Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Singing, (playing, and writing) the blues

Hello! This is Tanya from sunny Colorado. Yes, while the East coast just dodged a huge snowstorm, we've had a week of temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The weather predictors have told us we'll have snow every day next week. As they say around here: f you don't like the weather in Colorado just wait fifteen minutes!

Let's talk about the blues. In my district's music curriculum the blues are introduced in 5th grade and continued in 6th grade. In 6th grade I expand our unit to include jazz and a little rock and roll. The blues genre and form are so influential in american music and it's hard to know where to start. It's even more challenging to decide what to leave out. Here are the blues essentials I've used when introducing the blues as a genre and a form. For today's post I'm focusing on the AAB lyric form of basic blues. (I plan to discuss teaching the 12 bar blues harmonic form on a later blog post!)

Listening (and watching)
I would love to spend many entire class periods just introducing kids to various recordings of blues masters. Now that YouTube is around there are several documentaries and videos worth showing. 
The Martin Scorsese produced 2003 seven part documentary, The Blues, is an excellent starting point. The first film in the series, Feel Like Going Home was directed by Scorsese. It is an hour and twenty minutes long, (I don't show the entire film.) Don't miss the importance of John and Alan Lomax's collection (in the first five minutes,) the music of Lead Belly, and Muddy Waters' Rolling Stone (24:49-26:45)
To get the feel of the AAB vocal form, we listen to and sing along with the following recordings:

Good Morning Blues - Lead Belly
Stormy Monday Blues - T-Bone Walker
Love Me Like a Man - Bonnie Raitt
Sweet Home Chicago - Eric Clapton
Hound Dog - Elvis Presley

Lyric Form: AAB
I've found it best to first focus on the form of the lyrics.

Students right away understand the AAB lyrical form after hearing and singing a few blues songs. 

Good morning blues, how are you.
Good morning blues, how are you.
I'm doing all right, good morning, how do you do?
-       Good Morning Blues by Leadbelly

Process for discovering and singing AAB blues lyrics 

1.    Listen to Leadbelly recording while reading lyrics.
2.    Sing along with Leadbelly, making sure to wait/rest 8 beats between lines.
3.    Class observations regarding lyric pattern.
Lead students to recognize:
·      Lines 1 and 2 are the same
·      Line 3 is different and the last word rhymes with the last word of the first 2 lines
4.    Label as AAB form
5.    Listen to and sing other AAB lyrics (Stormy Monday, Joe Turner’s Blues, Crossroads, etc.)

Write verses in AAB form

Students enjoy writing their own blues lyrics but often have trouble coming up with that 
first line. For their first verse I provide sentence strips with a first line I wrote if they want to borrow an initial idea.

Here are some 1st lines my students have started with.
(Notice the easy-to-rhyme with ending words!)
·      Look out that window at the rain pouring down.
·      Each night I lay down but I can’t sleep.
·      If you see me walking down the street.
·      Some folks have everything they need.
·      I ain’t got no diamonds, I ain’t got no gold.
·      I think about the good times I’ve had.
·      What a dream I had last night.
·      I have to say what I’ve got on my mind.
·      Oh everyday I have the blues.
·      I try to do right and do what’s best.
·      My friends tell me I’ve been a fool.
·      Every day I feel so low.

 Students work in partners or alone to complete four to six verses.
That first verse is a jump-start that inspires them to write more verses but they are 
welcome to write their own first lines.
After completing their lyrics each class has a blues showcase during music
where they sing their blues for the rest of the class. It's very interesting to hear the 
students' lyrics and get a glimpse into their daily worries. 
Some students write goofy verses, ("Oh, I'm so mad, the aliens took me away!"), 
others really vent about real life frustrations, ("I hate my math homework, why do 
we have so much?") 

This is a simple blues introduction as we start soaking up a rich musical style 
and tradition in music class. 

What are your Blues basics?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Assessment Ideas to Use Tomorrow!

Assessment……a necessary evil but could it be more?  Hi, this is Karla from CMajorLearning.  As a veteran teacher of over 20 years, I've seem many trends come and go.  Some have been welcome changes that have come and stayed, some have come and gone quickly for good reason and others are here to stay and we, as teachers, not the policy makers, have to make the best of the situation.  This is how I view the current trends in assessment and data collection.

As a bit of a numbers geek, I have actually found gathering data formally and using this information to drive my instruction a pretty easy transition…..I think that Kodály inspired teaching lends itself to data collection with only a minor changes to our teaching habits and patterns.

