Next week, my elementary music classes will be visited by freelance composer Charlie McCarron. My students are just finishing up composition projects of their own, and are eager to ask him questions about what it’s like to be a composer, how he writes music, and where he finds his ideas and inspiration. Inviting guests into the classroom not only enhances what students have been learning, but provides them with meaningful, real connections to music making outside of school.
In my latest blog post for Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Music for Learning blog, I outline a variety of ways to bring guests into the classroom, no matter where you teach, and how to build student learning around the visit.
I’m excited to be embarking on a new blogging project, writing for Minnesota Public Radio’s music education website. My first article, “Making the Mundane Musical,” is about finding ways to better utilize time in my elementary music classroom by making the details of classroom management and lesson structure into lessons about music. Please check it out!
I’ve been noticing that some of my piano students seem to be motivated by “passing” a piece in their books. I have had a lot of conversations immediately after a student plays through a piece that go something like this:
Student: “Did I pass it?? Please can I pass? PLEEEEASE???”
Me: “Do you think that you played it well enough that you don’t need to do more work on it?”
Student: (without pause to consider) “Yes! Please can I pass it?”
I’m not sure where this fixation on passing pieces came from, as I hadn’t been using that kind of approach in my teaching. Nevertheless, I have noticed this trend of students seeing each page of their books as a hurdle on the way to some future goal. They seem to be gamifying their own piano lesson experience. Continue reading
My transition from the end of the school year into summer has been focused on the common theme of sound science. One of my favorite topics! During the last two weeks of school, I offered to cover the unit from the third grade science curriculum on sound. Exactly one week after my students’ last day of school, I was teaching a 21+ crowd at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Social Science event on the theme “Science of Music.” Continue reading
My students have begun preparations for our spring concert in mid-May. As a performer, I always like to have some sort of theme or cohesive element in a concert, and I approach planning my students’ concerts in the same way. Last year, I was very excited about our spring concert theme of “Music From Around the World.” Each grade performed music from a different continent–Africa for kindergarten, Asia for first grade, South and Central America for second grade, and Europe for third grade. The kids enjoyed singing songs in different languages and I enjoyed using some of my training in ethnomusicology to teach them about the music.
This year, I figured we should do some music from the one continent that was left out last year, so we’re working on “Music From Around the United States.” I was a little wary of this theme. It brings to mind images of children singing patriotic songs and waving tiny American flags in a cheesy and nostalgic way that I would prefer to avoid. However, this theme is becoming far more interesting and educational than I expected. Continue reading
Composition with tempo and dynamics added
My second graders have completed the final steps in writing their compositions. After choosing and writing rhythms and pitches, they added expression markings to their pieces. Each chose andante, moderato, or allegro as a tempo (some more than one). They also added dynamic markings, using at least forte and piano, although some who take piano lessons added mezzo piano, mezzo forte, crescendos, and diminuendos. Continue reading
BEFORE: Rhythm composition with solfege pitches
AFTER: Rhythms and solfege pitches translated into standard music notation
My second grade students have completed the third step in their composition process–translating their rhythms and pitches into standard music notation. They began by writing 16 beat rhythm compositions, using quarter notes, pairs of eighth notes, and quarter rests. Then they added solfege pitches of a pentatoic scale (do, re, mi, so, la) to their rhythms. Now, they’ve used their solfege pitches to place their rhythms on a staff.
I love introducing my students to music from different parts of the world. As kids, they don’t have the years and years of experience in one musical tradition to make music from other traditions sound “weird” or “unnatural” as is sometimes the first reaction that adults feel. Last year, our spring concert theme was “Music Around the World,” and each grade focused on a different continent, singing at least one song in a foreign language. I think it was easier for them to learn the songs than it was for me!
This year, I’ll have a different theme for the spring concert, but I still want to expose my students to different musical cultures, especially when our school does have several students who are not from the mainstream culture of that area. So we’re going on musical “field trips”! Over the last couple of weeks, first graders went to New Zealand!
My second graders have continued their work on their four measure compositions. Since composing the rhythm of their pieces (see Second Grade Compositions: Step 1 for more details on that), they have been learning about pitch by studying the solfege scale. They’ve become quite proficient in labeling the solfege syllables of a song written in standard music notation, and then being able to sing the tune accurately without hearing it first. I was considerably older than second grade before I could do that! This new knowledge was applied to their compositions last week.
The Okee Dokee Brothers, Justing Lansing and Joe Mailander, with their well-deserved Grammy.
It seems that all Minnesotans are celebrating the Grammy win of the local kids’ bluegrass duo, the Okee Dokee Brothers, but none more than my students. Ever since the Okee Dokee Brothers visited my school last spring and performed a concert, my students have been obsessed with their music. They beg to listen to “Bluegrass for Breakfast” every day. They regularly ask me when the band is coming back to the school. Any time they hear a banjo, someone will comment that it’s the instrument that Justin plays. So in honor of their victory, we held our own version of the Grammys in my classes. Continue reading