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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Favorite Sleigh Ride Music Lessons

We just got our first snow of the season his past weekend (and it looks like a lot of others did too)! With snow on the ground (or in the forecast) and holidays on the horizon, Sleigh Ride is the perfect song to keep kids engaged. It talks a lot about snow and feels "holiday-esque" without actually referring to any holidays. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite lesson ideas using Sleigh Ride. I hope these ideas help you enjoy these last couple of weeks before break!

Cup Routine

I've shared this idea a few times before but it's worth including here because it is so much fun and it's a great way to review steady beat, rhythms, and form! I saw another music teacher post an idea for doing a cup routine with Sleigh Ride several years ago (here's the video) and loved the idea, but the routine was way too hard for my elementary students (I think it would be great for middle or even high school!). I created this simplified version, which can be done with kids as young as kindergarten (or with older students without much practice time, which is perfect for those concert days or that last day before break!). 

The key to teaching these cup routines (and the best way to reinforce the form of the piece) is to teach one section at a time. Start with the A section and go through the entire piece performing only the A section actions, resting and listening for the other parts. Then add B, and finally add C. Students will quickly figure out the pattern of the Rondo form that way.


I shared a similar idea last year in my post about lessons for The Nutcracker. Basically I show my students several different versions of the piece (I try to find the most disparate examples possible) and we discuss the different arrangements. Just this step alone is perfect for reviewing musical concepts and vocabulary, whether it's instrument names, dynamics, tempo, tonality, or articulation. But I have also taken it one step further with some of my older grades and had them create their own arrangement in small groups. In this case I have them use just the A section. Here are some of my favorite versions of Sleigh Ride to show, but there are many others out there you could use!

Paper Plate Skating

The idea of paper plate skating is probably not new to most of you, but I'll explain just in case: basically you give each student 2 paper plates and they put one under each foot so they can glide along the floor like they're skating. This works best on carpet- if you have hard flooring but have some kind of rug you can use that (just call it the "skating rink" and tell kids not to get too close to the edge). This is a great one for practicing half notes because they can glide along with each foot on the half notes. Here's what I have students do, but you can change it up depending on the age of the students.

A section: alternate feet on quarter, quarter, half note pattern
B section: all half notes
C section: jumps, spins, and tricks (I tell students to do some figure skating tricks in this section. Some of them can jump in the air, turn around, and land back on their skates, others do different spins with the arms in different positions or try skating backwards etc. What's really great is to get kids to try to do something where they land on the slapstick notes!)

A great variation I found recently on O for Tuna Orff Schulwerk's Facebook page is to cut skis out of laminated paper and use those the same way you would use skates- if you're logged in on Facebook you can see the video where she talks about them here (and oh my goodness you guys, did you know she started her FB page about a month ago? She has been sharing some fantastic videos with teaching tips! Just search O for Tuna Orff Schulwerk on Facebook to find her page and go follow!). 

Instrument Play Alongs

I've done this several times with whatever rhythms we're practicing in that grade level- I just throw one 4 or 8 beat rhythm on the board for each of the 3 sections and have the students play the rhythm as an ostinato with the music. I label the rhythm with the section names (A/B/C) to help them keep track. If you can, it's even more fun to have students switch instruments for each section. Either give every student 3 instruments, or have half of the class use one instrument to play all of the A section parts and have the other half use 2 different instruments to play the B and C sections.

If you want to stick with very simple rhythms (quarter notes and quarter rests only), you can have students play along with this video!

I hope you find some useful ideas here to use with your classes- I love finishing out the last few days before break with some fun lessons like these (and hey, the students are still learning). If you're looking for more ideas to use this season, be sure to check out my post from last year on lessons for The Nutcracker:

I send timely ideas and resources like these to my email subscribers every month, including an outline of the concepts I'm planning to teach for each of my K-6 general music classes for the month ahead. Sign up below to be sure you don't miss my next email:

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Awesome Gifts that Aren't Things: quality time

I'm working on a series this month focused on sharing gift ideas that kids will love that aren't actual things, but instead are more intangible items. The idea is to focus on people and relationships over "stuff", and to decrease the amount of clutter that can easily take over the house when holidays and birthdays come around. Last week I focused on classes, clubs, and other recurring interest-based activities (read here). Today I want to focus on quality time with you (the gift giver)!

The ideas I shared last week are meaningful gifts because you are giving up part of your week to focus on an activity they want to do. There can definitely be a side benefit of shared experiences and quality time together, depending on the activity, but the main point is the activity in which they get to participate- not who they do it with.

But you can also give the gift of quality time with you! The idea is to make a specific commitment or plan to spend time focused on being together in a way that you normally wouldn't. You can present this in a few different ways to make it fun for the receiver:

*Give "coupon(s)" for specific activities that the receiver can redeem when they choose
*Give certificate(s) for a specific time and place, detailing the plans you have already arranged
*Give "coupon(s)" for a specific block of time and let the receiver choose the activity/location
*Give a certificate for a recurring "appointment", whether weekly or monthly, for a specific activity

There are so many fun ways to spend quality time with children! Pick something that you may not normally do, at least not just the two of you, but allows you to interact with each other:

*Go to the playground or library
*Go to a restaurant, ice cream parlor, or cafe
*Plan a game night, spa night, or craft time at home
*Go to a candy, toy, or book store (even just to browse)
*Go get your nails or hair done together
*Go camping, hiking, or boating, or go to the beach
*Go play basketball, other sports, or exercise together at a gym or pool

The great thing about this gift is that anyone can give it- even kids themselves. I've written before about how my daughters give the gift of a specific outing to their extended family for Christmas and birthdays now (honestly the most sought-after gift of all)- you can read about that in this post.

