30 January, 2019
Tips for Teaching First Grade Music

Tips for Teaching First Grade Music

First graders are at such a fun age. They are curious, but can follow directions a bit better than their Kindergarten counterparts. They are excited, they are joyful, and they can really start diving into musical literacy! In today's blog post, I'm writing with tips for teaching first grade.

Tips for teaching first grade music: Activities and strategies to make your elementary music lessons fun and engaging!


In this blog post, I wrote about my tips for teaching Kindergarten, which included routine. With first grade, routine is still important. Just like I do with Kindergarten, I start with a singing game, such as "Apple Tree" or "We are dancing," and then we do the song "Here we are together," which is to the tune of "The more we get together." I use the words:

Oh, here we are together, together, together,
Oh, here we are together in music today.
With Macy, and Jenna, and ....(sing all students' names)
Oh, here we are together in music today.

After that, we do greetings, in which I listen to four students sing solos, and then we sing the first song of the lesson and do concentrated work with it, whether it be with rhythm or melody. However you structure your lesson, it's wonderful for there to be aspects of it that are routine, so kids know what to expect.

Try centers

Although I have tried centers in Kindergarten with success, I feel like in first grade they are even more ready to work independently in centers. They love the autonomy and being able to showcase their knowledge!

If you haven't tried centers and are wondering what they might look like in the music room, here is a video I recently posted on my YouTube channel:

This video shows specific ideas for rhythm centers with first grade:

Challenge them

Even though they are only six or seven years old, first graders are ready for a challenge! Whether you have them keep the beat in their feet and the rhythm in their hands as they speak "Bee Bee," or have one half of the class read one rhythm with ta and ti-ti while the other half of the class reads another, they are SO excited to show you what they are capable of! My friend Amy Abbott created this game to practice partwork skills that is both challenging and fun!

...But don't forget that they are six!

Even though they are ready for more challenging tasks, they ARE still six or seven, so they love a LOT of the same activities that they loved in Kindergarten. Check out this blog post for some of my favorite Kindergarten activities...first graders still beg for the bunny game! The fun part about that game is that you can make it more challenging for them, by having the distance between the high and low trills decrease, so students really have to differentiate between high and low.

Give chances for small group work

At this age, first graders are more ready to work in small groups--to create, to make musical decisions, and more! In this blog post, I wrote about using composition cards to have students compose. This past November at the AOSA conference,  I found the book "Rain," linked below, at the West Music booth. I decided to use it with first grade, to assign a page to each small group, and then have them decide movement and/or instruments to accompany the reading of each page. Students were so creative with their choices, and had tons of fun performing! (Note: This is an affiliate link.)

If you're looking for more first grade ideas, I have a free first grade lesson; you can download by clicking below.

If you'd like more, check out these First Grade lesson sets:


Anything you want to add about First Grade? Please comment below! Happy teaching!
09 January, 2019
Best Practices for Children's Choir

Best Practices for Children's Choir

Looking for ideas for your elementary or middle school choir? In this podcast episode, I'm talking with my friend and colleague Matthew Parker about best practices for children's choir!

Best practices for children's choir: Podcast and blog post with ideas for warm-ups, octavos, social events for choir, and more!

Listen to the podcast here:

Matthew Parker received his master of music in music education with an emphasis on Kodaly From capital University. He currently teaches at Johnnycake Corners Elementary school in the Olentangy Local School District in Central Ohio. Matthew was voted as Teacher of the Year during the 2008-2009 school year. Matthew was also selected as the Columbus Symphony Elementary Music Educator of the year in 2015. During the 2012-2013 academic year, Matthew worked with, and hosted, the Emmy nominated Carpe Diem string quartet to bring an online, interactive concert series to students in several states across the nation. Matthew was a director on staff with the Columbus Children’s Choir, and has two elementary choirs at his school. As a composer, one of the songs was prepared by the Columbus Children’s Choir. As a performer, Matthew has performed with the Capital University Chapel Choir, Columbus Symphony Chorus, and the Lancaster Chorale.

In this podcast, Matthew discusses everything from choosing music to warm-ups. Here are specific notes with his suggestions:

Matt conceptualizes his choir as having three aspects:
  • Performance: Formal performance opportunities, such as evening concerts
  • Community: Community performance opportunities, such as performing at a community center, caroling, etc.
  • Social events: Such as a pancake breakfast or movie night for choir students
Thinking of best practices for choosing music? Here is Matt's formula for choosing repertoire:
  • Well-written text: purposefully and authentically written
  • Excellent piano accompaniment: Make sure it's not in an odd key, not written by non-pianist. Can try out several with your piano accompanist to help decide your final repertoire.
  • Extractable phrases
  • Have to love it!
Here are Matt's favorite octavos:
Rounds can be a great way to improve partwork skills and add to a concert program. Here are Matt's favorite rounds:
  • Frere Jacques
  • Laugh, ha, ha
  • The Ghost of Tom/ John
  • Dona Nobis Pacem
As you are choosing music, here are arrangers and composers whose music Matt and I love:
  • Ruth Dwyer
  • Andy Beck
  • Susan Brumfield
  • Doreen Rao
When warming up your choir, try these warm-ups:
  • sfmrd on "ooo"
  • Follow the leader:
    • Students follow the hand signs step-wise
    • Students follow the teacher with hand signs, then teacher pauses and students pause with teacher
    • Students follow the teacher with hand signs, and the teacher moves up and down 
    • Split the choir into two groups: group 1 follows one hand sign, group 2 follows the other hand sign
As you're planning for choir, here are favorite resources from Matt and I:
I hope you have found this helpful as you plan for your children's choir rehearsals. A huge thank you to Matt for his expertise and willingness to share!

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