Friday, August 21, 2015

Beginning Rhythm Reading

Ocean Rhythms
Processes for beginning rhythm reading
• Introduce the following two rhythms by writing them on the board and saying, “When I point at this one say ‘shark’.” Then, point at it over and over, keeping a beat; every time you touch the board, in other words, the students say “shark.” Eventually they will automatically associate the symbol with the word. You might even try to trick them a bit by, for example, pointing suddenly when they might not be expecting it. The key here and throughout is to make it interesting for the students. Find a level at which they are challenged, but can still accomplish the task.
• Repeat the process for “dolphin.” Say, “When I point at this one say ‘dolphin’.” Practice with “dolphin” just like you did for shark. It doesn’t have to take very long. Change the tempo a bit and strive to find just the right level of challenge.
• Combine the two rhythms, alternating between “shark” and “dolphin” in interesting, yet achievable patterns.
= Shark = Dolphin
• Keep a four-beat pattern on one hand (palm facing forward towards the class) by touching thumb to little finger, thumb to ring finger, thumb to middle finger, and thumb to index finger—over and over. Say “1, 2, 3, 4” and have the students repeat the pattern. Repeat the pattern over and over as a class.
• Say a four-count “shark-dolphin” pattern while keeping the beat on you hand as described above and have the students repeat the pattern (echo). Introduce a wide variety of “shark-dolphin” patterns.
• Say a pattern and have the students follow your pattern with their own improvised four-beat “shark-dolphin” patterns (answer). Repeat this process over and over.
• Invite individual students to create patterns for others to echo. They could lead the entire class or you could divide them into smaller groups with rotating leaders.
• Place the symbols in a 4 by 4 grid and say them as a class. Keep the beat—one beat per box (one sequence of four fingers for each row).
• This makes complete sense to most children because each box is the same size and can hold either a dolphin or a shark.
• Change the rhythms. Let the students create their own rhythms in their own individual grids.
• Clap the rhythm (each syllable) while saying the names.
• Clap the rhythm (each syllable) while thinking the names.
• Replace the clapping with other body percussion or instruments.
• Perform the grid backwards, down each column, or in a round.
• Have one group repeat a row over and over and then add other groups on other rows.
• Add more rhythms and repeat the processes.
= Barracuda
= sh (have them say this at first, later only do the action—finger over lips)
= Manatee
= Sea Turtle
• Add rhythms for half notes, dotted halves, and whole notes. Use a line to connect boxes. The eel stretches across two boxes, the seal swims through three boxes, and the whale of course takes up four boxes.
= Eel Half note = Seal Whole note = Whale
• Have the students create their own grids.
• Trade grids and perform.
• Expand into much larger grids.
• Perform the grids as a round.
• Perform one line over and over while others perform and different line.
• Divide into groups and create grooves using the grids.

The New Machine

The college tech guy called yesterday and said, "Your new machine is here." I'm switching from PC to a MacBook. Interesting how machines shape modern life so thoroughly. It seems my entire family spends most waking hours with machines. The technology trend is pervasive in schools as well. Is this healthy? It sure doesn't feel like.

Music class can provide some relief from machines--from digital technology. Singing games, for example, give opportunities for movement, song, and human interaction. Joyful physical, emotional, and social activity in an increasingly mechanized world!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Drum Circle Ideas for Elementary School

Playing drums, other percussion instruments (including body percussion), and/or movement can be very beneficial for children and adults alike. If you don’t have instruments then make them, use found items, or use body percussion or movement. Combine all three. This isn’t a “method”, just ideas that can be used to create your own ways of doing things.

General Patterns
Echo: The leader gives a four-count rhythm for everyone else to echo. Try to echo both the rhythmic pattern and the dynamic (loud & soft) pattern. Go around the circle letting everyone have a chance to be the leader.
Answer: The leader plays or speaks a pattern and everyone else answers with a pattern that is related, but not the same.
Follow-the-leader: The leader plays a pattern (four or eight counts) over and over and everyone joins in playing exactly (as closely as possible given the possible variation in instruments) what the leader is playing. At some point the leader will change patterns and everyone will change accordingly.
All-Join-In: The leader plays a pattern and everyone joins in playing a complementary pattern (something that fits but isn’t the same, think of filling in the gaps). The leader may change the patterns after a while and everyone will follow or the leader might adapt the lead rhythm to match someone else.
Mixing-it-up:  Classify and group the instruments and have a second leader show signals for when the entire group, individuals, or specific classifications should play.

