Musical Learning with The Three Bears


Paul Galdone’s book is a great accompaniment to this musical lesson.

The story of the Three Bears is a fun way to help children learn about high, medium and low pitches. This idea is not original to me (I’ve referenced some lesson plans below), but I found a way to involve students playing different instruments and repeating lines of the story.

The drums, the lowest instrument, are for the Papa Bear. Next comes Mama Bear, represented by tambourines and/or smaller drums. The baby bear is represented by the highest-pitched finger cymbals and bells. I’ve abbreviated the story line slightly so that there’s less talking for the teacher and the kids have the maximum opportunity for playing instruments.

The rhythm is as follows (88 = paired eighths, 4 = quarter, R = quarter rest):  88-4    88-4   4 – 4 – 4  R

Spoken lyrics with the rhythm:

Papa Bear, Papa Bear, Pa-Pa-Bear.

Mama Bear, Mama Bear, Ma-Ma Bear.

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, Ba-by Bear.

Goldilocks is represented by the glockenspiel. She has the same rhythm as above and her melody is:

Mi-So-La, Mi-So-La, La-So-Mi, with the lyrics: Goldilocks, Goldilocks, Gol-di-locks.

The teacher reads or tells the story using the suggested script that follows. Students can be invited to join in the repeating lines. Each part above should be played on the instruments when that character is underlined.

The script

Once upon a time, there were three bears, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. One day, their breakfast porridge was too hot, so they decided to take a walk and let it cool.

While they were gone, along came a little girl named Goldilocks. She knocked at the door but no one was home, so she thought she’d check out this little house in the woods.

The first thing she saw was the table, laid out with three bowls of porridge. There was a big bowl that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium-sized bowl that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little bowl that belonged to Baby Bear.

Goldilocks tasted each bowl, and the littlest bowl tasted just right, so she ate it all up.

In the next room, she found three chairs. There was a big chair that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium-sized chair that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little chair that belonged to Baby Bear.

Goldilocks tried out the first two chairs but they were too big. The Baby Bear’s chair looked just right! Except – oops! It broke apart when she sat in it!

Then she decided to go upstairs, where she found three beds. There was a big bed that belonged to Papa Bear. There was a medium sized bed that belonged to Mama Bear. There was a little bed that belonged to Baby Bear.

She tried the first two beds but the Baby Bear’s bed was the one that felt just right. She soon fell fast asleep.  I wonder what will happen to Goldilocks.

The three bears soon came home.  They saw their porridge bowls. (Tap instruments on the bold syllables, as indicated in the lines that follow.)

Papa Bear spoke first. Somebody’s been eating my porridge.

Mama Bear spoke next. Somebody’s been eating my porridge.

Then Baby Bear piped up:  Somebody’s been eating my porridge and they ate it all up!!  (Go crazy on the instruments on this last part.)

Next they went to their chairs.  (Repeat similar taps for each line.)

Papa Bear spoke first: Somebody’s been sitting in my chair.

Mama Bear spoke next: Somebody’s been sitting in my chair.

Then Baby Bear piped up:  Somebody’s been sitting in my chair and they broke it to bits!

Finally, they went up the stairs and saw their beds.  (Repeat similar taps for each line.)

Papa Bear spoke first: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed.

Mama Bear spoke next: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed.

Then Baby Bear piped up: Somebody’s been sleeping in my bed and here she is!

Goldilocks awoke with a start! She jumped out of bed and out the window!

(Glockenspiels play and voices sing.)

Goldilocks, Goldilocks, run away! (Play and sing several times, getting faster).

Goldilocks ran away and never, ever came back again to the house of the Three Bears.

The end!

I’ve written a full song about the Three Bears. It’s a great way to end this lesson. You can download it and find the lyrics here at Songs for Teaching.  You can hear the song here.

Here are some lesson plans that helped inspire me:

Here’s a youtube of the Paul Galdone book, emphasizing high-low pitch differences.  Have fun exploring pitches and instrument sounds!

I Learned About Orff This Summer!

Pitched percussion instruments are an important part of the Orff approach to teaching music.

Pitched percussion instruments are an important part of the Orff approach to teaching music.

During the summer of 2016, I had lots of adventures. While traveling through the American south, I stopped at the University of Memphis for two weeks to take a course about an approach to music education called Orff.

Orff isn’t an acronym, it’s the name of the founder, Carl Orff, a 20th Century German Composer. Composer Gunilde Keetman was an indispensable partner to Orff in the development of the teaching approach, called Orff Schulwerk. Perhaps because of her gender, she didn’t get credited in the name!

The American Orff Schulwerk Association (AOSA) describes the approach as follows:

“In Orff Schulwerk classrooms, children begin with what they do instinctively: play! Imitation, experimentation, and personal expression occur naturally as students become confident, life-long musicians and creative problem solvers. The Orff approach to teaching is a model for optimal learning in 21st Century classrooms.”

Here are a few important things I learned about Orff during my two weeks. Orff uses pitched percussion instruments such as glockenspiels and xylophones to help students create their own music that really sounds good! For beginning students, instruments are often put in a pentatonic scale (by actually removing the non-pentatonic keys), so that whatever the student plays will blend with other notes being played.

