Saturday, February 3, 2018

Vocal Play- a Critical Key to In Tune Singing

In tune singing- it is a vital part of Kodály music and a goal for most music teachers for their students. Although it is a goal, it is not always easy to achieve. You have to work at it, even to help students to feel comfortable singing in front of others and exposing their voice, which feels very personal. I will give you some tips on how I help students feel comfortable and help them find their in tune voice. 

Helping students feel comfortable singing

Singing and doing vocal play has to become a normal part of your classroom- a habit that every student gets into. I begin every class with an affirmation and then we immediately do vocal play, even with my 5th and 6th graders. I am new to my current school this year and I teach ukulele in our fine arts program. I just got a new set of students in January and they aren't used to doing vocal play so we had to start from the beginning. I have a student of the day that I choose from my person of the days cards (each student has one). He or she does vocal play, sits in my VIP chair, and helps with various things, such as handing out raffle tickets for answering questions.  Click on the links to read about those. It becomes a habit when students do this every day,  and I have an expectation that every student will be participating every time. They may resist at first but get used to it, especially if you smile and encourage. 

Have some fun puppets available

Over time, I have found lots of puppets so students have many options to choose from for vocal play. I have found many cute puppets in packs at Costco, bought some of the stick puppets at my school scholastic book fair, and found some at other places along the way. I have a book shelf full of puppets that students can choose from. I have more in boxes that aren't even out. I think I need a puppet intervention! 

My messy puppet shelves

Exploring vocal play through stories

I use vocal play stories in class, especially in the lower grades. I tell stories using my thumbs talking to each other in high and low voices, traveling in various modes of transportation up and down hills or going on roller coasters, while students sing and copy. You are only limited by your imagination.

I went to a workshop and the lady told a wonderful story about Mrs Red and Mrs Green just using her hands. I was so inspired that I went home a made visuals for it. I LOVE seeing how delighted the kids are to do this story, especially the part where the two meet in the middle. I love how they look forward to the new colors of houses on another day and new kinds of trees or fruits. The whole thing is magical.  You can change the names to Mr's or whatever you want. 

Assessing vocal play

In my district, we are expected to have one major student learning objective for the year. In first grade, my melodic target is that 90% of the students will sing on pitch by the end of the year. That is a huge goal! Besides having my student of the day lead vocal play every day and doing vocal play stories on a regular basis, I motivate kids to sing solos. I have a seating chart on the stand in front of me to help remember names and to write notes on, such as whether a student sang in tune. 

I have some special bubble Music Microphones and tell the students that if everyone sings hello back to me, I will blow bubbles when they are done. I sing to every hello to each student. "Hello Maya!" (sol, mi, sol, mi). She sings back, "Hello Mrs Seamons" (sol, mi, sol, sol, mi, mi). I let each student choose the color he or she will sing into for singing back to me. In the beginning, some students may be shy, so I sing with them, but they quickly learn to sing alone and get into a habit when it is done regularly. I mark a plus on my chart if they are in tune and a minus if they aren't.

When we first start this, I am super thrilled if they sing back to me. Once they get into the habit, I ask them to see if they can sing high like me. I also ask everyone (even if they are singing in tune to reach for the stars as they sing because it helps them to get their voice higher). Having everyone do it doesn't make the one or two students who is working on getting the voice higher feel different or picked on. 

Once everyone sings to me, I break out the bubble microphones. The only rule I have is that they have to stay on their pockets. They can't dive to grab them or jump up to grab someone else's bubbles. I had one student who was especially hard this year- a selective mute. She really was being stubborn and wouldn't sing. I didn't make a big fuss but when I did the bubbles, I just didn't aim them at her. She is now singing along with everyone else. It took some time to get her hooked but now she sings solos just like everyone else. 

You could use another kind of microphone or many different incentives to achieve the same thing. With the students of the day leading vocal play every class period, using vocal stories, and have students sing to me every day, in a very short time, all of my first graders sing in tune. Are they perfect every time they sing? Of course not, but they have found their high and beautiful voice and are now in tune singers! 

