Saturday, December 29, 2018

New Years - 26 Hours Long?!

Do you know there are 38 different local times in use around the world?  Therefore it takes 26 hours for the New Year to actually be celebrated by all on Earth! 
Did you also know that New Year's is not always January 1?  Chinese New Year is celebrated not by calendar year but by the cycle of the new moon.  Buddhists in Thailand celebrate a three day water festival called Songkran in April.  In the Middle Ages in Europe the new year began on March 25.  The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the new year on January 14, Persian New Year on March 21, and one Hindu celebration in India occurs in April or May.  Read more here. 
The idea for this lesson came first from my Chinese New Year song called, "Xin Nian Kuai Le".  Check out this post with the song and additional activities to use for January and February to go with Chinese New Year.  My daughter was adopted from China, and so the idea of New Year not occurring on January 1 is not new to me as we celebrate Chinese New Year in our family and also at my school. I began to think of New Year celebrations our students might celebrate and wanted to have something to be inclusive of all students.  This also provides a wonderful opportunity to talk about differences while including everyone in the conversation about culture and celebrations. 

The movement idea I first imagined was something like this, only with dancers lying on sides or kneeling on floor, something simple and synchronized  with clock like movements.
I hope you enjoy, and be sure to drop me a line to let me know what you did with it!
As always, if you want the full pdf of the above, send an email to me at
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sugar Plum Fairy Play Along

Yes, I love the Nutcracker. The music, the story, the ballet. All of it. I have many students at my school who dance in the ballet every year and I love introducing this to my kiddos although most of them have heard the music or seen the ballet.
Image result for nutcracker images
To begin this lesson, I teach/review the song and game, "We are Dancing in the Forest". My Kindergarten students learn this and play the game, then are introduced to quarter and eighth notes through iconic then actual notation.  In first grade we review the song, read the notation, and then we are ready for how this plays into ballet.
What, you say? How does that song lead into ballet?  DANCING! We sing the song and students must pretend they are in a forest dancing and by the time the song is finished they must be back in their places. We try this a few times, and then I ask them to do this again and I sing the melody of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Repeat ad nauseum.
Then I show them this through the first musical theme:
Students turn and talk to a neighbor about what they noticed.  They will stand up and start showing what they noticed - it is so cute, they can't help but try out some moves! I put the music on and they try out some of the moves with the music playing - it is so sweet to watch them imitate some of what they have seen!
We discuss the meaning of ballet, that some football players take ballet lessons to work on balance and strength, and then I ask if they would like to meet a ballerina?  Then I show them this:
I really like that the video has male and female dancers and talks about body image and accepting who you are and what you have.
After that we watch and learn about a celesta:

Next I break out the foam snowflakes and trees. The snowflakes I got at Dollar Tree one season and the trees I cut out from craft foam (also from Dollar Tree in the craft aisle). See where this is going yet?  Snowflakes have 2 sounds and will become eighth notes, trees have one sound and will become quarter notes.  I put many patterns on the floor, students clap and say, then I break out the quarter note and eighth note cards and students place these above the snowflakes and eighth notes. 
Then they are ready for this visual.  The theme is incomplete and missing a repeat sign, but my first graders haven't learned that symbol yet and the focus is quarter and eighth note reading. Once we practice saying and clapping the theme, half the class gets triangles to play the them on, the other half dances.  Perform, then switch!  Such a blast!  

Hope you enjoy this one! My kiddos sure did! Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Nisse Polka

This past summer I was in Finland at JaSeSoi Ry's International Music Village (Finnish Orff Association).  It was amazing and I loved my time both in Finland and making music with musicians and teachers from 14 countries.  I also fell a little in love with the Scandinavian lifestyle and their connection to the outdoors.  Did you know there are 188,000 lakes and more than 1,000,000 saunas in Finland?!
JaSeSoi Ry has put together an amazing resource online called "Nordic Sounds".  There are songs, games, and dances from Norway, Denmark, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Sweden!  Pronunciation videos, background info, teaching ideas and videos make this site exceptionally user friendly! Check it out here!
When I came back home, I began looking for more music and dances from this area of the world. Via Facebook, I came across a dance teacher in Portland, Oregon, who has been a tremendous help to me. Christie teaches Scandinavian dancing to children 5 years old and up to adults.  She has been incredibly generous and due to some technical problems with sharing music files, she even sent me 2 CD's via snail mail!
Many of the dances are new to me, including the one I am sharing today. This is called the Nisse Polka, though Christie calls it the Nissie Polka and her students call it the Caterpillar Dance.  The Nisse is a Christmas figure - read more below! Many thanks to Christie (again) for her help in putting all of this together and for being so willing to share!  On to the dance!

