Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category


2 Meter

April 4, 2014

I make two-meter conscious in the latter part of 2nd grade with my students. By that point, they have a very solid grasp of the steady beat, tempo, and have learned half note. Since Kindergarten, they have been tapping, moving to, and stepping the beat.  This type of kinesthetic activity is vital to truly understanding and internalizing the beat. Now I want them to understand that “not all beats are created equal.”  They are ready to “measure” the music and organize the beats!

There are many songs that can be used to focus on two-meter. This year I have primarily been using Rocky Mountain and Deedle Deedle Dumpling. Deedle Deedle Dumpling lends itself perfectly to the first step in my process: feeling the beat “differently” in each foot.

Deedle Deedle Dumpling

Because the song is so silly, the kids are eager to have one shoe off and one shoe on, just like the character John. In a circle, the students remove one shoe. While singing the song, we step to the beat, making sure we all start with the foot wearing the shoe. This creates clear sensory input that is easily discernible by all of the students. It just feels different to step with a clad or unclad foot. We identify that the beats feel different. I tell the children, “I have a music secret to share…not all beats are created equal!  Some are strong and some are weak!”

We tap strong and weak beats (strong= pat on lap, weak= touch shoulders). We try out a strong-weak pattern, then try a weak-strong pattern. The students identify that it “fits better” when we start with a strong beat.

Over the course of a few classes (this is Kodaly-based after all) we label beats on the board with “S” and “w” to denote which beats are strong/weak, and we add an accent over the strong beats. The students immediately notice that it looks like a less-than symbol from Math class. I like to tell them that it looks like an arrow that lost it’s stick. The arrow is pointing in front of the beat. It is showing us where to draw the bar line. We add in bar lines to “organize the music.”


In pairs, the students use the dictation bags to set up 8 beats. We say “strong-weak” as we tap our hands across the beats. The pairs use yarn to create accents over the beats, then place popsicle stick bar lines in front of the strong beats.

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Now it is time for the kids to try this on their own! I bought these fabulous dry erase sleeves from Oriental Trading Company. They come in sets of 12 and are really easy to clean off. They are big enough to fit a 9×12 piece of construction paper, so the regular copy paper fits with no problem.  I guide the students through each step of labeling the beats, adding the accents, and placing the bar lines. We learn that we add two bar line (DOUBLE BAR LINE!) at the end. I call it a musical stop sign. We “measure” the music by counting how many beats are between the bar lines, and marked it at the beginning of the song. I have the student write the number 2 over a heart. I have seen other teachers use a 2 over a quarter note, or just use 2/4.

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I pulled these out again after Spring Break and asked the kids to draw in the bar line for 2 Meter all by themselves. It was a good way to see who got it and who didn’t.

One thing that I always do is teach the students how to conduct in the new meter we have learned. They love it! First we just conduct with out hands, then we add a baton. I found clear, colored plastic cocktail stirring sticks at the dollar store. Cheap and pretty strong, the kids think they are magical! We are just about ready for the students to be the leaders and conduct the class as we sing Rocky Mountain or Deedle Dumpling. They feel SO important when they are chosen!


St. Patrick’s Day Rhythm Identification

March 14, 2014

I mentioned before that I am not a big “holidays in the Music room” sort of person. I want the activities to add to my curriculum, not take time away from it. I found a cute way to sneak in a little St. Patty’s Day fun while staying on topic and not taking any extra time to introduce the holiday.

My Kindergarteners have recently learned ta (quarter note) and ta-ti (eighth notes.) They have been reading flash cards, writing/drawing the rhythms on dry erase boards*, and doing simple dictation with craft sticks.  They were ready to identify the pattern they heard performed from a selection of choices.

After perusing Pintrest and mulling over ideas, I had a brainstorm. Why not leprechaun gold? 


For this activity, I performed one of the six patterns and asked the students to find it on the page. They were instructed as to which color crayon to use for each turn. This made it VERY easy to look around the circle and see who was correctly identifying the rhythms.


