Tuesday, December 12, 2017

They DO sound better.

Just a quick note that the students DO sound better and the program IS better than it was when I first started. I think that sometimes I look so closely at the day-to-day rehearsals that I forget the underlying trend that is continuing to rise. I want them to sound good - not just better - but they don't sound as bad as they did three years ago. Progress.

Jaded: Reflection and Vision

I am feeling a little bit tired of not having a good group. I'm using the word "good" objectively, in the sense that my groups do not perform accurately or with expression. Individually, they do not show enough improvement. Basically, I'm getting tired of teaching a group of students that doesn't want to be taught. However, my personal morals dictate that I should make the best of the situation and try to do everything I can to make things better.

So right now I'm feeling jaded about almost everything. Let me break it down:

Kindergarten/pre-school: This is probably the group that I was feeling the best about about a month ago. I was going through their lesson book with great success and making their education meaningful. Then I had to start preparing them for a performance, and everything has been downhill. It also doesn't help that I started preparing every other group for performances, which took time away from preparing for Kindergarten. I still feel like I can turn things around in January once we get back to the lesson book.

First and Second Grade: We were making good progress until they were forced to rush for the Veteran's Day program. This group still can't sing in tune in unison. That's what we were working on. I don't like having them perform when they're missing notes because it makes them comfortable with being wrong. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting them to nail every single pitch perfectly, but I do expect all 100% of them to at least get close to most of the pitches, and right now some of them are still stuck in chest voice and need more practice. But when I'm focusing on rehearsing parts for the play or songs for performance, there isn't time for practicing the basics. Again, this group will be better to work with once January arrives.

Third and Fourth Grade: I'm really pretty discouraged at having to teach an extra class this semester which has taken away time from Third and Fourth grade music. Last year, Reed and I had a good system going where the students were actually getting an extra 15 minutes per class to work on the recorder every day. This year, not only do they have no extra time, but they actually have 5 minutes less because they have to leave early so I can get ready for kindergarten PE. They also arrive 5 minutes late, so I only see them for 20 minutes twice a week. That's a huge problem. Accepting that, this group has been making progress. They actually made great progress while preparing for the Veteran's Day program. The last month has felt absolutely rushed and ungainful. I've also had to sacrifice musical teaching to rehearse the play, and even that seems like it will be objectively bad. They should be more than 1/4 of the way through the recorder book, but they're still on page one because there's been no time to practice the recorder without ignoring singing. I just don't have enough time with this group, and they really need the extra time because they have to be ready for fifth grade band by the end of the year.

Fifth and Sixth Grade Choir: This was easily the best group earlier in the year. The students were great to work with and made lots of progress. In the first month, they had a moment where I was able to envision them being a good choir, even a great one. However, it seems like we've hit a plateau and are back to singing like an inexperienced group of kids. This is partially my fault, and I'm learning to be a better choir teacher. I think what happened is that I heard them perform really well at the fall concert and then picked more difficult music for them to do at the winter concert, which has proved to be too much of a challenge and they no longer sound like a good choir with the harder music.

Fifth and Sixth Grade Band: This group is probably my most discouraging. Once we started working on our Christmas music, it seems like all progress has stopped. Students who struggle with playing a 2 measure phrase a month ago still haven't learned it. Others seem like they are literally getting worse, where they were able to play and understand certain concepts earlier and now they are getting notes mixed up and forgetting slide positions. The sixth graders are coasting because they can play all of the music easily, but they're not trying to get any better. The fifth graders who are behind are either extremely frustrated or just don't care. Only about half of them show the potential of being able to survive in the JHHS band next year.

JHHS Choir: This group is currently the one where I'm feeling good about their progress. At the beginning of the year, there was no way that they could do four part music, and now they are really getting the hang of it. I think that it's due to four students who are unofficial section leaders, ones that can hold their own part, and the rest of the section is joining with them. Anyway, the rest of the group is still too quiet, and I'm still learning how to be a good choir teacher, which is probably holding them back.

JHHS Band: I felt good about this group up until the beginning of November. We had about two weeks of good rehearsals with the new music, and then it seems like I only get to see them once a week as a full group. I missed 14 whole days with them at the end of November. They just aren't getting better at their parts, and now they've got to perform a piece that sounds bad. This is the group that stresses me out the most, because it's the one that I know how to teach the best. But because I only see them twice a week, I have to rely on them to actually practice what I'm teaching, and they don't practice. We also have some if not most of the junior high students leaving after the semester, so I'm going to have to totally redo the instrumentation. It's really a nightmare for me. I feel like the only way to get this group any better is to focus on teaching the 3rd and 4th graders how to read notation by playing the recorder, and then they'll be ready to work harder in 5th and 6th band, so that by the time they're in 7th grade, they're not totally lost when they play in the JHHS band. That and fixing the JH schedule so they can't leave half-way through the year.

Of course, there are ways to make things better. Here's my plan for improvement:

Kindergarten/Preschool: I really want to stick with the lesson book. They should be zooming through the Kindergarten book and into the 1st grade book as soon as possible. My goal is to really learn their lesson book so that next year it will be even better. I also want to start using conversational solfege techniques - especially having them echo rhythmic and tonal patterns on nonsense syllables. This sets them up for first grade when I start using 

First and Second Grade: The same idea applies with this group. I want them to zoom through the 2nd grade book and into the 3rd grade book as soon as possible. At the same time, I really want to focus on accurate singing. That includes singing technique (especially head/chest voice coordination and breath support) and pitch/rhythmic accuracy. How about displaying the music on the board? I know that it would take some practice at first, but wouldn't it be invaluable for the students to see the music as they sing? That would train them how to read notation without any explanation. I'd do it for the Kindergarten group, but most of them are still learning how to read ENGLISH, let alone music. It'd just be too hard for them. They should start echoing conversational patterns using the correct syllables and begin decoding patterns later in the year. The goal is to get them comfortable with using the syllables correctly and begin identifying correct/incorrect so that when they get to third grade, they are better at sight-reading notation.

Third and Fourth Grade: The biggest thing here is getting more time with these students. It worked so well to have 45 minutes with them because we were able to spend the regular 25 minutes on getting through the lesson book and the remaining 20 minutes on getting through the recorder book. Once I have that time back, I think it will be much better.

Fifth and Sixth Grade Choir: I think the best thing to do with this group is stick with easier music. They did a really good job, objectively, singing easier music earlier this year. I really want to implant that sound in their heads of what a good group sounds like, so that by the time they get to 7th grade, they sing with a good sound. They also do really well with sight-singing, and I want to keep working on sight-singing in unison with this group. Eventually, I would like to move unison and sight-singing down to the third and fourth grade level (using books like Get America Singing), perhaps during the extra time split between recorder and choir singing, and then have the fifth and sixth grade groups singing more advanced music, especially two part and three part music.

Fifth and Sixth Grade Band: Okay, where do I start with this group? The vision is to have them done with the 2nd year band book by the end of 6th grade. The question is, how do I get them to that point? Maybe I need to look at the books and enforce playing tests to make sure the students are on track. I could use that system instead of the weekly practice slip system, which frankly, isn't working. Honestly, I don't care how many minutes they practice. If they are on track, they might as well practice just enough to pass their playing test. If they're behind, then they need to come in and work with me as often as possible until they are back on track. Maybe that means requiring students who fail a playing test to come in on Fridays or after school or during recess. So then what do we do during class time? The first year students really should be learning completely different things than the second year students. It would really work better to have the students for 45 minutes at a time, maybe have half of them come in the advanced class and the other half in the beginning class, and while I'm working with one half they could either be spending time with Mr. Reeve or in another elective like Art. Really, putting them opposite of art would be the best option, or maybe technology. It just bugs me that each year, I have to start at the very beginning, even with second year students. And then we have to go so slow so that the beginners don't get frustrated. It's just a balance of frustration - go too slow for too many days and the advanced students get frustrated, go too fast for too many days and the beginners get frustrated. So really, my vision is that I would have separate classes to work on skills that are really only applicable to one year at a time, at least for the first part of the year.

> Interruption: Why I need two separate classes.

It's easy enough for me to teach a group of trumpet players how to play because I'm only having to give one instruction for each step. If I have a group of trumpet players AND trombone players, that's a lot harder because not only do they sound two different notes an octave apart, but they also read different music and also play with different techniques. So now I have to give somewhere between two to five instructions for each step, where earlier it was just one. Add French Horn, baritone, and tuba into the mix, and again it increases the difficulty.

