Saturday, February 15, 2014

Folk Song Research, Anyone?

I'm a geek. I'm on mid-winter break and perusing folk song websites just because I find it fascinating. So this post is quite the jump away from the cute Valentine's activities I posted recently. I decided to add a "Folk Song Research" link section to the blog. I had this on my now defunct old website and thought some of my equally geeky folk song enthusiast friends might find some of them helpful, or at the very least, interesting.

I'm not going to comment on each site I included because that would take longer than you want to read. I'll just say some of the sites are oldies but goodies for Kodaly teachers, like Smithsonian Folkways, the Holy Names Folk song collection, or the Lomax collection that can now be found online.

Some of the others, I hope, are less familiar to you and you may find as cool as I do. Some are more academic than others, perhaps, but they have come in handy in my teaching quite often. Mama Lisa's website is great for finding kids' songs and nursery rhymes from different cultures around the world. What I liked about the Evansville folk dancers website is that they post videos of folk dances from different countries that you can watch. I love it!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Valentine's Activities, Anyone?

Valentine's Day is almost upon us again, so I decided to post some activities I've done this week and last week that could be used for a Valentine's theme. If you look at the Kodaly Corner blog (linked on the right...a collaborative blog I contribute to), there are some more Valentine's activities if you're interested.

I have no idea where I learned this song, but my students love it! I've been using it this week, and I plan to link it to Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals Aquarium movement and the book Swimmy. The game is simple. On the first day I discuss with the class what the name of a group of fish is (school) and why do small fish travel in large groups (to not get eaten by big things like sharks). The first time we play, I lead, walking around the room with my hands swimming like fish fins and singing the names of students in the song (in place of Suzy). Each new student joins the line behind me (hands on shoulders or just walking) until the entire class is part of the school of fish, and for the last time through the song we sing, "Oh, everyone, everyone, we love you!). My students today spontaneously started giving each other hugs. Feel the love, people.

On another day when we play, the newly called student becomes the leader and must stop at their chosen person when we sing the long "Oh" so the class knows whose name to sing. If you want to, you could have each new leader be in charge of singing the last phrase of the song as a solo to assess singing voices. After the game was over, students froze with a shark fin on their heads. I then played the half step Jaws theme at various tempos and pausing at different times. Students put the notes in their feet moving when the keyboard was playing and stopping when the music stopped until all had returned to their carpet spots. One little boy today said, "I LOVE this part!"

Either the same lesson or another lesson the same week, I use the book, Swimmy (which shows the idea of a school of fish and different predators). I usually read the book the first time with the Aquarium music as accompaniment in the background. Then on another day when I introduce the Aquarium music, I ask where they've heard the music before and students can usually tell me from the Swimmy book. I then introduce briefly the idea of the Carnival of the Animals piece in which the composer wrote small songs to represent different animals. So what animals does this song represent do you think? Then I introduce a listening map for Aquarium. Here is a simple one.

To further familiarize the class with the piece, we make our own Aquarium. Half of the student use blue scarves with partners holding opposite ends to make the water waves, (you could do green seaweed as well if you need to) and the other half use bright, colorful scarves to pretend they are the fish swimming in the aquarium. Then they switch parts and the water students become fish and vice versa. We, of course, talk about moving like the music sounds. This will lead to learning about legato (and then staccato when we move on to doing the Kangaroo).

So, you could use these activities during Valentine's week, or not. It doesn't have to be Valentine's themed.

By the way, my meyersmusic visuals website I used to have set up is now defunct, but Blogger doesn't have a good way to post full-sized visuals for you to print out and use. I'm in the process of changing the visuals website over to a Weebly website which allows me to post not just picture files, but also other document formats. Check back and you'll find some of my older blog visuals reposted to the new site soon.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. "Oh, Kodaly, Kodaly, we love you!"

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Music, Movement, and Herding Cats...

