DMK 11/19/15: Dynamics and the Growing Pumpkin Game

PumpkinsToday in Mrs. S’s class I introduced the concept of dynamics. We started out as usual, singing our DM Theme Song, but I sang each phrase of the song either loud or soft. After we sang it, I asked the children if they noticed anything different about the way I sang the song. Some of them noticed. I confirmed that I had sung some parts louder and other parts softer.I showed them two pumpkins I had brought: one very large pumpkin and one very tiny pumpkin. I asked them how large a pumpkin seed is. (I forgot to bring my pumpking seeds!) They showed me with their hands and I drew one up on the board. I explained that pumpkins grow from small seeds. Music can grow from soft to loud also. I told them we were going to learn “The Growing Pumpkin Game.”

I told them I would show them the game first, so they could just watch this time to learn how to do it. I knelt down on the floor and put my head down in front of my knees and my arms curled up under me. I told them I was making myself tiny like a seed. I told them they needed to be silent to hear what I would say. I whispered, “pianissimo.” Then I put my bent arms up on my legs and said, a little louder, “piano.” Then I sat up while still kneeling and said, a little louder, “mezzo piano.” Then I knelt up on my knees and said, a little louder still, “mezzo forte.” Then I stood up and said louder still, “forte.” Then I jumped up and made my arms go up and down to the sides like a water fountain, calling out the loudest of all, “fortissimo!

Then I knelt back down and started over, this time with the children doing it with me. We did this two or three times.Dynamic markings

I got up and went to the whiteboard, where I wrote down the abbreviations for the six dynamic markings I just taught them: pp   p   mp   mf   f   ff. I opened up a songbook and showed them a piece of music. (I meant to show them one with a dynamic marking in the music, but I grabbed the wrong piece!) I told them that if someone writes a song and wants it played loud, then they write a forte or f under the notes. If they want it played piano, they write a p. I can’t remember if I pointed out that when we tell someone to play or sing a song loudly or softly, this is called “dynamics” in music. Each of those abbreviations is a dynamic marking. (I also told them that in their songs, if they choose a “Baby do” for one of their notes, they need to show it by putting an apostrophe next to a d on their red dot, so that someone playing it will know it is not “Daddy do.“)song garden example with dynamic marking pp

We sang “Over the River and Through the Woods” (I can’t remember if I told them to sing it f or p like I had intended!) to review and then went to get our bells.

I had them bring their bells over to their seats. I handed out their songs (the ones they wrote on 3″x5″ cards last week) and asked them to choose a dynamic marking and write it below with a crayon.

We warmed up by practicing an ascending and descending scale on the bells.  I modeled it for them first: d r m f s l t d’ d’ t l s f m r d. Then I cued them, “1-2-ready-play.” They played with me (sort of) as I very slowly led them in their scale. I asked the teacher after, “Did we sound like one voice or 30 voices?” She said “Maybe 15.” So I encouraged them to try to play right with me, at exactly the same time, not any faster or any slower. We played the scale again. After each scale, I told them, “Mallet on your head” or “Mallet on your ear” or “Mallet on your nose,” so they didn’t start playing while I was talking.  I pointed out that I heard some children playing each note several times, and that I wanted them to only play one note right with me. We played it a third time.

song garden example with dynamic marking

Then I had them play their own song once, then hand it to their neighbor and have them play their song, especially playing it with the dynamic marking. Then we had performances. I had two children play their neighbor’s song. It was fun to see which dynamic marking they had chosen, as some wrote “ff” and others”pp.” (I had them fix any red dots to distinguish if it was low do/Daddy do or high do/Baby do.) It challenged them to figure out how to play their bells louder or softer.

We had so much fun and ran out of time as usual! We closed up our bells, collected the song cards, and sang our goodbye song. I put the bells away myself because I had gone over time.

Note: My apologies that I don’t remember who taught me the dynamics “game” that I have called “The Growing Pumpkin Game.” It was years ago in a Suzuki Music workshop class with my children. Many thanks to whomever it was who taught me this “game” that the children love so well and helps them understand dynamic markings so quickly!

Composers and composing: easier than you think!

Helping children learn to write a song is simple. We don’t expect the vast majority of childre to write like Shakespeare or Milton when they start writing their first sentences. Neither would we expect one to quit trying to compose music just becuase their song doesn’t sound like one of Mozart’s concertos. We are simply trying to teach the process.

Today I had an idea for a song for the letter Z. I sat down and jotted down some words to what I named “Zazzaloopseedoo.”

