Thursday, December 1, 2016

Nutty About the Nutcracker

Oh, Nutcracker, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways..
Seriously, better than chocolate. Inner music nerd speaking to self, "There is something so thrilling about having a class recognize the music from the Nutcracker!". 
My students are in the midst of rehearsals for 3 holiday concerts; yes, 3!  My junior kindergarten and kindergarten students have a short one, followed by classroom holiday parties (so smart), then first and second graders have one at 9 AM on the 14th, third and fourth graders at 1 PM same day.  Fun, fnu, nuf!  Nope, that's not a misspelling, that's how I feel by the end of the day! 

While we are practicing for concerts, I am doing a wee bit of Nutcracker with our time remaining in each music class.  I especially love Trepak, the Russian dance.  It's so quick, lively, and exciting. 

1.  Trepak Body Percussion and Bucket Drumming (focus on form and beat)

I begin by performing this for the students (listen to the music and you will understand WHEN to do the movements).  The sequence happens during the A Section  and will be repeated for a total of 4 times.  I ask the students to notice everything I am doing.

Have them turn and talk.  This is such an underrated and underused teaching tool. I love turn and talk.  They literally turn to a neighbor and talk about their observations in "kid speak".  I find this to be so helpful.  What did they hear/see?  How many times did it happen?  Was it a pattern or random? 

They quickly discover a repeating pattern, and some of my fourth graders will also notice there was no introduction (!).  I have the students perform the movements and then listen to the next section- more turn and talk, etc. until we discover the B section and then we perform the following movements:

Patsch:  Alternate patting knees for 8 beats
Clap:  Clap own hands for 8 beats
Clap Sides:  Hands out at sides, clap side neighbors (on each side) hands, 8 beats.
Combo:  To half note count: Pat, clap (own), clap (sides), clap (own). Four movements total. 
The next parts I teach by imitation to the "interlude" or "C" section; whole notes count:  Soldier with one arm going straight up, then other arm, then half note count; arm straight up, switch, then quarter note count right arm, left arm, right arm, left arm. 
Back to the A Section for 2 patterns, then clap the beat and continue through the rallentando at the end! 
Now you're ready to transfer that to bucket drums:
You can find the previous post AND a video here.

2.  Composition and Arranging

One thing I love about the Nutcracker is the timeless appeal it has to every age.  The Nutcracker is so deliciously recognizable and I love the various arrangements out there.  Students enjoy hearing and seeing it performed so differently and it is a wonderful jumping off point to talk about composers and arrangers.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy on Glass Harp

Same piece, a capella with Pentatonix

Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Overture

Chinese Dance (I particularly love their use of the traditional Lion Dance seen at Chinese New Year)

3.  Another Trepak lesson:

Using pretend brushes, paints, and a visit to a "museum" children use movement to create statues and paintings with this idea from a previous post.  Uses the book, "Ain't Gonna Paint No More".

4.  Paper Plate and Cup Routines to "March".

Check out youtube, there are many variations!  I think Artie Almeida was one of the first (or THE first) to develop this idea and it is fabulous and fun!!
You're going to LOVE this one! 


  1. i like ur ost alot thanks for sharing and posting . العاب فلاش

  2. I also love doing movement and arrangement lessons with The Nutcracker- love the cup routine! Thanks so much for linking up and sharing your always-wonderful ideas :)


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