In about a week I will be celebrating the one year anniversary of moving from Arizona to Long Island, NY. I spent the past year as a  K-2 music sub followed by being a music curriculum writer at the same school for a few months. And then, God bless them, they decided to keep me. The charter school at which I worked is opening a 2nd campus which will copy the programs in the original school and I will be the K-1 music teacher this year. (Starts with 2 K and 2 first grade classes. A grade will be added each year till school is K-5). Students at this charter school get music every day, but to fill my schedule so I can be full-time I will also be teaching separate movement classes throughout the week.

Having no idea what my schedule will be like this year and having not seen my classroom yet (They're still renovating the space), I am both really excited and slightly anxious. How long will these movement classes be? How often? Please, God, tell me movement time will not be tacked on to the end of the already ridonkulously long 1 hour music class for the kinder and 1st grade kiddies who have the attention spans of gnats to start with! The principal says the room is really big and has lots of storage, but "big" to a principal and big to a music teacher who needs space for kids to move around without killing one another can be two completely different things.

So anyway...I have movement on my mind right now. So, I'm inspired to include some movement-oriented activities in the blog this time. Any music teacher will tell you that teaching kindergarteners at the beginning of the school year is a little akin to herding a large group of cats. So, I'm going to share some of movement activities that I often use to get the youngest students moving, and that also help teach body control and classroom management at the same time.

One of the first things I work on with young students is their ability to stop and start any given movement, and the ability to move in their own self space without hitting those around them. Students in my classes get an assigned seat, either a square on the carpet or a velcro number on which to sit, which helps to confine the area in which they can move (feet must stay in your square or on your number). I always begin with non-locomotor movement first, of course.

I usually begin the year, and continue throughout the year, with students copying teacher beat movements and I follow the sequence by Phyllis Weikart as far as what types and difficulties of motions I use and then progress through. After much practice with simple beat movement follow the leader, I move to various other activities. I made these body beat cards- head, shoulders, clap, waist, pat, stomp- to use with my classes (Find the whole set of cards in PDF form on my web page, linked at the right).

These cards can be used in many ways. Before beginning I always go through the cards in order (Head to feet or feet to head, not jumping around) and ask students to show me where they would put the beat if I show them that card. Then I play recorded music with a strong beat and show one card at a time, only switching with long phrases or chunks of the song to the next card. Students may not talk throughout. I make a big joke of catching students who are in "la la Land" and don't switch movement when the card changes. On another day I instruct that we will do the same, but when students see that all cards are down, they must stop all motion and freeze like a statue until a new card is shown. Again, I joke that I "tricked" some students who don't stop immediately when cards go down, or forget to change motions when a card changes. Students are getting lots of beat practice, and learning to follow some basic conducting (stop/start, change motions with phrases).

For further challenge, on another day I ask students what would happen if I showed two cards at once, such as head AND shoulders. "Show me what you would do." Some students naturally show head, shoulders, head, shoulders. Others pat head with one hand and shoulders with the other hand. At this point I accept either movement as fine. I worry about refining movements based on Weikart's levels at a later time. Even harder, on another day I switch the order of the motions- if we went top down originally, we go bottom to top. OR I scramble the cards and warn students that I'm being "sneaky" and trying my hardest to trick them.

This seems like such a simplistic, non-locomotor movement that students might get bored. However, I have found that because one level of difficulty is added on at a time (there's something new happening), students do fine. Also, some good old music teacher acting and dramaticism and a healthy dose of "I bet I'm going to trick you!" and "You are so smart. I can't believe you did it!" go a long way in encouraging enthusiasm. If the teacher is bored or BORING, the students will react in kind.  :-)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On your mark, get set, GO!

Lines and Spaces Relay Races is a favorite game for my students which uses the large floor staves mentioned in the previous post, and is another activity I have found that non-music substitutes can usually handle doing with classes.

For this games I split the class into 2 teams and use 2 floor staves with each team lined up behind one of the floor staves. Again, we review the lines and spaces before beginning the game. It is best if there is some space or room between the first person in each line and the bottom edge of the staves or it's not much of a relay race and isn't nearly as fun.

