Thursday, October 15, 2015

Monster Rhythms

My students LOVE to play instruments! (Duh!) It's easy to get them to practice reading and playing rhythms - especially with fun and festive slides like these monster rhythms. I projected this brand new set in my second grade class and, and students ate them up.

My instruments are set up in three rows, and students zig, zag, zig through the rows. In other words, they move to the right on row 1, left on row 2, and right on row 3, followed by one quick zoom from the last instrument back to the beginning of row 1. Rows can include barred instruments in a pentaton, unhitched percussion, or a combination of both.

Since it is fairly early in the year and I only see them once a week, we used my introductory method of playing the slides.
  1. Say It: I count down: "8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, play it now." Students say it without playing
  2. Say and Play It: Students speak and play the rhythm (Play should continue without missing a beat. I sometimes speak in rhythm and give directions while they are playing to keep them on track.
  3. Just Play It: Students should think the rhythmic syllables while they play.
  4. Rotate: Students move to the next instrument while I click to the next slide and begin the countdown again. They know they only have 8 beats to get ready, so they move quickly and with purpose.

When students are proficient, they say and play each slide twice without stopping before rotating to the next instrument. When this works well, they are ready for their favorite rhythmic game: Poisoned Rhythms. I created this Monster version to go along with our new practice slides.

Students will strive to outwit the monsters by avoiding playing the poisoned rhythm. The "punishment" isn't too bad: they simply move to the next level of instruments. Complete instructions for the game are included in the product file.

The practice slides and the poisoned rhythm game are available at my TpT store. The bundle includes everything you need for a monstrous good time, plus it includes a discount:

I hope these ideas inspire you to make your music class rock!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Monster Recorder B-A-G Rhythms

My fourth graders began learning music notation last year. They are doing a great job at identifying notes. We have been playing Around the World - Treble Staff, so I know they can name the pitches. I wish they were doing as well at producing a pleasing tone on the recorder. I know they will get there. We just haven't had a lot of time in class to work, yet.

I wanted a quick way for them practice and for me to assess and assist, as needed. I created a quick monster-themed PowerPoint filled with 4-beat rhythmic slides. I assigned letter names to the notes, so I students could practice fingering and playing B, A, and G. I'm usually a stickler for reading the music and don't allow them to write letter names in their books. I usually want them reading the notes, instead of letters; but this time I was more concerned with helping them improve their tone and articulation.

I created three different levels of Monster Recorder B-A-G and began using it this week. We began with Level 1, which keeps each 4-beat rhythm on one pitch. It was easy to spot students who were playing the wrong pitch, either due to fingering the wrong pitch or not completely covering holes.

Here is the procedure we followed this week: (I'm sure I'll tweak this as we go.)

  • Students read and fingered the rhythm silently
  • All students played the example once
  • We identified issues with rhythm or pitch and then played it twice in a row.
  • Groups played examples, so I could more easily identify specific students needing help. (I have divided my class into 3 groups. They numbered off in their order, so no one sits by a neighbor in the same number group. I use this system often, because they can hear themselves better and I can focus on fewer players at once.)
Level 2 increases the difficulty by having examples that include more than one pitch, but all movement is stepwise.

As my students improve, I plan to use Monster Recorder to play a game. I'll divide the class into two teams and have individuals from teams play. They can earn points. I'm thinking of this point system:
  • 1 point for correct rhythm (but not all pitches or pleasing tone)
  • 2 points for correct rhythm & pitch OR rhythm & tone (problem with pitch or tone)
  • 3 points for proper rhythm, pitch, and tone 

Level 3 steps it up another notch and adds leaps between B and G. All levels use pretty basic rhythms, which include quarter notes and rests, half notes, and eighth notes.

Each level is available in my TpT store, as well as a bundled set available at a discount. You can find them here:

Happy Playing!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Around the World - Treble Staff Game

My fourth graders traveled around the world this week. Okay, it's not what it sounds like. We didn't leave home, but we did have a passport to an entertaining way to practice identifying treble note letter names! Around the World is a game many teachers use to review, practice, and assess various skills, and I thought it would be a great way to make identifying notes exciting for the students.

I created a game using PowerPoint and tried out two versions of play with my students this week. They had a blast and begged for more when it was time to go.

