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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Favorite Ways to Teach Form

Musical form is one of those concepts that doesn't get as much attention as things like rhythm and pitch but is actually one of my favorite things to teach- there are so many fun ways to learn about form! Here are some of my favorite ways to teach form, no matter the specific grade level or the musical form they're learning.

1. Identify with movement

When I'm first introducing a new musical form, or even introducing the concept of contrasting sections at a very fundamental level, I always start by having students learn some type of movement to accompany a piece of music in that form and then discuss the form afterwards. Whether it's a passing game, full-body movements, a cup routine, steady beat motions, or even a full-on folk dance, having students experience doing different movements with each section of the music has been the most effective way to get students to clearly identify the same and contrasting sections. 

2. Perform in different forms

My favorite way to practice putting together music in a specific form and perform music in that form is to learn 2 (or more) songs that have a unifying theme of some kind and practice putting them together in whatever order we need to create that form and perform it as one longer song. It can sound a little silly depending on which songs we use but that's half the fun, and going through the process of having students figure out which order they need to perform the songs in to make it the correct form is a great learning experience.

3. Add new sections to a given short song

Once students have experienced the form and have a basic understanding of it, I often have them create with it as well. My favorite way to do this in a way that's accessible for young students is by having students add new sections to a given short song. If they're adding a contrasting B section, we might learn a song and then come up with a speech piece/ rap that relates to the theme of that song for the B section, or come up with some rhythms to perform on instruments. If we're learning about theme and variations, I like to have small groups of students each come up with one variation on a song I teach them and then put them all together as a class (read more about how I teach theme and variations specifically in this post). Having a song to use as the starting point makes it much easier for students to create the rest of the piece in whatever form they're working with. 

4. Assess with sticky notes

I have tried different ways over the years to have students identify the form of a piece they hear and assess them. Movement is great when they're first learning, but it's hard to avoid students following each other so it's not a great way to see how well students are actually following the form. And going through the whole process of handing out and collecting papers and pencils just to have them write down a few letters to identify the form is a huge waste of time! What I have found works best, without creating too much work for me, is to give students some small pieces of sticky notes in a few different colors and tell them to stick the sticky notes on their lap or chair to represent same and different sections. I've also done this with cards that have the letters A/B/C etc on them that I can collect and reuse, but honestly the sticky notes are easier and it allows me to see quickly, in a way that's not intimidating for students, how well they understand the concept.

Although it's not something that I'm working on with students all year long, form is definitely an important concept for students to learn and one that we often neglect as music teachers. If you'd like to see all of the specific lessons I use to teach various forms throughout my K-6 curriculum, you'll find them all in this K-6 general music curriculum set! If you have any favorite lessons for teaching form, I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments as well.

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