Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Teaching a Singing Game

The best way to learn a singing game, in my opinion, is the most authentic: simply watch others playing it and then join in. However, when teaching in an elementary classroom, you will need to teach all of the students the singing game "from scratch" (although you could have the students watch a video of the game). So, there are a few approaches that seem to work, depending on the singing game. One approach is to first get the students into the proper formation (lines or circle) and then act as the one-who-is-it. For snowball-type games such as Rig a Jig Jig this can be accomplished with little or no instruction. The students will catch on quickly. After a few turns, someone else can start taking on the role of the one-who-is-it. Another approach is to teach the entire song by rote before playing the game. To teach a song by rote, sing the song for the students at least 10-12 times giving them something to do (see 100 Ways to Repeat a Song) or listen for each time they hear the song. The things to do should be connected to each other from one song to the next. For example, if they are adding actions, they should probably continue adding more actions throughout or something related, rather than all of a sudden switching to identifying specific rhythms. I outlined such a sequence in the post for Four White Horses. Then, after they know the song, on a different day usually, teach them how to play the game with as little talking as possible. You will discover many things that work. The important thing is to let the students make their own sense out of complexity as much as possible, give verbal instructions as little as possible, and keep it interesting by giving the students something meaningful and engagingly challenging to do throughout the process. Then, on subsequent days, play the game again. Eventually you may want to change the game or have the students change the game (see Four White Horses and Drunken Sailor, for example). You can also explore the song in more detail in order to address specific curriculum standards. For exploration ideas, see 100 Ways to Repeat a Song.

This is such a fun way to teach. Remember, though, that what works for me might not work for you and your students. Be creative and try new things. Enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2011


Here's a delightful singing game about that classical jester-character, Puncinella (Pulcinella). In this game the-one-who-is-it stands in the middle of the circle and the rest of the students stand or walk around the outside singing the song. Then the one in the middle performs some sort of action or movement that the rest imitate. Then the one in the middle chooses someone to be it by "taking a turn" (covering eyes, hand outstretched, turn in a circle).

Some extensions might include exploration of the Pulcinella character online, puppet shows or mini-plays with costumes, or class-created choreography to an excerpt from Stravinsky's neo-classical ballet, Pulcinella, accessed for free on YouTube or Grooveshark. What a fun way to develop an elementary and music curriculum. Fun is good. Play is okay.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Old MacDonald Had a Farm

This morning, Sophie (6 years old) is playing school with an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals all lined up on an easy chair; she's teaching them to sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm. She has sung through the song quite a few times and sometimes the stuffed animals are used to represent the animals on Old MacDonald's farm. Kids like imaginative play, of course, and it's pretty common to see them imitating adult roles (parents and teachers). This is a great song, at any rate, with some complex fast rhythms and simple pentatonic melodic patterns. Other environments could be represented by changing the person (Old MacDonald) and the place (the farm). Children could also draw pictures of the various environments/habitats developed. A single chord and/or rhythmic patterns could accompany the entire song.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ring Around the Rosie

We stayed in Mesquite, Nevada last night on our way to Oceanside, California. In the motel pool Audrey and Sophie (ages 3 and 6) started playing Ring Around the Rosie. Their older brothers and I joined in. What fun! I have yet to come across children in North American who do not know this game. I used to play it with my elementary students. At an ETM conference I was introduced to the idea of singing the song in a round in concentric circles, each circle going a different direction from the one before and after. I used to do this with my students as well especially on days when there were multiple classes in music at one time. Older kids can, in this way, re-discover Ring Around the Rosie, in a way that is challenging and engaging. Of course, Landon and William (ages 11 and 9) were just fine singing the song in the pool because they were singing it with their little sisters. In other words, it doesn't always have to be challenging to be engaging (despite what the optimal experience or zone of proximal development folks say).