For the first three turns I clapped and spoke the pattern using rhythm syllables. To amp up the rigor, the last three patterns were only clapped. Most of the kids found the patterns very quickly. When there were only two patterns left, I asked the students to articulate how they were different. (ie. “One pattern starts with ta and the other one starts with ta-ti.”)  Since I do not give report card grades to Kinder, I sent the completed worksheets home with instructions to read all of the rhythms to their families. (Five-year-olds think getting Music homework is the coolest thing EVER.) If I were to do this worksheet with the older classes, to whom I do give grades, I would likely do the same. I would simply look around the circle to quickly mark down the names of those who did not accurately identify all of the patterns, and how many were correct. I would only have had one or two children whom I would have needed to make a note about. 

Interested in this worksheet and versions including other rhythms?  Check them out on my TpT page. It’s a freebie!


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?


GarageBand in the classroom

June 13, 2013

Wow. Concert season, moving up ceremonies, and all the end of year details really monopolized my attention this past month. I apologize for the lack of posts. Hopefully I can make up for it in the coming weeks.

Yesterday was the last day of school for my students. It is a bit liberating to have reached the end of the school year, but also a bit sad. This has been the best year I have had in quite a while. I am not sad to have time to relax, but I still have so many ideas I want to implement! Therein lies the beauty of teaching elementary school music, I can do it next year with the same kids! We can pick up where we left off.

One of the activities that I love to squeeze in at the end of the school year is a final composition. This can give the students the opportunity to synthesize key learning. Perhaps you want them to demonstrate their understanding of the staff place of the pitches in F-do pentatonic. Maybe you want to assess if the students understand how to use dotted half notes in a 2-meter song. You might want to make sure they get that final chance to reinforce how to combine their known rhythms and pitches on the staff. There are an infinite number of permutations for such an objective.

I assigned two composition projects this year, one in 2nd grade and another in 5th grade. For both projects I decided to try something new-to-me. I put on my Tech cap, crossed my fingers, and introduced the GarageBand iPad app. I am incredibly lucky in that my school has an abundance of technology. I know from first hand, recent experience that is not the case in many schools. If you do have iPads at your school, this app is worth bribing your Teach department to purchase. The interface is user-friendly, and very intuitive. I talked the students through how to change the Tempo and length of their piece, and showed them how to add and move around the sound loops. From there they were able to drag and drop and figure the rest out themselves. Remember, we are technology immigrants, they are technology natives.

For 2nd grade I focused on how Tempo, Dynamics, and instrument choices work to create a mood. We had conducted Music Experiments earlier in the year (I will post about that soon!) where the students polled listeners to see which mood a given piece of music elicited. We listened to songs and discussed what mood was being expressed, and (most importantly) what they heard in the music that created that mood. We brainstormed a list of moods, pulled them at random from a hat, and the iPads were distributed. The kids worked in pairs choosing sound loops, layering them together and creating their mood. You can check out the finished projects here if you are interested. If you are low tech, no problem! I have done this same activity with classroom instruments. The kids love performing their “mood masterpiece” for their class.

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For the 5th graders, I wanted to have a project that synthesized a few major elements since this would be the last project they would ever do for my class. Off thy go t Middle School! We focused on Form, Texture, and Tempo. The students worked in pairs, first choosing the form of their piece. It had to have four sections, but could be any configuration of their choice (i.e. ABAC, AABC, ABCD, etc.) The pairs chose the Tempo for their composition: Largo, Moderato, or Allegro. Finally, to help make the different section of the form truly sound different, they were encouraged to change up the texture. Perhaps have a solo section or a duet. The finished projects turned out even better than I had anticipated, and they were 100% engaged up until the last minute of their last class. When does that happen??!!?! You can check out their songs, and silly titles, here.

photo-6I will admit that I was not terribly scientific in my assessment of the compositions. That is something I will remedy when I do this project again next year. I will likely create a rubric with clear objectives. For this year, though, I mostly want the students to show me what they had learned in a way that was meaningful to them. I would say that the enthusiasm and willingness to miss recess to hear al the songs is a good indication that my goal was met.

