How do you, step by step, go about assembling a performing group, decide on music, schedule rehearsal time and mount a performance?

Hello Friends!

Just a reminder…submissions for this month’s guest blogging contest should be submitted by November 1.  Read on for Mallory Martin’s submission, followed by one from Emily Quezada.  Thanks for sharing ladies!  The idea is to get lots of ideas out there!  You can email your submissions to me at or, or you can type your submission right into the comment box.

The prize this month is…..(drum roll)…..

Favorite Folk Songs by Peter Yarrow

From Mallory:

You asked for step-by-step, so you got it!

Assembling my performance group is pretty straightforward.  My performance group is a 4th and 5th grade extra-curricular choir.  I write an invitation letter every fall and distribute it to all 4th and 5th grade students.  Children must return the permission slip before the first day of rehearsal.  The permission slip contains the child’s name, grade, and home room; the parent or guardian’s name and signature, phone number, and email; and a check box for how they will get home after rehearsals.

There are no auditions; I accept every student who wants to join.  At this age, I think turning students away causes a lot more harm than allowing a weak singer into the group.  I have heard too many horror stories of people who gave up singing or music for life because of one music teacher who told them they were bad.  Plus, I am a music TEACHER!  It’s my job to TEACH them to sing well!  I usually get about 50% of the students to sign up for choir.  This number increases when there is a performance scheduled at a major venue such as a Twins game or the Mall of America.

Choir rehearsals are after school, once per week.  The two grade levels rehearse separately because my classroom is too small to house all of them and there are no other available rooms in my building at that time.  Last year, rehearsals were 45 minutes.  I found that was not enough time to really go into the music, so I extended it to 60 minutes this year.  I feel like we can learn a lot more.  And, although it’s a high-energy group, I can take a minute to wait for them to be quiet without feeling like I’m wasting precious time.

Since our performances are in the gymnasium (we have a stage with curtains, lights, and sound system in our gym), we do rehearse on stage the week of the concert.  I set up the stage myself (big big job!) on Tuesday, then we start at the beginning of the concert and get as far as we can.  The next day, we pick up where we left off and go back and work transitions, solo parts, wordy songs, or anything else that needs special attention.  On Thursday morning, I pull kids from class for 60 minutes (thanks to the classroom teachers’ flexibility!) for our final rehearsal.  We eat lunch together then perform for the entire school (and whichever parents show up) at 1:30.  We do not rehearse after school that day, but meet back in the music room at 6:30 P.M. to warm up, go to the bathroom, and line up for the 7:00 performance.

Setting up and striking the stage is technically my job, but luckily I have helpful custodians and students and parents.  And, I try to plan ahead so the job is as small as possible.

I select repertoire as far in advance as possible.  Due to my predecessor’s panache, my school community is used to big, dance-y, costume-y, showy, themed programs.  My principal supports my desire to showcase quality music in a manner that is engaging, educational, and entertaining (which means I am trying to tone it down a bit!).  So, I often select music with a theme, and plan on doing a “big” show once every other year, so each student gets to do a “big” show.  I love dancing and choreographing, so I will often create simple dance moves that are riser-friendly and musically appropriate.  I also think that simple costumes are fun.  Read on to see two of my ideas for simple yet effective costuming.

This December’s theme is seasons.  This way, I get to select quality music and let the students perform some holiday music without making a full-out holiday concert.

Song List

Spring: Shadowphobia, Emerald Isle, and Piney Mountain Home (all Music K – 8)

Summer: Red Dragonflies (Japanese); Love the Summer, and We Go for the Gold (Music K – 8)

Fall: I Like the Colors of the Fall, Do You Recall September (Music K – 8); Skin and Bones (Traditional: I use the arrangement from Share the Music Grade 1.  The fifth graders love it and have no idea it’s from a first grade textbook.)

Winter: Winter Holiday (partner song with “Jingle Bells”) and Holiday Sing-Along (from Share The Music Grade 6)

For decorations, the art teacher is giving me the 3rd graders’ leaves after she takes them down.  In addition, I am going to cut out a huge snowflake, flower, and sun and pin them to the back curtains.  Décor: check!

For flair, we have some simple choreography to “Shadowphobia” and “Love the Summer,” as well as sign language for “Do You Recall September.”  We will add rain, cricket, bird, and frog sounds to “Red Dragonflies.”  I will have students who participate in sports wear their uniforms for “We Go for the Gold.”  I will print off words for the Holiday sing-along and have the audience join us on some of the songs.

My concert next April will be the revue “My Planet, Your Planet” published by Music K – 8.  I have written my own dialogue about some aliens who come to Earth because their planet was overtaken by garbage.  They want our help and end up teaching us about being “green.”  The choir will get T-shirts (paid for on their own unless there is a financial hardship, when the PTO will cover their cost) that are green with alien eyes on the front and the Earth on the back.  Students portraying aliens will wear the shirts normally with sunglasses and students portraying “Earthlings” will wear the shirts reversed with some sort of “Earthly” headgear such as a baseball cap or cowboy hat.

