Monday, February 27, 2012

Baby Steps To Teaching Music Composition - part 1

As a song writer, I compose new music almost every day.    Ironically, despite the fact that I LOVE writing music, it is very difficult for me to teach music composition to my students.  In this area of instruction I consider myself a novice because I think I can do better.... MUCH better!   It's like an itch I can't scratch or a puzzle I can't solve.... I know how I do it, but it is difficult to find the right way to get others started.

Well today, I sort of had an epiphany.  Here it is....... Are you ready?  You've got to prime the pump!  

All of the awesome teachers reading this blog with go...."Yep..... we know.... that is not news!  Everyone knows that."  Well, I'm telling you that I knew it, and I've lived it in so many areas of my teaching, but I just didn't really get it where music composition was concerned.

Today was the first day of teaching in a new rotation, so I was THRILLED to be starting off a new lesson on a Monday, so I planned and prepared and prepared and planned.  Then when my 5th graders walked in my brain had one of those teaching "SHAZZAAAM!" moments and I realized that I could do teach a much more interesting lesson that would still hit all of my objectives if I just went with my moment of inspiration.

Here is what I did as I flew by the seat of my pants into a lesson I can't wait to teach again tomorrow!

 1. I first had my students fold a regular piece of copy paper into 16 squares.  I have them fold their paper in half 4 times.

In Houston because of the humidity, sometimes open reams of copy paper go bad and I find myself with 30 sheets of random colored paper.  It's perfectly fine, so I choose to up-cycle instead of recycle.
 It's amazing how much buy-in you can create for a project when there is colored paper and folding involved.

 2. Then I had my students  students create this chart as a review for rhythm duration and relationships.  Each square is equal to one beat.   Since this was 5th grade and I knew I wanted to compose with them, I really pushed them to work quickly.  I explained that this chart was only going to be for their reference, so they should be accurate, but that they didn't have to copy verbatim. I had other notes that this student didn't need.
THIS was my epiphany about priming the pump....
I took the time to remind them of what they already know
 In the old days, I might have stopped there and moved onto something else.... OR I might have turned it into a reading lesson......  Instead....

3.   I asked the students to turn their papers over and we created a small blank staff.  Then as a class we reminded ourselves of the notes we already knew very well how to play on recorder.... We've introduced some of the other notes, but these notes were the notes that the kids in this class felt like they knew....

This class feels comfortable playing GABCD and E.....
 I realized that when I compose music, I use words that I KNOW! 

4.  I had them quickly fold a 2nd piece of paper just like the first. 

5. Before they were allowed to write anything on their paper, we filled out a "blank song" as a class.  They were told to use the rhythms that they knew into the squares in any pattern they wished.  Their only limitations were to make sure that they had room for the notes they chose.... (i.e. no half notes beginning on beat 4).

It was fun to see them figure out that eighth notes were the same
 regardless of whether or not they had a bar or a flag. 
6.  Once we got to this next step they go really excited.  While they were working, I had quickly passed out their recorders so that they would have them on hand.   They assigned each rhythm a pitch......Almost all of them got to the point where they were trying to play what they had written.

7.  Next time they come to class they will have a chance to edit their work using their recorder.  Because we were beginning to run short on time by the time they were assigning pitch there wasn't time for very much exploration.  So next time they come to music, they can edit their work, share it with other students ad write it on the staff.  MAYBE we'll have time to add words.  

I'm looking forward to seeing how well this works with my class tomorrow.  I have high hopes! As I said, I still feel like a novice at teaching music composition, but I felt much more successful having taken the time to remind my students of what they already know.  Creating something original wasn't nearly such a leap when we remembered all that we knew before.  They were SUPER proud of themselves!
What fun!

The 16 square rhythm chart is a way to review rhythm that I borrowed from my colleague Pablo OcaƱas.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Author/Composer Study meets Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, so I thought I'd tell you about something I LOVE!

It was during my second year of teaching that I discovered what was going to become my very favorite set of books to use in my music classroom.  I love these books so much that I've given these books to other music teachers as gifts AND I've bought replacement copies for myself because my original copies have literally disintegrated in my hands.

The books I am speaking of are a set of 3 books that are illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky and composed by none other than Woody Guthrie!  I LOVE using Woody Guthrie music in my classroom because it's just really fun stuff.
Howdi Do is PERFECT for the beginning of the year -
Some copies of Howdi Do have CDs which contain recordings for ALL 3 books

The chorus of this book invites the use of ostinato on un-pitched or body percussion .
ta  ta  ta  ta    ti-ti   ti-ti   ti-ti   ti-ti
It's also a great springboard for writing. 

This is a great prompt for early writing. 

I take my time introducing these books in kindergarten.  My students always notice the similarities in the books and they request these books often. Over the course of several weeks we play with these books/songs.  We sing them, we draw pictures, we create comparison charts and Venn diagrams just like you would if you were using these books for a Language Arts lesson.   Some of the recordings are in keys too low for children to sing in, so I typically sing them myself.  A lead sheet with melody and chords is included in the book jacket.  I've made notes in mine so that I can play the books in a singable key once I've got someone who is able to hold the book up for the students to see.  

When I figured out that I was going to NOT be at TMEA this year, I realized that I'd get to teach on Valentine's Day.  Immediately "Mail Myself To You" came to mind.  I was excited because guess what?  There is ANOTHER book!  

THIS book is intended for students to read themselves, so it is not very long and it is not nearly as imaginative, but today after I reminded kinder and first about the songs by Woody Guthrie that they ALREADY knew, they weren't bothered by the small size or short length.  This book is just enough prompt to jump into singing the song.  If I had one of those document cameras then I'd be able to project this book and the size of the pictures wouldn't matter at all......  

Also, if you need it, because it is intended to be used as a leveled text, THIS book has a Spanish translation..... it's a little hard to imagine if it is a good translation, but then...... I'm not the expert on the quality of any given translation..... I just know that this exists.  One of the folks that I follow on Pinterest directed me toward a YouTube Video that is a cartoon for Mail Myself to You.... After we learned the song we watched the video as a quick 4 minute Valentine's Day treat.


Looking ahead
When I was gathering all that I needed to write this blog I came across a Youtube video for the book Bling Blang......I don't know if I'll use it or not, but it's nice to have.


Also, In a few weeks I am going to introduce Patriotic music to several grade levels..... The actual plan is still forming in my head, but I intend to include "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie...The book contains all of the verses/pages, may be a little "too real" for some of my younger students, but since Woody Guthrie is a song writer they are all familiar with, I think it would make an excellent starting point.  

Finally, on a note about Valentine's Day that is totally unrelated to Woody Guthrie - I shared "I Love You" with several grade levels today, just because it's fun..... This book can start a lively discussion about units of measurement. YAY for Music and every day integration into other subjects!

I looked it up!  They started talking about cubic inches and I got confused....I'm dreadful at math so I'm not sure what a cubic inch is....these are approximate measures for dry best guess anyway.....
4 quarts = 1 gallon
8 quarts (2 gallons) = 1 peck
4 pecks = 1 bushel
heap = a whole bunch
barrel = even more

Monday, February 13, 2012

Deep in the Heart of Texas - Hoe Down and Texas Sing Along

Each February in Houston as we prepare for the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, we have "Go Texas Day!"  Everyone in Houston wears their boots to work.  Literal wagon trains converge on the city and meet up in time for the Rodeo parade that opens up the festivities.  My school is lucky enough to be able to claim front row status to a very large wagon train route.  The wagon train camps over night literally one block from our campus.   A couple of years ago, one train actually stopped for lunch in our parking lot.

 To celebrate Texas, my school hosts a Hoe-Down and Texas sing along and Rodeo Art Show.  I love it because I get to work together with my great teammates from PE and Art, whom I adore and who are the best teammates any music teacher could have.  Because we do our little hoe-down / sing along during each grade levels regularly scheduled block time, we don't have much time and I must be super efficient.   First on the agenda is for each grade level to show off their fabulous square dancing skills for all the parents who attend and THEN for the last 5-15 minutes we sing cowboy/Texas songs.


If you are like me, I've got quite a bit to be teaching to do in January and February and only one element is Texas music.    Plus, most of the time, I go to TMEA which adds to the days when the students chance to prepare is not ideal.  Also, it's at this time of year when students get pulled for tutoring in preparation for all of the looming tests.....This is my reality......  So, I keep things simple.

I introduce some favorites with books when I can get my hands on ones that are applicable.  Here are two of my favorites!

Kinder and 1st have a set of songs and then 2nd-5th grade have a set of songs.  This is my 3rd year at this school and  I haven't changed any songs from that first year because they are great songs that the students love.  Plus the better they remember them from year to year, the more I can shift these songs over to the "review" collection rather than the "need to know" collection of songs.  Because of the way that I have the songs divided, now days the only grade levels that really have to work to prepare for Sing Along are Kindergarten and 2nd grade.  Everyone else reviews and polishes the songs while doing other equally  important work in music rather than focusing solely on learning the "Texas" songs.  


Go Texas Day 2011

  • I always teach more songs than I will need because I NEVER know how much time I am going to have.  Last year during one grade level I had a full 20 minutes in one grad level and 5 minutes in the next.  With that in mind I need my students to be ready to sing and sing well without much prompting or support.  
  • When I practice with my students in the weeks leading up to the sing along, I have them practice several different ways to help them be flexible.  
    • with and without a CD accompaniment
    • with and without guitar
    • with and without a powerpoint slideshow
  • I also have students practice advancing the slides on the powerpoint because I've only got two hands and managing the guitar, the CD remote and the slide show clicker is too much.  

I am going to share with you the powerpoint that I use with 2nd through 5th grade.  All of my pictures were borrowed from msn clipart OR stock xchange website.  When I uploaded this document into google docs so that I could share it, ALL of the text and pictures shifted slightly, so this slideshow is not as good as the one I use, but I'm hoping that you will get the idea.    If you choose to use or to refer to my powerpoint, please note that it is intended for educational purposes only.  Lyrics for most songs are from Macmillan McGraw Hill, Spotlight on Music OR Share the Music.

Kinder/1st song list
  • Jingle Jangle Jingle - 2nd grade Spotlight on Music
  • Deep in the Heart of Texas - on guitar
  • Goodbye Old Paint - 4th grade Share the Music
  • I'm a Tex - I have no idea (I inherited this one)
  • T.E.X.A.S. - to the tune of BINGO
  • I'm gonna brand my doggie with an X - PE provided this song - I'ts HARD! 
  • Old Chisholm Trail - from book on guitar
  • Home on the Range - from book on guitar
  • Texas Our Texas - chorus only Spotlight on Music
2nd-5th grade song list
  • Jingle Jangle Jingle - 2nd grade Spotlight on Music
  • Yellow Rose of Texas - Texas Medley Spotlight on Music
  • Deep in the Heart of Texas
  • Don't Fence Me In 4th grade Spotlight on Music
  • T.E.X.A.S. - because they like it
  • Goodbye Old Paint 4th grade Share the Music
  • My Home's in Montana - (ok it's not a Texas song, but is a cowboy song) 4th grade Share the Music
  • Old Chisholm Trail - from book on guitar
  • Home on the Range - from book on guitar
  • Texas Our Texas - (2nd & 3rd 1st verse only) (4th & 5th entire song) Spotlight on Music

See what I mean?  We learn WAY too much music!  With the older grades I typically shorten Jingle Jangle AND Don't Fence Me In to one time through..... THEN we have time for about two verses of Old Chisholm trail and MAYBE two verses of Home on the Range. 


Monday, February 6, 2012

Careers in Music.... Meet the VOKI!

Our 5th grade students are supposed to have the opportunity to explore careers in music as part of their "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" or TEKS.....  This has always been a challenge for me to teach for two reasons.....

1.  There aren't very many resources, printed or online ......that are both comprehensive in scope as well as simple.

2.  I don't have loads of time with any group of children, so sometimes it's easier to just talk about composers and music teachers one day out of the school year and call it happy...... except.....

There are MANY different types of jobs that one could potentially pursue if music was your primary interest.  It was time to get creative!

Although I use technology all the time in my classroom, I've never been good at creating student products with technology, but I was recently inspired when I came across  Mrs. King's Music Class Blog and found that she had successfully used VOKI to help her 6th graders report what they had learned about world music.  Their products were enough to tempt me to try.

I planned to use this project at the end of the end of the day when my students came to "extra specials".  During this time I see larger groups of children because my co-teacher has traveled on to her other school.  
However, as it has worked out, because of Stanford testing, we've been flipping the 5th grade to the afternoon, so between the "extra-specials" time and the double music classes, this project has moved much more fairly swiftly than I had planned.....I thought it would take us all spring.....

Day 1 - 
I have 6 music Macbooks and I borrowed 10 additional  Macbooks from our school library because I knew I was going to have bigger classes 

Students divided themselves into groups of 2-3..... 

Each group had a piece of paper divided in half, a lap board, a pencil and a laptop. 

Even though I use a PC and my students were using Macbooks, with my computer projected so that everyone could see, my students were able to follow my lead as I lead them through our district website, to our library resource page, to our search engine page, to google safe search, and then onto the page we were searching for which was Music Professions

This site is not flowery or flashy, but it is clear and concise. My favorite part of the site is that the jobs are categorized and none of the descriptions are more than a paragraph long.  
I asked students to answer two questions about 2 jobs.  For a total of 4 questions.  
1.  What does a person with this job do?
2. What kind of education is required for this job? 

They didn't have to copy the questions, they just had to take notes on what they were reading. 

In my district only students with parental permission to get online actually have log-in credentials, so by allowing them to work in groups with assigned jobs I created opportunities for some of my "non-credentialed" students to fully participate.  I also had plenty of paper articles that I had copied both for additional information AND as a back-up for students who might be too rowdy for computers.  

By the end of Day 1 everyone had a few notes or a couple of paragraphs about two music jobs. 

Day 2

With my computer projected so that everyone could follow me, I went back through all of our steps to get to the Music Professions site.... I encouraged the students to leave that site open in order to complete their research or to go back and refer to it as they completed their project. I showed them how to log in with the account I had created for our class.  

I am currently using a free account, and it has worked fine so far.   I created a VOKI while they followed along, and they repeated the process but added their own text.   Voki are created randomly and the creator is allowed to edit by choosing another character, voice, background or even accessorize their VOKI. My students were so excited to try it, but I made one demand on their time for DAY 2.... No one was allowed to "play" with their VOKI until their group had typed in their report telling about what they had learned about a music job of their choice.  

The best part of VOKI is that it reads the text, so students can hear what they have written.... this helps GREATLY with their ability to spot errors.  This is particularly helpful because the majority of my students are second language learners and part of learning a language is learning to distinguish when something "sounds" wrong. Here are a few examples of student work.