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!