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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Favorite Lesson for Teaching Mi / Sol / La

No matter what methodology you use, teaching pitch is a fundamental part of elementary general music. And while there are different schools of thought on the order in which to introduce the different solfege notes (I don't necessarily favor one over any others), at some point most sequences will focus on the combination of mi, sol, and la. Today I want to share my favorite ways to introduce students to this set of pitches, particularly focusing on la as the new note: identifying them aurally, notating them, and singing them.

In my current district we introduce mi and sol in 1st grade and add la in 2nd grade, so I focus on the mi / sol / la combination in 2nd grade. I spend quite a bit of 2nd grade using songs with those 2 notes- there are just so many great ones to use with this age (here's a pretty great list of MSL songs)- but the song I like to use to introduce the notes is Bickle Bockle:

I particularly like using this one because I'm also introducing half notes in 2nd grade, so I can hit both with one song! One thing I also look for when I'm selecting songs to introduce a new musical element is a song with a game to go with it- that way students will happily sing the song over and over again 😉 This one is no exception- here's a video example of one way to play (the explanation starts at 3:10):

Depending on the group of students I have, I will often have the students who are "out" play the steady beat on an instrument while the others continue playing.

After students have become familiar with the song, I review mi and sol and have students identify the notes in the first measure of the melody (another great reason to use this song: the first "la" doesn't happen until the 2nd measure!). We continue identifying the solfege of the melody aurally until we get to la.... Wait a minute!?! That's not mi OR sol... it's a different note! Yes kids, this note is called "la" and it's even higher than sol!!

Once we've aurally identified the solfege notes of the melody, we practice singing it with the solfege names and Curwen hand signs. Then we jump straight into my favorite solfege game of all time: the Salami game! I introduce the game by telling students to copy some 3-note patterns after me with note names and hand signs, and we do a few combinations with a mixture of mi, sol, and la. Then I have them echo me singing sol-la-mi, and after they sing it, I stop and laugh.... Wait... did you just sing "salami"? Gross! OK from now on if I sing that pattern that sounds like "salami", don't copy me. If you do, you're out! This is a great way to get kids to practice the names and hand signs for the notes and get plenty of practice singing them in different combinations.

Over the course of the next few lessons, I'll bring the Salami game back and increase the difficulty: first I'll switch to humming the notes with the hand signs (they have to sing back the names of the notes), then I'll hum with my hands behind my back (they still have to sing the names and use the signs). Makes it a lot trickier!

The final step in introducing la is to show students how to notate it. I have found this is the most difficult part for students because, if you've started with mi and sol like I do, this is the first time they'll be using a mixture of line and space notes. In 1st grade we talk about how mi and sol are buddies- if one of them is a space note, the other is too- and sol always stays just above mi. When we add la, I like to tell students that la is sol's annoying little brother. Sol and mi always want to play together, but la keeps tagging along with sol. But he doesn't play along nicely with sol and mi- he likes to be different just to annoy them. So when mi and sol are line notes, he's a space note. When mi and sol are space notes, he's a line note. He stays right next to sol because remember, he's the annoying little brother.

I have students practice notating the notes in as many different ways as possible: we start off practicing together as a class using bean bags on the floor (I have taped lines to make a "floor staff"), and drawing notes on the large whiteboard and/or moving them on the SmartBoard. Then I split them up into small groups and have them practice again using different manipulatives like mini erasers, magnets, and stickers. If you want more details on the specific manipulatives I use, where I got them/ how I made them, and how I use them, check out the posts below:

Changing up the materials they use to notate not only keeps things interesting but it helps solidify students' understanding. Once they've practiced notating mi, sol, and la in different keys and different combinations and sequences, I have students go back to "Bickle Bockle" and notate the melody on the staff.

There are of course plenty more great songs to use to practice mi, sol, and la- I review them all year long with my 2nd graders- but these are my favorite ways to introduce each aspect of using the notes. You can find more ideas for teaching those and other pitches, along with tips for teaching melodic concepts in general, in the MusicEd Blogs melody ebook (download it for free right here)! Last week I shared my favorite lessons to use to introduce mi and sol to my 1st graders:

I'll be sharing more favorite lessons for other pitch sets in future posts, so be sure to stay tuned ;) And if you want to see the full lesson plans for how I teach mi, sol, and la throughout the year in second grade, along with all the materials I use, you'll find them in my 2nd grade curriculum set here.

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