Be careful of the language you use

I am extremely sensitive to how I talk about in tune singing. I don't want to cause a child to grow up and be that adult who says he  can't sing because a teacher told him that. If you wanted to give a grade on a report card, you could use terms such as improving on in tune singing or participates. If a student doesn't sing in tune, I don't make a big fuss. I just move on and work on it again next time. When he does finally sing in tune, I do make a big fuss and the whole class claps. 

These are some ways I use to help my students find their in tune voice. I hope you can use some of these ways to help your students.  I will write more posts on in tune singing with more ideas later. I would love to hear your ideas too! 

Read about matching sol mi in kindergarten through a book in this blog post. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Connecting with Second Language Learners in the Music Classroom Part 1

I have always loved teaching songs from around the world, abundant in the Kodály repertoire. In the past 10 years, our district has changed to include an increasing number of second language learners. I have enjoyed working to connect with these students in the music classroom, more challenging because of the limited time we have each week. I have some favorite ways to connect and have found some ways that other great teachers connect. 

Help students feel that their culture is valued

Because we do many folk songs from around the world, it is common look at the world map on a regular basis. I have a wonderful world map that is always up in my classroom. The students love to look at this colorful map. 

Not only do I regularly talk about various places in the world, I take the time to talk to students about places I've been. When we discuss a place, I often ask students if they have been there or if they know someone there and talk about languages their families and my family speaks. Among my three kids are 6 languages: English, Thai, Italian, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Mandarin Chinese. Students talk about their relatives in various places. Asking about students' connections shows them that we value other places in the world and that we find them interesting.

I make a habit of asking students if they are going to visit relatives or places over Christmas or over summer break. They are happy to tell me they are visiting relatives or going somewhere. It only takes a couple of minutes, but I feel that the benefits are worth the time. 

Learn special songs from various cultures

My youngest son has always been a language guy. He just graduated in Computer Science with a minor in Chinese and Spanish, plus is fluent in Haitian Creole because he worked for two years in Florida with the Haitians. He married a young lady from Mexico. Last year, she taught me the fun birthday piñata song, "Dale, Dale".  I will never forget the first time I taught kids at my school and how they came alive, singing at the top of their lungs a favorite song from their culture. The other kids were as surprised as me at this hidden culture we had discovered. 

I am new at my school this year and am teaching "Dale, Dale" again. Once again, there are numerous kids in every class who know this song from Mexico, some just from going to a Mexican birthday party. I always ask them how they know it, and they are happy to tell the class because we show that we value their opinions and experiences.
Here is a video of some kids singing it. 

My school has many students of Tongan descent and one of our district schools has many Tongan students. Julianna Gylseth, a master teacher in my district, recently taught this song to her students and shared it with teachers at the Western Kodály Conference, held in Utah in 2017. It is such a fun song and has more advanced movements too! 

Here is a version at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. 

And here is another video. My favorite is when you toss the sticks. 

Sing songs from around the world in choir

When I do choir programs, I always include several songs from around the world. It is good for the students to learn other languages and good for them to learn about other countries. I always choose a Spanish language song, since I have so many Hispanic students, but I often also include one from another language. Last year in the Spring, I found a wonderful African song called "Yesu Ni Wangu" arranged by Ruth Morris Gray. We ended up singing this at our district choir festival as our solo piece. I had a couple of boys who had moved to our school from Africa. We held our choir in the other side of the cafeteria, with just a stiff curtain that came down between us and the morning breakfast kids. For the last 15 minutes of choir, the kids who were there for breakfast early would hear the music from choir. I used to be irritated by it but learned to appreciate the fact that those kids were being exposed to a lot of wonderful music. One day during class, one of the boys who moved here from Africa exclaimed, "Mrs Seamons, you are singing a  song from my country!" He was so thrilled. They had heard it during breakfast. Even for the students who aren't in choir, it is a great exposure. 

These are just a few ideas for helping second language learners. I will give you some more in a second post soon. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

An Easy and Inexpensive Christmas Gift for Coworkers, Neighbors, or Friends

Every year, I try to find something for my close coworkers and a few neighbors that is nice but won't break the bank. I saw this idea at a boutique but it was Thanksgiving/autumn mitts, so I thought I'd look around to find some that are nice for all year. I also used music ribbon and made my own tags to give it a music twist.

