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:



  1. These are all great ideas! I do something similar to the "pass the pen" activity with my older students. It is such a great way to start class! I also love the "Keeping the Beat" CD. I LOVE the movement word idea- I may try it with my younger ones this fall! Thank you for sharing, this is an excellent compilation of awesome ideas, per usual ;) #fermatafridays

    1. Thanks, elizabeth! Love your fermatafridays posts!!

    2. Thanks, elizabeth! Love your fermatafridays posts!!

  2. What a gold mine of ideas! Thanks so much!

    1. Thanks very much for your comment! Hope you find some things that are useful!

  3. I just love all of these ideas! I can't wait to incorporate some of them into my routine! I have several poems I use for movement activities at the end of class. Thank you for sharing!

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