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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mail Rhythms: I Got A Letter This Morning

When I first moved to South Carolina, I began searching for songs from my new home state.  Right away, I fell in love with "I Got a Letter This Morning," from the sea islands of South Carolina.

There are many possibilities for inclusion in the elementary music curriculum across several grade levels.  "I Got a Letter This Morning" is in minor tonality and duple meter.  It has a limited pitch set, la-ti-do-re-mi.  The form is call and response, and each phrase begins with a syncopated rhythm.

I chose to focus on duple meter macrobeat/microbeat rhythms and have a little fun with my kindergarten and first grade classes. We would be reading and chanting 4-beat rhythm patterns using the mail as our notation!  To prepare, I gathered some regular business sized envelopes, and some larger greeting card envelopes.  On the business envelopes, I wrote the word BILL, and on the greeting card envelopes, LETTER.  I drew the matching rhythm notation on the back of each envelope, either a quarter note or paired eighth notes.  Then, I laminated them for more durability.

That was all I needed for kindergarten and first grade.  Older grades might need to use additional mail items to expand their rhythm vocabulary.  Possibilities include invitation, magazine, and sale flyer.

How to play:

Version 1
Students should be seated in a circle so they can see everyone.  Choose one student to be the mail carrier.  Teacher or students sing the song as the mail carrier "delivers" one piece of mail to the first four children in the circle.  Depending on the speed of the mail carrier, you might have to sing the song twice.  Children hold the mail up for everyone to see, and the class "reads" the four beat rhythm pattern using the mail words printed on the envelopes.  If your students are ready for notation, flip the mail over to reveal the notation, and read it using whatever rhythm syllables that you use in your classroom.  Repeat the sing & deliver process, stopping every four students to read, until everyone has a piece of mail.  As a final challenge, read all of the mail from the beginning!

Version 2
Rather than deliver the mail to individual students, have the mail carrier set out a row of four pieces of mail on a designated spot in the center of the circle, or on a pocket chart row.  Choose another student to be the pointer, and lead the children in reading the 4-beat rhythm pattern using the mail words printed on each envelope.  Flip the envelopes over to read the pattern from notation.  As an added challenge, allow the student pointer to remove one envelope from each row, creating a silent beat.

Version 3
Try creating a center with letters and bills and allow students to create their own rhythms.  For accountability, place some index cards at the center so students can turn the mail over and copy their favorite rhythm on the card.

Everybody loves to get mail, and the theme of this game may fit right in with your kindergartener's unit on community helpers!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Using Movies as Teaching Tools in Elementary Music

Today's elementary students are digital natives; they have been raised with video screens in every room and car. Video is everywhere! Bringing appropriate video into the music classroom can address different learning styles, present authentic, real world examples of music concepts and performances, and give your teacher voice just a few minutes of break.

Here are some thoughts on using movies as teaching tools in an elementary music classroom.


Determine your learning objectives and sequence of instruction.  Consider where the video will fit into the learning sequence.  Will it serve as an introduction, information, demonstration, or as the culmination of the unit?  Short video segments often fit the bill, so make your selection wisely.  Some possibile uses for video within an instructional unit include:

  • Introduction, or hook
  • Demonstration
  • Discussion starter
  • Virtual field trip
  • Concert performance
  • Mini lesson
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Flip a lesson


Always plan before, during, and after activities to solidify the learning impact.  In other words, integrate the video into a student-centered lesson, rather than using it as a stand-alone piece.

Before Viewing

  • Connect with prior knowledge
  • Present new vocabulary
  • Make predictions
  • Challenge students with "what to look for" questions

During Viewing

  • Pause as necessary to check for understanding
  • Integrate questions into the video
  • Consider segmenting longer videos to allow students to engage with smaller chunks of information

After Viewing

  • Reflect on learning
  • Discuss implications for current music making
  • Use concepts or information in some way


Be certain to confirm administration and district policies on using movies in the classroom.  I have heard that some principals will not allow more than a 2-3 minute clip.  Others will not allow videos for subs. Because policies vary from school to school, it is very important to know the expectations in your own school.

