Author Archives: Denise Gagne

Is Teaching Harder Now than it was 40 Years Ago?

Is Teaching Harder Now than 40 years ago?

When I’m in schools teaching now, I often say how much harder teaching is today than it was when I started in 1978 – almost 40 years ago.  The children have shorter attention spans (no attention spans), behaviors are worse and consequences non-existent, parents blame the teacher for everything that goes wrong with their kids, and teachers have hours of paperwork that didn’t exist 40 years ago.  But is it really so much worse teaching today than it was in 1978?

Work Day / Work Week

The work day 40 years ago started early with bus duty.  Every teacher had to supervise bus duty and recess and lunch hour at least once a week, and in smaller schools a lot more often.  That included being outside when it was -40 (-40 is the same in F and C) in the schools in Saskatchewan where I started my career.  The idea that teachers should get a 30 minute lunch break wasn’t in effect in 1978.  I had choir twice a week at lunch for many, many years, so I’d have 10-15 minutes to eat something, before meeting with the choir.  There were a lot fewer prep periods as well.  I was really lucky if I had 2 preps in a week, and some years there were none.  Staff meetings were held once a month after school, and could go hours if something difficult was up for discussion.  When I moved to Red Deer in 1992, staff meetings were held once a week, before school, so once a week you had to come to school by 7:30 for the meeting.

There were no personal days in 1978 or days in lieu.  We had parent-teacher conferences in the evenings, and you had to be there.  There were no days off because we’d given up our evening to be there.  If you needed a medical appointment, you were expected to schedule it after school hours if at all possible.  Stress leave was virtually non-existent.  If you needed a stress leave, you were told that you probably weren’t suited to the job, and it was suggested that you resign.  The teaching year was 200 days, and a few were set aside for professional development, teacher planning at the beginning or end of the year.

Compare that to 2017 when students are dismissed early once a week for staff meetings/PD.  In some places prep periods are part of the teaching contract.  And in many schools, paid lunchroom supervisors do the lunchroom duty.  Many (most) districts have some personal days that teachers can use whenever they want for whatever they want.

Technology – A Blessing or a Curse?

Movies and Music

In 1978 we had filmstrip projectors, record players, and 8mm movie projectors. 

Record players let you select the track you wanted, but of course they were big and bulky to store.  If you had a bouncy floor, when you did folk dancing to the records, sometimes the movement was enough to make a record skip.

When cassette tapes became available, they were easier to play, but then you had to fast-forward or rewind to find the song that you wanted to play.  Copying a record was impossible for the average person, but with cassette tapes, it was easy to make copies of songs you wanted.  You could even tape songs from the radio.

The filmstrip projectors weren’t too complicated to use.  We could buy the filmstrips if we had a big budget, but more often, borrowed them from a central library, so you had to plan ahead if you were going to use one. 

Setting up the movie projectors was a lot more complicated.  Sometimes the school librarian (yes, we had librarians then) would set it up for you, but this was never a simple process.  When you finally got it going, even if it wasn’t such a great film, it would keep the kids attention, just because they didn’t see them all that often.

Worksheets

In 1978 if I wanted to copy a worksheet for students I had 2 choices:  Ditto or Gestetner.  The Ditto stencils, you’d have to type out (don’t make a mistake or you have to either scrape it off or start over), then go to a machine, attach the stencil part and crank the handle to make your copies.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B979xBnk2Hg.  This video shows a fancier machine than our school had – you didn’t have to crank it, but this is the general idea.

In 2017 if I want a worksheet, I can often find one to download and make photocopies – much less time to make 30 worksheets than it was in 1978.   What can end up taking the time in 2017 is the “finding” of the worksheet.  Instead of making your own, you can hunt through bizillion worksheets on pinterest or TPT eating up the time you save in the copying.

Information

In 1978 if you wanted to research and create a unit on a composer you could go to encyclopedias or take books out of the library.  If your library was really limited, you could request books through inter-library loans, and wait a week or 10 days until your requested book arrived.  You’d have to buy recordings (records) of the works that you’d want to study.  There were very few 8mm movies of live performances for your students to view.  You had pictures or posters of the musical instruments, but movies demonstrating the instruments were hard to find, and if you could find them, they were expensive to purchase.. Developing a new unit of study, could take you weeks of work. 

In 2017 you’ve got Google, YouTube, Wikipedia – and countless websites with information.  Any information you might need is all available through a phone in your pocket.   You’ve got millions of live performances on YouTube of almost any musical work that you’d like to study.  Creating a unit of study should be faster and easier than ever before.  You don’t need to purchase recordings any more – you can find almost any recording you want on YouTube or you use a streaming service like iTunes or Spotify.  Does this make your job easier?  It should, but too much information can give you so many choices that creating a unit  can take just as many hours as it did in 1978.

Unintended Consequences

The instant delivery of information via Google and YouTube has been a blessing in so many ways.  But it’s also created a generation of children who have little or no patience or perserverance.  These kids want instant results – from everything from looking up song information to learning to play a recorder.  Everything else is instant – why can’t I play a C scale instantly on my recorder? 

Attention Deficit Disorder wasn’t a disorder in 1978.  In 2017 it’s an epidemic, in large part because children are growing up with everything they want being available instantly.  If I want to watch a favorite TV show I don’t have to wait until Thursday at 7:30 PM – I can watch it now on Netflix or YouTube.  If I want a toy that I see online, I can order it from Amazon and a day later it’s delivered to my house.  If I want a new game, I can download it from the app store and play it right away.

Video games deliver instant gratification – even to our toddlers.  There are really great apps that teach toddlers important skills.  Endless Alphabet is an incredibly good app that I’ve downloaded for my 2-3 year old grandkids.  They drag a letter to a word and when they’ve got them all in place, they get to watch a really cute video that explains the meaning of the word.  If that isn’t enough “reward” for getting the letters in place, the kids can touch areas of the final screen and fireworks go off.  It’s a really good tool, but there is lots of “rewards” built in to keep the kids interested. When these same kids come to our music classes, they’re used to this kind of learning environment and anything less isn’t as engaging. 

We still have kids in our classes who are amazing students with great focus and attention.  But the numbers of kids who need to take “brain breaks” or use fidget devices are growing exponentially.  Many classes have children who have been diagnosed with anxiety or stress disorders.   

Showing fast paced cartoons to teach concepts just feeds the addiction.

Giving them authentic musical experiences where they experience the concepts weans them off the necessity for a screen “reward” and they’ll internalize the experience.

For example – Singing a song with cute little cartoon images about beat may keep the students engaged.  But singing an authentic children’s song, stepping the beat/clapping the words or rhythm, and then playing Beat/Rhythm Switch game (switching between beat and rhythm) is an engaging activity, and the children are learning by doing – not by watching a screen.  Yes, we need to label and define concepts, but the actual learning is best accomplished by students experiencing beat/rhythm, fast/slow, high/low, loud/quiet.  In the www.musicplayonline.com resources every time I create an interactive activity, I’m thinking about ways that the teacher/students can use the activity without feeding their screen addiction, and ways to ensure that the students have an authentic musical experience.  In many ways, the concept slides and interactive activities teaching beat/rhythm at www.musicplayonline.com are just reminders to the teacher of the authentic process that we should be doing to fully involve the children.   

