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.)