Friday, December 6, 2013

A Visit from St. Nicholas - new musical!

In the effort to provide fresh, mini-Broadway-style music programs to Elementary Music Teachers, Music Revolution presents “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a short (20-minute) musical program for Elementary students based on the classic poem by Clement C. Moore. Featuring four original songs (plus a reprise) and a 10-page drama script that is both comical and endearing, this unique program is a great opportunity for Elementary students to experience singing, drama, dance, instrumental performance and more, all in one exciting production they will never forget. The production kit includes practice tracks and orchestrated accompaniment tracks that are easy to follow and will enhance the performance. The musical score includes vocal sheet music, Orff music, percussion music and music for the recorder. Director’s scores are also included for songs featuring student instruments. In addition, the production kit contains detailed Director’s Notes (including ideas for costumes, set, choreography, microphones and more), solo and small group audition tracks (practice and performance), a graphic for your publications, and a general Quick Guide to Theatre.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tempo Run – a fast-paced multi-media game teaching note naming skills for Elementary Music

Tempo Run - a fun way to develop note-naming skills

Available at:

Our music room has transformed into another world!  And in this world, the skill of naming notes on the treble clef staff is a life-or-death necessity.  (For us, it has to do with an ancient building with a magic xylophone which, when played, calls out musical monkeys singing horribly at high volumes to chase students whose only hope is rapid note-naming…but whatever works…)

“Tempo Run” is a game using a PowerPoint show projected on a screen.  Students typically participate one at a time, attempting to name the notes on the staff quickly as they flash up on the screen.  Fast-paced drum-heavy music plays as students play through five levels with increasing difficulty.

When a student beats a level (naming all notes correctly), his or her name goes on the victory wall for that level – bragging rights abound!  Students have quickly taken to the game and are eager for more.  Note naming is fun!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Read to the Rhythm” – cross-curricular instruction for all grades in the Elementary music room

Books in the Music Room

I have long enjoyed and seen the value in using books in the Elementary music classroom.  Students have the opportunity to connect music to other subjects, particular ELA, and children’s books inevitably offer myriad creative lesson ideas for music objectives.

Some of my favorites:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

This year, our 4th and 5th graders are producing a musical based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  We have read pieces of the C. S. Lewis masterpiece in class, and many students have taken it upon themselves to find and read the novel in its entirety.  During this months-long unit, we spend class time working on group songs for the production; playing instruments such as recorders, xylophones, metallophones, glockenspiels, tubano drums, taiko drum and more; and engaging in musical games and activities related to the book that enhance students’ knowledge of music notation, music reading, and other musical concepts.


Floors, by Patrick Carman

Last year, our 3rd grade classes read pieces of this intriguing Patrick Carman novel and embarked on a musical project stemming from the story.  In the book, the main characters navigate a somewhat “magical” hotel using shadow boxes as maps for each floor of the building.  My music students created shadow boxes of their own, each box displaying a musical ensemble designed by the individual student.
Students had a required number of instruments, and were asked to creatively name their ensemble.  In the shadow box, they created miniatures of their selected instruments and placed them as they would appear on the stage.  Students were also required to write a paragraph about their ensembles, the families from which their instruments came, and reasons for why they designed their ensemble in such a way.


Books for Younger Musicians

When a Dragon Moves In, by Jodi Moore

You Think It's Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?, by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt and David Slonim
Leap Back Home to Me, by Lauren Thompson

Way Down Deep in the Deep Blue Sea, by Jan Peck and Valeria Petrone

The Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood
In younger grades, we have explored a variety of books such as those listed above.  With each book, we read through the book in its entirety and proceeded to perform songs and play musical games inspired by the story.  Last year, our activities specifically focused on music notation.
Kindergarteners read Leap Back Home to Me, then completed a book-song using a two-line staff.  First graders did the same with a three-line staff and You Think It’s Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?  Second graders used a five-line staff to notate a song inspired by When a Dragon Moves In.  First and second graders also had a hand in composing the songs related to their books.
At the end of last school year, we held a special performance, entitled “Read to the Rhythm,” in which these younger grades were able to perform their book-songs for friends and families.  Meanwhile, their notated music was displayed on a standards-based bulletin board for all to admire before and after the special performance.
Read on!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Dance with the Irish" for Elementary Music – games, instruments, round singing and recorder music

As the cold weather persists, we march boldly into spring and quickly approach a fun classroom holiday – St. Patrick’s Day!  With its cultural connections, exciting music and colorful tones, St. Patrick’s is a great opportunity for lesson planning, particularly in the Music Room.  I wrote “Dance with the Irish” as a multi-purpose song that has so far proven to be fun for all grades and useful in a variety of settings.


