Monday, June 11, 2012

We Love Phil Tulga!

My students and I love the website of Phil Tulga! If you are not already familiar with his site, here is a brief introduction.
He has many music games that integrate language arts, math, and science. He also has several different instructions to make homemade instruments.

Here are a few of our favorite games:

Musical Fraction Bars

This activity describes how to measure and make your own musical tubes similar to Boomwhackers. The interactive game allows students to compose with the colored bars and even play back their music in various tempi. The students can create harmony by stacking colored tubes. The colors of these tubes match the colors of the Boomwhackers; so, after composing a song, students can use Boomwhackers to play it themselves. There are also several preloaded songs students can choose to start with and then alter to make a variation. The students can create a song and then email it to a friend, parent, or teacher! This game provides endless fun!

Cucumber Pickle Machine

My students LOVE the Cucumber Pickle Machine. I don't know if it is the silly face made by the machine or just their love of pickles, but they could spend the entire class playing this game if I would let them! This game explores mixed meter with the 3-syllable word "cucumber" and the 2-syllable word "pickle". The white cucumbers and pickles are silences. Phil has also listed several popular meters for the students to create on the machine: rhuma, flamenco, clave, heartbeat, conga, short bell, fanga, samba, and the most popular "Mission Impossible."

Unifix Drum Machine

This game allows students to compose layered rhythms. The ostinatos repeat on a loop but you can also change the tempo. You can control which part you hear by turning each on or off by one easy click. You change the color of each square by clicking the square: blue=low, red=high, yellow=silence. There are several patterns available for the students to choose from or they can start from scratch and create their own. The students can see how there are 4 cubes grouped together. This can represent 4 beats in a measure or 4 subdivisions of the beat. After exploring this game on the interactive white board, give the students real Unifix cubes to create their own rhythms! 

There are many more activities available on Phil Tulga's site! Go, explore, and share your favorite Phil Tulga activity!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

All About Voices

In the previous post, I talked about using voice cards as visual aids. In this post, I will explain a couple activities that use the visual aids. At the bottom of the post, you can download the pdf and print them for free!

Name Game

For 1st grade and kindergarten, I always review voices on their first music class of the year when we are doing name games. We do simple echos:

Teacher:  "My name is Mrs. Dennis"
Class: "Her name is Mrs. Dennis"
Student: "My name is Joshua."
Class: "His name is Joshua."
After we go once around the circle learning names, I introduce the voices with the cards. (I also tie this to our school-wide voice level system. I do not have a picture of our voice level posters, but I found a similar one from The Kinder Kid. Our numbers and levels are the same, but we don't have the cute clipart.) When the students understand the voice levels, we get to go around the circle again saying our name to the beat, but this time each student secretly picks a voice (whisper, speaking, calling, singing). We must echo using the same voice and then I ask the class what type of voice they used.

Voice level zero

For the past 3 years, since I have been relating these voices to the voice level number, the kids always ask to say their names with voice level zero. We now call it "Magic Lips". Anytime I want the kids to move their lips without making a sound, I ask them to use Magic Lips. I actually use this with all grade levels. I usually ask for Magic Lips when I had the kids patting a rhythm while saying a poem and then I want to hear their patting by itself. I also ask for Magic Lips when students are using Curwen hand signs and I want them to stop singing and focus on the pitch levels.

Acka Backa

I use the voice cards often in repetitive games, just to break up the monotony. One example is an elimination game: "Acka Backa." Here is the poem if you are not familiar with it:

Acka Backa, soda cracker
Acka Backa, boo
Acka Backa, soda cracker
Out goes you!

There are many variations to the words; you may know a different version, but this is how we play. This is a simple elimination game. To prepare the students, I have them stand in a circle and pass a ball around to the steady beat. We first practice passing to the beat at different tempos. I usually hold a buffalo drum and stand inside the circle showing where the ball should be. If the ball passes up the drum, they know they are going too fast. When they are focused on the beat, we introduce the poem and the rules. The last person to hold the ball on "you" leaves the circle. The student gets to go to my chair where I have the voice cards laying face down. They pick a card to tell us which voice to use next and then they get to mix them up again for the next person. Elimination games are always tough for the kids who always want to win, but going to select a card seems to ease the disappointment that they are out of the game.

Free Printable:

Voice Cards (whisper, speaking, calling, singing)

I suggest printing them on white cardstock and laminating them.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Assessing Music With a Line-Up Song

I learned this song from my KTIP mentor, Alicia Franklin, during my first year teaching. I introduce this song in kindergarten and we sing it everyday when we line up. 

I sing the first note as a fermata and hold it until every student is joining in and doing their job to line up. There are hand motions to accompany the song. On the first word "my", we raise our hands in the air (this makes it easy to see who is actually paying attention in line and ready to sing the song). Then, we do what the song says. 

           Phrase 1: place hands back
Phrase 2: exaggerate good posture
Phrase 3: take 2 fingers, point at eyes then 

                 straight ahead
Phrase 4: hands return behind back
Phrase 5: zip lips, pretend to put in pocket, 

                 hands return behind back, mouth is closed

When the kids get to 1st grade, the song only makes guest appearances when we need help remembering how to line up or when I want to see if they can apply the musical concept we just learned.

Using the Song For Assessment

Assess Tempo

If we learned about tempo that day, we may choose a tempo (largo, moderato, allegro) and sing our song accordingly. They may also get to line up to a tempo. I may ask them to show me allegro feet, largo feet, or moderato feet to line up. Depending on how much time is left in class, I may do this individually  or in small groups. If I do it individually, I usually take notes in my grade book for a performance assessment. Older students can watch the conductor and respond to accelerandos and ritardandos.

Assess Dynamics

If we learned about dynamics that day, we may choose a dynamic level for the entire song (piano, mezzopiano, mezzoforte, forte) or watch the conductor to see how the dynamic levels change throughout the song. Older students can usually remember a pattern to assign different dynamic levels to each phrase. Similar to the game discussed above, sometimes we can line up with piano feet (tiptoeing) or forte feet (stomping). Again, depending on the time remaining in class, this is either done individually or in small groups and is sometimes used as a performance assessment.

Assess Melody

If we learned about melodic direction that day, we may use our hand levels to show the melodic contour. (That's why I like the simple shape of this melody going upward then downward.) If we discussed pitch, we may sing it in a high key or a low key.

Assess Harmony

If we learned about minor harmony (Halloween), we may choose to change the song to minor and make it sound spooky. (All the kids LOVE this!)

Assess Timbre

If we discussed different types of voices (speaking, whisper, calling, singing), we may choose to use different voices to use throughout the entire song, or we may change our voices for each phrase. I also have voice cards that I can hold up and show the students what to change to. (View the next post for printable voice cards.)

Assess Rhythm

If we discussed rhythm (long and short sounds), we may sing the song exaggerating note lengths in tenuto or staccato style. If we discussed a fermata, we may choose one or two words to have a fermata and sing those words really long.


These are just a few examples of how I use our line up song for assessment. Sometimes, instead of telling them how to sing it, I let the kids pick a variation to sing. Again, I only sing it every time with kindergarten; and they never get tired of singing it. It only appears occasionally with older grades. It appears sometimes as a warning to those not ready for the hall: "Do we HAVE to revisit kindergarten and sing the line-up song?" Their behavior is quickly corrected. Many older students LOVE the line up song, as it brings nostalgia from kindergarten. 

Even if you have a line-up song already in place, you could probably use these assessment strategies with your song as well. I would love to hear other ideas to use line-up songs as assessment tools. If you have some more ideas, please comment below.