Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Monday, February 19, 2018

Left Hand on Top!

For many elementary music teachers, the new calendar year coincides with the start of a unit on playing the recorder. If you're like me, you teach recorders to third graders for several reasons: as a way to reinforce their knowledge of absolute note names, to prepare them for band instruments they can play in the future, and to get their hands on an affordable, accessible, rewarding musical instrument.

One of the biggest hurdles I find when teaching recorder is getting my students to remember which hand goes on top of the instrument. Despite posting reminders around my classroom, there's always a few students who instinctively use their right hand when playing B-A-G. I recently polled the members of a music teachers facebook group to see how they model the left hand for their students.

The results were clear that most teachers value modeling the proper technique. What do we do, then, for the kids who still just don't "get it" and can't remember which hand to use? As a way to help them remember (and hopefully get the correct posture into their muscle memory), I created "Left Hand on Top" wristbands! You can download them for free in my store:

After using them for a few years, I've found a few tricks that help me to use them most effectively. It's all about preparation. On the day that I introduce the wristbands, I want to be able to quickly and efficiently get one on each child. I have to be the one to place it on each wrist because otherwise they will inevitably end up on the wrong side.

In order to prep them as much as possible, I cut them all out ahead of time and place a piece of clear tape on each one so it's ready. All I have to do is wrap it around the child's wrist and it's done. But what do you do with 25 paper wristbands that each have a piece of tape hanging off of them? This year I came up with a system to store the wristbands that already have tape on them so that they are ready to peel and stick: I attach them all to the clear plastic cover of a three ring binder!

Before the class comes in, I just bring the binder over to my classroom door. I have them line up outside my room and announce that today they will be entering "Club Recorder." It is a very exclusive club and to be a member they must wear their exclusive recorder wristband. Then I instruct them to hold out their left hand and tape a wristband on each student as they enter the room.

My students are always excited when they get to be part of an "exclusive club" and they love having the wristbands. When taping them on, I make sure to wrap the wristband so that the blank side gets covered up and the words are on the outer portion. For most kids, they only need the physical experience of wearing the wristband once to remember the proper hand position. For others, I will save extras in case they need to wear it during the next class.

Works like a charm!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Bounce High, Bounce Low: A Favorite Game to Teach La

This time of year, my first graders are usually getting ready to add la to their melodic arsenal. They've been practicing so-mi songs for a while and it's time for the next step in their learning sequence. Since I completed my Kodály Level I last summer, I learned a lot about selecting quality songs to prepare, present, and practice la. I'm writing about one of my favorites today:


This is a great song to prepare la. For those of you who are not familiar with the Kodály method, there are three stages to learning a new concept: prepare, present, and practice. During the prepare stage, the students are playing games and singing songs that include the new concept but they haven't made it conscious yet. The prepare stage is all about exposure and aural immersion. When preparing a new concept, I like to use songs that invite lots and lots of repetition, and it doesn't get much more repetitive than Bounce High, Bounce Low! 

For this stage, I like to play the classic playground game, Over Under. Any time I can bring a playground ball into my music room, my kids go nuts! (When I taught on a cart, I would modify this by playing using something smaller like a tennis ball and they still loved it.) My musical version is slightly different from the traditional game. Here's a video version of the original:

The object of the game is for the students to pass the ball backwards around the entire circle without dropping it. Have students stand in a large circle, all facing the same direction. Make sure there is plenty of room between each child. Choose one student to hold the ball to start. The students will pass the ball on the second and fourth beat of each measure (either on a la or on a mi.) If passing on the high note, the student must pass it over her head, and if passing on the low note, the student must pass it between her legs. The student behind her needs to be paying attention and ready to catch it because otherwise it's easy to drop the ball in this game- literally!

A common pitfall with this game is that the students get so excited about passing the ball that they forget to match it up with the pitches as they go. I will assist with the singing or play the pitches on a melodic instrument so that they can clearly hear how it is meant to align. If they start passing slowly I slow the tempo of the song to match. Likewise, if they are in a groove and passing faster, I will sing faster to match.