But so far, these instruments are all similar because they use a brass mouthpiece and are played by buzzing your lips. Now, add in something like the clarinet, the alto saxophone, and the tenor saxophone. All of a sudden, I have to give a completely different set of instructions to these instruments because they make noise by blowing into a mouthpiece with a vibrating reed instead of buzzing their lips. They also read different music and have to use eight fingers and a thumb for their different notes instead of just three or a slide. Also add in a flute, which doesn't use a reed or buzzing lips, but plays by blowing across an open hole in the mouthpiece. There is also the oboe and the bassoon, which do not use a mouthpiece at all and instead have two reeds that vibrate against each other to make a sound. Now that one instruction that I was able to give to a group of trumpets has turned into about twenty instructions for the same amount of progress across the whole group.

Finally, add in the percussion players. They do not use air at all to play their instrument, but instead have sticks and mallets and have to play a variety of instruments including the bells and snare drum. That means that instead of just learning one instrument like the trumpet, they have to learn two or three at the very beginning just to make the same amount of progress. The non-pitched percussion don't even have notes, so spending time working on notes with the rest of the group is a waste of time for the percussionist. Instead, they have to learn advanced rhythms at a quicker rate than the rest of the group and have a whole set of rudiments to learn - and that's just for the snare drum. There are different techniques that they need to learn for each instrument, including but not limited to the triangle, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, bass drum, tom-toms, shakers, maracas, castanets, wood blocks - and that is listing only the most common ones. They also have to learn the pitched percussion instruments like the marimba, vibraphone, and glockenspiel. Now that single instruction that I had to give to the trumpet players has turned into about 30 instructions just to get one class to play one note.

The final challenge is this: all of these students are at different ability levels. They will all differ in how much they understand each instruction, and how well they are able to execute it on their different instruments. They also differ in the amount of interest and self-motivation they have and in how much time they will spend practicing these ideas on their own time. Some students will need it explained more than once, and their neighbors will lose interest if you explain it twice. Now take all of these challenges, combine them together at the beginning of September, and then put on a show at the end of December where every parent and community member is invited to come and watch.

My extra challenge is that my first year students and second year students are all combined in the same class. While there is one limited benefit - asking older students to tutor younger ones, which does not always work out - there is double the number of challenges. The biggest challenge is that the older students have to play music that is too easy and the younger students have to play music that is too hard - there is no middle ground. The most productive solution is to split the class into two groups and have one group at a time play, but then I have to simultaneously teach one group and babysit the other. The best solution would be to have two separate classes.

JHHS Choir: I think that I will be losing some students at the midterm, but I am hoping to keep the best ones. Choir is different from band because there are at most only four parts that need to be covered, while band has upwards of 20 different parts. The benefit of having a larger group is sound and security, but having a smaller group is manageable. I want to continue developing the "section leaders" who have been important to performing four part music accurately. I also want to pick good music for this group and continue to develop everyone's voice in order to have more than one person per section who is capable of reading the music.

JHHS Band: My vision for this group is to have them performing real music, not just the educational pieces that are written for easy band or beginning band or developing band. In order to do that, I need to have good instrumentation and students who know how to play. My hope is that these students will continue to get better each year, especially focusing on getting them rehearsal-ready by the end of the sixth grade. I want them to be a group that sounds good on whatever they play, not just the easy pieces.

Monday, October 30, 2017

My Priority Today

Today is a normal Monday. I did not work on Sunday to plan for the upcoming week, so now I am scrambling to get things together not just for this week, but for today as well.

My main priority is the same as it always is: To plan my lessons for today. Those lessons are based on long-term goals that don't change often, but the materials and activities change each day.

This week I will need to begin picking plays for Christmas. Rather than choose them hastily and begin working on them without preparation, I will continue to work out of my regular curriculum book today and aim for starting the plays next week.

There is also a Veteran's Day program coming up soon. The fifth and sixth graders will need to learn the songs for it and the third and fourth grade as well. The other groups are not participating directly this year.

The JHHS Band and Choir will need to continue rehearsing their pieces for the Christmas Program.

Time to stop theorizing and get to work on planning lessons.

Monday, October 16, 2017

What is a Concert Reflection?

More specifically, what is the educational objective of having the students write a reflection after a concert performance?

First, is it even worth writing a reflection, or is it a waste of time? I've tried both ways. My students get a free period the day after a concert. At first, we would listen to the recording and have a brief discussion before they were given their free time, but recently we have just been ignoring the concert reflection and going straight for the free time. Why? Because the students didn't seem to get anything out of it. There were one or two students who would keep the conversation going, but the rest of them just sat there and waited until it was over. The answers were usually thoughtless when I picked on a student to try and get them involved. 'Uhmm, it was good?' or 'We should have practiced it, (Practiced what?) The music.' Those are pretty common. So why bother if the students aren't getting anything out of it? Might as well teach them to enjoy music and skip over it.

However, the problem isn't with concert reflections or free periods, it is a question of how the reflections are conducted. Do the students have to write something? Do they have to be a part of a conversation? Do they have to answer specific questions or just answer generally? Are they giving facts or opinions? Maybe the reason why most students want to skip the concert reflection is because they aren't really getting anything out of it, and they see it as a waste of time. But if they could benefit from it, and know that they are benefiting from it, wouldn't they be more likely to participate? More of them would, at the very least. And skipping the concert reflection ignores a huge, important aspect of being a musician - that is, musicians reflect on their performances to identify strengths and weaknesses. As a professional soloist, I would be listening to my recorded performances for areas that were comfortably good and for areas that needed attention. Obviously, not only is this important for a musician to do, but it is also an important life skill to learn - that of self-reflection.

So now, what is the educational objective of having the students reflect on a performance?

The main objective is for students to identify strengths and weaknesses. An audio recording allows students to focus specifically on the sound of the performance, while a video recording gives a more complete idea of the performance. The important thing to remember about identifying is that facts are more important than opinions. It's okay to say, "that sounded good," unless you don't provide any facts to back up that statement. "That sounded good" and "That sounded bad" is meaningless by itself. It only serves to make someone feel good or feel bad about their performance which is not very helpful in almost every situation. So, in order to identify a strength or a weakness, one has to answer the question "WHY does it sound good or bad?" Be careful of words like: good, great, better, best, well, awesome, rad, perfect, sweet; and their opposites: bad, worse, worst, horrible, awful, nasty, gross, and terrible. These are all opinions. If a student uses one of these words, they also have to explain the facts that brought them to that conclusion.

Put this into practice, and it looks like this: "Okay class, what were some of our strengths at the concert?" Jimmy answers, "We sounded great!" Teacher responds, "What makes you say that? What did we do that sounded great?" Jimmy then says, "We played our instruments really good." Teacher asks, "Why do you say that? What was really good about our playing?" Jimmy hesitates, and then says "It was good." Teacher says, "What made it good?" Then Jimmy says, "I don't know. Call on someone else." What happened here is that the student opened up with an opinion which may have been totally valid, or maybe it was just garbage to begin with. When the teacher pressed for the facts, the student was unable to explain them. Again, this could have been for two reasons. One (the better option) is that the student really doesn't know how to explain why they came to that conclusion, and the second (the worse option) is that they really don't care enough to have an opinion and they just spouted out the first string of words that came to mind. (Maybe they are used to doing this in other situations and it just carried over into the music classroom.) If it's the first option, then use it as an opportunity to teach the class how to talk about music. Put words into the student's mouth and ask specific questions like, "Was it easy to hear the melody over the rest of the group?" Even if they say 'yes' just to get off the hook, they are still learning to talk about music intellectually.

The secondary objective related to identifying strengths and weaknesses is to figure out the reason behind them. What did we do during the rehearsals leading up to the concert that made us stronger? What did we neglect to do that made us weaker? This is important to point out because it makes the students responsible for doing well or doing poorly. For example, if one of the strengths was balance, how did we achieve that? Was it because we pointed out the melody so often during rehearsals? Was it because we actually changed the written dynamics? Was it because we focused on listening during the actual performance? Those are things that are important to point out because then the students will do them more in preparation for the next concert. Another example, if one of the weaknesses was inaccuracy in rhythms, what did we neglect to do that resulted in that problem? Did we lose track of the beat? Did we never really learn how the rhythm was supposed to go in the first place? What could we do differently to turn rhythm from a weakness into a strength for the next concert?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Fundamental Idea for Great Rehearsals

The fundamental idea for great rehearsals is this: always rehearse the highest priority areas first.

