Kindergarten Improv

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This winter, I started to introduce the idea of improvising to my kindergarteners. We had done some readiness activities earlier in the year, like being able to tell when two patterns are the same or different, and even giving students the chance to explore that idea and sing or say a pattern that was different than mine, but this was the first time I had formally worked on all students improvising a 4 beat rhythmic response for me.

Step 1: The Song

The song you pick doesn’t really matter. I used the song “I Got a Letter This Morning.” You can use whatever song you wish, however, please make sure that if you want you’re students to improvise in duple meter, the song should also be in duple meter. Move around and get a good feel of the song. Maybe the first time you introduce the song, take ideas of ways to move to the beat. That way, students will be feeling the song in their body and brain, which will help a lot when it comes time to improvise.

Step 2: Provide a Vocabulary

So next, I would have students echo rhythm patterns led by me. This way, they are being reminded of all the different options they have when they are given the chance to improvise.

Step 3: Time to Improvise

At the end of the song, I added this little musical question. Students were able to volunteer to clap a rhythm during the 4 beats of rest.

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I would make sure to point out really good examples and talk about how it filled in the space and not just clapping as fast as they could.

Once we had the chance for a couple leaders to volunteer, the next week, I would have every try clapping a rhythm.

Step 4: Add Instruments

For the last week, I added tubano drums and students got to have turns playing their improvised solo. However, I will warn you that you should remind them about how to play musically – filling in the space, not just playing as fast as possible – because for some reason when you pop a drum in front of the kids they just want to wail on it as fast as they can and then we lose all the musicality we’ve been working on. Maybe even have a student give a clapping example and then you show how to transfer that to the tubano. Then you will have a lot more success with getting some good improvisation out of them,

Final Thoughts

I really loved this activity and plan to do it again in the future because it so seamlessly guided my students to successful improvisation. The kids had fun and loved the song and created some great improvisations by the end.

Florida History Song: I Wanna Go Back To Georgia

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As someone who did no grow up in Florida, I have always struggled with finding songs for Florida history, because I started out knowing very little about Florida’s history. However, over the years I’ve started to gather a couple that I like, and I wanted to share one with you today. This song is called I Want To Go Back To Georgia, and speaks to the life of early pioneers in Florida.

The Song

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V2:

The higher you climb the cherry tree, the riper is the berry.

The more you court that pretty little girl, the sooner she will marry.

V3:

I won’t have you to save my life, although you are my cousin.

But I can get a-plenty more, for 18 cents a dozen.

The Lesson

Students learn to sing the chorus. Then we learn chord roots to the chorus and add boomwhackers to that part of the song.

Students learn to sing the first verse. Add a cross-over bordun pattern (practice as body percussion first – pat R lap, pat L lap, cross R hand over body to tap L shoulder, pat L lap). Note: on the ending there is a chord change so we add an extra body percussion there: snap snap, pat. Transfer cross-over bordun to xylophone. If students are really successful and ready for a challenge, you can add in the notes for the chord change/cadence at the end (E – C – F). Otherwise, I just have my students click their sticks on the snaps and then play both Fs on the last note.

The History

We take a moment to discuss the Florida pioneers and how pioneer life was hard and full of dangers. Pioneers had to be very self-reliant for every thing from food to medicine to safety, since the nearest town could be hours away.

Extensions

Word rhythms: take some Florida critters: Snake, possum, alligator, for example, and turn them into quarter, eighth and sixteenth rhythms. Have kids make up an 8 or 16 beat word rhythm. Add percussion instruments and play the rhythm on the instruments. As this as an interlude or intro to the song.

Improv: Use the same word rhythm idea, but have students improvise on the xylophones using the word rhythms as their base.

Folk dance: Add a folk dance. Use simple moves that you students know to create a dance that matches the phrases of the song.

MIOSM: Connecting

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This month, I am talking about some of the different reasons that I think music is important in our schools, in honor of Music in Our Schools Month. This week, I’m talking about connecting.