Our fourth and fifth graders play along with the fast-paced track for this song on recorders, an exercise for developing skills with those early notes (G, A and B).  The music includes an A and B section, helpful for reinforcing form in music.  (

Singing with motions and in a round

A section

Dance with the Irish

All through the day,

Sing and beat the drum,

Dance the night away!

B section

I, I like the Irish life,

I, I like the Irish life,

I, I like the Irish life,

I, I like the Irish life!

The song itself can be sung in a round using the A and B sections.  I begin by echo-teaching with motions:

·        “Dance with the Irish” – create your own dance move

·        “All through the day” – spread hands over head to represent sunshine

·        “Sing and beat the drum” – cup hands to mouth, then beat an imaginary drum

·        “Dance the night away” – create your own dance move

·        “I, I like the Irish life” – use thumbs to point to self, then do a dance move

 After singing together with the motions, we sing the song in two groups, overlapping the A and B sections in round-singing style.

Singing with Rhythm Sticks

In third grade and below, a favorite has become a Rhythm Sticks game that fits nicely with the song.  Students sit in a circle, each holding a Rhythm Stick.  The A section is sung with an accompanying Rhythm Stick pattern:

·        Two taps on the ground

·        Two taps on an arm or the lap

·        Four taps on the palm

During the B section, students tap the ground twice, and then pass their Rhythm Sticks to the right.  It sounds simple, but students love doing it to the tempo of the background track, all the while singing along.

A great day of musical St. Patrick’s Day fun!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Once every year our music room is the venue for an event I like to call the “Music World Series,” a tournament of music baseball games that have helped my classes with both instruction and assessment.

The Concept

Music baseball works something like this:

  • Students are divided into two teams (they create team names, a fun element for them) and line up in a batting order that can be determined any number of ways.
  • Instead of pitching baseballs, the students use a “pitcher’s mound” table to pitch musical questions.

  • When a student steps up to “bat,” they choose the difficulty level of the question they will receive.
o   First Base – the easiest questions

o   Second Base – a level harder

o   Third Base – more challenging

o   Home Run – the most difficult questions
  • I set up four bases in the classroom (the final rounds take place in our gym).  If a “batter” gets a question right, they advance to the corresponding base.  RBI’s do happen in music baseball!  If a student answers a third base question, that students waits on third base, and if the next student correctly answers a question, the first student runs home and scores a point for their team!
  • Musical questions can include anything, but I divide them into four general categories:
o   Melody (everything from solfege hand signs to staff notation)

o   Rhythm (clapping, counting, identifying note values, etc.)

o   Instruments (recognizing instruments, knowing their families, etc.)

o   Listening (identifying composers, genres, cultures, instruments, etc.)

 Training Stations

For at least one full class session preceding the tournament, students rotate through four training stations corresponding to the four musical categories from which the music baseball questions come.  These stations have proven invaluable for musical instruction and review.  The specifics for individual stations can range from flashcards to computer stations to iPad activities.  During class, I use this opportunity to rotate through the stations and give students individual and small group attention.

The music baseball games themselves have become excellent sources for musical assessment that spans multiple standards.  What’s more, the students love it and look forward to it all year!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mystery Mansion Activity for Elementary Music Instrument and Terminology Instruction

“Mystery Mansion” is a live, 3-dimensional “I Spy” game used for elementary music instrument and terminology instruction.  Last year I incorporated it into the ongoing story of the Dragon Games, but it could easily stand alone.

The Concept…

I told my students that they, in their explorations, had stumbled into a mysterious mansion on a hill.  Having been greeted by the butler (whose theme music was playing as they entered the classroom – I used one of the modern renditions of “Por Una Cabeza”), they have now been given the challenge of finding a list-full of musical items, terms, and so forth, all within this Mystery Mansion.

One full wall of classroom shelves became a life-sized game of “I Spy,” into which I packed a quantity of classroom instruments, orchestral instruments, pictures or drawings of music symbols and terminology, and other musical objects.  By mixing in a number of antique books and other knick-knacks, a wall of shelves became a visual game appealing to the eye.  I found that students were instantly and consistently engaged by the activity, learning and retaining knowledge of musical instruments, symbols and terminology through active, visual means.

The List…

Students received a list of about 30 items…

·        musical instruments...
·        music-related objects (conductor’s baton, iPod, etc.)...
·        music symbols...
·        musical terms...

…and had a time limit to find everything on the list in the game area.  In younger classes, we found many objects as a whole class; older classes went to work independently or in small groups.  The activity sparked many questions stemming from holes in the students’ knowledge, holes that were quickly filled as students connected the instrument names and musical terms to the visuals in the game.

