And then it hit me…

I was in the middle of supervising the hockey station at our outdoor Carnaval in honor of Franco-Ontarien culture. I was watching two multi-grade teams have an absolute blast, playing a game outside while blurting out French phrases here and there. 

And I actually said it out loud: I could do an activity day just with music. 

Before you jump to picturing a hockey-musical (for that, download ‘Score’ — it’s awesome), imagine this:

10 music activities planned, organized, and ready to be lead by senior students. 
A whole school split into multi-grade ‘sections’ or teams, rotating through the 10 activities.  By the end of the rotations, everyone in the school would have a common shared experience. 

Just take a moment and think about that not only from the team-building side, but more importantly from the music education ‘side’ — a whole school that has 10 musical activities in common. Everyone, in one single day, would get the same lesson on beat vs rhythm. Everyone would known the same ‘syncopa’ figure. Everyone would have the same experience of learning the school song. 

What could that do for music learning in a school? With common shared background knowledge, teaching new musical idioms could start from one point of commonality. ‘Remember when you all did ‘my paddle’ on the Music Sharing Day? What was that special rhythm called?’ Boom. Syncopa is locked in for an entire class and away you go. Imagine, as an intermediate instrumental teacher, the benefit of communicatng 10 essential, fundamental understandings or experiences in one day which you know will contribute to the forward motion of the senior program. 

What would you choose to teach?
And so I began thinking about 10 key experiences I would want all students to have from their PJ music programs before they hit a 7/8 program.  When I taught K-8 music, there were key ‘must haves’ for each grade in my own program. But what exactly does a  7/8 program need kids to own from their early years in order to be successful? 

1.Beat vs rhythm. Every year when I start up my bucket drumming program in my homeroom, this is where I start. We learn a simple song by rote and keep the beat with our feet while we sing. Then we beat the ‘rhythm’ of the words with our feet while we sing. It’s a kinaesthetic way to fix the difference in student brains. 

2. The physicality of rhythm. Getting kids to internalize the beat with their whole bodies, and layering subdivided movement on top of that.  Clapping songs and body percussion give students a chance to learn this unique kinaesthetic aspect of music making. Everything from Miss Mry Mack to the Lousianna Mudslap can convey these skills. 

3. Listen and respond. To hear what one person does musically and respond to it, and in turn have someone respond to you. This key sense of being ‘in the middle’ of a musical intent is vital. Call and response, improvisation, stagger breathing, etc. The aleatoric Rain activity is a perfect example of listening and responding that even the youngest kids can engage with. 

4. Deconstructing and reconstructing- composition. Using the musical futures approach, breaking a pop tune into its parts and having students build it up again.  Giving students that sense of ‘building something Musical’ is what makes composition seem possible in those later stages. 

5. Repeat after me and add to the end songs. Musical term Simon Says! These fun camp songs and action songs help build musical memory and support later skills in additive compositions. 

6. Partner songs and Polyphonic listening. Maintaining your melody when you hear another. Autonomy and collaboration simultaneously. 
7. Ostinati. Learning that by isolating a repeated figure, you can participate in music making. Having a group of students work together to link and layer ideas using simple Orff instruments encourages listening, retention of musical figures, following a conductor, etc. 

8. 2 and 3 prt rhythmic reading. Even using simple figures and language, I want kids to have played a different rhythm than their peers and still be able to hold their independent part steady. To hear the interplay between two parts over a fundamental beat, and feel that groove lock in is vital to supporting effecting ensemble listening later on. 
9. Valuing popular music. These activities could include Karaoke to current pop songs, or a March-madness-style tourney that pits pop songs against each other in an attempt to crown the school’s favourite song. You could also feature rotating staff performers in a ‘School’s Got Talent’ feature. 

10.Communal music making. The school song. Together as a whole school. The hair-on-the-arms-standing-up sensation of being in one voice with 400+ kids. 
So it’s official. We are going to start with workshops at 9:15, rotate through sessions until 2, and wrap up the day with a mass concert in the gym.  I’m training my choir and homeroom students as Session-leaders. Other students from grade 7 and 8 will lead teams, making sure everyone participates and has fun. I’m making demonstration videos so any leaders who want can follow along on the classroom smart board, which will allow me to float the day-of and trouble shoot where needed. 
And Music Monday will and event at our school. 😉 Cmon down! May 2, 2016, at Riverside Public School in London, Ontario. 

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