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Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Lesson Warm-ups to Practice Pitch Letter Names

I've been using student-led warmups at the beginning of my elementary general music lessons for years now and I am a big fan! I've gotten a lot of questions about the warmups I do and how I do them, so today I'm sharing my favorite warmups to practice note letter names for treble and bass clef!

Most of my warmups are focused on practicing/ reviewing a basic skill or concept I want my students to practice regularly. Identifying the letter names of notes on the staff is definitely one of those things that is best learned through regular practice, so this is one I use a lot with my upper elementary classes.

You can read more about why I do student-led warmups and how I manage the logistics of warmups in general in this post, but essentially I have a small group of 2-4 students who are assigned to lead the warmup / opening activity / do now at the beginning of class. These warmups are super easy to implement and, for the upper elementary grades I use them with, one of the easiest ones to get buy-in because they don't require the leaders to "perform" anything in front of their peers.

1. Space and line note naming

This is the first one I use at the beginning of the year or when students have just been introduced to a particular staff (I introduce treble clef fully in 3rd grade, and bass clef in 6th). I have whole notes on each of the ascending spaces on one staff, and each of the ascending lines on another. Student leaders take turns coming up to the board and pointing to one space note, which the rest of the class then raises their hand to name, and one line note. **Important side bonus: I specify if I want the leader to point to a space or line note, and I switch up the order from person to person. There are always a few who seem to confuse the concept of line note vs space note so this is good practice for them, and a good assessment for me.

2. Scattered note naming

This one is almost the same as the first but I use this to increase the difficulty once students are comfortable with the notes in a particular clef. I put up a slide that has individual whole notes on their own (short) staff with the clef in front of each, scattered in random formation around the screen. Otherwise the process is the same: the leader points to a space/ line note (as specified by me) and the others raise their hands to name it.

3. Note naming: other variants

Once classes are really comfortable with naming notes with just whole notes, which really isolates the pitch element from rhythm and other elements, I throw in other variations:
1) use the same scattered formation of notes from #2 but this time have notes with different note values, like quarter notes, half notes, etc to mix it up
2) show an actual excerpt from an actual song, and have the student leaders point to random notes in the excerpt for the class to identify (bonus: I will usually do this with a song they already know, and ask them at the end if anyone can identify the song)

4. Note writing

The student leader is given a set of cards, each card having one alphabet letter for the 7 note names. Individual or small groups of students are given a dry erase marker and staff board. The leader pulls out a card to show the class, and they race to write the corresponding note on their boards and hold it up to show them. I actually use this one as a teacher-led lesson activity as well when they are first practicing notes in a new clef, but after that I use it as a warmup activity to review.

There are so many fun ways to put students in charge and practice naming notes! These only take about 3 minutes at the beginning of class and they really help keep a skill that really needs to be "drilled" regularly feel less like a chore. You can find my post on warmup activities for steady beat in here, and I'll share more warmups for other skills and concepts in a future post- if you have any questions or more ideas please leave them in the comments! 

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