Thursday, September 29, 2016

Let Us Chase the Squirrels with Book, Games, and Extension Activity

Have you seen the tongue in cheek post on social media about women being "arrested" for selling dime bags of pumpkin pie spice? Signs of addiction are women breaking out fall boots, sweaters,  suede, and candles with pumpkin and apple smells. 
Fall is probably my favorite time of year.. well, it's a close tie with spring, but in North Carolina, our spring is dreadfully short!  It doesn't quite feel like fall, with temps still in the high 80's or low 90's everyday, I am READY for some cooler weather.
I love watching the squirrels run all over the place hoarding nuts and they don't seem to care that the weather here is, um, rather warm!
 Let Us Chase the Squirrels is such a fun song for this time of year!
Here is the song:

And two different games to play.

And of course, the MOST AWESOME, Those Darn Squirrels,  that is hysterically funny!



How do you store your lessons for your books?  I like to keep mine inside the book so when I go to use it is right at my fingertips. Make a little pocket out of cardstock, use packing tape to outline 3 sides. I can also stick a CD inside the pocket if I make a recording of myself reading the book.
Here is an extension activity for older students. Sing the song, then divide into groups and use some or all of the following ostinato to create a contrasting "B" section to the song. Transfer the ostinato to unpitched percussion?  Play on "coconuts" or other wood instruments?  What form?  Decisions, decisions, oh the kiddos will have fun with this one!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Halloween Manipulatives

I walked into Dollar Tree just last week and look what I found!  Perfect for creating word chains as "B" sections to known songs, or for rhythm dictation; you speak a rhythm, students have to put icons on the floor to correctly show the rhythm.  FUN!!! Maybe even write the rhythm on the back of foam pieces so students can self-assess!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Books to Sing, Songs as Books

Picture it:  Inside a _______ bookstore (insert your favorite bookseller), deep in the children's literature section. Soft pitter patter of feet, moms reading quietly to children when suddenly a loud joyous laugh breaks through the (almost) silence.  Yup, that'd be me finding a new song/book book/song.  I love finding these little gems and there have been more and more published in the last decade or so!  Yeeeha!! 
Of course being a musician and music teacher I love songs, especially those "magical" ones that are timeless treasures, and I also love children's books and have a bit of an obsession with them- this is my bookshelf at school with *some* of my picture books.
 I am trying to keep the top shelf as songs which are books or, depending how you look at it, books that are songs.
Good news for me is they keep spilling over. Last year I finally changed how I was organizing them and now have them alphabetically. Phew- I used to have them by author and genre, but that just didn't work for me.
Second shelf has books that I have found or created music lessons to accompany them, with third bookshelf holding seasonal activities and books I have yet to create music for but have ideas. 

Aileen Miracle over at Mrs. Miracle's Music Room has a great post about ten of her favorites, which inspired me to make my own list of favorites. 

1.  I Got Two Dogs available here from This song is addictive!  I ordered it a couple weeks ago and just played the song with my daughter on the ride home last week and it is hysterical!  "AGAIN, AGAIN", I kept hearing from the back seat! It is highly infectious and another gem from the amazing John Lithgow but I have to say, it's probably my favorite one he has written!

2.  Twenty Four Robbers by Audrey Wood, available here. 
OK, technically not a song with a melody (although I do know one to go with it), this skipping rhyme has a wonderful sing-song cadence to it and the illustrations are fabulous!

3.  Sing, available here.

Oh, where do I start?! "Sing! Sing a song. Sing out loud, sing out strong."
The song was first made popular on Sesame Street, then interpreted by a WIDE variety of musicians, from Gloria Estefan to the Dixie Chicks to R.E.M., as well as famous personalities such as Conan O'Brien, Katie Couric, Nathan Lane, and Liam Neeson!  Lively, happy illustrations accompany the book as well as a CD with the music.