It is also very important to follow copyright laws.  The following links provide easy to understand information concerning copyrights, how they apply to educational institutions, and how to teach students about copyrights:


Movies and video can deliver powerful impact to students, develop media literacy and critical thinking skills.  Carefully selected video addresses standards in a clear and vivid way, reaching students through their various senses.

Additional resources on using movies as teaching tools:
Why Use Video?
Why Use Video in the Classroom?
How to Use Online Video in Your Classroom
Educational Videos:  10 Ways to Use Them Well
Effective Educational Videos

 For a listing of video resources that address specific music education needs, please check out Building Your Video Library on the TpT Music Crew Blog!


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Winter Folk Dance? Try Jingle Bells!

Recently on my Facebook page, I asked folks to comment with their favorite winter folk dances.  What I discovered was that most of us don't have "official" folk dances that we associate with winter, but rather do lots of freeze dances to holiday music and movement activities to Nutcracker music.

One reader mentioned that she used a Jingle Bells dance.  Another reader asked for directions, so I thought I would share my version of a Jingle Bells dance here on my blog.

The version that I use is a combination of about 3 different versions that were posted on the Music K-8 email list somewhere around 2002 or 2003.  While the dance uses basic folk dance formations and steps, I adapted these to meet the ability level of my youngest students and to work in the time available.  You should also feel free to adapt to meet the needs of your "folks."  

Jingle Bells Dance Directions

Beginning formation
Each person has a partner, and the partners make one single circle (be sure to stand next to your partner). Face the center of the circle to begin. 

"Dashing through the snow..." sideways gallop to the left 16 beats. 
"Bells on bobtail ring..." sideways gallop to the right 15 beats and face your partner on beat 16.

"Jingle bells" pat-pat-pat (your knees). 
"Jingle bells"  clap-clap-clap (your own hands) 
"Jingle all the way"  pat-clap-clap partner's hands. 
"Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh" take partner's elbow and skip around in a circle, end at your own place on the word "sleigh." 

Dance Variations

I discovered this great teaching video by Professor Rob Amchin, which presents a version very similar to the one that I have described.  His beginning formation is a double circle, with partners walking side by side.  The body percussion during the refrain is in a slightly different pattern.  If you students are more familiar with folk dancing, you may want to try the mixer, changing partners at the end of the refrain.  

Several readers also mentioned the Crazy Frog Jingle Bells dance.  If you do not want to do a circle dance with partners, this is a fun line dance, and the video does a great job of teaching the steps.

One thing that I love about using Jingle Bells as a folk dance, is that all my students know the song.  This means that we can sing to learn the dance, no accompaniment needed.  Then, as we add accompaniment music, they will be audiating the song as we dance.  They can sing along, or not, as needed, but the combination of music and movement usually prevents students from shout-singing, as they often do with a song as familiar as Jingle Bells.  

This is a blog post by Sally's Sea of Songs on using Jingle Bells as a winter folk dance.I hope you will try this with your students!  Let me know of your successes and/or variations in the comments!  Happy Dancing!

Image credits:  Jingle Bells Copyright: mab0440 / 123RF Stock Photo

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

#WhyITeachMusic: Stories to Motivate & Inspire

Last week I shared my "blue file" as my own technique to motivate and inspire me to teach music, and invited you to share your #whyiteachmusic stories as well. The responses were inspiring to me! I hope you will take the time to read the other blog posts, and the comments, sometime this week. It has been the perfect way to get ready for Thanksgiving here in the US.
I've got the giveaway winners to announce at the end of this post, but first I want to share some of my favorite comments shared by all of YOU about why we do what we do:

I love your blue file! I post my notes on a bulletin board next to my desk along with a newspaper clipping about a concert I directed my 2nd year of teaching. I teach music because I love The lightbulb that goes on in their eyes when they master a new concept. My kiddos feel so proud and accomplished when they do something they could not do before. 
I've haphazardly 'started' a blue file in past years--taking pictures of student drawings for me or tucking away the special thank you notes that students have taken time to write. I HAVEN'T kept them in one place--I'm not good with organization :-( I DO need to pull them all together in one box/file/etc so they'll be at the ready. Every year becomes more and more difficult with, what can seem like, more negativity to wade through (not with students). I also really like your idea of writing an encouraging note to other colleagues. Thank you for all you do to inspire students, me and other teachers.
I have one of those files that i started my first year of teaching! Whenever things get tough, i open it to sweet drawings and expressions of adoration and am reminded of the innocence and purity of little ones! We are so very blessed to do what we do!

There were so many more wonderful posts- over 100 of them- so thank you everyone for sharing your words of inspiration. I definitely needed a breath of fresh air this season!

Now for the winners! The winner of my music journal and blue file is: 
Erin Scharman Middelhoven

There were seven other winners too! If you see your name below, check your email (the one you used to enter) for a message about your prize!
O for Tuna Orff: Christy Gibson 
Music with Mrs. Tanenblatt: Dan Leopold 
Floating Down the River: Jenny Trites
Sing to Kids: Becca Fiscus
Sing Play Creatively: Brooke Chamberlain 
Music Teaching and Parenting: Blanca InezSuzanne Fleischmann Bishop
Organized Chaos: Michaela Gibbons

I hope you have found some fresh energy to keep you motivated this week and through the busy holiday season. I'm so grateful to have this community of music educators to support each other!

Saturday, November 19, 2016


I am teaming up with other music education bloggers to spread some positive thoughts this week, and I'd love for you to join us!  November and December are very busy time for music educators, full of performance opportunities.  Add to all of those music responsibilities, there are the teacher responsibilities such as mid year assessments, grades, parent conferences.  We want to give you some encouragement and reasons to be optimistic about your job.  There is even a giveaway to further brighten your spirits!

One of the advantages of being the last blog in the series is that I have been able to see some of the other blog posts before I begin my post.  I have a similar story to many of the other music teacher bloggers in that I feel that music education chose me, and I can't imagine what else I would ever do!  You can read about some of my first year teacher experiences here.  My family has moved many times over the last 30 years, and music education has been very good fit for me. I have been able to work in many different levels and disciplines, from high school band, elementary band, beginning strings, to children's choirs and elementary general music.  Many jobs, but always music.

One of my first "blue" file memories, more than 25 years old!
As the last blogger in the series, I would like to veer off the path of WHY I teach music, and offer some thoughts on HOW I keep going during these times when teaching is especially tough.  One of the best tips that I ever received was to start a "blue" file.  This can be a fancy scrapbook or just an overstuffed manilla file folder like mine.

The purpose is to tuck away mementos that bring back sweet memories.

When times are tough, and tears are burning, go straight to your blue file.  Just flipping through the items that I have kept will bring me back to the reason that I keep doing this hard, sweet, satisfying, important job of making music with children.

Of course, the children can give you the best inspiration to keep going!  Sometimes it is those same children who often exhibit negative behaviors that offer the best hugs and notice when you are having a tough time.  Truly, they can relate to your experience. Treasure their sweet notes and pictures.

Colleagues often give wonderful encouragement!  During times of conflict at work, it is nice to remember that, while it is hard now, it wasn't always that way.  People do care!  Right now may not be the best time for you, but during your break I challenge you to take a minute to think about a colleague you might encourage with a personal note, too.

Professional recognition is also encouraging.  We all know that we often don't get enough of this, so it is important to remember the times when someone noticed!

My spirits are already better just because I have looked up these favorites to photograph for this post.  I hope this post encourages you to look back through your own sweet memories and set up your own "blue" file!