The first person in each team stands (by their team's line, not near the floor staff). The teacher calls out a note (such as space F, or line B) and then says, "On your mark, get set, go!" Only then can the two students run to the staff and pace their feet in the correct space or on the correct line. The team to get to the correct note first gets 2 points, and if the other team gets the answer correct they get one point. Important rule, the note you touch first is the note that counts, so if the first student to the staff stands in the wrong place, they are eliminated and can't get any points. However, if they run to the staff, don't touch the staff but stand below or beside the staff to think, and then move to the correct note, then they can earn points for their team. No one on the teams may help their runners find the answer by yelling out or pointing, or the team loses points for that turn.

For the 2nd turn of the game and all remaining turns, the student who just went stays standing by the staff until the new note is called and the teacher again says, "on your mark, get set, go" and then these students must run back to their team's line, tag the next person in line, and then that team member runs forward to their team's staff in order to find the new note...thus relay races.Winning team is the one with the most points at the end. I try to play until each students has had 2 turns if possible.

Alternate relay race...
One way to truly make it a relay race that does work is to give each team a set of cards that say the names of all of the lines and spaces on them (Line E, Space E, etc.). Have the teams spread the cards on the floor in front of their line. The teacher says "On your mark, get set, go" and the race begins. The first students picks any note card, runs to the floor staff, and places the note name on the correct line or space (helpful to put tap on cards so they don't accidentally get moved as new students run up to play). Game continues as that student runs back and tags the next person in line, who runs forward to place another note name. Students may either place a new card during their turn, OR they may run up and correct a note name that was placed incorrectly on the staff instead.

The team that has placed all of their note name cards first sits down and waits for the second team to finish. The teacher then must check to see that the first team actually named all of their notes correctly. If they did, they win. If they didn't, the teacher checks the second team's notes, and if they are correct, they win instead. If both teams have incorrect notes, both teams stand. The teacher tells them how many notes are wrong (decide if you want to tell them which notes are the wrong ones) and the race begins again with the purpose of correcting wrong notes in order to find a winner. The team that fixes wrong notes fastest then wins.

This game, as you can imagine, can get rowdy. Before you start the game decide your rules about noise and such. Sometimes I give or take points based on behavior. Or, if you don't want the rowdiness, play the first version of this game which is more controlled.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lines and Spaces practice...on the cheap

Like my previous post, here are a few more ideas that are great practice activities but that can also be used by non-music substitute teachers.

Why pay $50 for a large floor staff out of a catalog? DON'T! Go to the dollar store and buy a white shower curtain and a roll of black electrical tape. Using a yard stick, mark off the lines for a 5 line music staff with a pencil on the shower curtain. I like to make the spaces between lines large enough for students to put their feet inside the lines. I have tiny adult feet (I wear a 5 and a half), so I always mark it larger than my own feet. I make multiples of this cheap-o floor staff because then I can do a whole class practice activity, or I can make multiple stations around the music room with these big staves.

Are you ready for it? The first of many practice activities you can do with this $2 floor staff is....bah-bah-bah-dah...THE TOSS ACROSS GAME!!!

Here are the directions:
•Review the names of the line and space notes on the board before playing this game. A good reminder is that the space notes spell the word, “FACE,” from the bottom to the top. To remember the line notes, a reminder is the sentence, “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” (the first letter of each word is the order of the line note names). If you wrote this on the board before the game, erase it before playing the game so they have to use their own brains. (Also, see the Lines and Spaces Rap found in one of my previous blog posts)
•Divide the class into 2 teams.
•One student from  team stands at the base of the staff (but their feet can’t actually touch the white plastic). The teacher names a note (such as "space E" or "line B") and the students both toss a beanbag to try to land in that space or on that line. The student(s) that lands in the correct place earns a point for their team.
•How many points they earn is dependent on how far away/how hard to land on the note they tossed is (see staves below for note names and points). If they totally miss and don’t land on a line or a space, give them one more chance to toss, but if they miss again, they lose their turn.
•If a team member tries to give clues by pointing, talks, or exhibits bad sportsmanship, the other team gets a point automatically. 
•Play until each child gets at least 2 turns to be the tosser so if they miss their first answer they get a second chance. The winning team at the end has the most points.

