How Do I Keep Them Singing?

Hello, this is Lindsay Jervis, from Pursuit of Joyfulness and Lindsay's Kodaly Inspired Classroom (on facebook).

“The most important thing is to actualize the instinctive love of the child for singing and playing, to realize the changing of his moods through the songs, his feelings, his experiences. . . in other words, to bring about the miracle of music.”  (Adám, in The Kodály Concept, 1966, p. 2) 

But HOW do we keep them singing as they get older?

I really do believe that the love of music and singing must be something that is instilled from a very young age (most likely before they even enter our classrooms) because of the exposure to music and their musical experience in the home, but that being said, I do believe what we do once them come to elementary school can have a profound impact on what they think of music and music class and whether they WANT to continue in music as they go on through schooling and life.

With the little ones, I have always felt this comes easy. Song, stories, and play are so much a part of what they love to do.

With the old grades (I'm thinking 3rd-5th), you have to carefully select music, games, and activities that have just the right amount of challenge to peak their interest, keep them engaged, and meet their skill level without becoming too difficult that they give up and become frustrated.

In my psychology of Music Ed class last semester we talked about the inverted U - as the challenge goes up, the performance and enjoyment of the students goes up until they reach  their skill peak. After that peak, students feel stress, anxiety and give up on the task or "think it's stupid". 

This is where it is really important to know where your kids are at and select appropriate songs for them. The songs cannot be too babyish (even if the students really are beginners and need to practice things like steady beat and basic rhythm or tonal patterns). 

I still really consider my older students to be older beginners. I started at my school three years ago and my kids had NO method of reading rhythms or pitches when I got there, so that coupled with my maternity leave my 2nd year there, and they are still not quite up to speed, but that is ok. It is better to go at the pace of the students and do developmentally appropriate literature than push ahead for the sake of staying "on grade level". 

Here are some songs and games that I have done with my students. In some of these cases, we have used them to isolate rhythm or melodic concepts, but some we have used purely for the joy they bring students while participating. If you find a song that students can't wait to sing/play again- it's a GEM! Hang onto it!

You know this one is a gem when I have 5th graders still request it every time they earn a free day. The game is very simple. Students are seated in a circle with their hands behind their back. One student is "it". I call it the "detective" with the older kids and for some reason that is cooler than "it". The first time we play I go around the outside of the circle with a key hidden in my hand. I hide the key in someone's hands. Once I have made it around the circle once, I stop and the detective gets three guesses to try to figure out where the key is. This song is great for older beginners because of the easy rhythms, it is also great for teaching re. With my older beginners I started melody with mi re do instead of sol-mi. Pre-made visuals for this song available here.

This song is great for teaching sixteenth notes and the game is a lot of fun. Set up students in a double circle. Inside circle will move clockwise, outside circle will move counterclockwise during the song. Select two chicken farmers. They stand facing away from the circle on opposite sides of the circle. All students in the circles join hands and teacher selects one "window" in each circle. On the last word of the song (I only use verse 1 when playing the game), the selected partners hold their arms up to create a window. The two farmers must race, only going through the "open windows" to get to the middle. I usually borrow a rubber chicken from my PE teacher to throw in the middle. The kids think it is hilarious. 

This play party is played in longways sets with two lines facing each other (typically one line of boys and one line of girls). Verse 1, the first girl skips around both lines and back to her place. Verse 2, "pretty little Susie skips around set and boys line follows until all are back in their places. Verse 3, cast off, or "peel the banana", head couple forms an arch at the bottom of the set and everyone goes under the arch and the song starts over with a new head couple. Use when preparing and practicing tiri-tiri. If you would like visuals and assessment tools like the one below for this song, you can find some here.

I use this song when preparing and practicing tiri-ti. I have one person travel around the circle with two envelopes. Ones says "Ida Red" the other says "Ida Blue".  Inside each envelope is an action like crawl, skip, gallop, twirl, crabwalk, hop on one foot, etc. On the last word of the song, the person with the envelopes stops between the two closest people and hands an envelope to each. They take out one card then when I say go, they race around the circle performing that action. If I feel one has an unfair advantage (like crab walk vs. run), I can make one go around twice. The winner gets to be "it" and the game resumes.

This one is great for low la!

 The following two songs were a lot of fun for my fifth grades to create an arrangement of for our Fall Program last year. We used these plus "Who Has Seen the Wind" and added ostinato patterns and added Orff instruments. Each class was responsible for arranging how they wanted to perform the song. They might have chosen to singing sing just the ostinato, then add the melody, then sing and play on barred instruments, and then sing a capella as they traded spots with the next class who was moving onto the barred instruments. It was different for each class and it allowed for them to take something that we were working on in class, take ownership and polish it so that it was something we could present to parents.

I used Mamalama strictly for the joy of it last year. It was a great "ice breaker" game for back to school time. My kids loved the challenge of learning the words. I had one girl nail it the first week, which was really cool. You could use this in prepping for fa but it is probably not one that I would use to present fa.

This is another one that was played for the joy of it. My kids aren't to low ti yet and the syncopated rhythms are a bit above my kids, but they still need to sing and play this hand clapping game because it is fun. 
Here's a video of the hand clapping game:


  1. I love these games, but I just started my first year in a new classroom... and I have no space. I can get Kindergarten and sometimes first grade into a comfortable circle, but any student bigger than that is going to be squished. I also do not have a budget for instruments and I inherited quite a small collection (rhythm sticks, triangles, 2 hand drums, and 3 broken maracas). Do you happen to have any suggestions as to how I can adapt some of these games for my students? I love having them moving, but it is difficult in such a tight space.

  2. I'm a first year teacher at a k-6 school that hasn't music in many years. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to introduce solfege to the older grades without it "being stupid and boring" in their eyes. This post was very helpful! Thank you!


Back to Top