Query: Have you use GarageBand (iPad app or computer program) with your students? If so, in what way have you utilized it?


Dictation: Checking What Your Students Are Hearing

April 12, 2013

I am a huge fan of technology. HUGE! When I was hired at my new school I was in raptures over the fact that I would have a SmartBoard in my room. Well, really I was in raptures that I would finally have an actual classroom and not a desk shoved in the corner of some poor teacher’s classroom. But I digress. I love tech. I use the SmartBoard, I borrow the cart of iPads and laptops. The kids love it and it can make assessment a breeze.

That being said, there is absolutely nothing that can replace a good set of manipulatives.  Give the kids something to hold or move around with their hands and their level of engagement goes through the roof. I find this to be especially true with activities such as dictation. Paper and pencil works, but can challenge younger students or those with fine motor issues. Provide a pile of popsicle sticks or coffee stirrers and they can easily manipulate them into quarter notes and eighth notes.

During a recent visit to my local dollar store I found a few packs of foam hearts. They are about four inches across, so quite a good size. I knew immediately they were going to be perfect for my classroom.  I had created staff dictation sets a couple of years ago, but wanted something separate to give the kids for when I just want to work on rhythms. Over Spring Break I redistributed some of my classroom materials (because what else would I possibly want to do on vacation??!?!) Into each bag I included eight hearts, three pieces of yarn about six inches long, eight popsicle/craft sticks, twenty coffee stirrers, and four coffee stirrers that I had cut in half (eight halves in all.)

What to do with these new rhythmic goldmines?  Why not work on placing barlines between the appropriate beats for music in 2 meter?

Bar lines

Perform a pattern using rhythm syllables or by playing on an instrument. The students use the hearts to keep track of the beats and use the coffee stirrers to “write” the pattern they heard . The long stirrers are good for stems and the short “half sticks” are perfect for the beams connecting rhythms such as eighth notes or for making a quarter rest.


The yarn is a new addition to my manipulative repertoire. In one of those “oh, duh!” moments, I heard a teacher mention using yarn or pipe cleaners so that students could create half notes during dictation. This has opened up a whole new world of dictation possibilities for 2nd grade!


If you are working on a particular song your students can recreate an entire phrase of a song.  Here are my 2nd graders recreating the first phrase of Rocky Mountain with the correct number of beats, bar lines, and rhythms. They were so excited to get to “play” with the materials and show off how to create their new long rhythm.  I was thrilled to be able to look around the room and get an instant snapshot of how well my students are understanding the concepts. I now know for which students I need to provide a bigger challenge and which students need some more practice when next we do learning centers in class.


If you have dictation materials such as these, how do you use them?  Do you have any different ideas you could share? Any unique materials you have used in the past?



Folk Song Arranging (and my first TPT upload)

April 8, 2013

When you look at the cognitive domain of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy the most complex level of critical thinking involves the creation of something new, utilizing the recently acquired  knowledge. In Music, the learning activities that best allow students to engage in this mode of thinking are those that involve improvisation, composition and arranging.  Improvisation is often overlooked as too difficult or set to the side in the interest of time. (There are already so many concepts and performances to squeeze into the curriculum!) It is vitally important that we give our students opportunities to improvise…but that is for another post.

Composition activities are more often completed in class. They can be as simple as writing a four beat rhythm pattern to play on a hand drum, or as complex as writing a song in Rondo form in la pentatonic on the music staff with lyrics based on the current Social Studies unit.