I hope this sparks some fun gift ideas that will not only reduce the clutter at home but bring you all closer together! Have you ever given this type of gift before? How did you present it? I'd love to hear your experiences and ideas in the comments!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

5 Ways to Introduce a New Song

Teaching young students a new song can be tricky. They really need to hear it a few times before they try to sing it themselves, but what child wants to sit and listen for that long, and how much do they really pay attention when they do? And how can you get them to learn all the words without everyone getting a headache? Today I want to share a few of my favorite ways to introduce a new song to elementary age students that are engaging and effective.

1. Hand motions

This is my go-to for sure. I introduce new songs by first having them mirror my hand motions while I sing the song. Usually we'll practice doing this twice (reminding the students to keep their voices off) before I start having them echo me one line at a time to learn the song. Not only does this provide an engaging way for students to hear the song sung, but the motions also serve as a memory aid and help students focus on and remember the words. I wrote an entire post on this- here it is if you want to read more about how I use sign language for this purpose.

2. Movements

This one is similar to the last but often neglected- have students learn some type of full-body movement or dance while you introduce the song. This could be as simple as walking around in a circle on the beat, or you could get into complete choreography. A lot of times as music teachers I think we automatically teach the song first and then the dance/ movement, but actually in many cases it is more effective to teach the movements first and have them get familiar with the structure of the song that way, then have them learn the singing part afterwards. 

3. Pictures

I don't use this strategy as often but it's a great way to mix things up. I will put pictures that represent the words to the song up on the board (or hold them up on pieces of paper) and have students guess what the song is about before I sing it to them to "find out if they were right". This is a great way to get students to really focus on the lyrics when they hear the song for the first time! 

So for example, if I was introducing the song "Mary Had a Little Lamb", I might have a picture of a girl, a lamb, and a snowflake. Without knowing the song, students might assume that it has something to do with winter- when they hear the song, they'll discover that actually the snow reference is just to talk about the lamb's white wool! 

4. Ostinati / accompaniment parts

This is another one that I think most of us would teach after students learn the song, but can effectively be used in reverse order! Start by teaching students a simple accompaniment or ostinato part on instruments, body percussion, etc. Then once they can do that independently, sing the melody for them while they perform the accompaniment part. A great challenge for older elementary students is to ask them to listen to hear what the song is about while performing the accompaniment. It's a real challenge for their brains to focus on hearing the words without losing track of their part!

5. Play it first

My final suggestion works best along with the movement suggestions from the first 2 points here: play the melody on an instrument (live or from a recording). I most commonly use this strategy while also having students move with the meter- if it's in triple meter, they can do a basic waltz step around the room, or students could do a simple clapping pattern with a partner that fits the meter. Once they can do the movement with the song, then go back and teach the melody and have them perform the movements while singing. 

These are just a few of my favorite strategies- it's fun to mix it up and try something different to keep all of us on our toes! What are some of your favorite ways to introduce a new song? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments section!

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Awesome Gifts That Aren't Things: classes

I've hit that point in my life when I look around at all the toys, books, clothes, trinkets, and just... well... stuff, and I question the meaning of life. I mean honestly, it's not that we have an exorbitant amount of playthings, clothes, or household items, and the things we do have are all good, but how much do we really need? With that thought in mind, I've come up with some ideas for gifts that aren't "things" that kids will still be excited to receive!

I'm going to be sharing a few different categories of ideas over the next few weeks. Today I'm focusing on classes (or clubs, teams, groups, etc). Classes are a great way to give kids something they can get excited about because you can focus on a specific area of interest, whether it's music, sports, or anything else you can think of! Here are a few examples to consider:

*Private or group music lessons
*Community choir or orchestra
*Theater/ drama classes
*Art classes
*Chess lessons
*Foreign language classes/ tutors
*Sports teams
*Martial arts classes
*Hiking clubs
*Girl / Boy Scouts 
*Book clubs

Obviously I'm stretching the term "classes" to fit the general concept of specific, interest-oriented activities that kids can attend on a regular basis. The great thing is in many cases, these gifts don't cost any money- they simply require a time and energy commitment from you as a parent. Libraries and schools will often have classes, clubs, and teams that are free or very cheap.

I love this gift idea because it not only gives kids the gift of learning, but it shows that you care about their interests, and it is also giving them the gift of your time, whether you're doing the class with them, observing the lessons, or even just serving as their chauffeur. 

There are a couple of ways you can present this gift to kids: one way is to wrap up a paper or flyer that explains the class (but that probably won't get them very excited when they open it), and another is to give them something that they'll use in the class. Sometimes that might be a uniform or something else they can wear, supplies they'll need, or maybe a pass or badge that shows their membership. Whatever you use, having something physical to open (without adding to the clutter, which is what we're trying to avoid in the first place) can help make the experience more tangible and exciting (especially for younger children). 

I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Is anyone else looking for ways to give gifts without becoming overwhelmed with clutter? What have been your favorite gift ideas for this? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!