Oh boy, centers!

So simple a kidnergartner could do it..right? We see them all the time in the normal classroom being used by teachers to help students become independent thinkers and learners with only a minimal amount of guidance. I took on the challenge of integrating centers into my classroom this year after attending the General Music academy at MEW2010 hoping to come up with some creative ideas to keep my students engaged and independently reinforcing music concepts. The following is a list of centers I have used this year so far categorized into four groups, Instruments, Games, Technology, and Creative station.


Boomwhacked!- For this station simple folk songs are set out for students that I have laminated and instead of notes I use just simple letter notation (Some of my students are not strong enough to read notes on their own just yet. This at least gets them playing and helps them with taking a note and bringing it to the instrument) Students are allowed to get into groups or play by themselves and play the simple folk songs using the boom whackers.
*Sometimes students decide to walk around and frustrate others with the instruments, create a set area and volume they may play at.

Drums- I have a large set of Remo World percussion for kids. At this station students choose an instrument and a handful of popsicle sticks. I have 4 colors and each color represents a note or rest (For me Yellow=Quarter note, Green=Quarter Rest, Blue=Half note, Red=1 set of eighth notes). Students can play by themselves or in small groups and put the popsicle sticks in a pattern then try to play it on the instrument.

Xylophones- This station is similar to Boomwhackers but first students are asked to create a 3 note melody and share it with a partner before taking one of the simple folk songs and playing them on the Xylophones (I have the letter notation and normal note notation at this station to accommodate students who are not yet comfortable with note notation yet)

Creative Station

Books- Students are provided with a large selection of books I have in the classroom that have something to do with music. They read through a few and choose one. As a center group they find all the characters in the book and choose a small percussion instrument. One student reads through the book and they switch out the names of each character for the percussion sound. (Stretch activity with this is to have students find the action verbs instead of the characters and do the same). This activity is based on a storyscape.

Chord Contraption- I got this idea from a Quaver Music episode (www.quavermusic.com). Students have a basis for what a simple chord is before entering this station. (I let students know it is a group of 3 notes played at the same time.) Students look at the picture of Quaver’s chord contraption which is a large bar with 3 equally spaced legs. They try to make their own using a box of Knex. After they are done I have them test it out on a piece of paper with a piano drawn out on it. If their contraption gives them the C, F, and G chords successfully they can make their contraption bigger and better.

Nascar Notes and Rests- This is a game I came up with to help students learn notes and rests, the instructions are here: https://celticnovelist.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/nascar-notes/


Ipads- I acquired 3 ipads through a grant and so far have used them for 2 stations. The first is using them for simple notation. The students bring up Symphony Pro and will compose a melody using notes and rests they have learned so far. They can play back what they compose instantly and save their work for a later time. The other app we have used has been Garageband where students create loop songs and those songs get sent to PE class where students test their heart rate against the tempo of the song.

Netbooks- I have access to computer carts on wheels. Each student is required to log in using their library log on information. (You may have a couple of desktops in your room students use instead.) I set out a website that I want students to go to and a guideline for what they should be doing. A majority of the time when I do this station I will have them enter Quavermusic.com and create in their Q studio.


Short Story- I have done one short story prompt this year and with it I asked students to use as many dynamic and tempo words as they had learned and put them into the craziest story they could think of. (I got some crazy ones!!). Remind students they need to be appropriate but remember they need to be creative too. I don’t give them a minimum or maximum for their amount of writing s long as they are on task and moving a long.

Writing Prompt- Set a list of possible writing prompt suggestions out for students and provide paper. Make sure the possible prompts have something to do with music. This center really can get students thinking deeper about the subject we teach.

Describing a song- I have used Stars and Stripes Forever for this station. Set out a CD player with the song and paper with pencils. Ask them what instruments they hear, how loud or soft the music gets, how fast or slow, or even how the music makes them feel. You would be surprised about the answers you receive. After they are complete I usually have sticks set out so they can conduct with the music until time is up.

