Skip to main content

Fergie vs "The Star Spangled Banner"

In case you haven't heard, the pop star, Fergie, sung the American national anthem at an NBA game recently. Her rendition was controversial. Some say it was downright bad. What do I think?

I think this is a good time to do a 2(or 3)lesson unit on patriotic songs for older students!

What better time to teach "The Star Spangled Banner" than when students are talking about it and interested in Fergie's interpretation? What better time to discuss artistic style then at a time like this?
I believe that this song, and the level of conversation needed to discuss the artistic merits of it, require a level of sophistication that students below grade 5 are not ready for. Since I teach younger students, I'm writing this for ya'll. Let me know how it goes.


Essential Questions:

What makes good music?
What are the components of patriotic music?
What makes good singing?
How does music affect the audience? The singer?

Philosophical Questions

Should every American school child know the national anthem by the end of 8th grade?
If so, what should they know about it?
The lyrics?
All verses?
Are you sure?
What ..about the tune? 
Which style?

Ah, now we are getting to an entry point for older elementary and secondary students to approach the song. In these lessons, our focus will be on critique: critique as we sing it ourselves, critique as we listen to ourselves sing, critique of other classes, critique of famous renditions, critique of the song itself.

Lesson 1: Getting to Know the Song

This lesson has three parts: the opening circle a la Responsive Classroom, the debriefing, and the rehearsal of the song. 

Part 1: Think-turn-tell

Teacher: "We are going to spend the next three classes on patriotic songs, but we are beginning with one in particular. I'm going to have you turn to the person next to you and tell them your name. What are the expectations for this regarding manners?"

Students and teacher work to establish guidelines for partner-talk, classroom expectations of politeness (one speaker at a time, all voices get a chance to speak), etc. Have students say their name. ASK WHAT THE STUDENTS NOTICE. Have their observations be the source of class decorum. It's their class after all. 

Teacher: "Okay, now that I know you can be controlled and polite, I'm going to ask you something that is going to get you really excited, so excited that you're going to want to talk loudly, maybe even swear. But we've agreed that we won't do that, right?"
"This time, when you talk to the person next to you, you will give your ideas about and listen to their ideas sure you won't get too excited? (make them say yes)...Fergie's singing of The Star Spangled Banner. Go!"
Students have 1-2 minutes before you remind them to let the other person speak. Keep this brief. Leave them wanting to say more. 

Debrief the class on their ideas about the performance. Keep a tally of how many students haven't heard the rendition so that they get a voice too. Fill the board with their ideas. Take every idea seriously. 

Teacher: "Next lesson will begin with me playing Fergie's version, so don't be late. But right now, we are going to focus on our artistic goals and learning the song ourselves."

Part 2: Debriefing

  • Go over the brainstorming board and put the ideas into categories: history, artistry, values (or whatever categories they like)
  • Have a student transcribe the categories other than "artistry" for later lessons. 
  • Re-read the "artistry" comments. 
  • Which comments would be helpful for Fergie to hear so that she can make her performance better? Circle or star these. 
  • Take note of how to phrase comments so they are useful
  • Reword all the comments to be useful instead of hurtful
Crowd-source the lyrics to the song. Note any holes in the class's knowledge. 

Part 3: Rehearsal

Materials: Guitar or piano or CD of the sheet music, vocal parts to the song. Music K8 volume 21 number 4  has a very user-friendly version. 
  • Fill-in missing words to the song on the board. 
  • Sing through the song
  • Sing it through again and have students note the easiest and hardest parts of the song
  • What makes the easy part easy? Sing that part again and note that easy part and make it even smoother
  • What makes the hard part hard? Note the importance of beginning in the right key. Rehearse getting into the hard part and then actually singing the hard part. 
  • Any tough lyrics? Drill diction pitfalls. 
Teacher: "Okay, are we ready to record our version?" 

Students will be shocked. Reassure them that, if it's good, they'll hear back and even be able to share their recording with other classes. If it's bad or if there are any extraneous noises, they won't hear it back and it will be deleted. The class has to okay the release of their work for others to hear. 