Game Play

Version 1 - Basic Play

  • Class sits in a semi-circle.
  • Student 1 stands behind Student 2.
  • Teacher counts down 5-4-3-2-1 and changes slides to reveal a new pitch.
  • Student 1 and 2 compete to identify the letter name of the pitch displayed on the screen.
  •  The first person to call out the correct pitch name is the winner. If the first answer given is not correct, the other student wins the round.
  • Teacher changes slide to reveal the correct answer.
  • The winner moves on and stands behind Student 3.
  •  The other student sits in spot 2.
  •  Play continues with the winner moving forward and the other student sitting in the spot.
  • The winner of the game is the first person to make it around the world and back to his/her “home.”

Version 2 - All Play

  •  Class sits in a semi-circle, grouped in pairs. Each pair needs 1 set of A-B-C-D-E-F-G game pieces.
  • Students must work silently.
  • Students must place both hands on their knees as the teacher counts down 5-4-3-2-1 and changes the slide to display a new note.
  • Pairs of students compete to identify the letter name of the pitch displayed on the screen and pick up the correct letter piece. (Both students can pick up a piece if they select different answers.)
  • Students hold their pieces in the air to signal they are done.  (They should not let others see their choice.)
  • When each group is ready, the teacher changes slide to reveal the answer.
  • The winner moves left to the next set of pieces, while the other student remains in place.
  • If neither player selects the correct answer, they remain in place and the person moving toward their group gets to skip over to the next set.
  • The winner of the game is the first person to make it around the world and back “home.”
  • Gameplay may continue.

"All Play" Tips

During the "All Play" version, I put a chime tree in the center and let the students quickly step forward and play it to signal when they had made it around the circle.

The "All Play" version requires a set of game pieces for each pair of students. I wanted to use different colors for each letter, so I could sort sets easily if they got mixed up. The pieces can be made out of anything that is durable and can withstand students grabbing. I considered several options and decided to use poker chips that I found online in a rainbow of colors. I used a permanent marker to label them. They are heavy and the perfect size for students to pick up and hold in their fists without others seeing the color. Bottle caps would also work as durable game pieces.

I gave specific instructions about playing safely and fairly. An important rule for them to remember is to keep their hands on their knees until the note is displayed and it is time to pick up a piece.
There were a couple of instances when I had to have a play-off for one set of students for different reasons. Overall, students played nicely and enjoyed the competition. I have to absent next week, and I know what my 4th graders will be doing while I'm gone!


You can play this game by simply drawing notes on the board, but I loved the ease of having the PowerPoint presentation. The graphics also make it more festive. If you would like to purchase a PowerPoint version of the game, you can head over to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store that I just opened. Two versions are available: one with basic treble notes from line 1 to line 5 and another with extended treble notes ranging from middle C to G above the staff. There is a discount for a bundled set of both version available, as well. You can access the items below.

Happy travels!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Recorder Rewards

My 4th graders are thrilled this week, because their recorders have arrived! Pretty soon they will be on their way to earning belts as they master songs from their books. We use "Recorder Express," and students can select from a couple of songs for most colored belts. (For the more info on specific song choices, you can find our recorder belt chart in Recorder Extras.)

There are many different ways to reward students for mastery of a recorder piece. I love the recorder karate idea, because it really motivates the students to work hard. They feel so much pride when they get to put a belt on their recorder. There are all kinds of materials you can use for the belts. Some teachers use ribbon, some use jelly bands, and some use yarn. There is no telling what some teachers have come up with to use for rewards. Music teachers are a creative bunch!

I like to use yarn because it's relatively cheap and makes a cute pompon on the recorder. I bought skeins of yarn about 9 years ago, and I still have a great supply. I have only had to replace white, yellow, blue, and green(although I just noticed my purple and pink are almost gone). Since I have a good number of students who work their way past black, I add some rainbow colored belts to keep the fun going.

In order to cut a lot of belts quickly, I simply wrap the yarn around a textbook about 20 times, pinch the yarn, slide it off, cut the bottom loops, and cut the top loops. Boom! 40 belts cut in 30 seconds flat!

I really don't know what took me so long to decide to cut belts quickly, but I'm embarrassed to say that I used to cut one belt at a time. Ha! Maybe it's because I didn't have an organized method for storing a lot of belts. No more! After I saw a brilliant teacher's bucket on Pinterest with dividers to store belts, I looked around my room and found a caddy, some cardboard, scissors, and duct tape. A little while later, I said "hello" to this handy, dandy, recorder belt caddy:

If you are interested in additional recorder tips, check out Recorder Extras for ideas about reinforcing flimsy plastic recorder bags and a link to a Word document I created to track students as they earn belts. You also might enjoy Recorders Rock for more info on how we label and organize recorders and for a JPEG image to insert in a PowerPoint with recorder tips for beginning players.

