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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Music Lesson for My Many Colored Days

I love using storybooks to reinforce musical concepts, especially with my younger students, and today I am sharing one of my most treasured lessons that I use with students to reinforce the concept of tone color, or timbre. I use the most un-Seuss-like Dr. Seuss book ever, "My Many Colored Days", to teach this lesson, and I have used it successfully with every grade from kindergarten through 5th grade. Besides being a great way to teach tone color, this book provides a starting point for a very meaningful discussion about emotions to which I have found students respond very positively as well, no matter what their age. If you want a lesson to help foster a more positive classroom environment, this is an excellent place to start.

If you've never read the book before, the premise of the story is summed up in the first line of the book: "Some days are yellow. Some are blue. On different days, I'm different too". The book goes through descriptions of the way we feel on different days, using colors and animals to describe each one (like, "On bright red days how good it feels to be a horse and kick my heels!"). I have found that for many of my more emotionally challenged students, this book is very comforting because it provides validation for their experience of a wide range of emotions, including "negative" ones. Here is how I typically structure my music lessons around this book:

1. Read through and discuss the story

The first step, of course, is to read the book. After reading through it, I ask students to explain the message of the story: Is the author saying we actually change colors on different days, or turn into different animals? What is he really talking about? Once we've established that we're actually talking about emotions, we have a brief discussion about how it's OK and normal to feel different ways on different days (or even within the course of a day), and we give some examples of things that might make us feel sad, lonely, excited, busy, quiet, happy, angry, etc.

2. Use props and/or movement to show the different colors

Depending on the age of the students, I will either split this part up into different steps (for younger students) or combine them into one (for older students). I assign small groups of students to each color in the book, and give them some kind of prop (I like to use colored scarves like these because I have all of the colors, but you could also borrow colored t-shirts or jerseys from the PE teacher, or use other props they can hold like balls, bean bags, or even colored paper) to show their color. When I read their assigned color, I have them stand up and hold their color up, and at the end of the story when it talks about days where all of the colors are mixed up, I have them all hold up their colors at once. Then (or simultaneously for older students), I have each color do a motion or movement to show the feeling and/or animal to go with their color. For younger students I just ask them to move like the page describes the animal (like kicking their heels like the horse for red), but for older students I tell them to try to be creative with expressing the mood of each color with their movements.

3. Assign a timbre to each color

Here's where we really get musical! The movements, colors, and discussions of emotions all lead nicely into a discussion of tone colors, or timbres. Again depending on the age (and what they are studying), I will either limit the sound options to only classroom instruments, or expand to all instruments, use vocal timbres,  found sounds, or all of the above! After spending time thinking about how to convey mood with more concrete things like colors, animals, and movement, it makes it much easier for students to understand how different timbres can convey different moods or "paint different colors" as well (and helps students remember why we call it "tone color", if you use that language with your students). After assigning students to a color, I have each group choose a timbre to perform while I read their color.

4. Discuss dynamics and/or tempo (and/or articulation)

Depending on the age of the students (and how much time you have), this is also a perfect opportunity to bring in a discussion of dynamics and tempo. After having students choose and perform their timbres with the story, ask students to reflect on how they adjusted the volume and speed of their playing (or vocalizing) to further match the mood- I guarantee most of them will have adjusted them both without you ever telling them to or even thinking about it, and if they didn't, they will have noted that it wasn't as effective as the others- and discuss the role that those musical elements play in conveying mood as well. If you're discussing it with older students, you can throw articulation into the mix as well. The possibilities are endless!

5. Put it all together

To make the lesson most effective and memorable, I love putting the whole thing together for a final performance. This would be perfect for a class performance, especially if you can get the homeroom teachers involved by including it as part of their reading lessons: assign some students to move and/or hold the colors, some students to perform the timbres, and even have some students recite the words to the story.

Have you ever used this book in your classroom? I'd love to hear what you've done with it as well- leave a comment below to share your ideas!


  1. I love this lesson idea. I will definitely be trying this out this quarter! Thanks:)

    1. I always love going through this lesson with my students- I hope you enjoy it too! :) Thanks for commenting!

  2. Over how many days/class periods does this lesson stretch for you?

    1. It depends on what else I'm doing, and how in-depth I go, but when I've gone through all of the steps listed here including musical expression etc, it took 3-4 30-minute class periods.

  3. Thank you so much. My kindergartens have spent all year focusing on following directions and steady beat because they are struggling so much with the first part! I am bored with the routine and decided to take a break for Dr. Seuss's birthday and they loved it. We only got to the scarves part but I intend to do more next week! Thanks again!

    1. Oh I totally feel you! The last couple of years our kindergarten groups have been a real challenge. I am always amazed at the power of storytelling with this age! Just did this book with my most challenging kinder group yesterday myself and everyone was totally engaged the whole time. Glad to hear it went well for you!