Once a class has mastered the large circle formation, I will let them play it competitively. I will break the class up into two or three teams and give each team a ball. Instead of standing in a circle they stand in a line and the object is to get the ball from the front to the back. 

For an added level of complexity, you can lengthen this game: when the ball gets to the back of the line, the last person has to run up to the front and start it over again. This continues until every player on the team has had a turn to be up front. 

This can get chaotic with different teams singing the songs at different tempi, so if the noise is too much for your class, you can have each team go one at a time and use a timer to see which team can perform it the fastest.


After several weeks of singing a variety of songs that include la, it's time to formally present the concept. In my Kodály level I class, I learned that a good song for presenting a concept needs to meet certain criteria. First, it should contain mostly known concepts. In this case, the known melodic material is so and mi. There should only be one instance of the new note, preferably appearing close to the end of the song. Since Bounce High, Bounce Low is such a short song, it doesn't fit this criterion perfectly, but I've had success using it nonetheless. (Some other good la present songs: Bell Horses, Snail Snail, Lucy Locket, Hickety Tickety Bumble Bee.)

When the new note occurs, it should be surrounded by its closest known neighboring pitch. This means that songs including the mi-la leap are too difficult to use for present songs. It's best to find songs that go from so to la directly. 

Once your kiddos know the song very well (and after playing the game for a few weeks, they definitely will!) they are ready for the present lesson. You start by deriving the rhythm on the board. For this reason, you always want to pick songs with familiar rhythms when doing a formal present lesson. My first graders learned ta and ta-ti at the beginning of the school year, so this song meets the criteria perfectly. 

After they derive the rhythm, you will add the solfege pitches underneath. You always want to go from the known to the unknown: first finding all the sos and mis, and then finding the new note. 

The students should be able to aurally distinguish the fact that the new note is higher than so. At this point, you give the new note a name, la, and show the students how to label it and sing it. I also use this time to teach the Curwen hand sign that goes with it.


The final step in the sequence is to practice the new note. With Bounce High, Bounce Low, I like to take advantage of the fact that a bouncy ball fits perfectly like a note on the staff! I use it as iconic notation and show a large ball for quarter note and two smaller balls for paired eighth notes.

There's plenty of other ways to practice la as well: reading and writing the note, singing solfa games, improvising on instruments, playing a melodic ostinato, etc. This is the stage in the process where small group centers and individual work can be used to reinforce learning as well.

Have fun teaching musical concepts through this great game!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Teaching Melodic Contour

Hello all, it's great to be back! I came back to work from maternity leave a few weeks ago. Baby Tanenblatt was born in October and is absolutely perfect. Now I'm learning how to navigate life as a working mom and every day certainly brings its new challenges. 

One of my favorite ways to tackle challenging teaching situations is through collaboration, and this month I'm collaborating with some fantastic music teachers to share our favorite tools for teaching melodic concepts. Today I'm going to share with you some of my favorite tricks for teaching melodic contour. Please note that this post contains Amazon affiliate links and I receive a small commission from items purchased through the links.

When teaching melodic contour, I find that a lot of young students get confused with the language. They hear high and low and confuse it with loud and soft. By actively engaging them in listening and singing, I find that this confusion generally clears up after a few lessons. I usually use a combination of the tools listed below to help my students understand what upward and downward melodic direction really means.

Slide Whistle

My slide whistle has been one of my favorite additions to my classroom this year. I introduced it to my Kindergarteners at the beginning of this school year and their faces just lit up the first time they heard it! 