What is a high priority area? Think about your last rehearsal with the group. What was the most offensive mistake that they made? Where was the ugliest part of the song? Where did they fall apart the worst? Whatever the answer is, that is the highest priority.

Every rehearsal should address the high priority areas first. Start at a specific measure with the entire group. Play or sing it once through to illuminate the problem area. Then reach into your rehearsal tool box and find the most efficient way to solve the problem. Maybe that's playing it slower. Maybe it's singing it on a neutral vowel. Maybe it's going one note at a time. Maybe it's working with sections or individuals. But whatever you do, make sure that you are working on the worst areas of the song first, and as they continue to improve, repeat that section over and over so they learn how it is supposed to sound.

But what about all of that score study that I did? Should I just ignore the problems that I found while I was looking at the score? The answer: yes. And no. Score study is essential for many reasons. For one, you won't know what the song is supposed to sound like if you don't study it first. For another, you will be able to guess where the problems might happen and look for the best solution. Do you think there might be a rhythmic problem? What's the best way to fix it? Do you think there might be a balance problem? What's the best way to fix it? Those are all questions that you should know the answer to if you want to have great rehearsals. However, the fundamental idea of rehearsals is not to work on the problems that you think might occur before they happen. The fundamental idea of great rehearsals is to fix the most glaring problems first. Start with this in mind, and you will see your rehearsals (and your ensembles) improve.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The IWYY Model: Teaching Songs to Elementary Singers

IWYY stands for "I, We, Y'all, You." It is the best teaching model to use when elementary students are learning to sing a short song because it provides an aural image, promotes successful singing in a group, and provides an opportunity for students to sing alone or in a small group. It is simple to understand and implement in almost any music lesson.

The basic structure of the IWYY model is to repeat a short song four or more times with different expectations each time, represented by the words "I, We, Y'all, You."

1. Sing for the class, not with the class; focused listening.

The first time a song is presented, the teacher should sing it for the class alone ("I sing"). The students are expected to listen to the song carefully and critically. Usually it is easier for them to focus on listening to the words at first, but you can challenge them to listen for a specific tonal or rhythmic pattern as well. Sometimes I check for understanding by having the students fill in the missing word at the end of a phrase, or raising their hand when they hear a specific word, rhythm, or tonal pattern, or by counting the number of times a word occurs, or by asking text comprehension questions. The song can be sung with an accompaniment or without, and the teacher can ask the students to keep a steady beat or mirror actions during the song.

2. Sing with the class, focusing on pitch/contour or beat/rhythm.

Once the students have heard the song, they are invited to join in singing it with the teacher ("We sing"). Students and teacher sing the song together so that the students can follow along with the teacher in case they are lost or unsure of what to sing. Singing as a large group with the teacher provides timid students with a safe atmosphere for singing - they can hide their voices behind the teacher's voice. While some people argue that this is detrimental to the student's progress, I believe that timid singing is better than no singing at all, which furthermore is much better than embarrassed singing. Often times at this stage I will show the melodic contour of a song with my hands and even ask the students to mirror me. Showing melodic contour is different than showing the solfege hand signals. It is appropriate to use the solfege if that is the focus of the activity, but it is simpler to use a hand gesture that looks like a "cut" motion (all fingers extended, palms flat towards the floor) for each note at different heights in the space in front of me. Simpler is better because students focus on getting their voices to the right pitch instead of making the right shapes with their hands and fingers. Another important concept that can be practiced in this stage is the rhythm of the words. Teacher and students can clap each word as it is sung. If the occasion calls for it, I might repeat "We sing" a second time and play an accompaniment on the guitar or piano, or perhaps focus on some other element of the music such as the beat, timbre, dynamics, style, or expression.

3. Listen to the class sing for you, then rehearse or give feedback.

The third step in the IWYY model is for the students to sing as a group ("Y'all sing"). without the teacher. This step is designed to do two things: one is to challenge the students and the other is to provide an opportunity for the teacher to listen critically to the group. Students will find out that they don't really know the song as well as they thought when they have to sing it alone. It is eye-opening for them to fall apart in the middle of a song. They start to realize that music is not such an easy subject and that they need to focus and give an effort in order to succeed. The teacher should be listening for parts where the students fall apart or make big mistakes, and then formulate a plan to rehearse those parts before the students even get to the end of the song. That might mean a little bit of direct instruction and then trying again, or it might mean going back to the first or second step of the whole process. The teacher should not exclude pitch accuracy from their assessment! In my opinion, 99.999% of children have the ability to sing in tune. A quick review of head voice, breath support, and pitch matching might be necessary to get the students on the right notes. It is very important that a teacher should address this issue! Even if just one student is singing in a speaking voice, the teacher should identify the problem and give the entire class another chance to succeed. Accepting the wrong, low pitches once will always make the problem harder to fix on subsequent days. The level of accuracy in general might depend on your educational objectives for the song, but I would argue that everyone should be at least 70% correct before moving on to the next stage. Anything less will hurt struggling students in the long run. That being said, there are times when it is best to focus on participation rather than accuracy. Maybe you are a new teacher in the district and the students are just getting used to you. Maybe there is a new student and it would be harmful to put them in the spotlight on their first day. Maybe it's a class of kindergartners who have never sang before! The final decision of whether or not to focus on participation or accuracy rests with the teacher.

4. Select students to sing alone or in small groups for the class.

The last step of all is to choose individual students or pairs to sing for the group ("You sing"). This step is so important to include. Here is a chance for students to not only hear what their own voice sounds like, but also helps them to build confidence for singing in front of other people. By asking for volunteers to sing alone, you give them a chance to do something that is required of every musician - to make music without anybody's help. It is vitally important to give every student this opportunity often so that they become independent musicians before going into junior high and high school band and choir. Also, at the lower elementary levels, there is very little pressure to be perfect, so this is a great time to get them comfortable with giving their best shot even if they make a mistake. You can also use duets or small groups to work towards the same goal, or even just to give more students the opportunity to perform. I have used duets where I pick one student who will be able to help the other student, who otherwise wouldn't have been able to sing it on their own. This last step can also be used to ask a star student to demonstrate the proper sound for the rest of the class. Overall, it is an important tool in your music teacher tool box.

When I first started teaching music, I would usually sing all of the songs with the students. They were able to perform well when I was helping them, but they didn't build the skills needed to be successful in more complicated performances like part singing or playing an instrument in band. When I started using the IWYY system, I noticed the difference right away, and I hope to see a big difference in these students when they are old enough to join the band and the choir.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Practice Slips in Elementary Band: Finding a Balance

This has been a topic of debate for as long as I can remember: how much should students be required to practice?

First, let me say that I have tried three different methods in my 6 years of teaching. The first method I tried was to send home "practice assignments" each week - every student would get a personalized practice slip for what they needed to practice each week. The second method was in response to being totally overwhelmed by the amount of work needed to keep up with that: I did not require students to turn in any form of practice slips. The third method is common among band teachers, and I remember my band teachers using it in elementary and junior high: requiring students to practice a certain amount of time each week. Some schools require an hour and a half or more, some require thirty minutes or less. I require my students to practice for 45 minutes a week.

Now, how much should a first or second year band student be required to practice? Let's look at the method that doesn't work before comparing the other two.

At one point in my teaching career, I decided to forgo practice requirements completely. The students complained about having to practice, and even the parents were complaining about the students having to practice! I was completely buried with other concerns, so I thought to myself that this was one battle I would  be willing to lose. When I told the students that they didn't have to practice at home anymore, two things happened. First, the students celebrated because they hated doing it and it meant they had less homework each week. I watched as instruments were left at the school day after day, week after week, weekend after weekend. The second thing that happened is that the students stopped getting better at their instruments. The only time that they played them was together in class, which means that they never played them alone and probably never heard their own sound apart from the rest of the group. Sure, we worked through songs in band class, but it was usually one or two of the more talented students that carried the rest of the group. Some of the students couldn't play a song by themselves even at the end of the year. So, getting rid of practice requirements made life easier for everyone, but it also made the band much worse, and it meant that educational goals weren't being met. My opinion: having no practice requirements is the worst option available.

