Today I would like to share a lesson plan with you, and explain it as I go along. It is intended for a first grade class lasting forty-five minutes. The objective of the lesson is that students will be able to associate written note types with notes of that duration when heard. Throughout the lesson, students experience note values aurally, visually and kinesthetically, and have ample opportunity to practice skills to first attain proficiency, and then to further build proficiency.
I begin with rhythm patterns involving only whole, half and quarter notes, using a neutral syllable. I chant a four-beat rhythm on a neutral syllable, and the students immediately sing the same pattern back while keeping the beat by tapping the heals of their feet on the floor. I use the heels of their feet because this causes their weight to slightly shift on each beat, and that facilitates feeling the beat in their bodies. Students respond as a group to a few patterns, and individually to most. I use hand cues to select which child will respond to each pattern, and avoid calling on students in a predictable order, so that all are ready to respond at all times.
Next, I sing individual notes while the children continue to tap the beat with the heels of their feet. I ask individual students to tell me what the duration in beats was of the note I just chanted. This focuses their attention on the musical element of duration. I again use only whole, half, or quarter notes. Before class, I have prepared cards, each with one note drawn on it; either a whole, half, or quarter note on each card. At this time, I distribute one card to each child. If necessary, I review the duration of each kind of note, and then ask all of the students to raise their card up when they hear their note duration chanted. For example, when I chant a two-beat duration, all of the children who have a card with a half note on it hold their card up. This connects sound with sight; the heard note with the seen note.
By now, the children are ready to apply their knowledge of durations to real music. I ask the students to listen to some music, and listen for their duration whenever it occurs in the music. When they hear their duration, they should again hold up their card. I now play “Ase’s Death” from Peer Gynt by Grieg. I usually play at least part of the music twice, so the children have a chance to become familiar with it, and know where their durations come in the music. Because the piece is largely a repetition of the same rhythm pattern, the children catch on relatively soon. When they have learned where their note value is in the pattern, I play the selection once more, this time having them walk to the beat of the music only when they hear their duration. For example, those children with a card that has a half note only walk for the two beats of all the half notes in the music. For the rest of the music, they stand still, listening for the next half note.
When the walking activity is completed, I have all of the children return to their seats. Then I sing “Au Clarie De La Luna,” and ask the class what kind of note the song began with, and how many of that kind of note are in a row. I have children who have cards with quarter notes hold them up, and I pick four of them to stand at the front of the class in a row and show their cards. I then go through the rest of the first phrase, adding children with half notes to complete the phrase. Next, I sing the second phrase, and ask the children if the durations are the same or different. They will discover that they are the same, and so I can add six more children to complete the rhythm of the entire song. Now the children left sitting can read the rhythm. I then have the remaining children hold up their cards, and each child standing selects another child with the same duration to take their place, and the first group standing sits down. Now they too have a chance to read the rhythm, as I sing the song again, or I may have the children sing the song if they know it by now. (Many of them do because I first teach it in kindergarten.)
To finish the class, I have each student freely improvise rhythms using body percussion with any combination of whole, half and/or quarter notes. When the children are active and engaged doing this, I select three students at a time to perform for the class, one on a drum, one on rhythm sticks, and one with a woodblock. The results are fun percussion ensembles that have the students apply what they have learned to active music making.