As children come to learn more and more about how music is put together, they will begin to have new ears to hear any music. They add critical thinking skills to their musical experiences and will enjoy many kinds of music. They also come to understand and love music as they have hands on experiences creating their own music. They can have that experience through private lessons or by just doing some of the fun lessons that I will share.

The lessons will center on the Elements of Music: Beat, Rhythm, Style, Melody, Expression, Form, Timbre, Harmony, and Texture. You can watch as children become confidant at discussing these elements and hearing them in the music they listen to each day. They will enjoy using these elements to create their own music.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Carnival of the Animals Day 1

Introducing Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns

  • Introduction and Royal March of the Lion
  • Hens and Roosters
  • Wild Asses: Swift Animals
  • Tortoises
  • The Elephant
  • Kangaroos
  • Aquarium
  • Personages with Long Ears
  • The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods
  • Aviary
  • Pianists
  • Fossils
  • The Swan
  • Finale

I always looked forward to this unit each year.  It is an introduction to composition giving children an understanding that music can be used to describe something.  "From the beginning, Saint-Saëns regarded the work as a piece of fun." (Wiki-pedia)  I fully intended that this whole unit would be fun!

I wanted to start by getting the children excited about the music and to not only hear the music but see the instruments.  I chose to start with a video.  Choosing a good video that will engage the children is not always easy.  At the time I was teaching, the best one on the market was a DVD featuring Gary Burkoff.  You can find this one now on You Tube at

As I looked online today, I see there are several options.  I still like the Gary Burkoff version for its integration of live persons, animations, and the orchestration.

There are numerous versions on You Tube.  Feel free to use whichever form you like to introduce the music.  

FYI:  Everyone likes different pieces of music and children are no different.  With that in mind, it has been my experience that not all of these pieces will be entertaining to the children.  That does not mean that I did not use them.  However, it may not be necessary to play an entire piece of music to teach a certain concept. 


Disney Productions included the Introduction in it's 2000 version of Fantasia.  This can be found on You Tube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poz9nZCFmb0

Another older version with the Ogden Nash poems is the Bugs Bunny version:



If you prefer a book rather than video, then you might like this one.  The Carnival of the Animals (Book and CD) Hardcover by Jack Prelutsky  (Author) , Camille Saint-Saens (Creator) , Mary GrandPre (Illustrator)

Jack Prelutsky and Mary GrandPre have teamed up to create a winner.  America’s first Children's Poet Laureate has written all-new verses to accompany the composer Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals, and the illustrator of the Harry Potter books has turned these rollicking rhymes into a picture-book fun fest. Included is a CD of the music and of Jack Prelutsky reading the verses. A note to parents and teachers by Judith Bachleitner, head of the music department at the prestigious Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, suggests ways preschoolers can act out the music—tromp like an elephant, hop like a kangaroo, glide like a swan—or, for older children, be creatively inspired by this joyful work.

Carnival of the Animals Day 2

Today we want to make a connection between what the music actually does, how it sounds, and how it is played to the animals that it is describing.  So the children will each get a packet of cards that has a picture of each animal.  The cards will remind them of the animals in the music they listened to yesterday.

With very young children, you may want to have them choose two or three cards at a time so that there are not so many choices.  So let's say that you choose the turtle, the kangaroo, and the aquarium.  Take time before you listen to the music for each animal to predict what the music will do.  Which music will be the slowest? Which animal moves the slowest of all three?  Which moves the fastest?  Which music might sound like hopping?  What will the fish in the aquarium be doing?  What will that sound like?  Ask any questions you like to get their minds thinking.  Then as you play each piece of music, they will be able to identify the correct animal because they have already been predicting what it will sound like.

Do this same exercise with three more of the songs and cards.  Choose animals where the differences will be pretty obvious.

Now for the next set of cards, let the children ask the questions.  Choose three animals and invite them to ask you what to listen for.  They will be able to do that.

