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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Resources for Recognizing Heritage Months in the Music Room

So you want to recognize Black History Month, Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month, AAPI Heritage Month, and other heritage months in your classroom, but it feels overwhelming to think about trying to do another thing on top of everything else you're juggling as a teacher with so little class time. You also don't want to do it wrong... how do you avoid being performative, or even disrespectful, especially if you are not a part of the culture you are wanting to celebrate? As I continue to listen and learn from culture bearers from a broad range of cultural heritages, I'm sharing here my favorite resources for celebrating specific heritage months in the music classroom.

First, if you haven't seen it already, I wrote a post last week with some general thoughts on recognizing heritage months in the music room, focusing on how to do so appropriately and respectfully but also being realistic about what we can do with our limited class time- you can read all of that in last week's post here

Today I want to share specific ideas and resources to learn from culture bearers for some of the specific heritage months I've incorporated into my classroom. I said this in last week's post but it bears repeating every time: I am not a member of any of these cultures that are recognized in the heritage months, and therefore I should not be your final destination for doing your own learning and finding your own ideas. I've intentionally avoided sharing too many specific examples of what I do in my classroom because that's not my place. My goal here is to help jump start your research, because I know it can be overwhelming at first. I hope that by sharing these resources you will feel empowered to learn more and find respectful, purposeful ways to celebrate these in your own classroom! Don't miss the lists of people to follow for each of the heritage months below so you can continue your learning.

February: Black History Month

In the United States, Black History Month is celebrated in February. Click on the image above to see all of my suggestions and resources for recognizing BHM in the music room, and learn more about Black History Month in general on this site.

May: AAPI Heritage Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is recognized in May in the United States. Click the image above to read my suggestions and resources for recognizing AAPI heritage month in the music room, or click here to learn more about the heritage month in general.

September 15-October 15: Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month

Commonly known as Hispanic Heritage Month, I've learned that many culture bearers prefer the term "Latine", so I am using both here. This heritage month is celebrated from September 15th to October 15th in the United States. Click the image above to see my favorite resources for recognizing this heritage month in the music room, or click here to learn more about the month in general.

As I learn of new resources, find new ideas, or add new heritage months to my list I will keep this post updated! What resources from culture bearers have you found most helpful as you plan your own celebrations in your music classroom? I'd love for you to share what you've found in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Recognizing Heritage Months in the Music Room

So you want to recognize Black History Month, Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month, AAPI Heritage Month, and other heritage months in your classroom, but it feels overwhelming to think about trying to do another thing on top of everything else you're juggling as a teacher with so little class time. You also don't want to do it wrong... how do you avoid being performative, or even disrespectful, especially if you are not a part of the culture you are wanting to celebrate? I certainly don't have all the answers, but here are some ideas that have helped me as I navigate this issue myself.

1. Pick something

I say this about a lot of things but it's important to remember that we don't have to do all the things for it to be worth doing. Don't worry that if you do something to recognize Black History Month, you'll be doing a disservice to every other heritage, and let that stop you from doing anything. Start with something, and as you learn more you'll be able to incorporate more in the future. 

This also applies to the ways we incorporate heritage months in our classrooms. We don't have to have an entire month completely dedicated to studying one heritage for it to be meaningful- pick one way to recognize the month, and then as you learn more you can find more ways to celebrate.

2. Learn from culture bearers

I can't stress this enough: check your sources! Don't pick out a song in Spanish written by a white American to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, and don't be fooled by books, recordings, online posts, and other resources that are labeled as "from" a particular culture without checking to see who shared/ wrote/ published it. It may seem harmless, because the kids won't know the difference right? But using something that isn't from the culture it claims to celebrate, especially as a way to recognize a heritage month, is entirely contrary to the work of antibias antiracism because it takes away the culture bearers' voice and allows someone else to speak for them. Take the time to get to the real sources, even if they are less accessible or less convenient.

Along the same lines, listen to culture bearers about how they want their cultures to be recognized during these months. There are plenty of educators and other culture bearers who have taken the time to speak up about how those of us outside their culture can appropriately and respectfully recognize these months and celebrate their heritage- that is important perspective for us to seek out and heed.

3. Weave it in

Recognizing a heritage month shouldn't, in general, be a separate event that takes time away from scaffolded music learning. In fact in my view, teaching about a particular heritage as a separate lesson or activity outside of the "main lesson" makes it seem like a "special topic" and inherently less important. The better approach, in my view, is to weave it into the lessons you're teaching. If 1st graders are practicing reading rhythms in February, practice reading and playing the rhythms to the beat of music by Black Violin. If 5th graders are learning about bass clef in September, introduce them to Oscar Stagnaro. Weaving it into the curriculum will make it more natural, and lead to more meaningful learning. It will also make it much more possible to incorporate heritage months more frequently if you don't feel like you have to "stop learning" to do so!

4. Don't stop there

Of course there's no reason to confine opportunities to learn about music representing these cultures to their heritage months- it's so important for these opportunities for students to interact with different genres and cultures to be incorporated throughout the school year. Heritage months are a great chance to shine the spotlight and focus on one culture specifically, but don't wait until May to feature Yo-Yo Ma! 

