Beyond the "PPP". . . . Readiness Skills

Hi everyone!  Amy here from Music a la Abbott.  Hurray for summer!  A time for rest, relaxation, rejuvenation and refocusing.  For many of you it's also a time for professional development, which hopefully is rejuvenating and fun!  I'm gearing up to teach level 2 Kodály at the Colorado Kodály Institute at Colorado State University and through this process am reviewing and refining the way I teach the three PPP's for 2nd and 3rd grade concepts.  This year I'm requiring a new pedagogy book, written by my pedagogy teacher, Susan Brumfield.  She already has a Song book 1 published of the "First We Sing" Series but this is her Teacher Book:
While reading through it she mentions that there's an additional step to the PPP process (which, if you're not a Kodály teacher or are not familiar with "PPP", it stands for Prepare, Present, Practice), which she says is assessment.  I agree with this one hundred percent.  Once your students have the foundation of some musical knowledge and vocabulary down you will use assessment to determine if they aurally, visually and kinesthetically understand and can demonstrate the musical vocabulary for the critical attributes of a specific musical element. This assessment process actually serves another purpose: to let you know if they are ready to move onto the next musical element in your sequence.  For instance, if you teach so-mi as your first melodic element, your assessment of their knowledge of so-mi will let you know if you are ready to move onto the next melodic element, which in my sequence is la.  Or, if you teach mi-re-do first, you will use your assessment to check for understanding and mastery but also if you're ready to move onto the next melodic element.

This assessment then becomes part of another stage that is not included in the "PPP", which I know Susan refers to as readiness skills.  With whatever musical concept (or skill)  you are teaching you need to make sure that the students have the readiness skills or necessary knowledge to start preparing for that musical element.  

Let's go through a couple different examples:

1.  Here's a rhythmic example: ta ti-ti (or quarter note and two eighth notes).

This is the first rhythmic element that I teach and I usually teach it in the fall of first grade.  Christopher just wrote a BEAUTIFUL post on annual planning and I LOVE that he mentions in that post that your yearly plan will change every year.  Why?  Because your kids change!  That's why I say I usually teach it in the fall, around the beginning of October.  How do I know when my students will be ready for ta ti-ti?  Well, I have to check their readiness skills.  A lot of their readiness skills are dependent on different variables.
  1. Did my students have music in kindergarten?  Next year, four out of the six kindergarten classes last year had music 2-3 days out of the week (we had 4 full day kindergarten classes which regularly had music 2-3 times a week.  We also had two half day kindergarten classes that I tried to pull during my lunch and planning times once a week. . . the main reason? So their readiness skills for first grade concepts will be on the same level).
  2. How much do they remember from kindergarten?
  3. How many new students are there?
  4. How's the classroom chemistry?  Are the students working well together from the get-go or are we having to work on music room expectations. . . this is something that trumps all musical skill preparation.  If they don't know the music room expectations the rest of the year will be a battle.  And that's one I don't want to fight.

So in my situation 2/3 of my students have a lot of musical experience while the other third had some musical experience with comparatives that are imperative for laying the ground work for ta ti-ti.
From here I need to look at fast can we review kindergarten comparatives and how quickly can that 1/3 of my kiddos that didn't have music as often catch up.  Again, there are variables: the students are more mature now than they were last year so we can move a little faster.  But it's important that we don't move too fast as we want a strong foundation laid.  So, the first month or so will be A LOT of steady beat songs and games.  Then we'll start to add some "do what I do" games in which I perform the rhythm and they do it along with me, without labeling it "the words" or "rhythm".  Then after that, switching between the two: keeping a steady beat and "do what I do."  Within this I try to double dip by using some so-mi songs in which I can do steady beat or rhythm patterns with body signs so I subconsciously am having them lay some foundational work for so-mi. . . . that we will get to around February! :)