And then for the final group of pictures, ask the children to think their questions in their head and then to think the answers. You are teaching them strategies that they can use in many situations.

With older children you could easily do half of the cards with the questions and then end with them thinking their own questions and answers in their head before you play the last pieces of music.

It is a great exercise and will help them on Day 3 when you play the game called "I See It".

Here are the animal pictures - 4 to a page.  Print on cardstock and cut them out.  Laminate if they will be used often.

Remember how I said that Saint Saens was having fun when he wrote this music.  There are three pieces in particular that are actually funny and the kids can learn to recognize what this composer did.

1.  The Tortoise - the melody for the Tortoise is the Can Can - played very, very slowly.  Young children may or may not have heard the Can Can.  Here is a funny You Tube versions they would enjoy.  It's a wedding and the bride and guest are all dancing to the Can Can.  Just a minute will be enough for the kids.  Once they see the fun of the Can Can itself, they will laugh to think the Tortoise is doing this same music!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc4NoFZUZkA

2.  The Pianists - the piano plays some very beautiful music throughout the Carnival of the Animals.  But when this particular piece comes along, the pianists are practicing their scales!

3.  The Fossils - Now we need the sound of bones so the composer adds a xylophones.  Everyone who has ever done an animation for this piece has this being played on the bones of a skeleton!  Cute idea!

Carnival of the Animals Day 3

Today the children get to act out the animals as they hear the music.  Rather than just play the music and tell them to be a fish or a bird, etc, play the game called "I See It".

In order to play this game, the children will become the animal whose music they hear.  So you start playing say the Kangaroo's music.  The children listen and as soon as they know which animal it is, they become that animal and start moving around.  You should by now see kids hopping all over the room.  As soon as most of the children are doing the correct animal, you say "I See It" and they have to freeze right where they are until the next piece begins.  To reinforce their learning, say something like "Yes, I see kangaroos jumping all over the room!"

Do this with all of the pieces.  You may have to give a little assistance this first time - especially on the slow pieces which they may confuse.  You can play this often until you see them successfully identifying the pieces.

Here are some You Tube clips of the various pieces.  For this exercise we don't care what the graphics are. Remember you can use Free You Tube Downloader to download these pieces as mp3 files if you prefer to do that.  I personally like some of the You Tube videos for the kids.  The Fossils is a really good one!

Carnival of the Animals Day 4+

Now it is time to make some fun of your own!  The children now know that you can use instruments to describe an animal.  So it is time to do exactly that!  I like to encourage them to choose an animal that was not in Carnival of the Animals so that they have to create their own ideas.  So let's just imagine a few:

Rabbit - hopping around on a xylophone or keyboard?

Snake - slithering through the grass - how about a mallet rubbing itself along a xylophone or a maraca shaking softly to create the sound of the snake slithering but all of a sudden it becomes a rattlesnake ready to attack!

Mouse - tiny little sounds- high notes on the piano or any other instrument you have?

Horse galloping - mallets playing on wood

Get the idea?  This is an exercise in creativity.  There is no right or wrong.  It's time to explore musical sounds and they can be played on a regular instrument, a pan, a wooden chair, or anything you can imagine that will create the effect you want to create.

With older children, especially if they play an instrument already, then it is fun for them to explore how they can do this on that instrument.  But with young children, anything is fair game.

Now if you really want to have some fun, try doing a shadow puppet type theater and let the children make their own animated videos of their music.

Here is a good example of using black paper cutouts with a white sheet and backlight to make an effective shadow puppet show:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUcz2W9acAQ

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Using YouTube videos

FYI:  There are several free downloadable programs that can help you download videos from YouTube.  A nice feature of these are that you can also download just the music as an mp3 file.

I use Free YouTube Downloader.  It is available at CNET.


The Composers' Union

One of my favorite enrichment classes to do with my 4th and 5th grade students was called the Highmeadow Composers' Union (HCU).  This could easily be adapted for younger students.

