Teaching Form to the Very Young

Kindergarten is a year of preparation. It’s a year to teach a variety of repertoire and allow students to experience a mixture of songs, games, instruments, folk dances, and other activities. Every concept seems to stem from the idea of same or different: singing vs. speaking, fast vs. slow, loud vs. quiet, higher vs. lower, steady vs. unsteady, long vs. short. It makes sense, then, that students can begin learning about form through listening examples and folk songs from class. Below are three examples of folk songs I use in Kindergarten.

Hot Cross Buns is a wonderful example to introduce form in short, four-beat phrases. Here’s my process:

  1. I sing the song as students keep a beat with me.
  2. We draw the phrases together, from left to right. (The teacher always demonstrates backwards.) I tell them that when we draw phrases, they can imagine drawing rainbows in the air. For each phrase, we put up one more finger.
  3. After we identify that there are four phrases, I sing the first phrase and draw an apple on the board. We determine that the first letter of “apple” is “a.” I write that next to the apple.
  4. Then I sing phrase two and ask if it sounds the same or different. Since it’s the same, I draw another apple under the first.
  5. Starting at the beginning of the song, I sing the first two phrases while pointing at the apples in turn, then point at the blank space below the apples while singing phrase three. Is it the same, or different? Hearing that it is different, I draw a banana and label it with a “b.”
  6. Finally, I sing through all the phrases and ask them if the fourth phrase sounded like an apple or a banana. I draw and label the apple and “a.”aaba form for Hot Cross Buns

Cut the Cake is another great song for Kindergarten students, and it uses a “c!” apple_banana_cherries_abac1

The song All Around the Buttercup could be taught with two eight-beat phrases, or four four-beat phrases. Personally, I like to teach it in four-beat chunks even though I analyzed it as eight-beat phrases in my collection. With that in mind, think about the phrase “one, two, three” and “just choose me.” One moves up, do re mi, while the other moves down, mi re do. When drawing the bananas on the board, I always ask students if it is exactly the same. Usually they recognize that one pattern goes up and the other goes down. I draw the second banana backwards. It can also be labeled b’ (prime). As I sing those phrases, I trace the contour of the bananas to further reinforce the melodic contour.
One more thing to note about using fruit as a bridge to form. If a song has an a’ (prime) phrase, I usually draw a green apple instead of red and tell the students it is still an apple, but it’s a little different.

How do you teach form to your youngest students? 

Happy Teaching!

Differentiation Part 3 – Recorders

In a few weeks my fifth graders will dust off their recorders and begin using them in music class again. Many of them loved playing recorders in fourth grade, but some of them struggled. We spend the bulk of our time on whole class recorder instruction, but I also offer recorder tutoring two mornings a week for anyone interested in attending, and post some folk songs for practice on our school website.

When students say they can’t read the notes fast enough to keep up with the class, how can I help them? I don’t want to add letter names to the songs we’re working on, because it feels like adding a band-aid to a bigger issue. Instead, I’ll share a few things that have helped some students.

Selective Labeling

In the past, I’ve experimented with adding letter names under tricky spots in the music. After students have the opportunity to study the music, finger and sing the parts, and play it once or twice, I tap the letter names on the SMART board and they fade out. Usually it is met with gasps and giggles, and a few, “Oh, no!” responses. But we jump right in and play it again while it’s fresh on their minds. The best way I’ve found to do this is only labeling a little, and if it’s more than one spot in the music, letting students play all the way through again before taking away another labeled part.

Did you know the first phrase of the song “Phoebe in Her Petticoat” spells BAGGAGE? It is fun for students to decipher the word BAGGAGE, and then they usually go home and practice that phrase over and over again.

Repeating Motives

Build up to the whole song slowly. Each time we approach a new song in class, we take a minute to study it. We look at the first note, last note, highest, and lowest. Then we look for measures or patterns that repeat and students highlight them on the SMART board.

As a class, students sing the letter names and finger them on the recorder in chin position before trying to play. Then we start at the beginning. Students only play the highlighted parts and I play the other measures. By beginning with the repeating parts, students are not responsible for playing the whole song, but they must follow the music independently and play an accessible section. By the same token, students who need an added challenge may be invited to finger the parts the teacher is playing, or peer tutor those who are struggling.

In the song “Big Fat Biscuit,” students who have just learned “low E” could play G E, G or ‘chew baloo’ in each phrase. Those who need a bigger challenge might be asked to aurally deduce the pitches and rhythms for the rest of the song.

