January 16-20, The week in a Nutshell, Intermediates (Plus a new iPad app.)

It’s been a busy week. Seems like there is never enought time to fit everything in.

I began every class this week with a pitch assessment. We sang “Jambo” continually until I’d had the opportunity to put my ear close to each child, to hear whether they were matching pitch. I’m pleased to say that most are. And a word of encouragement: two of them FINALLY are, in Fourth Grade. Don’t give up on them!


Third Grade

In Third Grade we are still preparing to begin recorder. The recorders are on order, but have not yet arrived, so the kids are chomping at the bit. In the past couple of weeks we’ve done some preliminary work: learning “Ode to the Treble Clef” from Music K-8 magazine, and singing it every week. Each week I use it to review “staff”, “treble clef”, “G clef” and note names on the lines and spaces.

This week I introduced the “BAG Mad Minute”, available with the recorder book in Denise Gagne’s MusicPlay series, 3rd grade. (I believe you can purchase the recorder materials separately.) I’d previously introduced all of the note names and how to identify them on the staff, but, as I do with solfege, will concentrate only on the first few that they will need: B, A and G.

Normally a “Mad Minute” is a timed, one minute exercise with the notes B, A and G place randomly on the 6 staves on the page. All the students have to do is write the letter name of the note underneath it. Because this was their first experience with a “Mad Minute”, I let them take pretty much as long as they needed. A couple of them still didn’t finish, but of the ones who did, no one scored less than 29 out of 30, and most of them got them all right.

Of course, I shared with them the reason we are concentrating on B,A and G: these are the first notes they’ll be learning to play on the recorder. So now, I grabbed my recorder and played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for them. My objective was for them to observe that my fingers need to move independently, so I threw in the C as well.

At their point in human development finger dexterity is just not as easy as it is for an adult, so we worked on some finger exercises to help them get used to using one finger at a time, two fingers together, or three.

This was Tammy Mangusso’s idea…a Music K-8 listee.

index finger: bend – point – bend – up. Add fingers every few phrases until you are using all 4 fingers, (no thumb) to do the exercise. Then go backward, subtracting fingers until you are using only one, which then does the same exercise double time. Add and subtract fingers as before. Next, put hands palms together. Not including thumbs, bend one finger at a time, down, up, down up. Then do all fingers together…no thumbs, which really don’t move a whole lot when you’re playing the recorder. Lastly, put both hands in your lap. Keep the steady beat with each finger, one at a time, without using the other fingers. (No thumb.) When you’ve gone through each finger use them all, keeping thumbs still in the lap. Finally, set all of this to the Crazy Frog version of Axel F, available on iTunes. You’ll be able to figure out how to time all of this so that you end with the music. This is always such a hit that they ask to do it again….and we do.

By this time all grades have seen the new animation on Franz Joseph Haydn, our next composer. I found a video on YouTube of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Surprise Symphony. It’s great for two reasons: 1)It’s Leonard Bernstein, and 2) there are lots of closeups of instruments and playing technique. It’s also good to have something for the kids to watch when they are listening to a new piece of music. It seems to hold their attention longer. Click the link below to view.


Fourth Grade

I wanted to introduce 6/8 this week in fourth grade, and review it in 5th. First, though, I went back over a chart that we used way back before Christmas, just to be sure that the duple material and solfege we were using took hold. I used “I’m a Fine Musician.” Here’s a recap of the original lesson:

“I’m a Fine Musician.”

I’m a Fine Musician

We’re still using hand signals to review d,r,m,f,s, and still reviewing line and space notes. I note that the bottom note is a line note with a leger line…something you can add if you run out of lines on the staff, and that the notes alternate line, space, line, space line. We sing do mi sol, line line line, noting that do mi and sol are all line notes. Re and fa are the 2 space notes. This is also a review of repeat marks, and of course, the rhythm. We go through it slowly. When they need help I give it, but try to let them sing as much as they can on their own. This is fairly difficult for them. Once we’ve read through it at least twice, I teach them the words to this echo song: I sing the first phrase, you sing the repeat; I get the second phrase, you repeat etc. They must sing and do whatever I sing and do.

//:I’m a fine musician, I travel through the land ://
d d m m s m m f f r r d

//: I can play a violin://
s s m m ff r

//: Fiddle fiddle fiddle dee, fiddle fiddle dee.://
d d m m s s m f f r r d

When I sing “fiddle fiddle fiddle dee” I play air violin, and they must imitate. Then we add other instruments: clarinet: doodle doodle doodle doo; trombone: wah wah wha wha wha wha wha, with motions and slide effects. flute: held in the transverse position and sung up an octave…doot doot doot.
Drum: boom boom boom with the chhhh for crash cymbal at the end. Trumpet: blah blah blah, rather harsh tone quality. Oboe: hold your nose and sing ee ee ee ee ee ee ee. “I can sing an opera”….hold my hands together in front of me and sing in my best opera quality…la la la la. Use your imagination…you can come up with lots of stuff. I end with “I can sing the rests…” and cover my mouth.

