Image Map

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Boomwhackers in the Music Room

I love using Boomwhackers in my elementary music classes! Not only are they fun and accessible for even the youngest students to play, but they are a really helpful tool for exploring some key musical concepts that make them useful well into the upper grades. Today I want to share some of my favorite ways to use Boomwhackers in the elementary general music classroom. 


1. Melodic composition

Boomwhackers are a great tool for melodic composition in elementary music because students can use the color-coding of the notes to add pitch to rhythms. My favorite way to do this is with "solfege stickers"- adding stickers to the note heads in the colors that go with the Boomwhackers. The nice thing about that is there is no writing required, and if I want them to use a limited set of pitches (like the pentatonic scale, etc) then I just give them those colors. You can read more about how I make and use them in this post- it's super easy and so much fun!


Another way to use the colors to have students compose is with the Chrome Music Lab Song Maker. It's set up so you click on different squares to add pitches, and the colors match the Boomwhackers perfectly! This is a great way to get them practicing and experimenting with melodic composition, because there's no rhythm or traditional notation involved at all but they can hear the notes as they click them.

2. Practicing scale types

Boomwhackers are also a great way to reinforce different scales. I use them in my classes to teach pentatonic scales and minor scales- I find the visual is really helpful for many of my students to practice and understand which pitches go in what order when they use the Boomwhackers as a visual / manipulative to put together the scale. I'll give a small group of students a set with 1 of each diatonic pitch, and have them pick out the ones they need and put them in the correct order on the floor, and/or play a scale in order.

3. Practicing chords

I use Boomwhackers to introduce the concept of chords and help my students practice building triads to help them understand how to start with the root of the chord, then skip every other pitch to find the other two notes they need. They're also helpful for looking at chord functionality and "translating" between roman numerals and letter names of chords (in C major) because they can use the solfege and letter name labels to help them remember which is which.

4. Centers

Boomwhackers are perfect for centers because they are easy to play without supervision and they're not too loud. Sometimes I'll have students "notate" a melody using matching colored bingo chips (see picture) that they lay out on the floor, or notate in Chrome Music Lab and then play the song on the instruments. I've also printed out melodies from Chrome Music Lab for students to practice playing.


5. Play along videos

One of my go-to lessons on days when I know I can't continue with my normal sequenced curriculum for whatever reason is play-along videos. They're a great way to keep students engaged and mix things up while keeping it low-key, and it's still a valuable musical experience! I use the diatonic play-alongs by Musication on YouTube, but there are plenty more options for play-along videos around, especially if you have chromatics in your room!

I hope you find some new ideas to use in your music classes here, and if I missed any of your favorites, please share them in the comments below! If you love Boomwhackers as much as I do but hate trying to keep them organized, be sure to check out my previous post where I shared my storage solutions.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Toward an Inclusive Holiday Sing-Along

Holiday sing-alongs are something many music teachers are tasked with. They can be a lot of fun, and they're a great way to bring the entire school community together. But they also inherently center certain religions and cultures while ignoring others, and that is problematic. I cannot say that I'm completely happy with my sing-along just yet, but after doing a lot of thinking over the last few years I have made some changes that have certainly brought it a long way in making it more reflective of our school community and our world, and I want to share where I am in this journey to hopefully help other teachers think critically about their current practice and encourage others to join me in my journey.


First, if you haven't already read my previous series of posts on Reflecting, Responding, and Respecting all students in the music room, I encourage you to catch up on those. I have written extensively about my thoughts on inclusion and decolonization in music education, along with specific action steps and resources, on everything from race to students with special needs, and those thoughts play a big role in my journey to change my school's sing-along. In a nutshell, focusing on Christmas (and maybe throwing in a Hanukkah song) centers Christians (even if all the songs are "secular") and excludes all of our students of other religions and backgrounds, and talking about December as "the holiday season" ignores the fact that the majority of the world's major holidays do not fall in December!