For those non-music majors who don’t know, a pentatonic scale is a scale with five pitches instead of the usual seven in the typical octave. The notes “fa” and “ti,” are omitted. The result is a sound that is often heard in ethnic folk music such as Irish music, as well as in the blues. As mentioned above, a pentatonic scale permits a blend with whatever other note is being played, often creating a lush sound. Orff also uses non-pitched percussion instruments of all kinds to add various effects to the music being played.

A second important thing I learned about Orff is that body percussion plays an important role in teaching. Students often echo a teacher’s body percussion movements to begin learning a rhythm pattern or song. Body percussion might be on several levels, including a stomp, clap, tap on the chest or thigh, or snapping the fingers. Body percussion for younger students is kept simple, either with a simple combination such as tapping thighs and clapping hands, or keeping to one level, such as stomping feet, marching or clapping hands.

One of the Dancing Masters' many publications.

Folk dances and movement activities from the New England Dancing Masters are often part of Orff class activities.

Indeed, feeling the music in the body through movement is also an essential part of Orff, as is the case in the other musical pedagogy I’ve studied, Dalcroze. We spent 75 minutes of each day during our 2-week Orff course on movement activities, including moving freely to various types of music, choreographed movements and folk dances.

There’s much more to tell! I hope to post more on this blog about how I’m using Orff in my music classroom this year.

Five Ways to Support Learning Through Music

What follows is an excerpt from a recent interview with Liz on the Lesley University web page. Liz received her M.Ed. degree in 2009 from Lesley’s master’s program in Creative Arts in Learning.

1 In early childhood, use songs and finger plays to encourage learning about rhyming, letter sounds,DSC_3291 narrative, sequences and counting. I encourage early childhood teachers to consider my literacy songs. My Songs for Rhyming and Reading are especially great for pre-K and Kindergarten.

2 It almost goes without saying, but songs are indispensable for memorizing facts. Many people mention that they learned those fifty nifty United States through Schoolhouse Rock. And I’ll bet nearly all of us learned our alphabet through the ABC song. Songs could also help students learn skip counting, multiplication tables and many other handy facts.

3 Learning about music can raise students’ awareness of distinctive sounds, which is important in learning to read and write, and for English Language Learners, to achieve fluency. Playing instruments and distinguishing different musical tones, pitches and timbres builds aural skills. Students can create soundscapes and act out stories with instruments representing different characters. Such activities add a new, deeper dimension to the learning experience.

Students at the Gardner Pilot Academy act out my musical version of The Three Little Pigs (which was written at the Gardner several years ago).

Students at the Gardner Pilot Academy act out my musical version of The Three Little Pigs (which was written at the Gardner several years ago).

4 Music is also a good tool for learning in science and social studies. I’ve had great success having students dance the life cycle of a butterfly and the growth of a seed into a flower or tree. In social studies, I’ve had children learn spiritual songs as part of units on the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights Movement. Songs from other cultures, and in other languages, are an important part of learning about cultures from around the world.

5 Music should be an essential part of school culture. One of my earliest memories of school was the assembly that took place every Friday at the school where I attended first and second grade. Each assembly featured a play put on by one of the classes, and always began with an all-school sing. I don’t remember much about my classroom experiences at that school, but I remember the words to every single song we sang. At the school where I teach now, we have an all-school Songfest to end the day every Friday. Our children get so excited, anticipating that time of singing as a group. Songs inspire, motivate and pull people together as a community. What better way to encourage children to love school and feel a part of something bigger than themselves?

Singing is the Best Way to Learn to Rhyme!

IMG_2205This school year, I have the pleasure of teaching music to 120 kindergarten students at the newly-opened KIPP elementary school in Lynn, MA. Our school will add a grade each year, so for now, we are all K! It’s great fun.

One of the first literacy skills kindergarteners need to master is rhyming. Distinguishing rhyming words helps emergent readers hear distinct vowel sounds as well as ending consonants, which are the same in each rhyme, and beginning consonants, which change from word to word.

Children with great preparation in preschool or at home already may know about rhymes, but some children still struggle with the concept in kindergarten, especially English Language Learners. Everyone benefits from a review.

One of the best ways to learn about rhymes is – music! I’ve already posted about these rhyming songs, but here is a reminder of some of my favorites.

My version of Dr. Knickerbocker (the lyrics are in this link, to my Songs for Teaching page) is a terrific wiggle break and provides work on counting down as well as rhyming.  Below are the rhyming pairs of words as you count down in the song. You can review them before the activity, or just have the children call out the rhyme at the appropriate time in the song. You can also do this as a chant if you don’t want to sing.

Nine – fine

Eight – late

Seven – heaven

Six – fix

Five – hive

Four – door

Three – tree

Two – shoe

One – fun

The basic structure of the song is:

Hey, Dr. Knickerbocker, number nine, it’s a great day and I’m feeling fine.

Oh, let’s feel the rhythm in our hips, our hips, let’s feel the rhythm in our hips.

This link will give you the rest of the lyrics.

Click the links below for more of my favorite rhyming songs:

Icky Sticky and Ooey Gooey

Animal Rhyming Words (especially great paired with the book, A Hunting We Will Go, adapted by John Langstaff).

Down By the Bay

Ants in My Pants (another great wiggle, by Johnette Downing)