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St. Patrick’s Day Unit – Lesson Ideas for St. Patrick’s Day!

2018-03-09 St Patrick’s Day Lesson Ideas

The St. Patrick’s Day Composition, Improvisation Flashcards & Theory Unit is available to download from Teachers Pay Teachers OR use the interactive composition, improvisation, Rhythm Chain and Rhythm erase at Musicplayonline has 10+ Irish folk songs and instrumental selections for movement/listening that aren’t included in the TPT version.  The TPT version has additional flashcards, themed recorder mad minutes and a themed staff lesson that aren’t at musicplayonline. 

1.  Two Fun Fact movies are included in this unit. The K-5 movie is shorter with less detail.   Show the students the movie to begin your St. Patrick’s Day unit. There is also a colour by .  note value activity included.

  • 2. Leprechaun Improvisation includes:  song, mp3, worksheet
  • To the Teacher: this is a melodic improvisation activity for PreK – Gr. 5.
  • Discuss the legend that says if you catch a leprechaun he can grant you three wishes. Ask the students for suggestions of what they might wish for.
  • Teach the song by rote to younger students.Older students may be able to read the rhythm and the melody. (drm s)
  •  Demonstrate how to improvise some of the students ideas for wishes. Use a variety of pitches: s ml, drm, drm s.
  • Ask for student volunteers to improvise vocally their wishes.
  • If you’d like to perform this, a performance/accompaniment track is included in the unit OR accompany with a C-G bordun on Orff instruments

3, Compose a Melody 1 AND 2 .  Compose with solfa: drm, drm sl Or with the notes CDE or CDE GA

  • To the Teacher: Choose from Melody 1 and Melody 2 poems for the composition activity. Both have the rhythm notated, so students only have to write the melody.  Choose whether to have your students compose with solfa: drm, drm sl Or with the notes CDE or CDE GA
  • Teach the poem.
  • invite students to improvise melodies for phrases of the poem using either do, re, mi or do, re, mi, so, la.
  • Use the projectable PowerPoint to create a melody as a class. (copy and paste the solfa or the notes to compose in PowerPoint.)
  • Accompany the composition with a bordun on the Orff instruments. You can accompany  drm, drm sl in the key of C with C-G.

Rhythmic Phrases PPT and Worksheet

  • Teach or demonstrate how to complete the worksheet using the PowerPoint. Say the phrase and invite the students to tell you which rhythm matches the phrase.
  • In the PowerPoint, copy and paste the rhythm into the box.

Have the students complete the worksheet as a center activity or an assessment activity.

5. Shamrock Rhythm Erase

  • This has 8 levels for Gr. 1-6  – interactive PDF, PPT, Worksheet are included online and in the TPT version.   To the Teacher:
  • Say each of the rhythm patterns.
  • When students know them all, click on one to take it away.
  • Say all four patterns again.
  • Click on another one to take it away.
  • Continue making patterns disappear until you are left with only the shamrocks.
  • Have the students tell what the patterns are. Click to check if they’re correct. (In the interactive PDF, click the “reset” button.
  • Try playing the patterns using body percussion or unpitched percussion instruments.
  • Try having the students use the worksheet provided to write the patterns down, check
  • their answers with the activity.
  • Try a new level!

Leprechaun Hunt Rhythm Chain

  • This has 8 levels – interactive PDF, PPT, Flashcards .   To the Teacher:
  • • Help us find the leprechaun! To start, click on the start button to make the first rhythm appear.
  • When the students have memorized the rhythm click on the rhythm to make it disappear.
  • Clap the rhythm again and find the leprechaun’s yellow footprints.
  • Click on the footprints to reveal the next rhythm. When the students have memorized the second pattern clap the first pattern followed by the second. As you collect more patterns the rhythm chain will become longer.
  • Continue collecting rhythm patterns by clicking on the rhythms and the footprints.
  • Have the students tell what the patterns are. Click to check if they’re correct. (In the
  • interactive PDF, click the “reset” button.
  • Try playing the patterns using body percussion or unpitched percussion instruments.
  • Try a new level!

Rhythm Flashcards – in TPT version only
80 Rhythm Flashcards are included, themed for St. Patrick’s Day.

Staff Lesson Workshops –     in TPT version only .
These correlate with the staff lesson at – the staff lesson is found in the interactive activities for the first 6 songs in K-6.   (We will be moving the staff lesson to the Units section when we start building our theory section)

Recorder Mad Minutes – themed for St. Patricks Day . – in TPT version only

  • Songs / musical selections for St. Patrick’s Day found in the St. Patrick’s Day Unit at  (These are not in the TPT version)

  • 1. Paddy From Home
  • 2. St. Patrick’s Day Jig
  • 3. Fillimiooriay
  • 4. I Like Leprechauns
  • 5. Leprechaun March
  • 6. Lucky Leprechaun
  • 7. Connaughtman’s Rambles
  • 8. Irish Washerwoman
  • 9. Irish Jig
  • 10. Irish Reel
  • 11. Wild Mountain Thyme
  • 12. Mary Mac
  • 13. Hi Ho the Rattlin Bog
  • 14. Cockles and Mussels
  • 15.  Mr. Potato Head
  • – and of course there is a menu of suggested activities for each of the songs!

At The UNITS button is on the left menu


Select Festivals and Holidays – St. Patrick’s Day



Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone!  

Chinese New Year Musical Activities Unit

Wow!  In one week, we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day, seen the start of the Winter Olympics, and started Lunar New Year celebrations – including Chinese New Year on Feb. 15th!

We’ve created an entire Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year celebration at  If you don’t subscribe to the online site, You can download the unit from TPT.  TPT Download

The Unit starts with Fun Facts about Chinese New Years or Lunar New Year as it should properly be called.  Beautiful projectable images illustrate many traditions and customs.