Once they can keep a steady beat (with OUT me banging the beat for them) and once we label "the way the words go" (AND they can do it with OUT me) then we draw attention to how the two are different.  I can not emphasize how important the student independence piece is here.  If the teacher is banging the beat on their legs and that's the only way the class can keep a steady beat they won't be able to move on.  John Feierabend says "sing for your students, not with your students" and it's so important that we apply this statement to all music skills in our classrooms.  The students are the ones that should be doing the work and we need to step back and let them be the music makers.  Sorry for the soapbox, back to beat vs. "the way the words go": In order to move on they have to be able to describe that when we keep the beat it is steady and does not change and that when we clap "the way the words go" it matches the words and it's not steady (or in other words, that it changes).

From there, we have to move onto identifying some sounds as long and some as short: this is one of the main critical attributes of ta  and ti-ti: one sound is long and two sounds are short.  Once they can start to identify long and short sounds AND they can keep a steady beat on their own we can start to compare the long and short sounds to the beat.  The students will start by identifying one sound on a beat and two sounds on a beat.  From there, they must derive that the one sound on one beat is a long sound and that two sounds on one beat are two short sounds.  Once they can do this we can move onto the preparation stage of teaching ta ti-ti.  It seems like a lot and it seems like it's going to take a lot of time, but really, if it's the first rhythmic element the students learn the foundation HAS to be strong.  

This same thought process goes for all the rhythmic elements but more and more levels are added to it.  We talk about this in level 2 Kodály a lot: what are the critical attributes of the element and what are the skills that the students have to have in order to successfully learn about that rhythmic element?  This is their readiness skills.

2.  Here's a melodic example: so-mi
So, let's look at the critical attributes of so-mi: they are two notes, one is "high" and one is "low".  Within that they are a "skip" away from each other.  So, readiness skills:

  1. They have to be able to identify the difference between high and low sounds that are non-singing, or in other words, label sounds as "high" or "low".  Within this is a lot of vocal exploration of animal sounds, environmental sounds and other means of vocal exploration
  2. They have to be able to tell the difference between non-singing and singing.  Why is this important?  They are going to have to be able to identify a minor 3rd interval.  There has to be an awareness that singing is related to pitch.  I don't say that to my students, but through singing they demonstrate that they hear and can produce different pitches.
  3. They have to be able to identify high and low sounds that are related to pitch and singing.  This starts with extreme examples. "Higher Than a House" is a great example of a song to prepare and teach this as the high and low sounds are an octave apart.  Once they can identify high and low sounds that are an octavo apart, I start to choose literature that gradually begins to narrow that interval until we get down to that lovely minor third interval.
  4. They need to be able to aurally discriminate higher and lower sounds of a minor 3rd.
  5. They need to be able to show spatial relationship for high and low (minor third)
  6. They need to know the musical staff and that the difference between notes "on a line" and "in a space".
These are just a couple of examples of early readiness skills.  For me, once you have these two first elements learned their assessments will pave the way for knowing your students readiness skills for their next melodic or rhythmic element.

It's also important to remember that sequencing and readiness skills apply to many other musical elements and skills: dance, instrument playing, movement, expressive element, composition, improvisation, dictation, notation. etc..  With whatever you're teaching, you always need to ask: what to my students need to know and what skills do they need in order to successfully learn this skill or element.

I hope this was a little summer food for thought for you and that you are finding a lot of time for the things you enjoy to do this summer!

Have a GREAT July!


  1. Thanks for a great post Amy! I love that you quoted Feierabend. I went to one of his sessions at conference this year and it was wonderful. One of my favorite thoughts from him was how, even singing intervals while students are lining up, can make a huge impact. As he put it, "It's like putting a nickel in the piggy bank". It fits perfectly with our fast-paced classes, keeping in mind that every moment counts.

  2. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog!!! Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I always 'take away' a lot to think about! (I will be sharing this post with my music teacher friends! Thank you for some great professional development tonight!!!


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