As music educators or future music educators we all know the importance of making music visible in schools and making music cross-curricular. A great way we can do both of these things is by using children’s literature. At the PMEA state conference one of the sessions I attended was entitled Beyond the Book: Making Music Visible using Children’s Literature. The workshop was presented by Marjorie Troeh. Marjorie gave some great ideas for how to use children’s literature to teach music and tie music into the regular curriculum. While this session was definitely full of great ideas that music teachers could incorporate into their general music classroom, I also believe that a majority of the ideas presented could be incorporated into the regular elementary classroom. Below are four books that Marjorie presented and some ideas for how to tie music and literature together into the classroom and ideas for teaching musical concepts such as vocalization, dynamics, etc.

Children’s Literature

  1. Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan
    • Teach the students some of the dances that the birds do throughout the book. Allow students to create their own dances to go with the book.
    • Create simple ostinato patterns that the students can perform while reading the book.
    • Show how dots, lines and squiggles can represent sounds. Draw some designs on the board and as a class sing their shapes
      •  Give each student paper bird cutout to decorate with black. For a quick assessment have the students sing the black designs on their birds. This could also make for a bulletin board idea.
    • Demonstrate “song dotting.” Sing a simple song such as Three Blind Mice. Make a dot for every note moving in a line from left to right. Let students practice song dotting using their favorite simple song.
      • Extend this activity by relating the dots and lines to standard notation. Show how the dots represent different notes.
      • Dot Singing
    • For older students put shapes and designs from the book onto a music staff.
  • Summary: This book can help teach musical concepts by starting with visualization and then move to relating the visualizations to musical notation.

2. Kokopelli, Drum in Belly by Gail Hailey: This book is divided into 3 worlds and something different takes place in each world. Kokopelli is the main character in the book. This is a great book to use to create a musical drama and get the whole school and other teachers involved, showing that music can be tied across the curriculum. You can add narration, props, instruments, and dancing to go along with the story and create a musical drama.

    • Divide your students into 3 groups; musicians, storytellers, and actors. The teacher or another adult can be Kokopelli.Some of the musicians represent “Mother Earth” and keep her heartbeat throughout the entire story.
    • The storytellers take turns reading the book while the actors improvise movements as described in the story.
    • Kokopelli plays a scale on either a recorder or Orff instrument to symbolize moving into the next world.
    • Colored scarves or ribbons work well to represent the three worlds
    • Have the students choose different instruments to represent the characters throughout the story.
    • At the end of the story everyone picks up instruments and ribbons or scarves for a celebration dance.
    • The students could make artwork and instruments to represent the different worlds.
    • For older students the students could write their own version of the story to perform.
  • Summary: This book is a great way to let your students be creative and have them think outside the box. Through this book they are learning about steady beat, high and low, dynamics and using music to tell a story.

3. Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo by Susan Roth:

    • Make sure the students know that this is a true story and tell them when Guido was born (900). Use this to discuss other events in history that took place during this time.
    • Listen to recordings of Gregorian Chant which is close to Guido’s time.
    • Discuss with the students how we learn songs today.
    • Show the students some of Guido’s notations and have the students compare and contrast that notation to today’s standard musical notation.
    • Demonstrate the hand staff and how it relates to musical notation.
    • Sing “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music to practice the scale and hand staff.
    • Choose some familiar songs to the students that move stepwise and sing it while showing the notes on the hand staff.
    • Place students on steps or risers to represent note patterns. Let them change position and then have the class sing or play the new pattern.
  • Summary: This book can help in discussing modern-day notation and solfeggio. It helps students relate what they hear to what they see and vice versa.

4. Hide and Snake by Keith Baker:

    • Every time the students spot the snake in the book have them vocalize on “oo” up and down to represent the snake.
    • After reading the book go back to the title page and sing “oo”, sliding the pitch up and down as you trace the shape of the snake. Sing the snake’s tail on the following page.
    • Draw other snakes on the board and sing them as a class.
    • Allow students to make their own snakes using pipe cleaners.
      • For assessment have them sing their snake and their neighbor’s snake
      • For older students have them put bead on the pipe cleaners to represent notes and then have them sing their snake.
    • Relate the shape of the snakes to notation. Put a simple melody on the board and draw the shape of the snake over it.
      • Play a game: Draw 3 snakes on the board, play or sing one of them and ask the students to guess which one you sang.
      • Use the Singing Snakes worksheet to test student understanding.
    • Relate the hiding snake from the book to melodic patterns “hiding” in pieces of music. A great example is Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor. Use the first 11 notes as the “snake”. Little Fugue
  • Summary: This a great book to help introduce patterns, both rhythmic and melodic. After finding patterns in the book go to notated music and find patterns written in the music.

Incorporating Children’s Literature in the Music Classroom

Using children’s books can be a great way to reach across the curriculum and is also a good way to reach all types of learners. To keep students active when reading a book have them listen for something such as a specific word, picture etc. and have the students play an instrument or perform a specific move when they hear that specific item. This keeps the students engaged and active and can help you introduce musical concepts such as dynamics. Books such as the ones above can help students focus on the finer aspects of music besides just notation and get them thinking about what else can be conveyed through music.

Endless Possibilities

Marjorie’s main idea throughout the entire session was to show that children’s literature has endless possibilities. Incorporating children’s literature in the music classroom can be a great opportunity for you as the music teacher to work with the regular classroom teachers, art teachers etc., and create a performance involving a whole grade level or the entire school. Feel free to share other ideas for incorporating children’s literature into the music classroom or how to make music more visible and tie it across the curriculum.