A traditional song is included in the unit.   Ruth Fung was a parent when I taught at GW Smith Elementary.  She taught us the song, and provided the translation and the phonetic pronunciation.  Her daughter and a daughter’s friend recorded the vocals for the song, and this recording is included in the unit to help learn the pronunciation.

Two composition activities are included.  A Chinese New Year Rondo introduces a simple song to use as the theme, then the students can create word rhythm compositions as B, C, D sections.  Two levels are included:  one/two sounds per beat for your young students, and more words for your older students.  Online the pdfs of the word cards are available to download – these are designed to be very easy to print out and make sets!  These pdfs are included in the TPT download of the unit as well.

A second composition activity that you can choose is the Animals of the Zodiac activity.  This activity uses animal word rhythms and sounds that the animals might make.  To model interactively for students if using the TPT version, use the PowerPoints and cut/paste the words to create a class composition.  at, you can use the interactive version.  Worksheets to practice name notes and solfa are included!

Dragon Dance

When I was the music teacher at Grandview Elementary, Dr. Kenneth Wu, a martial arts teacher and dragon dancer (and acupuncturist) came into our school and taught our students how to do the dragon dance.  His instructions are included in the Dragon Dance lesson plan, and a video of our students performance is also included online and in the TPT download.  Building the dragon for this performance was a ton of fun for me and for the students.  We used a tablecloth runner long enough for 20-25 students, and decorated it with lots of glitter and artwork.  I remember glitter from one end of the school to the other!

Rhythm Chain

A rhythm chain is the opposite of a Rhythm Erase – you try to memorize patterns starting with one, then adding to it.  Use a variety of body percussion to make your performance interesting.

The first rhythm will be revealed to you. When you’ve memorized the first rhythm, click on the rhythm to hide it and click on the next scroll to reveal the second rhythm. Clap the first rhythm (hidden) and the second rhythm (revealed) until you memorize the second rhythm. Hide the second rhythm and reveal the third rhythm. Contine down the chain.

Four rhythm chains are included in an interactive PDF – each one at a different level.

Rhythm Lanterns – Rhythm Erase

Lanterns with riddles on them are hung up around the cities, and children go from lantern to lantern solving riddles.

In the Rhythm Laterns, students complete a rhythm erase.  They memorize the rhythm patterns, one pattern will disappear at a time, until you are left with only the lanterns.   When they complete the rhythm erase, they are rewarded with a riddle.

A 24 page teacher’s guide is included with the unit.

Where can you get these Chinese New Year lessons and activities?

We’ve created an entire Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year celebration at  If you don’t subscribe to the online site, You can download the unit from TPT.  TPT Download

Are you still celebrating the Winter Olympics?  We’ve posted the unit on TPT, so if you want to download all the materials, you can.  LINK to TPT Winter Olympics Musical Activities

Or visit – see our new UNITS section on the left menu to use interactive versions of the activities.  More units are coming soon!


Obwisana Lesson Ideas to Teach Ties

In this newsletter I’m going to share the process I use to teach ties, using the song Obwisana.  When first writing and recording songs for Musicplay in 1999, the internet wasn’t the wealth of information it is today.  I asked everyone I knew in Red Deer, Alberta (not a very multicultural city in 1999) if they know someone from Africa who would teach me some African children’s songs.  I finally was able to connect with “Nana” who was a health inspector in Olds.  I had some songs in secondary sources, but wanted some that came right from the source.  Nana had been born in Ghana, lived in Botswana, then emigrated with her family to Canada.  She remembered singing Obwisana as a child.  She didn’t have a literal translation for the song, but remembered that it meant, “Grandma, the rock hit my finger.  It hurt.”

1.  Teach the song, and tell the students what the words mean These projectables are from the Concept Slides in the Musicplay Digital Resource PowerPoints.  They are also in the Concept Slides section at .

Play the Game!!!  The traditional game is a stone passing game.  I’ve done it that way with students, but when I turned the game into a stick passing elimination game, it because a requested activity!  When doing passing games with grade 2, I start with the pile of sticks in front of me, and pass them out one at a time to my right.  I say, “Pick up, set down” and the child on my right does that.  Then there are 2 children who pick up, set down, then 3, then 4 until the whole class has a stick.  This is the way to get kids to all go in the correct direction when passing!  I mark one stick with tape.  The pattern we used was:  tap, tap, set down (in front of the person on their right), pick up. (pick up the new stick) . We sing the song and at the end of the song, the child with the marked stick is “out” and starts a new circle in the center.  I go into the circle with the first out.  They change sticks so the marked stick stays in the outer circle.  Once you’re in the middle, you’re just playing for fun.  There’s a kids demo video of this in the Musicplay Digital Resource, and at .

2.  Show where Ghana is on a world map, and show the students what life is like in rural northern Ghana.  My friend, Marilyn Pottage, took these photos on one of her many trips to Ghana.  She runs a foundation that helps provide secondary and university education for girls.  These photos are in the Concept Slides of the Musicplay 2 Digital resources and are in the Concept Slides of

3.  Have the students pat the beats in the song.  I like to have them count the beats, then check if they have them right, on a beat chart.

4. Then I have the students clap the rhythm – the way the words go.  Then we figure out how many sounds are on each beat.

There are a series of beat/rhythm interactive activites at .  The interactive activities follow the same process.

The interactive activities at  are awesome BECAUSE they are interactive.  When you press PLAY on “Point to the Beat” – the beats pulse as the song is sung.

3.  Pat the Beats as you sing the song        4.  Clap the words as you sing the song

5.  Be sure your students understand the difference between beat and rhythm.

You can use “Is the drum playing beat or rhythm” to assess formally if students can tell if it’s beat or rhythm.  If you have student iPads or chromebooks, students can use the student login for . and they can complete the One sound, two sounds or more than one beat activity on their device.

6.  Clap a phrase of the song, and have students figure out how many sounds are on each beat.  In this song, they’ll be figuring out if there are some sounds that last more than one beat.

