Strategies for teaching the major scale

05 March, 2019


Looking for fun ways to teach about the major scale? In this blog post, I'll detail my favorite singing game for teaching the major scale, a hands-on way to teach the major scale, and how to use instruments to deepen students' understanding!

Strategies for teaching the major scale: A singing game, hands-on manipulatives, and instrument ideas for teaching the do major scale!

"Chumbara"
If you've taught fa and ti to your students and would like to teach about the major scale, folk songs can be a great way to reinforce these concepts! One of my favorite singing games is called "Chumbara," a French-Canadian singing game. Here is the notation:

Strategies for teaching the major scale: A singing game, hands-on manipulatives, and instrument ideas for teaching the do major scale!

For the game, students sit in a circle and do these movements:
Beats 1-2:        Pat x 2
Beats 3-4:        Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 5-6:        Pat x 2
Beats 7-8:        Pat own right knee with left hand and neighbor’s knee with right hand x 2
Beats 9-10:      Pat x 2
Beats 11-12:    Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 13-14:    Pat, cross
Beats 15-16:    Pat,  pat left neighbor’s knee with left hand and right neighbor’s knee with right hand
Beats 17-18:    Pat x 2
Beats 19-20:    Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 21-22:    Pat x 2
Beats 23-24:    Pat own right knee with left hand and neighbor’s knee with right hand x 2
Beats 25-26:    Pat x 2
Beats 27-28:    Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 29-30:    Pat, cross
Beats 31-32:    Pat,  pat left neighbor’s knee with left hand and right neighbor’s knee with right hand

For additional verses, students can sing "fy-do-lee," for the second verse, "chow-ber-ski" for the 3rd
verse, and they can also create their own verses with three syllable nonsense words!

Manipulatives
There are many manipulatives that could work for practicing the major scale. Solfa manipulatives could be a great way to practice half and whole steps. Another fun way to practice the major scale is to use Legos or building blocks to build a scale!
Amy Abbott wrote about this very idea in this blog post; click the picture below to read more!



This could be done in small groups or in centers! I love how half and whole steps can be practiced in such a hands-on way!

Instruments
Another great way to practice the major scale is with instruments. There are three types of instruments I'm writing about today: Boomwhackers, Orff instruments, and the Otamatone.

I'm not normally a huge fan of Boomwhackers, because I don't think they make the best sound, but I do think they work really well for the major scale. To use them to practice the major scale, you could randomly hand out the Boomwhackers, have the students arrange themselves lowest to highest (which can be great for science integration, having them compare pitch to length), then play from lowest to highest, singing on solfa. This set by Amy Abbott could also work really well for Boomwhackers!

If playing Orff instruments, you could hand the students a song they know written in stick notation, such as "Chumbara" or "Come Follow," and have students figure out if do is C, how to play each song. If students are doing well with this, you could have them play in different keys, such as F major or G major, as long as you have  a Bb bar or F# bar. To further improve their inner hearing skills, you could have them figure out which bars need to be swapped out if starting on a different note!

My last activity for using instruments to teach the major scale is the otamatone. This is a really fun instrument that my upper elementary kids love! It is a battery-operated instrument that plays different pitches depending on where you slide your finger. You can mark the solfa on the side, like this:

Strategies for teaching the major scale: A singing game, hands-on manipulatives, and instrument ideas for teaching the do major scale!

I plan on having students work with the otamatone soon, during centers. I'll have a song in stick notation, similar to what I described for Orff instruments, and students will take turns figuring out how to play the song by sliding their finger!

I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you prepare to teach the major scale! I've created this set, which could also assist you in teaching ti, low ti, and the major and minor scales.


Happy teaching!

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