Another way to play this same game is this: Both students toss the beanbag without the teacher calling a note first. Whichever line or space note it lands on, that child must say the correct name of the note. If they say the correct note name, they earn points for their team. 

 More cheap-o floor staff practice activities to come soon. Have a wonderful week!

Monday, February 20, 2012


First, I apologize profusely for my long absence in posting to this blog. I have been amazed that it continues to get views despite my long absence. Life has been a little crazy as life can sometimes be. Cross country move, finding an apartment, finding a new job, trying to help plan a national conference, and trying to finish a degree...all amongst enjoying playing tourist as well. We now live on Long Island and I teach in Manhattan. So far we've been to the Empire State Building, gone to the MET, seen a Broadway play, gone to FAO Schwartz, Times Square, Central Park...

Time to get blogging again, and substitute lesson plans have been on my mind. Probably because I have been sick often this year adjusting to the crazy schedule for my new job. So I think my next several posts will be games/activities a substitute, even a non music sub can do with classes (or can be used by you as review activities with students.

 Caught in a Spiderweb Board Game
Go to my website to download a PDF of the actual game board seen to the left, as well as all of the cards needed to play the game, a template for dice, and game pieces. If you print them all out on card stock and cut out the spiderweb cards and treble clef cards (copy 2 sided), dice (fold and tape to use), and cut out the game pieces, you can make multiple sets of this game and place each set in a large manilla envelope. I leave several sets so the sub can have small groups of students playing around the room at one time (5 or 6 kids per group max).

This is a simple game. All students roll the die to see who goes first. The first student then rolls and moves that many spaces. If he/she lands on a treble clef space, they must pick up a treble clef card and name the letter of the line or space note shown correctly. If he/she names the note correctly they get to stay on that space. If they get it incorrect, they must move back to their previous spot and the next student gets a turn. If this first student lands on a spiderweb space, then they must pick up a spiderweb card and do as the card says (which may be to move forward or back so many spaces, etc.). It is then the next student's turn. If the student lands on a blank square, they luck out because they just get to stay on that space and the next student gets a turn. The first student to make it to the finish wins the game.

More to come tomorrow...I'm on a one week mid-winter break. Yahoo! Have a great week. I know I will enjoy my time off.

Friday, January 7, 2011

This elementary choral arrangement's for you, Irene!

One of our Kodály summer course students, Irene, requested my arrangement of the folk song, "I Don't Care If the Rain Comes Down," that I mentioned in class last summer. My school's elementary choir performed this song recently, and the students had a lot of input into creating the final performance of the piece. So I thought to myself, "Self, why don't you just post in on your blog for anyone who's interested." So here it is, for everyone's use...but Irene, I dedicate this particular blog post to you, my friend. :-)

I can't claim to be the original creator of this idea, either. My friend and colleague, Audrey, presented this song and it's ostinatos to the choir in our Kodály summer course a few years ago and I liked it, so I borrowed her idea and me and my choir students added onto it to make it our own. So my thanks to Audrey, one of my favorite people in the world.

With elementary choirs I have found, true to the Kodály philosophy, that it is always best for students to internalize the folk song before they attempt reading activities or harmonization in a choral piece. My school choir included 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders and the choir was very transient, as was my school. I wanted to give them reading and part-singing opportunities, but had to be careful in how I presented it in order for them to be successful. We learned this song first by doing the associated folk dance.

Instructions: Students stand in 2 concentric circles facing a partner (one partner on the inside, one partner on the outside).
    1. "I don't care if the rain comes down," Walk on beat clockwise (partners will walk opposite directions)
    2."I'm gonna dance all day." Still walking on beat, snap 3 times low middle high to reflect melodic contour
    3."I don't care if the rain comes down," Walk on beat counterclockwise (partners still opposite direction)
    4. "I'm gonna dance all day." Still walking on beat, snap 3 times high middle low to reflect melodic contour
    5. "Hey, hey, carry me away, I'm gonna dance all day." Should be back to partner...high five high low
     on "hey, hey" One arm swing partner and trade places.       
    6. "Hey, hey, carry me away, I'm gonna dance all day." Repeat last motions and switch back to their  
      original places.
    7. On each repetition of the song, students do the same motion, however they will end up with a new
     partner each time. The 2nd time the song is sung students will pass their original partner and move to the
     next person in the circle beside their partner who will become their partner for the "hey, hey" high 5s and
     arm swings. The 3rd time the song is sung, they will pass the previous partner again and move to the next
    person in the circle and so on. Play the game until partners work their way around the circle and back to
    their original partners.