Graphic Notation- Inspired by Michael Colgrass’ way of graphic notation students use lines and dots with a large instrumentation and show where they want each melody to progress through the dots and lines. If they want the melody to go up then the lines go up and the same with down. After students finish I ask them to sing it in their head then share at least one instrument line with a friend. I have an example out for them that I have done myself so they can fully understand the assignment.

I have 40 minute classes and see my students twice a week. With four centers set out I divide each class into 4 groups and they get 15 minutes at each station and set of centers lasts 1 week.

These are some centers I have done, if anyone reading would like any help, any of my tools, or has any other great center ideas comment, email, you know where I am 😉

5 Website recommendations and how I use them

Some websites I have used in class over the past year and a half.

Dsokids.com –This is the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s website. It has wonderful games for students that range in concepts from composers to music symbols. It also has a great list of listening examples that I use often in class organized by composers and instruments. I use this website a lot with my younger students. My K-2 focus a lot on instruments and for them to see and hear the instruments helps recognizing them later. I will usually use my desktop computer and projector when using the website for listening so the whole class can participate at the same time. There are times I will bring out the netbooks for 2nd and will ask them to focus on the games on the website. They are kid friendly and easy for them to understand. My students have a blast playing next to each other and don’t even know their learning.

Nyphilkids.org- This is the website of the New York Philharmonic. A recent discovery that has become an instant hit in my classroom. The virtual tours throughout the building capture students attention. The virtual instruments and music composition games keep my students excited about music. I will sit students down as a class and take the virtual tours of the building then let them loose on the netbooks to take tours at their own pace jumping into the games room after.

Aviary.com- I used this website a lot last year focusing mainly on the audio editor and drum loop creator. The editor was easy to use and my students enjoyed the different tracks in Quantum tracks and the drum loop creator using the dots was so simple to use .I liked the site because it was a great way to get students creating not only in music but also in art as well. I completed a large project with my 5th graders that asked for them to create a drum loop then create a piece in the audio editor using their drum loop. It was a great way to get students acquainted to technology they have never used before. Aviary Education looks very promising as well. I have not used it yet in the classroom but have tested it out with students and love how much I can protect and monitor work as their teacher.

Quavermusic.com- A new site out this year and I have to say, I’m in love. It has everything I could have asked for and more. Logging with your free account you and your students can travel back in time and visit composers in the phone booth. The studio provides opportunities for your students to create their own music whether it is on the Q Loops, the Q Composer or the QStrum. The music room provides students with video clips of Quaver’s DVD series teaching them musical concepts. The arcade also sits in the music room giving students a chance to reinforce concepts they learn through fun activities. Underneath the streets of Quaver also sits the Metro where students can travel to different concert venues and learn about different genres of music while playing games and earning diplomas. I use this website in two different ways. The first is to send my older students on the net books with a mission they need to complete within class time. Most of my students love this website and with the little direction I give them they take their musical learning to the next step all on their own. My younger students use this website to compose as a class. We have created a plethora of melodies and rhythms on the Q composer that have been played on our classroom instruments.

Evernote.com- Not only a strong app but also great online. I use this website to take notes, outline my lessons for each quarter, and I also put my lessons for the day on there and project them on the board for my students so they know what is going to happen during their lesson.

I am still looking for some awesome websites to use in class. If you have any suggestions especially for K-2 I’d love to hear them. I am looking for some that I can project on the board and have whole classes be able to participate at once instead of using the net books all the time.

Bring the melody with you

This week I decided it was a good idea to complete a craft project with my younger ones. We have been discovering our singing words (solfedge) that help us sing melodies with no words and this was really the cumulative project. We called them melody bracelets and the kids adored them. Here’s what you need:
– a different color bead for each symbol (I did 5 colors 1 for each of Do-So)
– cups to hold each color bead
– kids craft string ( can be anything that is kid friendly, yarn, plastic string, string etc.)
– container for the string
– display to tell the students which color stands for each solfedge symbol