I hate spending money on props and costumes!  So, I try to: 1. Use items students already own.  2. Use items students will be purchasing anyway.  3. Buy items that are versatile and can be used over and over.

My gymnasium has a sound system and I have two fifth graders somewhat trained in how to use it.  Basically, they stand backstage to adjust the gain (volume) and start and stop the CD player.

I have an accompanist for any songs that will not be performed with CD.  She is paid from district funds at a standard, stinky district rate.

I am free to schedule my own concerts, but I make sure not to conflict with any concerts of our “feeder” schools (the middle and high schools that we feed into).

I have not had any negative comments from parents about my performances.  I am very sensitive to the inclusion of sacred music.  I am careful to find a balance between sacred and secular music and always choose sacred music for its educational value.  I am ready with a list of educational merits of each sacred song in case a parent or administrator wonders about the appropriateness of my song choice.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this essay contest!  I look forward to the opportunity to read other teachers’ submissions and glean many new ideas from them.

Mallory Martin

From Emily

My classroom teachers take on grade level performances (this began after we participated in an arts integration grant), so I am only responsible for giving performances with my after school groups. I have chorus (3-5) and Orff (4-5) who meet separately once a week to rehearse. The only requirement to join these groups is to have a signed contract and pay the activity fee. Auditions have their place but for these groups, I don’t feel it is necessary. We usually have 10-13 rehearsals before a performance.

In addition to my after school groups, I like to feature a class from another grade. Last year it was a 2nd grade class who performed Giddy-up My Burro.

My basic plan starts with knowing that my winter concert will always be something holiday/winter themed and my spring is always a musical. From there I narrow it down. When I am planning a winter concert I like to come up with some sort of theme to help narrow my song selection.

For example, last year’s winter concert was “A Passport Through the Holidays”. We performed music from around the world and the kids read a script describing where the piece came from and the celebration it is from. Here’s what we performed:

Giddy-up My Burro
La Pinata
Lo Yisa Goi
Kwanzaa Celebration
African Noel
Sleigh Ride (Recorder)
Christmas Comin’
Jingle Bells (Recorder)
Lion Dance

Once I have my theme I select songs that will highlight each group separately and then a few that feature both. I also like to find a way to incorporate recorder and movement; whether that be dance, sign language, etc. Some of the songs that we performed were simple but I made some tweaks to the arrangement to up it to where my performing groups were.

Emily Quezada


Questions and Answers

Hello Friends,Retirement is every bit as busy as teaching was, hence the long delay between posts recently.  I’ve received several comments that contained questions or requests, so “Question and Answer” seemed to be the best way to format a new post.

Question 1 is easy: “Are you ok?”  Yep….I’m fine.  My schedule was frustratingly full during August and the beginning of September – so much so that I was beginning to ask “When do I get to start my retirement?”  Things are starting to slow down now, so I’m ready to get back to one of my top priorities: blogging.  Thanks so much, Judy, for your concern!

Question 2 was a request for weeks 4 and 5 of lesson plans.  One of my goals is to  write some of the activities that I’ve used in other years, but for now here are the links to the lessons that I did last year.

Primaries, week 4

Intermediates, week 4

Primaries and intermediates, week 5

An easy way to access these lessons is to use the “Search by Month” drop down.  There is still one more lesson in September, so you would choose September 2011 from the drop down menu, and it will take you to all of the lessons that were posted last September.

Question 3 was actually a series of questions from Theresa Ogan.

“How do you decide “when” and “what kind” of music program (theme, topic, musical, instrumental, vocal, or combination) each grade level will perform?2) Suggestions for how to schedule rehearsals. (The past few years, our school has been over-loaded which has dramatically affected the quality and what type of program we can do.)3) What Musicals have been your favorites and of course including your students, staff and family favorites?”

I could keep on inquiring, but want to respect your precious time and everyone else that reads your  blog!!”

First of all, ask away!  Questions really help me know what to write about.  I’d love to know what you’d like to read about!

The “when” of music programs in our district is, in many ways, a limited decision.  Our district has become large enough that the programs in an elementary building could easily interfere with a middle or high school program for families that have children at 2 or more levels.  Therefore, we decide upon our calendar of events together in a department meeting, to avoid conflicts as much as possible.  When a conflict is unavoidable we schedule the elementary concert early, (6:30), and the middle or high school program later, (7:30 or 8:00), so that parents will be able to get to both performances.

At the elementary level, all second graders participate in a performance.  We alternate between the holidays and early spring so that those of us with more than one building won’t have to do 2 programs within a week of each other.  e.g., in my building A there is a program in December, while building B does theirs in March.  The following year we switch, so that no one always has a holiday program while another always has a spring program.

Our 4th and 5th graders have the option of performing during both of those years by joining chorus and/or band.  That performance is always near the end of the year.  In addition, they sing at a local craft fair in December, as well as the school wide holiday sing along.   Rehearsing with 4th and 5th grades is a challenge, because, although they rehearse during recess, they do not have the same recess time.  4th grade is having lunch while 5th grade is having chorus.  We worked this out by alternating chorus weeks by grade,,,4th grade would meet on week A, 5th on week B.  They learn their parts separately.