If you prefer to have hands-on manipulatives for your students, printable manipulatives of the same activities are given in the printables section of .

The Beat Pointing Page could be used in place of the interactive “Point to the Beat.”

The Rhythm Pointing Page would be in place of “Clap the Rhythm.”

For some songs, I like to give the students a set of the rhythm cards (#3-4) and ask them to re-create the rhythm of the song.  Easy sets include the words of the song, but if I want to challenge the students, I’ll take out the words!    We’ve made the rhythm cards so it’s very quick to copy onto cardstock, then cut out.  I store them in CD envelopes so I can see through the envelope window and know what song the set is for.  The Rhythm Sort worksheet is a written version of an online rhythm sort activity.  Write the Rhythm would be a great assessment.

Should you do every activity for this song?  Of course not.  I’ve given the wealth of activities at musicplayonline so you can choose the activity that meets the needs of your students.  If your 2nd grade are amazing readers, challenge them with a rhythm sort.  If you have a challenging class, or this is the first year you’ve taught these children, they may still need a beat pointing page.

How many lessons will this take?  That also depends on whether your students are struggling or strong readers.  But, I would allow more than one lesson, especially when you want to get kids creating their own music!

Create and Perform:  Whether your students are amazing readers or still struggling, all students should be encouraged to create their own music.  One of the ways that works well, is to have them create with word rhythms.  Two ways to create are given at .  The first is creating with words or just use the notes.  When class time is really limited, do this as a teacher led activity.

If you have more time, students could do either of these activities on devices, or you could print out rhythm cards or word cards for them to use to create an 8 beat rhythm.

Teacher can model with the interactive projectable above – then it’s easy for students in pairs or small groups to create their own word rhythm, or note rhythm using the cards pictured below.

Assessment:  As with all new concepts, you may want to assess if students understand.  The Rhythm Sort and Rhythm Erase activity at . are both great.  I might do the rhythm erase first.  Note that we haven’t included the song title.  We did that so you could use it as a mystery song.  The Rhythm Sort is a great activity to do as your assessment of the “Obwisana Unit.”  There is a printable version of the rhythm sort in printables online.

Rhythm Sort worksheet     Create a word rhythm:      Accented Beats

Obwisana Lesson Ideas Screen Cast:  I created a screen cast to show teachers in a video the materials in this newsletter.  I made a mistake though – and didn’t include in the video the Concept slides about Ghana.  So be sure if you teach this lesson, you include the cultural context.   You can watch the video at: .  The video includes the kids demo of the game.

Hope you enjoy the screencast and newsletter with lesson ideas on Obwisana!


Denise Gagne
Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook!

Next Blog PostChinese New Years lesson and ideas!
If you want a sneak preview, visit and go the first 4 songs of Musicplay 3.  We’ve removed those songs and replaced them with songs and lessons on Chinese New Years!  (Our programmers are working on a “New” Songs section)

PreK – Gr. 3 Holiday Concert Songs

A recent Facebook asked for help finding a cute song for K-3 students. In this article, I’m giving suggestions for easy and cute holiday concert ideas for your primary (PreK-Grade 3) students. If you choose a song that is already familiar to the students it will be quicker and easier to learn.  Some of the ones that most will have heard before include those in the K-3 Christmas Concert Idea Book.

K-3 Christmas Concert Idea Book

* The Bells on the Sleigh (new words to Wheels on the Bus)  Watch a performance on YouTube – this is fun and easy for kids to learn!

* He’ll be Comin’ down the Chimney – fun and easy!  See a performance:

* And Santa is his name (BINGO with Santa words)
* Jingle Bells (song and dance)
* Up on a Housetop
AND 20+ more songs, poems, fingerplays – see complete contents at the link
We have nice recordings of ALL of these in K-3 Christmas Concert Ideas.

Don’t have time to wait for a book/CD to come by mail? No problem – all of our Christmas collections are available as downloads. In the download you get the pdf file of the book and a folder with all of the MP3s of performance and accompaniment. There are also poems for choral reading, a reader’s theatre of “The Elves and the Shoemaker”, a mini-play, “No Cookies for Santa” a Nativity scene, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Ribbon dance, finger plays, and more!      This is a great deal – $18 download for the whole collection — many single song kits are $15 for one song.

CANADA Teachers:

USA Teachers:


Kinder Christmas Collection

Another favourite familiar song for your primary students is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. We recorded a performance and accompaniment track for Rudolph in Kinder Christmas collection. Another familiar song in this collection is “There was a Little Baby” – the song that was recorded on the Raffi Christmas album. We’ve included an accompaniment track so your kids voices will be heard without Raffi in the background. $20 Book/CD
The collection includes these songs:

* Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel
* Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer
* Reindeer Love to Boogie
* There Was a Little Baby  (with acc. track)
* Tap, Tap, Tap
* Let’s Be Jolly
* Chris tmas ABC (American)
* Christmas ABC (Canadian)
* Gingerbread
* Teddy Bear Twist
* I Hear the Bells
* Ten Little Angels
* Christmas Dance
* Rock Around the Christmas Tree
* Play the Bells to Celebrate

CANADA Teachers:

USA Teachers:

Christmas Favorites Collection

Santa Claus is Cominʼ to Town

Jolly Jolly Santa

Snowflakes (partner with Jingle Bells)

Christmas at the Hop

Other Songs in the Collection are:
* I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
* Do You Hear What I Hear?
*Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
*  Christmas Candles
* Follow the Star
* What Child is This?
Optional Biblical Readings
* Starry Night

CANADA Teachers:

USA Teachers:

Christmas Concert Idea Book

Makin’ Christmas Cookies

* Shine a Light for Peace

* AND 10 More songs!  Includes a Nativity for Catholic or Christian schools:
*Christmas is my Favorite Time of Year
* Time to Pack the Sleigh
* Santa’s Computer
* Christmas Spirit
* Presents
* The Road to Bethlehem
* Little Star
* Glory to God in the Highest
* The Colors of Christmas
* Christmas Time is Here

CANADA Teachers:

USA Teachers:

Christmas Music Lessons

This is a collection of lessons and activities based on nine familiar Christmas carols. Each song is notated for vocals, soprano recorder in two parts, Boomwhackers in two parts, a variety of percussion instruments, and with chords provided for ukulele (or guitar). All parts can be used together and also work in any combination. Each song comes with a vocal track and an orchestrated accompaniment track. A slower accompaniment track is given for Boomwhacker play alongs. Reproducible and Projectable lyrics are included so the songs could be used in a performance or a school holiday sing along. The activities include naming notes, writing notes, recognizing rhythms, creating new melodies, as well as fun games and word puzzles based on the lyrics of the carols and the song information.