We are constatnly watching, listening and observing our students during class, now we are asked to make it more formal by collecting data.  So how do we make that happen in our classrooms on a daily basis without completely going insane?  Well, here are a few ideas that have worked for me and I hope will work for you!  They are K-2 focused because that is what I teach, but I believe some can be adapted/amended to work with older grades.

Start with games and activities
Your students are already making music and actively engaged in class, now find a way to get some hard data out of all that music making.  I have found success with the following:
1.  Throne Game - I'm not even sure where I learned this fun little ditty but it is a real winner (could have been Sandy Mathias or Cindy Kinser).  The game is very simple - the king/queen (the teacher) begins by singing a greeting ("good day first grade" on s m ss m or whatever pattern/melodic element you are working on) to the people in her kingdom (the class) and everyone sings back (my students sing "good day Mrs. C" on s m ss m).  Do this several times going from large to small groups (use colors, types of clothes etc).  Then go to individual students, when the student answers they have to move to either the dungeon (if their singing voice is too low), the bell tower (if their singing voice is too high) or the throne (if their singing voice is just right).  (I have these placed assigned in my classroom before we begin the game so the students know just what to do.) If they use their speaking voice they usually go to the dungeon but that is up to you.  The goal of the 'game' is to get everyone on the throne. Use the students placement in the castle as data, either formative or summative.  I place a + (bell tower), - (dungeon) or √ (throne) on my recoding sheet and assign points if I am taking a formal assessment.  I use the following scale because it works for me, use what works for you!  3 for throne, 2 for bell tower or dungeon, 1 for speaking voice, 0 for not responding.

2.  Copy Cat  - I learned this while attending a Midwest Kodály Music Educators of America Divisional Conference many years back from Theresa Witt. This ones assess steady beat.  Choose a recorded piece of music with a clear and constant steady beat (I pick from the Rhythmically Moving cd's - there are so many great recordings in that 9 cd set!) Have a 'copy cat' chair at the front of the room. Each students gets to sit in the chair and put the heartbeat somewhere on their body and the class has to copy it.  Students stay in the copy cat chair until the teacher gives them a signal to return to their seat, I play a resonator bell.  The next student in line comes to the chair and places the heartbeat somewhere else on their body for the class to copy.  I use to assess my students very quickly and easily.  If they keep the steady beat the get 3 points; if they keep the steady beat with assistance from me, they get 2 points; if they cannot keep the steady beat with assistance, they receive 1 point; and if they do nothing they get 0 points.

3.  Koosh Ball Games - There are so many fantastic interactive whiteboard games available and my students LOVE to play them.  Just go to TpT and search 'koosh ball' and you fill find a game for just about anything your heart desires - melodic or rhythmic!  As the students take their turn, I write down there score on my recording sheet.  
5 points - student reads pattern unassisted with steady beat and names (ta/ti-ti or sol/mi, etc)
4 points - student reads pattern unassisted with correct names but not a steady beat (or reverse)
3 points - student reads pattern with correct names and beat but is assisted by the teacher
2 points - with assistance, student is unable to read the pattern with steady beat and names
1 point - student gives up or does not attempt

Another more formal way to assess that many of us use already are worksheets.  There are many different types available or you can create your own for exactly what you are looking for.  I have noticed that just doing a worksheet can be kind of 'boring' for the kids but adding just a little bit of a twist makes it a whole new experience for them!

Here are a few of my favorites:

1.  Dab of Music Fun by Aileen Miracle

I cannot wait to use this set of no prep printables for so many different assessments in my classroom.  They are in my lesson plans for this week and I know that the students will enjoy using the dabbers AND I will get some really good data from their work!

2.  Listening Gylphs by Jena Hudson

These glyphs have been a fantastic resource for me this school year (she has many themes available).  The students listen to a piece of music (you pick but there are suggested works that fit well), and based on what they hear, they color the picture with certain colors.  My students have LOVED these and more importantly, I have learned that many do not hear certain concepts in recorded music even if they can identify it during our folks songs.  In reviewing the grades or data from these worksheets, it was brought to my attention a deficit in my teaching and relating to real world examples.  I have adjusted my instruction and am happy to report that the students have improved in this area.  It was not their fault buy my own because I was not teaching the best way possible.  A perfect example of the assessment driving my instruction - I learned that I needed to improve my teaching and when I reflected on it and made some changes, the students learning improved!

3.  Write the Room - this is a well used activity in general ed classroom and I have made it into a music room activity.  Initially, the activity may seem very simple but put into practice I have observed and heard from those that have tried it as well that there is soooooo much more going on as the students are completing the work. 

