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music in every classroom: activity ideas

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  1. Musical Chairs Plus

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: The Arts; Reading & Language Arts; Math

    Play a modified version of musical chairs where the students not only go around the circle while the music plays and look for a chair when it stops, but they also must move in a way that goes with the music (as led by the teacher or a chosen leader). It may help encourage participation if the music isn't stopped until after everyone is moving in the style of the music. The idea is to have lots of different types of music to represent different moods and styles.

    When the game is done, have the class discuss how to describe the varying types of music. Have them listen again to the music from the game. Ask questions to help them describe the music poetically. For example, ask what color the music reminds them of, or what season or animal fits best with the music. This leads nicely into writing a poem or drawing a picture to represent a piece of music.

    With the descriptive information from the discussion and poem/pictures the class can create a survey to accompany musical segments. Give the survey to the class while they listen and then either assign or have students choose which piece of music they want to graphically depict (in a bar graph, pictograph or similar). Students can create graphs by hand or by using a computer with spreadsheet software.

    Print Resources

    A Treasury of Children's Songs by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Classic Tunes & Tales: Ready-To-Use Music Listening Lessons & Activities for Grades K-8 by Tod F. Cline

    More Recommended Resources


  2. Rubber Band Banjo

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: The Arts; Science & Technology

    Begin by having the class brainstorm about all the different types of sounds that they can think of (this may be a noisy brainstorm) and create a list. Looking through the list pick some types of sound and ask for ideas about what makes sound happen. (You might want to ask the age old question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?)

    Direct the discussion toward speakers on a stereo system: Why do they vibrate and move? After speculation, explain that the vibration is sound waves which put pressure on the air right next to the source of the sound, and then that air puts pressure on the air next to it, and so on. The sound moves sort of like dominoes: each pushing on the next one until the sound reaches your ear which vibrates and then your brain makes sense of what you are hearing. Demonstrate with dominoes and explain that the dominoes are like air molecules: the sound starts with a vibration that puts pressure on the air molecules nearest the vibration, and then travels by pushing into the next air molecules and so on.

    Lead into the lab by asking: So what makes sounds different from one another? What makes a sound loud, soft, high or low? Experiment with stretching a rubber band and plucking it at various tensions. Then stretch the rubber band around an open box (like a cigar box or strong shoe box) and pluck it to see what is different about the sound. Finally, try stretching plastic wrap tightly across the open box and then stretching the rubber band over it and plucking it.

    Conclusion/Debrief of the Lab: The tighter the band, the faster it vibrates, and the higher the pitch sounds (see http://www.philtulga.com/harmonics.html for online animated demo). The reason that the rubber band around the box was louder than just the rubber band alone was because there was more material vibrating. Similarly, the bowl with saran wrap had even more material vibrating.

    Online Resources

    Zoom!: Science Rocks: Guitar:
    http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/guitar.html

    Harmonics on a Vibrating String:
    http://www.philtulga.com/harmonics.html

    String Properties:
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/music/stringa.html#c1

    How Acoustic Guitars Work:
    http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/guitar2.htm

    Think Quest: Soundwaves:
    http://library.thinkquest.org/27948/waves.html

    More Recommended Resources


  3. Do-Re-Math

    Grade Levels: 3-5
    Subjects: The Arts; Math

    Start out by either asking the class what a scale is, or by playing/singing one for them. Tell them we'll be making a human keyboard so they need to line up, each humming or singing the appropriate pitch. Ask for volunteers and let them add themselves to the scale 1 at a time (You may wish to have 2 people or more per note to accommodate for large class sizes, shy students, or notes getting too high). If possible, have them line up on stairs to represent the spaces between the notes.

    Then assign the notes of the scale either numbers (1,2,3) or syllables like Do-Re-Me (a-la Sound of Music) and direct them through the scale several times, up and down. Then direct them through in thirds (1, 3, 5, 7 and end with 8), then go from 1 to 4 and back, 1 to 5 and back and experiment with different intervals. Ask them how many steps are between each note. (Support with keyboard as needed to help them keep their own note.)

    Then change the scale to a minor one. Ask them what changed and why they think it makes the sound so different. Then for fun, you can conduct them by pointing to different students and having them make their pitches in a sequence that creates a well-known tune.

    Back in their desks, show them how to write the notes on a staff, and let them work on notating well-known tunes.

    Using the C scale is easiest because it doesn't require sharps or flats. To teach about sharps and flats, simply line them up again and when they go through the notes, ask if some notes sound closer together than others and find the half steps in the major and minor scales. Major: 3-4 is a half step, as is 7-8. Minor: 2-3 half step, as is 7-8.

    Using Treble Clef, the lines of the staff are the notes: E G B D F (which can be remembered using a mnemonic like "Every Good Boy Does Fine") and the spaces are FACE . Using the Bass Clef, the lines of the staff are G B D F A (Good Boys Do Fine Always) and the spaces are A C E G (All Cars Eat Gas) Using the C scale is easiest because it doesn't require sharps or flats. To teach about sharps and flats, simply line them up again and when they go through the notes, ask if some notes sound closer together than others and find the half steps in the major and minor scales. Major: 3-4 is a half step as is 7-8. Minor: 2-3 half step as is 7-8.

    Online Resources

    Practicespot: Scales:
    http://www.practicespot.com/scaleschef/

    Print Resources

    The Ultimate Scale Book: A Crash Course On Fingerings, Applications, And Guitar by Troy Stetina

    More Recommended Resources


  4. Fascinating Rhythm

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subjects: The Arts; Math

    Begin by listening to some music and clapping/tapping along with the beat. Try clapping different rhythms that go along with the music and have the class copy you. (Example: start with quarter notes, then eighth notes, then off-beats, then trickier rhythms like triplets or dotted eighth-sixteenth notes etc.) Then ask for volunteers to lead the clapping.

    Teach how notes are broken into fractions of the beat using the online resources below. Create different rhythms and notate them by using Noteworthy software. After notating them, the program will play them correctly so that students can see if they got it right, or they can listen and learn.

    Have students create their own rhythms and notate them, then perform them for the class, and teach the rest of the class how to count them out and clap/tap the rhythm. If drums, claves or other percussion instruments are available, they might add to the performance nicely.

    Online Resources

    Jazz: Rhythmic Innovations:
    http://www.pbs.org/jazz/classroom/rhythmicinnovations.htm

    Jazz: Primer on Rhythm:
    http://www.pbs.org/jazz/lounge/101_rhythm.htm

    Fraction Pie Rhythms:
    http://www.philtulga.com/pie.html

    Print Resources

    101 Music Games for Children: Fun and Learning With Rhythm and Song by Ger Storms, Anne Griffiths, and Jerry Storms

    More Recommended Resources


  5. The World of Music

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subjects: The Arts; Social Studies

    Play different types of world music for the class and describe and discuss it. Ask them about what kind of colors fit with the music, what kinds of movement and dance feel appropriate, etc. Have them tap/clap and hum/sing along. Have them guess where in the world the music is from, and then tell them and locate the countries on a map.

    After listening to music from different countries, discuss similarities and differences. Ask them to think of ways to remember where each type of music comes from. Also work with them on learning the locations of the countries on a world map.

    As a culminating activity, play pieces of music for the class and have them try to identify the country of origin by name and find its location on a blank map.

    Online Resources

    Africa: African Arts and Music:
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/africa/tools/music/goals.html

    Buena Vista Social Club:
    http://www.pbs.org/buenavista/

    Frontline/World: The Future of Sound (Iceland):
    http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/iceland/index.html

    Frontline/World: The Exile's Song (Belize):
    http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/belize/index.html

    South American Musical Culture:
    http://ccrma-www.stanford.edu/~mejane/Aspects/aspects.html

    South American Music:
    http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/cultural/music/south_america.shtml

    Treasures of Russian Music:
    http://sangha.net/Russian-Music.htm

    BBC: Echoes of Africa:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/features/africa/

    Print Resources

    World Music: The Rough Guide - Africa Europe and Middle East by Simon Broughton
    World Music Volume 2: The Rough Guide - Latin and North America, Caribean, India, Asia and the Pacific by Simon Broughton and Mark Ellingham
    Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's Peoples by Jeff Todd Titon, Linda Fujie, David Locke, David P. McAllester, and David B. B. Reck

    More Recommended Resources


  6. Mood Music

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: The Arts; Reading & Language Arts; Health & Fitness

    Listen to a broad range of music in the classroom and ask students to describe different emotions and images that are evoked by the music. Ask questions to get them to link each of the 5 senses to a piece of music: how does the melody move? How does the rhythm feel? What colors do you see when you close your eyes and listen to the music, what scenes do you envision? What tastes does it remind you of? Have students create poetry or art to represent chosen pieces of music, or create a staging of a piece of music through dance and/or drama.

    For a project, students could create a spectrum of human emotions, investigating where on the spectrum different things fall or how to organize the spectrum (strong negative to strong positive emotions, for example) and then find music to fit each emotion, thereby creating a musical mood spectrum. This music can be used to transition one from the current mood into a more desirable one.

    Students might also enjoy creating a soundtrack for their own lives. The soundtrack could be music that mirrors their moods and activities or one that is designed to help them cope with different things by elevating or calming their mood. For example: wake up music, traveling music, relaxing music, etc.

    Written analysis of the choices made in either project will lead to a deeper understanding of self and human emotions, as well as the power of music to enhance, and alter our emotions. Further research can be done on music therapy as an additional assignment/project.

    Online Resources

    Prelude Music Therapy:
    http://www.preludemusictherapy.com/

    What is Music Therapy?:
    http://www.musictherapy.org/quotes.html

    Music Therapy Resources:
    http://www.musictherapy.org/listserv.html

    Music Therapy World:
    http://www.musictherapyworld.de/

    More Recommended Resources


  7. The Science of Playing the Guitar

    Grade Level: 6-8
    Subjects: The Arts; Science & Technology

    Begin by playing either a recording or having a live performer play the acoustic guitar. After listening for a bit, stop and ask them to hypothesize about how the guitar can make these sounds. Have a guitar there and at least strum the open strings and ask them to observe closely. Using good scientific observation skills, ask them to record everything that they see, hear and feel when the guitar is strummed.

    As a class, brainstorm about how the guitar works. A 3-column chart on the board may be used to help organize the brainstorm. The first column is headed "I Know," the middle column is headed "I Think," and the last column is headed "I Want to Know." As the class brainstorms, ask them to try and categorize their input into one of these 3 columns.

    After the brainstorm, assign groups to check out the "I Know" column to check accuracy, and then investigate questions from the "I Want to Know" column. Also include vocabulary in their research. Have them define some of the following words and describe what they have to do with sounds made by the guitar: amplitude, wavelength, frequency, harmonic, timbre, resonance, pitch, transverse and longitudinal waves, period, Doppler Effect. After groups are done researching, have them report their findings to the class.

    Online Resources

    How Acoustic Guitars Work:
    http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/guitar2.htm

    Harmonics on a Vibrating String:
    http://www.philtulga.com/harmonics.html

    String Properties:
    http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/music/stringa.html#c1

    Print Resources

    Light, Sound, and Waves Science Fair Projects: Using Sunglasses, Guitars, Cds, and Other Stuff (Physics! Best Science Projects) by Robert Gardner

    More Recommended Resources


  8. Beating Time

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: The Arts; Math

    First teach students how to notate basic rhythms using the online resources listed. Let them clap out some simple rhythms and create some of their own on Noteworthy software. Beyond the basic notation, teach what a time signature is and what it means:

    The time signature looks like a fraction without the line between numerator and denominator and is found at the beginning of a piece of music. The top number indicates how many beats are in one measure of music. The bottom number indicates which type of note is equal to one beat. For example, if the time signature is 4 over 4, that means there are 4 beats in a measure and a quarter note equals one beat.

    Listen to some simple pieces of music: pop music with a loud beat, a march played by a band or orchestra, etc. and conduct while the students clap, tap and/or count along with the music and determine the time signature. Then listen to Peter Gabriel's song "Solsbury Hill", Dave Brubeck's piece "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "In America" from the musical West Side Story. Ask students to beat time to these pieces of music. Have them describe the mood and feeling of these pieces and ask them to try to determine what is happening with the time signature (the time signature changes during different parts of the music).

    Divide students into groups and either assign them one of the 3 pieces or let them choose which piece. They are to listen repeatedly and make a decision on the time signature. After having the teacher check their answer and helping them work on beating time as a conductor, students will make a presentation to the class wherein they conduct and/or count out the beats while the piece of music is played.

    Online Resources

    Jazz: Rhythms Worksheet:
    http://www.pbs.org/jazz/classroom/printerfriendlyrhythms.html

    Jazz: Lounge (Rhythms):
    http://www.pbs.org/jazz/lounge/101_rhythm.htm

    Discovering Dave Brubeck (Downloadable Music):
    http://www.pbs.org/brubeck/theMusic/musicDownload.htm

    Fraction Pie Rhythms:
    http://www.philtulga.com/pie.html

    Practice Spot: Rhythm Gym:
    http://www.practicespot.com/rhythmgym.phtml?t=75

    More Recommended Resources


  9. Generation Gap

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: The Arts; Reading & Language Arts; Social Studies

    Begin by brainstorming what kinds of music the students like, what kinds of music they think their parents like, and what kinds of music they think their grandparents like. Compare and contrast the lists, then ask students what role music plays in their lives (for example, how many hours per day are spent listening to music? What function does that music serve?) Then ask them to speculate how much their parents and grandparents listen to music and what function is serves in their lives (both now and when they were young).

    Then have students survey their peer group, people from their parents' generation and people from their grandparents' generation about what music they listen/ed to, how much music they listen/ed to, when they listen/ed to it, etc. Have students create a musical time line on a CD with pieces to represent the time periods from when their grandparents were young to the present day. Students should write liner notes to explain the pieces, cite their sources, and compare and contrast the music. In addition, students can write an essay comparing the function of music in today's society compared with that of the past.

    Online Resources

    Broadway: The American Musical:
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/broadway

    Jazz:
    http://www.pbs.org/jazz

    The Blues:
    http://www.pbs.org/theblues

    American Roots Music:
    http://www.pbs.org/americanrootsmusic

    American Masters: Music:
    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/database_music.html

    More Recommended Resources

Published: October 2004