Students always love listening to patterns that I play. I will play a glissando on the whistle and then ask the students to show the direction that the melody is going. Once I feel like they all understand the difference between upwards and downwards motion, I make each example more complicated, involving lots of high and low leaps. I ask students to act them out by standing/sitting or waving their arms to show the high and low sounds. If you're looking for an inexpensive slide whistle to play, you can try this one: 

Pitched Percussion

I love to use my pitched percussion instruments to reinforce melodic contour as well. I love to use Boomwhackers for this: I'll line up eight kids each with one scale degree and have them play up and down the major scale. We compare the size of the tubes to the pitch they produce to tie-in to the science of sound. I make them wait and only tap their tube when someone points to them, so one person gets to be the conductor and the eight kids playing love to "be a note" and play on their turn. We will do this along with simple songs that outline the steps to the major scale, such as The Snowman, Ebeneezer Sneezer, and Down, Down, Yellow and Brown. If you don't have Boomwhackers, the same thing can be done with handbells or tone bars.

Vocal Exploration

A great way to help students make a visual connection is by displaying vocal explorations. A friend of mine gave me these great pathways that she made out of paper and I have fun going "old school" using them. 

I typically designate one student to be the leader and he or she will guide us through singing the shape. I usually have students singing along on a neutral vowel, such as "oo." I will have my leader use a pointer or hold a manipulative (for example, a big foam snowflake in the winter time) to show where we are along the line.

I've been keeping these red shapes attached to my dry erase board with magnets and when they're not in use, I just push them off to the side. Then, my older students all want to know what those big red things are for and we have fun playing with them, too!

If you are more interested in a high-tech version, there are lots of vocal explorations available for download on TpT that you can project. 

One of my favorites is Flying Freddie, an animated version where students can follow the little aviator as his airplane goes up and down.


OK, I will admit that I have a bit of an impulse shopping problem. I saw a video demonstration of this little guy last year and just had to have it for my classroom:

It's an electronic instrument and has a crazy sounding timbre that kids love. You can play melodies on the neck of the instrument and it has a little switch on the back to change between low, medium, and high octaves. You can play distinct notes or glide up and down to create a flowy melody. Students can listen and respond by stretching up high or down low. No written explanation can really do this thing justice, so here's a video demonstration by the manufacturer:

The Otamatone is a fun teaching tool and also a great behavior incentive: as soon as students hear it they all immediately want to get their hands on it! (Can you blame them?) I'll announce to a class that when they line up, I'm looking for three students who walk calmly and quietly to their spot in line. Those three will get to play a short melody for their peers.

If you are as crazy as I am, you can get one on Amazon. There's several different sizes and colors available. This is the one I use:

Yarn Composition/Improvisation

A few weeks ago, my local Kodály chapter, MUSIK, hosted a free workshop at Loyola University. One of the presenters was the incomparable Amy Weishaar who shared a breadth of information on creating multisensory lessons for students with learning disabilities. One of the greatest takeaways for me was a demonstration that she led using yarn to compose and improvise. Every student gets a length of yarn to show their melody and she also suggests giving each child a felt square for a backing so it has something to cling to. 

After children have created their melody, they can sing it or play it on an instrument, exploring the high and low sounds they can produce. She suggested using the black keys of a piano keyboard so that it will be a pentatonic melody. You could also do this the opposite way and sing/play a melody, then ask the students to manipulate the yarn to show what they heard.

I hope this collection of ideas sparks something new for you. It's always great to find new ways to teach a basic concept like melodic direction. Do you have another kinesthetic, aural, or visual way to teach melodic direction? Please share in the comments!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Arrrrr Ye Ready to Talk Like a Pirate?

Tomorrow is my favorite holiday: International Talk Like a Pirate Day! (It's a real thing, I swear!) 

I love pirates (and really any excuse to dress up and speak in a funny accent) so I usually bring the celebration into my classroom for the week and make sure all of my lessons are infused with a certain amount of pirattitude.

This year I've added a few new pirate activities to my arsenal, which the kids at my new school have loved so far. I'll share three new pirate activities with you today:

Pass the Parrot

This is based on a folk dance, "The Chair and Broom." I read about it recently on facebook and also got to try at a Kodály workshop a few years ago. I'm told that the source is an out-of-print book called Backwoods Heritage by Martha Riley. It is a partner mixer dance, which means that as students go through they will end up with different partners each time. It's a great beginning folk dance and great for socialization. 