The Transition…

The only non-musical item on the list was a scroll; after the “I Spy” game, I displayed a line of music notation on our screen and explained that these notes were the contents of the scroll.  For each grade level, the music was slightly different…

·        Kindergarten – a two line staff with icons representing notes…
·        1st Grade – a three-line staff…
·        2nd – 5th Grade – five-line staves with increasingly involved components…
Students then had a variety of tasks and challenges to explore, all relating to the music on the "scroll."  As I plan future versions of this lesson, I have found that the “I Spy” game transitions well into any number of notation- or music-reading-centered activities.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Dragon Games for Elementary Music Notation Assessment

Every spring, our music classroom transforms into another world as students embark on an epic adventure that strengthens and tests their musical knowledge and skills – so far this has been an excellent tool for elementary music notation assessment! The theme of the adventure changes each year and serves as an exciting package for the content itself. Last year’s adventure was entitled, “The Dragon Games.” On Day 1, I informed students that every time they stepped into the music room, they would be stepping back in time, to medieval days, into a town that they would create themselves. Students in each class named their town and placed it on a giant map hanging on the wall, so that by the end of the first week, every class had a town “dot” on our fictitious wall map.

The Story:

  • The kingdom of Musicadia has been taken over by an army of dragons – a dragon rules over every town.
  • The dragons plan to put their townspeople through a series of musical games and challenges.
  • Only by defeating the games and challenges set by the dragons can the people of Musicadia restore peace to the kingdom!
  • At the beginning of this series of lessons, every class represents a town-full of people who have been imprisoned by their dragon.

The First Challenge:

The students’ (townspeople’s) first challenge was to escape the dungeon in which they had been “imprisoned.” In order to open the dungeon door, they were required to pass the Ogre guarding their cell. The Ogre presented them with a challenge (pictured) for which students had to decode the message using a standard 5-line treble clef staff:

“To escape the dungeon, you’ll need a key. The key is a bad egg!”
I helped the students discover on their own that the solution was to notate “A B-A-D E-G-G“ on the treble clef staff.

“The guard is hungry. He’ll let you pass for some aged beef.”
By now, the students knew that the solution was to notate “A-G-E-D B-E-E-F” on the staff.

This activity got students notating, inspired their creativity, gave me an assessment opportunity and provided a great display for our Standards-Based Bulletin Board. Great Day 1 of the Dragon Games!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recorder Song Demo on YouTube

I used this song with my new recorder students this week and it worked very well. On day one, you're doing good to keep your students from blowing too hard (I like the "cool-off-your-soup-without-splattering" metaphor) and helping them understand the concept of covering the holes all the way ("Are you making bubbles on your fingertips?"). Learning notes and playing songs is a bonus.

I had heard about songs that were written with very few notes - say, A and B for example - and simple rhythms for new players, but (and here's the key) with fun background tracks to play along with. I loved the idea immediately and, being a composer, wanted to write some of my own. Thus came "Spanish Blade" (and some others that incorporate other cultures for cross-curriculum purposes), which I want to share with other music teachers. It worked GREAT in my music room this week. 4th graders were playing A and B in a full song within 30 minutes of picking up their instruments for the first time.

I made a demonstration video (thank you,!) that I hope helps other teachers see what I mean. Fun stuff!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Academy for Pirates

The Shiver-Me-Timbers-Me-Hearty-Swashbuckler-Academy-for-Pirates (Yo Ho)! This is the second year I have walked my music students through the "Academy for Pirates," a school for musical "pirates" to swashbuckle and sing their chanties as they learn about rhythm, meter, ostinato and instrumental techniques. The students LOVE what has become known as Pirate Week: for the week, I'll dress up as "Captain Finnegan," a musical pirate captain, and remain in character throughout each school day. Activities include learning the song, "Gonna Be a Pirate" (one of mine), and dissecting the notation of the song on-screen, then playing drums (cannons), triangles (crow's nest bells) and Orff xylophones (rowing their oars) with the song. I plan on making all of the songs, materials and lesson ideas available on TeachersPayTeachers soon. In the meantime, another great year of the Academy for Pirates is now complete!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Find my music on
Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth -

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Recorder Songs with Background Tracks

I am creating a supply of simple recorder music that comes alive when played with their accompanying background tracks. So far there are six available online. The tracks are active and fun, and the songs vary in cultural style and genre as implied by their titles:

• Spanish Blade
• Blue Africa
• Sounds of the East
• Texas Train
• Classic Urban
• Rock City

I am finishing up a seventh title, "Native Land," set in a Native American style. I hope these resources are used and useful!

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