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Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Lessons to Celebrate Instruments

For Music In Our Schools Month (MIOSM®), I thought I would share some of my favorite lessons for celebrating different forms of musicking. These are the lessons where we just bask in the joy of music-making- what's better than that? And (because I can never help myself) there are always musical skills and concepts students get more practice with in the process. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite lessons that celebrate instruments!

1. Instrument Merry-Go-Round

I've shared this activity several times before but it's just that good! And I use it with every age group: it's easy enough for the Kindergartners and it never seems to get old, even in 6th grade. The basic idea is to have everyone sit in a circle, and give each person 1 instrument (either everyone having a different one or at least have a few different ones that you alternate around the circle). Then in some way, shape, or form they rotate around the circle to play different instruments.

The variations on this activity are endless. For the process of rotating instruments I use 3 variations:

  • Verbally tell students to put down their instrument, scoot around the circle to the next spot, and pick up the new instrument
  • Use silent hand gestures to signal students putting down their instrument, scooting around the circle, picking up the new instrument, playing, and stopping (this is a great way to introduce following conductor cues)
  • Use a chant similar to the one used in "Mallet Madness": 1 2 3 4, put your instruments on the floor, 5 6 7 8, hurry don't be late (they should be holding the new instrument by the time they get to the number 8)
For the playing part there are also many variations:

  • Have students play on the steady beat with a recording or with a song you're singing
  • Have students stop/ start playing on your cue (another opportunity to practice following conductor cues)
  • Have students play different ways (fast/ slow, piano/ forte, etc) when you say the words (great way to practice vocabulary) or show a corresponding conducting gesture
  • Have students echo your rhythm patterns
  • Have students take turns improvising a 4-beat pattern, taking turns around the circle
  • Assign a different ostinato to each instrument and layer each one in 
  • Call out instrument names or instrument groups (pitched/ unpitched, metals/ scrapers/ etc) and only those instruments play 
2. Drum Circle Improvisation

Apparently a lot of my favorite instrument lessons involve sitting in circles?!? There are so many fun lesson activities I love to do with drum circles, but for my upper elementary / middle school students in particular I have 2 favorite activities that truly give students a chance to bask in the joy of drumming together: Improv Circle and Groove Pass. Rather than try to explain them, here are videos of each one:

3. Follow the Bouncing Ball

There are many excellent percussion play-along videos out there these days, but my favorites for getting students focused on playing together as an ensemble, my favorite is the bouncing ball play along, and its variation, the funky veggies. I love these because they don't require any notation reading per se, so students can focus on playing and staying on the beat, but they are also the perfect introduction to Eastman counting because they focus on counting the beat numbers within a measure. It's also easy for them to visually see how their part lines up with the others. I assign a different instrument to each line (these can even be done with body percussion) and the best part is they both sound super cool when it all comes together! I've used these successfully with students as young as 1st grade, but I think they work best for 3rd grade and up.

Of course instruments are inherently fun so there are endless possibilities- when is the last time you did something just to enjoy playing together with your students? I hope you can use these ideas to get jamming and celebrate the joy of playing instruments! I'd love to hear your favorite ways to enjoy instruments too- please leave your ideas in the comments.

Want to catch up on the other posts in this series? Click below for my posts on lessons celebrating:

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