Syncopa Practice

It’s that time of year again. My fourth grade students have learned “syncopa” or “ta-di–di” and we’re practicing it every which way. It’s a good idea to have students read it from flashcards, posters, or displayed on a projector, and I highly encourage you to use the highlighting feature if you have a SMART board or other interactive white board.

The next stage is writing, but this is where it gets tricky. Writing with laminated rhythm cards is a good place to start, but eventually the students need to put pen to paper, or finger to screen, and write. Do you find that the quarters and eighths are all over the place and not spaced correctly? If so, try using the Syncopa fill-in-the-blank worksheet under Resources for Teachers. The boxes give the students parameters for their first pencil to paper practice. While you’re there, you may be interested in a Syncopa Song Match. All of the resources are free, but please contact me if you wish to use them outside your elementary music classroom.

Ribbon Snake Information

Here are some pictures of my “ribbon snakes.” The best way to store them is to wrap a rubber band around the end of the sticks and tuck the ribbons and all into a zipper baggie. For more information on making your own, see the previous post, Engaging Activities in Small Spaces, Part II. Enjoy!photo 1photo 2

New examples including Let Us Chase the Squirrel

Although I haven’t been writing new blog posts, there are some new visual aid examples posted including Let Us Chase the Squirrel showing only rhythms, or rhythms, solfége, and lyrics together. I also posted the rhythms of a favorite chant, Bate, Bate and a listening example with a clear high do’ in a pentatonic melody in “Evening Prayer.” Click the links to view and download for your classroom use.



Who’s That Tapping at the Window

It’s been several months since I wrote a blog post, so I’ll write about a favorite song that I just posted under Resources for Teachers, Solfége and Rhythm examples.

Who’s That Tapping at the Window is a folk song with amazing potential. The source listed in my song collection is 150 American Folk Songs, but being a folk song, it is performed a few different ways. Let’s take a look at just a few of its uses.

1. Game: One child hides his/her eyes. The whole class sings the first two phrases, “Who’s that tapping at the window, Who’s that knocking at the door” while two soloist tiptoe to the front. The other members of the class can walk in place to disguise the direction of their progression. One soloist sings, “Mammy tapping at the window” and the other sings, “Daddy knocking at the door.” Personally, I like another version in which both soloists sing, “I am” rather than making one female and one male. It allows for a more challenging game. They tiptoe back to their places and the child hiding his/her eyes looks around and guesses whose voices they heard. Typically I allow 4-6 guesses, but the teacher should decide on a number in advance.

Who's That Tapping at the Window in G

Who’s That Tapping at the Window in G

2. Half Note: Although Who’s That Tapping at the Window is not my target song for teaching half note, it’s a wonderful song for reinforcement. I’ve used it for kinesthetic preparation and what I consider “light” aural preparation. For kinesthetic prep, students pretend to stretch out taffy as they sing, making the half note words much longer that the eighth and quarter notes. Another week they use slinkies to perform a similar action, and let me tell you, the slinkies are highly motivational. Finally, we might sing and play another day and the students find the words that are drawn out and last the longest. Sometimes there’s confusion over the word “window,” which is actually two quarter notes. It’s the perfect opportunity for a teachable moment!

3. Solfége – do to so: Students need to sing do and so without mi between them sometimes. The perfect fifth is an important interval that is often overlooked in elementary school. My question is, why? It isn’t hard to make the connection, because students begin playing simple bordun accompaniments using do and so even before they know what the pitches are called. In my classroom, we constantly make connections between solfége and letter names, but if the solfége hasn’t been made conscious yet, we just use letter names. Then they experience an “aha!” moment when they put the two together. This is part of the discovery method that I use at my school. The entire solfége tone ladder is not filled in. Only the pitches students have studied are visible and the other steps are blank. Who’s That Tapping at the Window is a wonderful song to reinforce do to so.

4. Solfége – re and the pentatonic scale:  Do songs always use mi re do or do re mi? No, of course not! Students will be delighted to sing a slightly unusual pattern once they’ve fully grasped mi re do and do re mi. Students seem to especially enjoy the ending: re re mi mi do. Many connections can be made to the end of Mama Buy Me a Chiney Doll, Go Tell Aunty Rhody, How Many Miles to Babylon, etc.

5. Composing: My second grade classes create a class composition each year in May. Before we begin and during the process, students are reminded of folk songs they already know and their form. Bringing back a song like this one and pointing out the similarity of the phrases seems to help the students to create a well-crafted song. If every phrase is drastically different, it’s difficult for them to sing and doesn’t feel cohesive. They create amazing songs, especially when they use the musical tools they’ve studied.

6. Recorder: My fifth graders loved playing this song on the recorder this year. Some students needed additional practice with high D, so they played the song in the key of G, needing only to finger D, B, A, and G. Isolating a few pitches in a song was just what they needed, and some of them experienced nostalgia for earlier years.

What are your ideas? I love this song and would love to do even more with it. 

Vocal Exploration in Kindergarten

What do you do when a student can’t seem to find their singing voice? That’s the question I’ll touch on here.

