Category Archives: Process

Lego Rhythms

I was so excited to see this blog post from a music teacher who uses Legos as building blocks for rhythm!

Use these Smartboard files to compose rhythm patterns with students using Lego blocks! The number of beats each block is worth corresponds with the length of the lego block. For example, a quarter note uses a "one-lump" block, while a half note uses a "two-lump" block, and so on. Templates are made in 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4.

Each Lego has a different symbol. She even created pages of downloads with different meters that you can download at her site (it appears to be free).  She has them broken down with suggested grades and meters! It’s all done on with a smartboard.

Amazing!  This is  a wonderful way to give your students practice with notation and composition!


The Music Teacher You Wish You Had . . .

Welcome Back!

Here is an amazing Ted Talk about “The Music Teacher You Wish You Had.”  It’s only 5 minutes long and it’s worth the watch.


Far too many of us still have flashbacks to piano lessons, when an uber-serious teacher would rap our knuckles after every wrong note. If only we had taken bass lessons from Victor Wooten of the band Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. In the video above — the first ever live-action TED-Ed lesson — five-time Grammy winner Wooten explains that music is a language and that learning to play it shouldn’t be a militaristic affair.

“Think about the first language you learned as a child,” says Wooten in the video. “You were a baby when you first started speaking, and even though you spoke the language incorrectly, you were allowed to make mistakes. The more mistakes you made, the more your parents smiled.”

Watch above, as Wooten envisions a way of learning music whereby children are encouraged to do their own thing and to practice alongside better musicians in order to sharpen their skills.

Please share your thoughts on this video by posting a comment below!

Techniques for Practicing Rhythm

Here are some tips and techniques for practicing rhythm,  Remember that rhythmic practice naturally leads to physically active and stimulation activities.  With echo clapping some teachers get stuck with the same clapping pattern each time.  After time it loses its meaning and purpose.  Let’s remember to keep it fresh, not only for ourselves but also for our students.

Echo Clapping:

A.  Teacher claps, no rhythm names; children echo.

B.  Students echo with rhythm names, different motions.

C.  Go to small groups.

D.  Go to individual children.

E. Transfer to a rhythm instrument.

F. Transfer to a melody instrument on one note.

G.  Teacher sings on a  neutral syllable, children echo same note with rhythm names.

H.  Teacher sings on a neutral syllable, children echo on a different note (ie; teacher on sol, class on mi).

How are ways that you make practicing rhythm fun?

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!

Valentines Day- Revisited with NGSSS

Here is one of my favorite Valentine’s Day lessons for elementary children. I posted this back in 2012 as a three-part series. I’ve put it all hear for you today so you can have it for next week.  Although there are many NGSSS met at the K-1 level for this lesson, I’m only including those at Grade 2.  You can find the coordinating standards by swapping the grade levels. Please note, you might only choose to focus on one or two, but these can work with this lesson.

The NGSSS touched upon are:

MU.2.C.1.4 Identify child, adult male, and adult female voices by timbre.

MU.2.S.2.1 Sing or play songs, which may include changes in dynamics, lyrics, and form, from memory.

MU.2.S.3.1 Sing songs in an appropriate range, using head voice and maintaining pitch.

MU.2.S.3.4 Compare aural melodic patterns with written patterns to determine whether they are the same or different.

MU.2.S.3.5 Show visual, gestural, and traditional representation of simple melodic patterns performed by someone else.

MU.2.H.1.1 Perform songs, musical games, dances, and simple instrumental accompaniments from a variety of cultures.

MU.2.H.2.1 Discuss how music is used for celebrations in American and other cultures.

MU.2.H.3.1 Perform and compare patterns, aurally and visually, found in songs, finger plays, or rhymes to gain a foundation for exploring patterns in other contexts.

  I found an old song in a second grade Music and You textbook series. 

The words are:

When you send a valentine, that’s the time for fun! Put it underneath the door, ring the bell and run run run run, ring the bell and run! 

I wasn’t too keen on the melody that was presented with the text, it didn’t suit my curriculum or my needs so I did what all music teachers do- changed it!

The new melody is:

Sol    mi       sol    mi  fa re re,  sol, fa, mi, re, do.         Sol, mi, sol, mi        fa, re, re,  sol, fa, mi, re, do, re

When you send a valentine, that’s the time for fun! Put it underneath the door, ring the bell and run run

Mi, Fa, sol, fa, mi, re, do.

run, ring the bell and run! 

To teach the song from yesterday’s post (See Valentine’s Day) I follow the following process:

  • Warm up singing voices with echo solfege patterns.  Start with Sol, mi, la, patterns.  Add mi, re, do patterns.
  • Sing the pattern, S,F,M,R,D- practice hand signs
  • Teacher sings the song while students listen for the pattern Sol, fa, mi, re, do.
  • Teacher sings again and students must listen to the new song and add the solfege hand signs as they step down the scale.
  • Find the pattern stepping up.
  • Students sing the end of the song, Teacher sings the beginning: repeat as necessary
  • All sing the song together.

After you’ve taught the song You can  play the game! This game is a la “duck duck goose.”

  • Students sit in a circle.
  • Teacher walks on the macro beat around the circle while holding a “Valentine.”  I use a cut out of a heart or sometimes I will use a children’s valentine that they have given to me. This is the mailman part.
  • Students put hands behind their backs as if it were a “mailbox.”
  •  When the song get’s to “door” as in “put it underneath the door” the teacher slips the valentine into a child’s hand and they play a la “duck duck goose.” No matter who “wins” the student who was the chaser gets to be the new mailman.
  • The teacher sits and joins the circle but pats their lap as the mailman starts the delivery. Other students keep hands behind their backs to get a turn.  When a student has already had a turn to be the mailman they pat their lap with the teacher to reinforce beat.

Have you played this game before? Do your students love it as much as mine?

Revisiting a Rainy Day

All of the rain in South Florida lately has prompted me to share one of my favorite rainy day activities.  I do this mostly with my little second graders. 

1.  We all learn the poem “rain, rain, go away, come again another day!” 

2.  We transfer the rhythm to body percussion (patting with alternate hands).

3.  We quickly notate the rhythm of the poem (sometimes I leave this out).

4.  We sit in a circle.  I give every 4th or 5th child a glockenspiel set in C pentatonic (you can use bells and tell the children to just use the ones that the top).

5.  We say the poem as a group and then the students with the instruments play the poem using whichever notes they like! I maintain a steady drone using a bass metallophone and I often pass the rain stick around the circle to add a little color.

We will also turn the lights off and let the little natural light come through window.  It creates a nice calm environment for both me and the children.

Below are the NGSSS that can work with this lesson:

MU.2.S.3.2     Play simple melodies and/or accompaniments on classroom instruments.

MU.2.S.3.3     Sing simple la-sol-mi-do patterns at sight.

MU.2.S.3.4     Compare aural melodic patterns with written patterns to determine whether they are the same or different.

MU.2.S.3.5     Show visual, gestural, and traditional representation of simple melodic patterns performed by someone else.

I know some of you are thinking, “She doesn’t have singing simple patterns using la-sol-mi-do” in her plan.  Why is it listed?  I’ve included other NGSSS that may not be explicitly included so that you can see jumping off points for exploring other content.

 Something that you can do after this experience is to tell the students, “I heard some very pretty melodies using these different pitches on your instruments last time.  They are so lovely, I’d like us to write them down so we can remember them next time we’re looking for a nice melody.  Can you help me figure out what we played?”  When  you ask the students to remember the melodies they played last time (you may need to do a mini-version of the lesson beforehand) you hold the accountable for remembering what they did in class.  They love to “remember” their melodies (who cares if they aren’t exactly what they did before, it’s not important) and share them with the class.  Here is also an opportunity for you to add some basic ear training (are these same, different, which part is the same, do they borrow from each other) and varying levels of notation.

What are some other NGSSS that you can work into this experience to extend it beyond simply playing on the glockenspiel?

Magic Forest

I’ll be doing a series of posts that revisit some lesson plans, games, and ideas that I’ve posted about before on the blog.  I will be making a little change with them as I’ll be adding the appropriate NGSSS that matches the lesson.  The reason for this is that I’m receiving many emails from colleagues saying that they don’t understand the NGSSS or they don’t know how to go about formatting their lessons.

My general answer is, keep doing what you’re doing! If you’re teaching using the Orff process, you are most likely good to go, you may just need to employ some more higher level thinking skills in the classroom.  If you’re new to the process, this is a great time to get involved.  The point of the NGSSS is that the students are doing the creating, improvising, analyzing, and critiquing. Music teaching is not about standing in front of the room and lecturing about Bach and the notes on the staff, music teaching using the NGSSS is about creating a classroom environment where your students feel safe making music.  Here we go!

Magic Forest: Playful Practice (voices, recorders, body percussion, small percussion):

*From my session at FMEA

This experience is perfect for all grades, all abilities, all situations, and is a favorite among my students.  What makes this experience magical is that the students have a safe environment to explore and create.  It provides them an arena in which they can practice, take risks, and feel like part of the classroom community.

  • Read a story about the forest as a class. Discuss the sounds that you hear in the forest (animals, bird calls, insects, weather, etc…).  I found the book Forest Bright, Forest Night by Jennifer Ward (ISBN: 1-58469-067-4) to be a helpful resource.
  • Allow students to create their own sounds with voices, bodies, recorders, or assorted percussion instruments.
  • Students select their favorite sound, share with a neighbor/small group/class (allow students to imitate sounds from other students).



Today we are transforming this classroom into Queen Berra’s Magical Forest. At the sound of my bell, you will be part of the forest community.  You will need to find a safe place in the room where you can be the tree/animal/insect/etc… that you are making a sound for. I’m going to walk around the room with my wand.  When I get close to you, you are allowed to make your sound.  Remember, you must please the Queen! When I go farther away from you, you must stop your sound and listen to other sounds in the forest.  The Queen is looking for forest creatures who would like to take a turn being a member of the Royal Family.  If the Queen signals you that she finds your sound pleasing, you may be allowed to walk around the forest as a member of the Royal Family.


  • Turn on a CD of forest-like, nature music in the background, dim the lights, and watch your students relish the joy of playful practice with whatever instruments or sounds you have available! It’s magical!


  • You may wish to explore notation for rhythms or melodies with this experience. Bird calls are a great way to practice E-G on recorder.


MU.2.C.1.3   Classify unpitched instruments into metals, membranes, shakers, and wooden categories.

MU.2.S.3.4  Compare aural melodic patterns with written patterns to determine whether they are  the same or different.

MU.2.S.3.5  Show visual, gestural, and traditional representation of simple melodic patterns   performed by someone else.

MU.2.F.1.1 Create a musical performance that brings a story or poem to life.

MU.3.S.1.1 Improvise rhythms or melodies over ostinati.

MU.3.S.3.5  Notate simple rhythmic and melodic patterns using traditional notation.

MU.3.H.1.1   Compare indigenous instruments of specified cultures.

MU.3.F.1.1   Enhance the meaning of a story or poem by creating a musical interpretation using   voices, instruments, movement, and/or found sounds.

MU.3.F.3.1  Collaborate with others to create a musical presentation and acknowledge individual  contributions as an integral part of the whole.