Thursday, November 16, 2017

Favorite Pop Songs for Ukulele: C, F, G & Am Edition

Earlier this week, I shared a blog post about using Pop Songs for ukulele instruction.  In case you missed it, you can read all about it here.  I love using folk tunes for younger students, but with older students, I often need to find music that is more on their level.  

If your students have the basic 3 chords: C, F, and G, then adding Am brings a whole new level of songs for your students!

The lovely thing about Am is connecting it to the F chord.  Introduce Am by having students finger the F chord, then lifting the 1st finger.  Voila!  So simple, right?  Once they have that, playing these songs will be easy-peasy!

Counting Stars by One Republic

One Love by Bob Marley

One Call Away by Charlie Puth

I'm Yours by Jason Mraz
Ok, so this one has two quick fly-by D7 chords, but basically the ENTIRE song is C, F, G, and Am.
And bonus - this is a clean version!

Hey Ho! by The Lumineers

Waiting on the World to Change by John Mayer

Shake it Off by Taylor Swift
This one is just C, G, and Am!

Home by Philip Philips

YMCA by the Village People

Rise Up by Andra Day

Please note - you'll need to vet these songs for appropriate lyrics and content.  What I might choose for a 5th grade class may be different than what you choose for a 7th grade class.  It's amazing to see how many songs use 4 simple chords!

Do you have a favorite C, F, G, & Am song to use in the classroom?  Why not share it below in the comments!  I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Favorite Pop Songs for Ukulele: C, F, & G Edition

Oh my goodness! It's been so long since I've blogged!  I apologize for the absence as I am in the middle of blog redesign.  I'm hopeful that we'll be releasing the new blog redesign at the start of the new year!

With all of that said, I really want to talk ukulele today.  I love teaching and playing ukulele.  I've been teaching ukulele in my classroom for many years.  Several years ago, I created a resource based on folk tunes commonly taught in the music room called Sing & Strum.  It's great for introducing chords slowly and systemically.  My kids love "singing & strumming" along to classroom favorites.  
The trouble is - what happens when your older students want and need a song a bit more to their liking while still working through the basics?

The answer?  Favorite Pop Tunes for Ukulele:  C, F, G Edition.

Best Day of My Life by American Authors
This song is primarily C and F featuring a Dm chord.  When I teach it, I simply have my students leave the Dm out.  My high students will quickly figure out it's F with one more finger and add it, but for everyone else, we just leave it alone.

Surfin' USA by The Beach Boys

Three Little Birds by Bob Marley

Blowin' in the Wind by Bob Dylan

Love Me Do by The Beatles

Do You Love Me by The Dave Clark 5

La Bomba by Ritchie Valens

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves

Do you have a favorite C, F, G Pop Song that you use in your classes?  Leave me a comment below with your favorite go-to songs!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sequencing Ukulele Instruction in Elementary Music

I love teaching ukulele in the elementary music class.  The kids get so excited to get their hands on the instruments and feel like they're really rockin' out in class!  There are many method books to get kids playing ukulele, but I've discovered over the past 4 years the best curriculum is the one already in YOUR classroom.

Sequencing Ukulele Instruction in Elementary Music, strum patterns, ukulele, beginning ukulele

Think about it!  You scaffold instruction from easy to difficult from the day your students walk in the room.  They learn TONS of folk tunes from you!  They learn how to read tonal and rhythmic patterns from you!  They learn to hear and sing harmony from you!  What else do they need?  Just a little excitement and structure from you!

When and how to begin ukulele?
The first grade level that gets to play the ukuleles in my room are the 2nd graders.  I know this might seem young to many, but my ukuleles are a big deal in my room.  My students can't wait to use them.  Do you have to start this young?  NO!  Start when it works best for YOU!  The reality is that my second graders only learn the basics on the ukulele.  They learn how to hold them, the names of the strings, and how to strum on open strings.  Then we practice reading lots and lots of strumming patterns.  It's a great reinforcement of rhythmic reading for them.  I make up practice tracks on Garage Band so that they can practice strumming rhythms at different tempos.  It's a great way to get ukuleles into students' hands and get them excited about learning! 

Sequencing Ukulele Instruction in Elementary Music, strum patterns, ukulele, beginning ukulele
Sequencing Instruction
The first chord we learn is C7.  It seems like a funny chord to start with as I only know of one song that uses C7 the entire way through - Lime in the Coconut - but here's WHY I teach it first.  It's uses the first fret, first finger on the A string.  It's really easy for little ones and gets them excited about playing.  So we strum along to the Mupper's version of Lime in the Coconut.
Then the real work begins...  We move to the C chord.  Still on the A string, but 2 frets down and using the 3rd finger.  A tiny bit harder.  Then we play 5-6 one chord songs from my resource, Sing & Strum.  The fun thing about those tunes is that they are all familiar tunes the kids have sung before in earlier grades.  We also practice toggling from C to C7, so that they understand that the fingers are going to have to move.  Then here's where we start to have some fun... 
Next we learn the F chord.  The nice thing about the F chord is that it's only 2 fingers and if you move from the C7, it's not too hard (and you have a I-V7 chord combination for later)!  We take those same 5-6 one chord songs and play them again, so that students also learn that key signatures are not static either.  
Sequencing Ukulele Instruction in Elementary Music, strum patterns, ukulele, beginning ukulele, chords

From there, I introduce the G7 chord.  I know some who prefer the G chord and teach its relationship to the C chord, but I like the dominant seventh sound.  Now, my students have 4 solid chords and are ready to move on to 2-chord songs!

There are so many 2-chord folk tunes to choose from!  The nice thing about the 4 chords they know is that we can play them in C major or in F major!  What a great opportunity to talk to students about choosing an appropriate key for singing range.  Performing artists do it all the time!  We pull 5-6 2-chord songs from Sing & Strum and work on them together.  I also like for students to discover strumming patterns that work with a song.  I can "give" them patterns to play but the reality is if I want them to be informed musicians that can make choices for themselves, they have to work it out on their own and understand how and why certain rhythm work better than another.

Once my students have had success learning the G7 chord and practice toggling between the C and G7 chord, we begin the journey of 3-chord songs.  Each time I introduce a new chord, or a new harmonic sequence, we always go back to those Garage Band Practice Tracks.  The nice thing about them is that you can build each track with different harmonic sequences, varying tempos, etc.  That targeted practice really helps students build their confidence and capacity to move between chords.  Again, find those folk tunes you've been using in your own instruction to build a repertoire for your students!  
Sequencing Ukulele Instruction in Elementary Music, strum patterns, ukulele, beginning ukulele, chord progressions

At the point that my students know and can perform songs with 3 chords, then it's simply layering a new chord as necessary when introducing new songs.  I tend to introduce the G chord once they have command of moving between C-F-G7.  Other chords that come quickly are the D chord, Am, Em, and A chord. 

I tend not to teach finger picking or TAB until 5th grade.  I know opinions will vary greatly about this, but it's what is best for my students.  Fine motor varies greatly for children.  Some kids may pick up finger picking quickly whereas others will struggle.  I want to build on their excitement for the instrument quickly, and strumming and chords tends to work best for my students.
Once my students are in 5th grade, we move away from folk tunes and more to the pop songs they love.  There are many sources for play-alongs or chords for these tunes.  My favorite resources are and Dr. Jill Reese's YouTube ChannelUkuTuner allows you to search for tunes by level of difficulty and to change the key of the song with a click of the button.  The lyrics are listed for each tune - so be sure to check the appropriateness of each song before using with students.  Dr. Jill Reese has a ukulele channel on YouTube with play-along videos for ukulele.  She routinely adds new songs to the channel.  I love that there is a good mix of new and old tunes!  

What have you found useful to teaching ukulele in your classroom?  What do you still have questions about?  Leave a comment for me below!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The MLT Classroom

Last summer, I wrote a post about my 5 Favorite Things about Music Learning Theory (MLT).  You can read it here.  In that post, I wrote about why MLT connected with me as an educator.   Many of you shared with me that you knew of MLT, but wanted to know what actually happened in my classroom.  That got me thinking...

If I said I used Kodaly, you most likely would know that my lesson would use a highly sequenced approach to teach music reading beginning with sol-mi songs, Curwen hand signs, and lots of singing.  If I said I used Orff, images of children singing, moving, and creating music based on a pentatonic scale using a roomful of xylophones and metallophones might come to mind.

Now, if I said I used MLT, you might imagine....

Yep, those are crickets, cause that's what I'm hearing!  No, seriously, when I tell someone I use MLT as the foundation of my teaching, the typical response is - "Is that the one with all the patterns?"

Yeah, MLT is the one with all the patterns and SO MUCH MORE!

Here's a typical lesson in the MLT classroom:
  1. Greeting Song - Yes, we sing in MLT land.  All the time!  Singing is vital to MLT instruction, because it's one of the ways we demonstrate what we know!  I always begin class with some kind of greeting/warm-up activity.
  2. Pattern Instruction - You knew it was coming!  But here's the reality: pattern instruction is only 3-5 minutes of my daily instruction.  What is it?  Pattern instruction is highly sequenced and the foundation of all music learning. Think of it like learning sight words.  Once you know your sight words, your capacity to read/understand is greater.  The same is true of music patterns.  Pattern instruction is a sacred time in my room as it's my opportunity to hear every child in my room sing or chant individually.   It's important to know that sometimes pattern instruction aligns with what I'm doing with the classroom, while other times it's previewing or reviewing information we need.
  3. Classroom Activities - We do all the same songs, chants, and instruments that YOU do in your music room.  The major difference is that we're always modeling for students how to listen actively to music, how to understand what they're hearing, and apply what they've learned - it's always about audiation!
  4. Movement Activities - Movement is an integral part of MLT instruction.  Our movement sequence is a bit difference than other approaches as it's based on Laban movement: flow, weight, space, and time.  When students understand how to organize their energy into movement, they better understand how to place beat in space in time and are less likely to rush.  So before we ever work on beat, we work on understanding how our bodies move.  Of course, we do many of the traditional folk dances too - but those typically come a bit later.
  5. Improvisation Activities - Improvisation is an integral part of a MLT classroom.  Through improvisation, we are able to communicate what we know musically.  The improvisation activities are typically rhythmic or tonal in nature and small conversations using patterns first, before moving into melodic improvisations.
Are you still having a hard time envisioning my classroom?  Check an example of a lesson plan below!  Want to know more about MLT?  Did you know there is an organization called GIML (Gordon Institute for Music Learning)?  They offer 2-week certification levels about MLT in early childhood music, elementary music, instrumental music, and piano instruction all over the United States each summer.  You can find out more here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Lesson Ideas for John the Rabbit

One of my favorite songs to teach each spring is John the Rabbit!  It's amazing how many ways you can use this sweet tune in your music classroom!  Here are some of the ways I use the traditional folk tune in my classroom!  
First, let me know acknowledge that I know there are many variations of John the Rabbit.  The version I use in my classroom is below.  Regardless of what version you use, most all use the response "yes m'am" in the song.

John the Rabbit

1.  Sing the Song 
The most basic way to use the song is to sing it to your students.  When I begin teaching the song to my students, I simply sing it to them like a song story.  I have a little rabbit puppet that I introduce as John and he "sings" the response "yes, m'am" to my students.

2.  Invite Students to Sing Individually
Once my students become familiar with the song, I invite students to sing John's response individually.  Sometimes I pass the puppet around, other times, I simply ask for volunteers by raising their hands.  Listening to my students sing the resting tone (or home tone) individually helps me to know they are audiating the resting tone.

3.  Invite Students to Improvise
Once my students demonstrate their ability to audiate and sing the resting tone, we can play with improvising different responses for "yes, m'am."  Instead of singing on the resting tone, students can sing any other tonal pattern in response.  It's fun to listen to all the different ways students improvise tonally!

4.  Introduce Major Tonality
Explain to your students that each time they sing "yes m'am" that they are really just singing the resting tone "DO."  The resting tone "DO" means that they are in Major Tonality.  Anytime students audiate "DO" as the resting tone, they are in Major Tonality.  Then tell them you are going to sing the song again, and this time they should sing "DO" instead of "yes m'am!"  My students love to sing "DO DO" to match the syllables to "yes, m'am."   It's a silly way to reinforce the resting tone in a concrete way.  

5.  Introduce Minor Tonality
Ok, this one may be a bit of a stretch for some, but in Music Learning Theory (MLT) we learn how to apply patterns to identify tonalities.  This process is called Partial Synthesis and takes place after students have listened to, audiated, and performed many patterns in both Major and Minor Tonality.  This is one my favorite activity to do with my first grade students.  It's absolutely vital that you have done #4 before doing this activity.  Once you've played "DO" as the resting tone response, introduce the song in minor tonality.  The song I sing is below.  You'll notice it's in parallel minor.  That's essential to engage in Partial Synthesis.  
 John (or Joe) the Rabbit
I often introduce a new rabbit puppet (John's cousin, Joe) so that they have a concrete representation of the song being different.   I sing the song in Minor for the students with the new puppet.  Joe sings the "yes m'am" response throughout the song.  At the end, I ask the students if they think the song is the same or different than the song we've been singing.  Most will understand that it is different, but not know why.  I explain that the resting tone of this song is "LA" which means it is in Minor Tonality.  I repeat the song, inviting the student to sing the resting tone response.  We do it both as "yes m'am" and as "LA".  This activity takes 2-3 classes before we're ready to take the final step.

Once students are familiar with both versions of the song, then I tell the kids that I am going to sing the song for them.  If I sing a phrase in Major, they sing the response "DO."  If I sing a phrase in Minor, they sing the response "LA."   Then I sing the song moving phrase by phrase from Major to Minor Tonality.  If it crashes and burns, then I identify where and why and reteach.  But if it's successful - WOW!  
Guiding your students to use resting tones to identify tonality is a fabulous, concrete way for students to understand how to identify Major Tonality vs. Minor Tonality.  Once students understand that tonality is malleable, they want to play with hearing other songs move from Major to Minor and vice versa!

Do you have a favorite lesson for John the Rabbit?  Share it below!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Finding Funds for the Music Room

Grants, funding, DonorsChoose, companies
I'm in my tenth year in my current building.  When I came to my school, my Orff instruments were upside down in closets with missing bars.  I had no drums.  I had a few keyboards in various states of disrepair.  I had a handful of rhythm instruments and an aging keyboard that literally exploded mid-performance (not kidding).

It was a bleak situation, made worse by the fact that budgets were shrinking and there was no money for the music room.  That didn't deter me in any way though.  I put pen to paper and wrote a two page wishlist of everything I wanted for the music room.  It included drums, computers, a variety of world music instruments, and an interactive white board.  Within two years, every item on my list was checked off.  In my ten years at my school, I've received well over $25,000 for everything from tubanos to iMacs.  So what's the secret?  How did I do it? Three simple words: Vision, Ask, and Patience.

What's your vision for your program?  What do you want your program to be?  For me, it's important that every child find their "voice" musically.  I don't mean their literal singing voice - I mean they find that one way they connect to music as a life-long learner.  For some kids, it will be singing.  For others, it will be learning to play the piano, or drumming.  I want to ensure that I have the equipment and instruments in my room to ensure that every child makes that connection during their time in my classroom.  So in addition to visioning for my program, I also had to make a list of what I needed for that vision to come to fruition.

Ask!  Once you create your vision and identify what you need, then let people know what you need!  Tell your principal about your vision and what you need!  I shared my vision with my new principal and was given $500 to purchase some of the smaller items right away.  Tell your PTA about your vision!  When my keyboards were dying, I asked my PTA to help replace them.  I was allotted a small amount of money to replace a few, but then several mothers approached me about finding my keyboards on sale on Black Friday!  Those moms scoured every ad until they found the keyboards for 1/2 off.  Then they called the store and shared what they were doing and got an even better discount.  And then they went back to the PTA and got enough money to buy 15 (yes, 15) keyboards for my music room!  You would be surprised how many people want to help and support your program if only you ask.

Patience.  So, you might read this and think that every time I ask, someone writes me a check.  Ha!  You would be very wrong.  That same PTA that supported me with the keyboards gave me a big NO when I asked them for some ukuleles.  I've written grants in March and not heard a thing from the foundation for 6 months!  Fundraising for your program takes lots of patience (and persistence).  I came back to school one year to find that all of my desktop computers had been removed because they were no longer compatible with district software.  I was so upset that no notice was given  and that no replacement was offered, that I took matters into my own hands.  I decided I was going to outfit my room with iPad minis.  It took 3 years of grant writing to get 15 iPad minis and Otterbox cases for the music room, but I remained patient and persistent as I wrote and sought funding for my vision.
Grants, funding, donorschoose, companies

So where do I get funds for my music room?
  • Grants - For the big ticket items, I write grants.  I've received $3000 for Tubanos and $4000 for iPads.  There are many foundations that support the arts through grants.  People often get overwhelmed with the process or think they'll never get funded.  You would be surprised how much you can get by simply "asking" through writing a grant.  One word of advice - make sure your grant MATCHES the vision of the grantee.  If the grant is to fund an artist to come to your school to perform, you're probably not going to get money for ukuleles from them.  But if you write that you would like to bring an artist to your school to perform on ukulele AND will need some for your students to use, then you are more likely to be get your grant funded!  AOSA has a fabulous list of possible grants for music teachers.  You can find it here.
  • DonorsChoose - I love  I highly recommend that once you finish reading this, that you go post a project to be funded immediately.  My first DonorsChoose project was for 30 headphones for my new keyboards.  I posted it on Facebook but didn't say too much to parents or staff about it.  A Swedish-American group of teachers found my project, rallied around it and funded it! As my class sizes increased, I found that I needed a few more drums for my room.  I wrote several projects for additional tubanos and had Disney, Gymboree, and The Woodwind and the Brasswind all help fund significant portions of my grants.  And ALWAYS have a grant posted.  Last week, DonorsChoose hosted a #BestSchoolDay where a company matched funds dollar for dollar.  Within in 6 hours, my project for a new 21" iMac was fully funded.  Always have a project posted on DonorsChoose.  Always.
  • State Arts Organizations - I teach in Michigan, and there are grants available each year for materials for art and music rooms.  For many years, no one knew about the grants, so every grant submitted was funded.  Check out your state's art organizations to see what grants are available within your state.  You can find a list of state & regional arts organizations here.
  • Community Foundations - A few years back, my community began an Education Foundation to fund educational projects for our district and city.  In the few years they've been around, they've funded over $300,000 in grants to teachers and schools.  I've written and received several grants from them for iPads to adaptive instruments for my special education classes.
  • Education-Friendly Companies - You might be surprised to know that many companies will make donations or have grant programs as well.  In the mid-west, the insurance company, Meemic, has multiple grant programs for educators.  From books, to classroom materials, many companies are willing to make smaller donations for classrooms.  Many Home Depots will gift 5 gallon buckets to schools for bucket drumming.  All you have to do is ask!
  • Parents - When all else fails, talk to parents and share your vision.  When the PTA said no to my ukuleles, a family came to me privately and donated $500 to purchase ukuleles.  The following year, instead of buying holiday gifts, many parents donated funds for additional ukuleles.  In 6 months, I had 30 brand new ukuleles for my classroom.  I've heard of other teachers placing a table in the hall the evening of the concert with instruments and the price to donate one to the music room.  The simply act of letting someone know of the need can do wonders!
And lastly, think outside of the box.  A few years ago, I heard about a local auction house that was liquidating a charter school.  On a whim, I checked out their site and found that they were getting rid of many items I would use in my music room.  Over the past three years, I've purchased $120 of Remo Hand Drums for $15.  I purchased a brand new Epson projector for $30.  I also purchased a $1500 iPad Charging Station for $40!    Yes, I paid out of pocket for these items, but I got them for a fraction of the price.  I alerted a colleague of mine who needed Orff instruments that they had Sonor Xylophones on auction.  She was able to purchase several Xylophones for $30-$40 each and her principal reimbursed her for the instruments.

So where you do start?  Vision!  How do you start?  Ask!  And what do you do when you get a no?  Patience.  What do you want or need for your music room?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Giving New Life to Move and Freeze

Move and Freeze is a must in my Kindergarten & First Grade classes.  Although we have very active music classes, my students need a little time set aside each music class for a movement break.  At the start of the year, Move and Freeze is fun!  Kids love having autonomy over their movement and dancing around the room.

With all things, there comes a moment when Move & Freeze starts to lose it's magic.  The kids still need it, but it becomes predictable.  How do you give new life to a tried and true activity?

1.  Get out of your music rut!
Find some new tunes for Move and Freeze!  I love to use Move & Freeze as an opportunity to expose my students to new genres of music.  My students love moving to the likes of the Gipsy Kings, Esquivel, and Harry Connick Jr.  There are so many great pieces to choose from!  Don't be afraid to look pieces they love too!  One year, I used the song from the Lego Movie.  My students lost their minds because they assumed I wouldn't use something like that in music class!

2.  Make it a game!
Every time your students freeze, give them a focus.  "Make a statue in high space!"  "Make a statue in shared space!"  Let the movement be anything they like, but when they freeze, have them focus on on making shapes, exploring space, sharing space with others, etc.  Again, it will change the nature of the movement of every student in the room.

3.  Reverse it!
It sounds crazy, but it's really is fun to do with kids!  Reverse your Move and Freeze.  When the music plays, the students must stand perfectly still, but when the music stops, students may move.  It's fun to watch how students react and move to the music they just heard.  Once we do this in class, students ask for it again and again!

4.  Use images!
We use Laban efforts (flow, weight, space, and time) in our classroom instruction daily.  When it comes to Move and Freeze though, those concepts seem to go out the window.  I started using images with my students during Move and Freeze to help direct their movements to include flow, weight, space and time.  You can see an example below.
5. Give it purpose!
Do you ever have that moment when your students ask for Move and Freeze, but they're just too old for it?  My second and third grade students ask all the time why we don't do Move and Freeze anymore.  I thought it was kind of funny at first, because they are moving in class with Folk Dances.  The reality is, they need those movement breaks as much as my younger students!  I started playing with the idea of giving my students something to do during the Move and Freeze.  What worked the best was giving students rhythm flashcards to read as they moved to music.  Each student is given one flashcard and they have to read it aloud, then trade it with another student.  I play the music for 60-90 seconds, so students can trade multiple times. When the music stops, I read a rhythm aloud.  If a student is holding that card, they are the winner of the Move & Freeze.  The first time I did this with students, it was as if they were trading Pokemon cards!  I couldn't get over the level of engagement  from my students!  And when it was time to get back to work, they were ready!  It was a win-win all the way around!

What are some of your tried and true activities for giving your students a movement break in music?

You might enjoy checking out Dance & Freeze or Rhythm Move & Freeze in my TpT store!