Differentiation and Reporting

In 1978 there were few special needs students in our classes.  We had a range of abilities, but there were very few kids with severe physical or developmental abilities, and way fewer kids with emotional difficulties.  Having a teacher assistant come to music classes was rare.

The 2017 teacher has to be able to differentiate instruction for a huge range of children.  One third of some classes might have IPPs requiring you by law to differentiate.   Many classes come with a TA, and some of them are wonderful and some need teacher direction to be more effective in helping the students they are assisting.  So in 2017, you don’t write just one lesson plan – sometimes you have several for just one class.

Writing report cards in 1978 was fairly simple – you gave an A, B, C or D and maybe a generic comment.  “Student A” participates well in music class.  or “Student B does not participate appropriately in all activities.”  If parents came in for interviews, and they were the parent of Student B, they would usually ask what they could do to improve Student Bs behavior in class.

In 2017, A, B, C, D are rare, and more often you see descriptors like “Exceeding expectations”, “Meeting expectations,” and “Beginning to Meet expectations.”  Some schools require personalized comments for every student.  For teachers who teach 1000 students, this is a tough expectation to meet.

Behaviors

Children were not angels in 1978.  I had a fist fight in my Grade 5 band class during my first year of teaching in 1978.  The response to discipline infractions was usually a trip to the principal’s office.  For a minor infraction a student might get a detention.  For a serious infraction an out of school suspension.  Back in 1978, schools could still use the strap, although it was rarely used.  I don’t remember a student ever getting the strap in the schools that I taught in.  If a parent got a note from a teacher telling them about a discipline problem, there was usually consequences at home.  My husband talks about how if a kid got the strap at school, they probably got it at home too.  Was this a good thing – of course not.  Hitting a child to teach them not to hit, makes no sense and could easily lead to abusive situations. 

In 2017 the pendulum has swung far in the other direction.  Corporal punishment is outlawed – and rightly so.  We have reflections that children fill out, and they may have an in-school or out -of-school suspension for serious infractions.  There are a myriad of discipline models in schools.  I truly hate the discipline models that reward kids for behaving appropriately.  This is a basic expectation in life.  I don’t get a prize for being polite as a teacher —- it’s a job expectation. Reward models give prizes for good behavior —- but the rewards soon become blasé.  A ticket for a raffle isn’t enough of an incentive for good behavior – students want a pizza party, a movie day or lunch out with the principal.  Students with IPPs may face fewer consequences for misbehaviors because they’ve got a diagnosis.  Giving out certificates to students that model good behavior at a monthly assembly is OK – but not if it becomes an expectation that every student in the school deserves a certificate at some point during the year. 

In 2017 managing behaviors is harder than in 1978.  There are fewer consequences for the children and less parental support.

So – is teaching harder in 2017 than it was in 1978? 

In some ways no – technology has made it easier to plan and create units, create worksheets, and teachers have far more planning time, personal days, and lieu time.  Technology has made it easier than ever to find and show videos of virtually any topic you can think up, to research and to learn new skills.  Finale, Note Flight, Garage Band are programs that have made it really easy to create your own teaching materials.

However, in many ways, teaching is a very different career than it was in 1978.  It’s sometimes more about managing behaviors, differentiating instruction and trying to engage distracted students that about the actual delivery of instruction.  Many young teachers are leaving the profession early in their careers.  Among teachers who were new in 2007-8, 17 percent were not teaching five years later.

What can we do to help?

Mentoring young teachers has been shown to help reduce the attrition rate.  Support groups such as the Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook are very helpful – you have hundreds of online mentors in one group.

Making classroom tested lessons available to young teachers can be very helpful in their first years.  I’ve had many comments from young teachers that having the Musicplay curriculum got them through their first years. 

Taking Orff or Kodaly Levels courses is invaluable.  It’s hard to give up two weeks of your short summer break to attend classes, but the skills you’ll gain are well worth it.  Attending Orff and Kodaly workshops is also invaluable for new and experienced teachers alike.  Joanne Collins, who’s been a successful teacher for 55 years came to the Artie and Denise workshop last year and was one of our most enthusiastic participants! 

Don’t take the easy way out showing your students cartoon-like videos to teach concepts instead of teaching them in a way that involves them singing, moving, playing and listening.  They may sit still and be engaged  (behaving) for the moment – but is this feeding their addiction to instant rewards instead of teaching them to find satisfaction in a job well done?  Use technology as a teaching tool — not a pacifier.  Make music with your students – 40 years later, it’s still a really rewarding career and it’s a way to make a difference in the lives of the children you teach.

Bullying in the Music Room

March 11, 2017 Musicplay Newsletter

Bullying in the Music Classroom

In 2013 one of my former students (now married with 3 children) found me on Facebook and friended me.  She wrote:

Hi Mrs. Gagne,

I wanted to wish you a merry Christmas and many blessings this new year! As another year closes I often reflect and I wanted you to know, that I have often thought of you through these years!

Going to school was extremely hard on me in ________, with the non stop bullying, however I really feel your music class was the one happy place I had, where I felt I belonged…this was due to you! Your strength of character always was inspiring, and I still remember the day that I was pulled from band class to,have my hair inspected for lice because of some unkind remarks…but what I remember most is how you later went to my social class and let my class have it for being so unkind….you were the first person/peer at ________ school whoever stood up for me! It’s a kindness that I have always appreciated and taught me a great deal about the kind of person I wished to be!

I thank you ever so much for that gift!   All my best,      M___________

To be honest, this incident happened more than 20 years ago, and I don’t remember it as well as my student did, but I’m so glad that I helped, and that what I did was the right response for her.

Last week, a friend who is a wonderful, involved, loving mother, lost her 13 year old daughter to depression.  In my teaching career I lost a beautiful, talented grade 12 student to depression, brought on by bullying.  I’m not an expert, but I’m trying to put some thoughts together with some ideas of what we as music teachers can do to prevent these terrible tragedies.

Suggestions:

Hand Holding:  I have a video of a preschool class making a circle, where one child didn’t want to hold the hands of the child next to them.  Yes, this starts in preschool.  In this class, I stopped them and said, “It’s really nice to hold hands in the circle with anyone who asks you.  It isn’t nice when we’re making a circle in music class to say no.”  Sometimes, I  position myself, to hold hands with the child that may be rejected by the other children.

