Games in the Elementary Music Classroom

Version 2My students love to play games. No matter what else I may have for them to do on a given day, as soon as I mention that we will be playing a game that day, they all smile and get excited. Music games are fun, yes, but there is also a learning goal to be met that must not be overlooked amid all the fun, or left not communicated to the students.  For example, in Pre-kindergarten or kindergarten, you might use the song “Charlie Over the Ocean.” The song is an echo song, and the game is played as a version of duck, duck, goose. One child walks around the outside of the circle while the song is sung, then taps the nearest child in the circle at the end of the song. The child who tapped chases the child who was tapped. If tagged, the he becomes the new chaser, if not, the chaser must chase again. With all the running and chasing, it is easy to let that excitement become the focus of the game. But there are opportunities for more learning.

Because the song is an echo song, the chaser is a solo singer as he or she walks around the circle. It is important for children to sing alone, not always in a group, to develop independent audiation and singing skills. This can also be an excellent opportunity for the teacher to assess singing while the children are at the same time doing something they enjoy and that doesn’t “feel” like an assessment. Thirdly, the chaser should also be walking around the circle to the beat of the song he or she is singing, so the child is performing a beat motion. Fourthly, traveling around the circle when being chased and returning to the same location in the circle requires that the student move his or her body in space to a determined location. This is a variety of movement exploration, training students to understand and interpret music through movement of the body. Feierabend has presented many similar activities that teach children to explore space with their bodies. If one wanted to calm the game down, it could be played so that the child tapped needed to reach a location in the circle in a given number of steps. If more or fewer steps were taken, the child would be “caught.” If the exact number of steps were taken to reach the destination, the child avoided being “caught.”

When the class is about to play a game such as “Charlie Over The Ocean,” the teacher who states upfront that the goals to be achieved while playing is accurate solo singing, exploring movement, and accurate keeping of the beat by walking, is focusing students on desired learning, even as they are having fun playing a game. Students are also more likely to manage their behavior and successfully learn concepts when they are goal directed. Students should know what they are learning at all times during a classroom activity.

“Charlie Over The Ocean” is a kind of game that doesn’t have winners and losers. Other games do. In these situations, the learning objective must be kept in mind, more so than winning the game. A good example of this is Feierabend’s “forbidden rhythm.” This game is very useful for teaching music literacy, both at the aural and reading stages. I use three different rhythms. The three rhythm patterns have been taught so that they are familiar to the children. The game is played as a variation of a familiar activity, that of echoing rhythm patterns. I chant a rhythm, and the class chants it back to me. The twist is one of the three rhythms is “forbidden.” If I chant the forbidden rhythm, the class must remain silent. If the class stays silent, they get a point. If anyone chants the rhythm out loud, I get a point, so the two teams are the class and me. The first team to get 3 points wins. In order to avoid one student being blamed for awarding me a point, I give the class the point if only one student chants the forbidden rhythm, but if two or more chant it, I get the point.

This can be done orally, or the rhythms can be written on the board, and the students play the game by reading the rhythms I’m chanting, avoiding the one that is marked “forbidden.” The students are focused on winning, but in order to do so they must remain proficient at audiating rhythm patterns and deciding which ones to chant out loud and which ones to just audiate but not chant. They also must practice reading music if the patterns have been written on the board. That is the learning objective they are working on while they are having fun trying to win the game. The game can also be played by having a student lead, chanting the rhythm patterns for the class to echo or keep silent on. In that case, the student leading becomes one team, and the class is still the other. This arrangement gives students a chance to practice leadership skills and solo chanting, furthering the learning possibilities from playing the game.

Games are a useful tool in teaching music (and other disciplines). They are motivating and provide a context that make learning meaningful.” Games help engage students in activities that have an educational purpose and which in another presentational mode would be less interesting and engaging. Games, because they are played by all students at once, also encourage socialization and teach the community aspects of music making. Whether students are moving in a circle, clapping, passing an object to the beat, or singing or chanting patterns, they are doing those things as a community and for a purpose beyond a teacher’s expectation. Every action that produces musical sound is done for, perhaps among other reasons, the purpose of making music. Combining music making with the fun of playing the game is developing enjoyment of music itself.

 

 

 

The Versatility of Tic-Tac-Toe

2011Symposium_1_2When I was a kid, I like playing tic-tac-toe. It’s an easy game to play and almost every child knows how to play. With a little creativity, it can become a useful and versatile teaching tool in the music classroom. I like to use it periodically as a fun way to give my students practice at music reading, and to assess their progress. Today I will share some of the variations on this classic game that I use.

Unscramble Tic-Tac-Toe combines sequencing with reading. I have a white board with music staves painted on. Off to one side, I write a melody that is familiar to the class, with the measures in the wrong order, and numbered. In the center of the board, I have drawn a Tic-Tac-Toe board so that each square has part of a musical staff going through it. The class is divided into two teams. One student at a time must choose the measure that begins or comes next in the melody, identifying the measure by number. If he or she answers correctly, the student chooses where to place an “X” or an “O” on the game board. Depending on the age of the class, I may also have the student copy the measure onto the game board in the square the child has chosen. If the student answers incorrectly, it becomes the other team’s turn. Play continues until one team earns three squares in a row, just like traditional Tic-Tac-Toe.

For Singing Tic-Tac-Toe, the game board is already filled in with tonal patterns. Before play begins, I have the class sing each pattern, so that they are sure to be familiar with them. The class is divided into two teams, and one child takes a turn for their team. For each turn, the child chooses a square on the board, and then must correctly sing the tonal pattern in that box. If he or she sings it correctly, then an “X” or an “O” is placed in that box. Play continues until one team earns three squares in a row, just like traditional Tic-Tac-Toe.  This version of Tic-Tac-Toe can also be done with rhythm patterns, in which case students chant the pattern when it is their turn, or with melody fragments, in which case the student must sing both the pitches and rhythms correctly to win the square.

Name That Tune Tic-Tac-Toe has students trying to identify the song from which a fragment is written in eachtic_tac_toe square. For example, mi mi fa so might be in one box, and the student who identifies the tune as “Ode to Joy” would win that box. Each fragment must be reasonably identified with a familiar melody. With older students, once the player whose turn it is has chosen a square, a player on the other team writes a fragment in that box for the student whose turn it is to identify.

Pitches and rhythms are not the only things we want our students to be able to read in music, so Tic-Tac-Toe can be used to teach and assess other musical symbols and signs, including repeats, dynamics, tempos and articulation. For this variation, a list of musical terms and symbols is made off to the side. These can be a dynamic, tempo,  or articulation markings, or any symbol that directs a performer to sing or play in a particular way. The student whose turn it is selects a box. Either you or a student from the other team performs any bit of music with one of the markings from the list. If students are performing, I have the terms written down on index cards, so I can hand one to the student to perform without letting the rest of the class know what it is. For example, if staccato was chosen, you or the student on the other team would sing or play something with staccato. If “forte” was the term, something would be sung or played loudly. The student trying to win the square must correctly match the performance with the term listed on the board. If he or she succeeds, an “X” or an “O” is placed in the square selected. In this game, not only are students learning and being assessed on musical terms and vocabulary, but, when students do the performing, they are also practicing performing the various terms. The terms can then be more meaningfully referred to in “real” performance situations, with the affect of being done more expressively.

I’m sure there are countless other ways to use Tic-Tac-Toe in the music classroom. My hope is that this brief survey of ones I like to use will be useful, and will spur your own creativity on to create your own games.