* African Noel
* Jolly Old St. Nicholas
* Up on the Housetop
* Joy to the World
* Jingle Bells
* Christmas Chopsticks
* D’où viens-tu bergère?
* Over the River and Through the Wood
* O Come Little Children

CANADA Teachers:

USA teachers:

Themes & Variations publishes many more Holiday and Christmas collections and there are many holiday songs in the Musicplay PreK – Grade 6 curriculum.  Visit to see our complete Christmas section.

10 Easy Assessments for K-5 Music Classes

If you only see your K-6 music students for 30-60 minutes/week, you have very limited time to assess student progress. In this article, I want to give suggestions that will help you make the most of the limited time that you have.

You should plan your assessments when you create your year plan. If in the first term of your year plan, you decided to focus on steady beat, then your assessments for term one should focus on steady beat. You can’t assess every musical skill and concept each term.

When planning assessments, find out what your school or districts allows or requires on the report card. If you can only report on 3 outcomes, don’t assess 20 outcomes.

In planning assessments, you will want to assess both skills and mastery of concepts. Skills include singing, playing, moving, listening, reading/writing and creating. Concepts include beat/rhythm, pitch, expression (dynamics, tempo, articulation), tone color (timbre), form.

Not all skills and/or concepts have equal importance. The skills that I feel are the most important in K-6 music are singing in tune, and keeping a steady beat. I might assess thost skills every term, and assess the other skills/concepts during the times that I’ve focussed on them.

Ten Easy Assessments:

 1. Outcome: Students sing independently, on pitch.

To Assess: Sing “hello student” on so-mi, so-mi.

Student responds by singing “Hello Mrs. Gagne” back to you.

  • 1.  Developing does not always use singing voice, rarely matches pitch
  • 2.  Beginning occasionally sings in-tune
  • 3.  Proficient Sings in tune most of the time.
  • 4.  Excellent Consistently sings in tune independently.

2.  Outcome: Students sing in the group, on pitch.

To Assess: Play a recording of a song that you’ve worked on that the students should know. For example: The National Anthem or in Musicplay 2, Ridin’ That New River Train. Have the students stand in class list order. Walk down the rows listening to each child sing for 2-3 seconds. Record your assessment in your grading program or on your class list.

  • 1.  Developing:   Beginning to use singing voice
  • 2.  Beginning     occasionally matches pitches.
  • 3.  Proficient      Sings in tune almost all of the time.
  • 4.  Excellent      Consistently sings in tune.

3.  Outcome: Students keep a steady beat when moving to music.

To Assess: Play the song, “Time for Music.” It’s song #1 in Musicplay PreK part 1 and in Singing Games children Love Vol. 3. (also available on iTunes and/or at In this song children keep a beat, clapping, patting, tapping, flapping, and drumming on their knees. Have the students sit in class list order, observe and assess as they sing and move to the song. Another way to assess steady beat when moving to music is to play a listening example and have the children find their own way to keep a beat.

  • 1.  Developing:   rarely keeps a steady beat
  • 2.  Beginning     occasionally keeps a steady beat
  • 3.  Proficient keeps a steady beat almost all of the time.
  • 4.  Excellent Consistently keeps a steady beat

4.  Outcome: Students keep a steady beat when playing instruments

To Assess: Sing and play an instrument song such as, Play, Play, Play Along in Rhythm Instrument Fun.  (This is also in Musicplay PreK, and is found online at  Have the students sit in class list order and give each child a pair of sticks. Observe and assess as they sing and play to the song. Alternately, play along with a piece of classical music or a folk tune. Find a piece of music that has a tempo approx.. 120 beats per minute.

  • 1. Developing:   rarely keeps a steady beat
  • 2. Beginning     occasionally keeps a steady beat
  • 3. Proficient keeps a steady beat almost all of the time.
  • 4. Excellent Consistently keeps a steady beat

5.  Outcome: Students tap a steady beat on a beat chart

To Assess: Sing a short, familiar simple 16 beat reading song or chant such as Engine #9, Lucy Locket. While they sing, have the children tap the beat on a beat chart. (Download a beat chart for the songs listed above from – printables) Have the students sit in class list order, observe and assess as they sing and tap the beat.

  • 1. Developing:   rarely keeps a steady beat
  • 2. Beginning     occasionally keeps a steady beat
  • 3. Proficient keeps a steady beat almost all of the time.
  • 4. Excellent Consistently keeps a steady beat

6. Outcome: Students can read a 4 (or 8) beat rhythm pattern using ta, ti-ti, rest

To Assess: Create a set of 10 or more rhythm flashcards. Go down your class list, having each child read one or two flashcards. Gr. 1-2 – use 4 beat rhythm cards   Gr. 3-5 first report card, have students read 8 beats.

Have the students sit in class list order, observe and assess as they sing and tap the beat.

  • 1. Developing:   rarely keeps a steady beat
  • 2. Beginning     occasionally keeps a steady beat
  • 3. Proficient keeps a steady beat almost all of the time.
  • 4. Excellent Consistently keeps 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

Link to Flashcards – USA

In, 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.

7. Outcome: Students can notate a rhythm pattern that they hear (ta, ti-ti, rest)

To Assess:   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 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.