Work the rest of the class to get a clean recording of the song. Use a recording app on your phone or another device to record the students. 

Lesson 2: Fergie et al

Materials: same as for lesson 1 but add lined paper for the critiques and pencils
A smart board or computer. Try to have the students listen rather than view these versions

Begin the recording of Fergie right on time. 

Teacher: "We need to critique Fergie in useful ways. Tell me about her pitch. Tell me about the tempo. Tell me about her tone. Tell me about the style. Let's listen again. As you listen, write. Write as much as you can. The song is 2:19 long. That's all the time you have to write. After that, I'm limiting feedback to 3 minutes before we hear another rendition of the song. All in all, we'll listen to ___ versions. Then we'll 
  • record our version again
  • hear our version again
  • hear another class's version
Play the video again. Take 3 minutes of feedback.

Teacher: "Draw a line across the page at the bottom of that work or flip your paper over. Time for rendition #2, P!nk at the Superbowl." 

Ne-Yo at 2016 NBA All-Star Game

The Jackson 5 in 1970

Meatloaf 1994

Marc Anthony 

Whitney Houston

Roseanne Barr

Marian Anderson 1942

Closing Circle: Top 2 Bottom 2

Do another think-turn-tell to determine the best two and worst two performances. Make sure that their own student performance is in the mix to evaluate. 

Teacher: "Next lesson, we will work on a few patriotic songs and discuss if we should keep the Star Spangled Banner or switch it out for another song." 

Lesson 3: Patriotic Alternatives

Materials: Music K8 My Country 'Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, and Americans We, You're a Grand Old Flag, Lyric sheets to God Bless America, guitar or ukulele or piano, any other patriotic songs you like. 

This lesson is optional. If you'd like to expand your patriotic repertoire, go for it. Make this either an entire lesson or a part of a lesson, but teach the beautiful songs of our country and open a dialogue about which one represents who we are and what we value as a nation.

Perhaps you'd like to insert a patriotic song in a recorder concert? Sandwich it between a dance and a recorder song by using one of the Mary Joyce movement activities. You could spend a month of lessons teaching the song, the recorder songs, and the movement transitions to tie them all together without a lull in the program.

Lower Elementary Lesson

Oh no, I developed shingles and can't teach this week. I need to adapt my lesson for younger kids. Maybe the really little ones will still get a movie, but the 2nd and 3rd graders can do a modified version of what we have above. 

We'll use the form of the first and second lesson together: opening circle, activating the schema, reflecting, rehearse, critique, closing circle. 


CD of Music K8 Volume 21 #4 tracks 15 and 31 "The Star Spangled Banner", Volume 26:1 "Let's Get Started," and Volume 26:1 Unsung Heroes
Lyric Sheets of the national anthem (just Googling the song)
This post with embedded videos. 

Opening Circle:

Opening Song: (5 minutes)

K-1: They know the song, "Let's get started." Just play the CD and have the students show you the movements to it.
2-3: "Unsung Heroes" was memorized months ago and may be rusty. You can either hand them their folders or there are some lyric sheets under the smart board.

Think-Turn-Tell (10 minutes total)

  • review what this is. 
    • We hear a question
    • We think about it by ourselves
    • We turn to the person next to us to quietly discuss it
    • When the chime rings, we stop and volunteer our responses.
  • The question: What do you know about America's national song?
    • give the children about 1 minute, then remind them to let the other person say their thoughts too
  • On the board, write their responses and gauge what their level of understanding is
  • Do they know any lyrics? What's a lyric? What is the song about?
  • Look at the board and help students determine what they know and what they don't know. 
  • What are they curious about? 
    • Maybe do another think-turn-tell to find that out

History and Lyrics (15 minutes)