As we got closer to program time I asked the cafeteria monitors to  please allow chorus members to get in line first, and then let them come to the music room as soon as they were finished eating.  In that way, I received some time with both groups together.  I was only allowed 45 minutes of rehearsal with both groups on stage the day before the dress rehearsal, because they had to be pulled from instructional time in order to attend.  Not ideal, but we made it work.

Themes of the programs were up to me.  During the holidays we did multicultural programs like “December in Our Town”, or added additional songs to “An All American Christmas”.    In the spring it was a bit more difficult to decide.  For the last 2 years I had to make do with whatever I already had on hand because of budget restrictions.  Last year I used my Music Express magazines to put together a program of jazz pieces that included “Route 66”, “Birdland”, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Aint Got That Swing”.  The year before I used a different volume of Music Express for a program of Broadway songs including “Put on a Happy Face” from “Bye Bye Birdie”, “Seasons of Love” from “Rent” and “For Good” from “Wicked”.  One year I downloaded karaoke tracks from iTunes and made my own arrangements.

I can see I may have to do an entire post of favorite pieces…..

Question 4 is from me to you:

How do you, step by step, go about assembling a performing group, decide on music, schedule rehearsal time and mount a performance?

This will be our second contest!  You may give general steps, or use an actual program that ou are working on.  (That would give us multiple repertoire ideas….!)  Once again I will submit all responses to a panel of music teachers for selection.  the prize will be:

Favorite Folk Songs, The peter Yarrow Songbook.  12 songs with cd.

Submission time begins now and will close November 1.  This gives lots of time for busy teachers to get their thoughts together.  Ready?  Go!


April 18-23, 2012, The Week in a Nutshell


I’m back to teaching on my own.  Ms. Weber has gone of to graduate and become a certified Music Educator.  She did an excellent job.

Grade 3

3rd grade was easy in terms of planning.  We just continued with BAGE recorder pieces.

Grade 4

In 4th grade we did a folder review.  I had the students take from their folders whatever was on top when they opened it up.  I asked them to think about our purpose in studying whatever they pulled out.

The first song in every class was “Boll Weevil”, and I was pleased to find that they remembered the learning target for the song: understanding and performing accents.

Once the students realized what I was about they conveniently rearranged their folders so that whatever they wanted to review just happened to be on top.  That’s ok, though.  I’m glad that there are things they enjoyed enough to want to review them.

So, we went through:

Test Me – objectives: good singing , enjoyment of singing and encouragement for them to do their best on their state exams.  The song gives lots of tips for successful test taking.  MusicK-8.

One Nation – Objectives: good singing technique, commemoration of 9/11.  Music K-8

Sir Duke – Objectives: Introduction of Jazz and some of its greatest performers.  We also used this song to launch a mini unit on old technology.  (“Just because a record has a groove don’t make it in the groove”).  We took the time to examine records and find out how a record player was used.  Share the Music

I Should Have Known Better – Objective: sing a fun song with an important message  regarding peer pressure, tobacco and other choices that will need to be made as students mature.  Music K-8

Grade 5

Last week the 5th graders learned MK8’s “What Shall We Do With a Water Waster”, and altered version of “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor.”  The original learning target was to be able to identify and perform harmony.

This week we practiced the song again in 2 parts, and then I called the students to the rug so that I could read them “Roger the Jolly Pirate”, which just happens to include the song, “What Shall We Do With Our Jolly Roger”  Before reading and singing the story to them I explained the origins of the song, including the title and the purpose of Sea Shantys.  (They were work songs, designed to relieve the drudgery of hard labor, and to provide a steady beat by which that labor could be coordinated).  I sang them one original verse and chorus, with a disclaimer that “we are not going to be singing about drunken sailors”.  Then we began the book, which has plenty of places to insert verses about Roger the Jolly Pirate and the things that he did that got him a flag named after him.  After each verse the students joined in the chorus, which is the same as the  original song:

“Way hey, and up she rises,way hey and up she rises, way hey and up she rises earlye in the mornin'”.

Roger the Jolly Pirate

For quiet listening in both 4th and 5th grades I used “Cathedrals” from Animusic 2.  Ms. Weber had begun using the Animusic dvds last week, and this particular one includes “instruments” from every family.  I quickly reviewed the families of instruments , their characteristics and how they are played, and asked the students to draw as many facets of the room as they could and label each part Brass, Woodwind, String or Percussion.

I haven’t used these dvds in several years, and I’d forgotten how fascinated students are by them.  I let them watch most of the piece, then froze the video on a frame that showed just about the entire instrument “room”.  I started pointing to various instruments and asked people who had drawn them to volunteer what label they’d given.

At this point in their education I pretty much expect them to be able to identify and categorize the various instruments, and so they did.  I’ll have to choose a different “Animusic” piece for sometime in the near future.  They really enjoyed it.  The link below will show you the video…just not the HD version that you can get from the dvd.

