Cultivating Young Musicians – Part 1

coverI led a workshop entitled “Cultivating Young Musicians” on April 30, 2016 at the New England Conference of The Children’s Music Network. I highlighted songs that I regularly use in my music-teaching practice to help children learn about basic musical concepts such as scales, pitch, beat, tempo and dynamics. Here are some of the songs that I highlighted in the workshop.

Learning About High and Low Notes & Scales

Once I Was a Seed

By Nancy Hershatter (Tina Stone has written an additional verse.) Each line ascends one note in the scale, starting at “do.” This song helps children learn about seeds growing into plants while also helping them embody a musical scale and “grow” from low to high.

Children begin curled up on floor like sleeping seeds.

Once I was a seed / Sleeping in the ground / Then the sun came out, and …

Then the rain came down!  Use a rain stick or make a sound like rain falling, and children can turn their heads and say ‘ah’ to take a ‘drink.’

During the following lines, children slowly stand up, sprouting “leaves” and reaching for sky.

My leaves sprouted out / Reaching for the sky / I grew and grew / And now I’m oh, so high.

You can hear a recording here:

Wiggle & Waggle

This is a traditional finger-play story that helps children learn how to pitch their voices high and low. Words are revised & rhymed by Liz Buchanan. Your two thumbs are Waggle and Wiggle, and their “homes” are by your sides. You point them up and down for those parts of the rhyme, and raise and lower your inflection. Briefly turn your hand into the phone for that section of the rhyme. I often use a slide-whistle to emphasize the “up and down” pitching of the story.

This is my friend Waggle and this is my friend Wiggle

They like to walk together and they like to talk and giggle.

And so one morning on a bright sunny day

My friend Waggle goes out on her way

She goes up up up the hill and then goes down.

Up and down all through the town.

But she can’t find Wiggle no matter where she roams.

So my friend Waggle goes up and down, back home.


And then, the next morning on a bright, sunny day

My friend Wiggle goes out on his way

He goes up up up the hill and then goes down.

Up and down all through the town.

But he can’t find Waggle no matter where he roams.

So my friend Wiggle goes up and down, back home.


But the next sunny day, Wiggle picks up the phone

And makes a call to Waggle, who’s at home – Hello!

Wiggle says, shall we meet

On the street?

Waggle says, yes, let’s meet

On the street!


And together, they walk, up up up and then back down.

Up and down, Up and down, all through the town.

And then they go back home. The end.


If I Were a Butterfly

By Liz Buchanan. This song helps children learn about the life cycle of butterflies, and also uses the flight of the butterfly to take pitches high and low.

(Chorus) If I were a butterfly, I’d flutter high into the sky

I’d flutter down and touch the ground

If I were a butter, flutter-fly-flutter, if I were a butterfly.


When a butterfly’s born, it has no wings

It’s a creepy-crawly caterpillar thing.

When the time is right it makes a chrysalis

Where it cuddles up so small.

Then comes the sun and it shines down warm

And one day the chrysalis opens wide. And what comes out? A butterfly!

The butterfly flies into the air, it flutters here and there and everywhere, here and there and everywhere, here and there and everywhere!


Oh, butterflies help the flowers grow; they spread the nectar, don’t you know?

They live in places around the world, from the jungle to the plain.

Their wings are many colors bright, purple and blue and orange and white

I love to watch them in the air, flutter here and there and everywhere, here and there and everywhere, here and there and everywhere!  Chorus

You can hear a recording of this song here:

You can find out more about teaching with butterfly songs here.

Butterfly by Laura Doherty –

Laura Doherty is one of my very talented musical colleagues from the Chicago area. This is a very dance-able and lovely song to pair with my butterfly song, giving the children an experience with contrasting meter (Laura’s song is in ¾ time). I often have children dance to these songs with scarves.

Solfege syllables & understanding pitch

For learning about solfege syllables and pitch, I told the story So-Mi Soup, a story for teaching about So and Mi and their relationship. I will put this story up in a separate blog post.

I also sang the song “Bounce the Ball to Shiloh,” a simple song from Kodaly for Kindergarten collection, uses the pitches mi, so and la.

Steady Beat

 A 2013 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience by Dr. Nina Kraus shows a relationship between neural response consistency and ability to keep a beat. This study made the important link between keeping a beat and auditory processing, which is so critical to reading/writing ability.

I’m Feeling Good

By Nina Simone. I learned this song from my colleague Kirsten Lamb, who turned it into a great “call and response” song for keeping steady beat with body percussion or instruments, while singing syncopated jazz melody. In the call & response version, children respond, “I’m feeling good,” instead of “You know how I feel,” the lyrics of the original Nina Simone song. You can hear the original song here.

Birds flyin’ high (I’m feeling good) / Sun in the sky (I’m feeling good) / Breeze driftin’ by (I’m feeling good)   It’s a new day – I’m feeling good.

Verse 2: Fish in the sea/ River running free/ Blossom on the tree / It’s a new day – I’m feeling good.

Verse 3: Dragonfly in the sun/ Butterflies having fun/ Peace when day is done / It’s a new day – I’m feeling good.

Verse 4: Stars when you shine/ Scent of a pine/ Freedom is mine/ It’s a new day – I’m feeling good.


I taught my song/story, The Tortoise and the Hare. That activity is posted here on the blog.


I didn’t have time to share these poems, but I learned them from a colleague in the Boston Public Schools. It’s fun to have children dramatize these poems in order to begin learning about the contrasts between loud and soft in music.

Loud by Jeff Moss

The banging of the trash can

The honking in the street

The roaring of a lion

The stomping of your feet

The booming of the thunder

The yelling of the crowd

All those noises

Are sounds that are LOUD!


Soft by Jeff Moss

The whisper of a secret

The humming of the bees

A lullaby at bedtime

As wind blows through the trees

The snowflakes falling softly

Swirling to the ground

Those things are quiet – shhh!

Don’t make a sound.

I also taught two story songs in this workshop. These will be posted as Part 2.


  1. Brigid Finucane

    Lovely ideas and repertoire, Liz!!
    Plus the Jeff Moss poems are enchanting.

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