Between the two remaining options, each one has clear benefits over the other. The main benefit of sending home individualized practice sheets each week is that the students have obvious goals and will know what they need to spend the most time practicing. The main benefit of requiring a flat-rate amount of time per week is freedom from the logistical nightmare of creating individual practice slips for every student, every week. I think that the best place to start is the flat-rate method for that reason, but I also see the benefit of trying to work towards the more student-centered individualized plans.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Problem with the old curriculum: Finding a solution

The first week with the old curriculum was very refreshing. I've taught it for five years and I remembered why: it has a great balance of singing and activity. Also, all of the materials are already there, and I don't feel like I have to create something from scratch. It's a pre-designed curriculum that covers six years of elementary music education.

Now into planning the second week, I have come across an old problem. The old curriculum uses the Kodaly methodology of teaching solfege, or in other words it has a very specific progression of which solfege notes are supposed to be used and in which order. That in itself is not the problem. The problem is that the curriculum takes traditional folk songs and changes the melody to fit the Kodaly progression - and not just by a little bit. This week the song Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands is reduced to a simple So-Mi pattern. My conscience is offended by the thought of teaching this to the children.

So, seeing as how teaching the false version of the song is not an option for me, I need to find a new solution. Right now, here are my thoughts: the solution has two parts to it. The first part is to keep the traditional folk songs that are included in the old curriculum but use them as listening activities, for there are many great recordings of these songs available online. The students can even sing along with the recordings, but the main goal will be to experience the traditional folk music in its original form. So, the first part is to change the melodies back to their original form. Now I am no longer a conscientious objector to the old curriculum. This will require me to design my own activities to support the new goal of active listening.

However, that leaves a gap in the old curriculum, because the songs were being used to teach the students how to use solfege. This of course is a monumental part of their education, so I will need to be very diligent in seeing that it is not neglected. My current plan of action is to use an alternative curriculum to supplement GamePlan. A few years ago, I attended a workshop with Dr. John Feierabend and was completely convinced about the accuracy and efficiency of his methodology. I purchased his curriculum Conversational Solfege, but I haven't done anything more than glance through it to understand its core tenets. So, my plan is to open up this second curriculum any time that the old curriculum uses modified folk songs to teach solfege. The most important thing is for me to try, or to at least begin trying. I will see how everything fits together as I go along, but my gut tells me that this will be successful.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Giving up on writing a new curriculum.

What I've realized is that designing a comprehensive K-4 Elementary Music Curriculum from scratch is like trying to design, code, and do graphics for your own computer game - there is no way for one single person to do a good job because of the amount of work that it takes. I've been working hard for several months trying to create my own elementary curriculum, but I have been met with limited success. I also am struggling to really properly design a coherent process or procedure that goes from Day One of kindergarten to the Last Day of fourth grade. It's too hard to figure out what to do first, next, etc., when I'm also having to teach the classes, keep up with paperwork, rehearse band and choir classes, plan concerts, and still try to have time for my life outside of work. It is exhausting, but it has not been fruitless.

Yes, I am giving up on writing my own curriculum from scratch. I plan on going back to the old curriculum that I used when I first started teaching, one that has elements of Dalcroze and Kodaly and Orff all mixed in. One that already has a large list of songs, poems, games, activities, and other materials ready for me to use. However, even though I am using an old curriculum, I am approaching it with a new perspective that I have gained from trying to design my own. I am not going to pursue it like I used to, but I am going to use it in a new way. I will still add extra materials here and there, and omit certain songs and activities, but I am planning on teaching my new curricular ideals through the old curriculum. In other words, I am planning to tweak each lesson to focus on the musical goals that I have chosen through much study and deliberation. Many lessons will not require much change. Some will only need a small change. The point is that now I have an understanding of the Big Picture, and that will guide my teaching.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Secondary Band and Choir Thoughts

In my school, our first concert is in the middle of October. That leaves about 8 weeks to get ready for it and then 9 weeks before the Christmas program. In other words, there's a first quarter concert and a second quarter concert. This post is about what I should be teaching the students during those first two quarters.

In Choir, I have been teaching the students how to sing using the Kenneth singing method. It is a sequential approach to getting them to sing well, and it covers the physical skill of singing with a good tone and with good technique. I have found this to be effective in giving them a foundation to putting on a good first concert - at least enabling them to do so because they will have a good sound.

TL;DR: Teach fundamental singing technique in the first quarter, then teach elements of sight-singing in the second quarter. Teach rhythm reading in band during the first quarter, then teach scales during the second; focus on tone and technique always. In both groups, begin heavy on the warm-up portion and then spend less and less time as performances approach (but always spend some time even if only one minute).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

First units in Kindergarten: Focus on the right topics

How do you start a new year in kindergarten? My experience and my vision as a music teacher in a public school tell me that you have to start from the very beginning, from the most basic musical concepts, and approach curriculum and lesson planning as if the students might have zero knowledge about music. That means starting with concepts that are both foundational and easy to learn. With that in mind, I think that the first topics in kindergarten should cover Fast/Slow, Loud/Quiet, and then High/Low. Now, these may be interchangeable in order, but I think that all three should be covered before anything else.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Direct Instruction vs. Self-Directed Learning in Music

This essay is about using direct instruction in the music classroom, where the teacher takes full responsibility of presenting new information and also assessment, versus the use of self-directed learning, where the students take responsibility for what occurs.

As musicians, many would agree that the majority of our practice routine is self-directed. Even in rehearsals, where the conductor gives constant direct instruction, much of our performance is a result of self-directed playing because there are simply too many variables for the conductor to control all at the same time. Therefore, it is imperative that young students begin to learn about self-directed learning techniques early in their musical career.

In direct instruction, the teacher shows the students how to put the instruments together and goes along to check and make sure that they are correct. How would students go about the same task using self-directed learning? It is a simple thought process that occurs as a result of an implicit goal: "I want to play that instrument." Most young students do not need to be taught to want to play, it is natural for them to be eager to start playing. But right away, they run into a problem. How are they supposed to play when they don't know how to put the instrument together? The direct-instruction model requires a teacher to provide that information and feedback, but in self-directed learning, the student must search for their own answers. In this age, most of them would turn to the internet and search for 'how do i put a clarinet together' or something similar. That is the essence of self-directed learning: the students learn how to find their own solutions and apply them.

One might take this to the extreme and only use self-directed instruction. For a young student, this could be dangerous for two reasons: one, the student doesn't always find the right information. In this case, it might end up in a damaged instrument. And two, the student doesn't always know if they are right, or in this case, whether or not they've put their instrument together correctly, resulting in further problems when the student begins to play.

That's where I would like to coin the term "self-directed learning assistant," or in other words, a teacher. Students should be encouraged to learn on their own, but also they should be encouraged to seek help from another person when the circumstances demand it. As the classroom music teacher, I need to teach the students how to be self-directed and then be available to assist them if they need help. Most classroom activities are teacher-led by nature, so I need to give extra consideration to finding the best opportunities to make self-directed learning a success.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Things That I Wish I Had Known My First Year - Part 1

This is the beginning of a series of posts for first year teachers about first year teaching. There is no substitute for experience, nor is there any pill you can take or book you can read that will give you experience. Beginning to teach with no experience is one of the most difficult things you will go through in life, especially if you do not have an experienced mentor to rely upon. However, by reading about the first year experience, you will have a better perception of what first year teaching will really be like.

What is the first thing I should do after I accept my new teaching position?

When I had accepted my first job offer, it was in March of 2011. I had about six months to get ready for teaching, so here is what I did: I spent about two weeks formulating ideas about how to teach K-12 Music, and then I spent the rest of the summer playing mind-numbing amounts of video games. Big mistake. I thought that I could spend about two weeks before the school year started getting my classroom together, and that was also a big mistake. As a new teacher, I really didn't understand how much stuff there was to go through: file cabinets, desk drawers, bookshelves full of mostly old music teaching books, bookshelves full of mostly old band music and choir music, containers of stuff that had been used in previous plays and music programs, shelves full of instruments in both good and bad conditions, closets full of really old uniforms... you get the idea. A lot more than I could handle in two weeks. So here's my suggestion: the first thing you should do when you accept a new job is to head there as soon as possible and start going through the stuff. Figure out what materials you need to organize right now (desk drawers, filing cabinets for important documents) and what materials you will most likely be using at the beginning of the school year (instruments, band and choir music, lesson plan or curriculum books, computers, etc.) and figure out where you can put all of these things so that they are readily available when you need them. Decide how you want the room to look and function, and then start working towards putting things where you think they should go. Also, decide which things are okay to just leave there for now - like that shelf full of Silver-Burdett books from the 1960's - and which things need to go in the trash can. BE VERY CAREFUL not to throw away things that shouldn't be thrown away. Most schools have a detailed process for throwing out old equipment or books. But a lot of times, there are cheap instruments that are simply beyond repair, file cabinets full of photocopied music, packets of home-made teaching materials that you probably won't ever use, and a variety of other junk that is just sitting around taking up space. Check with the principal, and then chuck it in the bin or send it away to the magical land of school storage. Depending on how long it's been since someone has done this, it might take a very long time to go through your room or it might be an afternoon project. Assume that it wasn't very high on the priority list of the teacher who left at the end of last year. Figuring out what you have and what you don't have sets you up for the next step: how are you going to manage day-to-day paperwork and what are your classroom rules going to be?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What is the goal of music education?

