Differentiation part 2

Several years ago I wrote a post titled Differentiation in the Elementary Music Classroom. It was one of my first experiences providing leveled worksheets for my students that would be appropriate for their varying levels. Today’s post takes this a step further.

Each time my students complete a worksheet in class, a few students finish before the others. Rather than let them goof off, I try to provide a flashcard match or simple game they can work on independently while I help other students. This idea blossomed into a new differentiation technique. Why not create leveled packets? Students can work at their own pace and each level is slightly more challenging than the last.

Getting Started

Let’s use half note practice as an example. This scenario assumes that students know quarter notes, paired eighth notes, quarter rests, and half notes. Using known song material, all students would start with a 16-beat song with laminated flashcards cut into 4-beat phrases. Students put them in order to match the song and check their work. I highly recommend creating color-coded packets. Post the song order or color codes students should follow.

Checking Their Work

There’s only one of you and many more of them, so you may consider preparing manila folders with “answer sheets” inside. After they put the flashcards in order, they may check their own answers or have a friend check for them. If any flashcards are out of order, students should choose another packet in the same color/level. In this way, they only move up a level when they’ve mastered the previous level.

Creating Levels

A few 16-beat songs appropriate for Level 1 include I See the Moon, Sea Shell, and Let Us Chase the Squirrel. You might choose to cut these into 4-beat phrases or create another level by cutting one song into 2-beat phrases.

Level 2 may include Yellow Bird and Who’s That Tapping at the Window. Both of these can be written out completely, or you could include the repeat signs for an added challenge! These songs can be cut into 2-beat phrases or 4-beat phrases.

Level 3 might include Here Comes a Bluebird and Are You Sleeping since they are 32-beat songs. These songs can also be cut into 2-beat phrases or 4-beat phrases.

Just be sure to use songs that your students know very well. 

Hint: Be sure to cut the flashcards about the same size so students don’t try to “piece” them together like a puzzle. Cut after the bar lines and make each phrase the same number of beats.

Yellow Bird rhythms without the repeat sign

Yellow Bird rhythms without the repeat sign

Yellow Bird rhythms with the repeat sign.

Yellow Bird rhythms with the repeat sign.

Listening for ta-dimi

My third graders just learned ta-dimi, an eighth note followed by two sixteenths, so we listened to “Fossils” from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns this week. My students have heard this piece in the past. In second grade they heard it and read the first four beats of rhythm: takadimi ta takadimi ta.

It’s always interesting to bring back a piece they know and go deeper musically. This week they read the first eight beats of rhythm and listened for that repeating motive throughout the piece. Did they mind hearing it again? Not at all! They were very excited and the discussion that followed was more insightful, probably because they were already familiar with the piece.

For those of you who are looking for visual aids, I’ve posted the first four and first eight beats of rhythm for “Fossils” on my Resources for Teacher page under Listening Examples, as well as the rhythms to “Marche du Toréador” from Carmen. (Thanks for pointing out this piece, Karen Fincher!)

"Marche du Toreador" rhythms

“Marche du Toreador” rhythms

Post Office Rhythm Game

It’s the beginning of another school year and time to review, review, review! All those previous concepts must be reinforced before preparing new ones. I put a new spin on a game Lamar Robertson taught in Kodály training called Post Office. There are three free sets for download: quarter and eighth notes; quarter, eighth, and quarter rests; sixteenth notes, quarter, eighth, and quarter rest. The patterns in these sets come from familiar folk songs, so they should tie into your curriculum easily.

I prepare students for the activity by telling them there’s a secret code or message in each rhythm pattern and I’ll share it with them when they find the correct one.

Every child receives an identical envelope of 4-beat rhythms. They’re instructed to lay them on the floor in front of them with the meter/time signature on the left and stand when they’re done.

Here’s my sequence. I clap the pattern and they clap it back. Repeat. The third time I clap the pattern, they clap it and say the rhythm syllables to match. If the class is correct, I ask them to find the pattern and hold it at their foreheads. A quick visual check lets me know if they need help. When the class is correct, I tell them the secret and they put the rhythm in the envelope. After two-three patterns, ask the students to find the pattern on their own without saying the rhythm syllables aloud.