End recap. I was able to add to this with a couple of iPad apps that I recently acquired. One is “My First Classical Music”, which I wrote about last week.


The nice thing is, that the animations in this app show how the instrument is played, as well as what it sounds like. (Not midi files!)

The other app is called “4 Music Rooms” and is a combination of instrument identification and theory. If you click on the instrument, it plays. (Audio only..no moving animation.) If you click on the written name of the instrument, you get a mini-theory lesson. Observe, but bear in mind that in order to get this to play right side up, I had to film it upside down!

But I digress….back to the 4th grade lesson.

I try to have something for the students to sing in almost every lesson.  This week the new Music K-8 magazine arrived, (March/April) with a song called “I Should Have Known Better.”  It’s an old-time rock ‘n rolly style song with a good/choice  bad/choice message that focuses on cigarettes, but can be applied to any choice they’ll have to make in life.  Once we learned the song it generated a ton of good discussion.  So good that I’m hoping not to get any calls or emails from parents who happen to smoke.  (Yikes!)

Fifth Grade

In 5th grade we went back and reviewed sixteenth notes because, as in 4th grade, we’re moving on to 6/8 and I want to make sure they have this down, and truth be told, I never assessed it, so I needed to get that done.

  After reviewing the “Chattanooga Choo Choo”  lesson, I had them get out their white boards and markers for some dictation. (If you haven’t read that lesson this isn’t going to make much sense, so I will recap the lesson following the account of what I did with it today, but please note that  there are movements with this song that are important to helping them remember rhythm patterns.) I asked them not to show me, or anyone else, what they’d written down until I told them to.  My first example was dictated using the rhythm syllables: doo ta day ta doo,  doo ta day ta doo. (4 sixteenths and a quarter note, repeat.)  So far so good.  Erase please.  The next pattern was from the song and I sang it to them using words instead of rhythm syllables:  “Chattanooga Chattanooga choo choo train.”  ( 2 sets of 4 sixteenths, 2 eighths and a quarter.)  If necessary, you can add the movements here, which truly does help those who need it to remember the patterns.

” Max,there is no such thing as a sixteenth note that isn’t colored in.”

” Dan,if you don’t put 2 lines across the top of sixteenth notes you’ve written 4 eighth notes.”

For the last example I dictated a phrase from the song, and then asked them to add on the phrase that comes next without singing it to to them.  The one I dictated was “Oh that Chattanooga choo choo” and the phrase that follows it is “Oh that choo choo train.”  1. Quarter, quarter, 4 sixteenths, 2 eighths.  2. Quarter, quarter, 2 eighths, quarter.  You can refer to the picture of the chart above as well.

OK…here’s a partial recap of the original lesson.  To see the whole thing, type Chattanooga Choo Choo into the search box.  There was some additional mallet stuff that I’m not including here.

Step one: Speak the rhythm. (doo-ta-day-ta doo-ta-day-ta doo-ta-day-ta doo-day, doo-ta-day-ta doo-ta-day-ta doo-day doo.)

Step 2: Add simple body percussion: 16ths are brushed, 8ths are clapped, quarters are patsched in the lap.

Step 3: Have the students clap the rhythm while keeping the syllable solely in their head.

The song uses do, mi, sol, la and high do. The students learn the melody by reading the tones from the staff, probably following a hand signal reading exercise using the tones involved.

I teach the words by rote:

Chattanooga, chattanooga, chattanooga choo choo,
Chattanooga, chattanooga choo choo train,
Chattanooga, chattanooga, chattanooga choo choo,
Chattanooga, chattanooga choo choo train.,

Oh that chattanooga choo choo
Oh that choo choo train.
Oh that chattanooga choo choo
Oh that choo choo train.

Once the students know the complete song, have them line up behind you. The line can only move on the 16th notes since they are performed by moving the feet.(Forward.) Eighths are still clapped and quarters are still patsched, but the feet must not move on the 8th or quarter notes. We start slowly and repeat several times, getting faster on each repetition.

That’s it for intermediates for this week.  There were a few other things we did, but I’m looking back at this post and feeling like Wanda Wordy.  I hope it all makes sense.

Snowed here last night, by the way.  How come it couldn’t wait ’til Sunday night?  :0)


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