Scope and sequence, taxonomies, learning theory, differentiation, hierarchies, and standards? Not to worry! Those aspects are already taken care of!

The following is a sequence of fun teaching strategies you can immediately apply to any age level where you are teaching music concepts through songs.

Canoe Song” (“My paddle’s keen and bright, flashing with silver, Follow the wild goose flight, Dip, dip, and swing”) will serve as the example song. For our purposes, let’s say this song was chosen as a vehicle to teach a simple syncopated pattern (eighth note/quarter/eighth, and low sol, and low la, (melodic). This song also works to teach the sound and structure of a minor pentatonic piece.

Canoe Song, d minor, text

  1. Background: Involve your students, bring in a canoe paddle, look at photos on the Internet, and give some background information about the origins of the song. Or, you can always make up a story! Then teach the song by rote.
  2. Rhythms: Use a neutral syllable to sing it, really listening for the rhythms. Userhythm sticks, drums, figure out what is new. Isolate what is new; split the classand have some play the new rhythmic part, even though it has not been named oridentified yet.
  3. Tell a Fish Story: Use students to play out roles in a far fetched story. (Joggers could be the eighth notes, gophers could be the sixteenth notes, a hawk flying overhead could be half notes; the syncopated pattern could be two kids in athree legged race. For the syncopated pattern I have used a big rock being leveraged out of the ground in one short maneuver, followed by a longer one, and then it flips out! Guide the students to figure out that the new pattern is a short-long-short set of three notes over two beats. I have been thoroughly convinced to switch to Takadimi syllables. Carol Krueger’s course was very impactful.
  4. Melodic: Use a neutral syllable to sing it, really listening for melodic direction. You can also have students draw out the melodic direction on little white boards, especially focusing on the new sounds. This is far more important than I realized in my earlier years of teaching. Use arrows and symbols. Determine if it is higher or lower than what they already know.
  5. Tell a Story: To introduce the two new tones you could go back to the canoe. Invent a story about two people in a canoe, the low notes happen every time they “dip, dip, and swing” their paddles ‘down’ in the water. Figure out what they know first (place rhythm patterns on the board and write the known note names below). Then guide them to figure out the new tones: low la and low sol. Help students discover that it starts on mi and ends on low la with the highest note being high la. This sets you up for teaching minor pentatonic scale and song.
  6. Interpret Song: Have the students sing legato, staccato, marcato. Mix and match. Change dynamics, discover and change phrasing. Listen for repetition and contrast. Emphasize diction. Bring out different words in the text. Change keys. Change tempos.
Rhythm Element Practice Ideas!
  1. Student Pairs Demo: Pair off the students. Give them rhythm sticks. They have to come up with a way to show the syncopated pattern. Volunteers share. Class copies; sing “Canoe Song” and do the pattern with sticks every time you sing it. You can do this with tennis balls too, or stretchy cords.
  2. More Student Pairs Demo: Syncopated patterns are fun with body movement. Do the same as above only with actions.
  3. Canon: “Canoe Song” works in canon. Have one half of the class use drums, the other half on rhythm sticks (or the like). Switch.
  4. Ostinatos: Have a small group play an ostinato on drums that includes the pattern. Sing!
  5. Orff Ostinatos: Assign a type of instrument to a certain rhythm: xylophones play sixteenth notes, metallophones play half notes, glockenspiels play quarter notes, claves play eighth notes. Drums could play the new syncopated pattern. Sing the song.
  6. Rhythm Arrangement on Orff: Write out the rhythm structure of the song. With younger children have them choose what percussion they would like to have playing each phrase. Use different bright colors to coincide with the different instruments. With older children, they can break down each phrase into separate rhythms, thereby using more instruments. Add ostinatos for drums and mallet instruments. Then practice, play, sing, and switch.
Melodic Element Practice Ideas!
  1. Solfege Sing: Sing the song with solfege and handsigns. If you have a letter ladder that shows the handsigns that can be very helpful visually and spatially for a lot of students.
  2. Interval Sing: Sing the intervals and patterns especially noting the minor ones.(Descend m-r-d- low la) (Ascend d-r-m-l). Again use a letter ladder to assist.
  3. Sing Ostinatos: Create sung, mouth percussion, or spoken ostinatos. Divide the class into three or four sections with the last section singing “Canoe Song.” Rotate the groups until every group has done every ostinato.
  4. Canon/Chords: Sing in canon. Then divide your class into four groups. Use an easy harmonic progression. Three groups sing chords on a repeated word as accompaniment while the fourth group sings the song. Rotate jobs.
  5. Play by Rote: Play the song on mallet instruments, singing the solfege. Play the song singing the note names. (You can do this in different keys on different days if you are really emphasizing the moveable do concept)
  6. Use Boomwhackers: Write out the song rhythm. Students match the solfege names to go under the rhythms. Assign letter names to each pitch. Groups of students play their assigned note as you sing the song. Rotate. This makes kind ofa nice pre-reading activity. (Boomwhackers are a bit limited in key options)
  7. Contrast Chain Sing: Divide the class in halves or thirds. They will alternately sing phrases of the song. Each group can choose how to vary their phrases or sections of the song. Change ideas. Children can lead this.
  8. Student Conductor: (Students have choices of all the songs learned thus far) “Canoe Song” would be conducted in 2. Give one child a drum mallet. On the board he/she can choose one dynamic marking, one articulation, and one tempo.The child conducts the class in his/her chosen mode. Then he/she can change one, two, or all three elements without telling the class, only by changing the conducting style. The class sings appropriate to their conductor’s wishes.
Application Ideas!
  1. Improvise Patterns with Percussion: Lay out a series of percussion instruments. Have the students come up in groups of 4-5. They choose to play a pattern while we sing “Canoe Song.” When the song is finished student listeners/singers advise and request adjustments: (cowbell is too loud, maracas should play a faster pattern, finger cymbals are playing too often). Another option is for the students to determine what pattern each performer is utilizing.
  2. Improvise Patterns on Mallets: Have a group of children on mallet instruments. Give them a couple of minutes to create a pattern they feel would sound good with “Canoe Song”. Then a volunteer can say and play what s/he made up to teach everyone else. The group plays together and sings a song. Then another student gets a chance. This is a very favorite activity.
  3. Note Placement for the Song: Use staff cards and chips to place notes correctly for the song. If emphasizing moveable ‘Do’ use a couple different placements. Sing the song in different keys.
  4. Rhythm Writing: Use little white boards. Write dashes (blanks) upon which the students will place the rhythm of the song, delineating the measures and placing meter at the beginning. Write the rhythms on the blanks.
  5. Song Writing: Make a worksheet for them to write out the entire song.
  6. Song Reading: Depending on the age of the students read the song in different keys first in solfege and then with letter names.
  7. Dictations: To emphasize the rhythms contained in the song do short dictations. Do the same with melodic dictations (I usually have them copy a rhythm pattern first and then the notes are written underneath for a melodic dictation). Dictations are difficult for many students. I use recorder for both rhythmic and melodic.
  8. A Real Arrangement: You as the teacher could write up an arrangement of the song with one set of mallets assigned to play the melody. This is good practice for reading rhythms and note patterns. Teaching music reading with Orff instruments is challenging. My students usually play by rote.
Synthesis Ideas!
  1. Compose: Using the new rhythm pattern and the low la and low sol have them compose a short song based on a minor pentatonic scale.
  2. Improvisation Cycle: This is by far the favorite activity we do. You have to be able to tolerate some noise. Before class a couple of students come to place sets of 6 instruments into 4-5 locations around the room. The class is then split into groups of 4-5 students and each small group is assigned a place to begin. They have 2-3 minutes to work on patterns together in their small groups. (This is the noisy time). Then we all stop and come together at one small group’s location. We listen and watch what they have created, then choose a song from our unit to sing along with them. As the teacher I point out what was well done, stress the importance of the drummer keeping them steady and together, and always encourage and applaud those using the concepts we have just learned. Students are free to offer suggestions or praise as well. Then we listen to every other group in the same way. Then each group rotates to the next site and we start the process again.