8. Outcome: Students can sing at sight a melodic pattern

To Assess:   If you use solfege in your music classes, assessing the students ability to read and sing melodic patterns may be an outcome that you choose to assess. In my classes, in first term I might assess the following patterns in term 1: Gr. 1 – so-mi,   Gr. 2 – la-so-mi   Gr. 3 – so-mi-re-do Gr. 4-5 – low la, do-re-me-so-la   Every teaching situation is different, so this may not be an assessment that is relevant to your teaching.  Create or purchase melody flashcards to assess the tonal patterns that you have taught. Melody flashcards are available to purchase from OR you can use the Solfa Reading videos at

9. Outcome: Students can identify singing, speaking, whisper, shouting voices

To Assess:   The Types of Voices lesson in Musicplay for Kindergarten, song #7, This is My Speaking Voice, includes a printable assessment. In this assessment, the teacher uses one kind of voice, and the students circle the type of voice that they heard.

  • 1. Developing:   few answers are correct
  • 2. Beginning     some answers are correct
  • 3. Proficient most answers are correct
  • 4. Excellent all answers are correct

10. Outcome: Students can identify when music is fast or slow

To Assess:   #29 in Musicplay PreK is called Fast or Slow. Eight musical examples are played for the students and the students tell if they are fast or slow. You could use 4-6 of these examples in an assessment.

  1. Mary Had a Little Lamb     slow
  2. Mary Had a Little Lamb fast
  3. Twinkle Twinkle   fast
  4. Twinkle Twinkle   slow
  5. Ring Around the Rosie   fast
  6. Ring Around the Rosie   slow
  7. Eensy Weensy Spider   slow
  8. Eensy Weensy Spider   fast

Give each student 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 1-4 or 1-6. Play the movie to use the musical example but don’t project it.  Pause to allow children to write slow or fast. (or make up a worksheet so they just have to circle slow or fast.) If you prefer, you could play your own examples on a keyboard. Mark the students work for your assessment.

  • 1. Developing:   few answers are correct
  • 2. Beginning     some answers are correct
  • 3. Proficient most answers are correct
  • 4. Excellent all answers are correct

These are just a few possible assessments, but I hope this gives you some ideas for easy assessments that you can do in your music classes, without taking up all of your limited teaching time!

Halloween Music Lesson – Old Mother Witch

Toronto Musicplay Workshop – Nov. 5-6, 2017
Would you like additional lessons like this one?  If you’re in the Toronto area, Denise is doing 2 workshop days:  Sunday, Nov. 5th and Monday, Nov. 6th where she’ll share lessons like this where the students sing, play, read/write, create, listen and move.
REGISTER for Toronto Workshops – Nov. 5 and/or 6th.   Participants will get 2 free months subscription to the online site AND will get great lessons to use in your classrooms.

Halloween Lesson – Old Mother Witch

by Denise Gagne

This is a great lesson for the weeks leading up to Halloween, for Grades PreK – Gr. 4.  It’s found in Musicplay 2, but because the game is fun, and there are many extensions, you can use it with younger and with older students!  When the game is fun, your 4th grade students will still enjoy playing it, especially if you take them outside where they can run.  In the kids demo of this game, there were students in Grades 1-5 playing the game.  If you are in a school that doesn’t talk about witches, change the word “witch” in the song to “Fitch.” Old Mother Fitch fell in a ditch. Picked up a penny and thought she was rich.
There are many extensions given at!  If you have 4 lessons until Halloween, choose 4 of the extensions.  Use some of the extensions with K-1, and some are better suited to Gr. 2-3 or Gr. 2-3-4.  There is nothing wrong with playing the same game with multiple grades – saves you planning time!
The interactive activities are found at  If you don’t subscribe to the online site, you can do the same activities without the interaction.  Many of us have taught before technology and with technology – you can teach all these suggested activities very successfully without technology.  It’s just easier for you and may be more engaging for your students with the technology.
If you haven’t used the online site ., you’ll get a free month when you subscribe.  If you tried it before these activities were created, and would like to try it again now, email to get a free month to try again.  The beat and rhythm activities illustrated below, have been created for over 150 reading songs in Gr. K-6.  New activities are created each week!

