Solfa and Absolute Pitch Blocks

 Well, I "think" I have an original idea with this, but who knows.  Since school has started I feel stretched pretty thin between teaching, having a kindergartner (that attends my school), spending time with my two year old, planning a birthday party for my kindergartner and trying to get my extra-curricular choir, drum ensemble and two tone-chime choirs up and running, so it's been a little while since I last posted.  Well, without further adieu, here's my "original" idea:

Solfa & Absolute Pitch Blocks:  I bought wood math manipulative blocks from our local teacher store (Banks School Supply).  It was about $8 for a pack of 96 blocks.  I really like the wood blocks: they fit perfectly in the staves that you can pick up at your state music conferences and you can write on them easily with a Sharpie.  I decided to make do pentatonic blocks: there are two sides that have do, and one side of each of the following- re, mi, so & la.  I made enough for each student to have a set of 8 blocks.  From this, independently they can write a simple 4 beat dictation (if eighth notes are the most complex rhythmic element) or working in pairs or groups, they can do more complex patterns that contain more then 8 pitches).

After I bought the 98 wood blocks for $8 at the teacher store, I found foam blocks at the Dollar Tree.  I loaded up on these: there are four colors.  With the blue bocks, I made Absolute Pitch Blocks.  For these I used a do hexachord (that is do, re, mi, fa, so la), with G=do.  From this, the student can use them to write in both G-do and C-do and they can write the first 6 pitches that they learn to read on the recorder (I teach B-A-G first; then add high C & D and low E & D).  Here's what they look like compared to the Solfa blocks:

Now, I used a metallic Sharpie marker to write on the Absolute Pitch Blocks.  This was a PAIN! The blocks absorbed the ink and it took me more then 5 markers to complete all the blocks.  I also tried foam markers.  These were even worse.  I couldn't even finish 20 blocks with these (I did not try the Elmer's brand.  I can't remember the brand I used as I quickly returned them to the store.).  I did create some ta, ti-ti and ta rest blocks with the remaining blue blocks.  For these I used a black Sharpie.  This worked better, but the blocks still absorbed the ink.  Any hints for writing on foam are greatly appreciated!!! :)

Beat and Rhythm Charts

I love how many SO many ideas can be shared and gained via other people blogs and blog posts.  It truly is amazing, I wish blogs were around when I first started teaching, the ideas really are endless!  In fact, on my last post about Beat Strips Alisha (check out her fabulous blog by clicking here) replied about using beat charts for songs in kindergarten and first grade.  This got me thinking, I've not shared these before, so here goes!

I have to admit, I can't take credit for the charts posted below.  In my district there's a growing number of music teachers that have Kodály training (when I first started I was the only one, it's so nice to have colleagues with similar goals and training now!!!).  A few years ago we started compiling a collaborative song collection.  Jenna Olschlager, one of my amazing colleagues and FRIENDS made a bunch of these that we all now use in our teaching.  Basically, there are charts that track beat and then there are similar charts that track rhythm.  They are great for assessing students' abilities to differentiate between beat and rhythm and for their reading/tracking skills.  Below is one example:

Beat Chart for Bee Bee Bumble Bee
Rhythm Chart for Bee Bee Bumble Bee

Beat Tracking

I don't know about you, but we started school this week.  This means I'm in "review" mode.  In mid-to the end of kindergarten I start working with my kiddos on beat tracking and beat vs. "the way the words go" (a.k.a. rhythm).

One of the activities that I do in mid to late kindergarten and review in first grade is beat tracking.  This is an important preparatory activity for music literacy (and is a great reading reinforcement for tracking left to right).  Essentially, I have cards that have four icons.  The students track the beats on the cards, from left to right and start back at the beginning of the card once they reach the last beat of the card.  I have several cards that have hearts that represent the beat, but I also have song-specific cards.  This varies the activity just enough so you can get "more bang for your buck" out of the same activity (that is, they practice and do the same activity with the only thing changing being the card.)

Below are some of my iconic beat strips.  I DO NOT use all of these every year.  I admit, I get bored using the same repertoire every year so I vary my song choice.  And I do have more cards than just these; these cards just happened to be on the top of the pile.

I also use: "Pitter Patter" (in John Feierabend's early music program), "It's Raining, It's Pouring"

Can also be used with "Cobble Cobbler"

Can also be used with "I Have Lost My Jingle Bell" In Liz GilPatrick's Round the Seasons Book.

And here is an example of a non-specific song beat chart.  I leave room at the top so these can also be used for writing and dictation, as seen below:

A Fun Back-to-School Find

I love Back-to-School shopping and all the "stuff" I can find to use in my classroom (sounds reminiscent of Easter time, huh?!  The reality is I'm always on the look out for things for my classroom- Halloween is coming up soon. ..  . then Thanksgiving. . . you get the picture, lol!)

Today at Walmart I found this eraser:
It's about a foot long: 
 And look how cool the end is!!!:
 They not only had dogs, but there were stars, frogs, hearts, cupcakes, baseballs. . . . I didn't get them all but I stocked up on the dogs, frogs and cupcakes.
Using a knife, I cut off slices and I was able to cut them pretty thin.  In fact, I averaged over 100 pieces on one eraser (cheap manipulative as it was $.88 per eraser!)
 Here's one of the ways I'm going to use it.  (Please forgive my carrot stained cutting board):
Can you guess the song?  If you guessed Doggie Doggie you are right!  Fun for melodic writing, right?!  Since I'm not at school I didn't have a staff, but they would fit great on a staff or writing the melody out spatially (although this is pretty hard for first graders.  You can get around this by giving them a piece of yarn.  Have them lay it horizontally in front of them.  Then they place so above the line and mi below the line).

