Getting prepared for Prep Music
Music lessons at the beginning of a school year can be tough for any grade - you've just come back from several weeks' holiday, it takes a while for everyone to get back into the rhythms of school, you need to spend some time establishing classroom rules & expectations and recapping prior learning before you can delve into anything new.
All of this applies to every year level I've ever taught, but when you're starting with Prep kids (Prep/Foundation, your first year of schooling) then it's even tougher! This is for a number of reasons:
First of all, you have a group of strangers in front of you - you've never met these kids before, so you don't know their personalities, their learning needs, which combinations of students will work well together and which won't...
Secondly, you have a group of kids who are new to school. Full stop. They're getting used to having to focus all the time, follow instructions and not just be able to do what they want when they feel like it. It's a massive adjustment for them and we need to make big adjustments too. Things that might take 2 seconds for any other class such as making a circle or sitting in front of the whiteboard can be a major undertaking in those first few weeks of prep!
Finally, these students come to you with an unknown amount of prior knowledge. Some may have gone to a kindergarten where music was a feature of the curriculum, some may have musical parents who play an instrument or sang them lullabies, some might already be able to match pitch from singing along with the Wiggles. Some may have none of the above.
In a prep class of mine from a few years ago, I had a child who was preparing to take her AMEB Grade 3 violin exam in the same class as a kid whose parents only listened to talkback radio, never sang around the house and asked me "what are you doing?" when I sang our first hello song. That's quite a gap to bridge!
As a result of all these factors, Term 1 of prep music with me tends to cover the following elements:
Rules & Procedures
I spend the first few weeks reinforcing the routines and procedures in the music room, including how we walk into the room, where to sit in front of the whiteboard, where to get pencils for writing and drawing (even though we do hardly any written work in term 1) and especially how to make a circle.
I use the following song (sung to the tune of Frere Jacques) as all students form a circle and grab hands. By the time we get to "Make it in a hurry" they must be holding hands with a person on either side of them and we should have no gaps in the circle.
Make a circle, make a circle
Big and round, big and round
Make it in a hurry, make it in a hurry
And drop hands/And sit down
(depending on the type of activity we will start with)
I've also seen these stretchy bands used to great effect when forming circles.
Because these students are still getting to know each other, me and their other teachers, as well as how this whole school thing works, I make sure to recap these procedures and school rules at the start of each lesson for several weeks - to ensure it is fresh in their minds.
My 3 main rules for the music room are
1. Listen - one person speaking at a time. If we can't hear the music we're supposed to be making, we can't learn!
2. Show respect - treat one another and the musical equipment with kindness and care
3. Have a go - Try your best, whatever the activity is.
"Getting To Know You" Games
The best way to learn 25 new names is to play a game! Some of my favourites include Ricketty Racketty and Hello Everyone (Nice To See You Here)
Ricketty, Racketty, Rocketty Ree
Can you say your name for me?
I also like to introduce a variety of welcome songs and tend to use the same one to start each lesson for a term or so. You can read about Hello songs in more detail here.
Most children who come to primary school have not yet found their singing voice, or are still working on matching pitch accurately. To help them on this journey, it's important to give them lots of opportunities to practise and explore their voices! I try and include at least one of these activities in every lesson
Vocal sirens - I make a variety of silly noises with my voice and get them to copy
Instrumental sirens - using a slide whistle or similar
Conscious labelling of different voices eg. "This is my speaking voice" "this is my whispering voice" "THIS IS MY SHOUTING VOICE!" "This is my singing voice" (usually done using so & mi)
Visual representations - Draw a pitch contour on the whiteboard. I also love doing this as a tie in to my Bee lesson, where students get to draw their own "bumblebee path" (pitch contour)
String pitch - lay a length of string out on the floor and follow the contour with your voice. You can also do some preliminary arranging with your students by having them change the shape!
Animal sounds - whales, ghosts, owls all make great sounds for students to mimic, bringing them into their singing voices
Steady Beat activities
Even before consciously presenting the beat I try to include some kind of beat-keeping activity each lesson. The way we keep the beat may change each time - stepping, clapping, tapping etc. and I usually just draw attention to it subtly, saying something like "see if you can tap your knees at the same time as me".
In order to build good habits about caring for instruments, holding them gently, packing them away properly etc. we need to play them - lots!
I tend to use auxiliary percussion instruments such as claves, bells, egg shakers , triangles and tambourines in Term 1 and use activities like "Old McDonald had a band" (with some sleigh bells here, some sleigh bells there...) or Jack In The Box to give my students this experience.
Contrasting Musical Elements
Once again, students come to primary school with varying levels of prior musical experience, so we do a quick summary of contrasting musical elements to make sure everyone is on the same page. In my experience, most students who have attended kindergarten have a reasonable grasp of these already.
The contrasts we look at are
We explore these in a variety of ways:
listening to Art music examples that contain sharp contrasts,
Hungarian Rhapsody - Liszt (fast/slow)
Three Scenes from Childhood: Run. Run, Run - Octavio Pinto (fast/slow) - works particularly well when tied in with The Old Grey Cat folk song
O Fortuna - Carl Orff (loud/soft)
through seeing visual representation - the Take Note Book 1 workbook is great for this
I pay particular attention to the type of activity and the pacing of my lessons at this level because the average 5 year old in my prep classes has around a 5 minute attention span. Therefore we need to keep mixing up the activity to ensure they are continuously engaged and learning without overtiring their brains. I ensure that a "focus segment" such as vocal exploration or visual representation of high & low pitch is followed up by a "relaxation" activity such as a game or movement task.
Another great resource to check out if you're looking for more ideas for a Prep curriculum is John Feierabend's "First Steps in Music" manual - it's chock full of ideas, plans and structures to deliver content and build a group of young musicians.
What do you cover in the early stages of Prep music? I'd love to hear your thoughts below!