As I said, I am teaming up with other music education bloggers for a week of encouragement.  As a part of our good wishes for you, we are hosting a giveaway.  

You can enter the giveaway (and help spread the love) two ways: commenting on our blog posts (links in the giveaway below) all week- there has been one or two of us posting each day- and sharing your own inspiration on social media with the hashtag #whyiteachmusic. Don't forget to include a link to this blog post so others can enter the giveaway too! You can share every day until Monday 11/21 and earn more entries (and spread more positivity)!

Each of us is giving away something different, so there will be plenty of winners! My prize is a music themed journal, filled with blank pages to record your very own stories, and your very own "blue" file.

Make sure to enter the giveaway below.  Leave me a comment!  I can't wait to hear some of your stories of encouragement.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Super Hero Theme Songs: Listen & Reflect

Super heroes are everywhere, so why not in the music room!  This great bulletin board was inspired by one posted by James Michael Foster's post in the Elementary Music Teachers Facebook Group, which is a great source of ideas and inspiration for many music educators.  Inspired by the bulletin board, I developed a coordinating lesson power packed with super hero theme songs to hook the interest of students, critical music listening, character education, and writing.

TES Teach with Blendspace

I have been experimenting with a new lesson organization tool that is especially helpful for lessons with lots of video clips.  TES Teach with Blendspace is a free web tool for teachers to collect resources in one place to form a bundled, interactive lesson for students or colleagues.  Videos, pdf's, pictures, quizzes and more can be added in to the lesson and shared with students.  Links to the lessons can be added to your class blog or Edmodo class.  They have recently come out with an app that is available in the Apple App Store and the Chrome Web Store.   I used this platform as the "container" for my video-based lesson on super hero theme songs.

Get 'Em Singing

To open the lesson, consider singing a song that includes various good character traits.  I used the Quaver Attendance Song, which asks students to choose a word to describe themselves.  As a class, we compiled a list of positive words to describe ourselves, such as brave, fearless, positive, active, confident, and strong.  Then we sang the song, using these words to describe our class.  If you do not have access to Quaver, there are many great options included in Music K-8 Magazine.  Some of my favorites are:
  • From the Inside Out, Volume 11 Number 1
  • Responsible, Volume 11 Number 2
  • Character Tango, Volume 19 Number 4
  • Positive, Volume 22 Number 1

Super Hero Theme Songs - Engaging Student Interest

Copyright: <a href=''>malchev / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

After a brief definition of theme songs, each class chose which of the theme songs they wanted to listen to.  Before playing the song, I asked the class to tell me 3 things that they knew about the movie or character.  For example, when discussing Ghostbusters, students said there were ghosts that slimed, the ghostbusters who chased the ghosts, and the contraption that they used to catch the ghosts.     I asked them to listen for what the composer put into the music that might represent these things and was very pleased with the responses!  My students said that the tempo and rhythm of the introduction sounded very active, and could represent the ghostbusters on the chase.  They said the harsh electric guitar could represent the ghosts and identified some electronic sound effects that could represent the ghost catching contraption and the slime.  I thought it was a great discussion for 4th & 5th graders!

Make it Personal

Now it is time to turn their attention back to themselves by thinking over that list of positive character traits that we compiled at the beginning of the lesson.  Each student chose two positive words to represent themselves.  Then they chose two instruments that they would use to represent those characteristics in their theme song and explained why they chose them.  After a few minutes of think time, students had a chance to share their responses with a partner before completing the writing assignment.  I believe that this conversation helped them to solidify their thoughts by talking them out.  Because this was a "quick write," the assignment was not long, and the students were able to complete it quickly following their pair-share conversations.

Click on the picture to download a printable copy of the super hero writing paper.  The cute super hero kids come from Graphics from the Pond.

Displaying Student Work

I purchased the Super New Year in Music set from the awesome Bulletin Board Lady, Tracy King.  It is the perfect complement for the student writing about their super hero theme songs.  

TES Teach With Blendspace Lesson

Here is the link to see and use the Blendspace lesson for yourself:  Super Hero Theme Songs

Have a SUPER year!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Kindergarten Music: Beginning of the Year Tips

Kindergarten music is my favorite class of the day.  In my district, the first time students get to come for music class is in kindergarten.  Every thing in the room is new to them, I am new to them, and they are all new to me.   I love their enthusiasm and imagination, however during the first month of school they are definitely distracted by all of this newness.  The first challenge is getting them in to the room and seated in an orderly fashion.  In August, this is a bit like herding cats!

Entry Procedure

You really must have a procedure for everything!  Kindergarteners thrive on repetition, so setting procedures really helps them enjoy their stay in the music room.  For my entry procedure, we play "Follow the Leader," but it takes on many variations throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, I like to play "Music Train."   Velcro strips that attach to the carpet are placed in a path all the way around the room, forming the train track and guiding us into our circle.

I repeat this chant (over and over!) as we all walk in around the circle.  There is always some improvisation on my part, depending on how we are doing at following the leader.  It might sound something like this:
Johnny, Susie, it's a game!
Don't break the music train! 
Of course, I can't always come up with a rhyme, but I do try to keep my steady beat going unless too many "cats" have gone exploring!  This gets us in and seated in a circle in a quick and musical fashion.  The train imagery really works because we all know that trains have to be on a track to run!

Once this procedure is established, I change my chant to a song.  Most of the time I sing on a neutral syllable, only interjecting words when I need to remind someone to walk on the circle.  Any song that you have in your own personal repertoire can be sung on a neutral syllable.  Vary the tonality and meter of the songs that you choose!  It is very good for students to hear music right from the start of music class!

Name Games

With 100 new kindergarten names to learn, name games are so important to me!  When I first started teaching elementary music, I used Name, Name, What's Your Name from the old Music Connection series all the time.  Because it takes ME longer to learn all these names, I find it necessary to play name games for a month or even two. Thankfully, kindergarteners love repetition!  I use several different chants for variety and also to infuse both duple and triple meters into my lessons.

One chant that came out of the Engine, Engine entry procedure goes like this:
Choo, choo, music train.  To get on board, just say your name!

Once again, the train imagery works to keep the students calling out their names on time because we all know that train cars are connected together and we want to BE the music train.

The other two chants that I like to use are common to elementary music classrooms.  Bee, Bee Bumble Bee is a duple meter chant, while Hickety Tickety Bumblebee is a triple meter chant.  These two chants are great to use along with other bee-themed activities, such as buzzing vocal explorations and flowing scarf activities.  You can find some visuals to accompany these chants by clicking on the picture below.

At the beginning of the year, many kindergarteners are not yet ready to keep the steady beat, so I do not use any clapping or patting or accompaniment tracks for quite awhile.  Instead, the focus is to learn the pattern of the game first.

We begin with all students standing.  I say the chant by myself, then ask each student to say their name.  The class then echoes the student's name and that student sits down.  My goal at first is to make it down one line of students without a break!  After a week or two, the students just naturally start joining in with me on the chant, and we develop more and more of a steady beat once the students understand the pattern of the game.

Set Procedures, Then Vary the Repertoire

The key to success is to set your class procedures right from the start.  Kindergarteners have such energy, and they love to sing and play musical games.  You want all of their energy to be focused on this musical learning, rather than on behavior challenges.  Once my entry procedure is set, I can change the song or chant every week if I want to, and the children still follow me around the track to our seats.  The same is true for the name game procedures.   

If you would like to use the train graphics, right click on the picture, save it to your computer, then insert the picture into PowerPoint, Keynote, or your IWB software for display.  Using imagery, such as the train chants, can help hook the students into your new musical world with a little make believe!