Sunday, March 12, 2017

Teach Eighth and Two Sixteenth Rhythm in a Way They'll Never Forget!

I love teaching rhythms through games. It makes it so easy to learn! The students love singing a song and playing a game and can so easily translate into a new rhythm. We play a game that makes learning the eighth and two sixteenths as well as two sixteenths and and eighth patterns so easy to remember.


Sailing on the Ocean is a great game for introducing these rhythms.

Here is the original song from the Holy Names University collection:

2. Got me a pretty girl, stay all day (3x)
     We don’t care what the others say.

3. Eight in a boat and it won’t go round. (3x)

     You can leave the pretty girl you just found.

Here are the directions for the song, again from the Holy names collection:

Game Directions 

Formation: single circle with four boys in the center.

Action: 1. Players in the outside circle join hands and circle clockwise while the boys in the center face toward the outer circle. Join hands and circle counterclockwise.

2. All players drop hands and both circles walk counterclockwise; each boy in the center chooses from the outer circle the girl nearest him and walks beside her until the end of the verse.

3. Each boy puts his partner on his right and all 8 join hands in the inner circle and move counterclockwise, while the other circle moves clockwise. On the word "leave" the boy leaves his partner in the center and goes to the outer circle. the game is repeated with the girls in the center and the words are changed by substituting "handsome boy" for the "pretty girl". 

Source: Elizabeth Coffman, Anna, Illinois

Lyrics Variation

In our district, we have changed it to make it more generic. Here are our lyrics:

Sailing on the ocean, the tide rolls high.
Sailing on the ocean, the tide rolls high.
Sailing on the ocean, the tide rolls high.
You can catch a great big fish, by and by.

Caught me a great big fish, stay all day.
Caught me a great big fish, stay all day.
Caught me a great big fish, stay all day.
We don't care what the others say.

Four in a boat and it won't turn round.
Four in a boat and it won't turn round.
Four in a boat and it won't turn round.
You can lose that great big fish you just found.

Word changes made by Jerry Jaccard

We do it a bit differently in my class. Here is our variation in directions.

Directions Variation

1. One circle walks counterclockwise with one student walking the opposite direction around the inside of the circle. That student stops at the end of the verse by a student, who the becomes the "fish for the next verse.
2. The new "fish" walks counterclockwise and stops at the end of the verse by the first "fish". 
3. Both of the first two "fishes" do motorboat for the third verse. 

Motor boat is where both student face each other holding hands with their feet close together and close to each other. They lean back as they shuffle their feet quickly and go in a circle. I challenge the students to be careful to not "fling" the other student on the floor, especially if one is bigger than the other. The students love doing motorboat. 

The next time students start over, there are two "fishes" and they catch two new ones. The third time you start the game over, you would have 8 "fish". The kids would continue to do motorboat in pairs. By the end, I have "all in the boat and it won't go round". 

Variation told to me by Julianna Gylseth

Reading the Rhythm for the first time

After we have played the game, we read the rhythm. We discover that we already know ti-ti (two eighths) and that we already know tiki-tiki (four sixteenths). They are able to then take that knowledge to figure out what this new rhythm is called. We then read our new found rhythm and they are all so proud of themselves- that they can read a rhythm that only the big kids know. 

Playing the Rhythm Game

Play the following rhythm game. Line up groups of student along one side of your room. I usually have about 7 groups of 3 or 4 kids. Each group has the 8 measures of Sailing on the Ocean cards. I have them turn them over and “mix them up like crazy”. They choose a “leader” of their group. When I say “go”, they put the cards in order and then the leader runs up to me and as each group gets done, their leader runs up to me and gets in line. Once the leader is in line, the group can no longer change their rhythm. 

2 of the 8 measures of rhythm

I will check the rhythm of the group whose leader is first.
If that group is correct, they win. If they are not 
correct, I ask them to go back and fix it. This song is 
repetitive, but you would be surprised how often, 
especially when they first learn the rhythm how they
are not careful about the tiki-ti’s and the ti-tiki’s so they mix them up. 

I will leave the rhythm page up on my promethean board when they are first starting to play this game with a song. Once they get better at this, I take away the “cheat” sheet so they can really think through the rhythm. 

I will give a tiny eraser to the members of the team who wins. Once a team wins, they can win again but they will not get a prize. They are just thrilled if they get it first. 

My kids love this active way of practicing their new rhythm and it helps them to remember how to read this rhythm every time. 

Be sure to check back each day for new ideas on facebook for our 31 Days of Rhythm! 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tug of War in the Music Classroom

Every year in 4th grade, we do a very fun activity that the students love. I got the idea from my favorite mentor. There is so much to learn from this activity and it is a huge hit.


We sing the song, "Oranges and Lemons" and play the game by getting into a circle. My person of the day chooses a helper for making a bridge. I encourage them to choose someone who will be good at helping them come up with opposites. We discuss what opposites mean and come up with ideas as a class to help them get their brains going. 

We learn the song before we start. 

Form a circle with two kids making a bridge clasping their hands above the circle. The two students secretly come up with an opposite, such as up and down and assign one word to each of the two. Kids walk through the bridge on the beat as everyone sings. Going through the bridge on the beat can be very challenging for some kids. I remind them that the goal is to go through it on the beat and not just to run through in order to not get caught. I stand right by the bridge and even put my hand between each kid to help them go on the beat. 

