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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Developing Rap Skills 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 my favorite teaching ideas and resources for developing rap skills in elementary music. 

It's important to note, as always, the importance of context. The idea of having elementary students "write their own raps", or rap a storybook to a beat, seems to have risen in popularity over the last few years. But for the most part, those lessons pull the element of rapping entirely out of the broader context of hip-hop music and make the lesson inauthentic at best. When students are learning how to rap, they should have a basic understanding of what that means- what they're participating in. One aspect of providing that context is introducing students to the historical and cultural context of hip-hop as a whole, including introducing students to all of the elements of hip-hop, not just rapping. I shared my favorite lesson ideas and resources for doing so in the linked posts above.

1. MC vs Rapper

The other aspect of providing appropriate context for rapping is to develop a holistic understanding of what an MC is, and how an MC is more than a "rapper". Here are a few videos of artists explaining the difference in their own words- I don't necessarily recommend showing these clips to students, though you could- I prefer to use them (along with my own personal conversations I've had with hip-hop artists and educators) to educate myself and in turn, make sure I am discussing and explaining that difference to my students and being careful in how I use the 2 terms. This one is Ice-T, and this longer one is KRS 1.

2. Rudiments

Little Kids Rock has put out some great rapping exercise videos that are perfect to use as warmups and practice with over and over, gradually building from the fundamentals to the more complex. This playlist includes lots of warmup exercises that you can show the whole class and follow along with, as well as tracks you can use to let students practice those same skills on their own. The tracks are also great to use for other rap exercises so they're good ones to save!

3. Flow

The rudiment exercise videos are the most basic way to start developing flow, but once students get the hang of those fundamentals, my favorite activities for working on developing flow are Tag Sounds and Scat-a-Rapping. They're similar in the sense that they both encourage students to focus on the rhythm rather than the words first, which is so important for developing flow. Along with the rudiment exercises, I like to use these at the beginning of class to get the class warmed up and "in the flow". The more they practice it, the easier it will become and the more students will start to develop their own unique style and get comfortable with their signature flow.

4. Rhyming

Music teachers and students alike often try to skip over the previous 2 steps and go straight to writing and/or speaking rhyming lines. I've learned that this is not the best approach because rhyming is definitely secondary to flow in actual rapping! But once they are starting to get comfortable rapping with the flow and they are ready to start adding words, the End Rhymes Game is a great way to get kids to think about rhyming words and get them started on ideas for their own raps. 

5. Writing

You'll notice I put writing WAAAAAAY at the end, after students have spent a lot of time improvising and actually performing. I've found there is no way to really skip the other part and go straight to asking kids to "write raps" before they have an understanding of how words need to flow with the beat in order to truly develop actual rap skills (as opposed to, really, just chanting arbitrary stuff on a steady beat which is what most of those isolated "rap lessons" end up being).

I've found it works well to spend some focused time on those initial fundamentals developing flow through those rap exercises, then continue to use those at the beginning of the lesson each time before having kids sit down to write- it really helps to get the ideas going and avoid writer's block. When they first start writing, it's good to give them time to brain dump/ free write about whatever comes to mind, then ask them to see if they can find a word or phrase they want to use as a jumping off point for a verse. While we don't always have enough of it, time is the most important key to success in developing students' rap writing skills. They need time to jot down stream of consciousness thoughts, pull out things they like and develop them into lines, go back to the beat and make sure it flows, think about rhyming, etc and adjust it until they get something that they truly are happy with. Whenever they're writing, play the track they are going to be rapping it with in the background so they can test it out as they go.

Obviously there are a lot of ways to develop this further, but those are my favorite ideas and resources for introducing rapping to elementary students. If you have other ideas you've used successfully in your classroom I'd love to hear them in the comments, and if you haven't already, please do go back to my previous posts on hip-hop that I mentioned at the beginning of this post to find more important resources for teaching hip-hop!

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Music In Our Schools Month® 2022: "Sound of My Heart" Song Bracket

This year the theme for Music In Our Schools Month® (MIOSM®) is the same as last year: "Music: The Sound of My Heart". I have been doing a "musical March madness"-style song bracket, where students listen to different songs each day and vote on their favorites, for several years now, and last year's bracket focused on songs from various genres with the word "love" in the title (it was a huge success- see last year's bracket here if you haven't seen it yet). Although the theme is the same I wanted to do something different for our song bracket, and I'm really excited about the new direction I'll be taking!

