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:


Saturday, July 23, 2016

What's Your Name? Beginning of the School Year

Most of us music teacher peeps have between 300 and 1200 students we see in any given week/schedule/rotation.  That's a lot of Ashlyn's, Jack's, Shawanda's, Zeke's, and Bailey's to learn! 

Names are so personal and special; mine for instance, I changed at 16 from "Amy" to "Aimee".  It wasn't a big deal, I didn't go for something completely different, but had a grandfather who had taken the French spelling out of my mother's maiden name and so I, in my teenage-driven zeal for righteousness and justice, changed the spelling to the more French "Aimee".  I still very much like the uniqueness of the spelling.  I appreciate that in others names, too.  Our daughter's name is Caiya, and her name and spelling both have great meaning for her Dad and I. 

I have to make a confession, though.... I am TERRIBLE at learning names.  Bless all of you who so easily remember names; I am not one, and have never had an easy time with names.  So, what to do?
There are many techniques and technology applications that help us to learn students names. I know some music teacher friends who use ipads to take pictures of students and place the pictures in digital files in a seating arrangement, other teachers who have used apps that help them remember names, still others who use seating arrangements for each class with hard copies of hand written names. 

I typically allow students to choose where to sit, unless there is a need for me to interfere and change their choices.  For the first several classes of each new school year I have at least one name game or activity. 

So here are a few of the ones I have used in the past:

1.  Hey, Children, Who's in Town?

2.  Ickety Tickety

I learned this in college and loved it.  Students are in a circle facing the center. Everyone performs the chant and body percussion. One student walks into the center, says their name and does some kind of action.  They can twirl, jump, do karate kicks, etc. You will want to say, "No splits or pretend guns, etc." and also offer some examples of things to do. Sometimes the funniest things are the simpler ones; saying your name slowly and lowly can be very funny BECAUSE... they step back out of the circle then everyone steps in and copies the action and speaks the name the exact way it was spoken.  This can be very funny!  I don't recommend this below grade 2; it is hard for them to be singled out they are often too shy and self-conscious at this age.


3.  Up the Ladder

This is from Gameplan, Grade 3 I think, and my kids love this one!

Laura at Make Music Rock has this post with an extension game for Up the Ladder using drums as well as some other name games.

4.  Ultimate Camp Resource Name Games

This is truly the "ultimate" resource for name games.. holy cow!  Click here!

5.  Who Stole the Cookie

Yup, it's a classic, and classics have lasted so long for a reason!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Blog Carnival!!

Music Education Blog Carnival!!

The music education blog carnival is a monthly post that links to several new music education blog posts across the web.  These blog posts were compiled from the month of June and feature music teachers from many locales and specialties.   Thanks to everyone who wrote wonderful and insightful articles to be included this month!  Click the links below to see the full post about each topic. There are many activities and ideas to bookmark, pin, print, and give a try!

You can go back and read the posts from May at this link (Hosted by Linda Knupp Seamons at "Floating Down the River") and June at this link, hosted by David at Make Moments Matter.    Next months Blog Carnival will be hosted by Tamsyn at Teaching Children Music .  If you are a teacher/blogger and are interested in hosting the blog carnival in the future contact Rachel Tanenblatt


Music Education Freebies List from Mrs. King Rocks

Tracy King has done it again; a HUGE list of freebies available from Teachers Pay Teachers.  After each title there is a short, concise description of each freebie, 23 freebies in all!!!  The post is here.


New Ideas for Lower Elementary from Caldwell Organized Chaos

Elizabeth always has a plethora of ideas and activities on her blog and this post is about new ideas she used in her classroom this year that she "LOVED".  I really loved the rhythm magnet monsters and my kids have really loved using them!  The post is here.

Won't You Let the Birdies out from Jennifer at Yellow Brick Road

This is a lovely call and response song with an active game similar to Red Rover. A printable for students to create their own call and response song is included with the lesson and activities.  Click here.

Old Jeremiah from Beth's Music Notes

Though not technically a "teaching blog" like others, I frequently go to Beth's site to look for traditional folk songs from around the world.  I love how clearly and concisely she presents the songs.  Songs are always free, additional teaching materials are provided at a subscription price.  This call and response song is available here.

