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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

New Lesson Ideas I Loved This Year

I won't lie, this school year was so tough in so many ways. But as I look back, I'm pretty surprised at how many new ideas I tried that were a huge success this year! Last week I shared some general ideas from teaching that I plan to continue, and today I'm sharing new lesson ideas I tried this year! These are definitely going into my regular lesson rotation- I highly recommend them all to any teachers looking to refresh your own lesson plans for next year!


1. Science of Sound

I did a couple of quick lessons on the science of sound with 6th grade this year, sortof on a whim because of the way the timing of my other units starting and ending lined up. It went so well, and I found so many cool resources that I couldn't even fit into my short timeframe this year, that I'm hoping to expand it further next year. Right now my thought is to expand it out to include a lesson or two in other grade levels and circle back to it each year, but we'll see what I come up with when I really sit down with my long-range curriculum plans this summer. Here are some of the highlights from my lessons this year:


2. Music of Colombia

I have been teaching music of Bolivia to my 1st graders for years but with the Encanto movie out this year I decided to switch things up and do a unit on Colombia instead. I learned so much through my research and the unit was a huge success, both in engagement and in how well students were able to learn the same musical concepts through the lesson material.  Here are the lesson activities I used this year: 


3. 5/4 Meter

I have always done a couple of brief lessons on 5/4 meter using "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck with 4th grade to expand their understanding of time signatures and meter. But this year they just weren't grasping it as well, and we were ahead of my normal pacing on other concepts, so I expanded it into a whole series of lessons just on 5/4! I personally have always been fascinated by unusual time signatures and I found my students really enjoyed and learned a lot from diving deeper into it this year as well! Here are some of the highlights from those lessons: 


I hope this gives you some new ideas to try next year! I'd love to hear about your successes from this past year as well- what were some new lessons you tried this year that you and your students loved? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

New Ideas I Loved This Year

I won't lie, this school year was so tough in so many ways. But as I look back, I'm pretty surprised at how many new ideas I tried that were a huge success this year! Today I wanted to share some of my favorite new ideas that I'll be taking into my teaching next year- I hope you find some new ideas to try out yourself!


1. Carpet spots

The brand name versions have always been out of my price range and the knockoffs were never quite what I needed, so until this year I only used tape on the floor to mark off spots on my carpet. But thanks to social distancing for in person teaching the options available exploded last year and I am happy to report that the ones I used held up beautifully all year! I didn't have to replace any of them and they looked practically brand new when I pulled them up at the end of the school year. 

2. Sub Plan Setup

For pre-planned absences I will never go back to my old way of doing sub plans! I still kept my old sub tub for emergencies, and used them a few times when I had to be out unexpectedly, but for days when I knew ahead of time I was able to carry on with teaching content way more than I could otherwise by recording myself introducing activities, and embedding those videos in google slides for the substitute to show in class. The students and the substitutes loved this format too, so I will definitely be continuing with this strategy! Read more details about how I did it in this post: 


3. Secret Sticky

So this idea was not entirely new for me this year- I did this once years ago- but I had completely forgotten about the strategy until this year and I did it more thoroughly this year than I did before. The last month or so of school I started writing short notes of affirmation and leaving them on students' desks or chairs in their homeroom for them to find when they came to school in the morning. Sometimes it was music-related, sometimes it was something I appreciate about their character or personality, but I made sure I got to everyone before the last day of school. Besides the students who gave me a hug or told me thank you after finding their note, I had students show me at the end of the year where they had kept their sticky note so they could read it to themselves every day, parents who messaged me to thank me for having such a positive impact on their child's self esteem, and homeroom teachers who reported the squeals of delight and the dramatic change in the students' demeanor after getting a note. Next year I want to start earlier in the year- maybe halfway through when we come back in January- so it's more spread out and more unpredictable when they might get a note, but I'll definitely be doing this again. Here's the post I wrote on that strategy if you want more details on how this fits in with my other "happy notes" etc:


Stay tuned: next week I'll be sharing my favorite new lesson ideas I loved this year and will be putting into my regular rotation! What are some new things you tried this year and loved? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

My Favorite Song for Early Childhood

There are so many songs that are so much fun to sing with preschool and Kindergarten but my favorite by far is Miss Julie Ann Johnson. It's just a fun song to sing and because the students get to add their ideas we can sing it over and over again and it never gets old! Here's how I do it (my version is a little different than the ones I see commonly online) and how I use it to reinforce important skills in my early childhood classes.