Dollar Tree had these nice mitts with great saying on them and they are only $1! You can't beat that! BTW- you can order from dollar tree online if you are willing to get a case of 12 and have it sent to the store close to you for free (home sweet home mitt and the second one in the picture is not on there).

I bought cookie mixes at Walmart. These Betty Crocker mixes are thin enough to easily fit into the mitt. They were $1.82. There were many different kinds.

I got some shredded red and white decorative filler at dollar tree for $1. I just use a small amount in the front of the mitt by the candy for decoration.

I got some small chocolates at Walmart. I will use 5 with each mitt.

Sam's Club has this wonderful ribbon every year (it only cost around $7 for 50 yards!) but you could get ribbon at a good price in many places, such as Costco or Walmart.

I put the cookie mix into the mitt, got some cellophane that I had in my basement for baskets and cut it in half. I just taped the back of the cellophane to make it work. You can get large basket cellophane bags (6  to a pack for $5.99 at Hobby Lobby- Search for "cello basket bags" and don't forget to use a 40% off coupon while you are there!). Just cut them in half to get two out of each bag or just forget the cellophane and put the candies and decorative stuff into your mitt and simplify. I just put the mitt inside the half bag and then folded the cut edge to the back and used some clear tape on the seam. I then tied the ribbon on the top and cut the edges of the ribbon at an angle. 

I made these tags for coworkers and made it different for some close neighbors. EDIT: I just added a third page of tags for friends. Later, I added one for family, in case you need a small gift when visiting your aunt or someone. Just print onto card stock and then cut around the heart. I just taped them onto the front of the cellophane.

The total price for these gifts was less than $5. You can't beat that! Have fun making these and I hope your co-workers and neighbors enjoy! Get the four different pages with 5 on a page tags here. 

If you need gifts for your choir or music students, check out my Music Joke Gift bookmarks you can make and give to your students or they can make for family members!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Silent Scream: Playing Fun Games while Keeping Your Sanity

Kids love to play games and they can learn so much from them. They learn social skills and how to follow directions. 

In Kodály teaching, these games help with important teaching concepts. In the song, "We are Dancing in the Forest", students can practice sol, mi, and la. They can practice the rhythms of ti-ti (two eighth notes) and ta (a quarter note). They can learn to read music and can play these songs on the recorder or on the ukulele. 

We play this game by having my person of the day choose a helper. He or she are the wolves (I like using two to make the game go faster). They stand on one side of the room in my designated wolf den. The other students sing and dance while singing the song until the "wolf are you coming?" part. They then stop and cup their hands around their mouth while singing. 

The wolves then either sing, "yes, we are coming" or "no, we're not coming". If they sing, "no we're not coming", the other students sing back, "why aren't you coming?". The wolves then sing back a reason. It might be, "we are brushing our teeth" or "we are cooking dinner". If they say yes, then they both tag the students. When students are tagged, they go lay down in the wolf's den. I also make the rule that if they run into the wolf's den, they are automatically dead, to keep the kids who are dead safe. The game ends when all of the kids are "dead". I like to remind the "dead" kids in my best "Disney pirate" voice that "Dead men tell no tales" because they can't talk.  

If you want to add tons of fun vocabulary and movement to this song, while the students stay in place, check out my "We are Dancing in the Forest" Song and Literacy Pack. 

Games are so fun and students love them, but if your students get too wild or out of control, they can drive you crazy and make students unhappy or even injure them. That is why it is so important to have rules and procedures in place to help students play safely and within structure. 

The Silent Scream

Students love the silent scream and it keeps my sanity.  I believe it helps them to be less crazy in their games too. I start this in Kindergarten. Kids are always amused by it. I just tell them that I don't like screaming and I want them to do a silent scream. I demonstrate it while acting like I am screaming and I wave my hands in the air but make no noise. It takes them a little practice to get good at it, but they really enjoy it. 