Choosing Partners:  When you play clapping games or games with a partner, before you play, talk to the students about the right way to ask someone to be a partner, and what the right response is.  I talk about how in a school I might not be best friends with a colleague, but if invited to work with them on a committee, I accept graciously.  Practice inviting and accepting partners with your students before there is a problem.  This is a real world skill, and in the music classroom we have many opportunities to work on it.  I often position myself, to be partners with the child that may be rejected by the other children. (or as a discipline strategy with children who are not participating appropriately in a game)

Mean Comments:  Sometimes you’ll hear a child say something about another student that is mean.  I was unhappy about things that I heard my older grandson saying about his younger brother.  I made this poster and it’s on the fridge in their house.  I’ve told them, that they’re going to have to make a copy of it if I hear mean comments.

Joanie C wrote to add another suggestion:  Another thing I do is when we are doing mixer dances, before we start I let the kids know that everyone has to have a partner, and no one can say “no” to someone who asks them to dance.  Additionally, I let them know that for every refrain where we are choosing partners, everyone will be choosing new partners each time.  So there are no friends that are forever together and excluding others, there are no bullies who are saying “don’t dance with him/her”, and the opposite, if someone is dancing with a student they don’t feel comfortable with, it is only for one refrain and then they will move on to others.  These are the rules, no exceptions, and I always end up seeing kids who supposedly don’t get along with each other dancing and laughing together.   Sometimes breaking down the bullying has to be very directed!

The following suggestions are adapted from https://blog.ed.gov/2012/04/top-5-ways-educators-can-stop-bullies/ with my additional comments.

1. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment

Establish a culture of inclusion and respect that welcomes all students. . Set a tone of respect in the classroom.  The three specific suggestions above all will contribute to providing a safe, supportive environment in your music room.

2. Manage Classrooms to Prevent Bullying.   Develop rules with students so they set their own climate of respect and responsibility, and reinforce the rules by making expectations clear and keeping requests simple, direct and specific.  I love my Music Room Rules Posters that lay out the expectations clearly, in a musical way, and that make such a great lesson and bulletin board.

Make good choices, always be responsible.

Use good manners, be nice and be kind.

Speak when acknowledged, always put your hand up.

In the music room, always try your best.

Care for the instruments and all of the equipment.

Music Rules Poster Pack and lesson:

Canadian Site

USA teachers

Process

1.  Have the students read the rhythms.

2. Read the  words in rhythm.

3.  divide the class into 2 groups – one reads the rules, the other does the ostinato

4.  Give the students a suggested body percussion to go with the first line.

For example:  stomp stomp stomp stomp  pat pat pat pat pat pat pat

5.  Read the second line and have students each create a body percussion pattern for it.  Keep a beat on a woodblock or a drum and have them do the line four times, working out a body percussion.  Divide the class in half and have one have perform and the other half of the class watch.  The watchers should choose several performances that they like.  As a class choose one body percussion pattern to use for the second line.  Switch roles for the third and fourth lines.

6.  Choose instruments to play the ostinato.

7.  Decide on a form for performance

For example:

– drum and say the ostinato 2x as an intro

– ostinato continues while chant is performed 2x     – end with the ostinato 2x dim.

3. Stop Bullying on the Spot.    Intervene immediately. It’s OK to get another adult to help. Don’t talk to the kids involved together, only separately, and don’t make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.  In instances of bullying, don’t make the victim feel victimized again, by using peer mediation.

4. Find Out What Happened.    Get the facts, keep all the children involved separate, listen without blaming and don’t call the act “bullying” while you are trying to understand what happened.

Finding out what happened can be really difficult.  I had an incident in a middle school band class.  It happened while my back was turned, and although I was 99.9% certain who had assaulted the student, I didn’t see it, and the other students wouldn’t talk.  The principal wouldn’t follow through.  I felt he should have got some of the other kids in the class alone in his office and asked them directly – I figured they’d cave and give up the name of the bully.  He didn’t take the time to do this.  In the end, all I could do was watch the bully really closely in my classes until the end of the school year.  It never happened again, but I felt very frustrated that the the student who’d physically hurt another child got away with it.

5. Support the Kids Involved.  All kids involved in bullying—whether they are bullied, bully others, or see bullying—can be affected. It is important to support all kids involved to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue and effects can be minimized.

Every child has the right to be respected, included and feel safe in school.  As music teachers, who often teach every child in the school, we are in a unique place to promote inclusion of all and create a safe and supportive environment for students.

LINK to subscribe to the Musicplay newsletter

Resources for the Elementary Music Teacher – Canadian Site

Resources for the Elementary Music Teacher – American Site

Artie and Denise Summer Symposium – July 25-26, 2017 in Las Vegas!

This is the 8th annual – and we’ll be joined by Thom Borden, for an amazing 2 days of workshops!

Canadian Teachers registration for Artie and Denise

American and Overseas Teachers – Registration for Artie and Denise

Rhythm Assessment

Quick and Easy Ideas for assessing Rhythm Reading and Notation
June 12, 2016

 Many of our American teachers are already on summer break, but the Canadian teachers have 3 weeks of teaching.  With your final report cards due soon, here are a few very easy assessment ideas for you to use this week.

  1. Flashcard Attendance ~ Rhythm Reading Assessment

In the Musicplay teacher’s guides I sometimes suggest starting your class with flashcard attendance.  We don’t always have to take attendance, but in schools where you do, make taking the attendance into an opportunity for a quick evaluation.

In flashcard attendance, I would take the pile of cardstock flashcards that the students were working on.  I’d call a child’s name, hold up the flashcard and the child would read it.

4 – student accurately and fluently claps and says the pattern
3 – student is mostly accurate and mostly fluent in clapping and saying the pattern
2 – student is somewhat accurate and somewhat fluent in clapping and saying the pattern
1 – student has many inaccuracies clapping and saying the pattern and is not able to keep a steady beat

Themes & Variations publishes a set of 100 rhythm flashcards that are printed on colored cardstock.  The color coding indicates the patterns included in the set and helps you to quickly find the set that each class is working on.

Link to Flashcards – Canada   http://shop.musicplaytext.ihoststores.com/category.aspx?categoryID=26

Link to Flashcards – USA   http://shop.musicplaytext1.ihoststores.com/category.aspx?categoryID=62

In www.musicplayonline.com, we’ve taken the flashcards and made this into a very quick and easy to use movie – just press play.  There are 25-35 patterns in each set.   There are fewer patterns for very easy sets as younger classes are usually smaller (we hope!) and more patterns in the harder or longer sets for your older students.  In the easier sets, we’ve given you both 4 beat assessments and 8 beat assessments. You can choose the set that you want to assess.

Rhythm Read 4 beats coverRhythm Read 4 beats pattern

Rhythm Read 8 beats cover

Rhythm Read 8 beats pattern

If you have already assessed rhythm reading, and want to take your students to higher level thinking skills, do a dictation assessment with them.

Reading the pattern is easy for most of your students.

Hearing a pattern and notating it, is more challenging.