I've tried over the years to explain my version of the song in writing but it's much easier for me to just demonstrate! Here's a demonstration of the song as I learned it and teach it to my students:

I love pulling this out at the end of the year with my younger students because it is a fun and easy way to get them singing, everyone can get a turn to share an idea (always a winning strategy with early childhood ages), and we can repeat the song every lesson for the last few weeks and it never gets old! 

Besides just being a great way to have fun singing together though, I use it to practice various expressive elements, proper singing voice, and proper singing posture. When I first start teaching the song I have students just sing "oh" after each line so they can hear me sing the words, and I tell them I am looking for people using their best singing voices to decide the next part of the story. I also love bringing the song back at the beginning of 1st grade to reinforce proper singing posture, both singing and standing, by telling students I am looking for the students demonstrating appropriate posture to choose the next verse. 

Once they know it well and can sing the whole thing with me, I'll throw in some expressive elements by asking students to choose a volume level, speed, or emotion to match whatever words the student came up with. I usually look for opportunities when students choose an idea that lends itself to that (for example I've had students suggest "she's never coming back" for the last verse, or say she's going to swim to another country that's far away, etc, which is the perfect time to get students to think about what sort of feeling or message they can convey with their singing). 

I hope you'll try this one out with your younger students- it is definitely one of our favorites and a great one to start or end the school year especially! 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Teaching Meter in Elementary Music

We spend a lot of time teaching different rhythmic elements, but meter can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. But in terms of music consumption meter is actually an important concept for everyone to understand- perhaps even more so than rhythm! All those jokes about clapping on 1 and 3 come to mind... Here are my favorite ways to teach meter in elementary general music class, including some general strategies as well as several of my favorite specific lesson activities.

General Strategies

The most obvious and frequent strategy I use for exploring and understanding meter is through gross motor movement. I have found Dalcroze techniques are so effective for truly getting the feeling of various meters! I've had students step on the strong beats and clap on the weak beats, or do a vine step for duple and a waltz step for triple- anything that helps students feel and demonstrate the strong and weak beats.

Another similar but less common strategy I use a lot is clapping patterns. I grew up doing clapping games and I love adding them to songs to get even my oldest grades singing with gusto while trying to do some kind of complicated clapping pattern. I usually will either have them clap their own hands or even pat their laps on the downbeat, with other variations of clapping each other's hands on the other beats, to get them to experience the feeling of the meter.

Conducting is another great way to explore meter, and students love getting the chance to really conduct! I first show them the conducting pattern for a specific meter and have them practice conducting with a recording, then I have them conduct with batons to make it feel more authentic. I love showing this video once they've got the basic conducting pattern to get them to explore the expressive elements and conduct with expression!

Specific Lesson Activities

Of course I try to mix in a variety of meters in the songs that we learn in class in general throughout the grade levels, but I always spend some time focusing specifically on triple meter in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade, and focus on other more unusual meters, especially 5/4, starting in 4th grade. Here are my posts my favorite specific lesson activities for each of those:


What are your favorite strategies for teaching the concept of meter and exploring different meters in elementary music class? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

5 Ways to Explore 5/4

I've been working on 5/4 meter with my 4th graders the last few weeks and the lessons have really piqued their interest in time signatures in general, which is the ultimate goal I was aiming for. Here are five ways to explore 5/4 meter with upper elementary students!



This song is a great introduction to 5/4 meter because the drumbeat has a very clear downbeat. I have students aurally identify how many beats are in a measure by tapping on their hand and counting the number of beats in a set- most of them got it after a few measures. After discussing the time signature, I turned the music back on and had students echo my 5-beat rhythm patterns on body percussion. It definitely takes a few tries to get into the feel of 5 (they're so used to echoing me after 4 beats) but the echoing was really helpful for getting settled into the meter.