Last year I made the conscious decision to include as many different winter holidays in my sing-along as I could, but limiting it to winter holidays still excluded a large part of the world's holidays. I realized that there was really no reason for me to limit the holidays to only winter ones, since we don't do any sort of holiday celebration in the spring/ summer, and I expanded my song choices further. I still have several changes in mind for next year, but this is as far as I was able to get with the time constraints and resources that I had to prepare. Here are the songs we'll be singing this year:

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
2. Jingle Bells
3. Feliz Navidad
4. Diwali is Here
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi
6. Eid Mubarak
7. 12 Days of Christmas

The main criteria I'm looking for when I'm choosing songs are 1) songs that are easy enough for Kindergarten to learn in just a couple of rehearsals, and 2) songs that we can do something fun with rather than "just" singing. So for each song, I have instruments, motions, a game, or something that goes along with the singing to make it more fun for everyone- that's a lot of songs to sit and sing, especially right before break when students are antsy!

Here's what I'm hoping to work on improving in the future:
  • Find songs that are more traditional/ representative for Diwali, Eid/ Ramadan
  • Choose a different Spanish language song
  • Do some research on Jingle Bells- I've just recently come across some information that it may not be an appropriate song choice for elementary school because it originated in minstrel shows, but I haven't had time to dig into it (I plan to replace it with Sleigh Ride or something if it turns out to be a song rooted in oppression)

I'm also aware that doing a holiday sing-along at all is questionable in itself, but I am doing my best to make this a learning opportunity for all of my students by discussing the many different holidays celebrated around the world, and I have been pleased with the responses I have gotten from families in my school community who celebrate Lunar New Year and Ramadan who have been so happy to see their tradition represented and acknowledged in some way.

Do you do a sing-along at your school? I'd love to hear your thoughts on holidays in public school classrooms, how to make holiday sing-alongs more reflective of our world, and whether holiday sing-alongs are even a good idea to begin with! Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I hope this sparks some conversation in the music education community as we continue to look for ways to value and respect all of our students and their backgrounds.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November Favorites 2019

November is always one of those weird months for me. It's a lot of "squirreling away" to get ready for crazy concert season in December, while also keeping in mind that everyone is getting sick and tired and cranky, dealing with the silly daylight savings clock change, watching daylight get shorter, and adjusting to the colder weather. This is when I'm especially grateful for the opportunity to think back on the month's highlights, because otherwise I don't think I would even remember anything that happened this month! So today I'm happy to pause and look back on some of my highlights pulled from my Instagram and Facebook posts- I hope you find some new inspiration to get you going in the month ahead, and share your own favorites in the comments!


1. Chorus


This has honestly been a highlight of this entire school year thus far, but I am just so happy about my choral groups this year! I teach 3rd and 4th grade chorus and 5th and 6th grade chorus as pull-out classes during the school day, and this year my enrollment in both groups has doubled overnight. I was so intimidated by how many extra chairs I was having to pull out when I first started the semester just to accommodate the number of kids in each group, but now it makes me giddy. There have been very few disruptive behaviors of any kind, and they have been SO amazing to work with! I can't wait for the concert in a few weeks. I look forward to "chorus day" every week!

P.S. You can read all about how I teach my elementary choir classes in this post if you're interested.

2. Composition


I do the bulk of my composition lessons in October/ November because it's a great way to synthesize and apply those fundamental rhythm and pitch notation concepts that I introduce at the beginning of the school year, and it gives me a good sense of where they are so I can focus in on what we need to work on in the spring. I love using color coded stickers to match Boomwhacker colors as a way to introduce my upper elementary students to melodic composition in a less intimidating, more playful way, and they always love it too! Here's how I make my "solfege stickers" if you're wondering where I got them.

3. Making My List


I started making some basic plans in my holiday planner printables this summer (yeah, I'm that person, hi). But this month I started finalizing all my gift lists for Christmas with this little makeshift insert. I love having this list tucked right in my planner so I can jot down ideas whenever I think of things, and now my Christmas shopping is just about done!

4. Music Education Articles

I share favorite blog posts from other sites each week on my Facebook page, so if you've missed any of these you'll want to be sure to catch up on your reading- they are all fantastic!






See? There were great things to celebrate, even in November! :) I'd love to hear about those highlight moments, new ideas you found, or just something fun you did this month- leave a comment below to share!