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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Favorite Lesson for Teaching Whole Notes

In honor of Music In Our Schools Month, I'm going to be sharing my favorite lessons for teaching various rhythmic elements. I'm sharing these ideas in conjunction with a month-long collaboration I'm doing with a group of amazing music education bloggers over on the Music Ed Blogs Facebook page, where we are sharing a new rhythm-related teaching tip each day. You'll get tons of great ideas just by following along, so be sure to go follow the page to catch all of the tips from other bloggers (and get the scoop on a special gift coming at the end of the month)! If you're reading this after the fact, do not fear- you can search for #31daysofrhythm any time to find all of the ideas that we've shared!

Today I'm focusing on whole notes. Does anyone else struggle to come up with really effective ways to teach whole notes? So often whole notes come at the end of the song and make it difficult for students to truly experience the 4-beat length. It took me a few years but I've found a few ways to teach it that work for my students, and today I wanted to share one of my favorites with you.

I use the song, "Standin' On the Platform" to introduce whole notes:

I love using this song for 2 reasons: it has a whole note in the middle of the song, plus a half note and dotted half for comparison, and I am able to do it with a fun movement game, which helps students to more naturally experience the whole note.

When I first teach the song, I have students walk on the beat and move their arms like a train (you know, back and forth with your elbows bent like the metal things connecting the train wheels....). Once they have learned the song, I have them keep walking in place and singing while I start wandering the room (still moving my arms with the beat like a train). At the end of the song, instead of "Liza Jane", I sing another student's name, and that student starts following me around while we sing again. At the end of the song, that student sings another student's name, who joins our "train", and we keep adding until we've got the whole class in one long line marching around the room (side note: I often mix things up and take the opportunity to review tempo and/or dynamics vocabulary by singing some verses at different speeds and/or volume levels- keeps the kids engaged and following my singing!).

Once the last student has joined the "train" (this is also a great way to do a quick assessment of their singing- if you're doing that, you'll want to have the last student sing as well, in which case I secretly give them a silly character's name to sing and make the whole class laugh, like "let's go minion Bob" or something like that, or the principal or homeroom teacher's name), I have them stay in the train formation but this time tell them to clap the rhythm of the words while they walk on the beat and sing. Any time they have a long note, they should pretend they have bubble gum stuck to their hands and stretch out the bubble gum until the end of the note.

Once they've experienced the long notes, I ask them to identify the two rhyming words (train/Jane) and then tell me how many beats those words are (4), and I show them the notation for the new note. I always tell students to remember that it is called a "whole note" by noting that the open circle looks like a hole (I use a similar memory hook for whole rests- read about that in this post).

I include a few different songs in younger grades that include whole notes to get them experiencing the concept before I formally introduce it- I especially like using poi balls with the Maori song "Hine E Hine" to experience whole notes in 2nd grade- you can read about that lesson and other ideas for incorporating Maori music in this blog post!

What are your favorite lessons for introducing whole notes? I'd love to hear them (and I'm sure other readers would as well!) in the comments below! And don't forget to go follow the Music Ed Blogs Facebook page for more great ideas all month long! Happy Music In Our Schools Month!

Looking for more lesson ideas? See my full curriculum here.

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  1. This is excellent! Just what I needed. Love how you prepped the activity with movement and "bubble gum" to feel the space. Thanks!

    1. I'm so glad to hear that! The bubble gum trick has worked great for my students :)