Examples of secret messages or codes: Count the number of quarter notes in this pattern. That’s how many dogs I have at home. Which beat has eighth notes? That’s how many people are absent today. How many beats are in this pattern? That’s how many games we’ll play today, etc.

I copied my post office rhythm sets on card stock and didn’t need to laminate them. Feel free to change the game to suit your situation, and have fun!

What are your favorite ways to practice rhythm?

Post Office - Quarter Rest quarter_eighth_post_office_rhythms takadimi_post_office_rhythms

Book Review – Jazz Baby

BookJazz Baby 

Author: Lisa Wheeler

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

Publisher: Harcourt, Inc., 2007

“Brother’s hands tap.

Sister’s hands snap.

Itty-bitty Baby’s hands


Jazz Baby uses body percussion, singing, scatting, and dancing. The text mentions drummers and bass players, but we do not see any instruments, only a record player.

The rhythm of the text is fairly consistent throughout. Adult readers should be able to read this selection aloud with ease. The rhythmic form of the first eight pages is AAAB and continues in this vein with slight variations (i.e. Bass players strum.)

Classroom use: Using only quarter notes, eighth notes, and quarter rests, students could easily deduce the rhythmic structure of this book.

The illustrations leave plenty of white space and emphasize the characters and their movements. My only concern about the illustrations is the incorrect notation on two pages. The noteheads on eighth notes are facing the wrong direction and look like “b’s” on one page, and then pairs of eighth notes are turned to become hands and feet in an abstract image on the next page. However, this might create a wonderful teachable moment and open avenues of cross-curricular connections.

Simplify Concentric Circle Games

My classroom is rather spacious, but pull out the risers and a few instruments and suddenly the movement space dwindles. Here are a few ideas for implementing exciting lessons in small spaces.

Tideo and John Kanaka both have concentric circles as part of the game formation. However, I teach Tideo in second grade because of the takadimi tadi tadi ta pattern. Teaching young students to play in concentric circles takes more time than I’m willing to spend, so I simplify.

tideo_lyrics_CSimplified version: Scattered partners. Students play the clapping portion (patsch, clap, partner clap) each time they sing Tideo, and they add a dishrag during the last “jingle at the window, tideo.” When I’m ready to teach high do’ (fourth grade), the song comes back into circulation, but the game will be played in concentric circles. All students move one step to the left at the beginning of phrases one through three (on the word ‘pass’), performing the clapping pattern on all ‘tideo’ words. Students then stay with that partner and trade places on the first and second ‘jingle at the window.’ On the third ‘jingle at the window,’ students end the song with a dishrag.

Note: If there are chairs and desks in the way and there’s not enough room for the whole class to play in concentric circles, why not divide the group into two or three sections? Can you find two or three smaller places in the room for eight to ten students to play? This tactic works well with passing games, too. If one or two people make mistakes in the game, the whole class isn’t involved. The teacher can focus attention on the group that struggles and allow the rest of the class to continue practicing and playing.

John Kanaka is similar to Tideo. Rather than beginning with concentric circles, why not teach the game with scattered partners first? Students work with their partner until the high do’ in phrase five, then move to a new partner. In my class, I encourage students to find a partner within one step of their current position. If no one nearby is available, they raise their hand and walk to someone else with their hand up. It works remarkably well. I usually teach this game at the end of 3rd grade or early in 4th grade. By changing the game slightly and increasing the difficulty level, older learners don’t get bored. It’s also important to use well-known songs to prepare or practice known concepts and these songs are little treasures!

Look for reading examples of each of these songs under Resources for Teachers.john_kanaka_F_lyrics


Yesterday two groups of music education students from the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor visited my elementary music classes to observe drumming lessons and they were great! In my district, we teach twelve 25-minute classes on Fridays and see half the school. I like to use these class times to reinforce concepts, usually with instruments.

My third and fourth graders learned Let’s Go to the Farmer’s Marketa poem I wrote to match a rhythm exercise in Gunild Keetman’s Rhythmische Übung, p. 7, number 18. I chose this exercise because I wanted the students to practice ta-dimi as well as playing tones and bass tones.

from Gunild Keetman's Rhythmische Ubung

Although they could have read the rhythms, I clapped each phrase and they deduced the rhythms aurally.

