to tiptoe around the rug. At the end of each phrase, during the rest in the melody, the students put their fingers to their lips and shush each other. As the music gets louder and faster, so do the students! After the activity we sit and discuss what happened. I don’t talk about it beforehand. It is so much more powerful for them to experience it in their bodies!

What do you do to explore loud and soft? Do you have any go-to songs or activities?

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What is Music?- Thinking and Writing

February 5, 2014

As Music teachers we sometimes find ourselves skipping past the think piece and going straight to the music making. This is quite normal.  I mean, music IS a performing art. We focus on literacy and build up our students knowledge of rhythms and pitches, but it is also important to get students thinking outside the Rocky Mountain and Kookaburra boxes.

I did this activity on the first class of the school year, but it can really be done at any time. Sandwiched between the singing and rhythm review in my first lesson, I am asking the kids to think about what music actually is.

What is Music?

Day one of class I give the students their first journal prompt. I am considering using this almost as a prewriting activity. We will spend the year making music and exploring all of the elements that come together to create a song, and revisit the writing prompt at the end of the year.  Alternately, you could do this at the beginning of a grading period and revisit just before report cards are due. I would love to see how the two answers compare.

I have an ulterior motive for this activity, as well. I have a monster bulletin board out in the hallway that needs to be filled. The students will be writing their responses in thought or text bubbles that I found on TPT. I am planning on taking pictures of the students and putting their answers next to their photo on the board.

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For my younger students, we brainstorm as a class to answer the question, “What is a musician?” The answers are added to an anchor chart that we can refer to (and add to!) throughout the year as we learn new songs, rhythms, pitches, and other musical elements. (This is actually a great reminder to me to check in with the kids and see what we can add to our chart now that it is February.)

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I want the children to begin to fully grasp the idea that THEY are musicians, and musicologists.  That not only can they create music, but that they can think about and discuss music in an educated manner.

And, of course, have fun!

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Popcorn Song

February 1, 2014

My PreK students start school at three years old.  This year we even had a few who were not yet three. Very young! The past year and a half has been a learning adventure, to say the least. Kindergarten had been the youngest age in my previous schools.  I love it, but man, they kick my butt!

One song that was a hit from day one, was the Popcorn Song. It was so popular that the kids are still digging it a year later in Junior Kindergarten. I cannot take credit for writing this song. I found it in the goldmine that is YouTube.  Bianca Merkley is the creative genius behind it. Seriously, my kids would sing and jump around to the song all period if I let them.

To keep it from getting too boring for me (because how many times can you sing the same song before going crazy?) I have added in some popcorn related activities.

1) We created shakers they we filled with popcorn kernels. These were much fun to shake as we sang the song.

2) We read the book The Popcorn Dragon by Jane Thayer. It is a great story that teaches kids it is better to share than be selfish and boastful. Also…super cute dragon pictures!  I have a dragon puppet that I plan to use this year with the kids, as well.

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3) We have an imaginary popcorn party! I have a student with a corn allergy so actual popcorn was not a viable option. Instead, we “popped” some cotton balls on the parachute. What little kid doesn’t love the parachute??!?!

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I love when you can find a song that provides such a wonderful launching pad for extension activities and aesthetic musical experiences. When you find a song like that it is definitely worth sharing!

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