Full disclaimer: I have a heavy music background! I’ve been in choirs since preschool and took violin lessons (while in three different orchestras) seriously for ten years. I read music fluently in both treble and bass clef. I’ve self-taught imperfect technique piano and am working on the ukulele. I’m not sure I would have attempted this program without my background!
I broke the program into four sections: Rhythm, Sounds, Timing, Playing.
I gave a brief introduction about rhythm and beats by having each child tell me their name. I let the group guess how many claps they thought each name would have. I finally took them and then we clapped out every child’s syllables.
Similarly, after practicing with our names, I pulled out Tanka Tanka Skunk, aka one of the very best storytime books ever. The whole group clapped along with the animal names and I once again managed to make my arm bright red from slapping my arm to keep the beat with the kids while holding the book up.
We finished up this rhythm section by listening to our first song: Clap It! by Bari Koral Family Rock Band. This song asks kids to clap left and right, clap high and low. It’s fairly simplistic in terms of directions, but it has such a great rhythm to practice with with nice strong beats.
One of most memorable experiences as a child was when my music teacher taught about the difficult instruments in the orchestra using “Peter and the Wolf”. I knew that I had to find a way to do that without the scariness for my three-year-olds.
I thought about “Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin!” It introduces the instruments. But I wanted to have that experience when the kids would hear the instruments as well. And bam! I found “Those Amazing Musical Instruments” with a interactive CD-Rom. I was able to use the clips of instruments from this book to create my own version of “Peter and the Wolf”.
Then it came time for a demonstration: my real-life violin!
(That was my very nervous face at home practicing the week before.)
I played some very short classical pieces for them (Bach’s Minuet in G — my first solo/ensemble piece; Beethoven’s Ode to Joy) before leading them in a sing-along of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Then, I sat down on the floor with my violin in my lap and let each child come up one at a time to pluck the strings. The kids were so precious and careful and respectful. I had to tell several of them to pull harder to make some sound!
[Sidenote: I also pulled a Meryl Streep and told them that there was a horse and a frog on the bow. That is one of my favorite music movies of all time. I still get weepy when I think about music education being cut in schools.]
Lastly for this section, I played Kathy Reid-Naiman’s “I Love to Hear the Sounds” and demonstrated to each child the instrument she was singing about. My library has an INCREDIBLE musical instrument collection; the only instrument I needed to buy was finger cymbals.
Now that the kids had basic knowledge of rhythm and sound, I wanted to talk about timing. We talked about how some songs are fast and some are slow. And to demonstrate, I put on Jim Gill’s “The Tempo Marches On” which we marched and ran around to.
Then it was time to get shaker eggs in their hands. This led to back-to-back songs that have great examples of timing. Just like “The Tempo Marches On”, The Learning Groove’s “I Can Shake My Shaker Egg” starts slow and gets faster and faster. It’s also set to Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, another piece of classical music! Secondly, I played Laurie Berkner’s “Fruit Salad Salsa” which alternates between a slow tempo and a fast tempo. I challenged the kids to switch between the two which they did awesomely!
For this last section, I let the kids switch their instruments around. I had rhythm sticks, bells, shaker eggs, sand blocks, finger cymbals, and tambourines. The kids played whatever they wanted to the songs of “Ring Them On the Floor” by Kathy Reid-Naiman and “All You Pretty Babies” by Caspar Babypants.
Lastly, I pulled out our set of six gathering drums for our very last song “Drumming the House” by Jim Gill. We alternated using our fingertips lightly, our hands softly, and finally our mallets. This was definitely the loudest section of the day but 100% worth it!
How It Went
I had a few little girls who were AMAZING at identifying beats and syllables. And this activity really helped me finally learn everyone’s names this week. I think the most thrilling part of the day for the kids was touching my violin. They were so thrilled to actually touch a real professional musical instrument! I had so many compliments from caregivers about the recorded instrument samples being very educational. It made me feel like I had maybe just given a “Peter and the Wolf” experience to the next generation!