Category Archives: Form

Improvisation Poem

Many of our NGSSS involve improvising.  I know that when I started teaching, and before I took a levels course, I didn’t know how to teach improvisation.  I was also scared of improvisation (I can thank my traumatic stint in the HS jazz band for that).  Little did I know how easy it is to teach improvisation early.  You can find most of the improvisation benchmarks in the MU.S.1…. area of any NGSSS grade.

I saw this poem on a handout that a teacher copied for me.  I don’t have it anymore and I’m not sure where they got it from.  If you know the author, please let me know!

Improvise, Improvise, everybody improvise!
Make it up, as you play, it’s your turn now play away!
There are a few lessons you can use with this poem based on your comfort level and the grade level you are teaching.  I’m going to present some options below.
Option 1:
Teach the poem by rote, talk about what it means to improvise.
Have students sit in a circle, say the poem as a class, teacher improvise a 4 beat body percussion pattern, and students echo the pattern.
Once the students are familiar with the form, allow different students to be the leader, let the class echo.
Use simple 4 beat patterns with only one or two body percussion levels at the beginning.  Make it more difficult as students get more proficient.
Take volunteers first and don’t force a child to “do whatever” until they are comfortable.  That may take a time or two.
When it’s time to move on and each child needs to participate you can create a few “safe” patterns that are on the board.  If you get to a child and they don’t know what to do, forgot what they planned, or need more guidance, they can select a pattern from the board.
I like to  do this in a circle with a carpet square or special place designed as the “improvisation station.” We walk around the circle saying the poem and when it gets to the end, we stop.  Whoever is “parked in the station” gets a turn to improvise and the class echos.
Option 2:
Put a drum or other NPP at the improvisation station, use instruments rather than body percussion.
Option 3: Make more improvisation stations around the circle, allowing multiple students a turn at the same time.
Do you have an easy way to introduce your students to improvisation? Please comment with your idea!

The Nutcracker

I have a feeling that many of you are using the Holiday Season to talk about The Nutcracker.  I came across the blog below that has some great activities and lessons for sharing The Nutcracker with your students.  If you don’t do this, I suggest that you try to incorporate it into your December curriculum.  It’s an easy way to introduce classical music to the students and it’s relevent to what they are hearing on television, movies, and in stores.  I know the students get excited when they can make “real life” connections to the classics.



Do you have a special way that you like to introduce the dances to your students?

Jingle Bells, take 2

Sometimes being an elementary music teacher is hard.  Around the Holiday’s it’s easy to get bored with the same song over and over.  I mean, how many years can you teach Jingle Bells in a row before you want to run screaming for the parking lot?  The thing that we always have to remind ourselves is that children love these songs and if we don’t teach them, they might not learn them!  Here’s the time when we put aside our needs and “do it for the kids.”  I’m telling you, the kids will love this. Especially your Kindergarten and First Graders.  Seeing them having a great time, singing, passing on the beat, and identifying AB form, well, that makes it all worth it.

Jingle Bells Passing Game:

I am assuming your students know the song “Jingle Bells.”  If they don’t teach them that first. 

Materials: Jingle Bells! You can make this work with anywhere from one little jingle bell instrument or a class set.  I often start with one and will increase the number of bells as the children get better at passing on the beat.

1.  Have the students sit in a circle.

2.  Pass one jingle bell around the circle. (tap, pass) without keeping a beat. The goal is to get the bell around the circle as fast and safely as they can.

3.  When the bell gets back to you try passing the bell around the circle saying a chant, “tick-tock-like a- clock” (ta, ta, ti-ti-ta).  Allow the students to pass with the beat.  Once they can get the bell around the circle with the beat you can move on.  Do not let them move on until they can complete this task.

4. Sing Jingle Bells while passing the bell around the circle (sing the verse, “dashing through the snow….”).  When it gets to the chorus, the student who has the bell stops passing and jingles the bell while everyone sings.  Repeat a few times until students start understanding the game.

5.  Now for some fun, add another bell at the other side of the circle.  For this round there are two bells being passed around the circle.  Remind the students to look for the bells that might be coming their way.  Tap, pass in the verse, students who have the bell at the chorus are allowed to jingle!

6.  The little ones love it now, start adding more and more bells (I do, 4, 6, 8, 10, then I allow each student to have a bell.  They all “tap, pass” while singing the verse, and shake in the chorus.

Have you done this before? Did you students love it? If you haven’t done this before, give it a try.  Even second graders might like this!

Jingle Bell Dance

If you’re anything like me you’re trying to keep students interested in learning when all they are interested in is being excited for the Holidays.  Why not let them do both!  This is a great activity to do with your students when they need to burn off some energy (and you want to burn off some of those extra holiday cookies that keep appearing in the teacher’s lounge).

I was going to type this all out but I found GREAT directions at

I’ve not done it this exact way.  In their first step, they mention the children walking CCW (counter clock-wise) with their inside hands joined.  That is pretty easy- to make it harder you can have them hold hands and do a heel, toe, heel, toe, CCW slide, slide, slide, slide, and then reverse for the rest of the phrase.

It’s really fun and perfect for that last day before break or when their teacher has dropped them off at music after their Holiday party.


Travel Rondo

Thanks to Barbara for today’s “Tip of the Day!”

Easy idea for tip of the day….A Travel Rondo. Use Michael Roberts Travel Here, Travel There, I can Travel Anywhere, I can travel through this space and I can travel to my Place as A Section. Then put Shenanigans Travel Suite of 7 songs on as B, C, D, sections doing non-locomotive moves with the drums (no sound). Of course I put other songs in which I just happen to have instrumental music to such as La Cucaracha, La Raspa, Lorelei, Limbo Like Me, Hawaiian, African, Brazilian, Chinese etc. The kids have had a blast not knowing where they are going on each trip. They can also do it as a partner game and mirror each others non locomotive moves which has been super creative if you pair the movers with the nonmovers….