Music Video With A Message: Black Eyed Peas Project – Part 3

Using the poetry we wrote in response to listening to “One Tribe” by the Black Eyed Peas, my students and I used GarageBand on our classroom iMac with a Yamaha MIDI keyboard to compose beats and loops and to record our poetry as a rap.  Each of my 6 classes composed a verse to the song.  The images were created and compiled by the same students with our computer lab teacher, selected to convey the message of the song more effectively.  I think it is very well done!
This project was the culminating activity that I presented at our TeAch21 Capstone Expo.  TeaAch 21 is a technology integration program for classroom teachers in my county and the Expo is the annual presentation opportunity for teachers to share how they use technology in their classrooms.  I was extremely proud of our finished product!  One part of our project was to share our product with more than just our classmates.  Since the message of this project is one of unity and peace, we thought it was a good character ed, anti-bullying, love PSA-type video that could be shared in many settings.  Please use and share as you see fit!  Enjoy!

Poetry and Peace: Black Eyed Peas Project – Part 2

The development of the Black Eyed Peas Project was an amazing process to witness.  Today I will share with you our process of writing the poetry that became the lyrics to our song.  Below are some of the chart pages we worked with while brainstorming and writing.  (Note:  I do almost everything digitally in my classroom so this was a total departure for me using markers and chart paper…I chose this medium though because we needed to be mobile for when it came time to record our compositions).

I like how you can see our process of editing and revision.  Once we started setting it to a rhythm, we made changes to make it fit into our meter (we were just using simple 4/4 meter with a pretty standard club/dance drum loop in GarageBand).
Coming soon….the finished product!  Stay tuned…..

Making Composition Successful with Younger Students

I have discovered over my 7 years teaching that, with younger students (grades 4 and under), music composition can be a challenge.  This is especially true when attempting to use traditional notation.  My students are quite proficient at reading music notation and playing a treble-clef instrument (recorder, xylophone, etc.); it is a whole different story when it comes to composing a song.  If we use traditional notation to write down our songs, my kids get bogged down in the mechanics and lose the spirit of creativity and expression.  This year, I have tasked my 3rd and 4th graders with composing in a more free environment.  Here are my suggestions for making composition more successful and creative….

Use Non-Traditional Notation – Kids have amazing musical ideas that are often more complex than the music they can notate.  By allowing students to notate their songs in any way they see fit, you will end up with much more creative and expressive compositions.  Ideas for non-traditional notation: letter/note names, fingerings, shapes, circles, lines – the ideas are unlimited as long as the student understands his/her system of symbols and can perform it from those symbols.

Limited Pitch Range – Give your students a set number of notes with which to compose.  With recorders, we use the G pentatonic scale (low D, low E, G, A, and B) because those are the first 5 notes we learn and pentatonic is always a successful mode for improvisation and composition.  With younger students, you can even limit it further to 3-notes, such as Sol-La-Mi or Do-Re-Mi.

Begin and End on Tonic – Giving your students a starting and ending note ensures that your students’ songs will have a tonal center.  When we are composing in G pentatonic, I have my students always start and end on G.  If you are exploring other tonalities, like minor mode, or using limited pitches, like Do-Re-Mi, adjust your starting pitch accordingly. 

End the Project with a Recital! – Who wants to write a song only to keep it to themselves?  With user-specific notation systems, the only way to share the students’ compositions is to have each kid perform their song for their classmates.  We set up our recital with an order and program (listing performers, composers, and titles) and treat it as a real recital.  You could even invite parents to attend music class if time and situation allows.

I hope this will get you and your students composing freely and creatively!

What ideas do you have about composition with young students? Please share!

Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 2.0

I watched this while eating lunch today.  I am so moved by the beauty of this piece; even more so, by Eric Whitacre’s vision and creativity.  Using technology to allow 2,000 voices to sing together through YouTube is a revolutionary idea – allowing technology to enhance music-making at its best!  Enjoy!

April is Jazz Appreciation Month!

Each April, my students and I explore a Jazz appreciation unit.  We listen to different jazz recordings, study the history of jazz, play jazz chord progressions, and even improvise some solos.  I always enjoy the unit and my students seem to as well!  
Today I will share some online jazz resources.  Stay tuned for more lesson plans and other resources for teaching jazz appreciation!
  • PBS Kids Jazz Site – excellent site for student exploration.  We use it at the computer center and I encourage my students to “click around” (today’s student loves to self-direct their learning through exploration and this website is perfect for that)
  • Smithsonian Jazz – a great resource for the history of jazz (oral histories, recordings, archives, photographs) as well as JAM events around the country.  
  • MENC Jazz Lesson Plans  – free and also member-only lesson plans and other resources
  • Ken Burns’ Jazz PBS site – the well-known mini-series documentary by Ken Burns.  The in-depth look at the history of jazz, broken down by era, is extremely helpful and interesting.  

I hope that you will take some time to explore the truly American art form that is Jazz and its rich history.  There are so many opportunities for cross-curricular instruction, for meaningful listening opportunities, and for unlimited creativity!    

Friday Fave – Homemade Rhythm Chart

In the manner of many other bloggers, I will be posting a favorite of mine on Fridays. It could be tech, music, or education related or even something “out-of-left-field” related.

Today I would like to share the rhythm chart I use almost daily in my classroom.

Homemade Rhythm Chart

This lovely, homemade rhythm chart has survived over 5 years of use in my classroom. The white board is simply a cardboard whiteboard/magnetic board you can buy from any school supply store.  I bought mine at The School Box store for around $35 (I have listed a more affordable option you can buy from at the end of this post).

Anyway, I then made a stencil and traced a Quarter Rest onto wide-width black electrical tape.  I cut them out and stuck them to the board in a 4×4 grid.  I chose 4×4 grid because so many poems, songs, and rhythm examples follow this common 4 measure, 4/4 meter form.

Next I bought sheets of white foam sheets for crafting, like Foamies Foam Sheets 12″ X 18″ – WHITE (Pack of 5) for $1.19 for a pack of 5.  You will probably need at least 2 packs, to make all the rhythms you want.  I cut the sheets into rectangles to cover up the number of rests I need for each rhythm: quarter note – 1, half note – 2, dotted half note – 3, whole note – 4.  Then I drew the rhythm symbol on one side using a black, permanent marker.

 On the back, I affixed magnet dots – you can buy these with the sticky adhesive on the back (like a sticker) at any office supply or craft store (you can even use old magnets you have laying around and hot glue them to the back).

Once you have all your rhythms cut, drawn, and magnetized, you’re set for rhythm fun!
Ideas of how to use your board….
– introduce rhythms: it is very clear to see how many beats each rhythm is because students can visualize time spatially (a half note card is twice as long as a quarter note card)
– isolate certain rhythms: start with quarter notes and quarter rests, add rhythms as students are able
– create rhythm patterns for practice: give each student a card and have them choose where to place it
– notate rhythms from songs/poems/chants: our favorite is “Mama Caught a Flea” (I’ll share the words and rhythm in a future post), but any simple chant/poem/simple song will use for rhythmic dictation
– write instrument patterns/ostinatos: assign each line of the chart an instrument and create a 4-part percussion ostinato to accompany a song/poem
– rhythmic dictation: teacher claps or plays a rhythm on recorder (I like recorder because you can sustain the longer note values, eg. whole note) and students dictate the rhythm on the chart

I am sure there are thousands more possibilities.  What can you think of?  How do you teach rhythm in your classroom?

Products for Completing this Project:

Composition Inspiration: Black Eyed Peas Project – Part 1

Pangea? Passion? Tribe? Poseidon?  Amnesia?  Can you define these terms?  My fourth graders did last week.  Immediately following that we listened to/watched the following video….

What a powerful message!  My students were amazed that we listened to Black Eyed Peas in music class.  And I was amazed at their response to this song.  We had some amazing thought-provoking discussions about peace, unity, and oneness.  Their interpretations of the vocabulary words were impressive – forgetting war and hatred, uniting as one, acting like we live on one continent “Pangea.”  It was a truly life-altering experience for us all.

The Birth of the Black Eyed Peas Project….
I chose Black Eyed Peas’ “One Tribe” as an inspiration for a composition project with my fourth graders.  Stay tuned to follow our project as it develops and to see our end product!  So far, the Black Eyed Peas Project is turning out way cooler than I expected….

St. Patrick’s Day Boomwhackers Activity

If you subscribe to MusicK8, then I know you are as big a fan as I am.  What a great resource for all things music, kindergarten through 8th grade.  My school has subscribed for years; we have volumes 6-18, with a few years skipped here and there.  We no longer subscribe, as the cuts in education funding have limited what we can purchase each year (but that’s another story…don’t get me started!).
Anyway, Monday I was poking around the St. Patrick’s Day songs on when I discovered this little gem – The Little Leprechaun, from Volume 18, No. 4.  What a fun little tune that outlines the legend of the leprechaun.
The best part about this little tune is that it only consists of 3 chords: Dmin, Cmaj, and Fmaj.  This works perfectly for Boomwhackers.  I made up some chord cards to use real quick (I used my wonderful Mr. Sketch markers and some printer paper and it took no time – sometimes the “old fashioned way” is the best!)

For the lesson, we talk about the term chord and define it as “three or more notes played at the same time” (conveniently, this was a vocabulary word for 4th grade this week).  We then explore playing different chords on our Boomwhackers and settle on the three for the song – Dmin, Cmaj, Fmaj.  I go over the chord progression – which I simplified as

Refrain/Verse:  D / / /   C / / / / :||                        Bridge “Can you catch…”:  F / / /   C / / / :||

Then we play the chords along with the recording.  We also try singing the lyrics while playing  It’s super fun, not to mention working towards standards:   playing with others, singing with others, reading music.

If you don’t already subscribe to MusicK8, I highly recommend it.  They also have a partner website, when you can go to purchase and download their songs without a subscription.  Go here to see “The Little Leprechaun” listing.  I recommend this if you are considering a subscription; however, they state that these downloads are only for recreational purposes and that if using in a classroom, you must purchase the rights to the songs through a subscription.  Thanks!!  

One more thing….for more St. Patty’s Day ideas, check out Make Me Musical by Susan Seale. Some great ideas going on over there!! 



The Best CD for March Listening

Lake EffectThis is my go-to CD for the month of March.  Liz Carroll, composer and fiddle performer, creates stirring, lovely melodies.  She’s American-born, but of Irish parents.  Her music always touches my soul – I discovered her years ago on NPR and since then, my students and I have enjoyed her Lake Effect CD every March.  I am always drawn to Irish music and my dad and I have on many occasions have marveled at the deep connection between our own Appalachian music and these melancholy Irish tunes.  If you ever get a chance, check out the PBS 3-part series, “The Appalachians” – part 1 explores the birth of American Appalachian music and its deeply rooted history in the Irish immigrants of the Applachian mountains.  Truly fascinating and also moving!!

Want to buy Liz’s CD? Click here –>  Lake Effect

Shamrockin’ Songs

So I ran out of copies of our St. Patrick’s Day worksheet I posted about last week; I ran to the copy room only to find the copier broken. Moments of desperation often prove to be chances for innovation. I grabbed some green construction paper and the shamrock die-cut. Taking them back to my 2nd graders, we did the same composition activity on a smaller scale. I feel it may have even turned out better than my original idea; check out how cute it is on my bulletin board. Definitely a keeper idea for next year!!

The bulletin board in the hallway outside my room. Btw…I hate doing bulletin boards so anything I can do to make them easy is what I do – I’ve had the blue sky and green grass background up all school year 😉

Up close – two shamrockin’ songs. Not exactly the most perfect notation or the most creative songs, but it’s student work and I love it!!