Miscellaneous Considerations
Choosing leaders: Leaders may be volunteers or, if everyone volunteers the group can devise a “fair” way to choose leaders.
Stopping: There should be a commonly agreed upon signal for stopping. This could be a distinct rhythmic pattern that everyone can recognize easily and join in. It could be combined with a visual signal as well.
Seating: A circle seems to work the best and, if there is not enough room, a double circle works well.
Choosing instruments: Let individuals choose instruments and “take five” to experiment with their respective instruments. At various points let people switch instruments. With children it can be a fun challenge to have them make a silent agreement with someone across the room to switch and then change places without making a sound. A time limit can be set for added interest.
Integration: This could easily be combined with “other” subjects such as playing and saying times tables: Leader—“6 times 3”  Group—“18!”; maybe do four times tables and then a brief chant such as “We know our times tables, yea, yea, yea (or yo. yo, yo or hey, hey, hey)!”

A cool website is

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Basic Ocarina Approach

Aim: Joyful musical engagement in an ‘authentic’ jam-session type of atmosphere
Let the musical engagement be the reward.

The role of the teacher is that of accompanist/participant. Options are guitar accompaniment (preferred), piano accompaniment, autoharp, electronic keyboard, or ukulele. Human needs are met through recorder playing: Agency, Belonging, and Competence.

Agency—Students exercise agency through musical decision making, leadership, and creativity. Students learn to improvise from the first day, they play solos and duets, and they make their own song arrangements.

Belonging—Students cooperate with each other and with the teacher in making music. The teacher is a fellow musician whose primary role is to provide interesting accompaniments.

Competence—Students develop the ability to play the recorder proficiently and to read music. Motivation is provided through the music making. Students participate fully in all aspects of music making from the first lesson (improvisation, playing by rote, playing by note, etc.)

  • Introduce notes: Demonstrate and explain how to play the note. Check to make sure all of the students understand and can finger the note. Play the note together listening to the teacher and then matching the teacher’s sound at a signal from the teacher (raised eyebrows, head nod, etc.)
  • “Play what I play” or “Echo after” (echoing 4-beat patterns): The teacher plays rhythmic patterns on single notes at first and then adding notes and rhythms relative to the students’ ability level. Try to challenge everyone, but play at a level at which they can achieve. Make sure that there are no pauses between patterns—teacher, students, teacher, students. Add something interesting to keep it fun.
  • “Play what I sing” or “Echo after” (teacher sings note name patterns): Same instructions as “play what I play” but the teacher sings the names of the notes. This process can be accompaniment by the guitar.
  • “Sing and show”: Have the students show the notes on their recorder while singing the note names. You can also have some students play while the others sing and show.
  • Play the tune together: This is what it’s all about. Vary the tempo of the accompaniment. Use a variety of set introductions so that the song doesn’t need to be counted off every time. Use some variety (tempo, style, etc.) to keep the students interested in playing the song multiple times.
  • Solos: Have individual students or small groups play while the rest sing and show or at least show.
  • Change the tune’s rhythm or add notes: Encourage the students to vary the songs by changing the rhythm or melody a bit albeit staying within the groups tempo.
  • Improvise (A minor or C major pentatonic—c, d, e, g, a—works with most of the songs): Students can improvise on the first day. Always have students begin improvising with a single note in order to keep the improvisation rhythmically interesting.

Teacher role:
The teacher is a participant in the music. I like to accompany the students on guitar or ukulele. That way I can walk around the room and provide suggestions and it’s easy to have the students “play what I sing.” Try to make the experience as natural as possible. Let the students stand for solos. Don’t force them to play solo. I have taught fifth graders using this method and it works rather well for me.

The reason that I have students play from tablature is because it eliminates the note-reading variable and students can find success quickly; they want to be able to play something. Also, I don’t want them to be tied to the notes, but to be able to play by ear, transpose, improvise, and compose as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Repeating a Song: Drunken Sailor

Drunken Sailor Lesson Ideas

Students will explore the elements of music in Drunken Sailor

Core Standards
MU:Cr1.1.4b Generate musical ideas (such as rhythms, melodies, and simple accompaniment patterns) within related tonalities (such as major and minor) and meters.
MU:Pr6.1.4a Perform music, alone or with others, with expression and technical accuracy, and appropriate interpretation.
MU:Pr4.2.4a Demonstrate understanding of the structure and the elements of music (such as rhythm, pitch, and form) in music selected for performance.

Process (exploring rhythm and beat)
“Can you guess this song? Raise your hand if you know, but don’t shout it out.”
Clap the rhythm to the verse, “What shall we do with a drunken sailor? What shall we do with a drunken sailor? What shall we do with a drunken sailor earlye in the morning?”
Take guesses from individual students who raise their hand.
Test the guesses as a class. (Don’t tell the children “yes” or “no”.)
It might take more demonstrations before the students guess the song.
Invite the students to sing while clapping the rhythm.
Explore additional ways to show the rhythm (stamping, patting, drumming).
Invite the students to make up their own ways to show the rhythm.
Invite individual students to share how they showed the rhythm and then have the class imitate.
Use a similar process for the beat: Keep the beat. Keep the beat in a creative ways. Share and imitate.
Have part of the class keep the beat and the rest show the rhythm.
Try it without singing—just the beat and the rhythm.

