Saturday, December 15, 2012

March from The Nutcracker and 1 beat rhythms: a practice in form (and foam!)

"O Christmas foam, O Christmas foam, how many are your uses!"

So Target has many Christmas foam packages in the dollar bin this year and I've been enjoying using them in a couple of different ways. (Reminder to self: look into purchasing stock in Target.)

We have been listening to selections of the Nutcracker and the March is a favorite of mine and the students'. It is instantly recognizable to most of the kids and they love moving to this piece.

I'm sure many music teachers are familiar with the body percussion movement that follows the rhythm for the March. I apologize for not sighting my source on this movement activity. I learned it about a million years ago, (well, the late 80s, which seems like a million years ago.) I am reasonably certain it was taught at an Orff workshop I attended while teaching in New Mexico. That's as much as I can narrow it down.

Movement activity for the March from The Nutcracker Suite:

Formation: standing circle

In the A and B sections the movements match the melodic rhythm of the piece.
The C section movements are to the beat.


A section:
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap 
thumb dance for 16 beats
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap
stomp, pat-pat-pat   pat  pat  clap clap  snap
thumb dance for 16 beats

B section:
(similar to A but traveling down the body)
snap, clap-clap-clap  clap clap  pat pat  stomp
thumb dance for  8 beats
snap, clap-clap-clap  clap clap  pat pat  stomp
thumb dance for  8 beats

C section:
"Russian Dance" (fold arms in front, squat and kick out heels)
32 beats

After learning and performing the movement I set out the foam shapes I have labeled with As Bs and Cs. I place the green pile of As, the red Bs and the white snowflake Cs near different walls of the music room. Students may work in pairs or on their own as they collect the section labels and map out the form. Initially I don't play the piece for them as they are collecting the foam labels and working it out. This is an excellent opportunity for students to practice their inner-hearing as they try to work out what order the form is in. I play the piece again as they check their answers. This is a fairly easy piece for them to work out and they enjoy seeing the symmetry of the March.

A completed form

These boys stacked their sections and flipped through them as they listened.

1 Beat Rhythms
My other use for all the foam I've bought is simple rhythmic dictation. 
The 4th graders are in heavy ti tika and tika ti practice and I made this set specifically for them. I know, I know, they should be "syn-co-pa-ing" by now but this group is just not ready at this time. Please don't call the Kodály police, sol-mi....sol-mi....sol-mi.... (whoops, that's their siren!)

Anyway, I wanted to make sure they could either chant the rhythm of each foam or the object name which matches the syllables with the rhythm.

pre-sent = ti ti
tree = ta
gin-ger bread = tika ti
snow = ta
snow-flake = ti ti 
(I actually cheated with snow and snow-flake. I wanted more tas in each set so I drew ti ti on one side of the snowflake and call it "snow-flake" and ta on the other side and call it "snow"! 
I could have also gone with "pre-sent" and "gift")

Each student had a rhythm pack and they decoded four beat patterns.
My basic procedure for rhythmic dictation is I play, (clap or play on a woodblock), they echo, and then they write/decode. Then I play the pattern again and they echo it only in their head and check/refine their answer.
With this rhythmic set I let the students chant the rhythm using either rhythm syllables or object names.

Pre-sent, gin-ger bread, snow,gin-ger bread
ti ti, tika ti, ta, tika ti

Students create their own patterns

Are you wondering, "where is ti tika?" Ah well, we just turned a gingerbread on his head! That was a fun discovery when I played a pattern including ti tika and the students had to figure out how to notate it with what they had. 
Of course, we had to talk about how unnatural it is to say GIN-ger bread, but they adapted immediately.

During another class period students composed their own 4 beat patterns and they walked around the room chanting each pattern accompanied by Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride. (If you try this and play that version of Sleigh Ride I highly recommend throwing it in Garage Band, Audacity or the Amazing Slow Downer and slowing down the tempo!)

I learned the hard way with Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride!

Have a very happy holiday! (Or holidays, if I am unable to write again before January. I am exhausted.)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Play-a-long

'Tis the season to bring in the winter holiday music in music class!

I love introducing young students to the wonderful music of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The individual pieces are short and familiar to many kids. Several of the pieces provide an excellent opportunity to reinforce concepts we have been focused on in the music room.
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a favorite of many students. 