Game Directions:
Formation: The children are lined up on one side of the gym. One child (or the teacher) is chosen to be the “witch” and is in the middle of the gym.
The children sing the song.
The witch asks “Are you my children?”
The children reply softly “No we’re not!” (piano)
The witch asks “Are you my children?”
The children reply in a louder voice “No we’re not!” (mezzo piano)
The witch asks “Are you my children?”
The children reply in a loud voice “Yes we are!” (forte)
The children try to run past the witch to the other side of the gym without being tagged. When they are tagged they become “witches” also, and try to tag the rest of the children as they cross the gym. This game works best
in the gym or outside between soccer goal posts. In a small room I restrict the witch to tagging only one child each time, and instruct the witch to tag a child who’s really trying to get away. If you are in a school that doesn’t talk about witches, change the word “witch” in the song to “Fitch.” Old Mother Fitch fell in a ditch. Picked up a penny and thought she was rich.
Interactive Beat and Rhythm Activities
We’ve created interactive beat and rhythm activities for more than 150 songs in Musicplay k-6.  Use these activities to teach, practice or assess your students understanding of beat and rhythm.
1.  Beat Pointing Activity:  Press Play – as the song is sung,
point to the Beat and the beats pulse.
2.  Clap the Rhythm Activity:
Press play – sing and clap the words.  This is the “rhythm.”
3.  Beat and Rhythm switch game.  Use this game to observe and assess if your students understand the difference between beat and rhythm.  Students pat or step the beat when you point to the heart.  When you point to the hands, they clap the rhythm.
4.  Beat or Rhythm Differentiation / Assessment Activity
In this activity press play, and you’ll hear a drum playing either the beat or the rhythm.  If you answer correctly, the box goes green.  You could do this as a written assessment of student understanding of the difference between beat and rhythm.
5.  Sounds on a beat:  Is it one sound or two?  (Icons).  Do as a class activity, or have students do it individually on iPads or Chromebooks.  (email if you’re a subscriber to the site and don’t know the student login)
6.  Sounds on a beat – notes:
Is it one sound or two?  (notes and rest) . You notate the rhythm of the song.
Rhythm Sort:  This is another way for students to figure out the rhythm of a song.  You can do this as a class activity OR individual activity on devices.
Rhythm Erase:  I like to do this a few weeks after I’ve taught the song.  No song title is shown, so after you’ve completed the Erase activity, ask the students to identify the song.  I call this “Mystery Song.
Halloween Word Rhythms:  This activity can be used with any Halloween song.  With student input, create a word rhythm with Halloween words.  Then, transfer the word rhythm to body percussion or unpitched instruments.  When you decide how to play it, you can use it as an introduction to the song. You could use the song as your A section, the word rhythm as a B section – then decide how to perform the song:  ABA or AB, or ABAB.  You could use the word rhythm as an ostinato.  These extensions turn a simple song into a springboard for many creative activities.
Tone Ladder:  The song Old Mother Witch uses only the notes so and mi. Select those notes on the tone ladder, and point to so and mi as the students sing the song.  (Click on a letter to make it disappear)
Note Name Challenge:  Drag the letter to the basket to name the note.  The “basketball” needs to touch the upper left edge of the basket to “stick” there.  If you teach letter names, do this activity.  If you teach solfa notes in K-3, do the Solfa Challenge instead.
Solfa Challenge:  Name the solfa notes in the song.  If you haven’t learned solfege, press Play Song, and the song will be sung in solfa notes
Orff Arrangement:  The Orff arrangement is found in the Printables Box online.  Teach the Orff arrangement, and create B sections using the Halloween word rhythms.  If you don’t subscribe to the online site, the Orff arrangement is available in the collection, “The Orff Source.”
This assessment is in printables of the online site.  It’s intended to use as a quick so-mi practice exercise.  The Checkup can be used to assess if your students can identify a rhythm pattern and/or a solfa pattern that you play for them.  Don’t use this assessment until you’ve taught your students la, so, mi – so grade 2-3-4, not gr. 1.

The piano arrangements for every song are given in the “Arrangements” section of the online site.

If you don’t subscribe, the arrangements for all of Musicplay are available in 7 volumes:

Canada –


The ukulele and guitar arrangements are online for every song in the program.  If you don’t subscribe, the arrangements for all of Musicplay are available in 7 volumes:Canada – –

The interactive activities illustrated in this post are found at  If you don’t subscribe to the online site, you can do the same activities without the interaction.  Many of us have taught before technology and with technology – you can teach all these suggested activities very successfully without technology.  It’s just easier for you and may be more engaging for your students with the technology.
If you haven’t used the online site ., you’ll get a free month when you subscribe.  If you tried it before these activities were created, and would like to try it again now, email to get a free month to try again.  The beat and rhythm activities illustrated below, have been created for over 150 reading songs in Gr. K-6.  New activities are created each week!

Musicplay – Should I Get the Digital Resource Package or Just the Website?

I received a question this week, and think this is a good forum to post my answer.

I am very interested in preK-2 curriculum.  I was originally interested in the K-2 School Complete Digital Resource Package, and just created a one month sample trial of your on line resources! .  As a new teacher, this is a gold mine!  What great resources!  Can you explain the difference between the K-2 coomplete digital resource package and the MusicPlay on-line subscription.  I want to best understand how they are different and what each resource entails.


The K-2 Digital Resource Package includes printed teacher’s guides, the Listening Resource Kit 1-2, the Digital Resource for Listening 1 and the Digital Resources for Musicplay.  This print and disk resource includes all the lesson plans, song suggestions, sequence and the projectable to teach the lessons for K-2.

This material is all included in some form on the online site –   The projectables from the Digital Resource Disk are found in the song movies and Concept slides.  The recordings that are on the CDs are embedded in the movies and concept slides, and the ACC tracks are just above the Concept Slides on the site.  

The print material that is in the teacher’s guide is found in various places.  The monthly lesson outlines are in the Lesson Plans section.  The song suggestions are found in teacher’s notes along with each song.

I like to have the printed guide to refer to, I like have the recordings available as stand alone.  (You can’t download them from the site).  I really like to have the Digital Resources – the song movies – available to me when I teach in rooms where wifi is intermittent or signal is poor.

With the package, you’d get a 1 or 2 year subscription to the site – I think a 2 year, so you’d have 2 year access. 

And if your teaching situation changes and the school won’t fund the site ($16 / month USD) you will still have the materials to use in your new teaching situation.

That said, the site – – has much more than what’s in the digital.  It has 1000+ interactive activities – many units and activities that have been created especially for the site.  It has note highlight videos for all reading songs and for beginning recorder.  It has many new units:  Star Spangled Banner, O Canada, Instruments of the Orchestra.  It has games to teach the comparables:  high/low, fast/slow, loud/quiet, smooth/separated.  Games are in development to help develop ear training:  Which Rhythm Did I Hear and Which Melody Did I Hear.  The students in your classes can play these games using the student login.  The Rhythm and Solfa practice sections are really amazing.  The site includes printable that aren’t in the package – many worksheets, piano, guitar, ukulele, Orff arrangements.  The online site –  – is incredible value for $16/month (USD)

Best case scenario for a teacher using Musicplay for the first time is to have both the Musicplay Digital Resource package and the website access and use them hand in hand.



