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Middle School first lesson of the year

Stuff I need to cover:

  • how to put away instruments and clean up after class
  • what to do when you first come in the room (desk work)
  • Amani Utupe introduce
  • This is Halloween introduce
  • our school song, go over and review (brainstorm how to make their verse rock with only seven kids)
  • Peace Peace (partner song for Silent Night) introduce
  • questionnaire for the beginning of school 
How to begin?

I think the kids need to start with an activity that is going to scare the hell out of them but leave them with a sense of accomplishment. I also think fun should be involved. Hmm. What to do? 

(5 minutes)
I'm going with Amani Utupe. I don't have boomwhackers, but clapping and doing call and response to get pronunciation and mood is all I need at first. 

I'll hit the ground running. Sing. NO introductions, welcomes or anything else. Let's have some mystery here. That and I've known these kids since Kindergarten. Let's shut up and have a little body percussion call and response!

It needs to be quick, intellectually engaging, and fun. Cool. I've got an opener.

Peace, Peace by Rick and Sylvia Powell (5 minutes)
This is a partner song to Silent Night. It's in our school's music collection, so I don't have to buy it (Yatzee!). I'm going to do it for UN Day and then partner it with Silent Night in German for the winter concert.

This needs to be short and concentrate on mood. Mood, articulation, group breathing.

So-Mi Sightreading Sheet (10 minutes)
"Stop! Pay attention! You are going to read this without me singing with you."

I made up a so, mi, la sight singing sheet. You could use the Denise Bacon Easy Two-Part Exercises or My Singing Garden books or the 333 Book if you like.

  • Vocabulary refresher: staff, clef, so, la, mi, double bar (I leave these out so the kids write them in), tone set, ascending, descending, unison
  • quarter, rest, eighth, half note rhythm review
  • scan THEN sing

This Is Halloween by Danny Elfman (15 minutes)
I did a simple arrangement that cuts lots of the second half. It's a short and sweet piece that I can actually play. There are loads of vamps. At the end there is a simple, two-part bit that will refresh the students' knowledge of sixteenth notes and eighth/rest combinations.

I'll have the students say the rhythms. Say them together (two-part). Then teach the notes separately, then together.

Students will explore their personal specialty for scary, Halloween sounds. Practice 30 seconds then try simultaneous chorus of ghoulishness. Tack that onto the two-part vocal ending.


Our headmaster had us watch this TED talk this week. I designed a questionnaire for Middle School based on this talk. It is part of my plan to have the students own their learning and their year.


1. What skills do you bring to our music class? (circle what applies)

Music reading        improvisation/playing with music in the moment        composer    

memorize well       dance            movement            designing performances

good with technology          good with audio engineering on computer         singing solo    

can figure out computer programs to be an audio engineer               useful and tactful critique

wood with wiring/set-up (speaker system, microphones, lectern, etc.)

Instrument skills (list instruments)_________________________________________

Singing in tune with others                 other_________________________________

2. If you had your way, what would you like to learn this year?

3. Which of these projects would you be most interested in working on?

a. A rock band.
Each student learns the basics of guitar, African drumming, piano and Orff instruments. The class chooses a song, and we spend the semester learning how to make it come to life.

b. Film Scoring.
Given a silent movie, you come up with a soundtrack. This includes music and sound effects. Perhaps a student would like to make the film. It should be short, school appropriate, and intriguing.

c. Jazz Ensemble.
We will all learn Orff techniques and bass guitar and jazz drumming patterns. We will put this together in a series of pieces which feature improvised solos and group jazz work.

FYI: You will all be working on your singing, reading, and composing.


End of the lesson: I walk the students through my storage systems: how to store the congas, bass xylophone, guitars, etc. This is where the rhythm sticks go, etc.

"Next time you will have some desk work to do immediately upon entering the room. It's writing note heads on the staff using the tone set you used to sight read today."


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