The setup is one longways set with three students sitting in chairs in a row at the head. The child in the center holds a parrot (I didn't have a good parrot toy available so we used my rubber chicken with great success.) When the music starts, she chooses to either pass the parrot to the person seated to her right or left. Whomever she gives it to is going to remain seated. The child in the center gets up with the other child (the one not holding the parrot) and they sashay together down to the bottom of the set. Then, the child remaining at the head holding the parrot slides into the middle seat and the next person standing in each line in the longways set comes forward and takes a seat. The center child passes the parrot and the dance continues. 

Since the only dance move required is the sashay, it's pretty accessible for students of all ages. I did it with 2nd grade and higher today and everyone enjoyed it. It can be done to any jig. I forgot to bring my New England Dancing Masters CD to school today so I just pulled this Scottish jig medley off YouTube and told the kids it was pirate music. They loved it! 

Fire in the Hole!

For some rhythm review, I devised a simple game that uses flashcards and beanbags. I told the class that my rug was the pirate lagoon and we scattered rhythm flashcards all around the rug. One student would come stand on the edge of the rug and get to "fire the cannon," a.k.a. toss a beanbag onto the rug. Of course, before tossing it they had to shout "fire in the hole!" which made it infinitely more fun. When the beanbag landed on a card, the student had to pick it up, show it to the class and count us in as we all read it together. I used these black and white flashcards, which I printed on colored paper and laminated.

Port Side Pirates!

I'm always looking to add more great illustrated children's books to my library and I recently discovered the delightful publisher, Barefoot Books. The great thing about Port Side Pirates is that the entire thing is a catchy song. It comes with a singalong CD, and what's even better is that the CD includes an instrumental-only track so that once your students know the song they can sing it themselves. The melody is also fully notated with sheet music and guitar tabs in the back of the book, which I love having for reference. 

The song uses tons of really cool pirate vocabulary so I'd make sure to review things like port vs. starboard before singing and reading. If you want your own copy, it's available on Amazon. (Please note that this is an affiliate link, which means I receive a small commission off any purchases made by clicking below.)

I hope some of these pirate activities spark your interest! For more piratey fun, check out my TLAPD post from 2015: Piratical Fun in the Music Room

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Back to School 2017

We're baaack! By now, I'm sure everybody is getting back into the swing of things and starting up their school routines again. In Maryland, the kids didn't go back until after labor day. I've only had about a week of classes at this point, but it's been quite a busy time for me. 

I'm at a new school in a different county so I have lots of changes and adjustments to make... all good ones, though! I'm now teaching full time at one school, five days a week! No more traveling between schools or teaching on a cart. I am somewhat sad that I won't be posting too much in my "Music on Wheels" series anymore, but maybe I'll continue to add to it in the future if I can think of some helpful advice from my time teaching on a cart. 

For now, I'm focusing on setting up my classroom, getting to know all 800+ of my new students, and starting the school year off on a positive note! In case you missed it, a few days ago I posted a live video on facebook with a tour of my new classroom setup. You can watch it here.

One more announcement: the other exciting thing happening this school year is my husband and I are expecting our first baby! 

She's due in late October so this will definitely be a crazy school year as I prepare for my maternity leave. (The good kind of crazy, though!) Lots of exciting things going on in the upcoming months. I'll be sure to keep you posted about everything as this amazing school year unfolds.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

31 Days of Rhythm: Engage Students with Rhythm Sudoku

Can you believe that we are more than halfway through the month of March already? Spring is finally here and we are in the middle of celebrating Music in Our Schools Month! There is so much to be happy about! 

For today's post, I'm going to share a brilliant idea that I learned about several years ago at a workshop: Rhythm Sudoku. 

If you are anything like me, you probably first heard about Sudoku about eight years ago. Maybe you never really got into it because "math isn't your thing" (which is ironic because a Sudoku puzzle actually doesn't require any arithmetic.) Or maybe you have experience completing the puzzles and are wondering how on earth these number squares can relate to rhythm. 

