DMK 1/16: Stopping by Woods: Intervals, Dynamics, Beat

This was our first lesson back after the winter holiday break. I was thrilled that after the snow had almost all melted, a nice storm came in last night, so that when we awoke, there was a nice blanket of white covering the ground. One of the children in class today said that it looks like a white paper. I love hearing a child’s perspective! After a quick sharing of Peruvian music, I read a little poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, using a book with wonderfully child-friendly with illustrations by Susan Jeffers:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening illustrated by Susan Jeffers

I told the children how one night during the holiday, my house was so quiet. I was sitting in front of the fire and it was dark outside with big snowflakes fluttering silently down. I remembered this poem, and I remembered that I had written a little melody to go with the pome. I sang the song/poem to them, using the book again.

(This is where the audio file will go when it is working again!)

I then taught them the first phrase (“Whose woods these are I think I know”), then the second (“His house is in the village, though”). Then we added them together. Next we learned the third and fourth phrases and added them onto the first two. That’s as far as we went. I used some impromptu actions, such as pointing to my head for the “think I know” part, showing a roof with my hands for the “house” part, and pointing out the window towards the homes in the neigbhorhood for “village, though”.)

Mrs. S. got the bells out and put them at each child’s desk. She dismissed the children to their desks, row by row, and I told them to practice an ascending scale (“Beginning on Daddy Do and going up to Baby Do.”) When everyone was there together, we started.

I showed the ascending scale, which we played. Playing in unison is the challenge of the year! Then we played by skips up and down the scale. I had the children perform by table. We did this for sometime until it was the end. We tried first singing the Solfa and then playing the Solfa of the first phrase of “Whose Woods These Are.”

We didn’t listen to another song about this poem or snow, but these could have been a good resource:

The beginning of “Winter” by Vivaldi:

Here’s an interesting video showing snow falling with New Age music in the background:

Here is Tchaicovsky’s “Winter Dreams” that could be a peaceful time for closing eyes and imaging snow fallings…for a minute…


DMK 12/4/15: “Deck the Halls” Part 1 (Scales and Dynamics)

Today I taught the children that this:

Ascending scale Solfa dots
Click on the image to go to a printable PDF of this scale.

is called a scale. Specifically, it’s an “ascending scale.” I also put this up on the board next to it:
Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 3.13.40 PM

and told them it is called a “descending scale.” We repeated the words “ascending scale” and “descending scale” several times and motioned the meaning, by bending down by our toes and reaching up to the sky saying “ascending scale” and then bending back down to our toes, saying “descending scale.” We also sang and signed the scales.

Then, since we were down by our toes, I asked them if they remembered the growing pumpking game, and if anyone ate any pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. We did the growing pumpkin game. After, I asked them if they remembered how we write “piano” or “forte” (as well as the other words, pianissimo, mezzo piano, mezzo forte, and fortissimo). I wrote “pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff” on the board as they named the terms. They did a pretty good job remembering after not meeting for two weeks!

Then we sat back down, and I opened up Deck the Halls illustrated by Norman Rockwell. I went over each page in the first verse, explaining the meaning of these unfamiliar words:

deck= decorate
boughs= branches
holly= tree with pointy green leaves and red (not for eating!) berries
’tis= it + is (taking away the first “i”)
season= time of year
jolly= happy, like Santa Claus!
don= put on
gay apparel= bright, festive (i.e. Christmas) clothes
troll= sing
ancient= very old
Yule tide= Christmas time
carol= song

We sang the song again, using the pictures in the book. Then I went over each line with them by diving the class up by rows, telling them that they were a “choir.” The first two rows on my left sang, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” and then I invited the whole class to sing the “fa la la” part. The next two rows in front of me I taught, “‘Tis the season to be jolly,” adding in the rest of the class again for the “fa la la” part. “Don we now our gay apparel” was the final 2 rows on my right, and then the “Troll the ancient Yule tide carol” was the whole class. Then we stood up, turned around and sang for the teacher.

After our performance, I sent the children to get their bells and go to their desks.  We practiced ascending scales and then descending scales. It was hard for some of the children to remember to begin at “Baby Do” (High Do) for the descending scale. It’s also hard for them to not play the bells in between repetitions or during my instructions. (I can only imagine! I would have been bored as a child, always waiting in between, too!) They did a good job.

After we practiced both scales, I taught them the first part of the first phrase:

Deck the Halls First phrase moving Solfa dots

I showed them how the notes go down for scale for the first part, then back up, and then down again. We drew the shape of the phrase in the air with our hands/arms. We sang and signed the phrase. Then we played the first part, sol fa mi re do, 3 times before we had to end our day.

We sang goodbye after we put away our bells.

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!