Besides roller coasters and imitation, singing songs with solos like Doggie, Doggie, Johnny’s It, Let’s Hide the Pumpkin, etc., can help students hear that they’re not matching. Some students are tough cases, though. Several of my students have had success with PVC pipe “telephones.” When they sing into the phone, they will hear themselves clearly even when the class is singing.

Another activity you may not know about is the “singing cave.” This idea was shared many years ago by Frankye Peterson. Her Kodály training program thought it up . My singing cave is a refrigerator box that I trimmed and decorated. Two-three students can usually stand inside together. I sing patterns to them and the students echo me. Inside the box, the sound is a little more enclosed and students can hear themselves more clearly. It’s also a quick way to assess the whole group in just a few minutes.

Prior to the singing cave, we always perform Going on a Bear Hunt, and a teddy bear waits for the students inside the cave. It’s a fun activity and students in older grades always want to go in the cave when it’s out!

Visual Aids and Song Choice

There are numerous sources of melodic and rhythmic examples on the internet, especially in music education blogs, but are you utilizing them and making them work for you? This post will begin a discussion about integrating technology in elementary music classes without re-creating the wheel every time. Ideally you’ll have a song collection to draw on before searching for sources. If you do, skip to the third point below!

First, choose folk songs and the very best composed songs as the foundation of your lessons. If the song has melodic and rhythmic concepts you can draw on, it is worth more currency in your collection.

Second, determine which grade levels are most appropriate for the melody, rhythm, and game, if there is one. Remember, you can always create movements, Orff accompaniments, and games to extend the learning.

Third, create or download visual aids and resources for use in the classroom. On my Resources for Teachers page, you’ll find that resources are divided into groups. When I only want to focus on rhythm, I often take away the staff while retaining the meter and barlines. If my goal is for students to add barlines or put the phrases in order, I might create another example without meter and barlines. Two examples on the Rhythms Only page are Skipping Rope Song and Grandma Grundts.

What if you’re looking for a melodic example? This is one area where my Resources for Teachers page can especially help you. I try to post melodic examples in both F and G, and sometimes C. These are the keys my students typically sing in and there’s no need for flats or sharps in the key signature (unless there’s a fa in F or a ti in G.) Students should sing in the key they’re seeing, and they should be able to read solfége in more than one key. More on this in future posts.

How do you use visual aids in your classroom? How do you create them?

Rounds for Singing and Playing

Someone recently asked if I could recommend a round for the beginning of the school year. Don’t get me started, because I could go on and on. But, the start of school is a busy time, so I’ve only had time to prepare visuals for a few: Toembai, One May Begin, and Debka Hora. You’ll find each of these rounds with full notation and lyrics, and Debka Hora with rhythm and solfége examples as well.

Would you use the same round for every grade level? Probably not! Most teachers don’t see their students as often as they’d like, so every song has to pack a powerful punch. I never teach a song just because I like it. It has to be extremely useful and enjoyable for the students. So, choose wisely.

Once you’ve chosen the right piece and taught it to the class, how do you get young singers to sing in a round? Here are a few ideas that have worked for me. First, let them begin in unison. Play the second part of the round on a xylophone. A recorder is also nice, but if you use a xylophone, you can pick up singing their part if they falter. Then allow the class to sing part one, you sing part two, and play the xylophone for part three (if there is one). Finally, divide the class in half, sing the third part, and play the xylophone as the fourth part. This is a gradual release of responsibility. On another day, perhaps the students can sing all parts independently! Round, One May Begin

Winner of the contest!

Congratulations to Holly K. of Austin, TX! She won the bulletin board headers. Thank you for playing!

Sub Plans for Music Class

I’m heading to TMEA later this week and my substitute teachers are not music teachers. In fact, there are only a handful of “music substitutes” in the area and I think they were booked for TMEA before the first week of school!

What to do? Show videos to every class? I say, no. Videos have their place and a few classes will see video segments, but this isn’t a last minute absence due to illness, so I’m planning ahead. Most of my classes will do three things on Thursday.

First, they’ll play games they already know. I type out detailed instructions for the substitute, but other than facilitating, the students run the show. Naturally, I highlight names of trusted students on each seating chart, leave all props (doggie bones, chickens, etc.) on my desk, and most importantly, include a comfortable starting pitch for each song. Students take turns playing the starting pitch on a xylophone using “ta ta tadi ta” for “1, 2, ready sing.”

Second, every class will also learn a new song during the lesson. That’s right. Whichever song I taught the other students in that grade level that week is included in the lesson. Sometimes there’s a good example in the textbook. However, if the song is not in the textbook or the version is different, I simply record myself singing each song and burn a CD. Need more info? See the next paragraph.

My school computer has Audacity loaded on it. It’s a free, downloadable software and not too hard to figure out. I sing into the microphone 1. straight through the song, 2. singing one phrase at a time with enough beats for the class to echo me, 3. singing two phrases at a time, and 4. singing the whole song again. It’s not perfect, but at least the time is utilized wisely so the students are not quite so far behind the next time I see them. Then I convert the tracks into mp3’s and either load it onto my iPod or burn a CD. These tracks don’t have to performance quality! No one else will hear them except your students and the sub, so go for it!

Finally, every class will have a listening example. This week, a few classes will listen to and move with the DVD Move It! and others will listen to an example on CD.

What do you leave for your classes when you have a planned absence?