This short, festive piece is not only a chance for students to play-a-long with the celesta theme, it is also an excellent review of ABA form. (I ask students to improvise a "glittering snowflake dance" with their hands during the B section. Each sforzando could be a sudden gust of wintery wind.)

Additionally, I use it as a reading piece showing "split tis" or single eighth notes.  (A blogpost regarding split tis will be coming soon! Watch this space for ideas regarding teaching split tis after ti-ti is learned. )

Students will be intrigued by that rarely heard, fairy-like, bell-sounding instrument, the celesta. Here is video of someone playing this piece.
(This is the most close-up shot of someone playing the celesta that I could find.)

Every year I ask students if they have seen the Nutcracker ballet live and as the years go on, less and less students have had that experience. I can give them a glimpse of the ballet that they may never see live. (Don't you just love teaching with modern technology?)

Here a youtube video of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Download a free PDF file of  my play-a-long pages here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Turkey Turkey Gobbler: a favorite "re" song

Here is another one of my favorite Thanksgiving themed songs. 
It's perfect for my 2nd graders right now as we're preparing "re." 
This is a wonderful "re" song because the "res" are in a prominent place, 
(the 3rd beat,)  in the 1st and 3rd measures. The rhythm includes tas, ti-tis, and toos (half notes) in a simple to decipher form. This allows students to focus on the melody and not get hung up on a challenging rhythm. I am a proponent of many uses for one song but we are zoning in on hearing/singing/feeling that pitch between "mi" and "do" with this song.

Naturally, the song is enhanced by a great, active game and this one is a favorite of my students.

Before introducing the game, we hear and practice imitating the turkey gobble.
(Share real turkey sounds with your class by going here.)

By having a couple of minutes of "Turkey Gobble Choir Rehearsal" this is a good opportunity for students to practice watching a conductor for cut-offs, growing louder and growing softer, (and all with our head-voice gobbles! Hurray for more vocal exploration!) Once we've "got our gobble on," it's time for the game.

Standing circle, one farmer is chosen, one turkey is chosen.
The farmer is blindfolded. I have a turkey hat for the turkey to wear, (thank you again, Target dollar bin!)

Sing the song as class, then the farmer tries to find and tag the turkey by calling "Turkey!"
Turkey must respond with "Gobble! Gobble!" (high-pitched, head voice gobble.)

If farmer gets to close to the standing circle (the "fence") students simply call
out "fence" to prevent the farmer from running into them.

If the action goes on too long, I show a silent 10 second count down with my fingers. Both the farmer and the turkey choose new players. 

Happy late autumn!

P.S. Amy Abbott recently posted this song with a different game and reading activities. You can see her post here. (Great ideas from Amy!)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is just around the corner? 
Here is a Thanksgiving song I love to use in my classroom with 1st and 2nd graders.

Thanksgiving Day is a song I saw in the OAKE Western Division newsletter a number of years ago. It was submitted by Verla Boyd and Kathleen Bassett. (I've also seen a few variants of this song around the internet.)
We sing this with autoharp accompaniment. In the 1st grade classes students pair up and one student presses buttons for chord changes while the other strums the steady beat, (the autoharp sits on the floor and the strummer strums away from their body.) I bring this song back in 2nd grade for fun with one student per instrument, strumming and pressing buttons for chord changes.

This year I'm adding singing solos by having two students acting out the Turkey and Pumpkin roles.

You could easily add bordon accompaniment on Orff instruments if you want to avoid autoharps. 

I know that autoharps have fallen out of favor in most music classrooms and I understand why: many teachers inherit a few clunky, dusty autoharps that haven't been tuned since the 80s. However, autoharps can be a great addition to the music class allowing students to practice the steady beat and easily play full chord accompaniments. (It's exciting to hear the 3rd in the chord for a change!) 
It's worth remembering: for a song with 2 chord accompaniment you only have to tune the notes in those chords. That certainly saves time when you're faced with 6 out-of-tune autoharps!