Grade 1

In 1st grade we read our final “So-Me” story: “So-Me and His Secret”.  There are actually 3 more “So-Me” books, but I don’t use them because they introduce ta’s and ti ti’s .  Our curriculum no longer uses the Kodaly terminology.    When we switched to “Conversational Solfege” a few years ago we adopted the Gordon Syllables: du and du day.  I don’t want to confuse the kids so I just stop at Book 9.  It offers some great ear training opportunities.  “S0-Me”, “La-Me” and “La-So-Me” can all locate each other on a crowded playground by simply whistling each others names.  I stop the story for  a game of “Who’s This?”  I whistle, they identify the character.

I’ll say again, the kids really love these little books.  There seems to be a lot in them that very young students can relate to.

Next we moved on to our charted song for the week: “What Shall We Do When We All Go Out”.

(Letters close together are 8th notes, stand alones are quarters, Z=rest).

(Student tones)     S SL S SL S S M Z     What shall we do when we all go out Z

(Teacher tones)    F F R Z S S M Z          All go out Z All go out

(Student tones)    S SL S SL S S M Z      What shall we do when we all go out  Z

(Teacher tones)    F R D T D Z Z Z          All go out to play Z Z Z

This can be notated on the board using rhythm stems and  letters, or on a staff.  I always have them read the rhythm first, the tones second, rhythm and tones together third, and finally add the words.  Once they know the song we basically play charades.  While the class is singing the song, one student comes to the front and acts out an activity that they would participate in outside.  When the song is done the actor chooses classmates to guess what they were doing.  We get swinging, bike riding, swimming, baseball, basket ball, trampolines, pogo sticks, hopscotch….the possibilities are endless.  Kids are so easy to please…they love this simple little game.

In preparation for a year end showing of “The Marvelous Musical Mansion” I taught the students “My Hat, It Has Three Corners” with gestures and played the “leave out a word” game, where the gesture takes the place of the word.  “Marvelous Musical Mansion” is a “Wee Sing” production, and includes numerous traditional children’s songs such as “My Hat”, “My Aunt Came Back”, “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” and “When the Saints Go Marching In”.  I’m teaching them ahead of time, and when we watch the video we’ll be able to sing along.  It’s a fun and engaging video.  Here is a list of songs that are included on this 71 minute video:

  My Aunt Came Back
She’ll Be Comin’ Round The Mountain
How Do You Do?
Three Corners
The Orchestra Game Song
The Ballerina’s Waltz
The Doodle-Det Quintet!
The Marching Song
Vive La Compagnie
The Melody Song
The Magic Of Music
Hickory, Dickory Dock
Round The Clock
Oh Where, Oh Where?
Clap Your Hands
Reuben and Rachel
Hey Diddle Diddle
Oh Where, Oh Where?
The Magic of Music
Oh, When The Saints

Grade 2

Second grade is still playing catch up after presenting their program at the end of March.  This week we worked on “Little Snail” using sol, mi and la.

S S M M S S M Z       Little Snail I cannot see

S S L L S S M Z   Fine     Why you always hide from me.

II: D M S S L L M Z:II  D.C. al Fine    Little Snail oh don’t be shy.   I won’t hurt you, no not I

This is a great little song and activity for a number of things:  D, M, S and La; D.C. al Fine, and repeat marks.  I actually use it notated on a staff, so that I can call the students’ attention to the fact that  D, M and S, are all space notes, and L is the only one that’s different.  Since we use  D, M and S extensively in our warm ups, hearing it is no problem for them.  So, we spend a few minutes listening for low, medium and high.  They try to identify which one I am singing by using the correct hand signal.  Then we go on to reading and singing them from the staff.  Once they’ve learned the song with the words I have them line up behind me, and join hands with the person in front of them.  I give a warning: no pushing, pulling or trying to go fast.  Then we begin to sing the song.  I turn in a circle, drawing the student line into a tight circle around me.  “What are we?”  I ask.  “A Snail!” they respond.  Then we sing it one more time so that the last person in line can lead us out of our snail formation.


Jane Rivera, April 23, 2012, All Rights Reserved

March 12-16, 2012, The Week in a Nutshell, 1-5.


Lots going on in school this week – 2nd grade program rehearsals have begun, and grades 3, 4 and 5 are taking PSSA’s – the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in reading and math.  In April, 5th grade will take an additional writing test, and 4th an additional science test.  For me these tests require schedule changes, quiet classes, and in the case of the 4th graders, a review of the science of sound.  All of this has caused a certain amount of condensing of lessons, so, I’m going to try and make this a complete 1-5 “Nutshell”.

Soooooo….in chronological order:

Grade 1

First grade is still hammering away at mi-sol-la.  This week we read “So-Me and the Dance”, which includes “So-Me”, his brother, “La-Me”, and his sister “So-La-Me”.  “So-La-Me” is such a great  dancer that “She dances like Salome”. (All I tell them about that is that Salome was a very famous dancer).

Ring Around the Rosie” contains Sol-la-mi in the melody, so that is our chart for the week.