In this activity, flashcards are posted around the room and students are given a recording sheet, clipboard and pencil.  They must move about the room and write down the rhythms in the correct box on their recording sheet.  The first time I did this with my 2nd graders, the room was completely silent because they were all searching for the flashcards so diligently.  It was even better at the end of class when I had a student say to me, "That was the best game EVER!".  Now, it was neat to see the students working so hard but what was really telling was the data I gained from their completed worksheets.  I could see in writing which students could place the rhythm in the correct box and write it neatly and clearly, completing the entire pattern, check their writing skills as well as just observe how they work on such tasks.  During the next music class, we did a think/pair/share activity in partners that was another opportunity for me to observe and informally assess my students rhythm reading.

Formal Assessments
Of course you cannot leave out the formal assessments that are given in your classes/districts.  This includes any pretest and post-testing you may be doing as well as the assessments used for the SLO (student learning objectives) that are now tied to our evaluations (at least here in Ohio).  

If you are interested in this topic (or really anything else), I encourage you to attend the Organization of American Kodály Educators National Conference from March 19-22, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN.  Myself along with Aileen Miracle, Lenny Davis, Sarah Oyler and Mike McBride will be presenting a panel discussion on SLO's facilitated by Brent Gault.   You can find more information about the conference by clicking the picture.  There are sooooooooo many amazing session planned - everyone should be there!

What are your favorite assessment games/activities or worksheets? I would LOVE to hear from you!!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Solfège and Taylor Swift? Why not?

Hi all!  Christopher here.

Over my winter vacation, my 11-year-old and I road-tripped to see extended family, spending 16 hours in the car over a number of days.  When he was young, we listened to a lot of Jill Trinka and Pete Seeger, but now that he’s hit the tween years, we’ve definitely moved towards pop music.  Lots of Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Beyonce, Sam Smith, and Arianna Grande in the car these days….

As a Kodály-inspired music teacher, I stress folk musics from the US and around the world.  For the most part, my students like the songs and games we do, but I occasionally get questions like, “Why don’t we ever sing any songs that we know?” It’s a good question, I think, one that warrants consideration.  I’ve always told them that they can hear that music on their own, and that an important part of my job is to expose them to new musics.  Which is true.

But I don’t think it’s completely true.  Pop music is part of their lives, and sometimes I grow concerned that if we don’t include this repertoire in some capacity in our classrooms, the music that we do will be considered “school music,” which the kids will see as different than “real music.”  And it seems to me that many of those skills addressed in Kodály-inspired classrooms can be addressed through a variety of repertoire.

So, in an attempt to bridge pop music and music skills, I decided to connect music literacy  and Taylor Swift.  T.S. 1989 is her new album, and it is on constant playlist around my house.  There are a lot of other musical skills that you can address with pop music, but for this post, I'm going to focus on solfège.  

On my family trip, I solfège-d and handsign-ed Taylor’s latest releases, activities that my son regarded with raised eyebrows and obvious disdain.  (Dork alert: I actually often try to solfège along with pop music when I’m out for a run.  Seriously, it helps keep my solfège skills up, particularly with all those songs in minor keys.  My son rolls his eyes at that one, too.)  This time, I thought about how the material might work in my classroom.

Why I like this album overall:
(1) First of all, her songs have a lot of repetition.  Like so much pop music.  Verse-refrain-verse-refrain-bridge-refrain-refrain: If it’s a good refrain, it gives you many times to practice it.  Within her melodic lines, there are a lot of repeated notes, as well, which makes it easier.  When thinking about doing this in class, I want the kids to practice solfège skills, but I don’t want to make it so hard that they don’t have fun while doing it – that’s really the main point.
(2) Second, the vocal range of a lot of Taylor’s songs on this album is pretty small (notice how she and I are now on a first-name basis?  Sometimes, I just refer to her as TS, her initials, because we’re getting to know each other pretty well).  Arianna Grande and Beyonce are much more virtuosic, and practically, that would be harder for kids to do.  Taylor's tessitura works for the most part, as well.
(3) Swooping is a given in pop music, but TS doesn’t do it as much as a lot of pop singers.  It’s hard to sing solfège where there are all those different notes in there.
(4) Most of her music falls in major keys.  So much pop music is in minor, and while my older kids sing in la-based minor, it’s more difficult for them.  I don’t want this experience to be too difficult.