If you are interested in a better autoharp, you must see Evo Bluestein's line of autoharps, especially the Sparrowharp. Evo came and presented a few sessions for the OAKE Western Division mini-conference in 2008 and he is a wonderful musician, teacher, and champion for traditional american folk music. His Evoharps have a beautiful sound and appearance and are so much easier to hold and play then the awkward Oscar Schmidt black and reddish autoharps in my room. I don't own a Evoharp yet, my school music budget is not that healthy and I'd rather buy it for myself and not have it belong to the school. Maybe I need to ask Santa!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Apple and Pumpkin Melody Match

double-sided tone ladders for Apple Tree and Little Leaves

The second graders are currently in the land of "do."  
We've sung and played games, body signed, showed the "low" note by bending or ducking as we sang, echoed patterns while using individual tone ladders, and written do melodies with leaf note heads.

staff boards and leaf notes for melodic writing

This week I'll present do and the do clef and we'll focus on identifying, reading and writing do songs on the staff.

do Songs

  • Apple Tree
  • Little Leaves
  • Mouse Mousie
  • Pumpkin Man (only the first two measures)
  • One, Two, Three (Johnny Caught a Flea)

One of the practice activities I'll be incorporating is my 
Apple and Pumpkin Melody Match

I found foam apples (the come in packages mixed green and red and can be found in the dollar bin,) and foam pumpkins. (I really need to own stock in Target stores. They receive a lot of my cash.)

On each apple I wrote the solfa of a do melodic pattern. 
On the pumpkins I wrote the same melody on the staff with a do clef:

I stripped away the rhythm of these patterns because I want students to focus on the melody. (Have you ever noticed when showing mystery songs many kids will figure it out by matching the words and the rhythm and neglect the melody entirely? No? Just me? ...ok...) 

Each student will start the game with a pumpkin or an apple. 
They must find their partner and then write out their melody jointly on a staff board.   
I have pumpkin, ghost, leaves, and blackcat noteheads, (thank you, Amy!) once the pair have found each other they can choose which noteheads they use to write their pattern.

Here are some of the do patterns I've used and what song and phrase they are from:

Do you have additional do songs/activities? Please let me know.
Have a lovely autumn week!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Instruments of the Orchestra Part 2

"Who Am I?" Instrument ID Game
I recently shared a few of my favorite resources for teaching instruments of the orchestra. Here is a instrument ID game that has been a huge hit with my students.


  Laminated pictures of single orchestral instruments (the size of an index card.)

Mine look like this:

  • Begin by taping a laminated picture of an orchestra instrument on each student’s back. (Everyone but the student will be able to see their instrument.)
  • Lead class in brief discussion of what effective “yes” or “no” questions students could ask one another to discover what instrument is attached to their back.

Some question ideas:
“Am I in the woodwind family?”
“Do you use a reed to play my instrument?”
“Do you often play my instrument with a bow?”

  • Establish game rules. Students may roam around the roam asking one another only “yes” or “no” questions to discover which each instrument they have on their back. Students must go to the teacher to verify which instrument they are.
  • If a student guesses incorrectly, I give them an additional instrument to figure out. (This motivates them to ask good questions.)
This is an easy game to set up and the students ask to play again immediately.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Instruments of the Orchestra Resources

We are very lucky in Colorado to have a well-established symphony orchestra who include in their programming many concerts for children. My husband and I have been taking our son to their Family Series of concerts for the past 3 years and every year I bring the 5th and 6th graders on a field trip to hear a Colorado Symphony Orchestra Youth Concert.

In addition to studying the program music we review the instruments of the orchestra. (In my district instrument families are included in the 4th grade curriculum.)
There are many wonderful resources out there. 

Here are a few of my favorites that particularly appeal to 5th and 6th graders:


The Composer is Dead

I love this book. It's got it all, murder (kind of), mystery, intrigue, and a dark, (but not too dark,) sense of humor.  I came to this book in a roundabout way. The illustrator, Carson Ellis, is the illustrator for the album covers and posters for the band The Decemberists, (she is also married to their lead singer, Colin Meloy.)  As a Decemberists fan, I've been on the lookout for her work in other places which led me to this gem. The CD is included and the narration and composed music is very well done. 

Each instrument family is interrogated by the inspector regarding the crime. Many stereotypes of specific instrumentalists are bantered about, (the confirmed-bachelor-tuba's alibi is his card game with his landlady, the harp, played while drinking warm milk from a small blue cup.) The writing style is witty and just jaded enough to capture the interest of 12 year olds. I was fortunate to see this piece performed by Colorado Symphony Orchestra live last year.