Ring Around the Rosie

I don’t tell the kids what it is until after we’ve worked on the rhythm and melody, because the song is so familiar that they wouldn’t have to read it if they knew what it was.  Once they do know we play a variation of the game.  First, we all sing the song and turn in a personal circle rather than joining hands and making a ring.  The second time we turn in circle while singing the song in our heads.  At least, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.  A number of students always seem to fall down a full phrase too early, telling me that they aren’t really audiating the song.  So, we try it again, and this time I make them move their lips to the song in their heads, but still without a sound.  Finally, we repeat this exercise with our eyes closed, which helps eliminate to a degree the possibility that they’re “all falling down” just because someone else did.

That was at the beginning of the week.  The latter part of the week I began showing “Elmo’s Musical Adventure: Peter and the Wolf“.  Previously we read the story while listening to the music, identified the instruments, flollowed a listening map, and now, the video has been precisely timed for them to watch in the cafetorium while I set up the room for the 2nd grade program rehearsal, which happens immediately following their class.  I like the “Elmo” version because it contains a demonstration of each of the instruments before the story actually begins, and because it has more emphasis on the role of the conductor than I’ve found in other videos.  Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra are the musical performers.

Elmo’s Musical Adventure: Peter and the Wolf

I’ve used the “Sting” version once, but am not comfortable with the duck floating around with a beer bottle.

I’ve also used the Kirstie Alley/Lloyd Bridges video from time to time.  It’s a longer version and combines live action with animation.

Peter and the Wolf, Kirstie Alley and Lloyd Bridges

Of course, there is the time honored Disney version.  There’s a great pre-video clip of Walt Disney meeting with Prokofiev  to develop the cartoon.

Grade 2

Please see

Grade 3

My pattern with 3rd grade has been to spend the first half of class on new material and the second half testing.  It’s working out right now that the piece they are working on for their new assignment will be their next test.  That will change as we add new notes, and more and difficult pieces that require more practice.  This week, because they’re already spending 2 1/2 to 3 hours a day on state tests, we finished up testing on “G and A Blues” and practiced “Au Claire De La Lune”.  (These are found in the Recorder Resources set from MusicPlay).    The last 10 -15 minutes were spent playing “Recorder Master” which I project from my iPad, and which they love.

Grade 4

4th grade has been working on patterns of 8ths and 16ths.  We read the rhythm of “Skip to My Lou“, which is fairly simple and repetitive.

Skip to My Lou

Then I used “This Old Man” as a mystery tune.

This Old Man

As ususal, we practice rhythm and melody separately before trying to put them together.  The Gordon System uses, du ta day ta, du day ta  and du ta day as rhythm syllables.

It takes several tries reading melody and rhythm together, but once we are able to speed up a bit, light dawns and they recognize the song.

Grade 5

5th grade’s mystery tune is “The Bear Went over the Mountain”.  Same procedure as for 4th grade, except that they have a new concept to understand: the pick-up note.  Before we begin I explain that the pick-up is the last note of a phantom previous measure, and that the last measure has only 5 beats, because the 6th one is at the beginning of the song.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

Step one: rhythm.

Step two: melody.

Step three: Sing rhythm and melody together and identify.

As I was going over the curriculum flow chart to see what I’ve missed, I saw that terms and symbols have been lacking, so I put together a packet of MusicK-8 songs about……music.

Presto Largo, Vol. 15 #5

Forte Piano   Vol 13 #1

Crescendo/Decrescendo  Vol 16 #4

Legato Staccato   Vol 14 #1

Major Minor  Vol 17 #3

That should hold us for a few weeks.  :0)

Thanks, as always, for reading!



Jane Rivera, March 16, 2012, All Rights Reserved

February 6-10, the Week in a Nutshell, Primaries

I LOVE writing this blog.  I love taking the time to look back on what we worked on during the week, and am always amazed at how much we music teachers do in a day, no less a week.  I love hoping that what I’m posting here will be useful to someone else.  And, strange as it may seem, I love the physical act of putting pen to paper.  (I write it all out long hand and edit as I type it into the post.)

Having said all that, it’s an activity that usually has to wait until the weekend, since I not only teach elementary school music, but serve on our church’s worship team, which involves a fair amount of rehearsal time, teach private voice lessons, and attend a Monday night Bible study.  There just isn’t much time left over in the week.  All of which is to say that, once again I’m combining 2 weeks of activities into one post, because I just couldn’t get it all done last weekend.

The other night my husband and I were discussing Tuesday Music.  He said that it will probably keep me somewhat busy during my retirement.

“Writing about what?” I replied. “I won’t be teaching.”

He suggested adding plans that I’ve used in the past as I think of them, and I probably will do that, but it got me thinking…..if any of you have plans or activities that you’d like to post, I’d love to have some guest bloggers add their ideas.  Any takers?

But, I digress…here’s what’s happened in my primary music classes recently.

First Grade

2 weeks ago we took sol and mi from hand signals and little s’s and m’s to line notes and space notes. My learning target was recognizing sol and mi on a 2 line staff.  To begin, I showed the students what a line note looks like in print…the line goes right through the note head.  Then, I put my hands on either side of my head and asked them to do the same.