Get Kids Moving, Learning, Behaving

July 24-25, 2017 – Artie and Denise Workshop #8 in Las Vegas, NV
REGISTER online!  USA teachers .                 Canadian Teachers

Get Kids Moving, Learning, Behaving
Music teachers have always known that movement is an essential part of our music classes.  Dalcroze Eurhythmics teaches concepts of rhythm, structure, and musical expression using movement. (as is common in Orff and Kodaly approaches)  In this article, I’m going to give examples of music to teach concepts, and movement to “get the wiggles out.”   Kids today have a much harder time staying focussed and attention spans are really short.  Giving kids in your music classes a quick movement break is great for moving to the beat AND great for getting the wiggles out.  As the countdown to the end of the school year progresses, behavior worsens.  A fast paced music lesson, with frequent movement breaks to wear them out, will help to manage the behaviors in your classroom.

Researcher Terrence Dwyer is one of many who have conducted multiple studies suggesting that exercise supports success in school. His research found that exercise improves classroom behavior and academic performance (Dwyer, Sallis, Blizzard, Lazarus, & Dean, 2001).  An excellent article – Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain – is found here:

A very quick exercise that can help focus your students is Superbrain Yoga. In research doing this simple exercise improved test scores of ADHD children by more than 20%.  It takes about 3 minutes of class time – a small amount of time if it will help your students to pay attention! Find Info Here

 In Musicplay, there are many movement activities.  I added many new movement activities to Musicplay for Kindergarten in the 2013 revision.  (Updated lessons are online at  If you have a pre-2013 version, send a photo of your guide and I can send you the new guide as a PDF.  email

 Movement Activity 1 – Move and Stop     (Musicplay for Kindergarten)
Objective: beat/no beat, same/different, quiet/loud, fast/slow
This is an example of a movement activity to teach concepts.  In this movement activity, the students will explore moving when the teacher plays the woodblock or drum. When the teacher stops playing, the students stop and freeze. Tell the students, “Make your feet do what the drum plays. When the drum stops, you stop.” Each pause should be a different length. Students love the anticipation that builds while they wait for you to play a new pattern. Ask the students to tell you when there is a beat and when there is no beat. Mix up the patterns. Sometimes play the same pattern twice. Vary the length of the patterns. Play the patterns at different tempos. Try playing with different dynamic levels and observe if the students respond with movement to show the different dynamics. Repeat this activity frequently. Later, try playing a piece of instrumental music and have students move when you play it, and stop when you pause.

The Jig Jig Jiggles is a great movement break and is great for reinforcing steady beat, and for teaching about fermata.

I got the jig jig jig jig jiggles. I got the jig jig jig jig jiggles.
My momma and my daddy want me to be still….. But I love the jig jiggles and I always will!
I got the wig wig wig wig wiggles. I got the wig wig wig wig wiggles
My momma and my daddy want me to be still….. But I love the wig wiggles and I always
Ooo feeling fine.  I can’t get the jiggles out of my mind.
Oo oo feeling fine.  I love the jig jiggles, do them all the time.

I got the hop hop hop hop hoppin. I got the hop hop hop hop hoppin.
My momma and my daddy want me to be still….. But I love the hop hoppin and I always will!
I got the bop bop bop bop boppin. I got the bop bop bop bop boppin.
My momma and my daddy want me to be still….. But I love the bop boppin and I always will!
Ooo feeling fine.  I can’t get the jiggles out of my mind.
Oo oo feeling fine.  I love the jig jiggles, do them all the time

WATCH a MOVIE of Jig Jig Jiggles
Source: Primary Dances and Singing Games – available as print book/CD or download .

  USA Site:            CANADA Site
(This song will be posted to as part of Musicplay PreK)

There are some new movement songs at
Musicplay PreK Pt 1 – #6
Shake and shake and shake it together.  3x
Everybody shake!  Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo doo doo.
2.  Jump and jump and jump it together, 3x
Everybody jump!     Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo doo doo.
3.  Twist and twist and twist it together, 3x
Everybody twist.    Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo doo doo.
4.  Hop and hop and hop it together, 3x
Everybody hop!     Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo doo doo.



There are some great movement songs for older students in Musicplay!    Some of my favorites:

Musicplay 3 #37 We Come From Pluto.   (Also in Action Songs Children Love Vol. 2)
Musicplay 4 – # 6  Chester   (Also in Action Songs Children Love Vol. 3)
Musicplay 4 – #35 My Bonnie    (Also in Action Songs Children Love Vol. 3)
Musicplay 5 – #95 We Love to Sing. (Also in Action Songs Children Love Vol. 2)
Musicplay 6 – #76 A Ram Sam Sam  (Also in Action Songs Children Love Vol. 3)        ACTION Song Download – USA site         Canada site – Action Songs

 Movement Songs Children Love is an old favorite collection of movement songs. – some of the songs are in Musicplay – if you don’t have Musicplay, this is a collection you’ll love!  One Green Jellybean is a great song for Easter.
Source: Movement Songs Children Love – available as print book/CD or download           USA Site:                CANADA Site:  

 Movement to Classical Music
Listening 1 #29 – play the Copycat Game or lead the students in different ways to keep the beat.
– a kids demo is available at “Keep Beat Kids”
Listening 1 #36 Gigue – there is a kids demo of the Copycat Game
Listening 1 #37 Gigue – there is a kids demo of the Copycat Game
There are many movement activities in the Listening Resource Kits (and the online site) that will get the kids exercising, keeping a beat, and helping their brains grow!

 Moving to music is an essential part of your music classes.  Use movement breaks to help the kids maintain focus and to wear them out enough that they’ll sit and listen for you.

The online resource is
Create an account and get one month free!

Current subscribers – To thank you for subscribing, we are going to give you an extra month on every one year subscription!  (online renewals only)  When you’re ready to renew your yearly subscription, email for your discount code.

  New at .
*  Beat/Rhythm Activities for Gr. K-1-2!   Coming soon, beat/rhythm for Gr. 3.  
* Did you know we have an EXTRA Listening section?  Go to Listening on the left menu.  Select the Extra tab.  There are instrument demo movies, So-me Storybook movies (all 12 stories!) and for band teacher, movies explaining how to care for your instrument.

