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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Max Found Two Sticks: elementary music lesson plan

I've loved adding more lesson plans based on children's books to my Kindergarten classes this year! One that I've been meaning to use for a long time and just never got around to until now is Max Found Two Sticks. It was a great way to introduce rhythm patterns and get students to transfer speech patterns to instruments, as well as talk about sounds they hear in their daily lives.

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I've had the book, Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney, on my bookshelf for a while now. It's an obvious choice for elementary music, but for some reason I just never got around to actually using it in my lessons until this year! But I'm glad I finally got to use it, and I'm sure I will be bringing it back next year- it was a great introduction to rhythm.

At the beginning of Kindergarten we spend a lot of time working on steady beat, so it's a bit of a switch when I start asking them to perform rhythm patterns partway through the year. Using speech patterns, then transferring to body percussion and then instruments, has been a helpful way to introduce the concept, and this book lends itself to that process perfectly. 

In the story, Max finds two sticks and starts drumming out rhythm patterns (represented by onomatopoeia, like "pat... pat tat" and "cling, clang, da-bang" in the story) on everything he can find. Often he hears a sound around him, like the passing train or pigeons flying by, and imitates them with his sticks. He uses all kinds of objects as his drums- hat boxes, garbage cans, the sidewalk- to make different sounds with his sticks.

The first time through the story, I had students practice saying the sounds in rhythm after me. I said each one as a 4-beat rhythm and then had the class repeat the pattern several times by speaking the sounds as we went through the story. After reading it once, I told the class we were going to read it again, but this time we were going to try to play the rhythms like Max. Of course we need to use our rhythm sticks! But first we need to be able to play them instead of saying them (because, as it says in the story, Max doesn't really feel like talking that day). 

We went back through the story and found all of the rhythms, practicing first saying them, then saying while clapping/ patting, then just with body percussion. Once we practiced doing each rhythm without saying anything, we were ready for sticks! As I always do with instruments, I made sure students remembered that they will lose their instrument if they play out of turn- I had students set their rhythm sticks down on the floor while I was reading.

Then we read the story a second time, but this time after I said each rhythm, I had students pick up their sticks and first play it while saying it, then play it without using their voice. We went through the entire book this way, saying and playing and then only playing each rhythm as a repeated pattern.

While students were putting away their instruments at the end of the story, we had a brief discussion about found sounds: "What sounds do you hear when you sit outside your house?", "Can you tell me what it sounds like with words?". It was a great way to connect back to the sounds they hear in their daily lives. I also pointed out at the end that in the story, Max didn't have a real instrument- he just used what he had around him to make music. Then students discussed items they have at home or outside that they could use to make music. 

There are so many ways to extend this lesson into more exploration of found sounds, or having students create their own rhythm patterns! I'm sure there are other ways to apply this story to elementary music concepts as well- I'd love to hear your other ideas in the comments!

If you want to see more book-based elementary music lessons, be sure to head over to this post where I have collected all of my lesson plans in one place. I'm adding this one to the list and will continue to add as I publish more lesson ideas!


  1. Hi! I'm spending this time home in between distance learning writing new lesson plans, and I just stumbled upon this one; thank you! I was wondering, what core arts standards do you think this lesson would fall under? I'm a bit weak on the standards admittedly. Thanks!

    1. Good question! Depending on how you apply the lesson you could expand it to include others, but with the basic straight-forward lesson outlined above this would cover MU:Pr4.2 (Perform: Analyze), MU:Pr5.1 (Perform: Rehearse/ Evaluate/ Refine), MU:Re7.1 (Respond: Select), MU:Re7.2 (Respond: Analyze), and MU:Cn11.0 (Connect #11).

  2. HI! I'm wondering how you split up max's sounds into four beats each? For instance, the first rhythm, pat pat tat putter putter pat tat etc.

    1. I honestly just improvised to make it fit- for that one, for example, I did pat pat tat on the beat with a quarter rest to make 1 measure, then putter putter as eight note pairs and pat tat on the beat for the 2nd measure (titi-titi-ta-ta).

  3. what grade would you use this for

    1. I use it with Kindergarten and with some self-contained special education classes. Depending on your sequencing you could also use it with 1st grade.