When I first started teaching, the lower grades were my favorite to teach. I loved the singing games that they provide and being a first year teacher, they had easier concepts to teach. I still love the lower grades but the longer I teach, the more adoration and love I have for teaching 4th and 5th graders and the musical concepts that are applicable to those grade levels.
One concept that I often overlook or don't spend enough time on is meter, specifically mixed-meter. I'm reminded of this particularly at this time of the year as I'm watching my 5th graders transition into the middle schoolers that they will be next year. In addition to making sure they're familiar with treble and bass clef, with the key signatures of C, F and G, are familiar with 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8 meters I also want them to understand that meters can change within one song. A great example of this is the song "Little Swallow." If you're not familiar with this song, here it is:
I love that the meter changes every measure, alternating between 3/4 and 2/4 meters. It adds a level of predictability which leads to the students being able to successfully derive the meter changes. The rhythmic and melodic elements are completely accessible to them; in my sequence all of these specific concepts are taught in 3rd grade and reinforced constantly after that. I prepare my students to derive the meter changes by first having them experience, sing and play the following stick passing game:
Formation: seated circle with all students having two sticks.
On the ¾ measures, the pattern is:
Beat 1: pick up both sticks
Beat 2: click both sticks together
Beat 3: pass both sticks
On the 2/4 measures, the pattern is:
Beat 1: pick up both sticks
Beat 2: pass both sticks
After the students are familiar with the song & game we then read the song, written on the staff, without barlines. With the actions as an experience they can draw on, it's pretty easy for them to derive the strong beats of the song and add the barlines. This leads to my presentation lesson of mixed-meter, with the students discovering that the amount of beats per measure changes every measure. From that discovery, they can then add the correct time signatures to each measure.
The students love this song and the stick passing game that goes with it. To add an additional element to the game, you can make it an elimination game in which one set of sticks is a different color. The student with that set of sticks at the end of the song is "out." I like to keep all students involved in the activity so once a student is "out" they either start a new circle or can move to an instrument. There is an Orff accompaniment that you can find in the book, “Encore!” by Kriske/Delelles.