Friday, April 23, 2010

Music History Websites for Kids

I recently discovered the Classics for Kids Website. It is a fun resource that I have used to introduce my elementary students to the periods of music history and expose them to the lives and works of composers from each era. Children are more likely to play expressively when they are exposed to great music, even if it is not keyboard repertoire. Each week during piano lab I assign them a different era to focus on. They select a few brief composer biographies to read while listening to the samples of their music. Then they write a couple of interesting facts about 2 or 3 composers on their Periods of Music History Worksheet by Joy Morin.

Another favorite site for my students is Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. This has been a great incentive for students to finish their lab assignments quickly. They love this site so much I reward them by allowing them to play it when their regular assignments are done. While journeying on a "safari," students are introduced to the various instruments of the orchestra. They play ear training games along the way and in the end learn about fugues. This is ideal for students who can read fluently, but even my 5 year old enjoys playing it with a little help.

DSO Kids includes a Composer Time Machine Game (identifying composer's correct music period), Beethoven's Baseball (reviewing interesting facts about various composers), Composer Corner(learning about composer's lives) and Music Match game (matching theory symbols)

The Music Lab at SFS Kids features a radio where students can listen to excerpts of various familiar classical pieces. I love how the excerpts are arranged by channel including "Big Moments, " "Musical Critters," "Once Upon a Time," etc. Students can hear how music is used to convey different emotions, storylines and sound effects which hopefully will aid them in playing more artistically at the piano.

The New York Philharmonic Kidzone
Gameroom has a Music Match Composers Game. My favorite element of this game is that not only are students matching pictures of famous composers, it also includes short clips of some of their works that they listen to and match by ear. Students can also browse the "Composers Gallery" where they can view pictures of famous composers and read their brief biographies. is the biggest hit for my preschool children. Although it is primarily aimed at helping children learn to read, I love how classical music is incorporated throughout many of the pages and the "It's Fun to Read" section introduces young children to the composers Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Offenbach, Joplin and Tchaikovsky. It provides the perfect introduction for very young children to learn about music history.

What are some of your favorite sites for introducing music history to children?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hand Over the Pencil - Actively Engaging Music Students

I've enjoyed putting together the newsletter for our local music club this year. It has helped me to actually put into practice many of the ideas floating around in my brain. Following is one of the recent articles I wrote.
I remember the frustrating experience of being trained as a temp. secretary by an employee who sat at their computer rattling off a bunch of instructions to me for processes they had completed hundreds of times, as they clicked furiously on different areas of the screen. Meanwhile, I sat at the side taking notes as quickly as I could. I would have retained so much more if they would have just “handed over the computer” to me and let me experience the process asking questions along the way.
I am thankful that my first piano teacher had me analyze my music extensively with colored pencils. Following are a few ideas for “handing over the pencil” to your students to facilitate their retention of musical concepts. When introducing new music/concepts, keep a pack of colored pencils close by and select a few “coloring tasks” for the student to do that pertain to the particular song they are learning.
♪ Find and draw a colored line over Repeating Rhythms
♪ Find Repeating melodies and label the Form by drawing colored lines over each section
♪ Color all of the Tonic Chords Yellow, Dominant Red, Subdominant Blue
♪ Find and Label Scales or Arpeggios
♪ Color Dynamics various shades (I use light or pastel for softer sections, dark or vibrant colors for louder dynamics).
♪ Outline the Accents in a bold color
♪ Write some words that match a prominent Rhythmic motif
♪ For Strings: color notes on various strings different colors
♪ Find & Color a specific interval
♪ Draw up arrows at the end of each phrase or draw a star at the high points of phrases
♪ Color the melody bright/dark, harmony soft/light
♪ Circle all of the flats/sharps when introducing a new key signature
♪ Find and color various types of cadences
♪ Write in chord symbols using different colors for major, minor diminished & augmented

As students experience this analysis process not only do they become more active learners, but they also improve sightreading skills, memorize more easily and tend to play more expressively because the details in the music become more salient. Often it is through this process that I detect when a student is not catching on to a concept. Another added bonus for me is that while they are “coloring” their music, I can write more specific practice instructions or outline new concepts on their assignment sheet without losing the students attention.

For more ideas on analysis, “chunking,” and teaching with questions check out these resources
“Chunks and Links” by Marienne Uszler – (Online at )
“That’s a Good Question…How to Teach by Asking Questions” by Marienne Uszler (available for purchase at the Piano Gallery)
“How to Organize the Presentation of a Piece” by Frances Larimer(Online at

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quarter Note Cookies

A few weeks ago I spotted my candy cane cookie cutter in the drawer and I realized if I flipped it over it could make a perfect "quarter note cookie." My students had a great time decorating them for piano preschool. I also used white frosting to put in the middle of a few to transform them into half notes.

Piano Preschool Lapbooks

Piano Preschool Lapbook Cover with music rhythms and notes
Teaching Piano to Children with Piano Preschool Lapbook including Music Alphabet, Finger Numbers, Rhythm
After reading the post about piano lapbooks on Laura Lowe's blog , I decided to create my own preschool piano version to send home with my piano preschoolers. I let them decorate the covers with various musical symbols. Inside are pockets for Music alphabet/finger # and symbol flashcards from (Faber primer flashcards). I also included a laminated mini rhythm pizza (see and colorful piano for them to play Susan's Snowflake and Shamrock Keys games on. The back cover had a laminated Grand Staff which they can use for "M&M's stepping on the staff" game.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Composer Fruit Basket Game

Lately I've been introducing my students to composers in various periods of classical music. I thought of this variation of "fruit basket" to help them become more familiar with composers and their musical eras.
Materials to make composer "necklaces":
Small Pictures of Composers (Two excellent places to find these are: D'net Layton's or Natalie Wickham's
Hole Punch
How to play:
Each student chooses a composer necklace to wear. Form chairs in a circle with one less chair than the number of people playing. The student w/o a chair stands in the middle of the circle and calls out a specific music period (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary)or "Music History." The student with composers in the specific period have to hurry & find a new chair while the person in the middle tries to "steal" someone's spot. The last person left standing calls out another musical era. If "Music History" is called, everyone must switch to a different chair. Students can switch necklaces after several rounds to help them become familiar with the periods all of the composers fit into.
Instead of using necklaces, you could post pictures of the composers on the chairs. Then students have to check their chairs to identify what music period they are in.