4.  I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, available here.
Oh, this is such naughty fun!  My students love to combine this with "Johnny Works with One Hammer", eventually changing the lyrics to "Johnny paints with one paintbrush, etc.", reading/singing the book- oh they love the little mischief maker, then we play Trepak from the Nutcracker while pretending to throw and smear paint.  Finally, we make classroom statues while singing a song about statues and I visit the "museum" where various statues move, giggle, and snicker and "scare" me, while I pretend to be scared of the moving ones. Such wonderful fun!!

5.  If it's Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws, available here.

Yup, "If You're Happy and You Know It" with polar bears, seals, beluga whales and other artic animals!  Sure to delight your kiddos and wonderful to leave with a sub!

6.  Day is Done, available here.

I happened to be wandering through Big Lots one day and found this for $3.00!!
This is Peter Yarrow's beautiful song, “Day Is Done."  As night falls, animal parents tenderly tuck their little raccoons, rabbits, field mice, deer, and child into bed.  Far more than a lullaby, though, this is a wonderful song (and book) to share for Earth Day; "you shall inherit what humankind has done, but all will be well when the day is done (as I am here)".
7.  Conejito, available here.

This is a folktale from Panama written by Margaret Read MacDonald.  In the back of the book you will find the song that will be sung each time Conejito  goes dancing and leaping (bailando y saltando).  This is a wonderful trickster tale and a few years ago I included a loose interpretation of the story as a program.  Here is the orchestration my students performed:

  8.  Catalina Magdalena Hoopensteiner Wallendiner Hogan Logan Bogan Was Her Name. Whew!  What a name!  Available here.

If you've seen my blog before, you know how much I love camp songs, especially for the last month of school!  This is one camp song that is also a book! Score!!! Outrageously funny, undeniably one of my students favorites. Ever.

9.  Take Me Home Country Roads, available here.

Really, I love all the John Denver songs that have been made into picture books, including "Sunshine on My Shoulders" available here, and "Grandma's Feather Bed", available here.  Country Roads is probably the one that my kids know best, and they love to croon along with the melody!! A great book to have on hand when you have those 5 minute moments of "I need something else here". All the books come with CD's, bonus!!
10.  Over in the Meadow, Over in the Jungle, Over in the Ocean, Over in the Grasslands, available here.
 I love these as they can all be sung to "Five Little Ducks" and children quickly sing along with the numbers (up to 10). We often break out some instruments and play the numbers.  I really like how the illustrations were created with Over in the Jungle and Over in the Ocean; the artist used polymer clay to create the entire image; incredibly impressive! 
Brand new in September 2016 is Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna!
Hope you have enjoyed the book tour and have found some new things to buy/ask for/have parents donate to your music rooms! Happy (almost) Friday tomorrow!!!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Apple Tree Song and Updated pdf FREE!

I love this song and love the giggles and singing I get out of my students when they sing Apple Tree! Happy Fall, y'all! Email me at for the full pdf.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Draw a Bucket of Water

I know it's been a while since I posted but.... take your pick of the following reasons:
1.  School started! Yay and ugh all in one!
2.  I had to have knee surgery the 3rd week of school!  Yes, really - torn meniscus!
3.  My editor decided that my 2nd week of school was the best time to begin edits on my next book!
4.  Life got crazy!

I have always loved "Draw a Bucket of Water" and all its many variations.  I learned it during Orff Level I training I took in Boston many moons ago! 
Here's the version I know:

I love this song and the learning process that goes with it!
Begin by teaching motions independently; no partners or groups.  Ask one child to do the motions with you, then you each find a partner, then those partners find partners until eventually everyone has a partner. Perform with partners, then ask 2 partners to stay standing while the others sit and show everyone how the group of 4 works. So cute! 
There are many other versions of this song out there, here are a few from youtube:
1.  I love the sugar shake, such a fun variation!
2.  This one has scarves which is another nice variation:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Songs of the Month

When I first began teaching 23 years ago (yikes!) I didn't keep track of song repertoire the way I do now.  I also often felt pressed to sing lots of songs (still do) but would only sing them once or twice and then be done with that song.  Now I keep a list of repertoire learned and frequently revisit songs. I also try to "double dip" concepts and skills and repeat songs learned in previous grades but with a focus on a different concept.  That So Mi song that has Do, Re, Mi at the ending may be great for SM in Kindergarten, but also works beautifully in first for DRM. 
I have a lot of different ways to start music class, see the post here about Musical Moments to Start Class, but one thing I really love to do is a "Song of the Month" (SOM) for each grade level. 
I have found SOM also helps students to "change gears".