Tip: One of the easiest ways to teach rhythm exercises is to add words. Always teach the song or poem first, and then transfer to an instrument. Students should “say and play” several times before audiation.

The students played the whole piece with tones first. In my SMART board presentation, I also colored the accented syllables purple because I wanted the students to play a bass tone only on those downbeats.

For more Orff-inspired resources, see my Resources for Teachers page and click on Orff Visual Aids.

What are some of your favorite, go-to drumming pieces?


Quarter Rest Prep

My awesome colleague, Cindy Hayes, shared this idea with me and gave me permission to share it here. This technique could be used with multiple songs, but the chart I made matches the rhythms to Pease Porridge Hot.

photo 1

While you’re preparing quarter rest, show the students the page with the flap down with the porridge pictures visible. Once they’ve learned rest, flip the flap and the quarter rest is visible.

photo 2How to make your chart: Print both pages. Cut the page with porridge pictures about 4 1/8″ vertically from the edge with pictures. Fold it in half vertically. It should only be wide enough to cover beat four of each phrase. Glue the pictures back to back. Line it up along the right edge of the full sheet of paper and tape it in place. Too much tape may keep it from laying flat. Enjoy!

Pease Porridge Page 1

Pease Porridge Page 2

Teaching meter

It’s so exciting to teach meter to first graders. They’re curious about everything, and when I tell them that the “big kids” know something, they want to learn it even more.

One of the most helpful songs for teaching meter is “Bounce High, Bounce Low.” The students form loose circles with one ball per circle. The person who is “it” bounces the ball on the beat, sings the name of someone in his/her circle, then bounces it to them. The play continues until all have had a turn.

Using my SMART board, the rhythms are displayed with words under them. It’s helpful at this point to remind the students that eighth notes share a beat. In some classes I’ve even had the students mark the beats with a dot before proceeding. Then I circle the first beat and tell the students we’re going to circle the beats for each bounce of the ball. This song is ideal because the first three are on the word “bounce.” The students always catch on that there’s a pattern of bounce, catch, bounce, catch. We discuss which takes more strength – bouncing the ball or catching it? Bouncing. I tell them there’s a pattern in music of strong and weak beats.

Although I haven’t presented meter yet, I’m actively preparing it and will present next week. I’m adding some songs to my Resources for Teachers page without barlines for your convenience. They’re helpful for prepping, but also for practice. A few weeks after learning meter and barlines, individual students come to the board to draw in barlines. A week or so later, they might complete a half page worksheet independently, filling in the missing barlines.

How do you present meter and what has worked well?

Rain, Rain and Doggie, Doggie

Fun ways to practice rhythm

Need fun ways for your students to demonstrate what they know? Try Musical Post Office, Meeting on the Street, or using your mascot as a rhythm eater.

At the beginning of the year, I try to ease my students through reviewing concepts while assessing new students. Playing Musical Post Office allows me to check their understanding of rhythms. (Click the link for examples with quarter notes, eighth notes, and quarter rest.)

Each student receives an envelope with the same rhythm cards in it. I clap a four-beat pattern and they clap it back. Repeat. Usually I ask the students to say the rhythm for the first few examples, and then hold the card at their forehead so I can quickly assess everyone. If I feel everyone understands, I’ll clap a few examples and ask them to silently find the card. Students put each used card in the envelope.

Meeting on the Street is a musical activity that fits the Tribes philosophy on my campus. Every student receives one finger cymbal. While the music plays, students mill to the music and “ding” finger cymbals with classmates. They hide it in their hands when the music stops and listen for a prompt. Students are given a question or topic and have a few seconds to discuss it with someone near them. Questions might include: 1. Talk about one special thing you did this summer, 2. Name your favorite music game from last year, 3. Can you name any rhythms we studied last year, 4. Do you have any pets, 5. Which solfége syllables do you remember? Each time the music resumes, students should stop talking and let their finger cymbals do the talking.

