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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Snake Alley Band: Rhythmic Ostinati Lesson

In case you haven't heard, I love using books to teach and practice musical skills and concepts, especially with my youngest students. I came across this book at a used book store this summer and finally had a chance to use it with my kindergarten and 1st grade students this week- it was a great way to practice layering rhythmic ostinati with speech patterns while also reinforcing the importance of all the members in music ensembles.

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The book, Snake Alley Band by Elizabeth Nygaard, is about a young snake who discovers that, contrary to the beliefs of the other snakes, other animals can make cool (and different) sounds that work together with his to make awesome music. As he meets new animals who are eager to join his new band, they each add their own sounds, shown in the book at different onomatopoeia patterns.

The overall message, first of all, is a good one to have: it's fun to put lots of different sounds together to make cool music, and everyone / every instrument has different and equally valuable ways to add to the ensemble. The first time we read the book, I let students naturally say the animal sounds along with me (I adjust some of them to fit into a 4-beat rhythmic pattern) as the sounds are repeated, and at the end of the story, we talk about that message. Sure, there are times when it's fun to play music with just triangles or listen to music with just violins, but isn't it cool when you add lots of different instruments together, all playing different things at the same time? Think about a rock band or an orchestra. What are some of the different instruments that play together in those groups? I also played a few seconds of an orchestral piece and a pop song that I just called up from songs I had on my computer to help them come up with the instruments that play in these groups.

After our discussion, I tell students that this time I want them to practice doing the parts of the animal band themselves. I go through the book again, this time demonstrating each sound by saying it and clapping/ patting the rhythm of the words, then having students copy me and practice repeating it. I wrote the words for each one on the board as we went- it would also be great to write the rhythmic notation for each pattern if you want to use this to reinforce rhythm notation!

Once we've practiced each one separately, I assign small groups of students to each sound and give each group a different instrument on which to play the sound. I have them practice saying and playing the pattern first, then I tell them to "think the words" while the play it without speaking. The last step is to put all the sounds together by layering the patterns on top of each other! For older students we can layer them all on top of each other, but for kindergarten we split it up into small groups- they aren't quite able to stay on their own rhythm independently when too many other things are happening at the same time! It's still a great way to get them working on rhythmic ostinati, and they love the way it sounds with the instruments.

This lesson would work well any time of year, but it was perfect for the beginning of spring! I was also able to use it as a sub plan by having them use body percussion instead of pulling out instruments in my absence, and it worked well too. Have you ever used this book in your music classes before? I'm sure there are more ways to extend the learning- I'd love to hear other ideas you have in the comments!

If you enjoy using books in your music lessons as much as I do, here are all of my other lesson plans using children's literature to teach musical concepts. They are some of my favorite lessons to teach!

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