Other Rules and Procedures

At my past three schools, I have found it very useful to remind the students of the rules every time we play a game. I ask them to remind me of the rules. It only takes a minute but makes a huge difference. If students do not follow the rules, I stop the game and remind them again. It is rare that I have to stop a game. 

Rules for tag or running games

1. Don't run like crazy people
2. Watch where you are going
3. Tag gently if we are playing a game of tag
4. Be a good sport. If you are out, go out.
5. Don't use others as shields. 

Ways to keep kids from running like crazy people

1. Run on your heels- it really slows them down
2. Choose different ways to move during the game, such as "we are tiptoeing in the forest" or "we are crawling in the forest".

That one class

Every once in a while, I have that one class that makes playing games difficult. Last year, I had one class like that. I made a rule that if anyone got hurt (I had kids who seemed to always cry like they were hurt), the game would stop. That seemed to cure this class. There was a time for them where they were not allowed to play games, but not being allowed to play games cured them. 

More Fun games

Sandra Hendrickson, of Sing, Play, Create, has written a fun post about some benefits of playing games. Be sure to go read her great blog post! 

I hope that some of these ideas help you to be able to play fun games with your students while keeping your sanity! I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments! 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Finding the Strong Beat

In Kindergarten, 1st,, and 2nd grade, I work on helping students feel the steady beat and the strong beat. We do the beat on our laps, saying beat is steady to various songs.

A favorite song for learning the strong beat is called "Frog in the Middle”. We pat our laps on the strong beat. It is challenging from some students not to tap the rhythm (the way the words go). The green frogs represent the strong beat.

I love to read a fun frog book, such as "Frog on a log” to get the kids thinking about frogs. I love how this book rhymes too. (Affiliate links included)

I then get out a fun frog puppet and have him jump on my hand on the strong beat and on the students’ hands.

I found these fun frogs to jump on at the dollar store last year. They have been a great way for kids to learn to jump on the strong beat, especially at the end of the song when they sing, “can’t catch me”. Instead of keeping a steady beat and only jumping on “can’t and me”, some kids want to jump on the rhythm “can’t catch me”. 

Having students Jump on my eight frogs helps students to really feel the strong beat. For students who find this challenging, I walk along beside them and clap on the beat. I have the rest of the class keep the beat on their laps at the same time as singing.

Once every student has done the strong beat on the 8 frogs (about 6-8 each time the students come), we form a circle having students face the same direction. I put my person of the day in the middle to act as the frog. Students jump on the strong beat. On the last word, the frog catches someone, who then becomes the new frog.

I could jump in the circle with the kids or on the outside of the circle, but to save my sanity and energy, especially since I am usually learning this with 1st grade and reviewing it with 2nd grade, I hold my hand up in the air flat while the other hand with my puppet jumps on it like a frog to the steady beat. It helps the students to see what they should be doing. I also find students who are “getting it” and point them out, complimenting them on their steady strong beat.

You probably won’t be able to find these cool flat frogs I found at the dollar store right now, so I have made some you can print and laminate for your students. Find them at the end of this post. 

I did find some cool spider ones yesterday at the dollar store. You can often find other similar pieces at the dollar tree. Just change your rhythm and words to fit the song. For the spider pieces I found, we will sing, “spider in the middle, spider in the sea, spider in the middle, can’t catch me!” This will be so fun for Halloween!

I just got these today (November 11th 2017) at the dollar store. They have these felt like pieces (about 1-2 feet tall) all of the time! I bought 8 of each and plan to have a strong beat canon with them. 

We could also derive the rhythm of each one. We could then compare and sort the rhythms that are alike. 

In case you can't afford to buy any of those fun dollar store pieces or can never find them, I have made some other fun ones to use in different seasons or even with different songs. You could obviously make enough for your whole class if you wanted to. Grab these for FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store with directions on using this song for strong beat. 

