Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Spotify in the Music Classroom

Spotify has been my new favorite thing since March, when I decided to go to the Boston Calling Music Fesitval. The festival happened this past weekend, but I have been listening to the all the bands for months. The best part was, I was only paying $10/month to listen in my car/on my iPad!

Download Spotify here!

Since making my Boston Calling playlist, I've downloaded it to my work computer and have begun to use it for all sorts of lessons. It was used for all three of my previous blog posts about lessons! I found Jukebox music, I found random selections for my John Cage lesson, and I was able to find all of the suggestions I had for 5th grade graduation music. Most recently, I used it to create my last free dance/instrument playalong playlist for preK.

$10/month is nothing for a subscription to this great app. When I need a piece of music, all I have to do is go to one of my 3 devices and type in the name of the song or the artist. It's so easy! You can also use the free version on your computer- you can still make playlists and listen to music, you just can't use the mobile version of the app (which I use mostly outside of school anyways!)

I definitely recommend using Spotify in the music classroom. It is a wonderful way to explore new music without committing too much money to storing it in your personal collection before you've heard something you like!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

5th Grade Promotion Mash-up

Hi everyone!

    As indicated in my last post, my 5th graders have been rather challenging this year, so you can imagine I was a little daunted by the task of choosing a song for their Promotion in June. Instead of just picking a song and making everyone learn it (which would have been painful, to say the least), I decided that I would ask the students for suggestions. I got a whole range of song choices, from Jackson 5 to Macklemore, Drake, and other pop artists. I also allowed them to listen to some songs that I thought were fitting for "graduation"-type events. After all of this, we voted for the song we were ultimately going to learn.

     Here's where it got even harder: the majority of the votes were for One Direction's "Live While We're Young." While the song has an appropriate theme for this event, I knew that half of my students were not going to be happy with the choice and that it would be like pulling teeth to try teach it to them. So I compromised. I took 6 of their songs ideas and made a mash-up/medley for the promotion ceremony.

     The mash-up includes: Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield, Friends Forever by Vitamin C, ABC by the Jackson 5, Live While We're Young by One Direction, Home by Phillip Phillips, and Shooting Star by Owl City. The last part is my favorite because it correlates directly with our mascot- the All-Star. Here is the karaoke video:

     I created a this video for the students to learn it in my classroom and gave it (as well as a hard copy of the lyrics) to their teachers for in-class practice. Feel free to take ideas from it.

The students have taken ownership of this song for the ceremony, and I think it will be a great send-off for them!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Is it Music? An introduction to John Cage and Found Sounds

Here I am at the end of the year and I've finally found an activity toward which my 5th graders reacted positively!

At the beginning of class, I write "Music" on the SmartBoard and ask the students to tell me the first word that comes to mind to describe it. Students come up with music-class related words such as "rhythm," "melody," "instruments," and "harmony" as well as names  of bands or genres. I write it all up there.

Students are given a sheet of paper numbered 1-16. While listening to the different examples, their task is to answer this question: Is it music- yes or no? They must also back up their answer with a reason (and it cannot be "Because I didn't like it," or "Because it's weird.") You may shorten this activity and use less than 16 examples, and you may use any type of examples you like, but here is my list:

1) Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5- Allegro
2) Sound from the video of a Vuvuzela Symphony-  1:10-1:32 (I show them the video and the more involved piece after the listening activity)
3) Lady Gaga- Marry the Night
4) Dixie Chicks- Ready to Run
5) Drop something loud on the ground (I've used both rhythm sticks and a textbook for this example)
6) Convergencia- Hot House
7) Carmen, Act I- Parle-moi de...
8) Clap a rhythm
9) Justin Beiber- Baby
10) One of Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes
11) Sound from video of City Sounds-
12) Ben Folds- Adelaide
13) Good Charlotte- The Anthem
14) Flogging Molly- The Lightening Storm
15) Sound from this video- (I go up to about 1 minute)
16) I go to the piano, sit at it, open the cover, then sit silently for a minute (and try not to laugh when the kids are totally confused), then I close the cover

After the examples are played, students share their answers and we discuss why they did or did not think it was music- sometimes referring back to the introduction activity on the SmartBoard. I then show the vuvuzela video and ask if anyone's answer changed now that they could see it as well as hear it. I do the same with the Xavi Lozano video from Example 15- the kids love to watch and see what random household item he will use next!

This activity is an intro to a project. During the next class period, we read about John Cage and his piece, 4'33." They make the connection between this piece and my Example 16- sitting silently at the piano. We have a discussion about the way they reacted and how they think the audience might have reacted to John Cage in 1952. We also discuss the sounds that the audience might have heard or made during that long period of silence, along with Cage's belief that "everything is music." This conversation really pushes students to think outside of the box and is a great intro to our Found Sounds Project (I call it the Weird Instruments Project).

Students are instructed to bring in a household item for the next week's class that they think they can use to make music. It cannot be electronic, nor can it be an actual instrument. In the past, students have brought in Snapple caps, water bottles, plastic bags, spoons, and various other items. The next week, they are divided into groups of four and here are their instructions:

With your group members, you will be creating a 1-minute long composition using your household instruments. You may notate it below and on the back of the paper in any way that your group chooses, but it must be consistent and clear. Your group will perform the composition for the class and you will be graded on your notation and performance. Each composition must include:
  • Solos, as well as playing as a group
  • Soft and loud dynamics
  • Fast and slow tempos
  • At least one repeated section
  • A clear beginning and ending
This project is fun to complete because it gives students a lot of freedom to compose what they want. I am excited to see what my 5th graders come up with this year!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Yes, I know it's May and I am just starting this blog, but I thought I'd start sharing this year and continue on into next year. I teach preK-5 General Music in Virginia. Our mascot is the All Star (we call him HB Twinkle), hence All Star Music. :)

This past week my All Star Kindergarteners listened to 16 different genres of music in my Jukebox activity. This is the second year in a row I have done this lesson, and it was very effective- and fun!

I purchased a book called Jukebox. (You can buy it here: It is composed almost completely of pictures with a few words on each page. We go through the book at the beginning of the class period to identify what genres of music we will be listening to. They include: Disco, Opera (which is actually represented twice in this book), Choral, Country, Hip Hop, Blues, Jazz, and many more.

Before the class, I have composed a playlist with one selection from each of these genres. The past two years I have used two completely different playlists- which is great because it's fun for me to find new selections. The students receive a sheet of paper with 8 boxes on each side- one box for each musical selection. I ask them to choose 5 crayons for the activity and find their own personal space. I explain that they will draw a picture in each box that depicts how the music makes them feel. The picture could just be a face, it could include aspects of the music that they hear, or even a word that describes how they feel. It's really cool to see the different ways students choose to express themselves.

I go through the book page by page for a second time- this time playing part of the song I have chosen for each specific genre. Before the music is played, I point out the correct box on the paper where the students are drawing. I play about a minute of each selection and allow students to draw/write in the specified box.

After we have listened to all 16 selections and students have finished drawing, I have some students share their favorite music and how it made them feel. Here are a couple examples of student work from this activity:

This student chose to draw pictures of herself and how she felt during the music.

This student chose to draw faces and include words for how he felt. Opera- funny, Hip Hop- cool, Boom! (drums)- groovy, Madame Butterfly- calm

I found that this was a great way to introduce critical listening skills into a Kindergarten music classroom. I also really enjoy seeing my special education students get into it, as I am able to guide them through it while other students in the classroom are working more independently.