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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: Irish music in elementary music class

Although I use music from a variety of cultures and traditions regularly in all grade levels throughout the school year, I spend about a month focusing on the music from a particular culture in each grade. Over the last few weeks, I've been sharing my lesson ideas for each of those countries. Today's focus: Ireland! I'm including a list of all of the countries / cultures I will be writing about in this series at the end of this post. As I publish the posts, I will add the link so that you can find each post quickly from that list- you may want to bookmark this page so you can find all of the posts to reference later. You'll find links to my previous posts on Brazil, Mozambique, China, Native America and the Philippines already linked at the end of this post.

I actually used to do a unit on Ireland with my 3rd graders in connection with their recorder study, and have since replaced it with another country (Philippines) for a number of reasons. However I am bringing back some of these lessons on music from Ireland this week to tie in with St. Patrick's Day (and because everyone needs a break with all the standardized tests, report cards, and other general craziness), so today I'm sharing all of those lessons with you!

My favorite place to start with Irish music is dance! Depending on the age of the students you can do more difficult ones (look on this YouTube channel for other tutorials), or make this one easier to do with kids as young as kindergarten, but this dance is a great place to start:

Those steps are for a hornpipe. With my younger students (or older students just learning), I like to use this recording to dance along with (I use the above video tutorial just for my own use to learn the dance- I don't show it to the students) because it has a nice slow tempo and it isn't too long:

After we learn the basic hornpipe steps with the music, I like to have students listen to examples of different types of Irish music (jigs, hornpipes, etc) and compare them. I also use some worksheets to have students describe some typical Irish instruments and compare and contrast them with instruments they already know. If you are interested, you can get the worksheets, teaching slides, and additional videos and resources that I use for this in my World Instrument Listening Unit (click on the picture to check it out):

The resource above also includes some basic information about the country of Ireland, but I don't spend a lot of time talking about generic facts about the countries we study- I find it is much more meaningful and memorable for students to simply experience the musical culture of the region, even if it is just one very small slice of the culture as a whole

There are lots of great songs from Ireland that are great for singing and/or playing on instruments in class. When I did this in conjunction with our recorder study, I had students learn some easy penny whistle tunes on recorder. You can buy penny whistle books for beginners on Amazon. Just be aware that most of the music will be in D major or another similar key with some sharps. Depending on the skill level of the students, you might want to take the time to transpose the tune to C major.

One song that I am planning to do this year in conjunction with St. Patrick's Day is "I Am the Wee Falorie Man". You can find the sheet music, lyrics, and a recording on Mama Lisa's page here. The meaning (and even country of origin) of the word "falorie" is disputed, but there seems to be a general consensus that it is referring to a leprechaun. First I teach the song, and I ask the students to guess what the song is about. Next we use some of the steps from the hornpipe dance to dance along while we sing the song. Dancing with the song helps students to really get the feeling of the 6/8 time signature (a great concept to cover or review with the song!).

Next we add some instruments. Depending on the age of the students, I have students keep the dotted quarter beat with some kind of repeated pattern on the tonic and dominant notes of the key (G and D if you keep it in G major), on barred instruments and/or boomwhackers. I also happen to have a few double-sided mallets, so I have some students hold the hand drums like a bodhran and play a quarter-eighth pattern (which they think is super awesome!). I show them this video to help them see how the bodhran is played and get them excited about the instrument:

Of course you can add lots of other instruments playing different repeating patterns- I've used rhythm sticks, finger cymbals, and other instruments when I need to have more instrumental parts or want to practice some different rhythmic patterns within the 6/8 time signature. You could even have students write their own 1 or 2 measure rhythms to add as well!

That's everything I teach for music from Ireland. Do you teach Irish music in your class? I'd love to see any additional ideas and resources you have in the comments below! And don't forget that I will be posting more ideas, focusing on different cultures around the world, over the next several weeks. Check out the posts below and be sure to keep checking back for more ideas. Here's the schedule of countries/cultures I will be writing about over the next several weeks (country names will link to posts once they are published):

1. Brazil


  1. How wonderful! I love to use Irish music to teach about form as most instrumental pieces are in Binary or Ternary form. The kids use flashcards of A or B to order the form and identify what it is.

    We also listen to music to determine its time signature. We listen to reels (4/4) vs jigs(6/8). My trick is I get the kids to say double decker for a reel or carrots and cabbages for a jig. They love this!

    With some of my older boys we look at rock fusion and study bands like Thin Lizzy to see how Irish music has influenced Rock.

    Look up the website If you click on comhaltaslive you can choose video clips by instrument, reel etc. which is really useful!

    I am Irish and love to share any of my knowledge with my lil Aussie musicians!

    1. Wow, these are all amazing tips- thank you SO MUCH for sharing! I love them all, I am definitely going to be using them in my classroom.

  2. I love these videos that you found! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I love using quick little videos to bring experiences to my students that they otherwise wouldn't get. Music from around the world is a perfect example- it's like having free access to native musicians from around the world to come and present their music right in our classroom! :)