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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Music Lessons for Every Age Using Rain Songs

From preschool all the way to middle school, I'm pretty sure everyone can find a new song to use in your music classroom in today's post! I've compiled all of the lesson ideas I've shared using songs about rain from Germany, Morocco, South Africa, Ukraine, Colombia, and Japan and organized them by the target age group and the skills and concepts I use these songs to teach. They are all wonderful songs and kid-approved lessons that have been a hit in my classroom!


I went on a bit of a spree finding songs from around the world about rain, and there are so many different musical concepts and skills that can be taught with these different songs! Next time you have a rainy season, or you want to try something new to teach one of these concepts, try one of these out- click on the posts for detailed explanations of the lesson plans, song recordings, and more. You'll notice I've listed the same song twice in some cases because they can be used for a wide variety of concepts with different ages- here they are listed from the lessons I use with the youngest grades to the oldest.

PreK and self-contained: fingerplay and movement


Kindergarten / 1st grade: steady beat, timbre


Kindergarten / 1st grade: steady beat, quarter and eighth notes


Lower elementary: A and B contrasting sections


Lower / middle elementary: do, re, mi


Middle grades: compound meter, pentatonic solfege


Middle grades: canon singing, Orff accompaniments


Upper elementary: major and minor tonalities


Upper elementary / middle school: genres, meter, and form


To be honest I found even more songs about rain from all different places around the world, but I felt like I needed to stop at some point! I've found picking a common childhood song topic is a great way to learn new songs in different languages from different cultures that I may not have incorporated into my elementary music lessons before, and that has been very exciting. If you know of others that you've used in your music classes please share them below! I'd love to keep adding to this list in the future!

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Colombian Rain Song: Caminando Va (Go Walking)

I love using different songs with similar themes to compare and contrast specific musical elements- I find using songs with lyrics that are about the same topic makes it easier to draw young students' attention to the musical aspects of the songs. Over the last few weeks I have been sharing rain songs from all over the world, and today I have a wonderful song from Colombia that is perfect for early childhood, preschool, or self-contained classes or, used differently, works great in upper elementary grades as well!


I think for most US American music teachers when they think of non-English songs about rain, they think of "Que Llueva". It's a lovely song known in many countries across South America and there are plenty of great lesson ideas and materials already out there for that one. But I love this song from Colombian singer-songwriter Marta Gómez called "Caminando Va"! Here is the original recording:


It's essentially a little children's fingerplay/ nursery rhyme that launches into a full Latin style track. To be clear, this song is not a "traditional" song- it was released in 2016 (and its album was nominated for a Latin Grammy). The lyrics for the first section are:

Llueve, llueve, llueve, llueve sin pararY el caracolito en su casa estáY el caracolito en su casa está
Luego de un ratote empieza a escamparY el caracolito sale a pasearY el caracolito sale a pasear
Which translates to:
It rains, it rains, it rains, it rains non-stopAnd the little snail is in his houseAnd the little snail is in his house
After a while it starts to clearAnd the little snail goes for a walkAnd the little snail goes for a walk
How many songs do you know about snails?!? I love this song. 
I actually first came across this song in this video where a music teacher teaches students the actions to do with the song:

The clapping with the words "el caracolito" would be great if you wanted to use it to practice quarter notes and eighth notes, but otherwise I like the fingerplay motions that the woman demonstrates at the beginning of this video:


When I taught it with my self-contained class I combined the motions from those two videos, using one thumb out with the rest of the fingers in a fist to show the snail, and showing the thumb going under the fingers in the first part and coming out and gliding along in the second part, with the motions for the first line of each section taken from the first video. If I used this with Kindergarten or 1st grade I would clapping and do the motions shown in the first video to have students identify quarter and eighth notes!

For PreK and self-contained special education classes, doing it as a fingerplay helps build dexterity and encourages nonverbal students to participate in the lyrics. For classes that are more verbal, the lyrics are pretty accessible, especially once they've heard it several times.

After we learn the fingerplay, I turn on the recording and have students sing along with the beginning. Once we get to the rest of the track, it's the perfect opportunity for movement or instrument improvisation. Sometimes I invite students to pretend to be a snail strolling around in the sun, sometimes I have a box of scarves for students to grab from and encourage them to move freely, sometimes I give different students maracas, bongos, guiros, etc and encourage them to play along with the music. The students' eyes always light up when the instruments start to play!

Of course the main part of the song is a great example for upper elementary grades to practice identifying meter, form, instrument timbres, and/ or genre. I've thrown this in a few times as one of my examples when we're practicing aurally identifying instruments or matching songs with their genre, and the students recognize the familiar sounds and love the groove of the song. But my favorite ways to use it with upper grades are to think about the meter and the form. 

