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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Teacher Tuesday: teaching high and low pitch

I'm focusing on high and low pitches with kindergarten this week, so today I thought I would share some of my favorite ways to explore and understand high and low sounds with young students. If you missed it, make sure you check out my earlier post on using the book "Mortimer" in music class- that is one of my favorite ways to reinforce and assess my students' understanding of high and low, and we will be leading into that book very soon with my kindergarten classes!

1. There's Someone Standing on a Big High Hill

This song is great for all kinds of concept practice- instrument playing, solfege, rhythm, pitch matching... First we all sing the song together, then I do something (sing, play an instrument, clap a rhythm, dance etc) for 4 beats and students copy. Of course eventually I have students lead while everyone copies as well. But this the melodic contour of the song is also perfect for teaching high and low:
Last week I had students review instrument playing technique by having them echo different patterns on instruments. This week we will be thinking about the high and low notes in the song by moving up and down with the melody- first showing the melodic contour with our fingers (drawing it in the air), and then with our whole bodies (crouching down for low and stretching up tall for high). The students always notice on their own that the melody makes the shape of a "big high hill"!

2. Mr. Brown and Mr. Black

I found this story on Beth's Notes last year, although I can't seem to find the direct link anymore (if you are not familiar with this site, run over there now! It is a treasure trove!). It is a fun way to practice high and low and also ties in nicely with the "Someone Standing" song because it is about another hill.
Beth's Music Notes: High & Low. Lots of ideas for teaching high and low. Love this story about Mr. Brown and Mr. Black- use with movement and acting out the story, then with singing voices, then with xylophones!:

The first time I tell the story, I split the class in half and have one side act out Mr. Brown and the other side act out Mr. Black with motions. They pretend to walk up and down the hill by getting shorter and taller while walking in place. The second time I have them sing notes going up and down while drawing the shape with their finger in the air. The third time we do the story, I have them gliss on the xylophones and glockenspiels. This is the first time I introduce barred instruments in kindergarten, and they love it! It is a great way to get them to transfer their understanding of high and low to pitched instruments, and it leads nicely into the Mortimer book as well.

What are your favorite lesson ideas for teaching high and low? I'd love to hear them in the comments!


  1. I love that story! I'd never heard it before. It gives so many opportunities for movement and practicing high/low sounds. Thanks for sharing! #fermatafridays

  2. Thank you Elizabeth for this great lesson I can share with kids!!!
    We are also focusing on Pitch in KG. We had the "Elevator" song, dramatized, demonstrated on Orff instruments such as xylophones, boomwhackers, and bells. Kids recognize: the smaller is higher, the bigger is lower.
    This is will be a great addition!
    Thank you very much!

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment- I'm glad you found the ideas helpful! Making the connection that shorter/smaller instruments play higher notes etc can be a difficult concept for kids, so any ideas that can help students understand that is a great one! Thanks for sharing your ideas- I love getting new tips for teaching difficult concepts :)

  3. Hi Elizabeth!

    Question: Do you do all of those steps in one day or do you spread them out over the course of a few weeks/lessons?

  4. Hi Elizabeth, I have your curriculum, which says I click this link to print Mr Brown and Mr Black, but it seems I can only print the whole blog page. Is there a way for me to isolate the story and just print that?

    1. Hi! You should be able to right click/ ctrl click on the image and either copy it, save it, or open it in a new window to print. I am going to work on adding it directly to the curriculum files so that it's less of a hassle in the future though. If you send me an email I can attach it for you to make it easier!