I first emptied the bags of beads into the containers. I would suggest containers that seal well so you can prevent accidental spills. After I put those aside I decided to cut the strings for the classes, I know who ever is reading this is probably thinking that cutting 150 some odd strings for students is crazy but I accomplished this in about 15 minutes and it will save you time and a headache in class. Tie one knot at the end of each one for your kindergarten and maybe 1st.
I’ve found that 2nd on up can do it themselves. Then put them all in the containers for class.
After you have set up the beads and string create a large chart with what color is what so the students can see which solfedge words they should be singing. Also, make sure your students are proficient in solfedge before doing this activity. I don’t explain solfedge in my class, we just do and will use them for everything from substituting for lyrics to writing the words on the board and pointing to them in a random order for them to sing to helping us sing melodies that have no words.

Class time:

First thing first is lay down the rules. You do not want students throwing beads and diving all over the place. I tell my students they must stay on the rug and are only allowed to move if they need my assistance or to help a friend. I also say they are only allowed 5 beads (5-10 for 2nd) of different colors, they are not allowed 5 of the same. After they are done with the bracelets they may help a friend or share there melody with a friend nearby.
I have the containers laid out in the center of the circle on the rug and call up a few people at a time to choose beads and sit at their seats to make 5 or more patterns and sing each one quietly to themselves. After they are done the students come and tell me and I hand them a string with a knot to make a bracelet. When they are done stringing a bracelet they can come back to me and I make another knot to tie off the beads before tying it on their wrists.

Be prepared to have a lot of bracelets to tie and be prepared to pick up the occasional dropped bead!

This activity had a lot of excited students who were so excited to share their melodies with their friends. I had a room of singing and lots of smiles. The whole point of the activity was to get students singing everywhere they go, and sharing their music with others and the bracelets were a physical reminder for them.

Like this activity? Try it out! Then let me know how it goes!

5 iPad recommendations and how to use them

I’ve been recently diving into melody and style with my students. I’ve been trying to get them to hear the instruments, listen to the notes going up and down, and mix their own melodies. Here are my top 5 apps I’ve been using with my students and how I’m using them in my class;

GarageBand– Starting to really love this app. It’s great for my 4th and 5th graders who have already learned what it means to be a melody and now need to move on to form and style. What we have been doing so far with it is taking the loops and creating either a one or two section song. They are in two groups due to only having 2 iPads and pass the iPad around each inputting one loop the way they choose. Each class has learned how to manipulate the loops the way they would like and I have even gone so far with one class where they have brought in their band instruments and recorded their own tracks to put into their song.

Symphony Pro– In my opinion the best app for simple notation on the market. My students use this app usually either in large groups or as a notation center. It has a great selection of symbols and notes to input and you can add to the composition by pulling up the piano tool and simply touching the keys. For centers I will have students a list of instructions to complete on the app which usually pertain to something we are learning during full instruction time in class. In big group settings I project mine on the projector and the students are in small groups hunkered around the other iPads getting to try it out for themselves.

Moozart– LOVE this app, my K-2 enjoy it so much it gets asked for over and over. What happens in this app is there is a staff and animal sounds that change in pitch wherever they are placed on the staff. There are also pre programmed songs in it in which you can pull up and have students watch and sing along. I love to use this app because it helps my K-2 crowd understand hi/low, up/down, notes on the staff, and overall melody and harmony. I can put a pattern up and discuss these elements with them while they enjoy listening to the funny sounds.

Beatwave– This is a fun app to do small and short activities with. So far I have drawn students names in it and have had some of them draw symbols. We listen, and then I let them give me 3 comments about it. Its a great way to break the ice, get them thinking about music, and having the students start thinking critically.

Dolce Music Flashcards– Best flash card app ever..It has cards for bass and treble notes, symbols, and key signatures. I can put my IPad up on the projector and set it for 10, 25, or 50 questions and have students raise their hand or cold call them to answer the question. It gives 4 choices for answer and you can time them or not. This activity can take me about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class to help students practice quickly identifying notes and rests.

These are just 5 awesome apps you can use in the classroom. There are so many out there, I’ll keep looking and trying them out if you will!