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 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

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

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!

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

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