 Here is the dance performed by Christie's kids at a Scandinavian celebration.

Music with singers:



Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Music Teachers Are Thankful For...

Since Thanksgiving is on the 22nd of November this year, here are 22 things I think most of us music teachers are thankful for.
Gobble Gobble!

1. Each other via Facebook groups.  These groups keep us connected, whether you are the only music teacher in your building or you have one other person teaching music in your school, there are times we can feel apart from and not a part of. Join one, or two, or, like me, 8!

2. An email like the one I received this week from a parent about 2 high school girls getting ready at home; they dropped everything when they heard "Sleigh Ride" and performed the body percussion routine we had performed years ago at an elementary concert. Wow!

3.  Orff instruments with mallets put back correctly and in a line. So satisfying.

4. Hugs from kiddos.  

5.  Technology working as it is supposed to. 

6.  Supportive administrators who value the arts! 

7.  The rush of pride (and relief) that comes after a performance.

8.  Supportive spouse who helps you sand rhythm sticks, bring coffee to rehearsals, create sets or ________. 

9. Artie Almeida

10.  That one second (or entire class) when no one plays their recorder when you are giving directions.

11.  Feeling a part OF, not apart from the classroom teachers, even if it might be just for a moment in time.

12. That lesson that just goes amazingly well!

13.  The lesson you are grateful you got to tweak with the third class and just wished you could have the first class back in for a do-over. 

14.  PD and conferences where you feel valued, honored, and like a "real" musician again. 

15.  Finishing a folk dance with students that rolled their eyes over having to dance but are now asking if they can do again and saying "That was so much fun!"

16.  Teachers Pay Teachers.

17. Spotify.

18.  Youtube

19.  Family and friends who "get you" and your music teaching craziness.

20.  Bringing people together through music.

21.  The ability to teach something so joyful and FUN!

22. Each of you reading all the way to the end- no, seriously, thank you for being you!  Now go bless someone and tell them thank you! 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Jan Ken Pon Yo

In Japan, there are epic battles that have played out for centuries. Yes, you guessed it, Janken or "Hand Games".  In the US we call this game Rock, Paper, Scissors.  I use Rock, Paper, Scissors as a way to determine partners, and as a way to determine who plays what instrument. My students are allowed to choose Orff instruments when we use them - and so I call small groups of students and if two students go the same instrument at one time they immediately go into "Rock, Paper, Scissors" mode and that determines who plays what.  It is a random determiner and the children never fuss about who won as it is solely by chance! Win win!

This is a great song for mixed meter.  The body percussion is something my students helped me to create as when I first taught this I had a class that struggled with the feeling of 2 vs 3 so we quickly devised some body percussion patterns to reinforce that feeling. It stuck! Once the song is learned, students can play the game:
Class stands in a designated area, each facing a partner.
Sing song, performing body percussion. At end of song, students tap one hand in a fist onto the other hands open palm on "one, two, three, four" and on "five" they reveal rock, paper, or scissors.
Those who win stay in the designated area and find a new partner, all others circle around them. Everyone sings again, performs the game with new partners, winning partners remain to find new partners, etc. until there is one winner. My students beg to play this game and it is a great one when you need a quick 3-4 minute activity or brain break.
You can also add the extension activity with the cards below.  Print out enough for small groups to create rhythmic B sections in triple or duple meter (or both!) and have some fun with having students create the corresponding hand signs as an added challenge. Transfer to unpitched percussion-  it works out nicely as there are 4 cards to go with the 4 timbre groups of metals, skins, shakers, and woods!
This song and game makes a great addition to a unit on Japanese music.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Candles Glow Speech Piece

Planning holiday concerts is always tricky. I want to have all of my students diverse celebrations represented.  I struggle with finding music that represents everyone and isn't too much Christmas, but just enough, or too much Kwanzaa, and not enough Hanukkah, or too much ________ or not enough ______.  It is a tough balancing act made tougher by the limitations of the theme of holiday.  It is not a "winter" concert as it happens right before we break for the holidays and most of my families celebrate Christmas or a combo of Christmas/Hanukkah or Christmas/Kwanzaa and a few families are Muslim, which is difficult.
Candles are a theme that is inclusive and not exclusive.  This year our theme is "The Warmth of a Winter Candle".  We are performing "Just One Candle", from Music K-8, which is really love and accessible to all. Students are also performing one of their favorites, called Give Light, in addition to several other pieces. I blogged about Give Light- an incredibly beautiful song, a few years ago. The music and post is here.

