Monday, August 29, 2011

Elementary Music Curriculum: Simple or Complex

Keep it simple! What can be simpler in curriculum planning than teaching children a singing game like Bluebird or A-Hunting We Will Go? On the other hand, playing the singing game is a very complex activity for the children with so many interesting things that can happen while interacting with others and a delightful song to sing over and over until they know it "by heart"--a beautiful thing! In other words, simple curriculum planning can lead to the musical/cognitive/kinesthetic complexity that little brains and bodies crave. I think this principle works the other way around, too. Plan a detailed curriculum addressing concepts like high and low, fast and slow, syncopation, pentatonic scales, and so forth in a sequential manner and end up with simple, boring musical engagements for children. For example, a lesson addressing fast and slow tempi might require the students to draw a circle around the turtle or the bunny on a worksheet while listening to a musical excerpt--a simple, boring task that will be more likely to prepare children to someday work obediently on an assembly line than to collaborate with others in creating something new or solving a real-life problem. Set up the curriculum and the classroom like a factory and prepare factory workers (low wage employment nowadays for the factory jobs that haven't already gone overseas). Set up the curriculum as a creative, interactive space and prepare children for an engaging world of work and life. The nice thing is that interesting musical activities abound--they grow naturally as musical practices take shape and continue because they satisfy real needs for real people. In sum, look for the naturally occurring and complex musical practices in outside-of-school contexts (singing games, for one) and bring them into the classroom. It's easier than making up your own stuff from scratch and likely more engaging for the children. And it's fun. And that's okay.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Skip to My Lou (Hello, How Are You?)

Learn the names of the children beforehand or ask three students what their names are. Then sing, "Hello, Cindy, how are you? Hello, David, how are you? Hello, Kayla, how are you? Skip to my lou my darlin'" clapping the beat of the last bit and waving at each student as they are named--all to the tune of Skip to My Lou, of course. I did this one with many groups and they love it (kindergarten or first grade--probably not so effective with sixth graders). Another variation is to then let those three skip around the circle while everyone sings "Skip with me, I'll skip with you . . . etc." I learned this variation from Susan Kenney who, I believe, picked it up from the ETM folks. Yet another variation is with all students in groups of threes singing the names of each child in their group and then holding hands and skipping in a circle on the Skip with me, I'll skip with you part. Or, better yet, make up your own variation. I remember singing this timeless folk song in third grade back in the 70s--just singing it in class with no games but with a variety of verses. (Flies in the buttermilk, shoo fly shoo; Little red wagon painted blue; Lost my partner what'll I do; I'll find another one, it might be you). My students at Eureka Elementary enjoyed making up their own verses that rhymed (I found a stink bug in my shoe; We left my sister at the zoo, etc.). You know, it can be a lot of fun to just play the guitar and sing with kids. An important thing is to avoid getting caught up in whether you are doing it right or not--whether you are following the method or the rules of the game correctly. I was worried once about remembering the tune of a song learned at a workshop and someone suggested that if I forgot I could just make up my own tune. Good advice . . .

Go Tell Aunt Rhody (I'm Thinking of Someone)

Here's a great singing game for focusing a group of students sitting on the floor in a circle: "I'm thinking of someone. I'm thinking of someone. I'm thinking of someone, who is wearing red" (or any other descriptor about clothing, etc.) to the tune of Go Tell Aunt Rhody. If the other children want to guess who you are thinking of they can raise their hands and be called on at which point they ask, "Is it (child's name)?" The kids love the potential of being the one who you are thinking of. For a refresher on the tune:

Another game is plain old Go Tell Aunt Rhody. The one who is it runs or walks around the outside of the circle where the rest of the players are sitting. On the word "dead", they touch (don't hit) someone who is the closest on the head and that person falls over as if dead. Then everyone says, "Oh, no! The goose is dead!" at which point the one who is it asks the person on either side of the goose, "(child's name), will you go tell Aunt Rhody the old grey goose is dead?" It's a lot to say, yes, but it's good for the kids to put the entire sentence together just like that. Then that person goes to tell Aunt Rhody and the one who was it sits in their place in the circle. Whether the dead geese stay dead throughout the remainder of the game is up to you. Too harsh for children? Death is real. Why avoid the topic?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Partner Songs: Bluebird & Skip to My Lou

Bluebird is a great game for young children. I have found it effective to have the kids press hands together rather than hold hands in order to make the windows. The person who is "it" flys around through the windows and lands in front of someone at the end of the song and asks, "(name), would you like to be the bird?" If the answer is "yes" then the new one is "it" and the previous one takes their place. This game can be played with multiple birds or students can choose what kind of bird to be in which case there might be two questions, "Would you like to be a bird?" and "What kind of bird would you like to be?" As the teacher, I like to eventually drop out of the singing and let the students sustain the singing game. Whoever begins the song, of course, chooses the starting pitch. I don't think the starter needs to give the pitch beforehand either. We start and everyone settles in on a pitch. The idea is to keep it complex and interesting.

Once the children know the song and game, it can be partnered with Skip to My Lou. In fact, there are quite a few songs that will partner with these. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I've Been Everywhere

One favorite country song that kids still may have heard and will likely enjoy is I've Been Everywhere. It's a fun challenge to sing it. This lesson idea integrates music with social studies and lauguage arts (and possibly math and even science, too).

Music Objectives: Students will sing in small groups with a pre-recorded accompaniment, explore musical genres (country), compose original lyrics, and create movement sequences.

Social Studies Objectives: Students will locate places on a map representing where they have been. (If you need a math connection they could also figure out how far they have traveled from place to place).

Language Arts Objectives: Students will identify the rhyme scheme for the verse in I've Been Everywhere and compose an original verse. (This could also serve as a writing prompt to tell a story about a trip they have been on.)

Materials: Recording of I've Been Everywhere (preferrably a karaoke recording as well for performance); Lyrics for I've Been Everywhere (make sure the lyrics match the performance since Hank Snow's version has a few different places from Johnny Cash's).

  • Listen to the song as a class (this could occur on multiple occasions).
  • Sing along with the song as a class a few times (with lyrics).
  • Discuss and list places where the students have been.
  • Discuss and map the rhyme scheme of the verse.
  • Divide into groups. Each group will locate on a map the places that they have been. (This could be limited to a specific geographical location.) List the places. Look for places that rhyme.
  • Arrange places into a verse following the rhyme scheme identified earlier. (Notice that one of the rhymes isn't a place.)
  • Practice and then perform verses for the rest of the class along with a karaoke accompanment if available.
  • Develop a line dance to go with the chorus of the song and add it to the overall performance.
This lesson, of course, will extend beyond a single 30-minute session. For rural kids especially, this song and activity could maintain quite a bit of interest. The places could also be rooms in a house, businesses, places in the body (for a creative science connection) and so forth. One caution: Don't make a big deal about students who have traveled on extended vacations and exotic places; not all families can afford such trips.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Big Ships are Sailing Down the Ally Ally Oh

I love this game and so do the kids! It presents a unique challenge--to "thread the needle". Interestingly, it was also a game in which my students never complained about having to hold hands. The musical portion, of course, is simply that the students get to sing a delightful tune over and over again until is firmly planted in their brains to be shared and explored further. The tune we used in the video is different from some of the others (do a youtube search); you can use whichever one you want, of course. Or, change it to suit youself or your students. Most versions, though, work well as partner songs for Skip to My Lou and Bluebird (I, I, V, V, I, I, V, I if you follow this kind of chord notation). Anyway, here's a clip of my elementary methods class playing the game: