Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dogs, Lambs, and Little Beethovens - 1st Grade Composers

This is the 2nd part about how I teach first grade students to notate and compose using a single line staff.

In the first class, all of the students learned to play, read, and notate "Hot Cross Buns".  And they can explain it to you.  Ask the students to tell you how to notate the music as if you are a brand new student.  You can clear up any misconceptions from the last class this way.  But what to do next?

Day 2 - I give them a sheet of paper with a song they have never heard before and tell them to figure it out.  The song is "Bow Wow Wow" (lyrics - "Bow wow wow.  Whose dog art thou?  Little Tommy Tucker's dog.  Bow wow wow".)  I have notated the first, second, and fourth phrases, leaving a rectangle in the middle that says "Little Tommy Tucker's dog" that I tell them not to play.  Sing the notes using low/middle/high, Do/Re/Mi, and C/D/E.  The hardest part for them will be skipping from Do to Mi at the beginning.  Great chance to talk about steps and skips.  Then send them off to xylophones to play it.
Bow Wow Wow

After they can play it successfully, sing the song together again.  But this time, teach them a dance to go with it - here's what we do:
Bow Wow Wow - stomp stomp stomp
Whose dog art thou - pat legs 4x
Little Tommy Tucker's Dog - wring the dishrag (hold partner's hands and turn back to back in a circle without letting go of hands)
Bow Wow Wow - head, shoulders, hips (Mi/Re/Do)

At the end, ask the students to tell a partner and tell you how they figured out how to play Bow Wow Wow on the xylophone.  Self-reflection is good fit with this unit because of the critical thinking involved.

Day 3 - The next class, let the students compose their own melody - make them into Little Beethovens.  Give them the black strips of paper from Hot Cross Buns (to be the single-staff line) and about 12 little circles for notes (all the same color this time).  The kids will want to play the xylophone right away.  Teach them to notate first and then play what they notate.  They can always change it, but it will be easier to notate first, then play.

After composing with manipulatives, the hard part here it to have students write down on a piece of paper what they created with manipulatives.  Give students a legal size piece of paper with a single black line across it.  Make sure they do not squash notes together to create chords instead of melodies.  Students can play each other's melodies if there is time, or the teacher can demonstrate a few in front of the class.

Day 4 - Another day, give the students a copy of "Mary Had a Little Lamb", but do not tell them what the title is.  One of the skills here is that Mary Had a Little Lamb is long enough that you will have to split it up into two lines of notation - remind students that reading music is like reading a book - you have to go from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line.  At this point, the students should be able to look at a single line staff and tell you the letters they should play.  In fact, they should be able to sing the letters, but don't let them sing it right now - they'll figure out the song!  Just read the letters together.
Mary Had a Little Lamb

Also, it is important to teach students how to sit next to each other with the music facing them (I write the word "top" on the sheet so that students know which way it goes).  Just last week I did this lesson with three classes - one class got it almost right away, and the other two classes took about 15 minutes.  It seemed that they could play it well, but just couldn't put the tune together in their mind to come up with a title.

Ideas for Extension - Depending how much more time you have, here are a few other things I have done in the past with this unit.  Not sure what I'll do this year, since time is running out.
• Continue finding more Do/Re/Mi songs for xylophones
• Try playing the songs on boomwhackers
• Have students try the songs starting on other notes, exploring major/minor keys
• Record students playing their original compositions from Day 3 in Garageband or Voicethread and publish to classroom website.
• Transfer students original compositions into standard notation using software or an app to give students a professional looking copy of their song.

I have done this unit for a few years now - it is one of those units the kids love and learn so much at the same time.  If you have suggestions or questions, let me know!

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