As I did last year, I'm going to be setting up google slides files with the songs for each day embedded in the slides so that classes can vote in their homerooms. If you want to see how I organize the logistics so classes can vote every day regardless of whether they have music that day or not, check out last year's post (and definitely let me know if you have any questions, I'm happy to help). Doing it in slides was such an easy way to have all the songs organized and make it easy for the homeroom teachers to report their class' vote rather than having to email me every day!

I wanted to change up the music, though, while still tying into the theme. So this year I chose all instrumental music that evoke a broad spectrum of moods, and I'm asking students to vote on which song "speaks to their heart" more. I'm also tying this into our social-emotional learning curriculum and giving homeroom teachers some options for discussing the emotions of the music with their students if they have the time/ want to tie it in (you can see those in the slides linked below). I'm really excited about this because it has definitely been an emotionally turbulent time these last few months especially! Here are the songs I'll be using this year (in no particular order):

Closer Today by Bastien Slice

Theme from Schindler’s List by John Williams

In the Mood by Glenn Miller

Prashanti by Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass

Capricho arabe by Francisco Tarrega

Soraboshi by Luyifei

Moonlight Sonata (3rd movement) arr. Viossy, comp. Beethoven

Dark Moon by Purple Cat

Frog Hop by Tuba Skinny

Time from Inception by Hans Zimmer

Wheels by Andrew Huang

Charleston by Sam Levine

Whirl-Y-Reel 1 by Afro Celt Sound System

Defeated Clown from Joker by Hildur Guðnadóttir

Descarga De Hoy by Cubanismo

Tamasha by Khumariyaan

Mahler Symphony 2 (Brass Excerpt)

One Summer’s Day from Spirited Away by Joe Hisaishi

Drumming with Youssouf Koumbassa, Bolokada Conde, Mamady Wadaba Kourouma,  Babara Bangoura, and Abou Mohamed Camara

Ozymandias by Turrim Aurea

Rollin’ by The Rebirth Brass Band

Si Naani by Toumani Diabaté

Nightsky by Tracey Chattaway

Cooleys's / The Dawn / The Mullingar Races by The Dubliners

I don't own the rights to the songs themselves so the music is not embedded but if you'd like a copy of the slide images you can click the picture below to make a copy for your own drive. 

I'm excited to see how the students respond to this year's playlist, and I'm curious to see which song wins out in the end! I'm hopeful that this year's theme will put the focus on the musicality of the selections over the artists or the lyrics, which I think will be different from previous years.

What are your plans for Music In Our Schools Month® this year? What are your favorite instrumental pieces? Share your ideas in the comments below. If you're looking for more ideas to use for MIOSM, here are all my posts on the topic.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Valentine's Elementary Music Lessons

I'm not big on themes for my elementary music lessons because I'm so focused on concepts and skill development when I'm writing my plans, but every now and then I have enough of my wits about me to tie in something seasonal to whatever concepts we're working on. Over the years I've found a few lessons that tie into Valentine's Day for early childhood and primary grades that I love- here are my favorites!

All of these are admittedly Valentine's-adjacent more than specific to the holiday, but they definitely tie into the holiday theme in fun, playful ways. All of the full directions for how I incorporate these in my lessons, as well as the visuals and materials for the games, are in my February curriculum set.

1. Heel Toe On the Line

This is one of those songs I heard other music teachers mention as a favorite for years before I ever tried it, and then kicked myself for not starting sooner! My Kindergarten and 1st grade students love this song and game. I don't really have any specific concepts or skills I teach with it (*gasp*) BUT it's a great introduction to circle games and folk dancing movements which helps them when we are working on more complicated ones later on! I use the words, "won't you be a friend of mine" instead of "will you be my Valentine".

2. A Tisket A Tasket

This is a favorite for my concept-based-plan-loving teacher soul, because it's such a great way to review notation! I put little cards with different rhythm or solfege patterns in an envelope for students to drop as they go around the circle, and the person who picks it up takes out a card and reads it before they can go around the circle to drop the envelope in the next round. 