The idea was that the Composers' Union was a company that contracted out its employees to various other companies who needed new and original musical compositions.  I conducted this class or unit as if it was a real company.  The children needed to apply for the job.  They needed recommendations from "former employers" (teachers, parents, etc).   They had to create a resume of their former musical experiences including any school experiences, private lessons, or musical activities they had participated in.   They received a welcome letter from the CEO of the company.

The class was designed to give them opportunities to compose songs and other musical composition based on whatever level they could do this.  There were many options given to them.  The more options, the better. They got a letter from the payroll department on the first day of class giving them the guidelines for their composition based on the work they completed during their stay with the company.

Class description:  Change roles for a while and be a composer.  As a  member of  HCU, the Highmeadow Composers' Union, you will be contracted out to different companies who need your musical genius.  You will use computer technology, keyboards, and other musical instruments to perform your tasks.  At the end of the class you will have produced a CD of music written and performed by YOU!

Children are very creative.  They have lived with music all of their lives.  They can create wonderful pieces. The degree to which I expected musical correctness was based completely on the level of each student.  A student who had 3 years of private piano lessons was expected to understand notation and to be accurate if they composed a piano piece.  If a student with only 1 year of private lessons tried to write a piano composition, then my expectations were less. IMPORTANT: Since I had the resumes ahead of time, I could create jobs based on what my students were capable of doing.  

My students already were acquainted with music notation software and had some experience with using it. But certainly it is not necessary for creating music.  You as the teacher have to make that decision.  I had computers in my music room and had Finale Notepad installed on them.  Notepad is a free beginning notation program from Finale.  It is available here to download:  http://www.finalemusic.com/products/finale-notepad/

My students were required to create, publish, and record each piece of music they created for this class.

Here are the documents I created for this class.  Feel free to adapt them for your own needs.

** When you look at the sample job descriptions, remember that I created these based on the skills I knew my students had.  You will have to create your own job descriptions based on what your students or children can do.  For younger children, these could all be songs they create or simple instrumental pieces on whatever instruments you have at your disposal.  I had my students publish their music so they would have written copies.  That was in my curriculum so it was required at my school. You do not have to do that.  Adapt this to your needs and desires.  It is first and foremost a chance for children to create music.  The creative process is only effective when you work at whatever level the children are capable of doing.  And it needs to be FUN!

EMPLOYEE RECOMMENDATION FORM:  (I used this same form to write my final evaluation of each student at the end of the class)

                                                                                    February 24, 2012

To Whom It May Concern,

___________________________ worked as an employee of my company from

_______________ through _________________.  Based on the work this employee

accomplished while working for the company


I recommend this person for employment for the following reasons:
Job skills:           

Work habits:     


I do not recommend this person for employment for the following reasons: 

Job skills:           

Work habits:

                                                             Name _______________________________
                                                                        Company _____________________________


                                                                                                                        November 20, 2012

Dear               :

I am so happy to hear you are joining the Highmeadow Composer’s Union.  Our company was formed back in 1988 and has been producing music for several of our local businesses since then.  I am always excited to have new employees join the company.  Your creative energy will be an asset to us all. 

I look forward to meeting you on December 3 when the new staff will have our first business meeting.  HCU has already accepted orders from several businesses for this upcoming year.  I will be anxious to see which part of those jobs you will be interested in.

Please bring a resume with you listing all experiences you have had in music thus far during your illustrious career.


Mrs. Harbertson
President and CEO of HCU


Highmeadow Composer’s Union    A letter from payroll…

Since you are working for a limited period of time, payday is at the end of your job assignment.  Listed below are the fees you can earn for this job.