Prepare the students by having them Listen, Clap and Say

With the cardstock flashcards, you clap a pattern and have the students clap it back and say the rhythm names while they clap.  You can use whatever system of rhythm names you prefer – Ta, Ti-ti, Takadimi, or Edwin Gordon.  I make this into a game by dividing the class into two groups:  the Allegros and the Vivaces.  I show the Allegros a flashcard and they clap it.  If they clap it correctly, they get a point.  The Vivaces have to correctly SAY the rhythm the other team clapped.  If they say it correctly, they get a point.  I can usually rig it so it’s a tie by the end of the class!

At www.musicplayonline.com this is given as a movie.

Students hear the rhythm played, then have to say what they heard.  The answer follows.  This is the preparation the students need to be successful at music dictation.

Listen Clap Say pattern

Listen Clap Say question blank

Listen Clap Say - answer

To do music Dictation using cardstock flashcards, I choose five cards at the level I want to assess.  I give the students a piece of paper (I use paper from the recyling in the school) and a pencil (I keep a class set in a container by the door)  and an old hard cover text to write on.  They write their name at the top and number 1-5.  I clap a pattern – they clap it back, then write it down.  I’ll give it a second time if they need it.   I write down my patterns as I go or keep my flashcards in order. Students exchange papers and correct them in class, so I don’t have to take home bags full of marking.  Yay!

Music Dictation at www.musicplayonline.com is done the same way.

Five questions are given.  Pause the movie between questions.  Immediately following the five questions are the answers.  Exchange papers and mark.

Rhythm Dictation cover

Rhythm Dictation how to use

Rhythm Dictation - question

Rhythm dictation - answers

Similar assessments can be done for melody reading, and similar movies are found in the solfa practice section.

I hope this makes getting those marks onto your report cards a little easier!

Visit www.musicplayonline.com to use the assessment tools in this post.

Visit www.musicplay.ca to find workshop opportunities with Denise Gagne.

 

Peter and the Wolf Unit

Peter and the Wolf Lessons

Peter and the Wolf is a timeless classic.  There are many musical concepts to teach using this wonderful composition.  If you’re done teaching for this school year (lucky you!) this is a great time to plan your units for next year.  If you’re still in class, these movies could be your lessons for the last month!  Visit www.musicplayonline.com to find all these wonderful ideas!

Identify the instruments

In Peter and the Wolf, Prokofiev uses different instruments to represent the characters.  This is a great opportunity to teach children about the instruments of the orchestra.  In the Listening Resource Kit 1, Denise wrote words to sing with many of the themes.  Stacy Werner illustrated them in the Listening 1 Digital Resource, and Shannon Machtans has turned them into short movies that are now part of the musicplayonline.com resource!

In the movie “The Duck” the little song teaches about the tempo of the music, and the instrument that plays the theme.

Duck song 1

Duck song 1

Duck song 3

Identify the Expressive elements

The duck theme is played by the oboe.  It’s a very short listening example.  The students are asked to listen and point to slow-medium-fast, pitch: high-medium-low and dynamics: quiet-medium-loud.

Duck quiet-med-loud

Duck high-med-low

Duck fast-med-slow

Students are asked what instrument represents the duck, and information about the oboe is given.

Duck what instrument?

Duck what instrument? Oboe

The Cat song is one of my favorites.  The melody is memorable (gets stuck in your head) , and the melodic contour is illustrated as the students sing.

Cat song1

Cat song 2

Cat song 3

Cat song 4

The Wolf is used to teach about crescendo.

Wolf crescendo

wolf cymbals crescendo

The entire story of Peter and the Wolf is given on the musicplayonline.com website.  After you’ve taught all the themes, the story will be much more meaningful to the students than it would be without the preparation!

This worksheet comes from the Listening Kit 1 and will be made into an interactive activity on the musicplayonline.com website.  Use it to assess how well the students have learned which instrument represents which character.

Peter and Wolf worksheet

We are still editing the listening movies and creating interactive activities to accompany them, but even as a work in progress, the listening selections on the musicplayonline.com website are a wonderful resource for teachers!

New at musicplayonline.com

  • Staff tool for writing melodies!  1, 2, 3 and 5 line staff
  • Rhythm composition tool
  • Form Tool – outline ABA or rondo form
  • Peter and the Wolf listening themes and story!

Get Them Listening!

We are surrounded with sound all day every day.  But are our students actually listening?  Every teacher in your school would like to have students in their classes that are better listeners.  Here are some ways that music teachers can really help the students improve their listening skills.

Make students more aware of sounds in their environment.  The first activity in the Listening Resource Kit 1 is listening to sounds around us and identifying them.  This activity is now a movie at www.musicplayonline.com.  (The Listening menu is on the left-hand tool bar, and this movie is in Kit 1)  The movie is only 90 seconds long.  Students hear five sounds and they point to the sound they hear.  The answers follow.Sounds Around Us

Follow this actitvity with a classroom listening exercise.  Have them close their eyes for 30 seconds, then write down all the sounds that they can hear in the classroom. 

I do a lesson on long and short sounds with preK – Gr. 2 using unpitched instruments.  Play a sound on a  finger cymbal and then play a sound on rhythm sticks.  Ask the students which instrument made the short sound and which made the long sound.  The finger cymbals produce a sound that sustains for a long time!  Ask the children to close their eyes, and tell them not to open their eyes up until the sound of the finger cymbal has disappeared.  Play the finger cymbal and watch to see how long your students keep their eyes closed.   

There are 4 additional “sound” identification movies at musicplayonline.com.  These are:

What Keeps a Beat, Fast/Slow, Loud/Quiet and High/Low.  After watching these movies, start a classroom list of sounds that keep a beat and sounds that are fast/slow etc.  Give the students a homework assignment.  Ask them to listen at home for sounds that keep a beat and add them to your list the next time you see them.  My little ones in PreK don’t fully understand these concepts, especially high/low, even after 10 lessons.  Revisit this often so that all your students understand these basic concepts.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.23.35 AM

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.23.48 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.23.20 AM

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.23.06 AM

Another resource that will help your students be more aware of sounds around them, is the first of the So-me stories by Stuart Manins – So-Me Goes Missing.  In this story, the main character, So-me, can’t be found.  His mother, father and brother look for him all around the house and the neighbourhood, but he can’t be found.  As they look, they hear many sounds such as a clock ticking, a dripping tap, the wind in the leaves, and a fly caught in a spider’s web.  In the end, So-me wasn’t lost at all – he was laying behind the couch with headphones on listening to music.

So-me 2

Stuart Manins has very graciously given permission to post movies of the So-me stories on www.musicplayonline.com.  We’ll be posting the movies in the Listening section next week.  If you prefer to have a print copy of the stories (and they really are a treasure) we still have them available.  Go to musicplay.ca, then scroll down the left menu until you see Storybooks.

We are still doing final edits to the Listening Kit 1 movies that are on musicplayonline.com, but the 41 listening selections that are posted provide you with a wealth of listening activities to use with PreK – Grade 3.  For each selection there are 1-7 movies:  Listening Map, Composer, Movement, Play Along and Kids Demos.  All movements from Carnival of the Animals, the themes from Peter and the Wolf AND the entire story, and 12 additional selections by Mozart, Handel, Chopin and more!  The movies teach and reinforce many concepts.  One of my favorites is “Galliard Battaglia” that teaches call and response using finger puppets!  Enjoy using these movies at www.musicplayonline.com and get your student’s listening!

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 7.07.29 AM

Ostinato Lesson using Musicplayonline.com

 I’ve been doing a music residency with a grade 1 and 3 class at Grandview Elementary in Red Deer for the past week.  I’ve seen the children every day for 35-45 minutes, and have had an amazing time with them!  One of the lessons that went really well was a lesson on ostinato using the singing game, Musicplay 3, #6 Plainsies Clapsies.  

 I taught the song by rote.  This is a traditional ball bouncing game, but to make it a little more useable in the grade 3 classroom, we did the moves with beanbags.  We played the game the way Leise Warner from Ontario showed me. 

Plainsies: toss beanbag and catch
Clapsies: toss, clap and catch
Twirl about: Toss, do arm rolls and catch
To backsies: toss, touch both shoulders and catch
Right hand: toss and catch with right hand
Left hand: toss and catch with left hand
Toss it high: toss higher in air and catch
Toss it low: toss low and catch
Touch your knees: toss, touch your knees and catch
Touch your toes: toss, touch your toes and catch
Touch your heels: toss, touch your heels and catch
And under you go: toss under your leg and catch it

The students were excited to try out the moves themselves!  The first day there were just a few students who were able to do all the moves, but by the second day, most were successful.  On the second day, we tried several of the ostinato patterns on the slide, chose one of them, and decided on body percussion.

This activity will be an interactive activity at www.musicplayonline.com

The students chose Run!  Run away!  and decided on this body percusion:  pat rest clap clap clap for it.  We decided to do the ostinato twice, then the ostinato with the song, then the ostinato twice.  They were very successful!  (Videos will be posted soon on www.musicplayonline.com)

We discussed what the form of their composition was.  Ostinato 2x  – ostinato+song – Ostinato 2x  I used the form tool at www.musicplayonline.com (on the left hand menu) to illustrate the form.

In the next few lessons they perfected the game, and used the song to practice reading and writing and creating with la-so-mi and ta ti-ti.

 This is one of the lessons that I’ll be sharing at the Artie and Denise workshop in Chicago!

 July 6-8, 2016

Artie and Denise are Shakin it up in Chicago!   Join Artie and Denise for the 7th annual summer symposium!  Two days of fabulous workshops and a day of sightseeing.

Register Online    Click this LINK

 Musicplayonline.com

This amazing site is free to use until August 1st, and will be a low cost subscription after that.  Our programmer now has the games fully accessible by iPhone or iPad!  The entire site can now be utilized by devices.  We are currently working on the Listening section, and will have some wonderful listening movies posted next week, including Carnival of the Animals!

 What’s on the site?
Musicplay K-6 song movies:  notation, lyrics, kids demos (700+ songs)
* Interactive Form Tool is now online – left hand menu!
* Recorder Resource 1-2 are available on the site!
* The Easy Ukulele unit and Easy Guitar Songs are online!
* Beat and Rhythm interactive activities for Snail Snail, Follow Me, Cuckoo, Rain Rain, See Saw, Walk to School, Pumpkin Fat, Teddy Bear, Curly Joe, Old Mother Brown, Little Airplane, Kangaroo, Tisket a Tasket, Burnie Bee, Four in a Boat, Bubble Gum, Easter Bunny, Old Mr Rabbit, on a Log, Scie le Bois, Los Pollitos, Naughty Kitty Cat, The Mill.  These are amazing interactive tools!
* Ask Me take home printables for songs in Musicplay for Kindergarten.
* Xylophone and Metallophone with removable bars     – search engine
* Solfa practice movies   – rhythm practice movies (Like flashcards, but made into movies!)
Solfa challenge for all reading songs – name the solfa notes OR letter names
* high/low, loud/quiet, fast/slow, etc games
* pop quizzes to practice note names, dynamics terms/symbols, tempo terms, Fun!

 LINK TO MUSICPLAYONLINE.COM

Fun Ways to Teach Note Names

This post is all about fun ways to teach children the letter names of the notes.  When you play an instrument, it’s a very useful skill to know the name of the note on the staff so that you know which of the bars you should play!  To be a good sight-reader, you need instant recall.  You can’t be counting the lines and spaces on your hand staff if you want to be a fluent sight reader.  So how do we get kids to develop fluency in reading music?

There is a great staff lesson in lesson one of Musicplay 4.

The Staff: Music is written on a 5 line staff. Notes can be placed on lines or in  spaces. The lines and spaces are numbered from the bottom to the top. At the beginning of a staff, a clef is given. The treble clef circles the note G, and is used for treble, or higher notes. A high pitch is shown by placing a note high on the staff. A low pitch is shown by placing the note lower on the staff.

Hand Staff

I like to start by introducing the lines with the hand staff.  Draw a staff on the board about the size of your hand.  Then, hold your hand up to the staff and point out that you have five fingers, just like there are five lines on the staff.

Hand Staff: Show the students the hand staff. Hold your hand in front of you with your fingers spread apart and the thumb up. Number your fingers 1-2-3-4-5 from the bottom to the top. Tell the students that they have five fingers, just as there are five lines on the music staff. To show the spaces on the hand staff, place the index finger of your right hand between two fingers. Spaces are also numbered from the bottom to the top. Call out a line or space and have the students point to the correct one. For example:  line 3, space 4, line 1, space 2

My hand fits nicely on my cookie sheet staffs, so kids see the relationship between your hand and the staff.  If you don’t have cookie sheet staffs, draw the lines on the board.
Cookie sheet 1 cookie sheet 2

Some teachers like to have the students practice naming notes on lines and spaces. Make up poems or sayings to help them remember the names of the notes. For example: The notes on the lines spell, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Kids can make up their own sayings.  Some of the best I’ve heard are “Elvis’s guitar broke down Friday” or “Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips.”  The notes in the space, spell “face.”

I like to move from notes on lines and notes on spaces to the full staff quickly.  They won’t be fluent readers by practicing lines only or spaces only.  When they understand that the notes go step by step from letter to letter, CDEFG, they are on their way to fluent reading.

I introduced the staff, taught the hand staff, practiced notes on my cookie sheet with a grade 3 class, then had them play the first 7 songs from Teach Music Reading with Boomwhackers.  In a 30 minute lesson, they were able to begin to read the notes and to play Jingle Bells on Boomwhackers.  The projectable for Teach Music Reading with Boomwhackers includes an introduction to the staff and the songs include a version with alpha-notes or kids notes:  the letter name is imprinted on the note AND a version with colored Boomwhacker notation.  Even so, I was very pleased that the students  were able to read simple songs in just one lesson.