3. Skipping Rope Song

You can't tell from the title but this song is about getting letters in the mail- I do a similar game to "A Tisket A Tasket" but I put cards with individual notes on them inside a little mailbox (I picked one up at the Target Dollar Spot a few years ago) and at the end when it says "one letter two letters three letters four" one student pulls out 4 cards, makes them into a 4-beat pattern, and then performs it.

4. Pizza Daddy-O

My 2nd graders love this song, and it's a great way to get them leading a call and response song with solo singing, and review mi, sol, and la!

I hope this gives you some ideas if you're looking for ways to tie in the holiday without making anyone squeamish about the "lovey dovey stuff"! Don't forget this is also a great time of year to think about Lunar New Year and Black History Month, if you are a more thematic lesson planner- ideas for those are in the posts linked below. And take a look at my February curriculum if you're looking for more lesson ideas for the whole month, K-6! 


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Pandemic Recorder Teaching

Recorder is one of my favorite things to teach (yep, you heard me) but the last few years we haven't been able to play recorder in person because of the pandemic. This year I am teaching recorder again in person for the first time in 2 years, but I've had to make some adjustments to make sure I am putting as many mitigation strategies in place as I can to keep everyone safe. Today I wanted to share what I'm doing differently to adapt to the ongoing pandemic.

I've been hesitant to write this post because I know not everyone feels comfortable teaching recorders in person yet, and that's fine. If you're looking for specific research-based recommendations for recorder playing from the Colorado aerosol study, this panel discussion highlights recorder specifically (go to 15:15 in the video). Based on that research, in our area the protocols have been to use a bell cover and keep at least 3ft distancing (the same as all wind instruments). I should also explain that in our district we continue to have mandatory masks for all students and staff and 3ft distancing in all classrooms. 

With that background, here are some things I'm doing differently this year with recorders:

1. Bell Covers

Based on the research study linked above, we are using bell covers on all recorders. I looked around quite a bit for different solutions- baby socks are one option, but we went with microphone covers like these. Besides being much cheaper, they're also much smaller so they don't cover up as much of the foot joint. I found for the ones we ordered, it works best to put a loom band over the cover and then fold the top edge back down over the loom band. That keeps it on tighter and also keeps the edge from covering the bottom holes on the foot joint. I have a lot of loom bands already because I use them for our belt system, and I purchased a set that had some colors I don't need, so this was perfect!

2. Masks

It's just not practical to have slitted masks for elementary music class. Instead I am spacing the students out 6ft when they are playing, and they lower their mask only when they put the recorder in their mouths (the protocols we're following actually say that we can do that at 3ft, I just choose to put more spacing since I can). I have always taught the 3 positions for holding the recorder the first time they get the instrument in their hands: rest position in their lap, practice position under their chin, and playing position. This year I've taught them to lower their mask only for playing position, and they cannot speak or do anything else while their masks are down. 

I found it helpful to explain that the bell cover essentially is acting as their "mask" for the air coming out of their mouths when the recorder is in their mouths, and that seems to help students remember what the can and cannot do with their masks down. We do all other practice, whether it's practicing how to blow without the recorders in our mouths, fingering practice, etc, with masks on.

3. New Problems, New Solutions

I've gotten pretty good at troubleshooting beginning recorder playing problems over the years, but I've discovered a new problem my students are encountering this year because of the addition of masks: holding the instrument up too high. I noticed several students were holding the instrument straight out in front of them when they were trying to play, which made it impossible for them to blow correctly or get their hands in a good position. I realized after correcting a few students that it was because they had their masks under their chins- it was just instinctual for them to hold it up to avoid touching the mask. Once I pointed out that they could hold it down in front of them with their elbows relaxed at their sides, they were able to correct their tone pretty quickly- it was just a matter of pointing it out to them.

It's definitely harder than it used to be having to work with bell covers and masks with beginning recorder students, but I keep reminding myself it's so much better than the last year, trying to teach it over zoom! It's definitely a positive step and the students are so very excited. I've written a lot about my step-by-step lessons and procedures for teaching recorder in the past- you can catch up on all those posts below:

I hope this is helpful for anyone else teaching recorder in person right now! If you've discovered any other solutions for pandemic recorder teaching, or have questions about how I'm doing things, please leave them in the comments below.