In the song “Chatter with the Angels,” students highlight and play ‘chatter with the angels’ in each phrase, and the teacher plays the rest. This is a great way to practice G E,D, and getting the ‘low D’ to speak. The next step would be adding ‘soon in the morning,’ and then ‘in that land’ and ‘join that band.’

Simplify or Add Harmony 

Consider providing a simplified version of the song for a struggling player, or a counter-melody. In some instances, writing a counter-melody using only BAG with quarter notes and eighth notes would allow students to be part of the group even if they cannot play a melody with more pitches. If both parts are posted on the screen like a duet, I’ve found that most students will choose appropriately.

Solo and Small Group Opportunities

If some of your students are recorder masters, it’s a good idea to let them play independently or in small groups occasionally. Some of them may even come to recorder tutoring to help other students. You’ll never know if you don’t invite them!

How do you help your struggling recorder students?

Solfége Problems? New Strategies to the Rescue!

At workshops, teachers often ask me, “Can your students really read that solfége?” Or sometimes it isn’t an outright question, but it’s a statement such as, “I don’t like teaching solfége because it’s hard.”

Although I understand where you’re coming from, just because something is hard doesn’t mean it should be left out of the lesson. Instead, try incorporating a few of these tips and suggestions.

1. First, add pitches the students already know to the tone ladder.

2. Sing a few patterns with hand signs and solfége and ask students to echo you. Then try singing a couple on a neutral syllable, like “loo,” and ask students to identify and sing them right back to you. If they don’t get them right, remain calm. If they tried to identify the pattern, but were wrong, simply sing back their answer. Tell them which pitches they got right, if any, and let them try again.

3. If your students aren’t strong readers, don’t try to read a whole song. Start small with four to five pitches on the staff, or one phrase of a known song. After they read it, change one pitch at a time until it becomes a different song or game.

4. Wait! Back up! They couldn’t even read one phrase? Okay. There’s no need for tears. Try this. Identify the first note, last note, highest note, and lowest note. Sing each one as it is identified. Are there any easy patterns like so la so mi or mi re do in the pattern? Point them out and ask students to sing just that much. See the example below.come_thru_ph4_G

In the song Come Thru Now Hurry (Alabama Gal), phrase 4 is a great phrase for practicing solfége. I highly recommend using the do clef in your reading examples to help students find do. Then ask someone to point on mi re do, and be sure you sing it as you ask them the question. One child points it out and the whole class sings and uses hand signs.

Then pick out another two pitches such as the so mi.  Try covering up the other pitches, or just cupping your hands around the so mi. After students identify and sing so mi, ask them to put together so mi re do. Then they can quickly identify the first mi in the phrase. To assist students in singing the mi so interval correctly, you might sing:

one two ready go

Overall, if there’s a tricky spot, be sure to point it out, sing it with the students, and prepare them for the full range of pitches they’ll encounter. Then  you can give them their starting pitch, point to the beat, and allow them to sight-read with solfége and hand signs. I hope these tips will help you and your students with solfége!

Listening Lessons

All of my listening lessons tie into my regular lessons in some way. Sometimes they relate to a rhythmic element, a related pitch or scale, or even form, such as rondo. The very best listening examples have a clear melody the students can sing. Need examples? Certainly.

1. Mozart’s “Allegro” from Symphony no. 1 in Eb begins do mi so so so so so so so so mi do with the rhythms ta ta takadimi takadimi tadi

2. Edvard Grieg’s “Morning Song” from Peer Gynt begins so mi re do re mi so mi re do (all eighth notes)

3. Haydn’s “Andante” from Surprise Symphony no. 94 begins do do mi mi so so mi with the rhythms tadi tadi tadi ta (I use this in kindergarten for movement, in first grade for rhythm, and again in second grade for melody.)

How do I get to the listening from the folk songs? Musical transitions, of course. My students seem to enjoy it when I make a “mistake” from a pattern on the board and they have to identify what I did wrong. Another strong way is to simply change one beat at a time of a reading example from earlier in the lesson. If your students do not know the new concept yet, the students might clap an ostinato while I clap, hum, or play the melody of the listening example.

Learning about the composer doesn’t have to be dull, either. I have three initial ideas to share about this.