Learning how to appropriately recognize heritage months in my classroom has been an ongoing learning process for me, and I continue to learn more every year. What are your thoughts on how to do this respectfully and meaningfully? What are your favorite ways to recognize heritage months in your music classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Using Pop Songs in Elementary Music

I love being able to incorporate a broad range of musical genres in my elementary general music classes, and while there are plenty of "classics" from bygone eras that have stood the test of time and remain in my repertoire, I also think it's important to show students that the music they're listening to in their day-to-day lives is relevant to everything they're learning in class as well. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use current music in my elementary general music lessons.

First can I tell you a story? 

My first year in my current position, I had a 6th grader who was constantly disruptive and disengaged in class. Whenever I would try to problem-solve with him, he insisted that he hated all music. Multiple times I insisted he MUST listen to SOME music, and he always insisted he did not. I couldn't figure out how to get through to him. Then one day I saw him outside at dismissal waiting to be picked up and he was wearing headphones- I ran over shouting, "A ha! I knew it! You're listening to music!" and asked him what he was listening to. He hesitantly told me the name of the rap artist and, when I asked to hear, he quickly found a spot in the song that was "clean" to play for me. When I proudly proclaimed that I had caught him, he looked at me with genuine confusion and told me he didn't know I was talking about "his" music, he thought I was talking about "music class music". No matter how many ways I had asked him, it never once crossed his mind that my definition of "music" included the stuff he listened to outside of school.

That's the real heart of why it is critical for us to include current music our students are listening to in our music classes. 

And I know, there are many reasons why including current music in elementary school is challenging, mostly because the content of the music many of our students are listening to is just not appropriate for school. But I promise you the songs are out there- though they may be harder to find sometimes- and it is worth the effort of staying on top of current trends and looking for that needle in a haystack to make that connection for our students.

OK so now let's talk about the how- that's the easy part honestly! The most common ways I use current music in my lessons are:
  • As a listening example of a musical element we are studying, to have students aurally identify (tonality, rhythm or pitch elements, instrument timbres, genres/ styles)
  • As a choral piece for my choirs to add some solo singing and parallel harmony (I have a whole post on this you can read about here)
  • As a track to practice steady beat movement with Kindergarten
  • As a track to have students read rhythms or improvise with
  • To sing or play an excerpt on instruments to practice a musical concept that is in the song (usually a rhythm or pitch element), especially with upper grades
  • As a starting point for students to create an arrangement
Any time I come across a new school appropriate song, especially those that have a positive message, I try to make a note to myself to remember to include it. Often I'm just adding it to my rotation of steady beat movement and rhythm practice tracks, but I always try to do a quick analysis to see if there are any clear rhythmic, pitch, or other elements in the song that would be good to use it as an example of. 

What are your favorite ways to incorporate current songs in your elementary music lessons? What songs have you been loving in your class lately? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Favorite Songs for Practicing Eighth / Sixteenth Combinations

I have been on a quest the last couple of years to find new songs for practicing eighth note / sixteenth note combination rhythms, and today I want to share a couple of my latest favorites. Both of these songs include both types of combinations in the same song, so they are best to use for practicing these rhythms after students have been introduced to them separately. 

Has anyone else found it difficult to find solid resources for teaching eighth / sixteenth note combination rhythms (  and  )? We have these rhythms in our 5th grade general music curriculum and I've never been truly happy with the songs I had for practicing them. But I now have two songs that I've found have worked well with my students that I can't wait to share with you: Let Her Go, and Bim Bum.

Bim Bum

I found Bim Bum a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic hit, and it has been a crowd favorite. This is perfect for those "too cool to sing in class" upper elementary students because it has a challenging game to go with it. I first show them the body percussion pattern while I sing it and have them try to do just the body percussion, which goes like this:

Once they get the hang of it I start gradually speeding up and tell them they have to sit down if they make a mistake. Once they are good enough at the body percussion, I challenge them to sing while doing it to make it harder, and I end with a showdown contest to see who can go the fastest without messing up (I tell them every year the true story of one student who beat me, and that nobody has been able to beat me since, and that gets them excited for the challenge). I seriously catch them every year singing the song and doing the game at recess and their homeroom teachers tell me they practice in their rooms too! Once they have internalized the song I have them decode the rhythms in the melody to find the "1-e-and" and "1-and-a" rhythm patterns and practice counting and clapping the melodic rhythm.

Let Her Go

I've been searching for a more modern song that uses these rhythms for several years and this fall I finally found Let Her Go by Passenger. I'm still on the hunt for a more recent song to use as an example (this one was released in 2012), but this one was a good addition this year to give students an example of music that uses these rhythms in a more relatable genre. I just played the first section of the song, had students sing along while patting the beat, and had them decode the rhythms in the first line to identify the two eighth / sixteenth note combinations. This is a good one to use as students are first learning both rhythms because both combinations are right there in the very beginning of the melody!

Do you have other favorite songs for practicing both sets of sixteenth / eighth note combination rhythms with elementary students? I'd love to hear your other ideas, especially if you have any more recent songs that you've found! Let me know in the comments what other songs you use that include both combinations. If you want to see my favorite lessons for teaching other specific rhythmic elements, you'll find them all in this post: