Saturday, 30 March 2013

Boomwhacker Compositions

My Grade 7 and 8s are working towards composing and performing their own piece of music this year. The first step of their composition is to set up their music by including the following:

  • a clef
  • their Concert Bb+ key signature
  • a 4/4 time signature
  • 8 empty bars of music
  • a double bar line
The second step of their composition is to create 8 bars of a playable rhythm. To get them prepared for this I found a really neat idea in the book Composing with Boomwhackers by Denise Gagne. As a class, we used one of the rhythm composition folders (see below) to create a 4-bar pattern. I put the rhythm cards in a pocket chart with four beats in each line. That worked really well as everyone was able to see the composition no matter where they were sitting in the room. 

Before I even handed out a boomwhacker I went over the rules. There are only two. 
(1) Do not hit people.
(2) Do not play before I say
Most students were able to handle those rules. With one class, though, I had to have them put the boomwhackers on the floor when I was giving instructions or I was going to lose my mind. 

"Composing with Boomwhackers" includes a list of 10 ways to use boomwhackers. I chose 7 ways that I thought would work with my class and put them on the Smart Board. We started with the first one - play the rhythms in your hands - and played our class composition in that manner. I demonstrated first and then the whole class tried them out. 

I left blanks in the second and fourth "Ways to Play" (which actually bothered a few students) because I wasn't sure which rhythms we'd come up with. I would then say, "Play all the whole notes and half notes on your hands and everything else on the floor". Playing the boomwhackers as a canon was tricky so I may leave that one out next time since I just wanted to give students a taste of what they could do. The students were really impressed with #7 - playing the fourth line as an ostinato while all the other colours play all four lines together. I had to shift the composition around a bit to get a good line for the ostinato and combined it with #5 by assigning each colour a single line to play. The best was when we had 4 quarter notes as the ostinato. It makes me so happy when music can impress 12 and 13 year olds!

Creating the 4-bars of rhythm and playing the class composition in seven different ways took up the whole period. The next step with this lesson is to split students up into groups of three. Each group will get a Rhythm Composition Folder and will create 2 bars of rhythm. I will then combine them with another group of 3 students and they will put their composition together. They will choose one of the 7 "Ways to Play" and will perform it for the class. 

The most time consuming part of this lesson was creating the Rhythm Composition Folders. "Composing with Boomwhackers" has a whole bunch of different rhythms to photocopy. I kept it simple and just used whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, half rests and quarter rests. What I really love is the fact that the rhythm cards show exactly how many beats each rhythm is worth. That is helpful for my students who are still struggling with rhythms. The book recommends copying 100 but I did not do that. I copied three of each page of rhythms on different colours of cardstock and made 10 folders since the students would be working in groups anyway. Each folder has at least 6 quarter notes and when they combine with another group they have the potential for 12. That's good enough for me. 

Usually I put cards in plastic baggies but my predecessor had left me with multiple boxes of file folders. I put four staples in each side of the folders and created a nice little pouch for my rhythm cards. I had to make the folder pretty, of course, so I printed off a pretty title page and stuck it on the front of the folder. I know that I will be able to use these folders with any grade level so I was okay with the amount of time it took to prepare.  

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Ties, Slurs, and Hold Ups

This is part two of my lesson on distinguishing between ties and slurs. Click here for the first part. 

Now that my students were exposed to some slurs and ties (hopefully some groups were able to sort them that way) it was time to get into the nitty gritty. As a class, we discussed that both slurs and ties use the same symbol but they mean different things. We went over the definition of a tie and how it is different from a slur. 

TPT #2 - Hold Ups -  Selected Response
Hold ups are pretty easy to understand. 

  • The teacher will ask a question 
  • The student will "hold up" a card that demonstrates their response.
That is all. The authors of Total Participation Techniques go through a number of ways you can vary this idea by preparing cards such as multiple choice, true/false, fact/opinion, number cards etc...

For this activity, you guessed it, I prepared cards that were labelled "Slur" and "Tie." Ideally I would have made them double-sided but my brain wasn't working and I couldn't figure it out at that point in time. Looking back now, I would also have made both of the cards the same colour. Oh well. 

I put up a number of different examples of slurs and ties on the Smart Board. I revealed the slur or tie and the students held up the card that they thought matched what was on the board. I liked doing this activity because everyone was involved and were learning in some way. Yes, some students may have just looked at someone else's card and this activity may be on the lower end of the critical thinking scale, but right now I am all about getting everyone in my classes to just do something! 

The GPS Task that they were working on introduced them to playing a tie in a piece of music so we did a few examples of how to play a tie ("On the 1st note of the Bb concert scale play a half note tied to a quarter note. On the 2nd note of the Bb concert scale play a quarter note tied to another quarter note.) before we looked closely at the piece. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Cupcakes and Carts

A number of things made me happy today (and the fact that it was Friday wasn't one of them!)

First, my teacher-friend and I were on for Treat Day at school. I went over to her house last night and decorated some cupcakes. I don't usually get very excited about cupcakes but this was a lot of fun. I didn't get home until after 10:30 pm (that is how much fun I was having) and then I was so wound up that I didn't fall asleep until after 1:00 am. We made toadstools, mustaches, Easter baskets, and worms in dirt. 

The other thing that made me happy was being able to use my brand new music stand storage cart. Before today 30 of my music stands were just put in my small practice room. My practice room was pretty well useless because I could never use it unless all the stands were out. I ordered this cart from Music in Motion. It holds 25 stands but is tricky to put together (not that I put it together - the lovely caretaker did it for me with the help of two grade 8s). 


My students have never been more excited to help tidy up the stands (although I'm sure the excitement will fade). Take a look at how empty my practice room is. I will now have a space for the kids to practice as well as more room to store things like my new still-in-their-boxes ukuleles.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Slurs, Ties and The Chalkboard Splash

It took me a surprisingly long time, as a student, to clue into the difference between slurs and ties. Music is usually completely logical so I couldn't understand why they would use that silly curved line to represent two totally different things. I assumed that if I had difficulty distinguishing between the two then my students would probably have trouble, too.

***Side Note***  I finished reading Total Participation Techniques over the break and am excited to use some of these techniques in my lessons. I went all hard-core and typed up a list of all the techniques and am posting them in my office to make sure I use at least one TPT (Total Participation Technique) in each lesson. I will start off by explaining the technique and then show how I used it with my students.

TPT #1 - Chalkboard Splash 
  • Create a sentence starter/prompt/question
  • Have students generate a response
  • Have students copy their response onto random/designed places on chalkboards, whiteboards, or chart paper
  • Students walk around, analyze & jot down similarities, differences, and surprises 
  • Get students into small groups to share what they noticed before asking volunteers to share with the large group

I began this lesson by splitting my students up in to groups of three. I gave each group a small piece of chart paper, a package containing cards with examples of slurs and ties, a Similarities/Differences/Surprises sheet, a marker, and some sticky tack. 

 My only instructions for the students were that they should take a look at the package and sort the cards into two different groups. I didn't tell them to sort the cards into slurs and ties because I wanted to see if they could make the connection between the curved line that connects the same notes and the curved line that connects different notes.

Once the cards were sorted I told them to create a T-chart on their paper, come up with a label for each of the two groups, stick the cards on to the paper with the sticky tack, and write an explanation for how they sorted their cards. (I used sticky tack because I am cheap and didn't want to use a lot of extra paper. After the lesson, I took the note cards off to use with my next class). Students then posted their chart paper on my wall of cupboards.

Afterwards, the students observed at least three other groups' work and used their Similarities/Differences/Surprises sheet to jot down what they noticed about how the other groups sorted the cards. 

I have two more classes to try this activity with but like I thought not many groups noticed the difference between the slur and tie. Next time, I am going to add a caveat. They can sort the cards any way they want but they can't sort them by number of beats per card. Most groups sorted this way and by adding that extra rule I think it will force them to look at the cards in a deeper, more critical way.

Stay tuned for part two of this lesson where I will actually go over the difference between slurs and ties. 

Just for kicks here was one group's explanation. It made me shake my head. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Upcoming Projects

Woo hoo! It is March break this week. I thought I wasn't ready for it but I am. I have been cautioned by some not to do too much work this week and since I am pretty well caught up on my marking (I know. It's weird) I don't feel a lot of pressure to work. 

I thought I would share a few projects that I am hoping to take care of in the next few weeks. Disclaimer: This is to motivate me to actually complete them when I get back to school. 

1). Re-labeling my Wall of Drawers
 I actually hate these drawers despite their usefulness. I'd prefer to have a wall of shelves so that I could put my things in cute baskets but alas that is not the case. This is my number one project to do since I just ordered some new (but really old, I'm talking published in the 1930s) method books. Check out my not-so-wonderful sticky note labels. The kids never know where to return the books. I mean, is my masking taped sticky note not clear enough? No it is not. 

2). Decorating the Bulletin Board Outside my Room
This bulletin board has been empty for the whole year. It is a source of embarrassment for me. I have plans for it though! On the bottom half of the board I will be posting any musical opportunities for my students. On the top half I am hoping to put a musical quote or a joke that I will switch out each month.  
3). Composer of the Month on my Exit Door
I have seen a number of "Composer of the Month" ideas on Pinterest. My goal is to attach a picture frame to my door and put the composer's picture in there and surround it with facts about the composer. The Practical Pages blog has some great ideas for Composer of the Month along with some free printables. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Mad Minutes

The idea for Mad Minutes is a combination of something I learned while working for Music for Young Children and from the Recorder Resource Kit. I use this idea mainly with my recorder students and we start off every class with them. We started doing Mad Minutes shortly after our Floor Staff games and before we even started using the recorders.
1. I photocopied my Mad Minutes from the Recorder Resource. The idea is that students are supposed to be able to name all 30 notes on the sheet in one minute. It starts off just using BAG and slowly progresses to all the notes the students will be able to play on the recorder. I will be moving up to BAGE before the students are ready to learn E.

2. I placed the Mad Minutes in a page protector with a sheet of cardstock behind it to make it a bit more sturdy. This allows me to re-use the sheets as students can write on the page protector with a dry-erase marker. I glued pom poms onto the lids of my dry-erase markers to serve as erasers. So far I haven't had many casualties as most of the pom poms are still on the lids! E-6000 glue works well. 

3. Once the students have completed the sheet they track their progress by filling in the graph. You can download a copy here.

One of my students said to me the other day, "I don't understand why we keep doing these! I just keep getting better every time." Yes - that is the point!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Labeling the Shelves

Isn't it great when you can finally check something off your To Do (but only if you have some spare time) List? Spare time is a hot commodity these days but I did manage to find some time to re-label my instrument shelves. 

The previous Music teacher had done a very nice job of labeling the shelves and organizing the instruments. I did, however, move some things around and my itinerant music teacher was able to fix some instruments for me so I needed to create some more space. That took place in September. Here is what my labels looked like until a few weeks ago:


Please note (or not) the ripped label and the lack of French Horns above the French Horn label. For some reason, I was able to manage like this for six months. I don't know how I did it but I did! 

I whipped up a quick set of labels, similar to the previous ones, but used colourful paper and a different font. Click here to download and customize your own labels. I attached the labels using clear tape after spending a significant amount of time peeling off the old labels. 

I was pretty pleased with how they looked but not pleased by the small number of students who actually noticed the change. I guess the old, ripped, mismatched labels didn't really bother them!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Teaching the Blues

Earlier in the year I taught a lesson about the Blues to my Grade 8s. I really wanted to show a video about the Blues but had a hard time finding a good one on youtube and the worksheet I used to accompany the video was confusing. It wasn't a great lesson. When it came time to teach the 12 Bar Blues Progression to my Grade 7s I knew I needed to change something so I pretty much changed everything. 

History Of JazzDay 1: I ordered History of Jazz from Themes and Variations (my favourite!). There are reproducible pages, listening activities, and PowerPoint/Quick Time videos. We started off by watching the Lesson 1 Roots of Jazz video. The students filled out the Lesson Assessment form that comes from the book. I really wanted them to understand where jazz came from so this lesson took the whole period. The authors of this book recommended having them listen to Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin. Click here for a link to the youtube video. I also found this video about the player piano which I showed before we listened to the Maple Leaf Rag. (WARNING: This video has a shot of the videographers bare legs as he shows himself stepping on the pedals. I always warn my students by saying that there is a scene where you see the legs of the man who is filming the video. He is wearing shorts.)  Once the students have an understanding of how the player piano works we listened to Maple Leaf Rag and they completed the Listening Assessment. 

Day 2: I skipped ahead to Lesson 4 The Blues. We watched the Quick Time video like last time and the students responded to the Lesson Assessment that comes with the book. The authors recommended listening to Bessie Smith's Backwater Blues. Afterwards, we spent a little bit of time playing Task 7 in their GPS books. This task is the 12-bar blues progression (I I I I IV IV I I V IV I I) in whole notes. 

Day 3: I started off by showing them this pin I saw on Pinterest:

This could be kinda fun! My fifth grade just began writing blues songs ... what a fun extension.

My blues name is Pretty Eyes Jenkins. I love it! My kids had a lot of fun figuring out their Blues Names and I had them write it down on the front of the their Music Folder.

I created this Blues Organizer to help students come up with their own 12-bar Blues composition. 

You can download it here for free! 

First, I modeled how to use the organizer and as a class we came up with a 4 beat rhythm pattern for each bar. I recommended that they repeat patterns and use at least 4 whole notes. I then split students in to groups of 5 using the Pick-a-Stick strategy. Before I let the students grab their instruments they had to show me their rhythm patterns. 

By the end of Day 3 all the students had composed their Blues song and had started practising. 

Day 4: The students had most of the period to practise with their groups. I emphasized how important it was that everyone in the group participated. In the last 15 minutes of class we had our very own Blues concert!