This Creole/Jamaican folk song is usually a favorite with my fifth graders. If you look at the simplicity of the words, you might wonder why they like it. It’s one of those catchy tunes that they start singing and don’t want to stop. Then combine it with additional activities, and we have a winner that doesn’t get boring with repetition!
Here are a few things I like to do with this song:
- Add an ostinato. Use phrase two and add boomwhackers, xylophones, hand chimes, or unpitched percussion.
2. Sing it as a partner song with Mango Walk, another Jamaican folk song. The first time you try it, consider letting them sing Mango Walk while you sing Sweet Potatoes, or, if you’re singing Mango Walk, leave out the first word so they don’t get confused about where to come in. That pesky little anacrusis makes starting the song tricky for some students.
3. Use phrase one of Sweet Potatoes for solfége reading practice. One of my favorite ways to approach the so re fa mi do pattern is to begin with so fa mi re do using magnets or notes on the SMART board. Then, after singing it a few different ways (so fa / so fa mi / so fa mi re / so re) move the re into second place, right after the so. Students tend to enjoy singing fa in different patterns, not just the standard do re mi fa so and so fa mi re do order.
4. Finally, focus on the rhythms. If you’re preparing tam-di (or ta—di, or whichever counting system you use) with the song Liza Jane, Sweet Potatoes is a natural choice for rhythm practice. Phrases one and three begin much like phrase three and four of Liza Jane, and the rest of the rhythms are well-known and accessible. In fact, you could include the rhythms from phrase one of Sweet Potatoes in a song match to ensure they’re internalizing the rhythms. Other songs and phrases to consider including: phrase three of Liza Jane, phrase one of Chairs to Mend, and phrase two of John Kanaka. Just be clear with your students about which phrases of each song you’re including in the match.