Either way, I'm happy to show you! In this post, I'll walk you through the steps required to make your own Rhythm Sudoku puzzle (or for those of you more results-oriented, you can buy ready made ones in my store. But that really does take all of the fun out of it, don't you think?)

A traditional Sudoku grid is 9x9, but we don't need to get quite so involved with ours! Let's make a 4x4 grid to start out. Once your puzzle is complete, you can think of it like a composition with four measures of four beats each.

This will be the most time-consuming portion, but once you get the hang of creating them, you should be able to create a puzzle in a minute or two. 

You have to select four different rhythms to use in your puzzle. Start plugging them in the grid wherever they fit. You can't have the same rhythm twice in any row or column. 

Make sure you make note of what your completed puzzle looks like. Then, you can erase most of the rhythms so that your puzzle is ready! The more squares you erase, the more difficult your puzzle will be. For beginner level puzzles, I like to make it so that at least one row or column can be solved immediately.

Once you have created your puzzle, you are ready to share with your students. I like to create several puzzles of increasing difficulty levels to challenge my students as they are ready. Once they have solved the whole puzzle, they have a grid of music notation, which can be used for reading practice.

You can read them the "right way," as in read each beat from left to right. Or, for more crazy fun, you can read the lines backwards. Or you can read the columns going up or down. There are so many different combinations and ways to interact with the completed puzzle grid! It's a surefire way to keep kids curious and engaged while reciting rhythm syllables!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

31 Days of Rhythm: Prepare Quarter Notes and Eighth Notes using In the Hall of the Mountain King

This has to be one of my favorite pieces of music to use in my teaching. I love to use classical pieces that my students immediately recognize. They are so much more engaged when they've heard the piece in their lives already.

In this piece, there are just so many great musical concepts just waiting to be unpacked: tempo, dynamics, orchestral instruments, storytelling, pitch, and of course, rhythm. The clear rhythmic motive in this piece is so catchy and accessible for even my youngest students.

For our MIOSM blog series, I am sharing how I use this piece to prepare my young students for quarter note and barred eighth notes. Here are a few different tried-and-true ways to use it:

1. One of my favorite ways to introduce the piece is to play a recording of it while dramatically telling them the story of Peer Gynt’s attempt to flee from the trolls. I think that storytelling is one of the most overlooked aspects of our craft. It is arguably the oldest form of human expression, and I love being able to get my students' attention and help them hone their aural skills by telling them stories.

(If your school and administration is super open-minded, perhaps you could also play them this terrifying video? Just kidding. Don’t show this video unless you want angry parents calling you demanding to know why you showed their child this demonic video in music class.)  

Anyway, while I tell them the story, I begin chanting “tiptoe, tiptoe, tiptoe, troll” to the rhythm while our hero tries to escape. When the tempo and dynamics increase, I change it to “run run, run run, run run, troll!” It doesn’t take long before all of my students are chanting it along with me. Most are also singing along to the melody.

2. In a previous blog post, Listening Lessons Three Ways, I shared an awesome tool that was given to me by a former teacher: she calls it her "Marauders Map". It is actually two long paper rolls (they are a few feet wide and look great up on a chalkboard or dry erase board.) I start with the iconic notation and then when I'm ready to actually present quarter and eighth notes, I'll put the other one up side-by-side to compare.

3. In case you don't want to make your own map, here is a free printable/projectable one that I created using iconic notation:

4. Another fun activity to do with “Mountain King” is compare it to Mary Had A Little Lamb. I challenge my students to see if they can sing the lyrics to “Mary Had A Little Lamb" to the melody of "Mountain King." The same can also be done using "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and it's fun to try and do the movements faster and faster with the accelerando in the piece.

5. One of the things that makes "In the Hall of the Mountain King" so accessible for students is the fact that it is so pervasive in popular culture. It's been covered and re-recorded by a number of popular artists and it is frequently heard in TV and movies. I've been told it is sampled in the song "Hair Up" from the new Trolls movie (how appropriate given the subject matter.)

No matter the source, there is a good chance that your students will recognize the tune when they hear it in class, and that is a great way to get them engaged in the lesson!