The goal is ultimately to put on a good concert. I mean, you can include things like music theory and composition and identifying world instruments and music appreciation, but all of those things culminate towards one goal: to put on a good performance. In a poorly oversimplified way, that is what any music program is all about: putting on a good concert.

The question then arises, what does it take to put on a good concert? 

One thing that matters is having the right repertoire. That detail mainly comes down to the foresight of the conductor (me), but also is limited by three factors: the ability level of the students, the instrumentation of the group, and the availability of the music.

The second thing that makes a good concert is the quality of the performance. A high-quality performance does not insult the ears. There are very few wrong notes, there is good balance and good tone quality and good intonation. Rhythm aligns with the beat, and the beat is the same from one musician to the next. In a good performance, the performers listen to one another and communicate with one another through their music.

Now, let's consider how this applies to the Dutton/Brady music program.

A very large part of my job is to select the right music each year for each concert. I then design a series of exercises and assignments to be used throughout the rehearsal process. Rhythm and scales are foundational to all music, so they are a part of each day's lesson. If the goal is to put on a good concert, then I need to choose music that meets that goal according to the requirements listed above.

The quality of the performance is very much dependent on the musical ability of the students. They need to know how to work their instrument or voice in order to produce the required sound. They also need to know what the music should sound like: what their part should sound like and how it relates to the entire piece. Furthermore, they should be able to identify any errors in their own performance and practice so that they can play or sing everything correctly.

But what about elementary general music classes?

There are two ways to structure an elementary curriculum. The first way is to treat elementary music as if it were just a prerequisite for band and choir. In other words, the main goal of general music is to prepare students for junior high and high school. The focus should be on learning to read music and perform accurately on voice or instruments. In this approach, elementary music is the means to an end. The second way to structure elementary music is to make it an end within itself, or teaching the music for music's sake. This type of curriculum focuses on providing musical experiences that are appropriate for childhood in such a way that children learn to enjoy music. The goal of this type of program is to pass on our rich musical heritage to the younger generation lest it be forgotten.

To me, it is obvious that the goal of elementary music should be a balance between these two types of programs. Young students should be taught certain songs for music's sake and other certain songs for the sake of learning to read music and perform accurately. They should have some performance experience and gain a basic understanding of music theory and performance, but the daily activities and experiences in the classroom are equally important. Therefore, the goal of music education at the elementary level is both to prepare for junior high ensembles and to learn about the joys of music.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Not to Arrange

I had a great idea to make my students in third and fourth grade come up with their own arrangement for Aura Lee to perform at the Spring Concert. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. It meets the new standards for composing and it gives the students a project to work on as a class. There is probably a good way to go about planning a series of lessons that culminate in a good arrangement that is entirely student-made, but I definitely found the way NOT to present this project:

My students were doing a great job with singing Aura Lee and playing it on their recorder as well. However, a small group of students were not successful at playing on the recorder, including one student with disabilities. I didn't want to single anybody out on the "triangle part" (a part that I would have created to be as simple as possible so that students who couldn't play the recorder could still be successful), and I wanted to challenge the students and meet the new standards by allowing them to come up with their own arrangement. So far, this wasn't a bad idea.

When it came to creating new parts for the song, I should have followed the Orff Method more closely - that is, I should have had the students sing the song together and come up with an ostinato pattern using body percussion only. Then, after the students were able to perform the ostinato and sing successfully, I should have added one instrument in place of the body percussion. This would have been enough to satisfy both the challenge and the standards, or even a second ostinato and instrument could have been added.

Instead of following a logical plan like that, I chose a more chaotic route: I brought out all of the instruments at once, allowed students to choose any instrument that they wanted, and then I played Aura Lee on the piano and asked the students to improvise an accompaniment on their instrument. Now, the result was obviously a chaotic mess. I did accomplish one objective of getting students to improvise. Actually, accomplish is the wrong word. After the first chaotic attempt, the new task was to try and make the chaotic mess into an acceptable accompaniment, which so far has been unsuccessful. I feel bad having to tell certain students, "No, your part doesn't fit, sorry." It's just been a backwards process from the beginning.

How do I fix this mess before the concert in two weeks? I don't think that it would hurt to go back to the beginning and spend part of a period starting from scratch. I mean, have the students sing the song and create a body percussion ostinato, then add some drums and tambourines to it. I also don't think it would hurt to keep the triangle part that the students already worked on. Everything else, however, must go. I also think that the song form needs to be one of the "compositional parameters" that I assign, rather than have the students try to figure it out. I guess we'll try it on Thursday and see how it goes.

Monday, April 3, 2017

How Kodaly Got It Wrong

Zoltan Kodaly was a great music educator who created a whole generation of better musicians and better music teachers through his comprehensive method. There are many things about Kodaly's method that resonate with my own curriculum planning, but there is one major thing and one minor thing that I believe he got wrong:

One of the biggest issues that I have with Kodaly's method is how music teachers have to change old folk song melodies to fit the proper solfege progression, simple things like leaving the fa out of "Hush Little Baby," and many more examples. Second to this is how some songs have completely changed or how so-mi patterns have been added to chants as if they had always been that way. In other words, there are many examples of Kodaly-music that are not authentic music. Granted, I may be misunderstanding how the Kodaly method works, but I feel like even kindergarten students should listen to and sing songs that include all the notes of the scale, not just so-mi-la.

The other minor issue that I have with Kodaly is that he leaves out an important source of music: student- and teacher-composed songs. I completely agree that music to be studied should come from culturally and historically authentic and significant sources, and that high quality Western Classical music should be part of the curriculum, but it seems like Kodaly excludes the idea of creating a song specifically for the students or specifically for teaching a musical concept.

There are many things about the Kodaly system that I like and agree with, especially the concept of experience-before-theory, and I plan on using some of Kodaly's ideas every day in my lessons, but maybe because I'm just stubborn, I plan on finding my own collection of songs to teach through.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eclectic Approach in Elementary Music: Lesson Plan Format

Lesson planning has long been a controversial topic in my mind. Some of my best lessons, including one with the kindergarteners this week, have been completely improvised, while some of my worst lessons, especially those during my first two years of teaching, were meticulously written out beforehand. Over the last six years, I have experimented with several different types of lesson plans. What works the best for me is to have a lesson plan that is (a) somewhat flexible depending on how the students are doing on a particular day, (b) expandable or contractible depending on how much time we spend on various activities, and (c) the perfect balance between too-detailed and not-detailed-enough. Planning for substitutes is a completely different ball game, so I am going to focus on how I plan for myself and how those plans can be clearly written as to be easily-interpreted by other music teachers.

First, let me give a little bit of backstory about how I have arrived at my current lesson-plan form: when I was in college, one of my least favorite classes was my General Music Methods class. Not because 80% of the time we were asked to behave like little children while one of my peers got up to teach the class, but because of how detailed our lesson plans had to be. The lesson plan format requirements in this class and even in my master's degree courses were unbearable because I realized even then that there was no way that I would be able to dedicate hours and hours of planning for every single 30 minute lesson. I can't stand lesson plan formats that require all of the following: Title of Lesson, Required Materials, Objectives, State/National Standards, Procedures, Assessment, Etc. Furthermore, I can't stand to read lessons that are written in this format, like I'm actually going to do everything that this person has written down. Look, we are all going to modify lessons to fit our own situations, so just save yourself a step and write lessons that are intentionally open, even vague. One other note: I think that it is a great idea to write extremely detailed lesson plans while in college because it makes you think of details that you might otherwise miss. However, it's just not practical to do that in the real world, or the "trenches" as I've heard it called.