1. Use the Fandex Field Guide for composers to show a quick picture of the composer and tell a little about him/her.

2. Prepare two to three paragraphs of information about the composer and make enough copies for half your class. Students pair up. One student reads the first paragraph while the other listens and then tells two facts they remember hearing. The second person reads the next paragraph and the first person must tell two facts. Make sure the person listening is not looking at the paper. Come back as a group, hand in papers, and open the floor for a student-led discussion about the composer. My fifth graders really enjoy this activity!

3. Type out the composer information in sentence segments. Make two sets. Cut these into strips. Laminate. Put a piece of tape on each one and tape one to each student’s back. (Prepare them in advance by taping to the side of your desk.) Students will mill around and tell one another which fact is on their backs. They should try to find the other person with their matching fact. When all pairs are found, they will tell the class their fact from memory. (Every person they come to should read their fact aloud and vice versa, so this should not be a problem.)

Listening examples will be the next category of visual aids I add to the website. Are there any you’d specifically like to see posted?

Do you do anything special to make learning about composers fun and memorable?

Differentiation in the Elementary Music Classroom

Differentiation. It’s a word we hear in staff development all the time and most music teachers probably think, “I differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the students in every class!” Although it’s true that we do this through our activities, I’ve never done it with worksheets. However, considering all the new students who weren’t in my class last year, I’m having to do more reteaching and remediation than I’ve ever done before. So, I decided to provide my third grade classes a choice this week. I called the worksheet levels blue, green, and black.

The blue is the simplest worksheet and included labeling the tone ladder, identifying pitches to Phoebe in Her Petticoat, and then writing four pitches on the staff. The green level began the same way, but instead of writing four pitches, students transposed Phoebe in Her Petticoat into a new key. To make it a black level challenge, they added the rhythm stems. The green and black levels also allow students to create a new melody on a blank staff.

A majority of students chose the harder worksheet and worked at the green or black level. A few chose the blue level but finished too quickly. They determined that they should have chosen the harder one. Those students either took a blank staff and worked on transposing Phoebe in Her Petticoat or assisted other students who raised their hands. A few students chose the blue worksheet and it was just right for them. (See the worksheets under “Resources for Teachers” or click the links above.)

A final thought: Carol Ann Tomlinson wrote, “Students who consistently fail lose their motivation to learn. Students who succeed too easily also lose their motivation to learn. For learning to continue, students must believe that hard work is required, but the hard work often pays off with success….Challenges must grow as students grow in their learning.” p. 19 The Differentiated Classroom

Are you challenging your students in any special ways? I’d love to hear about it!

Hogs in the Cornfield – the first song request!

Here’s a big “Thank you” to Lori for suggesting a song to post. It was a good choice, too! Not only is Hogs in the Cornfield a useful song, but it’s a fun game for the students to play. Here are a few ways that I use Hogs in the Cornfield:

1. Phrase 1 for ta-dimi prep

2. Phrase 2 for takadi prep

3. Phrase 2 for high do’ prep

Rather than elaborate on all three concepts, I’ll just touch on the third one, do’ preparation. Everyone learns in different ways, so it’s important to provide kinesthetic, aural, and visual learning opportunities. Kinesthetic activities might include singing and clapping in contour, pointing to a picture or the words in contour, or even moving the body higher or lower as the voice moves. Aural questions involve identifying the pitches for each beat of phrase two and calling do’ “high.” It’s important at this stage to identify how far the “high” sound is from la. (a skip, or two steps) Finally, students should have the opportunity to create a visual representation of the phrase on their own. I like to use Unifix cubes, but almost any small object will work. Some teachers will allow their students to use anything in the room to make their picture. Brave souls! Personally, I like Unifix cubes because four cubes equals one beat and each student receives a baggie with four beats. Some students can make a melodic picture very quickly while others may need to sing the phrase several times or receive one on one assistance. Need to show your principal differentiation? Ask the more advanced students to figure out the rhythms, break the cubes into a rhythmic representation, and then move them into melodic contour.

While you’re prepping a new melodic concept, students should demonstrate known melodic concepts. Why not have the students read or write the solfége to phrase 1 prior to the kinesthetic, aural, and visual steps? It’s a great way for students to hear the interval from so to do’ (end of phrase 1 into phrase 2) and should help them identify do’ to la (beginning of phrase 2) as being closer.

For more information about preparing and presenting high do, I recommend Kodály Today by Mícheál Houlahan and Philip Tacka.

Which techniques have worked well in your classroom? 

Hogs in the Cornfield solfége and rhythms in F