Here is a sample of the story:

Side note: I recently went to a reading/book signing of Carson Ellis and Colin Meloy's new book Under Wildwood, the sequel to their first book, Wildwood. I highly recommend both books for the 12-16 year old set interested in Narnia-like fantasies. (Wildwood was a bit too scary for my son, who is 7.)

If you are a music teacher reading this I hope you are saying to yourself, "Of course The Remarkable Farkle McBride, everyone reads this to the students!" If you are not familiar with this book then just go find it and read it to the kids. You won't regret it.

This was a recommendation from Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis when I saw them at the above mentioned book signing after I gushed about how much I loved Carson's work in The Composer is Dead. (Unfortunately, I was too nervous to mention my adoration of The Decemberists. I don't always say what I want when faced with people I greatly admire. Especially when my kids are pulling on my purse and asking for gum. Such is life.)

It's a fun book for the younger set (1st - 3rd grade) that shows the musicians getting ready for their performance. Then they come together at 8:30pm to make music and perform the concert. Be advised: there are partially naked drawings, (but no naughty bits.)
Students will giggle when they see people drying off after bathing but it's worth reading to them.

YouTube clips:

PDQ Bach - Beethoven Symphony No. 5
I live in a sports-obsessed town where the streets become nearly deserted during Broncos games, (a GREAT time to run errands, by the way.) 
If this captures the attention of my students and get them interested in the symphony, I'm showing all ten minutes and thirty four seconds of it. It's very entertaining and attainable for 9-12 year olds. (I do remind them that the audience expectations at the CSO concert are very different.)

Peter and the Wolf beatbox flute
My students listen to Peter and the Wolf in 2nd grade. This a wonderful connection and re-introduction to that piece. Greg Pattillo is slammin'!

Cello Wars, A Star Wars Parody
Cellos, Star Wars, what's not to love?
Parent have been letting me know that kids are making their whole family watch this video. Yeah, cellos are coooool!

Me and My Cello: Happy Together
Yes, more from The Piano Guys. I couldn't resist.
(And no, I don't play the cello.)

Radio Broadcasts/Websites

From the Top is a PBS radio show (broadcast every Sunday evening on Colorado's classical station.)
The show features excellent kid musicians performing and being interviewed about their day-to-day lives and interests. It's a wonderful "slice of life" view of normal kids passionate about making music.

It's great having so many mediums to feature professional musicians. 
(Don't you love living in the future?)
This short list barely scratches the surface of the quality resources available.

Did I miss your favorite book/video/website?

Let me know!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

sol mi la Build a Song

My husband is the art teacher and often has extra materials he can't use. (Many parents donate excess graph paper, card stock, and other supplies.) I spied several brightly colored tongue depressors in his room a few weeks ago. When I asked if he had plans for them, he said "no" and gladly handed them over. 
We've been preparing do and reviewing sol mi la songs in 2nd grade so I thought the sticks would provide a different way to practice constructing known songs. 

I used the following songs:
  • Ickle Ockle Blue Bottle
  • No Robbers Out Today
  • Lucy Locket
  • We Are Dancing in the Forest
I have a SMART Board file with each song written out in stick notation (with the solfa written in underneath the rhythm.) After printing out copies of each song I cut them up in 4 beat phrases and glued each phrase on one side of the stick. On the other side is a small picture indicating what song the phrase is from. (You can see the little pictures near the song titles.)

After reviewing the songs, we made a circle and students select one stick each. (One fun way to choose sticks is to play Apple Tree and have the eliminated student pick a stick until everyone has one.)

Students identify their "teammates" by finding those who have the same color and picture on their song stick. Each team rebuilds their assigned song as a team and practices singing and body signing the song. 

Once a team is confident their song is built correctly, they request a song sheet from me and check to see if it matches.

 2nd graders check their song

Are all of my students able to put together a known sol mi la song from memory 
with the stick notation? 
No way.