Now, a couple weeks ago, I already talked about music and belonging. So while connecting certainly can mean connecting with other human beings (and very, very often in music, we do this), I’ve already done a whole other article on that, so this post will focus on ways that music connects to other disciplines.

Science

There are so many fun ways that we can connect music and science. One of the most obvious is talking about the science of sound. You can talk about sound waves and how vibrations are created. You can really tie this in with music if you talk about different instrument families. You can discuss how different sized instruments play higher or lower pitches. You can discuss how the vibrations are created in a percussion instrument versus a brass instrument versus a woodwind. You can even feel your own vocal chords vibrating. And, of course, you can always sing songs that are about science topics ( the weather, etc) and then maybe use some of those vocabulary words to create rhythms for improvisation or ostinatos or to inspire the type of movement that would go with that part of the song.

History

I mean, there is SO MUCH you can tie in here. I love teaching songs and how they fit in with history, whether it’s a song from the Underground Railroad or an early pioneer folk song or a protest song during the Vietnam War. Giving students a historical context makes the song more human and relevant and gives the students a wider framework to process history.

Social Studies (World Cultures)

I would imagine most teachers are already discussing songs from different parts of the world and from different cultures within the United States. We learn songs and dances from around the world. We learn about foreign instruments. And it’s important to learn about cultures different than our own, so that we can expand our world view and understand that there are different ways on thinking and different backgrounds that people come from. Plus, it’s just so much fun to learn about!

Math

Music and math go hand in hand, and kids often don’t even realize it! We talk about 16th notes and quarter notes, but for some reason, students don’t realize how ingrained math is with rhythm. I talk to my students about the names of the notes and how those fraction names relate to the measure. Ties require math. I explain to my students that a tie in like and addition sign, adding two notes (or more) together. We even can talk about dotted notes and figuring out how to add half the value on. We can talk about time signatures. We can talk about duple verse triple meter. But, somehow, all this math goes on around us without us having to do much in the way of calculating. The math just flows from the music, and that is what I love about it!

Art

Art and music have so much in common. Two different ways to express thought and emotions non-verbally. The movie Fantasia comes to mind, where musical ideas have been drawn out by animators. We also talk about elements that art and music have in common, such as line, form and color, although these things can look/sound very different in practice. How can you HEAR a color? What a fun conversation to have!

MIOSM: Belonging

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I thought this month would be a good time to reflect on the reasons WHY music is so important to have as part of a core curriculum in our schools. I usually have at least one student per year ask me why we take music class. I use to get offended by this question. (How DARE this student ask whether music is important. This is my profession!) But it really is a legitimate question to be asked, and one that you should be able to answer. Today I would like to talk about one of the many reasons music is so critical – Belonging.

A Place to Excel

Not every student is an academic wizard. And especially during testing season, some kids can really start to feel the pressure. Students can feel discouraged and singled out when they aren’t up to speed with the rest of the class. But music can be the place where they feel successful and part of a group. Maybe even a leader!

A Place to Be Cared About

Everyone wants to feel cared about. Whether you are a kid who is new to school, a quiet kid looking to be noticed, or a child who has problems at home, the music room has a place for you. You can be a part of a bigger group, and be a part of creating something bigger than yourself. You work as a team to create literal and figurative harmony.

A Place for All

Music is great place for students of all ability levels to find success. Students with limited English can learn many musical skills through imitation. Students with physical disabilities (or other special needs) can have musical parts adjusted so that they can play them successfully. And advanced students can be stretched to try new things. And all this can happen within the same song!

A Place to Belong

As the saying goes, people won’t remember exactly what to said, but they will remember the way you made them feel. That will stick with them their whole life and shape the way that they view music as they grow. And, if you want to link this all the way to the theme of advocacy from last week, it will Fram they way they think about music when they go to the ballot box, or when they grow up and are your representative/senator/school board member. And more in the here and now, how kids feel about their music class will affect how their parents feel about music and how they vote in the ballot box.

But really, aside from all the political advocacy, it’s about making each human being that walks through your classroom feel validated, cared for and accepted. If we can meet this basic human need, I think we would solve a wide variety of the other problems that plague our classroom and out world, and THAT is one of the many reasons that music education is a critical part of a well-rounded education.

