It's a great feeling when you find that perfect song that fits right in with your school theme, the current concept you're teaching, or the holiday season. I just discovered the song, "Shoo Turkey," which has a hilarious dance, an awesome call & response section, vocabulary building, and more. It was exactly what I needed. But... I wanted to teach more than just the melody and the words. I had to be a little creative with how I taught the song so that it was interesting and relevant for the kids and also worked in all the musical topics that I wanted to cover. So, what do you do after you teach the melody and words?
#1 - Play with the Form
Here's an example. If you teach the song "Old Dan Tucker" you end up with two distinct parts of the song.
Old Dan Tucker's a fine old man
He washed his face in a frying pan
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel
and died with a toothache in his heel
Get out the way, Old Dan Tucker
You're too late to come for supper
Supper's over and Dinner's cookin'
Old Dan Tucker just stands there lookin'
Then I would take my handy dandy form letters (get them FREE here) and map out the song. So far we have the verse (A) and the chorus (B). We look at that visual of the AB and then we sing it.
THEN I take out another A card and put it in front if the B. The new form is ABAB. We talk through it and realize that it's just our original song twice in a row. Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus. Easy!
Then I might invite a student up to the board to move around the form cards. Maybe they come up with BBAA. We sing through it and see if we like it. Another student comes up and changes it to ABAA. We sing through it again and see what it sounds like. Then maybe one more student comes up to try another arrangement. The more student involvement the more that students feel involved and the more that that whole class sees the greater picture of form and variation in a song structure.
Maybe your next step is to add the next verse. You can make that a C or an A' depending on how you name the form. No matter what you do, it will extend your process and help kids see more of the metaform. Or add an improvised speech section or word chain. In fact, I think a word chain is ALWAYS fun to play with. Don't know what a word chain is or want to see an amazing example of a word chain lesson? Check out this video from the fantastic Orff pedagog Rob Amchin. He's got a whole YouTube channel of videos demonstrating the Orff Schulwerk process. It'll blow your mind.
#2 - Sing some of those Extra Verses
Here's an example. I just started teaching "Over the River and Through the Woods" with my 4th graders. On the first day we learned verse one, the basic melody of the verse and chorus, and some silly little actions that I created to go with the song. We spent some time going through the vocabulary and working through trouble spots. Then we sang the verse and chorus a couple times before moving on for the day.
One of my favorite things about this song is that every verse starts with "Over the river and through the woods." It helps that the first line is always the same because that gives students an easy and familiar way to start each verse. For this song we definitely talk about tracking through the song with our fingers so we don’t lose our place. I print out this PPT slide and give it to them so that they can follow along. You might consider singing it through for students or with them so that they don’t get lost.
I love teaching “Over the River” now because it’s a great song to teach multiple verses/vocabulary before we get to CAROLS! “Over the River” sings about a voyage through the snow, a sleigh, horse-drawn carriage… see where this leads us? We could easily segue to “Jingle Bells” in a few weeks and teach that carol with similar themes. “Jingle Bells” is another great song with multiple verses. Again, I usually teach the original song with basic verse/chorus structure before introducing the new verses. I actually take the original words from the 1857 version of the song and let kids experience that story. It’s fun for them and helps them make some pretty wonderful connections!
#3 - Add a Hand Game or Body PErcussion
You can do this to nearly any song. Pull out a part of the rhythm and try it with body percussion. Add the basic body percussion like leg patting, stomping, claps, snaps, or go a little crazy and add the more eccentric rhythm movement like patting your head, popping your lips, clicking your tongue, blinking your eyes, arms crossed patting your biceps, and on and on.
#4 - Add some instruments!
OR! You could pull out a rhythm pattern (like what I did with Chicken on a Fencepost above) and play on non-pitched instruments. It’s a chance to use those oft-forgotten wood blocks, egg shakers, or hand drums. Add in instruments to play the steady beat or an easy ostinato accompaniment pattern. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be fun!
#5 - Folk Dance or Movement Activity
Most importantly, folk dances are FUN! I love teaching the folk dance because it is exciting for kids and makes them love music. Kids like doing the movement and learning the sequence of the dance. It’s something that gets them up and moving and provides a challenge as they learn the steps to build up to the whole dance. Let them burn off some energy while they’re learning something important. What could be better?
It’s easy to say, “But I don’t know how to teach a folk dance! How am I going to learn a dance to go along with this song!?” I promise, it’s not as hard as you might think. Start with a song like “Old Brass Wagon.” The words of that song literally tell the singer how to move. Old Brass Wagon is a circle dance. Students form the circle and the first verse lyrics say “Circle to the Left, old brass wagon.” So, what do you do first? Move clockwise/to the left. Guess what, the second verse is “circle to the right.” So all students move counterclockwise/to the right. Easy so far? The next verse? “In and out, old brass wagon.” The words tell you what to do and how to move! It’s so easy. Even when you get to verses like “Swing your partner, old brass wagon” the words help the singer to know where to go and what to do.
And don’t count out the wealth of knowledge you can find on YouTube. The other day I was thinking of teaching “Li’l Liza Jane,” and I knew about one game/dance that students could do where they would “steal” partners but I wanted something a little less action-packed (one of my classes has some real behavior problems). I wondered if there was a more traditional square or circle dance. I went to YouTube to search “Li’L Liza Jane folk dance” and immediately I found this amazing channel of old folks doing traditional dances. I’ll be on this channel forever watching! These old folks are so good at the dances and there’s so much variety in the videos/songs they dance to.
I’ve referenced quite a few resources in this blog post. See below for links to those resources. Several of these are FREE!