How can make this activity a successful learning experience for everyone?
  • Many students will benefit from being in a group where they can work together.
  • Some students with stronger skills have the option of building their song with a partner, (there are always uneven groups so this is a great way divvy out the song sticks.)
  • Some groups build their song with the song sheet in hand. Yes, they are essentially copying the song. This is still a reinforcement of the melody, rhythm and form of the song and those students can still be successful. 
I'm all about doing the same old thing in a slightly different way. 
(And I just love those colorful song sticks!)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doggie Doggie Beat/Rhythm/Melodic Direction Bones

I've been focused on making good quality manipulatives lately, which is a more tactful way of saying I'm a bit obsessed with manipulatives lately. (Can one be a "bit" obsessed? Maybe...)

I'm going to blame my friend Amy Abbott for this obsession/inspiration; she churns out more quality ideas and manipulatives in the span of a week then any teacher I know. (You probably already visit her wonderful blog, Music a la Abbott. If not, you should be checking in with her blog weekly. She posts often.)

I stopped by the teacher resource store Beyond the Blackboard this week looking for post-it notes in the shape of leaves. I did not find those, but I did find some stickers and paper bones.

Beyond the Blackboard and Teacher Created Resources are NOT paying me for advertising.
(hmm... maybe I should contact them...)
I do not enjoy making everything from scratch. While I greatly admire crafty people, I would rather spend less time putting things together. This means I sometimes spend more money. You could easily make your own bones and paw prints. 

I thought these could easily be made into a great beat/rhythm/melodic tracking manipulative for Doggie Doggie.  This is not a new idea, just a good one that I thought I could make into a classroom set of bones. The pack of bones contained 30, exactly what I use for a classroom set. (My largest 1st grade class is 29, which is ridiculous. PLEASE support your local schools by voting yes for any bond or mill levy in your area. That's a different post for another day but many districts are making huge cuts. I'll just say now that smaller class sizes make a huge difference in quality of instruction. ALL instruction.)

One side is for beat tracking while singing the song:
(Notice the strong beats are the same color as the bone outline. I also want to prepare 2/4 meter with these bones.)

The other side shows the rhythm and melodic direction of the song:

Here's a short video of my son singing and tracking:

I am looking forward to using these with a whole class. (All 29 of them!)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tika Tika Tic Tac Toe

It's Tika Tika time 
(4 beamed 16th notes) 
in 3rd grade and we are busy practicing, chanting, singing and playing this fun rhythm!

While it's always an aim of mine to present tika tika in 2nd grade, I usually only have time to prepare this rhythm at the end of the 2nd grade year. Tika tika in early 3rd grade is what I usually do and it works well. 

Tika Tika Tic Tac Toe is one of those simple games that I always think the students will scoff at and then they love playing it and request it often. 
(I think it has to do with competition and the opportunity to throw things.)

All you need are nine cards of 4 beat rhythms featuring tika tika, bean bags, and some floor space. My rhythms are extracted from the tika tika songs the 3rd graders have been learning since school began. 

I set out the nine rhythm cards in a tic tac toe board formation on the floor. Students are separated into two teams and sit on the bar lines of the floor staff. (I have very large staff on my floor which functions as a seating arrangement when we're not in a circle. My floor staff is made with black velcro, ordered from a PE catalog.) The teams are designated the "red" team or the "blue" team, (those are our school colors.) A student stands below line E of the floor staff and chooses which rhythm card he is going to attempt. He chants the rhythm and the rest of the class repeats the rhythm. If he articulates the rhythm correctly, he can toss his team's color beanbag to claim that space. If the beanbag is touching the chosen card once it's landed, that team wins the space and their beanbag stays on the card. The opposing team then takes a turn.  The goal is for a team to get three spaces in a row.

This amazing simple game is a big hit with the students. There is individual and group practice of the new rhythm concept and we're working with rhythms from their song literature. I can think of several variations I could use to adjust the level of difficulty. To make it more challenging, the individual player must tap or clap the rhythm and his team has to identify which card was played. Another challenge could be the individual player must identify which song the rhythm is extracted from. (I would post the song titles on the board for students to refer to.) To make the game easier and more immediately successful, the teacher could chant the rhythm, the class echoes and then the individual player identifies which rhythm was played.

There are so many age-appropriate songs that incorporate tika tika.
Some of my students' favorite ti-ka t-ka songs:

  • Chicken on a Fencepost
  • In and Out Those Dusty Bluebells
  • Chanton Le Petit Moulin
  • Paw Paw Patch 
  • Tideo
  • Goodnight, Sleeptight