Then my daughter Rebecca walked in the door. I invited her to write a tune to the lyrics. I handed her a set of resonator bells, and she got a pencil and paper. A few minutes later, she had a little tune written down in Solfa notation (just the first letter of each note).

Rebecca composing

Rebecca composingNow, my daughter and I aren’t Rogers and Hammerstein, but we had fun in the creative process. And this process is the building block from which nearly all children can learn to write a song. How we continue to develop that skill can help those who discover that they feel very excited about the process to want to continue. Not everyone has to become a music composer! But teaching and learning the simple process of writing a tune can allow every child to experience the joy of creating.

I’m so happy!

I am SUPER happy today on several counts:

1. I found out that just this fall, the famous song we all have sung our whole lives, “Happy Birthday to You” (or “The Birthday Song”) is now in the public domain! That means we can use it on this website! We can make recordings to use in class! Woohoo! Time to celebrate!

2. I finished the page for “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It is essentially what I hope all the free song pages will look like in the future when all the songs are written and have Song Garden© song pages, piano sheet music, Solfa note name dictation, and history about the song as well as any images that you might use to teach the song. Hooray!

3. I wrote some little lyrics for a Z song. Want to create the tune for it?

I would love anyone’s help who wants to help. Together we can build a great free resource for any parent, child, or teacher to use!

The Happy Birthday Song

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear (the name of the child),
Happy Birthday to you!

d d r d f m
d d r d s f
d d d’ l f m r
t t l f s f

Patty Hill and her sister, Mildred, wrote this song for Patty’s kindergarten students in 1893. It is now sung millions of times every year around the world!

This photo from the L.A. Times online. Click on the image to go to the source.
Patty Smith Hill and her sister, Mildred Hill. For more information, go to the photo source by clicking on the photo.

DMK 3.4: Composers and composing: YOU are the composer!

3.4: Composing and Composers (for a PDF version of this lesson plan, click here.

New Concepts: Composing music

Review Concepts: Composers

2 min.: Sing the DM theme song, then follow up on last week. Who remembers what a composer is? What composer did we learn about last week? What song did she write?

6-8 min.: A composer is someone who composes music. What does it mean to compose music? It means to write music. What is a song you know? Do you know who wrote that song? What about the song we sang last week? (“Over the River and Through the Woods?”) (See what the children remember, what they know.) Today we’re going to learn about some composers and then YOU are going to be a composer! YOU are going to write your very own song! Share 1-2 examples of songs and their composers (go to sidebar under Free Music and click on “The Happy Birthday Song,” “Over the River and Through the Woods,” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb“–as well as others!–for photos and stories behind these compositions.). Sing one verse of “Over the River and Through the Woods” in Solfa and using the book or just your own actions or with visuals—however you choose. Sing it more than once to help the children learn it. (Next week you will help them play some of it on the bells, so your goal is to help them have the tune solidly in their head. Words and multiple repetitions help the tune to “stick” and vice versa.)

5-7 min.: Teach how to retrieve, handle, play the bells. Tell the children that each set of bells is expensive and was a gift from mnay people. Tell them that they need to last for many kindergarten classes for many years, so we need to take care of them very gently. Does anyone have a new baby at their home? How do we take care of a new baby? That is also how you take care of a musical instrument: you are VERY gently. You don’t drop it. You open and close it very carefully.

If possible, have the children take their bells to their desks to play them. How you do this depends on number of students, where you store the bells, and how the teacher wants you to move the children. My best suggestion is to model how you want this done, and then invite the children to go get their bells one group–such as one line or one table–at a time. Tell them what you are looking for, and then praise them specifically for each part that they do correctly. Praise as specifically and as frequently as you can during this first time! (“I love how Fred is walking quietly to pick up his bells. I love how Judy put her bells down on the desk so gently. I love how Cindy opened her case but is waiting quietly for everyone to have their bells out before she gets the mallets out. I love how Roger is holding his mallet up in the air until I say to lower it,” etc.)

5 min.: Teach the children how to write a song. Model a simple composition process for 1 minute, then hand out a 3″x5″ card to each child. Have them write their name on one side of the card, then flip it over and color dots for the notes they want to play.

3 min.: Performances. Ask 3 children (or as many children as there is remaining time) to share their songs with the class. They play the notes that they colored on their 3×5 card. Remind the other children to use their best “audience manners” by listening politely to each performer and then clapping for each person at the end of their performance. The performers acknowledge the audience by bowing. You could also have “turn to your partner” performances if you want.

5 min.: Teach how to put away the bells in a careful and orderly way.

1 minute: Sing “Adios, Amigos” (Goodbye Song).