My choir students thought this game was a hoot. Switching partners proved hard for them because they kept forgetting who their last partner was, so it took some practice. They didn't mind practicing, though, because many laughs and giggles were had by all. We played the game during multiple choir rehearsals to make sure the students had internalized the song.

After the song was learned solidly, we moved on to reading the rhythm and melody of the song with solfa, then we read the rhythm and melody of ostinato 1 and practiced singing it against the song, then we read the melody and rhythm of the ostinato 2 and practiced singing it against the song, and lastly we practiced singing all three parts together, song, ostinato 1, and ostinato 2. Once they were comfortable with all of these things, and only then, did I teach them the orchestration to accompany the song with glockenspiel, alto xylophone, and bass xylophone. Go to my website to download a PDF version of the Orff arrangement I created for this song. Notice that ostinato 1 is the same as the bass xylo part and ostinato 2 is similar to the alto xylo part. I found that this helped the choir's intonation, especially as new parts were added.

Finally, as we neared concert time, the choir helped me to decide the final form for our piece. We decided we wanted a "storm" to be the introduction and coda for the piece which we created with body and unpitched percussion. The storm began quietly with sprinkles, built to heavy rain, and then thunder, and then faded away again as the Orff accompaniment began before the choir entrance. At the end of the song, the Orff accompaniment slowly faded out as the storm began, and then the storm built and faded to end the piece.
    1. Begin with wind sounds created with mouths and rubbing hands together.
    2. Move to  finger snaps and mouth pops added as it starts to sprinkle.
    3. Then to lap patting and feet stomping, and then rainsticks and shakers (each student had one)
    4.  Last add a large drum or rubber trashcan for the occasional thunder before slowly working backward  
    through the previous sounds to end the storm and begin the song.

Once we had the storm down we had to decide the actual form of the song. There are many options for this...unison singing, singing in canon, singing with one ostinato or the other or both, how to transition from one part to another, etc. My choir kids decided on this form: Storm, bass xylo part and ostinato 1 two times as an opening, add melody in to bass xylo and ostinato 1 parts, bass xylo part ostinato 1 and add ostinato 2 teo times through as a transition, sing song with both ostinato parts and full accompanient, storm. This isn't the only option, of course, so adjust to fit your students abilities.

I have found that students love creating their own arrangements of folk songs and appreciate having some say in what they will be singing rather than always performing from composed octavos. I would not do this to the exclusion of singing high quality choral octavos, but especially with a young and inexperienced choir, writing your own arrangements of folk songs is a wonderful way to control the difficulty of a piece so you can adjust to your own students' abilities. Don't be scared to try it. There are many folk songs that are age appropriate and that are easily within the ability of an elementary choir to read melodically and rhythmically. Don't want to use Orff accompaniment in a concert? Then write a piano accompaniment if you must, or even better, sing your arrangement accapella. Over the years I have chosen this route many times and have never been disappointed in the results.

The same can be done with older choirs as well, but of course, you must be careful to choose age appropriate folk songs from which to create your ostinatos and arrangements. Choose a folk song that is perhaps longer or has verses, and one which has a theme that appeals to older students, such as sea chanties, cowboy songs, or a folk song in a foreigh language. Junior high students are capable of pulling ostinatos directly out of a song to create their own arrangements for performance, and in my opinion, may learn more from that experience than from singing from an octavo all of the time. How cool would it be for your students to realize that they are musicians who are capable of not only singing someone else's arrangement or composition, but of creating their own arrangements of songs! I think too often in our classrooms students see music, school music especially, as something they can't do without the help of a teacher. We need to create opportunities in our classes to prove them wrong.