I wanted to put together a speech piece with several ostinati performed vocally and with non pitched percussion.  This could be used to create movement, or as a drum canon, or as an A Section with small groups performing question and answer improvisations on Orff instruments in a pentatonic key as alternating sections to create a rondo, or it could be used to create a melody.
I am going to let my oldest grade -4th, decide how to perform it.  I can't wait to see what they come up with! 
I love seeds of ideas.. let me know how you use it. It is presented a couple ways below- one with speech only, the other has a possible idea with body percussion.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Gobble Gobble!

Just a quick post today to re-post a fabulous song composed by a friend that is perfect for this time of year.  HILARIOUS! This is a favorite with my kiddos!
It's called "Pass Me the Turkey" and has a cup game composition project to go with it! Enjoy!
 The original post is here and has the music and the activity.
Here is another one composed by another friend that is perfect for Thanksgiving!
Happy Fall!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Nutcracker Rhythms

If your classroom is anything like mine, for the past few weeks it has been a mix of fall/Halloween/Christmas/Winter/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah.  So... does that mean my students have been singing Fallowintzaakahmas? Yup!  Now that Halloween is over I feel the intensity and focus shift to music for our Holiday Concert. Thankfully this year I have been blessed - I only have ONE concert!  Well, two, but our Grandparent's Day concert is incredibly short and is right before Thanksgiving. ONE concert in December.. I need to pinch myself! I usually have at least 3, sometimes 4-5, so one concert is a big deal - and it is my entire elementary division together, which means that I don't need to produce a minimum 40 minute concert with just my first and second graders.  That used to mean 12-15 songs (at least) and so it was crazy practicing with students to get them prepared.  With the same time 40 minute concert time frame, and all the grade levels, I have about 5 songs, a parent participation piece, each fourth grade is performing one Orff arrangement, a drama (I am not responsible for) and readings (I am not responsible for), I don't quite know what to do with myself !  It is wonderful to plan some *gasp* LESSONS for the months of November and December!  
I am planning on bucket drumming to Trepak from the Nutcracker and a few other activities to the Nutcracker as well. Here are some rhythm cards you may find useful - right click on each to save it and have fun using them! 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Monsters Love Underpants

There is nothing funnier than saying the word, "underpants" to children.  It is hysterical.  Giggles galore! If you have been on my blog before, you know I love giggles, in face, when my publisher asked me to name my site for my books, I had to get "smile" in there- it is! 

I love this collection of books by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort- SO funny - if you haven't seen them, hop over to Amazon to see them! Monsters, Aliens, Dinosaurs, Pirates, It is a nice way to finish the craziness of Halloween without being too "Halloween-y". Of course, as the theme is monsters (and aliens, etc.) in underwear, these children's books are good for any time of the year! 
A couple years ago in the Dollar Spot at Target they had some really wonderful heavy-duty chipboard underwear games.  These were perfect for creating rhythms on one side with words!  I have included a few cards with colors, shapes, and lines for you to begin the process as the underwear pieces are no longer available.
There is so much you could do with the rhythms once they have been created - transfer the rhythms to F and D in the d minor pentatonic scale being used, transfer to unpitched percussion, small groups could create non-locomotor or locomotor movement to illustrate their shape and pathway! Possibilities abound! If you would like the pdf, please send me an email at
Happy Fall!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Skin and Bones - Spiraling Through the Years

Skin and Bones has to be one of my students all-time favorite songs. It is so full of possibilities for drama, movement, instrument play, recorders, etc.  It is also a very spooky song but does not mention "Halloween".  This is the perfect song to use all those spooky sound effects on - the gongs, spring drums, vibraslaps, wind tubes, etc.
This music is from Beths Notes- such a wonderful site.