Differentiation Part II from Alisha at Alisha Gabriel

As educators we often hear about "differentiation" and from conversations I have had with many other music teachers it is one that is not easily defined or described for us as often our music making and learning is ensemble based.  This post is a continuation from a previous post  and Alisha demonstrates how to provide intentional differentiation strategies for students.  The post is here.

Singing Games

My contribution for the Blog Carnival is actually not a post from June (school was out May 23 for me and this summer has been a bit crazy).  This singing game collection post was from May and these are some of my favorite (and my students favorites) song and music games.  I hope you enjoy them and enjoy the next installment of the blog carnival.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Winding Down... Or Up?

Kiddos are gone, have been for a week, the halls are full of recycle bins stuffed to the gills, pieces of paper are strewn everywhere, bits of detritus scattered about classrooms and hallways.  Teachers sit at desks among four sterile, unadorned walls, looking bleary eyed after ordering textbooks and supplies for next year and doing some early planning.  In my room the ukuleles and Orff instruments are packed away, the bookshelves have orange posterboard covering them and the unpitched percussion and large drums are covered with drop cloths. There is nothing bright, colorful, or eye catching adorning the walls, there is no life here.  But wait, there is a music teacher, sitting in a chair, her eyes sparkling, the ideas practically palpable in the air.  What is she doing?  Planning, thinking, evaluating, and getting excited about the possibilities.

This has been a very exciting school year for me; we began to look at ways to deepen learning with our students through true integration.  It has been fun, and yes, challenging.. um.. how do we authentically integrate camouflage or water into music.  Social studies has been crazy fun to integrate, as has geography and some mathematical concepts.  Verbs and adjectives were broken into syllables, transferred to musical notation, and we have danced and sung and spun around planets and galaxies!  The past two days have been filled with meetings with grade level teachers to further develop our understandings of how to team teach, integrate, and help teachers to integrate art, music, Spanish, technology, Science, etc. into THEIR classrooms; we're not there yet, but it's an exciting time of change!

One of my goals for the end of this school year was to look at all the picture books and lessons and catalog and cross reference them by skill, concept, theme, etc.  HUGE undertaking as I use so many books.  Click here  for previous posts about books I use; this is a smidgen of the lessons I use in the music classroom. 
Another of my goals was to go through and re-write my entire inventory- every jingle bell, boomwhacker, and book.  Every drum, dragon (stuffed), and dance CD.  HUGE job, but last time I did it was 10 years ago; I have simply added an addendum to the first list every year.  It took me almost 2 full days but I am so glad it is done!  It also helped me to look at a book, CD/video and ask, "Do I really use this?" and "Will I really use this?"  It helps me to focus on the coming year and evaluate what songs/games/activities I use and are they sequentially correct and appropriate for each grade level and the various learners we have.  Tough stuff, not easy, but so rewarding for an organization nut like me. Now my CD's are organized by Children's, with like musicians/composers grouped together, and I will be able to lay my hands on all my global music when I have a teacher wander in and ask if I have a CD of Peruvian music.  Yup... it's right here!  Although this happens less and less with the popularity and plethora of music available on youtube!
I have also been thinking a lot of how I spend my time giving back and am excited to go to an assisted living facility to conduct a therapeutic drum circle... need to spend more time researching that one before I "give it a go"!  Change is exciting and I am pushing into an area I haven't experienced and can already feel the flutters of nervousness extending into my quickened heart rate!
I hope you have an amazing end of your school year and are able to find the time now or over the summer to mentally unpack your school year and evaluate the effectiveness of your lessons.  I hope you try something new or something different and step into discomfort, you never know where it will lead!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New Camp Songs

I have posted before about the end of the school year and how I sing camp songs with my kiddos.  They love it and can't wait for the end of April to start singing these crazy, silly, hysterical songs!  It has become a much anticipated tradition!

Here are a few I recently learned and my students love!
1.  Alligator
This is serious fun here, folks!  Dramatize the first call and response part and then really let loose with the craziness on the "alligator" chorus part. You can see it in action on the youtube video below the music. 