I had students aurally identify the 5/4 meter with this song as well, then we practiced walking on beats 1 and 4 and clapping on the other beats. I've been doing the beanbag passing activity with Take Five for a few years now and it's the perfect level of challenge for this age group. I know this activity has been making the rounds online and it took a while for me to figure out myself: I had to make a slowed down version with a shortened solo section myself, it's not something I've been able to find available anywhere. I found this year that doing something else (15 Step) to introduce and help students get used the meter before jumping into this passing game really helped them be more successful- I highly recommend saving this one for after they've gotten into it a little bit.


Once they had the feeling of the meter, I taught students just the first 2 phrases of this song. I had them first pat their legs on beats 1 and 4 and clap on the other beats while they listened to the song, then once they learned it, they practiced clapping with a partner while singing: clap your own hands on beat 1, clap each other's right hands on beat 2, left hands on beat 3, clap your own hands again on beat 4, and clap both of your partner's hands at the same time on beat 5. 


I used these tracks to have students start trying to create in 5/4 time. The rap is just fun. The students were so impressed to hear someone rapping in 5/4 time! I challenged them to try to beatbox or make up a body percussion pattern to go with the music while they listened. I introduced Fivefor after they had echoed my patterns with 15 Step, and improvised a little with Take Five (in the solo section) and the 5/4 Rap, so they had some preparation to get them ready for this next step: I gave everyone rhythm sticks to use as drum sticks on the backs of their chairs, and I first had them all echo a few of my patterns again to get used to the feel of the song. Then I had them each improvise a 5-beat rhythm with their sticks, counting each student in in between and going around the room in order. 

5. 5/4 composition

The last step was to have students compose, and notate, rhythms in 5/4. I split them up into small groups and gave them these rhythm card manipulatives I made a few years ago, which show how many beats each note is, and had them each create a 5-beat rhythm by laying the cards in a row on the floor, then they practiced performing them on body percussion. 

This has been a great way to get my 4th graders excited about exploring time signatures, not to mention an awesome way to keep them engaged as we approach the end of the school year! If you want to see my favorite lessons for triple meter, which I do mostly with younger students, check out this blog post. And if you have questions, or more ideas for exploring different time signatures, please leave them in the comments below!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Dance Playlist 2022

I love finding upbeat, school-appropriate, modern songs to use in my music classes for dance parties, slideshows, field day, and general merriment, and these last few years it has felt especially important to share with all the stress and negativity we're all dealing with. Here are my new picks for this year- be sure to check out my posts from previous years to find more awesome music my students and I love linked at the end of this post! 

To make it easier to find all my dance party playlist songs in one place, I've put together a YouTube playlist with all of the songs from all of my previous year's lists including this one! Here's the link to the playlist.








If you've missed my playlists from previous years you can see those posts below! Happy dancing :)


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Fostering Positive Vibes at the End of the Year

Anyone else feel weighed down by negativity as this ridiculous school year limps towards the finish line? From staff and from students, there is so much heightened emotion, stress, and just straight up exhaustion. Here are three concrete ways I am pushing back against the negative energy to do everything I can to promote positive vibes for my students and for myself through the end of the school year.

1. positive notes

I'm doubling down on recognizing students for positive things. I continue to give happy notes at the end of every lesson (info on that in this blog post), and I've started leaving secret messages on sticky notes for students to find in the morning as well (info on that in this blog post). I'm also making a point of reporting to the principal when a student who often struggles demonstrates genuine effort to do something positive, and make sure my principal talks to that student to let them know what he heard from me. Every bit of positive reinforcement is worth its weight in gold, now more than ever- not just for the students on the receiving end but for me too because it focuses my thoughts on noticing the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives!

2. routines

There's so much disruption to the normal routine at the end of the year because of state testing, schoolwide events, and concert prep. While I am all about changing things up and doing something new and different to hold students' interest, I'm also making sure I'm not letting go of our routines. I'm leaving more time than I have been for each transition, especially at the beginning and end of class, and making sure I'm not skipping anything in the interest of time. Every bit of predictability helps control the chaos for everyone! Here's more info on what I do at the end of class, and what I do at the beginning of class.