Here are some of the songs that I came up with:

Why I like it:

-       Like, OMG, the song is so fun!!! (Insert emoticons here).  For real, it is one seriously catchy tune.
-       Totally works to practice fa because:
  1.  The tune opens with a lot of repeated notes on do, allowing the kids to start with a really clear sense of the tonal center; 
  2.  The first time fa happens is mid-way through the chorus, so they’ve had a ton of time to practice the more well-known solfège notes; 
  3.  The text right before the first fa is “It’s a new soundtrack” -- kind of like fa is a new note; 
  4.  The first fa occurs on the downbeat of a measure, which makes it pop out.  Or at least pop out more than the way that fa often operates, as a passing tone.
- Even though my focus is fa, the rhythms are pretty simple (rare for so much popular music, which tends to have super-complex rhythms).  So switching between rhythm words and solfège, for example, is definitely doable.

Potential problems:
-       Taylor swoops a bit, although not a ton.  It happens in the chorus.   I plan to simply address it with the students: I’ll demonstrate one phrase where she swoops, one where she doesn’t, and have them differentiate.  If they sing just mi while swooping between re and mi, I think I’ll just note it, and move on.

How I’m considering using it:
-       After learning fa (next month), I’ll have them read my hand signs that will lead to the song; then play the song, ask them where else they heard it.  Or:
-       Have them learn the song from notation, fairly late in their practice.  Then have them sing along with the recording.   

The second of this album’s number one hits!  I’m sure there will be soooooo many more!!!  Insert more emoticons here.

One of the issues with pop music is the language that can crop up.  Way too much sex.  Way too much drugs.  Way too much objectification of women.  (Incidentally, there are also a fair number of women-power songs out there – Cher’s Woman’s World is a super-fun dance number; Lily Allen’s Hard out Here pokes fun at the different expectations of male and female pop stars.)  Taylor is pretty clean, but there are still lyrics on the album that I don’t think are great for the classroom.  In fact, most of the songs have textual content that I don’t want to use.  Her latest number one hit, Blank Space, isn’t horrible – but you might not want to use it at the elementary level because of these lyrics:

-       “Got a long list of ex-lovers” (not “starbucks lovers,” which is what I thought it was for the longest time…)
-       “I could show you incredible things.”

Again, they really aren’t bad.  But personally, I think they’re better for older students.

Why I like it:
-       Great tune.  Always, start with the music!
-       Like Welcome to New York, it has a LOT of repeated notes on do in the opening section, really allowing the listener to get a solid sense of the tonality.
-       Challenging intervals: fa,-do and so,-mi.  In the end of each verse, the patterns repeat three times in succession, really allowing that interval to get in your head.

Potential problems: 
-       Text.  See above.
-       More swooping than Welcome to New York, particularly in the chorus.  Not enough so that it’s not doable, but something to discuss with the students.
-       The range is pretty big, a tenth. Definitely doable, but you’ve got to take that into consideration.
-       The rhythm is much more complex than Welcome to New York – like so much pop music.  Although I’ve notated the rhythm here, I would probably just put the solfège syllables on the board, without the rhythm at all.  The rhythm just makes it more complicated.

I haven’t notated all the songs on the album, but other songs that can work to practice solfège skills:

Why I like it:
-       A catchy dance tune, this was the first number 1 hit from the album.  Part of the point of doing pop music is to give our students something that they know, and it seems like just about everyone knows this one.
-       It is in extended pentatonic!  For older beginners in a choir setting, it could serve as a solid piece to give them experience with do, re, mi, so, and la.  (Towards the end, there’s a fa, but it’s incidental).
-       The tonal center solidly centers on do; you can really feel the tonic.

Potential problems:
-       The relatively fast tempo and lack of repeated notes makes it more difficult than the other two songs, above.
-       The range is pretty large, about an octave and a half.
-       Text: Some of it is mildly problematic, like “I go on too many dates.”  Not a big deal, depending on your context.

Why I like it:
-       This is a fantastic song to practice low ti.  The chorus repeats the same pattern over and over: re-mi-do-ti,-do.
-       Before you get to the low ti, there is a whole verse of patterns of do-do-do-la,.  Those two notes really get into your head before you hear the first low ti, about a minute into the song.

Potential problems:
-       The main motif in the chorus has some sliding between re and mi.
-       The text is about a breakup and waiting to get back together.  Not super-problematic, but it may be that with elementary students you don’t want to sing songs about dating. 

Really, the songs on the album are almost all pretty accessible.  The text is often a mild issue, one that I want to consider carefully. But the music itself is pretty easy.

If you have other pop songs that you’ve used in the classroom recently, please post them below.

Taylor and I say: Rock on, everyone!