Opening songs set the stage for musical learning, provide a warm-up for the voice and the brain, and offer a predictable, structural transition to music class.

The song we sing may or may not be connected to the specific concepts or skills we are working on. An opening song is not the focus of the lesson and should not take up more than a few minutes. I see my students on a 4 day rotation, so 1 to 2 times a week depending on the week.  You could certainly sing these for 6 to 8 weeks, depending on how frequently you see your students (and how sick of the song they or you get!). 

Here are a few ideas for grades K-1:

  • Hello, Hello

Thanks to Katie Traxler for introducing this one to me.
I am not sure of the source, but it is a familiar tune to all of us music folks!
It is performed in a circle with partners facing each other and is a changing partner song/dance. 

  • Hey, There, Friend

(Another thanks to Katie for this one on her youtube channel, I changed the word "glorious" to "wonderful".  My kindies LOVE this!  I am not sure of the source, if you know, please let me know.   

  • Hello

This is one I wrote late last week for my littles. 


Grades 2 through 4

  • Bow Wow Wow

My 2nd graders love this song and dance.  I love the giggles each time they turn around to find a new partner! 


  • Chocolate, Chocolate

Third graders enjoy this song about chocolate!  We often add a "B" section with composed rhythms created from, what else, chocolate!  Kit Kat, Hersheys, Peanut butter cup!  


  • Boom Snap Clap

Fourth graders love this as it sounds like "beat boxing"!  They love the challenge of it and that there are "levels" of play.  This is in my book, Hands to Hands, available here. 
  •  To Stop the Train

Another of my favorites! Love the way Rob Amchin processes this with movement first!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Musical Moments to Start Class

My first music class this school year is in 14 days!  I have several things I use to start out my lessons.  Usually I develop a "routine" with each grade level.  Horrible word for some of us; routine.  It implies a sense of drudgery, same old, same old.  With young children, routine gives a sense of structure, reliability, and predictability. Kids like structure, reliability, and predictability.  Having said that, you don't need to keep the same routine all year long!

1.  Brain Dance by Anne Green Gilbert

Brain Dance is a series of 8 developmental movements all healthy humans use in the first years of life.  Research has shown these movements help to reorganize the central nervous system and increases blood and oxygen flow to the circulatory and respiratory systems.  All good things, right?  I have a sweet music teacher friend who uses this at the beginning of each class; students offer suggestions of (teacher approved) music and 2 students lead class in the following movements:

You can read more about Brain Dance here.

2.  Pass the Pen

Once students have learned instrument timbres, families, and textures of singing vs. instruments, etc. and have had experiences identifying instrument sounds, rhythms, etc. they are ready for this!  My students always enter to music; sometimes jazz, sometimes classical, sometimes African drumming, sometimes Billy Joel; you name it! I try to vary what they hear so they are hearing different kinds of music than what they normally hear (the less pop the better, in my humble opinion!).
When they enter, I have a blank whiteboard ready to go, the music playing, and I hand the first 4 students in the room a dry erase marker.  They have to write 1-2 words describing something specific about the music; no opinions like "good", "interesting", etc.  No judgments, only facts about what they are hearing.  I try to find music that has the same skill/topic/theme we worked on last class. If we just learned about a capella music, I will play Pentatonix, or if we just learned syncopated rhythms, I will play something with that, etc. 
Once a child has written something, they hand the pen to someone else who also writes something, maybe the dynamic level, or the word "soprano", etc. and has a seat. This way, everyone knows who has already had a turn (those seated) and who is waiting for a turn.  My older students really like this and it's a great way for them to be leading the beginning of class without me. 

3.  Body Percussion/Nines

As I already said above, I always have music playing when students entering. I really like John Feierabend's Keeping the Beat CD.  Thirty six short pieces of classical music with a strong beat perfect for many different activities! Available here from West Music. 