MIOSM: Easy Advocacy Steps to Help Promote Your Music Program

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This month, I am dedicating my blog to Music in Our Schools Month. This week, I wanted to talk about advocacy. A lot of times, we think of advocacy and it seems like something for lobbyist or state representatives – something outside of our reach. But in truth, grassroots advocacy is so important, because what you do in your community is what people will see in their everyday lives. We are the first or possibly only contact that many people will have with the arts, so we had better make it count.

Be High Quality

Do your best work every day. Give kids a high quality music education. Then all the other steps that follow will mean so much more. No point in showcasing something that you aren’t proud of!

A Picture a Day

One year, I took the challenge of displaying a picture of our music learning on the classroom music website, everyday during the month of March. Kids doing a folk dance, or playing the recorder, or a Chorus rehearsal. Just everyday views into our classroom and what happens every single day. Many parents have no idea what it is that their kids do in music each day, so give them a window in. I would recommend starting a little ahead of March to be ready, if you have a busy schedule like I do and sometimes forget to take pictures. Especially since I wanted to show a variety of activities, but within a week I repeat the same lessons (since I have different classes all week). Then upload the photos and schedule a new post for each day. As you get more photos, add them in to the schedule until the whole month is filled.

Parents love to see pictures of their students, and this will help to show that kids A) have fun in their music class and B) are learning important things.

Invite Administrators to Events

Always, always, always invite your administrators to your concerts. You want them to see the final product of your hard work within the class room and at after or before school rehearsals. You want them to see all the parents and family members that come to the concert. And you want them to see the excellent work the students are doing.

And you never know what may come of it. My principal was watching our show and we have microphone issue from time to time. Only certain outlets work and only one wireless mic can be used at a time. My principal suggested that we invest in wireless label or headset mics, and that she would see what money they could find in the budget. Yes, please!

Be Community Oriented

Find ways to bring your performing out into the community. Perform at your town local Christmas shindig or Spring Festival. Be in the Fourth of July parade. Even better – find ways to perform at local businesses or at a nursing home or hospital. Finding ways to use music as a gift to the community will help build ties, and teach your students a sense of community outreach and civil engagement.

Summary

So there are a couple easy ideas to advocate for your program by making it visible and valuable within the community. I hope you notice that these ideas all incorporate things that you do every day, and then just turns it outward so the community can see what you are doing. I hope this gives you a sense of empowerment, realizing that what you do everyday matters and is worth sharing. Then get out there and do it!

Music in Our Schools Month

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Welcome to March. It’s Music in Our Schools Month, our biggest push of the year as educators to advocate for our profession, and more importantly, for our students. I want you to take a moment to reflect on what you’ve done to advocate for your program lately – or ever. I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t done much. Especially early on in my career, I didn’t really understand why I needed to advocate for my program NOW. After all, nobody was trying to get rid of or even reduce music education in my district. Isn’t advocacy for when you’re in trouble?

I would venture to state to you that if you wait until your program is on the chopping block to begin advocating for it, your ship is pretty well sunk. It’s the little things that we do throughout the year and throughout the years, planting a seed and letting it grow, that build a strong root system, so that if (heaven forbid!) your program is ever in jeopardy, it will have built a strong support that can be called on to rally and save the day.

This month, each blog post will be dedicated to advocacy and some of the reasons that I think music is VITALLY important in schools and in the lives of our students. Stay tuned soon for my first post, which will give you some tips on small advocacy steps you can take that are non-obtrusive and don’t feel like you are “beating your own drum” too hard.

 

Let’s get ready to celebrate all that is good about this profession.

 

Teach On.

Black History Month: Won’t You Sit Down

This week, I want to share with you a new song that I am doing with my fourth graders this year. I love it because you can just focus on call and response, or you can learn the response on recorders, which just uses BAG. Or you can learn the call as well on recorder, which uses low D and E. You can do the same thing with the verses too. If you really want to go to town, you could even improv during the verse (must be the …)

WON’T YOU SIT DOWN

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