2.  Big Camp Mambo
I love (almost) anything with syncopation and this one has it in spades!

3.  Boom Chicka Boom
This is the first one I always teach them and I can't tell you how much they LOVE it.  The sillier you are, the more they will love it!  We start with the traditional while performing a patsch, clap pattern, then we do their favorite "styles":
Girly style (high voice, pretend to fix hair, put makeup on, fan your face, etc.)
Muscle Man (make bodybuilding gestures and use "Arnold" voice.. y'know what I mean!)
Underwater (speak the chant and move pointer finger up and and down on lips very fast)
Baby Style (a goo goo ga goo goo ga... high baby voice)
Barnyard Style (I said a moo chicka moo... I said a milk chicka moo, chicka milk, chicka moo)
Surfer Dude (I said a dude chicka dude.. I said a whoa, chicka, narly, chicka wave, chicka dude)
Opera Style (use your imagination)
Grandpa Style (use your imagination, yes, again)
Parent Style (I said a room, go to your room... I said a room, go to your room, don't come out until next June)
Star Wars Style (OH, they LOVE this one and I always end with it! I said a zzzzt chicka zzzzt... I said a Luke I am your Father, join the dark side chicka doom.. end with "Jedi" instead of "uh huh" and "Dark Side" instead of "oh yeah" and then I end with "The Force Be With You".  WINNER!!!

Friday, May 6, 2016


I am one of those *ahem* strange people who teach, write, sing, compose.... in their sleep. I wake up at 2:00 AM with songs, lessons, and blog posts in my head. Such was my night last night, and, as often happens on these nights, I can't get back to sleep because I keep thinking about it. And then if I don't write it down or use my phone to record me singing the song I "wake" up after falling back to sleep at 5:30 having forgotten what the heck it was that was such a great idea it woke me up at 2 AM! 
Alas, my idea came back to me...
Did you know hummingbirds nests are the size of a walnut shell?  And they lay only 2 eggs?  And the mama hummingbird wraps her head with spiders web and then pushes it against the nest before she lays her teeny tiny eggs?  Why, you ask?  So the nest will s-t-r-e-t-c-h as the babies grow. 
Just as her babies grow, so do ours; Kindergarten students become first graders, firsts become seconds, and so on, and every year I watch with equal parts giddiness and tears as my fourth graders move into middle school next year. 

No, not the exercise, yoga, twist yourself into a pretzel kind of stretching... stretching goals, stretching teaching techniques, lessons, activities, songs, and stretching our abilities to fine tune our craft.  The stretching of our mind and will.
It's the end of the school year; we have 11 days left with kiddos.  Now I am a realist and know there's not going to be a whole lot of heavy-duty learning going on over the next 11 days. But I do want to stretch myself as a teacher and stretch the kids a bit and so we are continuing to shake things up; singing camp songs, sing-alongs, game songs, clapping songs, etc.  We are also stretching ourselves further with instrument play, composition activities using pieces of art, and reading complex 16 beat rhythms.  The funny thing is, my kids often remember those silly camp songs and funny game songs we sing once or twice more than they do the art pieces that I we work on for several class periods and that I so long for them to remember! 

I am also stretching as I look ahead at next school year and all that I would like to do(notice I said "I would like" and not "I will do")  over the summer to re-organize and revamp my curriculum.  Our school has begun a new chapter in "deeper learning" and so we have integration days in our schedules that provide us additional time to work with classroom teachers to integrate our subjects and theirs. This week I team taught hula dancing with the media specialist during our third graders Tour of the States celebration.  We talked about storytelling, taught a hula dance, and the students created their own hula dance. It was amazing to realize how this integration model impacts and deepens their understandings not only of geography, economics, and culture, but of the arts as well.  After each rotation through a region the children then "travelled" in small groups as airplanes, trains, boats, cars, and by foot to another region of the country for another hands-on activity with co-curricular teachers.  Integration times stretch me to think outside the box.

What are you doing to stretch yourself at the end of this school year? How are you going to stretch yourself this summer to become a better teacher next year?  I feel your mind stretching already.... August and September will be here before we know it!