At the end of the song, the bridge comes down and catches one student. Then the two bridge students will tell the "caught" student their opposites and the student who has been caught will choose one of the words. I assign my student of the day to be team 1 and the other student to be team 2. If the "caught" student chooses team 1's word, I write it down on a paper under team 1. Since we do several activities during a half hour music period, we will only do 3 or 4 rounds during a music period. 


For the first few music periods of doing our "Oranges and Lemons activity, the kids who are "caught", just sit in their teams on the side of the room. I encourage them to sing along. Once we have done this activity for a few days, I then have the kids who are "caught" form their own circle so they have something to do. In this separate ground, they don't sit out when they are caught. That second group seems to easily choose two kids to be a bridge and it keeps them busy and out of trouble.

When we have finished sorting every student after many class periods, the two teams are never exactly even, so we put all of the kids back into a big circle and "catch" enough kids to even out the teams. 

I just tack my three class teams lists on the bulletin board above my desk to keep track of my lists. It is super easy to find my list in a second during each class. 


Once the kids are sorted out, we wait until the weather is good enough to go out and it isn't too wet outside because of rain. (We rarely get rain so that usually isn't a problem).

On the day that we play tug of war, I explain the rules up front, even the day before. Once the kids are out there playing the game, it is hard for them to hear and they aren't listening. It is always a good idea to explain rules while they are sitting quietly and listening. 


  1. Walk quietly in the hall to go outside
  2. Safety is very important - When I say to stop, you must stop so no one is dragged on the ground and injured. I've done this for 8 years and never had injuries, other than minor hands that feel tender from pulling on the rope. If I see any kids doing something unsafe, they are asked to sit out. In an ideal world, we would have gloves for each kid. I tell the kids that they can bring gloves if they want. 
  3. Be a good sport. This game is just for fun. You will win some and you will lose some. It is a team sport and we must work together.
  4. If we don't have even numbers, one student will volunteer to stay out of the game for one turn. 
  5. Walk back to class quietly


 I have figured out a way to make it all fair. Obviously, some kids are stronger or bigger and you are bound to have one team that is just better. My rule is that the team who loses gets to choose one student from the other team and must give up one student from their team. I remind the kids that we are all different sizes and it doesn't mean you are less of a person just because your team gives you up. It just means that you are smaller than some other kids right now. The kids accept this and I've never had a melt down from it. 

We do this every round and somehow, they keep going back and forth and seem very happy with the end results. One other Rule I have is that once you move teams, you can't move again. That keeps it really fair. 


We take the time once we are inside to discuss things we learned, such as working as a team, etc. It is interesting what the kids learn from this activity.


I did some research to find the best rope I could. I found one that is rated well for safety. I talked to my PTA about getting one and they paid for one that I use but could also be used in PE or for our field day. 

I hope your kids love this as much as mine! 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Growth Mindset in the Music Classroom

Growth Mindset is on my mind lately. Our principal has been emphasizing that we help kids think of working the process, getting better, and improving. As a group, our teachers came up with ideas that go along with the letters in our mascot name.  I made  separate 8 1/2 inch sized posters  and a large poster for our school that are now posted all over the school to help us work with our kids. This is the 11 x 17 one.

How can I use these ideas in a music classroom? I have a few ideas:

I can help my students work together and collaborate as they make musical compositions, help each other on recorder to learn and decode the notes, think about the meaning of a classical composition. 

I can help students learning to persevere as they learn to improve at reading rhythms, struggle to learn to read notes or play the recorder or ukulele, work hard at learning parts for our choir concert, learn to understand the musical alphabet or the pentatonic scales and how to sing and identify them. 

We can learn to ask questions as we listen to a new composition and think about why someone expressed themselves in a certain way. We can ask how one instrument, such as the piano, is like ukulele and explore both to figure out the answer. We can ask and explore in 1st grade how the words of a song fit with the rhythm. In 2nd grade, we can ask and work to understand how a half note is longer and where re fits into the notes we already know. In every grade, we can ask questions to understand music better. 

We can think out loud in groups as we explore musical concepts. This helps every student, no matter their level to learn to think in new ways. All are lifted. 

We can offer solutions as a class or in small groups when we discuss or think out loud about musical compositions, the meaning of a song, how to move in a new or different way to music, or how to derive a rhythm for a song we know. 

We can also reflect our our learning in ways such as evaluating how well we are singing a song in choir, our progression on our recorder playing, evaluating ourselves on our understanding of a new concept, even if it means students hold up a 1 finger for not understanding and 4 for knowing it well enough that they could teach others. It doesn't have to a hard. I just made a recorder log so my 5th graders can keep track and evaluate their progress in our black belt system. The student will write the date, the belt name, how many times they have practiced it before trying to pass it off, and whether they passed it off. I will have occasional conferences with them to discuss their progress and give the log to parents at parent/teacher conferences. 

I was inspired by a "We Are Teachers" blog post about Growth Mindset books to read in class and saw some music ones that look like gems. 

Here are some FREE packs I have made to help your kids with growth mindset. Roll a Rhythm Game for Composing, Recorder Black Belt System Freebie, and Musical Moments Listening Sampler, Engine Engine Beat Book Sampler, Bubble Spot Active Listening Pack or my brand new I am Kind Music Composition Project pack.