Song arranging falls through the cracks so often that, when I mention doing an arranging project at my school, many music educators look at me with surprise. Why is this?  Arranging a know song or songs into a unique performance is a wonderful way to get your students’ creative juices flowing and gives you a chance to see how well they are synthesizing the elements you have recently worked into the curriculum.  An arranging project can highlight and enable you to assess a multitude of musical elements:

  • form
  • texture
  • the use of the singing voice
  • the ability to sing and play simultaneously
  • effective use of dynamics
  • the ability to write and perform a specific rhythm through the creation of ostinati
  • steady beat (while performing the arrangement)
  • ensemble skills
  • part singing…

The list could continue on and on.

Recently in my own classroom I have had my 3rd graders working on a group project arranging three known folk songs into a new performance. They will be performing the three songs (Rocky Mountain, Dinah, and Great Big House in New Orleans) in the Spring Concert. What better way for the kids to become deeply acquainted with the songs? Each group consists of three or four students. Their goal is to create and perform the three folk songs in a new and different way.  They must have a bordun and an ostinato in their performance, and all group members must sing. They can sing in unison or layer the songs to create harmony. The beauty of using do-pentatonic folk songs is that when sung simultaneously they create a lovely sound. To help the students to achieve their musical goals as smoothly and successfully as possible, I created a packet.  Each group would receive these materials at the beginning of the project when I explain what they need to accomplish. Each step is laid out for the students so that they know exactly what to do and in which order.  I have created manipulatives to assist the students in developing the form of their piece.  There is a graphic organizer to use in the planning phase, and which will act as a map of their arrangement.


I have led students through projects like this in the past, but this year is the first time I am using these materials. The students have a much clearer understanding of what they need to do in class and I am freed up to assist more with the creation process.  While I am using those three particular folk songs, the forms I created do not specify the repertoire, leaving it open for use with different grade levels and selections of repertoire.

If you are interested in downloading these materials, please visit my new TeachersPayTeachers store. Since this is my first item posted on the site it is FREE! Check it out and please let me know what you think.


The manipulatives were made using graphics from My Journey to 5th Grade.


Tech Bite: Listening lessons with Word Clouds

March 31, 2013

Happy Easter, everyone!

As we are gearing up to go back to school in a few days, I thought I would share a simple way that I have integrated a bit of hands on technology into my classroom.  It is easy for the tech to take over and become the focus of a lesson, but in Music class we want the music to take center stage. Additionally, not every school has a class set of iPads for all of the children to use. The ideas I am going to share today not only puts the music as the main focus of the activity, but it can be accomplished as a whole group or in learning centers once the students are familiar with the program.

What you need:

– laptops or computers

– a listening example of you choice

In the past I have had my students write a list of adjectives on a piece of paper to describe the music they are hearing. This time I shook things up by adding the laptops and a website called Tagxedo. Just like Woddle, Tagxedo allows you to create a word cloud with words of your choice. Inputting the words is fairly straight forward and the program allows you to choose the color scheme and shape of your cloud.

In my classroom, I used this activity to introduce the students to one of the songs they will be performing in the Spring Concert. Once they all had a laptop (we have a cart, but this can easily be done in a computer lab) I played a recording of Bashana Haba’ah.

As the students listened to the choir singing, they typed a list of words that described the music.  I encouraged them to use appropriate music vocabulary (ie. Tempo names, dynamic markings, instrument names, etc.) I asked the students to come up with as many words as they could think of. I have to admit, their lists were far longer when using Tagxedo than when we have done this on paper. They love to fill their word clouds with as many words as possible!

Once they had created their list of words I gave the students a few minutes to choose a shape for their word clouds and a color scheme.  I told them that the shape should reflect the music in some way. Full disclosure, I did not tell the students anything about the song beforehand, not even the fact that it would be part of our concert repertoire. As the song is in Hebrew, none of my students understood the words. Their responses were based solely on the music.  I think they turned out beautifully. The end result looks great printed out and hung on a bulletin board or posted on your classroom blog/website. The kids are itching to take theirs home!

This is a very basic listening activity. It can work with tech savvy 1st graders, yet the “big kids” love it, too.

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