Our school mascot is a gecko. I tell the students we have a special Rhythm Gecko that only eats rhythms. He just had surgery (I cut a paper gecko in half!) and they need to nurse him back to health with good food. In small groups, students create 4-beat rhythm patterns (I provide small rhythm cards that we tape together) and feed them to the gecko one group at a time. To really play this up, the groups can give him a drink, salad, soup, bread, entrée, dessert, and after-dinner mint. Once all the rhythms have been presented to the gecko, the class has to clap the entire menu. They’re often surprised by this and laugh or groan, but they always play along. Yes, even fifth graders have fun with this! At the end of class, they take the gecko back to class to hang up as an artifact. Sometimes I still see the geckos in their rooms in May!

What creative ways have you used to practice rhythm concepts?

More Listening Lessons – Schubert

The spring semester was very busy and I completed Orff-Schulwerk Level III right after school finished (Orff Certified!), so it’s taken me longer to follow up on listening lessons than I had planned. I’ll try to address the specific questions I received by email with one of my favorite listening examples, Rosamunde Overture by Schubert.

Students should hear musical examples and be allowed to listen to them for the pure sake of enjoyment. However, most need a reason to listen to the same piece again the following week or even a month later. Enter the musical transition, which is really just connecting content.

Rosamunde Overture by Schubert is a clear example of an eighth note followed by two sixteenths, henceforth referred to as ta-dimi. Typically my students hear this piece once before they know what ta-dimi is, and after presenting ta-dimi visually, I bring it back. How, you ask? Simple. Look at the other songs and games in your lesson. If you’ve recently presented ta-dimi, you’re probably using a good deal of repertoire that will provide a smooth transition. A few examples include:

How Many Miles to Babylon ta-dimi tadi tadi ta 

Wildcat (What Makes a Wildcat Wild?) ta-dimi tadi ta ta

Mama Buy Me a Chiney Doll tadi ta-dimi tadi ta

Hogs in the Cornfield ta-dimi tadi ta-dimi tadi

My Mother Baked a Nice Seedy Cake ta-dimi tadi ta-dimi ta 

Let’s take the last example and get to the listening a few different ways:

1. Aurally: The teacher says the first phrase (also the title of the game) while clapping or playing the rhythm. The students might echo the teacher. The teacher asks students to aurally deduce the rhythm. If your students aren’t used to doing this or have trouble, break it down for them! Isolate the rhythms of each beat. How many sounds were on beat 4? etc. Now back to our transition for the listening. Tell the students you’re going to switch two of the beats. Ask them to echo you and they’ll get it much more quickly. Your rhythm becomes ta-dimi ta-dimi tadi ta. Ask the students to listen for this rhythm pattern in Schuber’ts Rosamunde Overture.

2. Visually: The procedure is very similar, but I’m assuming there’s a four-beat pattern visible on the board or projector. It might be the first four beats of a game song you’ve just used, or maybe you asked your students to play a four-beat ostinato several times throughout the class. The idea is the same as above, but in this case, students will actually see the rhythms change. Consider the following ways:

  • Reading: The teacher changes the rhythms around and students read the phrase from the board. Then they listen to the song and signal when they hear it.
  • Mistake Recognition: The teacher performs a four-beat pattern on the board but makes a mistake or two. The students must identify the mistakes, come to the board, and make corrections. (I use laminated rhythm cards to make this smoother and faster.)
  • Writing: In pairs or individually, students write four-beat rhythm patterns. If you take the time to create the packets and pass them out, take a few minutes to do a writing activity as a warm-up. I clap a four-beat pattern (usually one or two examples from the songs above). The students clap it back. They identify the rhythms as a class and then arrange their cards accordingly. After this warm-up, the students create their own four-beat rhythm patterns and perform them for a neighbor. Someone always comes up with the pattern I need for the listening. Allow the class to see and hear a few individual examples, but then make that child feel spectacular by pointing out that he/she created the same rhythm that  a famous composer used in our listening example. Quietly put your things away while you listen to Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture. 

3. Focusing on ta-dimi: If you’ve presented ta-dimi and want to focus on that, you might show the first 16 measures and have the students highlight or circle the new rhythm. Personally I would do this on my SMART board, calling students up a few at a time to quickly find them all. This also reinforces other concepts like beat and meter, and let’s face it, some students struggle with it.

My goal is to post something at least once a month during the school year. If there’s a topic or song you’re really interested in, there’s a good chance I’ll include it if you email or leave a comment.

Happy Summer!

Rosamunde Overture by Schubert