Sorry, I got a little off topic there. When I first started teaching, I tried to follow the lesson plan templates that I was given in college, and what I found out real fast was that I didn't actually have enough time to create a new lesson for every single class. Being the workaholic that I am, I spent an average of 14 hours a day working at my first full-time job trying to get my lessons done. (The worst part was that the majority of my lessons turned out to be total failures.) After the first three months, I was totally burnt out and looking for a new line of work. That's when I came across my first curriculum book. Imagine that, someone has already gone through the trouble of planning lessons for me, how wonderful! Following a curriculum book is probably what saved my career, but after a few years of following someone else's ideas, I had a few of my own that I wanted to try. Studies have shown that the majority of music teachers follow the same path that I did, beginning with a published curriculum and gradually shifting to their own. I started modifying lessons and adding other activities and songs into the mix. Eventually, I got to a point where I wanted to try writing my own curriculum for elementary music. (As far as band and choir go, I have always designed my own rehearsals based on the repertoire and the students. I think that's about the only way to do it, aside from including skill development and sight-reading, and maybe a little bit of theory and history.)

My first lesson plans were mostly typed and sometimes handwritten. I followed the following format: Objectives, Materials, Procedures, Assessment. I wrote the Procedure and Assessment portions in full sentences, and it usually took me longer to write the lesson plan than to actually teach it. As I noted before, most of these lessons did not work the way that I had planned, and it was really discouraging to go through so much work every day just to see my plans crumble before me and fail. At first, I wrote all of my lessons for the day on one document and tried to follow it throughout the day. I put all of my lesson plans in a binder so that I would have a record of what I'd already taught. Eventually, I transitioned into writing my lessons without the section format. Materials were obvious enough, and besides, creating the materials was usually the problem, not remembering which materials to use. Assessment was usually built into the Procedures section, and sometimes I would still include the Objectives at the beginning. I also transitioned from writing full sentences into writing sentence fragments, mainly because the only one using the lesson plan was me, and I could still understand the fragments just as easily, meaning less work for the same result. Up until this year, I always tried to fit every class's lesson plan onto one piece of paper for the day, sometimes typed and sometimes hand-written.

Before I go on to describe the current lesson plan format that I use and will use for this project, I need to vent. I understand that it is part of the administrator's job to know what the teachers are doing in the classroom. I know that they have a difficult job and that the easiest way for them to do this is to request lesson plans from the teachers. However, I cannot explain how useless, burdensome, and cumbersome it is to turn in lesson plans each week or ahead of time to the administration (but I will try, because I'm venting). First, the lessons that I actually teach depend on how students respond to my instruction. If they don't learn the whole song on Monday, then it changes my whole lesson plan for what I'm going to do on Wednesday when I see them again. The idea that I have a detailed plan ahead of time is absolute nonsense, and frankly, insulting - here's why: music is not like other subjects. I can use one song to teach a hundred different concepts, or a hundred songs to teach one concept. Every lesson that I teach is intricately designed based on how the students are doing that day, not on some book or curriculum that they have to follow. Hell, I usually don't even have an idea of what the students will be doing two weeks from now, but I guarantee that they are getting a lot better education when I'm tailoring lessons individually rather than following some predetermined set of activities where they go through the same motions every single year. Secondly, the administration gains almost zero useful knowledge from my lesson plans unless I write them out in explicit detail, which as I've already stated, is simply impractical. Not only that, they probably wouldn't understand phrygian from whole tone, or mixed meter from syncopation, or even a whole note from a half note unless they've had musical training. The idea that I'm turning them in ahead of time so that a substitute would be able to use them in case I had to take emergency leave is equally stupid for the same reasons. Finally, there is a legal requirement to turn in my lesson book at the end of the year, at least in the three districts where I have worked, so it's not like they won't get them at some point. Please, just wait until the end of the year to ask me for my lessons. Even if my one-week-ahead-of-time lessons were actually accurate, what benefit is there in receiving a copy of my lesson plans each week? Huh? . . . What's that, there's no benefit? . . . That's what I thought. It's an absolute waste of time, so please let me do my lesson plans in peace and you can see them at the end of the year or whenever you want if you just stop by and ask to see what I've been teaching over the past few days, weeks, or months. You want to know what I'll be teaching next week? Well that's too bad, because I don't know yet, and that's okay because I develop my plans on a day-to-day basis because that's what works the best for me.

Now, here's what works best as far as lesson planning goes:

I type up a lesson for each class during my morning prep period. I begin by looking for materials to teach - namely: song repertoire, listening repertoire, music games and dances, music theory, history, and music notation. While doing this, I look at the previous week's/month's lessons to see what skills and songs we have covered recently, and I also decide on whether we need to spend another lesson learning old material or begin learning new material, or a mixture of  both. I ask myself, "Is it worth staying on last lesson's songs to continue refining them, or have the students learned and improved as much as they are effectively able to thus far?" At some point, I can tell when the students are simply tired of working on Au Claire De La Lune, or they aren't making any more progress, and it's time to move on to the next unit. Therefore, I have decided to design this project so that the teacher can stay on one unit for (reasonably) as long or as short as they want before moving on to the next unit. Back to the lesson plan format, I type up each lesson in a Word document and save it as a number reflecting the date in that class's folder. Each lesson is simply titled "[Name of class] [Date]" with no punctuation so that it saves easily without having to rename the file. 

As for the substance of my plans, sometimes I do include Objectives as the first line. The objectives are always listed in shorthand and are usually more of a tool for organizing my thoughts than serving some other purpose. I always try to include no fewer than two and no more than four objectives in each lesson, but I don't always write them down - sometimes you have to read into the lesson to find them. Usually, I write my lessons based on the procedure or activities that the students will follow. I number each activity starting with one, and I briefly describe what the students will be doing. Sometimes that includes what the formation is or whether they are standing or sitting in chairs, sometimes it includes direct quotations of things that I would say or ask, sometimes it includes whether I am accompanying on an instrument or not, and always it includes what I am doing and how the students are expected to respond. When I am doing something new or just not sure of how long each activity will take, I try to estimate the length of each procedure by putting it in parenthesis at the end, like (5m) for five minutes. I always try to establish some type of relationship and flow from one activity to the next. Informal assessment opportunities are usually built into the lesson plan, though occasionally there is a need for formal assessment and occasionally there is no assessment at all. When finished, I save the plan into a folder and print out a copy to use during the class. At this point, it takes me about 15 minutes on average to completely plan a 30-45 minute class, and the lesson plans are actually useful. 

For the administration, I keep a weekly summary of lesson plans in a three-ring binder. Usually I just write down the titles of the songs, number of the exercise (for recorder and band), one-two-or-three word description of an activity, or basic phrases like "voice warm-up" or "solfege/rhythm patterns". Sometimes, for my own benefit, I will include solfege letters (e. g., SMRD) or rhythm notation. My current administrator does not require national standards to be included with each lesson, but if they did, I would just make it up/fake it as long as it was close and not spend too much time on it. Funny enough, one of my college textbooks in my master's program actually suggested the same thing.

Now, for the Eclectic Approach lesson format:

I plan on grouping songs and activities into units. For example, Mary Ann, Lost My Gold Ring, Sambalalele, and Shake the Papaya Down are all Caribbean-themed songs, so I would probably choose three of the four to teach during a 35 minute lesson, and use that group of songs for three or four lessons in a row. Each unit would have a brief description of the similarities and differences in each song, focusing on the similar musical concepts that could be taught. The description would also include the suggested grade level and approximate sequence for this unit. In other words, some units would work better at the beginning of the third-and-fourth-grade rather than the end of the year. Next, I would include the notation for the first song and a suggested procedure for introducing it, teaching it, and using it to develop knowledge and skills, followed by the same information for the second song, the third song, and so forth. I would also highlight various possibilities for each song, especially if there is a good opportunity for adding instruments, teaching notation, playing musical games, dancing, or performing a particular song. Some songs work well in a variety of units, and other songs may be useful the whole year long. Essentially, I want a reader-friendly format that says, "(1) Here's how this song goes, (2) here's a good way to teach it, and (3) here's a few ways to teach musical concepts and develop skills with this song." The truth of the matter is, any song can be used to teach any concept, and every song should be used to teach good musicianship, that is, playing, singing, responding, or moving accurately and expressively to the music. 