I hope you enjoy working on the strong beat! Get my FREE Strong Beat pack here. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Drumming Up Fitness Made Easy

I see different kinds of fitness drumming all over youtube. I wanted to do a fitness class using more traditional music, rather than all of the pop music. If you look at some of the published programs out there, they are very expensive and there is no traditional music used. I have done a lot of research and figured out a way to make it work for very little money. I do it as a before school program from 7:30-8:15. It is tricky because I pick up the kids from the front door and then we go to the before school lady's office to pick up the equipment. I used a rolling crate to move the lunch totes and the kids have to carry their own balls. If one student isn't there, we don't have enough balls, although I have solved that problem somewhat by carrying one ball on top of my lunch totes and keeping a couple of balls in my portable. I give the kids on time tickets that accumulate toward prizes if they get there within the first 5 minutes. I just started that and think it will help get them there on time. 


Drumsticks are REALLY expensive and if you read about most of the less expensive ones, they break easily. I found a pinterest idea for wrapping PVC pipes. I actually had PVC pipe already cut in my new classroom. 

Make your own by buying 1 inch PVC pipe from your hardware store, such as Home Depot or Lowes. Cut them to about a foot. I believe those stores will cut them for you if you ask. Buy electrical tape from those stores in whatever colors you want. I bought it in blue and yellow, our school colors. Wrap them in stripes. They are very durable. After a month of using them, they are still in perfect condition and the kids are so busy, they don't have time to pull the tape off. 

A Platform for the Balls

It is pretty inexpensive to buy Walmart tubs that my school uses for lunch totes. You can get a set of 8 for about $50. They are wide enough that it keeps the balls stable. Get them online here or just go to the store and buy them.

EDIT: After using the Walmart tubs, I would advise that you get some more sturdy ones if you can afford it. The Walmart ones are thin and break easily. If you watch the nutcracker video, you'll see that part near the end where the kids turn their tubs over and drum on them. We had some tubs crack. 


Balls are very inexpensive from They cost around $11 each. This one is a good, sturdy ball. You might find some less expensive ones. You can get various sizes of balls. Get this one here.  (affiliate link)


You could just use black pants and a t-shirt of the same color- even a school shirt all the same color. You could also look online for a shirt that works. I have decided to just have the kids wear black pants with the school shirt the school already sells. 

Storage of Equipment

The one challenge of doing this program is how to store the equipment. In our school, the before school lady puts the balls in her office space. I have a couple in my room behind my desk. The lunch totes stack nicely as well. 

We also talked about either using balls from one of the teachers who uses them for flexible seating or buying the balls with before/after school money and then offering them to a teacher to use in his/her classroom. For our program for now, we don't have that many that storing in her office is a problem, but we will see going forward. I was new to this school and the program is new so we have a small class for now. 

How to teach it

I started out writing down movements and trying to read them but just doing it with a video works the best. There are little to no classical music videos out there so I have worked to find music to work with. A music teacher friend of mine bought the full (very expensive program) of one company. Her advice after doing their program is that all you really need are the videos. FYI.

Warm up

I found a great video for a good warmup that the kids love. 

Classical Music

I found this one using the Can Can that inspired me. We are doing this one, which the kids love. You can go into youtube setting to change the video to a slower tempo for learning. 

Christmas Music

I also found this video that is traditional Christmas music. We, of course, won't use the video. I wish I could find the music this is based on, since it is cut off at the beginning. We do this one at 75% speed so it is easier to do. Full speed is just too fast for us. I have also added more jumping on particular places to make it more physical. It is a great workout when you do that. 

Creating Our Own Routine

Finally, I searched far and wide to find this great music to make our own routine. The first thing I did was to analyze the form of the music. 

Here is the form of it:

My kids made up the moves for this. I am pretty proud of what they've come up with. A tip for getting kids to make up good moves is to find other fitness drumming videos that you like to see some ideas of moves. If you look at the other videos I have above, you will notice some of the same moves in our nutcracker routine. I would take suggestions from the kids and then we would discuss and decide on what to do. Here is a link to our December assembly performance. 

I just heard the soundtrack from the Trolls movie. In the Hall of the Mountain King from it would be another great piece of music for a routine. Maybe I'll use it next semester! 

EDIT: Lindsay Stirling's Dance from the final would make a great Drumming up fitness piece! 

Have fun drumming up fitness!