  • Play the song
    • No talking allowed, just listening
    • Go over the manners of good listening first
    • After listening, do they have any answers to the questions they were curious about?
    • Maybe they'll get more facts after watching a brief movie.
    • Play this video on full-screen on the smart board after telling the children that this is a 2-minute history of the Star Spangled Banner. Have them look for at least two facts that they didn't know before. 
  • Debrief the facts they learned. 
  • Hand out lyric sheets and go over any unfamiliar words or phrases. 
  • Note that the whole song is a big question and how unusual that is for a national anthem

Rehearsal (7 minutes)

  • Have students predict the tough spots in the piece. 
  • Where's the highest note?
  • What words are difficult to understand?
  • Run the piece once or twice, giving feedback on their good efforts

The Fergie Controversy (15 minutes)

"As you may have heard, Fergie sang a controversial version of this song recently. We are going to hear a few versions, including Fergie's. We are going to rate them and figure out if hers was really that bad. We will only listen to the first 60 seconds of singing then rate the performance and give marks out of 30."

The criteria are (write these on the board)
  • Voice quality (1-10: 10 being the best)
    • does the voice shake
    • is it pleasing to hear
    • is the tone respectful and dignified
  • Musicianship (1-10: 10 being the best)
    • are the notes in tune
    • is the tempo steady and in control
    • are the phrases smooth
  • Patriotism (1-10: 10 being the best)
    • is the music dignified and inspiring
    • does the style fit the occasion
Listen to Fergie, Whitney, Roseanne, and Marian



Popular posts from this blog

D, Popsicle Stick and Paper Plate Kalimba!

Back to the Orffabet! Today's letter is D, the shape of the popsicle prongs on a homemade Kalimba!

Lisa Lehmberg of the University of Massachusetts, has agreed to share this portion of her book chapter. Hurray, Lisa! Let's make a Kalimba out of popsicle sticks, paper plates, and some scrap wood!
You'll need: two small, sturdy paper platesone wood block (3cm x 7cm* x 1cm) To convert to inches click here.  This block is inside the plates and keeps them from collapsing.7 cm* piece of thin plywood five flat popsicle sticks7 cm* strip of flimsy wood moldingbrads or small screws (optional)paper gluewood glue*the length is determined by the size of the paper plates. These measurements are for the structural stability of the instrument, NOT the intonation. Just eyeball or loosely measure the wood.
Glue a block of wood to a paper plate near its edge. Glue another paper plate (plates facing each other) to the original plate and the wood block. Spread glue on both the rims of the…

Liquid Ass

So we've had another school shooting. By the time I post this, we will have had a few more. The NRA and President Bone Spurs would like us to arm teachers. Shooting another human being is not natural. Killing is not natural. Self-defense only feels natural when hand to hand combat is involved. Guns, even in the heat of  battle, are abstract. Perhaps the primary reason the United States has a volunteer army instead of a drafted one is that drafted soldiers are far less likely to actually fire at the enemy when the time comes. The kill instinct has to be trained into a soldier. It isn't natural, and it takes its toll on the soul. Plus, you'll probably miss and shoot an innocent student and die anyway.

So I offer a humble alternative. Well, maybe two, but one of them is actually entertaining.

1. ALICE training. Click on this. It's helpful.
2. Liquid Ass

Developed as a joke product, Liquid Ass makes an excellent deterrent to the progress of a shooter. Shooters expect thei…

"P", The Bucket Routine for older students

Today's Orffabet letter is P, for the shape of buckets and sticks when they are in storage in our guest teacher's classroom.

The following post and series of videos is for Upper Elementary, Middle School, or High School Students.  This is a rare opportunity for you to learn a routine without having to go to a workshop or Orff level.  You will learn the routine as your students would.

John is a teacher in the Worcester Public Schools.  He has taught this routine to Upper Elementary students as an after school program.  John's students worked on the routine for an hour or so every day for 6 weeks.  To see John in an earlier post, click here.

The "students" in this video are Orff Level I students in the Worcester Public Schools class of 2010.  They learned the routine in a 90 minute session with Level III students who already knew it.  Here is the routine after those 90 minutes.

This routine, inspired by African dance and Orff body percussion, is well outside the …