Wages are the fees you earned for each job completed. ($100.00 per job)

Employee fees refers to money ($25.00 each) that was subtracted from your paycheck to repay the company for the following:

Janitorial fees when the custodian needs to clean up after you.
          (Responsible Citizen), Organization, Common Sense
Consultant fees if your employer has to help you with a project.
          (Responsible Citizen), Problem Solving, Perseverance, Initiative    
Wasted time fee
          (Responsible Citizen), Responsibility, Organization, Common Sense,
Disturbing other employees fee
          (Responsible Citizen), Common Sense, Integrity

Typical salaries earned on this job.

(4)             Top Employees earn $400.00 and above

(3)             Average employees earn about $300.00 - $399.00
(2)             Below average employees earn $200.00 - $299.00
(1)     The employee that earns less than $200 may have trouble finding another job without upgrading some job skills.

Name ___________________________________________

Wages (Gross income) _____________

Employee Fees _________________________________________________________

Net Income ___________________




Phone Number

Previous jobs:

What instruments do you play?

How long have you taken lessons?

What kind of compositions have you created?

What do the following words mean?
1.   Rhythm

2.   Melody

3.   Form

4.   Dynamics

5.   Tempo

6.   Style

7.   Timbre

8.   Time Signature

9.    Rondo


Job #1 

1.  Write a song that will be a radio commercial for your favorite candy bar. 
2.  Once you have your song created, you must publish it using Music Time Deluxe on the computer.  Add your lyrics. 
3.  After it is published, prepare to record your commercial. Will you sing “a cappella” or accompanied?

Job #2 

1.  Write a lullaby in ¾ time that will be published on a CD for mothers of new babies as they leave the hospital.   Write your lyrics below and sing a melody to go with them.  
2.  Once you have your song created, you must publish it using Finale Notepad on the computer.  Add your lyrics. 
3.  After it is published, prepare to record your lullaby. Will you sing “a cappella “ or accompanied?

                                                                           Job #3 

1.  Write a simple piano piece in 4/4 time that uses chords in the left hand for beginning students in the key of C using C hand position.  These will be published using Finale Notepad and sold to piano teachers at a conference in March of 2012. 
2. The basic framework for this assignment is located on your computer under “My Documents”, “My Music”.  Please open the file titled “Piano” and write a right hand part (treble clef) that sounds good with the chords that are already there. 
3.  Give your piece a title.  Practice it and be prepared to record.

Job #4 

1.  Write a country western song that will kick off a fund raiser for your favorite charity.  
2.  Publish your song using Finale Notepad.  Let the teacher show you how to add chord symbols to your song. 
3.  Use a keyboard for your accompaniment.  Choose a country western style, then play the chords and sing along.  
4.  Record your song with the accompaniment.  

Job # 5  

1. Write a blues piano piece for our piano teacher’s convention.  The basic frame for this assignment will be found again on your computer.  It is called “blues”.  Make sure your right hand sounds good with that left hand accompaniment.  
2. Publish your music.  
3. To make your recording, try to play it if you are a piano student.  If not, the computer will play it as you record.
Job #6 

1.  Compose an ABACA (Rondo)composition for a tap dance class.  Make sure it is easy to dance to this music and that the dancers will hear the changes in form.
2.  Please use a keyboard for this assignment.
3.  Using the recording ability of the keyboard will be helpful.  Read the recording section of the 4th grade Keyboard lessons to get suggestions.  Then ask for help if you still need it.

Job #7

1.   Compose a piece of music to be used in a movie.
2.   The movie is a spy thriller.  The scene is where
      the spy is breaking into an office to steal
      documents to be used as evidence.
3.   Use the keyboard. 
4.   Use the recording ability of the keyboard to help you.  Layer the music with at least two layers.       
5.   Record directly from the keyboard.     

Job #8 

1.     Compose a recorder piece for an elementary school recorder book using the following notes: GABCD.
2.     Publish the song in Finale Notepad.
3.     Make an accompaniment using a keyboard.  (Get help with chords)
4.     Record yourself playing your song on your recorder with the accompaniment in the background.