“Voila!  Your head is now a line note!”

Line note head

line notes

“But there is also something called a space note. A space note squeezes in between the lines, so that there is one on top and one on the bottom.  Sometimes they sit on or under a line, but there is no line through a space note.  So, put one hand on top of your head, and one hand under your chin.  Voila!  Your head is now a space note!”

Space note head

(By the way, Betty recently asked on the MK8 list whether we had to get permission to use kid pics on blogs.  In my case I never show faces on this blog.  On the blog that my kids write at school, I have a separate permission slip for allowing their picture to be posted with their writing.  Without it I will not post a picture of them.)

So, to sum up, we began by defining what line and space notes are: A line note is a note with a line going through it.  A space note is a note between 2 lines, above a line, or below a  line.  There is no line through it.

Moving from hands and heads, I showed them line notes and space notes on a 2 line staff.  We have always sung “Sol is higher, mi is lower” using hand signals. Now we begin doing it using the higher line and the lower line, or the higher space and the lower space, noting that, in order to know which is which, all they need to do is notice which one is up higher (sol) and which is down lower (mi)  Then we practice singing each in the simple quarter note/rest pattern shown in the picture.

You can add any simple words that you’d like:

This old man. Z  He played one. Z  He played knick knack on my thumb. Z

Or, Make up rhymes with the kids:

“Art is cool.  Z  Phys Ed too. Z  Music’s what we like to do. Z”

This past week I followed up by putting some rhythm to our sols and mis.  We read the tones and rhythm patterns for “Engine Engine Number Nine.” I made sure to tell them that it doesn’t matter how many lines there are on the staff….sol is still in the higher position and mi in the lower position.  I had them identify the type of note these are by having them show me with their hands and heads.  (Space notes.)  Once they’d read the tune and the rhythm, I taught them the words by rote.  Normally I would do the rhythm separately from the words, but in this case it wasn’t necessary.  Seems they automatically read eighth notes faster than quarters.

The movement involves making a train by holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of them. They move their feet to the 8th note beat, but any time the melody moves from sol down to mi they have to bend their knees to show the lower note.  We chug around the room a couple of times….they love it.

We also learned the MusicK-8 song “Presto Largo” from my competitive, rival puppets, Presto the Bunny and Largo the Turtle.  (Aside from reading sols and mis, my learning target this week included knowing what these two terms mean.)  Presto sings his part (with the recording) while hopping madly from kid to kid.  (They’re sitting on their hands by the way…the rule is that if they want to see all of this manic little show they may not touch and must stay in their seats.)  Largo looks Presto right in the eye, along with some students, as he sings his slow part of the song.  By the time it’s over, they all have a clear understanding of what each word means.  Then I teach the song by rote and we sing along with Largo and Presto.

"Presto" and "Largo" being held by our school nurse.

Other Activities

I used several books in the past 2 weeks.  The final “Bear” book with Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman is “There Ain’t No Bugs on Me.”  The kids easily picked up the chorus, and had fun finding all of the bugs in pockets, on heads and noses etc.  One small caution: one of the last pages reads ” How in the heck can the old folks tell if it ain’t gonna rain no more.”  On the recording he sings “How in the hell can the old folks tell”.  I always sing over it and no one ever notices it…but it’s good to know that it’s there.  The recordings for all of these books come from the recording “Not For Kids Only” by Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman.

The Teddy Bears Picnic

There Ain't No Bugs on Me

The Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub

I also used “The Jazz Fly” by Matthew Gollub.  There are several important ideas you can bring out before listening to the book.

A.) Call and response/echo/conversation.  Every time the fly asks his question in “jazz” a chorus echos it back to him, and some other animal answers him.

B.)  Instrumentation.  Examples of Bass, Sax, Piano and Drums are played.

C.)  Improvisation.  The Fly is expected to come up with something new on the spot at the Jazz Club, and he does.

And, speaking of Jazz, which I always cover in February in honor of Black History Month, Martha Stanley posted on the Music  K-8 mailing list about a couple of iPad apps, one of which is called “A Jazzy Day.”  I got it and used it with great success yesterday….look for a separate post , coming soon.  It’s geared for primaries, but I used it successfully in all grades.  Including 2nd…..speaking of which….

Grade 2

2nd grade is tough for me right now, because once again, we’re working on a program in one building but not the other.  (Happens twice a year.)  I’m trying not to get too far ahead in the non-program building, so this week , after reviewing “The Jazz Fly” and discussing all of the attributes of Jazz that I mentioned above, we watched “A Jazz Time Tale.”

I introduced it by recalling for them some of the many forms that Jazz can take, including Big Band swing music, Be-Bop, Vocal Jazz and Scat singing, Dixieland and Ragtime.  The video is a story about Fats Waller, narrated by Ruby Dee.  It brings into discussion topics such as Jazz, (like Rock and Roll,) being considered evil when it was first developing,  Ragtime piano music, silent movies and vaudeville.

In the other building my Muppet program is beginning to evolve: the Art teacher is going to help some of the kids work on Kermit collars and Oscar trash can lids made from paper plates and foil.  I ordered some Swedish Chef hats and Rubber Duckies from Oriental Trading Company.  (The duckies don’t squeak….not sure if that’s good or bad.)  I borrowed 8 pink feather boas so we can have some Miss Piggies, and I’ve been checking out Statler and Waldorf videos on YouTube for some schtick ideas.  I’ll give details when it finally all comes together.

I think I’m finished.  For now.

Have a great weekend!

January 30-February 3, The Week in a Nutshell; Primary

I didn’t post my primary lessons last week….time just gets away from me!  So, I’ll cover a few extra things this week.

Grade 1

Last week I introduced “Skinnamarink” to first grade by playing the recording from “Share the Music”, Grade 2, and then teaching the song by rote. (I also reviewed it with second grade, who learned it last year.)

Once they know the song I have them sing along with the recording while I play a steady beat game.  I keep the beat by pointing at a different student on each beat.   Whenever the phrase stops, my finger stops and points at whoever it was on at the end of the phrase.  (The implication being ” I love YOU”,  “Yes, I DO”, etc.)It is so touching to me that they are genuinely pleased when the beat stops on them.  Everyone needs to be told that they’re loved.  The song plays through 3 times, so I have plenty of opportunities to love various students.  Then I tell them that it’s their turn to keep the steady beat.  (Great assessment  song; you can watch for 3 verses).  Again, I am amazed at how little embarrassment there is, and how much pleasure at telling each other they “love” them.  I always do this a few weeks before Valentine’s day, and I mention it now because I reviewed it with them at the end of this week’s lesson.

We’re continuing to work on sol-mi.  Last week we worked on “Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Bear, which  utilizes mi-sol.  Before we reviewed it this week I read them So-Me book #3, which also introduces reading the interval “backwards”…starting on mi instead of sol.  (“So-Me, Oh, and Romeo”.  The books are available from MusicPlay).  The kids love these little stories.  Every time So-Me’s name occurs I sing it to the kids, along with all of the other patterns of mi, sol and la that are incorporated into the stories.  A cd comes with the books, but I prefer to read them myself.

So Me....Oh and Romeo

So Me....Oh and Romeo

Our new chart this week is “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around”.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, Turn Around

We learn the rhythm on doo, (quarter notes), and doo-day, (eighth notes). We speak it, speak it and clap it, and clap it while thinking it silently in our heads.  We practice singing “Sol is higher, Mi is lower” several times with the correlating hand signals, the read the S’s and M’s underneath the rhythm.  Where there is no letter, the students speak the rhythm syllables.

I sing them the tune using a book by the same name, by Steve Scott.  ISBN 0-694-01162-2.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

The melody is:





(Z = rest).

Finally, I teach simultaneously the following words and corresponding movements:

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, turn around,

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, touch the ground.

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, tie your shoes.  (Pretend to tie shoes.)

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, that will do.  (Shake finger.)

I teach this to them s l o w l y.  We repeat the song numerous times, each time a little faster.  I use the keyboard to control the tempo, using the chords C and G.  By about the third time through they begin to understand what’s happening, and the smiles start to appear.  We keep going until we’re singing and moving as fast as we possibly can.  Seems like such a simple, silly thing to do, but it’s little things like this that make music class fun.  Yesterday, when we were sitting back down on the rug I hear one tiny girl say, “I love Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear”.  Made me smile.   By the way, just about the entire lesson this week happened with the kids on the rug in front of my chair.  I had a lot of things I wanted them to be able to see.

Since last week was about the bear “Fuzzy Wuzzy”, I’d brought out the book, “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.  This week was about Teddy Bear, so I brought out “Jenny Jenkins” performed by the same bears: Jerry Garcia and Dave Grisman.  ISBN 0-06-028263-0, Bruce Whatley, illustrator.

What Wll You Wear, Jenny Jenkins?

I go through the book, singing the song, asking what color we will sing about next, noting details in the illustrations, (like how cute Jenny looks in her beige robe and slippers, or “I bet that banana peel on the ground will have consequences on the next page.”)  By the time I play the recording, (and go through the book again), they’ve got the tune, the pattern of the words and just need a little help with “roldy-poldy-tildy-toldy-seeka-double-use a cozza.”  There is one more book in this series, which I will use next week:  “There Ain’t No Bugs on Me.”  After that, all of the books on this page except for the So-Me book will be for sale.

We finished up this week with Skinnamarink, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

So, in this lesson we did:  solfege, rhythm and tone reading, singing, movement, and 3 children’s books.

Grade 2

A while back I taught a chart called “Valentine, but only used the solfege syllables as words.  Here’s a re-cap of that lesson.

“Here’s how the song actually goes:

Mi Sol Do

But this is all the kids ever see. I teach “Swinging” and “Round we go” by rote.

Once they can sing the whole thing, they stand and face a partner. “Mi” is a patsch on their lap, “sol” is clap their own hands once, “do” is two fists, hands at sides. “Swinging, swinging to and fro” take partner’s hands and swing from side to side. (Gently….always tell them, gently.) Mi sol do as the first time. “Round and round and round we go”, take partners hands and walk in a circle. (Slowly…always tell them slowly.) We do the dance several times. If they’re a particularly mature group I might start slowly and speed up each time.”

 That was back in October, so you can see why I didn’t use the Valentine words at that time.  This week I reviewed what we did in the fall, and added the Valentine words.

Won'tcha be my Valentimes

Complete lyrics:

Valentine, Valentine, won’t you be my valentine?

Valentine, Valentine, yes, I’ll be your Valentine.

I’ll never forget the student who used to sing, “Valentimes, Valentimes, won’tcha be my Valentimes.”  I still smile when I think of him.

So, now we have 2 verses for the clapping game, which we DO start slowly and speed up.  Why do they find that so enjoyable?  Don’t know, but I run with it.

You may recall that we’ve been adding “la” to our do-mi-sol reading, so in addition to reviewing “Valentine” we also worked on “Little Snail.”  All quarter notes and quarter rests, again, the Z = a rest.

S S M M S S M Z      Little Snail I cannot see

S S L L S S M Z         Why you always hide from me.

D M S S L L M Z      Little Snail oh don’t be shy.

D M S S L L M Z      I won’t hurt you, no not I.

S S M M S S M Z      Little Snail I cannot see

S S L L S S M Z         Why you always hide from me.

The rhythm is so easy that we go directly to the melody, singing from a chart with the rhythm stems with the letter for Do, Mi, Sol or La underneath.  (Sorry…I forgot to take a picture.) It’s an easy song to learn and remember, so once they have it down I have them line up behind me, and hold the hand of the person in front of them.  Then, as they sing, I start to turn in a circle, right in my personal space.  This has the effect  of winding them all tightly around me, turning us into a snail.  I have the last person lead us out of the snail as we sing the song one more time.  Caution:  tell the students they may not run, push or pull, or someone will fall and get hurt.

I sang them a book, The Ballad of Valentine, by Alison Jackson, ISBN 0-525-46720-3,  stopping for vocabulary and terms that they might not, (and most did not) understand: Morse Code, Smoke Signals, Homing Pigeon.  It’s a silly song to the tune of Clementine, about all of the different ways this guy tries send a message to ask Valentine to be his valentine. It also gave me a way to explain to them what a ballad is.  That will come up again as the year goes on.  (Think  “Senior Don Gato” and “The Cat Came Back.”)

The Ballad of Valentine

We finished up with Skinnamarink and the steady beat game.  Always a hit.

Wow, I’ve been sitting here writing for an hour and a half, and I still have intermediates to go.  It always amazes me how much stuff we do in a week.  Stay tuned.



Fall/Winter Choral Selections

My chorus meets during their recess time. Unfortunately, not all of the students have recess at the same time. So, in order for me to be able to eat lunch, (very important,) we alternate weeks. The 5th graders meet one week, 4th grade the next. Toward performance time I ask the 4th graders to come and join the 5th graders as soon as they’ve finished their lunch, so that they have the opportunity to practice together.

This fall we are working on 3 pieces…one of them fairly lengthy, although not too difficult.

We began with “Glo-glo-glorious” from this year’s Music K-8 magazine, issue #2. It’s a partner song that the kids got into right away. It references holidays, but is a generic piece about the wonderful, fabulous time of year that December is.

I purchased “Jingle Bell Juke Box” from J.W. Pepper.

Jingle Bell Juke Box

For $69 I received a reproducible book with multiple songs, plus a cd with full performance and accompaniment only tracks. We’re working on “Sleigh Ride” which is pretty ambitious for my 4th and 5th graders. We’ve spent most of our time on this one, but they ARE getting it! I should mention that this book is actually a program with dialogue in and of itself…I’m just not using it that way. Perhaps my successor will find it useful. :0)

Lastly, I purchased “The Night Before Christmas” from Plank Road Publishing.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

There are multiple options for obtaining this piece. I chose instant download + hardcopy with cd to be mailed. I did this because it is a long piece and time is quickly passing. I wanted to get started on it right away. It is, however, not difficult. The kids are fighting over who gets to be in the mouse chorus. Sigh. It’s a good problem to have though, and whoever winds up singing it, I plan to have them make some mouse ears and dress in pajamas. I’ll make a big sign on a stick that says “Mouse Chorus” with an arrow pointing down, and have a mouse in the middle of the group hold it up high. Adding some silly actions will make it complete. Gotta say, the kids are loving it.

When I have chorus sign ups in the fall I tell the kids that they are signing up through the end of December, and that I expect them to show up for rehearsals for that time. If they don’t want to sign up again in the spring that’s fine, but I expect them to take their commitment to me and to the other chorus members seriously. I don’t have too many problems, either with attendance or with spring sign ups. Most re-up, even though they are giving up a recess every other cycle to do so.

I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do for the spring, but since it will be my last program, I’m considering doing all of MY favorites from years past. I’ll let you know!

Have a great week!

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