Many elementary general music teachers are faced with the daunting task of putting on a performance, singing at an assembly etc. without much notice. As we all know getting our students ready for a performance at any level is a challenge, but at the elementary level it is an extra challenge. Michelle Przybylowski elementary music teacher at School District of Cheltenham Township presented a wonderful workshop at PMEA entitled: Performance Practice in the Music Curriculum. The goal of this workshop was to give elementary music teachers tips and techniques to help produce a performance by the end of a class period. One thing Michelle emphasized throughout the workshop is that you can take almost any piece and turn it into a performance. The key is to let the students be a part of the process!! Michelle gave many general tips and shared a few specific pieces that work very well for performances.

Tips for a Successful Performance

Michelle gave a lot of tips on what she does to create performances in her classroom. Most of these tips are great for any elementary general music teacher, whether you are interested in creating a performance or not.

  1. Instrument Resources– As we all know classroom instruments can really enhance the general music classroom. The company Music Is Elementary is a great resource for elementary general music teachers and they work with you and your school if you don’t have much of a budget!
  2. Our Role in the Classroom– We need to see ourselves more as a facilitator than a teacher at times. This is especially important when getting ready for an elementary performance. We need to let the students explore and create and we facilitate the whole process.
  3. Speech Pieces– While not songs, speech pieces can create easy and fantastic performance pieces and are great teaching tools. With speech pieces you can add movement, un-pitched percussion instruments, movement etc.
  4. Recorders– Recorders whether alone or added to a speech piece can make for a great performance. One tip is starting with A and C is sometimes a good choice because students only have to move 1 finger.
  5. Assessment- It sometimes can be hard to assess student performance in general music. Get your students up and moving to music in some way or another. This is a great way to assess whether they are internalizing the beat and understanding the concept of steady beat.
  6. Jobs– Give your students jobs or small roles in everything you do. This will help the students rise to the occasion and help to create a performance with short notice.
  7. Involve Your Students– To help teach a song quicker and get a performance ready quickly make sure to give your students something to sing or a part of the song to do even the first time. Michelle called this a “catch line”. Give them something the students can sing on the first time through. This gets them involved and helps to make them performance ready.
  8. Movements– Allow your students the opportunity to create movements to the song. Again this gets the students involved, but it also introduces them to the concept of improvisation.
  9. Exploration– Give the students time to explore and use their creativity before just telling them what to do. Letting students explore will make them more interested which will lead to them putting forth more effort in learning the song.
  10. Organization-A great tip to help save time and even may help when dealing with classroom management is to number and label the bars on your Orff instruments. This way they won’t get mixed up or lost when you or the students remove them.
  11. Sing First– When teaching students a song always start with the singing before you add movement or instruments. I definitely learned this the hard way during student teaching. If you start with the movements or percussion the students won’t want to learn the song. This saves you as the teacher a lot of time and headaches!!
  12. Words/Lyrics– If you find a perfect song don’t let the words stop you from performing or using that song. You can always make up your own words or tweak the words a little to fit your students or the performance. Don’t let the words limit your creativity!
  13. Percussion Instruments– When adding percussion instruments to a song have the instruments laid out in the room and allow the students to go to the instruments and pick their own instruments. This allows students to show their creativity. Don’t stifle creativity by dictating everything that has to be done.
  14. Ownership– Let your students be the owners of the performance. It should be THEIR performance. This will only happen if you allow them to take ownership in the classroom first.
  15. Performance Practice– When you add a new step to a song learn that step and then perform as much as the students know. This helps them learn the song quicker and gets the students used to performing from the start.
  16. Chaos– Confusion and chaos is OKAY in the elementary general music classroom as long as it is controlled and the students know their limits and your expectations. These must be clearly established from the start.
  17. Planning a Lesson or Performance– Planning a lesson or performance can be compared to baking a wedding cake. You must start with the basics and the foundation and then you can begin to add-on all the decorations!

Songs That are Performance Ready

As sated above, almost any song can be made to work for a performance, but as with everything there are a few songs that seem to work really well. As part of the workshop Michelle shared a few songs that she has found over the years make great performances! Below are some of the songs Michelle shared and some of the concepts that you can teach through these songs. I also had the opportunity to talk with Michelle after the workshop and she gave me permission to put the songs and directions from her handout on my blog as a resource. Check out the PDF links for each song below. Feel free to try these songs in your classrooms and create a performance with your students!!

  1. Look The Sky is Full of Pretty Colors: A speech piece that focuses on rhythm. Also a great piece to discuss form with your students and show them how pieces can have many forms.
  2. Alabama Gal: A simple pentatonic folk song that can be used as a singing game. Use this piece to explore singing and dancing, plus add instruments for the accompaniment.
  3. Plant a Seed in My Garden: A simple diatonic melody that explores various stages of planting a seed. You can use un-pitched percussion instruments, movement, and singing to create a wonderful performance.
  4. Sleepy Bear and Chimes of Dunkirk: Sleepy Bear is a great piece to tie literature and music together. Chimes of Dunkirk is a folk dance that can help you explore movement in various ways with your students.
  5. Sleepy Bear Lesson Plan: A detailed lesson plan full of ideas of how to incorporate a children’s book into your music classroom.

If you have other pieces that work great for performances in the elementary general music classroom please share!! I hope many of the tips and resources from this session at PMEA will be helpful whether you are an undergraduate, beginning teacher, or experienced teacher. I tried the song Plant a Seed in My Garden while I was student teaching and the students loved it. We didn’t complete every step, but after we learned the song I let them explore with instruments to fit the words and I was amazed with what they came up with!! My next PMEA session blog post will be on using children’s world literature in the general music classroom.

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