“If we inspire you to do anything new at all in your [music] classrooms today, we hope it is this: Tell stories to your students! Read to them, use picture books or just tell them stories from your heart. Children NEED to hear them!”
Peter & Mary Alice Amidon of New England Dancing Masters, at an Orff workshop, quoted by Sally Rogers
I 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, rhythm, tempo and dynamics.
We spent the second half of the workshop learning some story songs to help children get engaged with playing instruments, singing simple parts and moving their bodies to dramatize a song or musical piece. I love to use stories for music teaching. Stories are often used in the Orff-Schulwerk and Dalcroze music-teaching methodologies.
Here is a wonderful video that demonstrates a musical story using the Dalcroze technique:
The first story we acted out in my workshop was my version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. We not only have three children play the parts of the billy goats, we also usually have several trolls and a group of children to play the river. We also have a different group of kids play instruments to dramatize the characters: rhythm sticks for goats (to make a hoof sound on the bridge), thunder tubes or drums for the trolls (if you don’t know what a thunder tube is, google it), and rain sticks for the river. Here are links to the lyrics and my recording of this song:
The second story we acted out was my version of The Little Red Hen. I heard about acting out this story from my CMN colleague Joanie Calem of Columbus, Ohio. I loved her version but also felt inspired to write my own. You can use different instruments for each of the animals in the story. If you’re doing this in a classroom, you could have two or three students portray each animal. I followed a friend’s suggestion and have each “animal” wear a picture of their animal around their neck. There is space after each “Not I” for the animals to tap an instrument, clap, or make their animal sound. The red hen and chicks can use red and yellow scarves for wings. Here’s the link to the song:
We finished our workshop with a rousing rendition of a perennial favorite among many of my students, Bob Messano’s “Rockin’ in the Rabbit Hole.” Kids love to dance like hopping bunnies, then get down and “hide” when the farmer approaches. In the end, some of the kids play “kids” who are much kinder than those angry farmers and cows! You can see my “peeps” video of the song here:
Have fun acting out and singing all your favorite stories with kids. They love it!