I've actually found that using a non-English song is a great way to get students to focus on the melodic and harmonic structure of a song to practice identifying the form. This song is a great example because, at first listen, students think it will be complicated to identify the form, but once they actually start paying attention to the repeated and contrasting phrases they are able to identify the same and different sections fairly quickly. This is a great one for introducing terms like chorus/ verse/ intro/ outro etc to label the different sections (as opposed to the ABC labels I use exclusively in the younger grades). I have them work in small groups to listen to the song a few times and first identify the same/ different sections, then discuss the definition of a chorus/ verse etc and have them discuss and label the sections with the new vocabulary. 

This song is also a great example to use for meter. In 4th grade I do a few lessons focusing on songs in different meters to practice identifying the time signature and performing in unusual meters, and it's fun to see the answers students come up with when I put on this recording and ask them to find the beat and figure out how many beats are in a group. It's interesting not only because the groove of the fingerplay section is different from the rest of the song, but because of the rhythms in a couple of phrases that can throw them off. I like to have students decide what they think the meter is, then give their answer and explain the reasoning behind their answer, and ultimately discuss how there can be a few different "correct" ways to notate a song and its time signature.

I hope you and your students enjoy this song- I think it's so fun and the students love to dance with it! If you've used this song for other lesson activities please share in the comments. I've also been sharing my favorite lesson ideas using rain songs from around the world in my previous posts: you can see my lessons for a song from Japan here, Ukraine here, Germany here, South African here, and Morocco here. I highly recommend those! If you have other rain songs that I should add to my unit, please share in the comments as well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

South African Rain Song: Imvula (It's Raining)

I love using different songs with similar themes to compare and contrast specific musical elements- I find using songs with lyrics that are about the same topic makes it easier to draw young students' attention to the musical aspects of the songs. Over the last few weeks I've been sharing rain songs from around the world and lesson activities I use with them, and today I'm excited to share this song from South Africa!


This is a short little nursery rhyme in Xhosa- if you aren't familiar, you can hear it at the beginning of this video: 


The only thing about the video above is the first line is spoken instead of sung. You can hear another great recording with the whole thing sung (and in harmony!) in this video. It's much slower than I do with kids- I think it works really well as an upbeat song- but they do some hand motions that would work well too:


I love that, like many of the other rain songs, it has the sound of the rain in the lyrics, and this one even has the sound of booming thunder as well! The lyrics are:

Imvula, imvula, 
Chapha, chapha, chapha 
Imanz' ilokwe yam.
Chapha, chapha, chapha
Imanz' ilokwe yam.
Gqum, gqum, kuyaduduma
Gqum, gqum, kuyaduduma
Imanz' ilokwe yam.
Imanz' ilokwe yam.

As with any time you're learning a song in a language you are unfamiliar, I strongly urge you to learn the words by listening to the recordings in the videos above, not by trying to read them! Here is the English translation of the words ("chapha" is the sound of rain, and "gqum" in the sound of thunder):

It's raining, it's raining,
Chapha, chapha, chapha
My dress is soaking wet
Chapha, chapha, chapha
My dress is soaking wet
Gqum, gqum, there is thunder
Gqum, gqum, there is thunder
My dress is soaking wet
My dress is soaking wet

I use this song for 2 main concepts with Kindergarten and 1st grade: steady beat and timbre. Steady beat is an easy one to practice with this song just by adding motions to do with the beat while singing the song. When I introduce the song, I tell students to copy my motions without singing along, and see if they can figure out what the song is about. Once they have heard the song a few times to practice the motions and they've figured out the meaning, it's much easier for them to learn the lyrics! Then we stomp around the room like we're splashing in puddles while we sing and do the hand motions with the song. So much fun!

This is also a great song to practice adding instrument sounds with specific words. I have students think about the timbre of different classroom instruments we have and pick out one instrument to play with "imvula, imvula", another to play with "chapha chapha chapha", another to play with "imanz' ilokwe yam", and another to play with "gqum, gqum, kuyaduduma". Then I have a few students play with each of those lines on the instruments they chose while the rest of the class sings.

The process of adding sounds to go with different lyrics in a song is helpful for a number of concepts. First and foremost it's a concrete way to introduce young students to the concept of timbre, and how to use it to communicate meaning in music. But it's also an excellent way to introduce young students to ensemble playing as they listen for their cue to play their part and try to match their playing with the singing, and practice playing different rhythms as well (I always have them play "with the rhythm of the words"). 

Once they can play their part at the correct time while others are singing, we take out the singing entirely and play the song with just the instruments. That adds another layer of internalizing the pulse and ensemble playing! If classes are struggling, I will silently mouth the words to help them keep track of where they are (which is, by the way, a great introduction to following a conductor). 

My younger students love this song and they get so excited when they hear it come together with the instruments! It's surprisingly easy for them to learn the lyrics as well- I often hear families telling me their child came home singing it. If you've ever used this song in your music lessons I'd love to hear what else you did with the song, and if you have other rain songs from other cultures to share, I'd love to hear those as well! Please leave a comment to share your ideas so we can all learn from each other. I've also been sharing my favorite lesson ideas using rain songs from around the world in my previous posts: you can see my lessons for a song from Japan here, Ukraine here, Germany here, and Morocco here- they are all super fun and I use different ones with different grades so you can get the whole school involved!