Link to Teach Reading with Boomwhackers USA site         Link to Boomwhackers Canada site

Floor Staff Games: Use painter’s tape to put a giant staff on the floor. Painter’s tape won’t hurt the carpet and will last for a week or two until you’ve taught the staff games to all your students. If you have funding available, you can purchase a music rug to go on the floor that has a staff built into it. Visit www.musicplay.ca to see a music rug. Additional staff games are given  in the publication “Staff and Symbol Games.”
floor staff game copy
Link to Staff and Symbol USA site                   Link to Staff and Symbol Canada site

1. Staff Jump
An elimination game to learn the names of the lines and spaces. Have half of your students stand on line one. Call out a line for them to jump to – line three! line four! The last student to get to the correct line is eliminated. Have the other half of your students jump to the spaces. When you introduce the letter names of the lines and spaces, repeat the game using letter names.

2. Letter Names Jump
Group one will jump the lines on the music staff. The teacher calls out a line note – E, G, B, D, F – and the students jump to the line that she calls. To play this as an elimination game (optional), the last child to land on the line that is called is out. The last child left after the eliminations is the winner. Group two will jump the spaces on the music staff. The teacher will call out a space note name – F, A, C, E. If groups are small, repeat the note names and jump as needed until all the children have had a turn. When the students are very confident jumping lines or spaces, have each group jump to the note name that is called using both notes that are on lines and in spaces.

3. Staff Relay
Divide the class into two-four teams. On small paper plates write a letter name of a note – A B C D E F G. Each team is given a pile of notes. Teams race to place their notes on the correct line or space of the floor staff. The first team finished with ALL notes correctly placed wins.

When beginning recorder, you can introduce the notes one at a time.  This really helps the students to “get it.”  After introducing BAG, I have start having the students complete mad minutes to practice just those notes.  Isolating the notes I want them to practice helps them become fluent reading those notes.

MAD MINUTE SAMPLE
Mad Minutes 1 file
Mad Minutes are included in the Recorder Resource Kit, with a new mad minute for each new note that is introduced.  The note name mad minutes are used for the same reason that teachers use math mad minutes. Children will only learn to read music well if they have instant recall of note names. I shrink the pages 50% so I can fit two on a page, and double-side them to save paper. We do each mad minute twice before going on to the next level. For evaluation, I cut the tops off the mad minutes so that the answers are removed. I also drill note names with the class sized flashcards. I begin the mad minutes before the students have their recorders. I allow three minutes to complete each mad minute. I time the students, and they try to beat their own best time – not race each other. When they finish, they call “done” and I tell them how many seconds they took. If a student needs more than three minutes to complete the sheet, I give them a sheet for practice at home. Several teachers have told me that they put the mad minutes into sheet protectors and the students write on them with whiteboard markers and erase and reuse when completed.

  • apps:  Note Name Match Game, Note Name Squish
  • Pop Quiz
  • Solfa/Note Challenge
  • Note Name Bingo,
  • Note Name Battleship
  • Music Centers

I’ve helped in the design of two apps for practicing note names:  Note Name Match Game and Note Name Smash.
Note Name MatchScreen Shot 2016-02-21 at 4.37.39 PM

Note Name Match Game is a memory game with 10 levels – spaces, lines, staff, ledger lines – in both treble clef and bass clef.  In Note Name Smash you can choose the notes you want to practice.  Each note that’s correctly named smashes a hole in the wall.  When all notes are correctly names, the wall crumbles – fun!!!

Our new online resource, www.musicplayonline.com has several interactive ways to practice naming notes.  Musicplayonline is free to use until Aug.1 and then it will be a low cost subscription.  If you or your school has purchased the Musicplay Digital resources, you will be eligible for a pro-rated credit to use the site at no cost.  There will be an application posted on the site in August when it goes to the paid model and you can request free access.  Each situation will be different, so every application will be looked at individually.

Pop Quizzes – these are fun and funny when the balloon pops!  Students drag the correct letter to the balloon (that has the note) and each correct answer makes the balloon bigger.  When all notes are correctly named, the balloon pops.  Students drag letters to name the notes; then they drag notes to name the letters.
pop quiz lines pop quiz space pop quiz staff 1a (notes to letter) pop quiz staff

Note Name Challenge Activities
In this interactive activity, students drag a basketball to the net or a soccer ball to the net to name the notes in a reading song.  If using this for the first time, be aware that the programmer made the upper left corner of the net the anchor for the note.  As long as you have the correct note, and you touch that upper left corner, the note “sticks.”  If it’s the wrong note, it flies away.
note challenge Rocky Mtn note challenge soccer Cheki

Music Centers
If you do centers in your classroom, the Music Center Kits 1 and 2 each include a note naming game.  These colorful board games are easy to set up as centers and provide students with yet another way to practice naming notes.
Music center note name game
Note Name Battleship
Have you played the battleship game?  If you have, then note name battleship works the same way.  On the top of the board place the notes that are your ships.  On the bottom half of the board, you mark where you’ve guessed your opponents notes are placed.  An incorrect guess turn the note over – a correct guess you mark with note facing up.  The note name version of battleship goes a lot faster than the traditional game which is great when you have 30 minutes music classes.
Battleship sample
Note Name Bingo
Note name bingo includes both treble and bass clef – great for teachers who want to teach both.

Know Your Note Names
This collection of 56 reproducible worksheets will give you a wealth of activities for practicing letter names.  I like to make booklets of activities for my sub tub.  It’s also great to have booklets made for when you do recorder testing.  It’s also an alternative activity when a child is not able to participate in regular activities in music classes.
Know Your Note Names samples_Page_1

St. Patrick’s Day

Lucky Leprechaun

Lucky Leprechaun

Game Directions: Have the class form a circle. Choose one child to be a leprechaun. The leprechaun marches around the inside of the circle. At the end of the second phrase the leprechaun stops in front of a child. They join hands and they “jig” – left heel forward, right heel forward, etc. The children in the circle should do a “sailors hornpipe” at the same time (fold arms and jig in place). Now two children march in the inside circle. They choose two more partners and jig again. Continue with four, then eight, until the entire class has had a turn.

 A video of the St. Patrick’s Day Jig that is played the same way is included in the Musicplay Digital Resources and on www.Musicplayonline.com.   Use the search engine to find St. Patrick’s Day Jig.

 John the Leprechaun
John John the leprechaun
Went to school with nothing on.
Teacher said, “That’s not fair!
Give him back his underwear!”

 Suggestions:  Have the children take off one shoe and step the beat while they say the leprechaun poem. The foot with the shoe on will make a louder noise, and will emphasize that that beat is accented.Have the children take off one shoe and step the beat while they say the leprechaun poem. The foot with the shoe on will make a louder noise, and will emphasize that that beat is accented.

Create accompaniment for a poem:

1.  Create accompaniment with an Ostinato:

– Have the students think of an ostinato to say with the poem

For example:  Will you please be fair?  or  Leprechaun had nothing on!

– Choose non-pitched instruments and have a small group play the ostinato on instruments while the rest of the class says the poem.

 

2.  Create an Accompaniment for the Poem with Word Highlights:

1. Teach the poem.

2. Play the poem on non-pitched percussion instruments. (Play the rhythm of the poem as shown above.)

3. Review families of classroom instruments: metals, woods, drums, shakes and scrapes Try playing the poem on each instrument family. Try playing one line 1 on metal, 2 on woods, 3 on drums, etc.

4. Have the class circle or underline words in the poem that they feel are the most important. In your class, students could use different colored markers to underline words.

5. Choose rhythm instruments, found sounds or body percussion for each highlighted word. Play and say the poem using all the rhythm instruments that you’ve chosen.

6. Just play the poem – think the words.

7. Decide on a final form. You could say the poem, say the poem with all instruments, say the poem with highlighting instruments, just play the poem with the highlighting instruments. The creators should decide on the form. As an extension to this activity, create a simple song using the lyrics. When students have tried either rhythm ostinatos with a poem or word highlighting a poem as a class, it will be easier for them to try doing this with a group

Class set of iPads?  You can get discounted prices on apps!
Paid apps and free apps on the App Store and Mac App Store are available for purchase in volume through the Volume Purchase Program. The client who would like to purchase the apps needs to enroll in the Volume Purchase Program. For more information please review the following link: https://developer.apple.com/programs/volume/

www.musicplayonline.com
Our new online resource is coming along really well.  It’s free to use until Aug. 1, 2016, so try out the games, songs, activities while it’s free!

Musicplayonline Includes:
– 700+ song movies, with both lyrics and notation movies
– hundreds of children’s demo movies of action songs, singing games and performances
– hundreds of name the note activities and solfa note naming activies – included for every reading song
– POP Quizzes to practice terms, symbols, dynamics, tempo, note names
– Games to learn comparibles:  fast/slow, loud/quiet, beat/no beat, beat/rhythm
– solfa practice movies:  echo, poison melody, read handsigns, read note names, listen and sing and assessment
– rhythm practice movies:  11 levels of rhythm to practice using echo, poison rhythm, read, listen and say, assessment

Still to be added
– lesson plans and teacher notes
– printable arrangements for every song:  piano, ukulele (C and D), guitar, Orff and Boomwhacker
– printable worksheets, class big book templates, for many, many songs!
– dance, theory,
– guitar is coming soon!

 

Great Choral Music for Elementary Choirs

Bubble Trouble by Stephen Lawrence, published Alfred is a fun selection with great choreography possibilities.  I like that it tells kids that they shouldn’t chew gum in choir – one of my pet peeves.  Here’s a fun performance  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFMqfjtMPrc
L
ink to OCTAVO.

For a lyrical ballad, A Wish for Peace is really nice.  It was originally written for Christmas (A Christmas Wish), but only 3 words need to be changed and you can do it for any time of year.  Instead of “this Christmas time” sing “all these things.” Lovely performance here by York House School:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbRwA8qW6ZE  By Denise Gagne and Craig Cassils.  This is available as a single song kit, so you can get music into all your students hands for just $15.  Link to Single Song Kit Download on US site.   Here is the link for Canadian teachers.

Amani Utupe, Sally Albrecht, pub. Alfred
I first used this when it was part of MENC Music Monday.  Have used it many times since.  It’s a great piece.  This is a wonderful vocal performance.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2844ORtcAo  Other YouTube performances show the choreography.
Link to Octavo

Donkey Riding is a good fun selection – it’s in Musicplay 3 (and a single song kit). BCMEA Honor choir performed it a few years ago.   Donkey Riding is quick and fun.  It’s got some interesting articulations in it – I use it to teach staccato and accent.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PDHkPq8Hdo  Here’s a link to the single song kit for Canadian Teachers.  Here’s the link for teachers in USA.

Two Canadian Folk Songs is a lovely partner song that uses Land of the Silver Birch and Two Canadian Folk Songs.  It’s in the Musicplay curriculum in 4th grade, and is also available as a single song kit.  See a movie of the song at www.musicplayonline.com .  Link to Single Song Kit for Canadian Teachers.  Link for US teachers.

Ghost Ship, from Reflections of a Lad at Sea, Don Besig
This is a piece with great story telling in it.  The students loved it, the audiences loved it and we got a recommendation to provincials with it – and we weren’t the only choir doing it at provincials.
YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwPAyCtzKxA
Link to Octavo

Don Gato, Ray Doughty – Plymouth Music Co. Inc.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eue6p8RdMX8
Don Gato, arranged by Ray Doughty, is a favorite Mexican folk song children love to sing. Doughty has written this song for two-part treble voices and piano. The voices sing in unison for much of the piece. The middle section on pages four and five has the voices singing in brief two-part harmony, as well as in the final few measures. Don Gato is a Mexican cat who falls in love with a fluffy, white female kitten. When she agrees to marry him, he happily jumps in the air, falls off the roof breaking his ‘solar-plexus,’ and dies. However, by the end of the story he is reincarnated, comes back to life and all ends happily. There is a dramatic piano accompaniment that assists in creating the dramatic quality of this piece. Don Gato could be performed with a brief dramatic skit as the chorus sings. There are a couple of tempo changes but nothing too difficult for an elementary chorus. A few Spanish words are included. This piece is great fun for children to sing and audiences will truly enjoy listening to it. The tempo changes and dramatic dynamics make this an excellent ‘teaching concept’ piece. “Ole!”
LINK to Octavo.

Humpty Dumpty by Dave and Jean Perry is fun – several choirs did it last year in our Symphony Kids concert last year.   It tells the story of Humpty Dumpty with some dramatic touches.  I love pieces that have lots of contrast and this one has great contrast.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYmxVGDAnfU   Link to Octavo.

Goliath, Joseph Martin is another fun favorite.  My students have always really enjoyed this.  It tells a great story and has many contrasts.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U_T9e7mHXI
L
ink to Octavo.

Child of the Universe, Craig Cassils
This is a lovely lyrical piece with a beautiful message.  The range gets your students into head voice.  There are a few places where students might mix up words, but with enough rehearsal it’s a stunning performance piece.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KxW_JYzj8I
L
INK to Octavo.

When I Believe in Me, from Musicplay 5 is another really good message song for kids, from Musicplay 5 – very easy 2 part.  It’s a great selection for an Olympics year, a Dare graduation, or an elementary graduation.   Link for Canadian Teachers.  Link for teachers from USA.