3. keep teaching

As much as I sometimes just want to throw on a play-along, or put on some music for freeze dance, and just call it a day, I find I deal with far fewer disruptive behaviors and a lot less negativity when I keep plugging away with teaching content. It's definitely not anything heavy but the students and I all feel more motivated when we all know there's actual purpose to what we're doing, not just killing time. Sometimes that means reviewing concepts we haven't practiced in a little while, sometimes that's starting to preview concepts they'll be learning in the next grade level, and sometimes it's working towards a class performance that I plan to videotape and share with families. Yes, I'm keeping it fun and light, but as much as I may not feel like it when I'm lesson planning it makes things much more pleasant when there is some kind of genuine purpose to what we're doing.

I know it's exhausting out there right now but I hope some of these tips can help someone find a little more joy at the end of this school year! We could sure use it, that's for sure.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Secret Sticky Strategy for the End of the School Year

Things always start to unravel at the end of the school year, but this year the heightened emotions seem even more magnified than usual. I was recently reminded of something I did at the end of the school year years ago that I've started doing again this year, and it has already made a big impact in the first week since I started. If you're struggling to maintain a positive classroom climate, this is an easy strategy you might want to try!

I've been giving a "happy note" to one student at the end of every lesson for years now, and it has been a great tool for building relationships and positive classroom climate. I'm still doing that this year, but this past week I added another layer to that concept: the secret sticky note.

At the end of the day, or whenever I have a few minutes during planning, I write a short (maybe 2-3 sentences) note to a few students on a post-it note. It's not the student who got a happy note that day, but I'm starting with those students who are just always quietly doing what they need to do, or who I've seen making an effort in class. The notes usually say something like, "I just wanted to let you know how proud I am of you for___", or "You are so good at ___", etc and then end with something like, "You are an awesome person". I try to get one or two students each from a few different classes each day.

Before school starts the next day, I go to their homeroom and put the sticky note on their chair or desk where it's not in plain sight but the student will see it when they go to sit down. I don't say anything to them about it, but every single one of them has run up to me to give me a hug, or come in the next class proclaiming, "I am going to do an awesome job again today!"- it has been absolutely magical, and that energy rubs off on the rest of the class. I have no idea if they are telling other students about it and making the others motivated to receive a note as well, or if it's just the positive vibes spreading to everyone else, but it has definitely impacted more than just the individual students who have gotten a note from me.

I am keeping track of who I write notes to on my seating charts, so I'm hoping to get around to everyone before the end of the school year (we have a little less than 6 weeks left). Not only has it been a great way to encourage the students, but it has really helped keep my focus on the positive as well. Rather than spending all of my time outside of class following up on negative behaviors, I'm following up on the positive ones as well, which reminds me of all the great things that are happening in my classroom and all the things I love about my students. 

This time of year can start to feel like you're just holding on for dear life- I hope this helps someone else end the school year on a more positive note! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

3 Songs You Didn't Know Were American

After seeing a few of these pop up again recently in my social media feeds I realized there are still a lot of music teachers who aren't aware of the misinformation that has been passed around for years in our circles about certain songs that have become quite common in US elementary music lessons. Hopefully this is old news for many, but if you didn't know, now you know: these songs are not "traditional" songs from non-US American cultures as they have been presented for years in the past.


There has long been a problem of misattribution in US elementary general music repertoire, largely because of publishers and workshop presenters putting things out without doing proper research and busy teachers trusting them as reliable sources and using the material in their teaching to continue circulating the misinformation. So please hear this: I don't necessarily think these songs are inherently offensive and should be removed completely from our teaching. But I do very strongly believe in the importance of presenting the songs accurately as the American, "in the style of" songs that they are, and I would think hard about WHY you're using these songs, instead of others, when you're thinking about using them in your lessons. These should definitely NOT be included in units on the music of the Netherlands, any African country, or Iran, or "music around the world" programs or lessons, as they don't represent a specific culture (including the US- these songs were not written to represent US American culture, obviously, which is why they have been misattributed for so long).  

1. Funga Alafia

This song (also sometimes written as Fanga Alafia) was circulated for years as a traditional Liberian, Nigerian, or "African" welcome song, but was actually written by an African American around 1960. There is a long and interesting history that's worth reading in this post by Azizi Powell. 

2. Ye Toop Doram

This song, and the ball game that goes with it, has been passed around as a traditional children's game from Iran or Afghanistan, but was actually written by a US American music teacher as a way to help her students learn some basic words in Farsi to connect with her students that had just come to her school from Afghanistan and Iran. You can read the full background, straight from the composer herself, in this post by Aimee Pfitzner.

3. Sarasponda

This song has long been circulated as a traditional Dutch spinning song, but there is no documentation to back up that claim- it has, however, been traced back to an American songbooks from the 1940's. There isn't one conclusive source on the full background of the song, but here is a summary from Wikipedia.

If any of this information was new to you I hope this post will spur you on to do some more research into the songs so many music teacher resources present as being "from" non-US cultures! Exploring music from cultures outside our own is fantastic and in fact absolutely necessary and important as music teachers, but we need to do our homework to make sure we do so accurately, respectfully, and responsibly, especially as we consider what to pass along to our students and how.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Music Teacher Job Search

I know there are a lot of people getting into job search mode right now. Whether you're getting ready to graduate and looking for your first job, hoping to move to a different school or position, or even trying to decide if you should stay in music education or look for something in another field, here are some thoughts and resources for you to consider.

First the topic that seems to be on so many teachers' minds right now: do I even want to continue in music education or look for a job in another field? Do I just need to find a better school/ position or do I need a complete career change? I wrote the post below in 2019, pre-pandemic. I absolutely think it's important and completely legitimate to think through whether you want to remain in teaching in the current pandemic environment, and what teaching/ school has become, specifically. But I also think it's helpful, in terms of discerning whether you maybe just need a break/ need to find a different school environment or if you're cut out for teaching entirely, to think about it through a pre-pandemic lens. No, I don't think all of our current struggles are temporary and things will magically go back to pre-pandemic life, but I also think it's helpful to think beyond the pandemic to what is really at the "core" of music teaching in thinking this through. That's a long explanation to say, as I re-read this post now, I think this is a helpful, concrete framework for those who may be pondering whether to stay or leave the profession:

For those who are looking for a music teaching job, whether it's your first one or you're looking for a different school/ position, here are some specific tips on some of the most common questions I hear: questions to ask the interview panel in your interview, and how to write a philosophy statement for your resume or job application.



Looking for advice on how to look for jobs, what to put in your resume, what questions to expect to get in a job interview, and more? Who better to get insight from than from administrators doing the hiring? Here are all the top tips I got from a building principal and fine arts department director:


And finally, if you're thinking ahead to what you need to do to prepare for your first elementary music teaching job (whether you're coming from secondary music or it's your first teaching job ever), here are the things I think are most important:


Change can be stressful, but it can also be the one thing you need more than any other! I hope you find something helpful for your situation, or you find something you can pass along to someone else who may be looking for some clarity. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. I love hearing your thoughts!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Science of Sound in Elementary Music

I recently got the chance to design a few brief lessons on the science of sound for my 6th graders and I am really excited about the resources I found to share with students! I'm hoping to expand these lessons more in the future, but today I wanted to share some of what I used in my lessons.

I have done a few one-off lessons here and there, but for the most part I haven't really ever taught my students specifically about the science of sound. This year I happened to have a couple of lessons between units so I decided to throw it in, and it went really well! 

We started off by learning about Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist who is hard of hearing. After watching her perform a concerto, I explained to students that she mostly plays by feel rather than by hearing! She has some wonderful videos talking about how she feels vibrations, and we watched a short excerpt of this video to help students see what that's like. After talking about their prior knowledge around soundwaves, vibrations, etc we watched the first half of this video, and I asked students to look for examples of soundwaves in the video as they watched:


After discussing some of the phenomena they saw in the video, we got out the ukuleles that they learned to play in the fall and watched the strings vibrate when they pluck them, thought about how the tuning pegs work, why the note changes when you press the frets, and noticed that you can feel the strings vibrating under your fingers when you press down on them and play.

The next lesson, we started off by watching this video about the science of hearing:


It was interesting for the students to think about not just how sound is produced but how it is then received and interpreted by humans to hear it. Most of the students had some familiarity with the concept of soundwaves before but they hadn't really thought or learned about how the body hears! 

After discussing the points from the video we got out the tubanos and tried to mimic what Evelyn Glennie demonstrated to feel vibrations on the drums. We reviewed the different hand drumming techniques they learned previously (bass, tone, and slap) to get different sounds from the drum, and discussed how that works. Then we talked about listening- not just hearing, but listening. I split the class into small groups and had each group take turns improvising together, pointing out the importance of listening to each other to not only stay together in the groove but also to fill in some gaps, step back when someone else is filling in, and try to give everyone space to shine. It really got them thinking and listening in a way they hadn't before!

Obviously there is so much more we could do with this, but I was really happy with the discussions and experiences we had through these lessons, and it was a great way to get my older students to actually listen to each other- something they are not particularly inclined to do this time of year! If you have other lesson activities or resources you've used to teach the science of sound in elementary music I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

3 Lessons to Teach Triple Meter

After working on triple meter with a few different grades recently I was reminded of how much fun it is to teach! If you're looking for some new, fun, engaging ways to teach triple meter, here are some of my favorite lessons.

1. Tinikling

I do a unit on music from the Philippines with my 3rd graders every year, and one of the reasons I do it is so they can review triple meter with Tinikling! If you haven't heard of it, Tinikling is a traditional dance from the Philippines that looks like this:


Obviously it's a great way to reinforce downbeat in triple meter and get that 3-beat feeling through movement for both the dancers and the people moving the poles! I do this with 3rd grade but it's a great way to review triple meter with older grades as well. You can read more about the unit I teach on the Philippines, including Tinikling, in this post.

2. Tititorea

I also do a unit on Maori music with my 2nd graders, and my students learn Tititorea, a traditional Maori musical stick game. 


This is another one that's great for feeling the downbeat in triple meter, and it's much easier than Tinikling for younger students. I love having students work with a partner to come up with their own stick pattern as well, to get them practicing creating in triple meter! And they are singing while moving the sticks so they're getting practice singing in triple meter too. You can read more about my unit on Maori music in this post

3. Sing Your Way Home

This song was a new discovery for me this year, actually, and I fell in love! Here's a recording, and here's the notation. It's just a lovely song that feels good to sing, and it's a great one for practicing things like phrasing, dynamics, and other expressive elements. I have students first sway with the downbeat while singing, then add a simple clapping pattern, then add some instrumental ostinati to further reinforce the meter. I used it with 2nd grade this year but it would work well with a broad range of ages.

Of course there are so many more great lessons for teaching triple meter but since we're talking triple I'm going to stop at three for now! If you have more favorite lessons for triple meter please share them in the comments below. And maybe we'll have to do a part 2! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Korean Music in Elementary Music Class

 Although I use music from a variety of cultures and traditions regularly in all grade levels throughout the school year, I spend about a month focusing on the music from a particular culture in each grade. I think it is so important for students to have the opportunity to really experience and appreciate the music (and, by extension, other elements) of a particular culture rather than always just including cursory overview lessons in elementary music (such as a "world music" lesson where students listen to, perform, or otherwise learn about music from a bunch of different cultures all in a short period of time). It can be difficult, however, to teach music from an unfamiliar tradition at more than a surface level if you as the teacher don't have experience with the culture yourself! I hope that these resources and ideas will give you the courage to delve deeper with your students- it really is a valuable learning experience for both students and teacher when you do!

I'm bringing back this series I started back in 2016 to share some lesson ideas for another country I shared with my 4th graders last year: South Korea! In the past I have focused on China with this grade, but students were so interested in Korean culture because of K-pop groups like BTS. If you haven't seen my previous posts on music lesson ideas for music from other cultures, I'm including links to all of my other articles with focuses on other countries / cultures around the world at the end of this post so be sure to read to the end.


I introduced students to the unit with this video with PSY. Not only does it depict modern and traditional elements from South Korea, but it also includes both traditional and modern music and dance styles:


To give them a quick sense of what life in South Korea is like, we watched this video. I also explained a little bit about the history of the Korean peninsula- most of my students are at least familiar with North and South Korea, but many don't know about the DMZ, or the history of the Japanese occupation, etc. I don't get too much depth with it but I do point out that Seoul, and many other parts of South Korea, have been rebuilt very recently literally from the ground up because of having everything demolished during the wars. I also tell them what I learned while living in Seoul, that South Koreans see North Korea as part of their family and long to be reunited. Many organizations work hard to provide humanitarian efforts to support North Korean people- my students often haven't separated the government from the citizens in their minds, which is an important distinction to make. I use the generic term "Korean" when I talk about traditional music, because those were all before the war and originate in both sides of the peninsula!

Once we had a basic introduction to the country, we dove into Janggu drumming! I showed students the first 3 minutes or so of this tutorial video, then (since this was the 2020-21 school year when I was on a cart going into classrooms) we practiced by using 2 sides of their metal desks as the drum and a pencil as their drum stick- it actually worked pretty well! When I do this again in my music room I'll place a drum on its side on a chair for students to play with their hand, then tap the edge of the chair on the other side with a stick or pencil. Once we learned the basic pattern demonstrated in the video, we practiced playing along with this recording of Arirang.

I emphasized the importance of the song Arirang in Korean culture by showing several versions with students, including this one and this one from North Korea. There are so many other ones you can show though! Then we learned to sing the first verse of the song in Korean, and practiced playing the janggu part while singing. 

We also learned about Korean traditional dancing by moving along with the dance at that starts at the 15:52 mark in this video, then I shared this example of sword dancing, this one of ribbon hat dancing, and of course, this example of fan dancing. If I can get my hands on some decent fans, I will have students try a few of the most common formations used in fan dancing, including the circle (front of the circle is crouched down low, back of the circle is holding their fans up high) and the wave (everyone stands in a line holding their fans out in front, overlapping each other, and then they make a "wave" with them). The students are always so intrigued by this and many of them have at least heard of it before.

One thing I like to talk about with my older students is the different ways different cultures have handled the preservation of tradition and modernization/ globalization. I introduced students to the musical group Leenalchi with the video below, and we talked about the modern and traditional elements that they combine in their music. They are definitely not the K-pop that most Westerners are familiar with but they are quite popular and well-known, especially in South Korea. This video is also one part of a series they did with the Korean Tourism Organization to showcase different parts of the country- I shared the entire playlist of all the other cities in my google classroom for students to watch on their own and see all the other parts of the country outside of Seoul.


Those are just some examples of lesson activities I've used with my students to explore the music of Korea. If you have other ideas that you've used in elementary music class, please share them in the comments below. If you want to see my other posts on lesson ideas for exploring music from other cultures, here are those posts:


Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Colombian Music in Elementary Music Class

Although I use music from a variety of cultures and traditions regularly in all grade levels throughout the school year, I spend about a month focusing on the music from a particular culture in each grade. I think it is so important for students to have the opportunity to really experience and appreciate the music (and, by extension, other elements) of a particular culture rather than always just including cursory overview lessons in elementary music (such as a "world music" lesson where students listen to, perform, or otherwise learn about music from a bunch of different cultures all in a short period of time). It can be difficult, however, to teach music from an unfamiliar tradition at more than a surface level if you as the teacher don't have experience with the culture yourself! I hope that these resources and ideas will give you the courage to delve deeper with your students- it really is a valuable learning experience for both students and teacher when you do!

Today's I'm bringing back this series I started back in 2016 to share some lesson ideas for another country I'll be sharing with my 1st graders this year: Colombia! Obviously with the Encanto craze I couldn't pass up the opportunity to change up our usual focus on Bolivia with them this year. If you haven't seen my previous posts on music lesson ideas for music from other cultures, I'm including links to all of my other articles with focuses on other countries / cultures around the world at the end of this post so be sure to read to the end!


To make the connection to the movie, I'm starting by playing the song, "Colombia, Mi Encanto", then showing them this short interview with the Colombian singer Carlos Vives and composer Lin Manuel Miranda. In the interview, they both mention that the song is written in the style of a Vallenato. To introduce students to the genre, I'm showing them the first 2 minutes or so of this video:


Then we'll watch this short example of a traditional Vallenato, and review quarter note/ eighth note/ quarter rest rhythms by having students play the top rhythm on the ridged rhythm sticks (like the guacharaca) and the bottom rhythm on a drum (like the caja) with the recording.


Another famous style of music from Colombia is Cumbia! We will learn some basic Cumbia dance steps with this tutorial to try along with the audio for the full song mentioned in the video or this Cumbia song for younger ages (there are a lot more tutorials for different instrument parts available in the same playlist with the dance step tutorial if you want to take this a step further, especially with older grades). 

We will also be playing the game, Juguemos En El Bosque. We will sing the verses in Spanish but the call and response part, where the class asks the wolf if they're there and the wolf responds, we will do in English. This would be perfect to connect to the song "We Are Dancing In the Forest" too, as the idea is very similar! Basically everyone sings the song while going around the circle, with the "wolf" in the middle. At the end, they sing to the wolf, "wolf, are you there?" and the wolf either answers, "I'm putting on my pants/ shirt/ shoes", or says "I'm ready to eat you" and tags someone. To review sol and mi, students will sing "wolf, are you there?" on sol-mi-sol-sol-mi. You can see an example of students singing like this (and a variation on a different game you can use in the classroom if you don't want everyone running around as much) in this video:


Those are some of the ideas I plan to use to introduce my 1st graders to the music of Colombia, but there are so many other great ideas out there, especially since the movie came out! If you have other ideas that you've used in elementary music class, please share them in the comments below. If you want to see my other posts on lesson ideas for exploring music from other cultures, here are those posts:


Tuesday, March 22, 2022

(more) YouTube Channels for Elementary Music

Back in 2016 I wrote a post sharing my top 3 favorite YouTube channels to use in my elementary music classes (I'll link it at the end of this post if you're curious). Since then things have... cough... changed a bit, and I think YouTube is officially a part of a lot more music classrooms than it was back then! With the explosion of digital resources I've discovered plenty of new favorites, so today I'm sharing 3 more channels I find myself returning to over and over.


1. Andrew Huang

Where do I begin? Andrew Huang is my hero. He has so much great content! Whether it's exploring genres with videos like this, inspiring my older kids to sing with this awesome video, or even tutorials on tons of music theory and music production topics, there is a lot that can be used with a broad range of ages on a huge variety of lesson topics. The ones I use the most are his amazing found sound videos (many of them are in this playlist), but my all-time favorite video has to be this one, which I use when we are getting ready to review the notes on the treble clef:


2. Ready GO Music

We all know the internet is full of rhythm play along videos now, but Ready GO Music is my go-to channel for the best ones. They are always lined perfectly with the beat, the rhythms show up before they are supposed to be played so you can look ahead, and there are so many different seasonal themes and different levels with different rhythm elements. My favorite ones are the duet versions, like this one:


3. Mr. Henry's Music World

This one is a recent discovery but his videos have saved me when I was making sub plans on multiple occasions! He has some nice rhythm play alongs, like this Wellerman one that my upper elementary classes loved, and even some different tutorial videos for everything from piano to recorder to music theory, but the ones that I found were perfect for sub plans are the ones he has made that go smoothly between body percussion, note reading, movement, and singing/ chanting with different seasonal themes. This video was perfect for 2nd graders to review half notes and form when I was out one day in December:


This is one of those posts where I know I will be kicking myself later for not thinking of that other great channel I love, or that one that I should have shared too, but in the interest of brevity we'll stop there for now and put it to you in the comments section: which channels do you use most in your elementary music lessons? Maybe we'll have to do a part 3! If you want to see my top channels from 2016, you can see that post here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Female Musicians for Women's History Month (and beyond)

I honestly have never been intentional about doing anything to specifically recognize Women's History Month in my classroom because it falls at the same time as Music In Our Schools Month, but I have been making a conscious effort for years to make sure female musicians of all types are represented in the examples I share, and this year I have been working with my district music department team to highlight some female artists this month. Here are just a few of my favorites to highlight with elementary and middle school students!

1. Germaine Franco

She wrote the score for the movie "Encanto" and was recently nominated for an Academy Award.



She is a prominent percussionist from Scotland who is also hard of hearing.



She is currently the conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.



She was a Cuban American singer often called the "Queen of Salsa".



She is a hip-hop producer who has worked with Mariah Carey, Drake, Jay-Z, and many other artists.


Of course there are hundreds of other amazing female artists that would be excellent examples to feature- if you have more favorites please leave them in the comments! Besides just featuring female musicians, there is a lot we can do to respect, reflect, and respond to the needs of our female students- you can read my previous post with more thoughts on that here.