Process (melodic contour and pitch matching)
As a class, demonstrate the melodic contour by raising hands up or down relative to the pitch.
Use other body parts to show the melodic contour (head, nose, chin, elbow, belly button, toes, etc.)
Close eyes while showing the melodic contour.
Sing “inside”: Start the song and then give a signal to start and stop the actual sound. For example, hand open for sing out loud and hand closed for sing inside (inner hearing). When the sound is off, in other words, the song continues in the students’ head and when the sound is back on the song picks up accordingly. It’s like listening to the radio; if the volume is turned off, the song still continues.

Process (form)
Perform the dance for Drunken Sailor (
This dance is a natural expression of the form of the song.
Invite students to make up new ways to perform the dance.
Have students combine partnerships into groups of four and come up with a new way to perform the dance. There are essentially two movements: side to side and over/under. So, they just need to come up with a movement repeated three times and a new concluding movement.
Let the groups also come up with new verses—solutions to what we should do with a drunken sailor. Be sure to discuss the context of the song: It is a sea chanty reflecting a real-life problem of dealing with a sailor who is drunk and can’t help with the day’s work.
Let the groups share their creative dances.
Let the other groups imitate.
(A quick way to share is to have half of the class watch the other half. If there is time, however, let groups share individually.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Recorder Karate Harms Children

Music teachers! Seriously! Have you stepped back to think--to really think--about the musical, social, and personal impact of Recorder Karate? Here's how I have seen it implemented. The students practice playing a sequence of songs in class. They take their recorders home and practice. Every so often (sometimes once a week), the teacher takes time to hear individual students pass off songs. Often there is a chart on the wall with stickers showing who has passed off what. When students have passed off a specific level (books are color coded into levels), they get a "belt"--a colored piece of string to tie around the end of the recorder.

So, here are the problems with this method as I have roughly outlined it above:
1. Musicing should be the reward, not belts. Long-term motivation is intrinsic.
2. This system is inherently competitive. It creates winners . . . and losers.
3. The students who get behind often give up and think they are simply not musical.
4. Sending recorders home reinforces social inequality; parents who are single and/or work evenings might not have the time to make sure kids practice and bring the recorder back every day.
5. Time that could be spent making music together is wasted doing pass-offs.
6. Music class should provide relief from the stress and stigmatization of standardized testing, not add to it.
7. Students miss out on the joy of musicing where all play together according to their current ability and in ways that are musically, socially, and personally fulfilling.

Could a teacher make Recorder Karate work? Yes. Here are some suggestions.
1. Keep all of the kids playing (or singing) for most of the time.
2. Add accompaniments (MIDI, chording keyboards, piano, guitar--my preference)
3. Break it down as a class. Sing the note names (with accompaniment). Sing the note names and show the fingerings (with accompaniment). Half of the class play while the other half sings, etc.
4. Have fun (rather than dish out praise). Musicing is the reward (see number 1 in the first list above).
5. Keep the recorders at the school. After you are done teaching recorder for the year, give each child a recorder and a book to keep.
6. Don't advance faster than the students who are taking the most time to develop necessary skills. Encourage all students to, once they can play the tune, create their own rhythmic and melodic variations. They should never be bored musicing, given this challenge. You can also use partner songs and descants to give added challenges.
7. If you have to give the belts, wait until the entire class has advanced through a level and give them all a belt at the same time. In this way, everyone is pulling for each other and you are fostering the type of teamwork that is becoming increasingly important in modern society.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ocarina Lesson 2

Once they can play Hot Cross Buns, move on to other songs with C, D, and E. Be sure to let them play Hot Cross Buns for review, however. Have them Sing and Show and then have them play the song. Keep it light and fun. One rule that should always be followed, however, is that students may not play whenever they want. Don't budge on this one! If they play out-of-turn, kindly and promptly remind them not to. If you let it slip once, they will be more likely to play out-of-turn later; you are actually teaching them it is okay.

After Hot Cross Buns, have the students play the following:

Be sure to use the following four-step process:

  1. Sing the song lyrics. It helps if they know the song before they play it.
  2. Sing and Show. Sing the names of the notes while showing where the fingers go for each one.
  3. Play the tune.
  4. When the tune becomes easy, "jazz it up" (improvise). 
Take your cues from the students. Are they frustrated? If so, you're moving too fast. Are they bored? If so, you're moving too slow. Are some frustrated while others are bored? If so, that's the beauty of step 4 (above); encourage them to find their comfort level. You can also have some Sing and Show while others play.