Make a Difference, Denise Gagne – Musicplay 2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGjlkIkQiVs       
This selection is in unison, and  is easily learned by a primary choir.  The message is meaningful even to young children – they can make a difference in the world.  The included choreography enhances the performance of the song.   It’s part of the Musicplay curriculum, and is available as a single song kit from Themes.  (www.musicplay.ca – select country – select song collections – select single song kits)  Single song kits include the piano/vocal score, vocal reproducible score, MP3s of performance and accompaniment, and if available a PPT or PDF projectable.   Link for USA teachers.  Link for Canadian teachers.

Jabulani is a Zulu word meaning “rejoice.” It is often used as a first name, and in that context is often shortened to “Jabu.” Although the word comes from Africa, the song could be used anywhere in the world – sort of a universal celebration. You could this song as your opening song for a multicultural concert or you could use the song to celebrate Heritage Day – a South African public holiday celebrated on September 24th.  The performance is by a school in Ontario, and the looks on the children’s faces as they perform shows their love of the song.  It really makes a connection with the audience.  The song is available (print/download) in the collection Celebrate Around the World (US link) Canadian Link to collection, and is also available as a single song kit.   Link for Canadian Teachers.  Link for teachers in USA.  YouTube performance:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQjhhuVxq5I

Siyahamba – Musicplay 6
This arrangement of the familiar South African hymn is given in Zulu and in English.  I’ve performed this very successfully with a grade 4-5 choir, accompanied by drummers.  It’s very appealing to the kids and audiences both.   It’s part of the Musicplay curriculum, and is available as a single song kit from Themes. Single song kits include the piano/vocal score, vocal reproducible score, MP3s of performance and accompaniment, and if available a PPT or PDF projectable.  Link for Canadian Teachers.
Link for teachers in USA.

Share your favorite choral performance pieces in the comments!  There will be a follow up post with more choral pieces from Musicplay that are available as single song kits.  And be sure to try out www.musicplayonline.com – you can access all the choral pieces from Musicplay mentioned in this blog online!



 

Ukulele in the Classroom – Part One

Ukulele in the Classroom – Part 1
By Denise Gagne

If anyone was listening to Q on CBC radio Feb. 27, 2015 they heard the great debate between the ukulele and the recorder in the elementary classroom.  CBC interviewed me in defense of the recorder, and James Hill in defense of the ukulele.  Both of us were in agreement that if schools have funding, time, space that teaching BOTH the ukulele and the recorder would be the best possible option.

The recorder is inexpensive, it doesn’t have to be tuned every 10 minutes, and it’s relatively easy to learn.  When played well, the recorder is a beautiful instrument and there is authentic music written for recorder by Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi!  I play in an adult recorder consort in Red Deer and play bass, tenor, alto, soprano and sopranino and really enjoy it.  I think that students who learn to play recorder have an easy transfer from recorder to any woodwind instrument.  Students who use my recorder method, The Recorder Resource or the Learn and Play Recorder App are successful, because it’s carefully sequenced.

One of the benefits of teaching ukulele is that it can be used as a melodic or harmonic instrument.  Students can play and sing at the same time.  Students in Grade 4-5 can become reluctant singers, but with a ukulele or a guitar in hand, they are often motivated to sing while they learn to play.

There are four main sizes of ukulele: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.  My preference is to use the concert size in the classroom.  The soprano is quite small and the frets are really close together.  Many children in Grade 5-6 have bigger hands than I do, and I find it hard to play some of the chords on the soprano uke because the frets are so small.  The concert is not a lot more expensive, and it has a fuller, richer sound.  If I’m going to spend the money for a baritone uke, I’d just as soon get a set of classroom guitars.

When teaching ukulele, the biggest frustration is tuning the ukes.  Spend the money to get a better quality instrument that stays in tune.  I recently used West Music’s Kala wooden ukulele, and it held it’s tuning well and sounded good.  For $44.95 US, it was a nice uke.  In Canada, Themes sells a Vidar concert ukulele that is a great quality instrument with excellent quality tuning pegs.  ($65-85 depending on quantity)  If you pay $30 for a uke, you’ll have tuning problems – pay a little more and get an instrument that stays in tune.  I can’t believe there are still some vendors selling ukuleles with wooden tuning pegs – avoid them!  Get a uke with good machine heads.

uke storage Sherri PedrickIf you store your ukuleles on the classroom wall (see pinterest for ideas) it’s easy for you to tune them before school.  If that’s not possible, have the students line up and tune each of them.  I do the tuning by ear – we have a ukulele tuner at www.musicplayonine.com and I play the “G” over and over, tuning each uke.  I can do a class set in about 5 minutes.  One problem that can occur is kids playing or talking in the line-up.  I can’t tune the uke if I can’t hear.  I tune the first student’s uke, then that student becomes the “monitor” and writes names on the board of anyone who’s making sound.  The noise makers have to come in at recess or lunch for a minute of “quiet practice.”  I set a timer and they have to be completely silent for 60 seconds.  They make a sound, the timer starts again.  They don’t usually need quiet practice more than once – it’s effective.

Chords or Picking? What should you teach the students?  Should you teach them to chord and sing, or should you teach them to read and play melodies.  Some methods teach both chords and melodies at the same time, but I’ve found that children love being able to strum and sing along on the very first day.  ALL children can be successful if you sequence carefully. 

EUKETG_AutoGenImg_Medium

In my book, Easy Ukulele Songs,  I’ve got 15 one chord songs, and then 15 easy two chord songs.   Changing chords is the big challenge, so if you start with one chord songs, everyone is able to keep up.  When I first start two chord songs, I divide the class in half, and have one half play one chord and the other half the other.  There may be a few students who can change chords, and I encourage them to do the change if they can.  I do a lot of practicing the chord changes before asking the class to try – play 8 C chords, rest for 4, then play 8 F chords.  I have them try doing the change with their eyes closed to help develop the tactile memory.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 4.16.02 PMTo introduce the ukulele, Easy Ukulele Songs includes a PDF, “Introduction to the Ukulele.”  It illustrates a brief history of the uke,  the parts of the ukulele, how to hold, how to strum, how the fingers are numbered, how to read a chord chart, and how to play the first chord, C.  Simply project and read it through with the students.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 4.16.45 PMEasy Ukulele Songs includes a projectable PDF of the lyrics and chords AND the song notation and chords.  The PDF is big, clear, easy to read and we’ve embedded the audio.  You can play with or without accompaniment tracks.  I like to use the audio for songs that are less familiar, and have the kids play the songs that are more well known. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 4.16.27 PMPop Songs: In the Projectable PDFs we also included links to pop songs on YouTube that are easy to play!  Lime in the Coconut uses just the C7 chord!  It’s a super easy chord, and your students will be able to play a pop song on the very first day.  There are 30+ pop songs that your students will enjoy playing along with.  Remember that with YouTube sometimes links disappear – some of our Beatles songs got pulled from YouTube, but you can usually search the title and find a substitute.

This is too long, so I’ll be continuing Ukulele in the Classroom next week!  if you have tips or tricks to share, email denise@musicplay.ca or post in our Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook.