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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Lunar New Year in Elementary Music

Lunar New Year is coming up soon- this year (2022) it will be celebrated in China, Vietnam, Korea, and other countries on February 1st. If you are looking to incorporate the holiday into your elementary music classroom this year, here are a few resources to get you started.

First a quick note about "Chinese New Year" vs "Lunar New Year": it's important to remember that other countries besides China celebrate the new year on the Lunar calendar. China is the most populous country that does, but each culture has their own traditions for celebrating that are slightly different. When I introduce it to my students I usually start off by using the term "Lunar New Year", and then if I am going to focus on specific traditions, I identify which country it's from. So if we are indeed talking about new year's celebrations in China, we'll say "Chinese New Year"! It's important to be mindful of what you're actually talking about and use the appropriate vocabulary.


There are quite a few play-alongs that have popped up all over YouTube that are Lunar New Year themed, but this one is from a (seemingly) Chinese- run channel and it is HARD (in a fun way)! I slowed this way down (you can do that by clicking on the gear icon in the video) for my 3rd graders last year to tie into our discussion of meter (it switches between duple and triple) and they were laser-focused trying to stay on the beat. I highly recommend this one for upper elementary especially!

There are plenty of translated versions of the Chinese New Year song, "Gong Xi Gong Xi" available online and especially in the context of elementary music where we have so little class time I think it's fine to teach students the verse in English and then the chorus in Mandarin. But I love using this video to show students what the writing looks like and hear the original lyrics pronounced correctly, and for upper elementary it's really not that difficult for them to learn the first verse in Mandarin as well as the chorus.


Korean Lunar New Year is called Seollal and the most famous children's song is a great one for adding pitched instruments, like boomwhackers or barred percussion, because it stays solidly in tonic and dominant chords. I like using this video to introduce the song and have students guess what the lyrics are about based on the pictures (they usually get pretty close, as the illustrations are quite well done). You'll find the lyrics in Korean script, the transliteration/ pronunciation, and a translation in the video description. I haven't taught students to sing this one because there aren't any repetitive lyrics that make it practical to teach in limited class time, but it's very easy to put together some instrumentation and play along!


I love any chance I have to share contemporary music from different cultures- this is a music video for a Lunar New Year song from Vietnam that just came out this year and it's easy to follow the basic storyline by watching this video. This would be a great way to start a conversation with older students comparing the way Lunar New Year is clearly an important time for family gatherings in Vietnam with the holidays that are important for their own families, and it's especially poignant right now as it depicts families gathering during the ongoing pandemic.

This song is a more widely-known Tết Nguyên Đán (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) song, and this particular video shows a typical family celebrating a typical Lunar New Year in Vietnam. I've used this with younger students to take turns coming up with ways to keep the steady beat while listening and watching, then discussing what they saw in the video at the end.

Hopefully this gives you some fresh ideas to incorporate into your lessons! If you have other sources from culture-bearers that you've used in your class, please leave a comment to share.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Exploring Hip-Hop Elements in Elementary Music

Over the last several years I've been working with local hip-hop artists and hip-hop educators to learn how to appropriately and effectively incorporate hip-hop into my music lessons. While I still have a lot to learn and I am by no means an expert on the topic, I have found some excellent resources by people who are. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite resources for teaching the elements, or pillars, of hip-hop in elementary music class.

Teaching hip-hop in the elementary general music classroom can be difficult to do well if you haven't been immersed in the genre. One of the things I've learned over the last few years as I've tried to intentionally incorporate hip-hop into my teaching is the importance of context. Like most things in teaching, pulling one element out of context and teaching that in insolation is a disservice to the culture from which is was pulled. So many music teachers do this with rap- in an effort to incorporate hip-hop music in their lessons, they will have students write lines to say over a beat, or practice reading poetry with a drum loop. Rapping is not hip-hop, it is merely one small part of it! And even though we may be short on class time it's important to make sure we aren't giving students a skewed view of what the genre is about. 

In this previous post I shared some of my favorite resources for introducing hip-hop, including the history of hip-hop and the pillars, or elements, of hip-hop culture. If you haven't seen that post, you'll want to go back and read that after this one for some introductory resources on what the elements are and what they each mean. Depending on the amount of time you have (and this could of course be spread out across grade levels and taught over the course of a few years), you can dive more into each of the 9 elements, but the most directly musical ones are MCing, DJing, breaking, and beatboxing. MCing, including rapping, is the one people most commonly include in their classes, but here are some resources for introducing students to the others.

1. Breaking

Breaking is so much fun to teach, and there's a very good chance the students will be better than us, the teachers, before they even start! I find students (especially younger ones) want to "breakdance" any time we are doing any type of dancing activity. For upper elementary, this video is excellent for introducing students to the background and history of breaking:

Then of course, the best part is actually learning some moves! There are lots of tutorials out there that you can use, and often there are students in the class who can help the class learn some basic moves better than any video can, but here are a couple that I've found my students do well with:

2. DJing

DJing is another element that I've found many of my students are very interested in, and there are lots of tutorials online for this as well. I like to show the first 3 and a half minutes or so of this one to give students an idea of the basic gear DJs use and what they do:

For younger students, this Google doodle is an easy and accessible way for them to "try" DJing (the intro at the beginning is pretty great too, but you can skip it if you want to get straight to the turntables). For older students, this website is free for students to try it with more functionality (without needing to create an account to use it). I recommend giving students some tracks from YouTube they can use to try mixing- not all of the tracks that are loaded in the site are school-appropriate.

3. Beatboxing

It can be surprising for kids to learn that beatboxing was not one of the original hip-hop elements, but it has certainly become an important part of the genre now and this is another thing that I've found many of my students have already been practicing on their own at home before I introduce it in school. Again there are tons of great tutorials for beatboxing, but this is a great one for elementary age:

If you have time, especially with upper elementary, this video is great for digging into beatboxing a little more in-depth:

And this is another fun one to show lots of different beatboxing sounds in a shorter video that also showcases a beatboxer their age:

These are some of my favorite options for giving elementary students an introduction to 3 of the hip-hop elements, breaking, beatboxing, and DJing. After we spend a little time in class exploring, I usually give students more links and ideas to explore on their own if they're interested- the truth is all of these things, like most cool things in life, require a lot of dedicated practice! When students get frustrated in class, we always talk about the importance of practice and how much work the artists in these videos have clearly put into their craft.

I hope these resources are helpful, and I know there are a thousand more great ones out there! If you have other resources you love to use with elementary students please leave them in the comments. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my previous posts for important context that you will need for teaching hip-hop in music class:


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Introducing Hip-Hop in Elementary Music

Back in 2018 I wrote my first post on Bringing Hip-Hop to the Music Room with some ideas to incorporate hip-hop into music lessons, from band warmups to general music lessons on syncopation and everything in between. Incorporating the genre into more of our music lessons in general is a critical step that all of us need to take (and aren't doing enough), but it's also important to teach about hip-hop directly. Today I want to share some of my favorite resources for introductory lessons on hip-hop for elementary students.

First let me be clear: I am not an expert on hip-hop at all. I have been doing a lot of focused learning for the last 6 years or so, so that I can improve my teaching, and I want to share the sources I am learning from in the hopes that more teachers will be encouraged to start on your own learning journey. I am not here to position myself as an authority on the genre, but to point people to those who are. We are definitely learning together, so please share your own questions, ideas, and resources in the comments or send me a message! 

1. History of Hip-Hop

There are a lot of great documentaries and more that dive into the history of hip-hop much more in-depth, but the reality is in elementary general music we're usually dealing with serious time constraints. A couple of videos I've found that are a bit shorter but still give some important background and history are these:

From my ongoing conversations and working directly with hip-hop artists and educators I've learned that context and history are extremely important to teach when you're teaching hip-hop, no matter how condensed of a timeframe you're working with, and no matter what age group you're teaching. Don't skip this! There are plenty of other excellent resources for teaching about the history of hip-hop to young students: The Roots of Rap and When the Beat Was Born are great books for this as well.

2. Pillars / Elements of Hip-Hop

Another aspect of hip-hop I've learned not to skip is the pillars, or elements, of hip-hop. It's important to give some context for students for the culture of hip-hop as a whole, and make sure they understand that it is so much more than rap. Here are some introductory videos I've found helpful:

Once they understand the context of hip-hop, students can begin to explore each of those elements of hip-hop in age-appropriate ways (maybe something for a future post?), but I want to focus on these aspects for this post because I didn't realize when I was first starting on my hip-hop learning journey just how important the historical and cultural context is to the study of hip-hop. 

I hope this helps encourage more elementary music teachers to include hip-hop in your elementary general music curriculum! If you haven't already, please read my previous post below, where you'll find a lot more activity ideas and, most importantly, resources for learning more from hip-hop artists and educators. I am by no means the person to be learning from on this topic- I am sharing my own learning so we can learn together! 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Lesson Ideas to Start the New Year

Somehow we've managed to land ourselves in another highly unpredictable and stressful situation with the latest surge in the pandemic coming in the midst of shifting guidance for protocols. With all of this swirling around right now I know it's hard to think about concrete lesson plans! Here are a few ideas that don't require too much prep or mental energy to implement but will still help reinforce learning in fun and engaging ways and can be shifted to virtual learning if needed.

1. New Year Rhythm Review

These Lunar New Year- themed play-alongs from Ready GO Music are available in 5 levels all the way from steady beat to sixteenth notes. Start off the lesson in every grade with the play-along that fits their level- if in person, students will love getting to play an instrument, but if you don't have enough for everyone and want to avoid sharing, I've found drumming on chairs is a fun way to mix it up too. Distance learners love finding something around their house to use as an "instrument", and if this is any student's first time being online this is a great way to show them that learning from home can be fun too :)

2. New Year Celebrations Discussion

Students need time to reconnect and just share. The rhythm play-along is a great jumping off point to give students a chance to share what they did to recognize the new year (including doing nothing at all!), and do a quick comparison discussion of Lunar vs Solar calendars and new year's traditions around the world. FYI this year the Lunar New Year kicks off on February 1st, and it will be the year of the tiger. It is celebrated in many countries, not just China, including South Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Indonesia, and many others. This doesn't need to be a long discussion but it's an easy way to give students who want to share something from break a way to do so and also talk about some of the different ways the "new year" is celebrated.

3a. Upper Grades: Pitch Review

After a low-intensity rhythm review with the play-along, upper grades who are learning treble or bass clef letter names can have fun reviewing the letter names. Start off with one of my favorite videos of all time: 7/4 Cabbage Metal by Andrew Huang. Briefly review the letter names of the notes in whatever clef they're working on. Then (if you're in person) split the class up into small groups and give each group a dry erase staff board (or have them draw 5 lines on a piece of paper and have them use small pieces of sticky notes to place as "notes"). First have them try writing the word "cabbage" on the staff. Then give each group a few minutes to come up with a list of words that can be spelled using only the letters from the musical alphabet, and take turns having one group yell out a word and the others race to write it on the staff. If online, have students suggest words in a private chat to you, then you write the word on the staff and have students race to tell you what word you spelled.

There are plenty more fun ways to review pitch letter names in person or online here and here!

3b. Lower Grades: Expressive Elements

This could actually be used with all grades if you don't want to jump into pitch letter names: pick a super short fun song and review expressive elements (and any vocabulary that grade has learned) with it! My top pick for this right now is Chicken Wing Chicken Wing (it was big on TikTok not too long ago if you aren't familiar). Tell students to listen to the song while keeping the steady beat, then come up with dance moves for each line together as a class and practice singing and dancing it together. Once everyone can sing the song, review dynamics/ tempo/ other expressive element vocabulary they know and sing the song in each of those ways together. If there's time, you can also have students take turns "conducting" and have the class follow their gestures to sing louder and softer/ faster and slower, or put the vocabulary words they know on the board (or screen if virtual) and have them sing it to match whatever word you (or a student) point to. You can obviously do this with any song students love- it's a great way to get everyone singing and laughing.

More Ideas

That's a basic outline of how I'm running my first lesson back for every grade I teach, just to make it easier for me to keep track of what I'm doing with so much else on my mind while keeping it age-appropriate and fun for every grade. For more ideas to use beyond the first day, here are lots more ideas from some of my previous posts that would be perfect for this time of year. My lessons for the entire month of January K-6, with all the accompanying materials, are also available here.


I hope this helps as you head back to school one way or another! If you have more ideas you can share with others, or questions about what I'm doing, please leave a comment below. Happy New Year!