Drue Bullington is a widely respected Orff clinician and teacher.  I have had him as a clinician at workshops several times and he is wonderful. The instrument brand, Studio 49, sponsors an amazing blog called "Teaching with Orff".  Great lessons there, from creative and talented teachers who use the Orff Approach.  Whether or not you use the Orff Approach, you can still use these lessons. Recently I received in my email box a HUGE lesson post on how to use Skin and Bones from first grade through the upper grades each year. I love songs like this - ones that you can use each year but add concepts and skills that spiral in complexity, touching upon concepts previously learned and adding new, age-appropriate skills that further develop students musicality. 
The lessons are complete with wonderful graphics and pictures to clearly demonstrate the "how" and the process of how to teach the song at each age and grade level.
The first part of the free lesson is here.   Once you have printed that off, you can go on to the second part here. 
Amy Abbott also has a wonderful activity using solfege to prepare low la here. 
If you dare, try to have your oldest kids watch this version of Skin and Bones - warning, the ending is SCARY!!

When my students perform this, with instruments, some students as "trees" with black scarves over their heads, etc., (we go all out for this one with lots of crazy props!), we ask the classroom teacher to come to pick students up a few minutes before the end of the class.  Once they come in, I already have one student hiding in a closet behind the door. We turn the lights off, dress the teacher up like the old lady - scarf on head, cane, apron, the whole nine yards, and the teacher wanders around the room while singing, then as we get closer to the end of the song, "She went to the closet to get a broom.." I direct the teacher towards the door, then at the end of the song, "Boo", the student jumps out of the closet and scares the teacher!  The class, of course, goes crazy, and the teacher is either truly scared or, as my teachers have been through this before, they act scared and the kids really love it.  Last year I had a fourth grade teacher who had forgotten as she was on medical leave the previous year, and she got so scared she literally fell on her bottom, which was hilarious as she was laughing so hard and the kids were dying.  I don't know if she ever got that group back on track the rest of the school day! 
I also have lyric slides available, send me an email at  for the full pdf of the lyric slides.  They look like this:


Thursday, October 18, 2018


This is the perfect time of year for creepy crawly spiders! Just this morning I had a pretty BIG one in my music room while a class of  kindergarteners were there.. oh my! They saw it and pointed it out then of course wanted me to rescue it and send it out the door. Thankfully I have a door leading to an outside area and so we rescued a spider today in music class. The kids were so proud of themselves! If you haven't seen this post about my Creepy Crawly Spiders song, check it out. Very accessible for first graders and kindies. My first graders study bats and spiders and with Halloween just around the corner this is the perfect time to bring out all the bats and spiders songs.
The Spider Kept on Spinning song from Lynn Kleiners Jungle Book pairs beautifully with the book, The Very Busy Spider.

Create quarter and eighth note rhythms with spider, pumpkin, and bat cut outs- Dollar Tree and Wal Mart often have the foam ones this time of year - perfect for creating 4 and 8 beat rhythms as B sections to go with "Trick or Treat, I'm so sweet, may I have something good to eat".  (My nicer version of the trick or treat song). 
My kiddos a couple years ago with foam pumpkins and ghost cut outs playing a game. See the full post here. 

I also like to do movement activities around spiders and my students are always fascinated by this video:

After some purposeful and creative movement exploration around the ideas of spiders spinning, waiting, eating, and hopping, we need some quiet body time, and turn our hands into spiders to sing, "Spider on the Floor".  Artie Almeida has wonderful verses to go with this and a visual - free, here.  The last verse, is of course, pure Artie, with the spider on the tush afraid of being smushed. The kids love it. We practice with hands first, moving it from floor to leg to thigh, etc., then I pass out plastic spider rings they get to take home (BIG HIT!!) and we sing again and they get very creative about how to put the spider on their body part - the rule is they can't touch the spider or the body part. It really makes them work on movement and balance and stillness.  
Hope you enjoy some of these!  Do you have a favorite spider tune?  

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Favorite Halloween Posts

I was thinking today of all my previous posts and wanted to share a few old and "older" posts for Halloween fun!  Several activities do not mention Halloween overtly, but have more subtle overtones for those of you that can't have a lesson with "Halloween". 
I seem to gravitate towards books at Halloween!  There are so many wonderful books to use! 
Nightsong Check out the song and activity here.

Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters. Click here for this super fun one! 
In the Hall of the Mountain King. Check out the post here for a HUGE list of activities- not only books! 
Rhythm Dictation with Quarter Notes and Eighth Notes - this is so much fun! The first slide in every pairing of slides has the words only- teachers speak the rhythm and students write it, then the 2nd slide has the rhythm. Great for assessment and self-assessment. 
Pass the Pumpkin is always a HUGE hit with my kiddos!  

Creepy Crawly Spiders is an original song where the students make a spiders web out of yarn and keep the beat with the created web! 

Looking for more?  Check out all my Halloween posts here.
Happy Fall y'all! :)