I also plan on using this for ta/ti-ti preparation.  I have beat strips (I haven't posted about these yet, it's on my to-do list).  The beat strips are long pieces of paper that have 4 beats on one side and 3 beats on the other.  (Obviously the 4 beat side is for 2/4 and 4/4 songs and the 3 beat side is for 3/4 songs).  Using the 4 beat side they will derive how many sounds they hear on each beat and place that many dogs in the heart.  (I'll post a picture soon, I promise).

So, if you have a Walmart in your area hurry over and stock up on some "Twist It Erasers"  for a fun, easily manipulative!!!

Legos and Major/Minor Scales

So this is an idea that I've been "flirting" with for a while but haven't tried it with my kids yet.  The main reason being I don't have enough legos for everyone to use. . .. but my librarian is a "sailor".  She goes "sailing" almost every Saturday. . . garage sailing that is!  I have given her a wish list and legos are high on that list.

I've seen on pinterest a few ways to use legos effectively in the music classroom, a lot of them around rhythm.  I want to use them for rhythmic dictation and composition and I will share the way I plan on doing that in a post at a different time.  In the mean time, here's a way that I plan on using  them to teach whole and half steps.  

I believe this is an original idea (I have so very few of them) so I'm quite happy about that, I just hope it's effective in my teaching!  I will use it first with my 4th graders after fa has been presented and bring it back in 5th grade after ti has been presented.

Here's the main idea: every lego equals a half step.  Knowing this, the students are going to build a pentatonic chord (in Kodály analysis do-re-mi-fa-so is called a "chord" even though it's not a "chord" in the traditional sense.  If there was a skip, it would be a pentatone: for example do-re-me-so-la is a pentatone, but I digress).  In the picture below, do is the first column of blue legos (on the left).  To the right of that, in red, is re which is built two legos in height higher then do because there are two half steps between do and re.  Then there is mi in yellow, two legos higher then re (again, there are two half steps between re and mi).  The we have fa in blue, which is only ONE lego in height above mi because there is only one half step between mi  and fa.  Finally there is so, which is two legos in height higher then fa because there are two half steps between fa and so.   And that's the extent to which we will use this in 4th grade.

I mentioned above that I will bring it back after we present ti.  We will use it to write a major scale, which is pictured below.  You see that we added la in black, ti in gray and do'  in blue. There is a whole step (two half steps) between so and la & between la and ti.  Between ti and do' there is a half step.

I also plan on using it in 5th grade to practice writing the half and whole steps of a natural minor scale.  In the picture below the blue column on the left is now la, then the red column is ti, and the yellow column is do.  Students will see that the half steps in a minor scale are between the 2nd-3rd scale degrees and the 5th and 6th scale degrees, but still the intervals between ti-do and mi-fa.

My Poor Hand is Shaking

I feel that it's important in a good lesson to have areas of concentration and areas of relaxation.  The areas of relaxation in a lesson are so important.  They allow students a chance to move, release some energy and regain focus.  These are sometimes in the form of a singing game, other times in the form of a movement song. 

One of my favorite movement songs to use with my preschoolers and kinders is My Poor Hand is Shaking.  I learned this from Susan Brumfield during my level I Kodály class back in 1999.  It's a tried and true favorite. . . and it's a lot of fun (for both the student and the teacher.  Really, what's cuter then watching those little ones get their wiggles out?!).

2.  My poor elbow. . .
3.  My poor shoulder. . .
4.  My poor hips. . .
5. My poor knees. . .
6.  My poor bottom. . .
7.  My poor head. . .
8.  My whole self. . .

Action:  Children sing the song while shaking one hand, then stopping suddenly at the end (I usually grasp the shaking hand with my other hand, thus "stopping" it.)  After the hand stops shaking, the elbow starts shaking and the song continues.  This repeats through each verse until the very end when their whole bodies are shaking.

Have fun, this one gets the giggles going too! :)


This is a favorite of mine that I learned it from Sue Leithold-Bowcock.  If you search it, you can find some fun videos of people performing it; I found one video of it being sung at a wedding, one of someone using it in their classroom with their kiddos, one of a group of adults singing it with a guitar player in the middle, etc..  I must admit: I don't know the origin. I'm assuming Polish but please don't quote me!  If you know the source, please share!

The kids love this one and it really makes them step outside their comfort zone.  That being said, the more you know your kids and the more comfortable and willing to take risks they are the more fun the dance.  This is a GREAT song for low ti and teaching cadences.

Translation: We shall dance the Labadu (nonsense word).


Each repetition of the song you circle first to the left and then to the right. Each time you hold hands a different way:
Holding hands normally
Hands touching each others' shoulders
Hands on neighbors' ankles
Hands touching neighbors' ears
Hands touching neighbors' noses
Hands through arms (linking arms)
One arm reaching back through the legs, the other holding the hand of the person in front of you (like an elephant parade)
Hands through arms, seated, moving on bottoms
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