I hope your recorder players are as excited as mine are. Isn't being a music teacher rewarding and fun?!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Off to a Great Start

It’s the middle of the summer, but the first day of school will be here soon and it’s never too early to plan. What should my students do in music on the first day? It’s important to consider objectives prior to formulating a plan. My first day objectives are for the students to get excited about music and learn basic procedures that will make the class run smoothly for the rest of the year.

A typical first day in my K-3 classroom has the following activities: (I swap out a few activities in my 4-6 classes, but still incorporate some name games.)

1. Welcome students

I greet classes at the door and instruct students where they need to be seated. I generally have them enter single-file and make a semi-circle on the edge of the carpet. This is not the time to discuss discipline, unless there are issues that need to be addressed.

2. Get moving

After a brief welcome and introduction, perform a simple song that incorporates some type of movement. A call and response song with motions is a good idea, so students can participate immediately.

3. Assign Seats

Assigned seating makes it easier to learn/remember names and it reduces behavior issues. I alphabetize students by first name, because it helps me remember their names better. I always reserve the right to reassign seats, if discipline issues arise.

4. Play a Name Game

Incorporate instruments when appropriate. You may view my previous post, “Getting to Know You”, for some of my favorite name games.

5. Know Your Place!

Play a memory game for younger grades to help them remember where they sit. Discuss quick guidelines for moving (Demonstrate how to move – show good and bad choices and discuss boundaries, safety, space-bubble, etc.) 
  • Move around carpet to steady beat while music plays
  • Freeze when keyboard stops (at this point, continue movement activity or end by playing "tip-toe" music)
  • Tiptoe back to seat at special melody (I play a certain melody in a high range - always the same song)

6. Be a Star Student

Discuss positive behavior expectations for the classroom. If discipline problems arise, this may need to happen earlier. If the class runs smoothly, go over the first few rules and complete the list in the following class for younger grades. In older grades that have been in my classroom, I typically go over the expectations quicker. Each expectation has a gesture, and we do the movement and say them all in order together. For a list of my expectations, free visuals, and a video of the movements, see my previous post, “Star Students”.

7. Sound Cues

Introduce the cues to K, and review for older students Specific pitch intervals are sung or played and students respond with the appropriate movement. When introducing each cue, words are sung that instruct the students what to do. Later, they will be able to following cues without the words.  
  • Stand up (sol- high do) (g1-c2)
  • Turn around (all high do-re-do) (c2-d2-c2)
  • Jump up (high do- high so) (c2-g2) 
  • Lie down (do- low sol) (c1-g) 
  • Later, add Sit up (low sol-do) (g-c1), but it can be easily confused with “stand up”, since they are the same interval in different octaves. 

8. Line Up

Discuss proper way to line up, exit, etc.

If time allows, another song or activity can be added to the lesson plan.

Next week

The following week, I take pictures of each student with my iPad to enter into the app, TeacherKit. It is a great tool that allows you to put photos of students and place them in a seating chart to assist with names. It can also be used for tracking progress on objectives. You can learn more about it in my previous post, “4 Apps 4 Teachers”.

I hope this helps get your creative juices flowing with ideas for getting music off to a great start. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Clips from "The Lion King, Jr."

In May 2015, all 121 of our 6th graders participated in the production of Disney's "The Lion King, Jr." Since the show just became available in January, it was quite a feat. Costuming the show was probably the craziest part, and I hope to find time to give some tips and ideas on that. But for now, I'm posting a few video clips that I've uploaded to SchoolTube.

If you are considering performing this show with your students, I highly recommend it! The music is phenomenal, and the students loved everything about the musical. There are great parts for the chorus to play - boys enjoyed being wildebeests and other creatures, and girls loved being grasslands or graceful animals like gazelles and cheetahs.

I hope these videos will inspire you to take the leap into the wonderful world of "The Lion King!"

"Be Prepared": Scar gathers the hyenas and prepares to take over the Pridelands.

"They Live in You": Mufasa teaches Simba a lesson

"I Just Can't Wait to be King": Young Simba looks forward to being in charge

"Hakuna Matata": Timon & Pumbaa teach Simba how to live with no worries

"Shadowland": Nala leaves her homeland after Scar takes over

"He Lives in You": Rafiki teaches Simba to learn from the past (rehearsal video)

Hakuna matata!