New activities are being posted every week at

Dynamics Lesson Plan for Spring

Dynamics Lesson Plan for K-5 Music Classes

Lesson is from the Musicplay 2 curriculum.  For info visit

1.  Find the Easter Basket  Song #75 Musicplay 2
2.  Dynamics printables, Pop Quiz, Sort the Dynamics activities at

1. The students will identify when the music is quiet and when the music is loud
2. The students will define crescendo and decrescendo

Songs can be taught in one of three ways: rote, reading, or immersion. Choose the best method for teaching your students and teach the song and play the game.

ROTE: When teaching by rote, you teach the song phrase by phrase. You sing a phrase – the children echo. You sing the next phrase, the children echo. Then you combine phrases: you sing two phrases – the children echo. Finally, you sing the entire song, the children echo.

IMMERSION: When teaching very young children, teaching by immersion is effective. You have the children listen while you sing the song several times. They might listen and pat the beat, listen and move like you do, listen to answer a question you’ve asked. You might choose to teach Sleepy Bunnies by immersion with your youngest students.

READING: When children are able to read rhythms and/or solfege, you can begin having them sight-read a song. What a great skill for them to have! Many adults can’t look at a piece of music and sing how it goes, but if taught carefully, our children can do this.
Have the children read the rhythms using whatever rhythm names you use.
Sometimes after reading the rhythms I divide the class into two groups and have one group read the rhythms while the other groups reads the words of the song. This helps some children “connect” that rhythm in music is the way the words go.

In Musicplay, reading songs are indicated by a small staff on the upper right hand corner of the song. In the song “Find the Easter Basket” the pitches indicated are s, m, l that stand for so (or sol), mi and la. If children have learned these solfa notes, do some solfa warmups that use so, mi and la. On, you can use the Solfa Practice Section and have kids echo patterns, play poison melody, Read and Sing, or Listen and Sing so-mi-la patterns. If you don’t use you can purchase melody flashcards and do the same kind of solfa warmups with flashcards. LINK to Flashcards on USA SITE               Melody Flashcards Canadian Site

Give the students a starting pitch for the song and have them sing the song

Whether you use reading or rote to teach your students a song depends on If you’ve labelled the rhythms and solfa with your students. If you haven’t taught so-mi-la yet, you’ll introduce the song as a rote song. If you have labelled so-mi-la, then you can have the students sight-sing the song.

Teach the song and play the game.
Game Directions: One student is the “hider” and one is the “finder.” The “finder” closes eyes while the “hider hides the Easter Basket in plain sight. (not under or in something). The “finder” opens eyes and is guided to the basket by the dynamics in the singing. If children sing quietly he is far away. If the children sing loudly, he’s closer.

2. After playing the song, discuss the dynamics that were used in the song. There is an excellent interactive activity at attached to song #11. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt in Musicplay Grade 2.   Sort the rhythms from quietest to loudest.

You can also play the Pop Quiz activities on Dynamics at to teach or practice dynamics terms.

3. Talk about what it’s called when the singing starts quietly but gets louder. (crescendo) or when the music starts loud and gets quieter. (decrescendo)


There are dynamic symbols printables with song #11. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt in the teacher’s guide and that you can print out and package for your students to use. I package these in paper CD holders. It’s quick and easy to make a class set of them, and then I can use them for assessments of dynamic awareness with Gr. 2-6.

Give out a set of cards to each child.
Have them sort them from quietest to loudest. Check answers.
Quiz them on the dynamics shown.
For Example:
hold up the card that means quiet
hold up the card that means very loud
hold up the card that is the symbol for mezzo forte
Have the students be leaders, and come up with questions for the class.

Follow this activity with a listening activity that has students listen and point to the dynamic card they hear in the music. In the Listening Resource Kit 1, #29 Contradance is a great example to use to have children respond to dynamics.   The Listening Resource Kits are now online at  The Listening Section is found on the left side menu

Select Kit 1, then scroll down to #29.  Select the Listening Map.  (Many choices are available so you can use the same example in several lessons)Hand out the dynamics cards, and play the recording.  The students point to the dynamic  Level (card) that they hear. Other good examples to use would include Listen 2 – #26 Summer, Vivaldi or #24 – Hornpipe. Listen 3 – #5 Entry March of the Boyars or $10 Bouree is very good or #17 Intrada, Listen 5 – March of the Dwarfs.

This lesson is from Musicplay 2.  Musicplay is a standards based K-6 music curriculum with songs and activities that students LOVE! Musicplay is an award winning music program for K-6 schools. Each grade level includes 40 weekly lessons that clearly outline concepts and skills taught in each grade. Musicplay includes seasonal songs, fun songs, rounds, partner songs, folk music, multicultural music and choral music. In the Musicplay curriculum students sing, play instruments, move to music, listen, create and learn to read and write music. Important concepts are taught through play. Each week in Grades 1-5 a new singing game is taught. Children love music games making this a text that will have your students really excited about learning music! The program uses Kodàly and Orff sequencing, with lessons that have students creating their own music. Students are taught to read and write music through careful sequencing of activities. Orff arrangements are included for many songs. Extensive listening lessons, maps, activities, cup games and intercom scripts are included in the Listening Resource Kits 1-5, and the included listening examples in Musicplay K and 6. Reproducible song storybooks and Alphabet songs for K-1 teachers integrate with and support early literacy programs.

The Digital Resources replace and greatly enhance the material that is in the student books. The music and lyrics are specially formatted to fit a computer/projector screen. Quicktime movies and  PowerPoints of the music and lyrics for each song are included as well as slides to teach note names, solfege, beat, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, form, and cultural context. Smart notebook files are included for teachers with Smartboards. Our new online resource, includes all the material in the Digital Resources, plus many interactive activities. Purchasers of packages will receive a 1-3 year subscription to the online resource.

For Information visit




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.


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.  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.


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 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 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.


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.