Eclectic Approach in Elementary General Music: Folk songs by grade level

Introduction: Eclectic Approach for Comprehensive Curriculum in Elementary General Music

At my school, I only teach three different elementary music classes: Preschool/Kindergarten, First/Second, and Third/Fourth grade. This poses some unique challenges and opportunities, the first of which is curriculum. Let's suppose that I have a great third grade curriculum from some book resource that I want to use. I can teach it to the third and fourth graders this year, but then next year the fourth graders will have already gone through the entire curriculum and would just be repeating every lesson. Okay, now suppose that I can take my third grade curriculum and split it up between two years, that way the third graders will get half of it this year and the other half when they are in fourth grade. I think we're on the right track, but what about my fourth grade curriculum? If I try teaching it to the third graders, then I'll have to modify it because otherwise it would be too advanced (hypothetically). If I try splitting it between two years again, then the students will struggle through the first half of the fourth-grade curriculum (again, hypothetically). This same problem affects my kindergarten/preschool curriculum and my first/second grade curriculum. What is there to do?

In order to solve this problem, I have been working on what I would call a "three-tiered" curriculum. The first tier is a large collection of songs, lessons, and activities for preschool and kindergarten. The second tier is a collection for first- and second-grade students, and the third tier is for third- and fourth-grade students. Here's the mathematical breakdown: if I have the students for 40 weeks in a school year, minus about five weeks for the Christmas program, and each class learns about three or four songs and/or activities per week, that means that each year, I will need to have between 120 and 125 songs and activities for each tier. Multiply that number by two so that the curriculum is not repeated while a student is in the same tier, and that brings the number to about 250 songs and activities for each tier, or 750 songs and activities for the entire curriculum. Ideally, each of these activities would have a detailed lesson plan and music notation and/or a recording to accompany each lesson plan. Many activities would also require additional materials such as ribbons and scarves, worksheets, recorders, and a variety of other instruments.

My three-tiered curriculum is based on the eclectic approach to music education - that is, each music lesson should include (a) singing [Kodaly], (b) playing instruments [Orff], (c) listening and movement [Dalcroze] (d) rhythm and pitch training [Gordon/Feierabend], and (e) music appreciation/theory/history. Furthermore, it is designed around (a) folk songs, (b) folk dances, and (c) Western and world music. The curriculum also includes a book/binder of notation and lesson plans for all 750 songs and activities organized into three tiers.

The book/binder begins with 250 folk songs with notation and lesson plans in each of three sections: Level One (Preschool/Kindergarten), Level Two (First/Second grade), and Level Three (Third/Fourth grade).

Level One: Preschool/Kindergarten

  1. A Peanut Sat - one verse, very short song, simple and humorous, 2/4 major I-V-V-I
  2. Ally Bally Bee - Scottish folk song, short melody, 1-3 verses
  3. Alphabet Song - major key, AABA form 4/4, same tune for “Baa Baa Black Sheep and Twinkle Twinkle”
  4. April Cuckoo
  5. Bingo - repetitive, omission of letters on repeat, 4/4 major
  6. Birthday Song
  7. Dance Thumbkin Dance - finger play and song, repetitive, 4/4 major
  8. Do As I’m Doing
  9. Down By the Station - short and simple, DRM
  10. Eensy Weency Spider - major 6/8, short song and actions
  11. Five Little Monkeys - can be sung to Hush Little Baby, or spoken
  12. Frog in the Meadow
  13. Head Shoulders Knees and Toes - short song, body parts, quick melody
  14. Hokey-Pokey - song with dance
  15. How Many Days - short, days of the week, 12/8, major
  16. Hunt the Cows - “wake up you sleepyheads”
  17. I’m a little teapot - 4/4 major, short melody
  18. If You are wearing Red - action song with colors, same melody as Happy and You Know It
  19. If You’re Happy and you Know It - multiple verses, short and easy melody, repetitive
  20. It’s Raining, It’s Pouring - short melody
  21. Little Bo Peep - short melody, several verses
  22. Little Red Cabose
  23. Mary Had a Little Lamb - MRD melody, 4/4 major, repetition, several verses
  24. Merrily we Roll Along
  25. Mister Sun - simple song, some repetition and contrast, 6/8 major, I-IV-I-V-I
  26. Old Brass Wagon
  27. Old MacDonald - animal sounds, multiple verses, simple melody, 4/4 major
  28. On My Head My Hands I Place - DRM melody, action song, 4/4 major
  29. One Two Three or Four
  30. Pony Macaroni - short MSL melody, tempo stops “he trots and trots and then he stops.”
  31. Shoo Fly - short folk song, two sections, 2/4 major
  32. Skip to My Lou - folk song, three verses and chorus
  33. Taxi, Taxi Stop for Me
  34. Teasing Mr. Crocodile - five little monkeys, repetitive with countdown verses
  35. Teddy Bear - song with actions, SM melody
  36. Ten In the Bed - short melody, very repetitive, countdown verses
  37. The Muffin Man - repetitive 2/4 major, 2-3 verses, short melody
  38. There She Goes
  39. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - simple melody, 4/4 major
  40. Walk and Stop
  41. Welcome Boys and Girls - “can you clap and count to eight”
  42. What Shall We Do When We All Go Out?
  43. Wheels on the Bus - song with actions, repetitive, many verses
  44. Yankee Doodle - traditional American, 2/4 major, AB form
  45. A Sailor Went to Sea
  46. Aiken Drum - quick 6/8, short melody with repetition, multiple verses
  47. Can You Follow Me? - “it’s always 1, 2, 3” song with actions
  48. Circle Round the Zero
  49. Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands - same tune as “old joe clark”
  50. Closet Key
  51. Did You Ever See a Lassie
  52. Drive Your Car, Do-oh Do-oh
  53. Fiddle-Dee-Dee
  54. Five Little Ducks - 4/4 major, repetitive verses, counting down
  55. Good Night Ladies
  56. Ha-Ha This-a-Way
  57. Hello Everybody
  58. Here We Go Loopty Loo - can be sung with Hokey Pokey actions
  59. Hey Betty Martin
  60. Hop on One Foot
  61. Hop, Old Squirrel
  62. I’m Gonna Sing - spiritual
  63. Mouse Mousie
  64. Mulberry Bush - repetitive, song with actions, verses and chorus
  65. Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone - short melody, 6/8 major
  66. Polly Wolly Doodle - folk song, quick melody, several verses, 2/4 major
  67. Pop Goes the Weasel - short song, 6/8 major
  68. Sally Go Round the Sun
  69. The Boatman Dance
  70. This Little Light of Mine - traditional spiritual, multiple verses
  71. Willaby Wallaby - an elephant sat on me
  72. Hot Cross Buns

Level Two: First/Second Grade

  1. A-Hunting We Will Go
  2. Alice the Camel - same melody as “dem bones”, repetitive song with counting, DRM melody,
  3. America - “my country tis of thee”, several verses, long phrases
  4. America the Beautiful - “oh beautiful for spacious skies”
  5. Apples and Bananas - various vowels, I-V-V-I, 6/8 major
  6. A-Tisket, A-tasket - two short verses I-V 4/4, major
  7. Au Clair De La Lune
  8. Baby Bumblebee - three short verses with actions, quick melody, major 4/4
  9. Bill Grogan’s Goat
  10. Billy Boy - old folk song, multiple verses, slow 4/4
  11. Boom Makaleli - song with game, short repeated melody
  12. Criss-Cross Applesauce
  13. Do Your Ears Hang Low - quick words and melody
  14. Donald Duck - “one legged”
  15. Down on Grandpa’s Farm - “we’re on our way, we’re on our way on our way to…”
  16. Down to the Baker’s Shop
  17. En Roulant, Ma Boule - repetitive chorus, multiple verses
  18. Farmer In the Dell - 12/8 major, many verses with new characters
  19. Five Little Pumpkins - can be sung to Twinkle Twinkle, halloween, soloists
  20. For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow
  21. Frere Jacques - french, round, major 4/4
  22. Get On Board
  23. Go ‘Round the Mountain
  24. Go All Around the Village
  25. Go Tell Aunt Rhody
  26. Goosey, Goosey, Gander - short melody
  27. Here Comes a Bluebird
  28. Hush Little Baby - many verses, short melody
  29. I Hear Thunder - same melody as Frere Jacques
  30. I Want to Rise
  31. I Went to the Animal Fair - 8ve melody, major 6/8, somewhat short
  32. If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops - two/three verses, funny, easy melody similar to allouette, goofy “aah” section, 12/8 major I-I-V-I-I-V-I-I
  33. Jim Along Josie
  34. Jockie - “here comes jockey, bompsie bompsie”
  35. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt - repetitive, various dynamics
  36. Johnny on the Woodpile
  37. Johnny Works With One Hammer
  38. Kumbaya
  39. Lightly Row
  40. Little Bunny Foo Foo - short melody with spoken interludes, counting down
  41. Little Red Wagon - same melody as “10 Little Indians”, multiple verses, repetitive
  42. Little White Duck - multiple verses, 12/8 major, animal sounds
  43. Long, Long Ago - major 4/4, stepwise melody, AB form, multiple verses
  44. Lucy Locket
  45. Michael Finnegan - quick words and melody, folk song, 4/4 major
  46. Miss Lucy - several verses “miss lucy had a baby”
  47. My Hat has Three Corners - simple song, four lines, leave out words on repeat
  48. Noble Duke of York
  49. Old Grey Cats are Sleeping
  50. Oliver Twist
  51. On Top Of Old Smokey - ¾ major, multiple verses, alternative lyrics
  52. Over In the Meadow - 10 verses, pleasant melody, animal song
  53. Punchinella
  54. Remember Me
  55. Reuben and Rachel
  56. Riding in Buggy
  57. Ritsch Ratsch
  58. Rock a Bye Baby - 6/8 major, traditional lullaby, 1-3 verses
  59. Rocky Mountain High
  60. Sally in the Kitchen
  61. See the Kangaroo Go By
  62. She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain - 4/4 major, repetitive, multiple verses, interjections
  63. Shortnin’ Bread - repetitive, southern folk song, multiple verses and chorus
  64. Six Little Ducks - three verses, same melody as Five Little Ducks
  65. Somebody’s Knocking At Your Door
  66. The Bear Went Over the mountain - repetitive, 3 verses, fermata
  67. The More We Get Together - repetitive, same melody as “Ever Seen a Lassie”
  68. The North Wind Doth Blow
  69. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - additive, multiple verses, ¾ major
  70. There’s a Little Wheel - repetitive, optional interjections, many verses
  71. This is the Song That Never Ends
  72. This Old Man - counting song, ten verses
  73. Three Little Monkeys - “in a peanut shell”
  74. Three Times Around
  75. Tingalayo
  76. Ton Moulin
  77. Up the Ladder - to the tune of Shortenin Bread
  78. What Will You Be (On Halloween)
  79. When I First Came To This Land
  80. When The Saints Go Marching - DRMFS melody, 1-3 verses, traditional
  81. William He Had Seven Sons
  82. Wishy Washy Wee
  83. All Around the Kitchen (cockadoodledoodledoo) - verses with movement, repeated chorus, blues/minor key, shuffle beat
  84. All the Pretty Little Horses - minor key, slower, ¾ time, A and B sections, long phrases
  85. Auld Lang Syne
  86. Captain, Don’t Side Track Your Train - “number 3 in line, comin in on time”, minor key
  87. Cut the Cake
  88. Draw a Bucket of Water
  89. Froggie Went A-Courtin - story song, many verses, uh-hmm response part, 9th range, 4/4 major
  90. Going Over the Sea - “when I was one I ate a bun, going over the sea” “going over going under stand at attention like a soldier with a 1 2 3”, 6/8 major arpeggio, actions
  91. Grandfather’s Whiskers - same melody as “Noble Duke of York”
  92. Home on the Range - classic folk song, ¾ major, 1-3 verses
  93. London Bridge - multiple verses, short melody, repetition, folk song
  94. Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be
  95. Red River Valley - ¾ major, folk song, long phrases, several verses and chorus
  96. Row, Row, Row Your Boat - 12/8 major, sung as round
  97. Sailing, Sailing - short 6/8, folk song, repeat with changed melody
  98. Skin and Bones
  99. The Ants Go Marching - repetitive, many verses, minor 6/8
  100. The Bear (The Other Day) - echo song, multiple verses, 2/2 major
  101. There’s a Hole in the Bucket - many verses, repetitive, short melody
  102. Welcome All - January, same tune as Make New Friends
Level Three: Third/Fourth Grade

  1. Alabama Gal
  2. Allouette - French, 2/4 - 6/8 time, additive, DRM melody, major, AB form
  3. Ama Lama
  4. Aura Lee
  5. Battle Hymn of the Republic
  6. Blow the Man Down - sea chantey, quick ¾, solo and chorus
  7. Buffalo Gals - several verses, quick melody, 2/4 major, syncopated
  8. Camptown Races
  9. Chick-a-li-lee-lo
  10. Dis Solda La
  11. Doctor Bell
  12. Do-Re-Mi-Fa - traditional round
  13. Down In the Valley - I-V-V-I, ¾ waltz, major, two-three verses, classic folk
  14. Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
  15. Follow the Drinking Gourd
  16. Good Morning - “i’m feeling good today”
  17. Great Green Gobs
  18. Green Grass Grew All Around - possible echo song, additive verses, fast
  19. Hey, Ho! Nobody’s Home
  20. I Got a Letter - “far away” vocal ostinato
  21. I’ll Rise When the Rooster Crows
  22. I’ve Been Working on the Railroad - three distinct sections, folk song
  23. Kookaburra - short song, 2-3 verses, australian folk song
  24. Little Tommy Tinker - short two/four part round
  25. Littlest Worm - same melody as “There was a Bear”, echo song, multiple verses
  26. Liza Jane
  27. Lost My Gold Ring
  28. Make New Friends - round
  29. Mary Ann (Caribbean)
  30. Miss Mary Mack - several verses
  31. My Aunt Came Back
  32. My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean - ¾ waltz major, 2-3 verses and chorus
  33. My Grandfather’s Clock - multiple verses, chorus, longer song, 4/4 major
  34. Nobody Likes Me - funny song about eating worms
  35. Oh My Darlin Clemintine - many verses, 8ve melody, ¾ major
  36. Oh Susanna - folk song, several verses and chorus, quick melody
  37. Oh, It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More
  38. Old Joe Clark - folk song, 4/4 mixolydian, possible verses
  39. Old Tom White
  40. Once an Austrian Went Yodeling
  41. Over the River and Through the Wood
  42. Ram Sam Sam - nonsense syllables
  43. Rig a Jig Jig
  44. Risseldy Rosseldy - several verses, nonsensical syllables, repetitive
  45. Sambalele
  46. Sansa Kroma
  47. Scotland’s Burning
  48. Shake the Papaya Down
  49. Take Me Out To the Ball Game - short traditional American song, ¾ major
  50. The Elephant Carries a Great Big Trunk
  51. There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea - additive verses
  52. There’s Music In the Air - hymn-like, 1800s american song
  53. Three Blind Mice - quick melody, sung as a round
  54. To Stop the Train
  55. When Johnny Comes Marching Home
  56. You Are My Sunshine - chorus and multiple verses
  57. You’re a Grand Old Flag
  58. Banana Boat Song
  59. Come, Follow Me - round with three parts
  60. Cumberland Gap
  61. Dem Bones/Dry Bones - foot bone connected to the…
  62. Dixie Land
  63. Dona Nobis Pacem
  64. Down by the bay - echo song, multiple verses, chromatic in melody, 2/4 major I-V-V-I-IV-I-V-V-I
  65. Erie Canal
  66. My Horses Ain’t Hungry
  67. Old Dan Tucker
  68. The Riddle Song - three verses, folk song
  69. This Land Is Your Land
  70. Tom Dooley
Level Five: Elementary School Concert Choir

  1. All God’s Critters - religious, but could change to “all these critters”, difficult melody and rhythms, several verses
  2. All Night, All Day
  3. Big Rock Candy Mountains - multiple verses, folk song, major
  4. Botany Bay - Australian folk song, chorus with too-ri-li, several verses
  5. Cockles and Mussels
  6. Do Re Mi - from the Sound of Music
  7. Down By the Riverside - “Gonna lay down my sword and shield”
  8. Fox Went Out on a Stormy Night
  9. Had a Little Rooster - animal sounds, tricky melody, additive verses
  10. If I Had a Hammer - four verses, folk song, 4/4 major
  11. Jennie Jenkins - “will you wear” color and rhyme, nonsensical syllables
  12. Now Let Me Fly
  13. Old Folks at Home - several verses with chorus, folk song
  14. One Bottle of Pop - three part round
  15. One Finger, One Thumb - song with actions
  16. Scarborough Fair
  17. Shalom, Chaverim
  18. Soldier Soldier Will You Marry Me
  19. Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  20. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - several verses and chorus, traditional spiritual
  21. The Cat Came Back
  22. Yo Ho Little Fishy - Australian folk song, short chorus, several verses

Montana Music Teacher