Tuesday, March 8, 2011

March Happenings...

March is here and hopefully you are feeling lucky!!

Here is a taste of what we are working on and what is yet to come in my world of Elementary Music...


We are still working our way through the alphabet by learning a different song for each letter.  Some of the latest letter songs that we have worked on include the letters D, K, X and Z.  There are still many more songs to come.  These songs are very familiar tunes, so ask your student if they can sing any of them for you and you just might be able to sing along with them.  Of course some of the depends on how long we have worked on that song.

We have also continued with games such as "The Button and the Key" which encourages the students to sing by themselves in front of the class.  This gives me the chance to hear each student sing individually and monitor their growth as the year continues.  There are also songs that we are revisiting and working with such as the "Little White Duck".  We are using this song to help us tell a story and act out that story.  The students take turns putting on colored capes and becoming the Duck, Frog, Bug and Snake as the class sings along.  They then act out the story as we sing.  Fairly soon we will be acting out some circus acts to music that encourages the students to soar on a flying trapeze, tame lions and lead a circus parade.

The latest game we have just started is a take off on the old favorite "Duck, Duck, Goose" (or Duck, Duck, Grey Duck if you are from Minnesota).  The tendency for students playing this game is that as they go around the circle using Duck, they tend to be fairly quiet as they say Duck.  Then, as excitement builds, they get really loud as they tap someone and exclaim GOOSE!!  This tends to be universal and I am sure many of you even remember this as a child. Well, in music, there isn't a really good reason to play Duck, Duck, Goose in its original form.  However, when we discuss dynamics in class (P = Piano and F = Forte) the students learn that Piano is soft or quiet and Forte is loud.  Now when we play "Piano, Piano, Forte", the natural tendencies of soft, soft, loud really help the students to understand the difference between loud and soft and remember the terms Piano and Forte.

First Grade
The first grade students recently have begun a rhythmic journey through quarter notes and quarter rests.  Based on some assessments, I would like to see a little more background in this area as the students become second grade students next year.  I will touch base on this a little more with the upper grades.

While discovering the actual notes and rests, they are also learning how to correctly clap and count these rhythms in such a way that they will hopefully enjoy more success in later years and especially when they get into band and choir situations in years to come.  One way I am introducing this concept to them as first graders is to take a game that I used with the upper grades and introduce that in a simpler format to the lower grades.  I think everyone agrees that Tic-Tac-Toe is a game that most students know how to play.  This is a simple game that has some strategy to it, but it is still easy enough for all students to understand how the game works.  Once again, tic-tac-toe in the music classroom might raise eyebrows in it's original form just like Duck, Duck, Goose.  However, in our version, the students are presented nine different rhythms laid out in a tic-tac-toe fashion.  In order to get a particular square on the grid, one student has to choose an available square and then correctly clap and count that particular rhythm.  If they do this successfully, then they get to place their X or O in that square.  Play continues by a person from the other team choosing a square and the process continues.  Unlike the original game, if a student doesn't perform the rhythm correctly, the team does not get that square.  This places extra emphasis on understanding the rhythms and their ability to clap and count them correctly.  As the students progress, the rhythms can get harder and harder.  The possibilities can be endless.

Sometime in the near future, these students will also continue to discuss the idea that music can help tell a story.  Recently we listened to the story of the "Bremen Town Musicians."  The next big story that we will be working on soon is the story of the "Three Billy Goats Gruff."  The students will be listening to the orchestral music and will identify the instruments or groups of instruments that help to tell the story.  Once the students are proficient at this, then they will begin to act out the story as they listen to the music.  There will be no words involved, instead, the students will be able to identify the story through the music alone.

Second Grade
The second grade students will be learning a few more songs that involve tall tales.  We have learned all of the verses of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" and talked a little about the actual person and his legacy in American History.

We have also begun some in depth work on the notes of the treble clef.  We will be starting to dive into the notes of the bass clef shortly.  We have identified the notes on the lines and spaces on the board, learned a couple songs to help us remember the notes and order of the notes on the staff, and will be playing some games soon including a type of relay race to learn the notes as well as other games such as "Lines and Spaces Bingo".

As we continue towards the end of the year, the second grade students will also talk about using music to tell a story.  We will be looking at the story of the "Sorcerer's Apprentice".  This is a very very old story that music was written for many years ago.  Walt Disney took that story and molded it into the version that most of us are familiar with from his movie "Fantasia".  There has recently been a live action movie released based on that very scene from Disney.  The students will learn and understand the story, discuss the instruments and musical elements used to help illustrate the story with our ears, then create some art-type activities to be displayed in the halls or rooms at school.  This is a pretty intensive work period, but very fun at the same time.

Third Grade
The Third Grade students have taken a short break from counting rhythms recently to work to prepare for the Spring Concert.  They will be involved in several songs with the Fourth Grade students as well as a couple songs of their own.  They have been working the longest on the songs and are really accomplishing their goals quickly.  This will allow us to return to counting rhythms and notes very soon as they become more comfortable with the concert music.

Fourth Grade
Just like the Third Grade students, the Fourth Grade students are really trying to multi-task.  We have recently started working on our recorders.  However this has been a little slower than anticipated due to the fact that they are also having to work to prepare for the Spring Concert.  Just like the Third Grade students, they will be doing several combined numbers as well as a couple individual Fourth Grade numbers.

As far as recorders, several have earned their white belt, which is the first belt available for them to earn.  To earn this belt, they have to successfully play "Hot Crossed Buns" for me in a testing situation.  They need to use the correct hand, do the correct fingerings and play all of the correct rhythms.  Once they do this successfully, they earn their white belt.  A couple of the students have started to earn their yellow belt which is a song based on the same three notes they have already learned, but they now have to use breath marks to determine where they can breathe, and this has to be played much more legato, or smooth.  Once again, I will be sending notes home soon to remind you to please send $2.00 for your student's recorder if you have not done so yet. 

Fourth Grade Ensemble
The Fourth Grade Ensemble has really impressed me this time around.  We have been working on a hard song for the Spring Program and they have picked it up much quicker than I expected.  This week we will be starting a new song for the concert that I think they will enjoy and many of you will recognize from some point in your lives.  Some of the words of this song fit the theme of our program like it was written just for it.

Third and Fourth Grade Washington/Libertyville Spring Concert
This year the Libertyville and Washington Third and Fourth Grade students will be combining to bring you a Spring Program titled Jazz: A Swingin' Celebration.  This a is program that came in a magazine subscription that was purchased with funds from one of the parent groups at the end of the year last year.  I would like to thank the parent groups for the support they provide for our classrooms.

This program touches on a little bit of the history of Jazz in the United States, its roots as well as other branches of music that began through Jazz.  The students have learned the names of several Jazz artists as well as how this music all ties together.  There is a little Swing, Jazz, Dixieland and Blues.  Artists are mentioned from Duke Ellington to Herbie Hancock.  This should be an exciting program for all.

The program will be performed at the Sondheim Center in the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center on Monday, April 18th at 7:00 PM.  For more information on the Center, please click here.

Fifth Grade 
The Fifth Grade general music students have been continuing  a real mix of things we have been working on.  Sometimes I think this variety helps to keep from being stuck in a rut.  We had spent some time working with Boomwhackers and basically learned the "Batman Theme" from the original TV series.  It didn't take long for the students to recognize the music, however it was still hard to play and stay together.  We might try another piece before too long.  If we pull out "Batman" again and can do it well, we just might record it for you to hear.

Other than that, we have continued our composer background.  In February we were discussing Beethoven.  We have taken a couple days to watch a movie called "Beethoven Lives Upstairs".  This is a story of a young boy whose Mother rents the upstairs of their home to Beethoven after her husband has passed away.  This story takes place towards the end of Beethoven's life when he is working on his 9th Symphony.  He is already deaf and obviously frustrated by  this fact.  At first the boy is frightened of Mr. Beethoven, but over time he begins to understand Beethoven and they forge a bond.  The movie illustrates Beethoven passion for music, ill temper for those that he doesn't agree with and his compassion for other humans.  I feel this movie really highlights Beethoven's music and personality in a very student-friendly way.  If you have not ever seen this movie, I would suggest looking into just for fun.

This week we will continue our tour of composers with Frederic Chopin.  We will also continue sing some of the songs from our book.  The latest song was the traitional Calypso style song "Sloope John B".  This sparked a discussion about Calypso music and some of the other songs we know and have sung.  We also discussed Harry Belefonte and some of his music.  It is my intention to learn this song and add some classroom instruments to this song to make it a little more involved.

Fifth Grade Ensemble
I am very exciting about a couple songs that we are about to start with the Fifth Grade Ensemble!  I have seen some videos and heard some recordings that really have me excited to try some things with them that are a little out of the ordinary in some respects.  Part of what we have tried so far has been received quite positively from many of the students. Watch for our concert dates to be coming up soon.  I hope you can come and join us and find out what we are all excited about.

As for the other classes and upper levels, choir rehearsals are progressing well and the High School students are working on contest music as well as anxiously anticipating their New York trip which is less than two weeks away!!

Enjoy your March and check back frequently for more updates and even some videos.



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