Using these pieces while students enter, students remain standing, T. claps 4 beat pattern, S. echo.  T. claps and patsches a 4 beat pattern, S. echo.  Continue adding one level of body percussion (clap, snap, patsch, stomp) at a time.  With older grades, eventually increase to 8 beat patterns.
If you're not familiar with percussionist/body dancer Keith Terry and his system of 9, you are in for some serious fun!  Here is a video to help you learn these patterns:
Here is a body percussion canon you can try to learn some of the patterns. Once you have learned it and explored these for yourself, teach your kiddos to perform it in canon!  Woo hoo! FUN stuff!! Once you have experienced these, have the students compose in small groups to create some body percussion using numbers!

4.  Creative Movement

In a recent post on Facebook, a member of the AOSA (American Orff Schulwerk Association) page asked for activities for the start of music class.  There were many responses, one I have used for a long time was articulated so well by Joshua Block.  He so kindly gave me permission to include his ideas here!  He wrote, "These are songs with movement words I use when students are entering my room. It gives them a chance to build movement vocabulary, work out the wiggles, and hear some great music" and included a document that lists music, the kind of movement, and the source of the music.   Joshua explains "There are living movements that living creatures do like swoop and slither. There are also non-living movements that living creatures can't do while still being alive, such a explode and disintegrate. I think the reason for the distinction is that we have to approximate the non-living movements. I can actually swoop and slither, while I can only pretend to explode or disintegrate."  I love the definitions and the clarity this gives to the movements!

5.  Salami

One of my favorite singing games to begin to focus students in is simply called "Salami".  My kids love this one!  Using a solfege ladder or some other visual solfege display, leave only Sol, La, and Mi.  I sing to students:  If I sing sol la mi, do not sing it after me (S S S S S L M, S S S S S LM, rhythm titi ta, titi ta, titi titi titi ta). I then sing 4 beat patterns using Sol, La, and Mi. If I sing SLM at any time, they are not to echo me.  They get crazy silly and of course, you can make the patterns more complex each time to try to "catch" them.  Sometimes we play this Teacher vs. Students; put a T and an S on the board and if students echo back T gets a point, if Brad accidentally echoes the teacher and another student comments (Brad, you nitwit), T gets 5 million, six-hundred and ninety seven points and wins the game.  They get the idea!  If no one sings back, I usually stomp my foot and act discouraged and disappointed and give them a point. They LOVE to win against us!

6.  Knees a Knees a Pizza Pie

I teach Junior Kindergarten and Kinders. this one and blogged about it here.  Check it out.. they love it!

7.  Rhythm vs. Beat

Make two cards with "Rhythm" written on one side and "Beat" written on the other side. Laminate.  Put a rhythm card on the board and put on some music that will work with your rhythm and has a strong underlying beat.  Having practiced the displayed rhythm card, hold up one "Rhythm/Beat" card only, with "beat" side displayed.  Students keep the beat any way they choose; patsch, stomp, clap, snap; they decide.  You can ask for 1 level only (patsch) or 2 levels (patsch, clap, patsch, clap), or 3, etc.  Vary the complexity the more you play the game. After 16 beats or so, switch to rhythm so students can perform the displayed rhythm.  Continue switching back and forth! 
Yes, I asked you to make 2 cards; now, divide your class in 2, one for each "Rhythm/Beat" sign. You will hold one in each hand and flip them at different times; this way you will have one group keeping the beat and the other the rhythm.  FUN!

8.  Dance, Dance, Dance/Sing, Sing, Sing!

Teach each grade level a folk dance or a song of the month!  Dances like Sasha, Down, Down Baby, Sashay the Donut, Virginia Reel, etc.  Songs.. well.. pick your favorites!  SO many wonderful choices! The next month, teach a new one!  If you haven't explored the wonderful resources of the New England Dancing Masters, check them out here.
Here is the Noble Duke of York with a cute little group of little cuties:
 And Sasha with a group of older cuties: