Without music, life would be a mistake.

Leave a comment

Lucy Locket’s Pocket

One of Maury’s favorite games in the Music Room is Lucy Locket. The accompanying song is about poor Lucy, who lost her pocket one day. Thankfully, her friend Kitty Fisher found it and returned it to her. To play the game, one of our students becomes Lucy on that fateful day, looking for his or her pocket. A pocket is hidden somewhere in the room and the rest of the students give clues à la the game Warm and Cold with a musical twist: We sing our song louder when Lucy is closer to the pocket and softer when further away. What the students don’t know is that they are practicing one of the most difficult parts of a musical performance – dynamic contrast.


Over the last few weeks, First Grade has been using Lucy Locket to learn about the symbols for a crescendo and a diminuendo and integrating that into our own music making. Once we were familiar with the symbols and what they meant (with a great math connection – the symbols are the same as “less than” and “greater than!”) we were ready to start adding them to our rhythm flash cards for some practice. We mastered that pretty quickly, so it was time to make things even more tricky. Ms. Bomba was kind enough to lend one of the dice she uses, which I doctored to include some different possibilities for performance (die-namics?). Everyone was so excited to take their turn rolling. Our rhythms became much more interesting (and tricky) once we added some surprise dynamic markings.IMG_0489


Leave a comment

At Maury We Are Thankful

Thanksgiving week was filled with opportunities to show how thankful we at Maury are for what we have. Those opportunities continued in the Music Room, where our students used a simple song about gratitude to explore vocal improvisation, instrumental accompaniment, and composition.

We approached the song through movement, which provided an excellent time for our students to work together, performing a movement piece without any words. Once we were totally in sync, we added words and melody to our movements, creating a sweet song that our older students even got to perform in canon! After we combined our voices to sing together, our students used things for which they were thankful to create simple rhythms which the rest of the class echoed. Putting that together with our song made a class rondo that featured thanks for everything from a great school to the armed forces to friends!

Even though the song we learned was simple, it provided a starting point from which our different classes headed in different directions. Our youngest students stopped after singing and sharing for what we are thankful. Older students got to sing the song in canon, compose rhythms in a group, and learn accompaniment for the song. To see what fourth grade accomplished, head to @maurymaestro on Twitter to find a link to a video.

Leave a comment

Storytelling Through Instruments

Kindergarten has been playing with all the different ways we can use instruments and voices to tell a story. Most of the experiences our kindergartners have had so far is finding the steady beat. But over the last few weeks we have been using the instruments more as sound effects. Egg shakers as rattles for rattlesnakes, drums for footsteps, thunder tubes for scary voices – the possibilities are endless! Of course we have also been applying our new, more subtle understanding of some of the contrast found in the elements of music: high/low, loud/soft, fast/slow.

All of these skills will come in very handy when we work on the new Kindergarten Cornerstone in Music. For a significant portion of the second advisory our students will be playing with different ways to tell a story – through movement and instrumental or vocal sounds. By the end of this advisory, we will be adept at improvising an accompaniment for a story! No small order. Even after planning different ways of interacting with the stories we work on, the final product will still be a little different every time. I can’t wait to see how our Maury Musicians express our stories through music!


Leave a comment

Music Through Literacy

People of all ages love stories. A well-crafted story draws you in and makes you feel like a part of the action. I love to use a variety of books in the Music Room because they can make working on more difficult musical concepts seem much easier!


For the last few weeks our First Grade students have been using the classic Edward Munch story, Mortimer, to explore different drones and improvising melodies that ascend and descend. The book has a repeated song the main character sings when he is supposed to be sleeping. Our students learned his song (thanks, Artie Almeida!) and then accompanied their singing with a chord drone and a broken drone. After we got used to singing, watching the conductor, and playing all at the same time, we discussed the specific uses of each of these drones. Because the song in Mortimer is on the busier side, we decided the simpler chord drone would be more appropriate for our “performance.”IMG_2691

Students accompanying their singing

Next we had to compose some music for when Mortimer’s family heads up the stairs to tell him to be quiet, and down the stairs to get on with their lives. The First Graders improvised a variety of ascending and descending pentatonic melodies, until they each had their very own they liked the best. For a final performance, we used our song and drone as the A section of a rondo. The other sections were solo performances of our melodies.



Students soloing for each other

This is just one of the many stories we tell in Music. Some of them are through books, some through song. Still others are through movement. Music gives our students the opportunity to tell their story in new and exciting ways!

Leave a comment


Anyone who knows me well knows that I love my recorders. Despite what many may think, these ancient instruments are still extremely relevant today and are a great tool for expanding our musical skill set. References to this little instrument date back at least to the 14th century, and the instrument continued to be popular all the way through the Baroque Period. My favorite Bach cantata – Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit – features them prominently. Newer, louder instruments stole the show for a while after that, but then people figured out recorders were a great way to teach children the basics of playing an instrument. There are two huge reasons they are great for kids. First and foremost, they are extremely accessible because they don’t require any embouchure work and they take almost no breath pressure to produce a sound. I always tell my students if you look at a recorder too aggressively it may make a sound! Secondly, their size makes them very portable. We can play our recorders while we are moving around the room, dancing, and playing games.


Third Graders playing in the forest, trying not to get caught by the wolf!

Even though the recorder is so accessible, there are always new challenges for our students as we progress. More advanced players will find that the instrument has an impressive range. I am still pushing myself to find the elusive upper reaches of the recorder’s range! Our students always get so excited to discover new notes on their instruments, enabling them to play new pieces with more notes, or to play the same pieces in new keys. All this work means our students will be ahead of the curve if they choose to play band or orchestra instruments later on.

The recorder’s story doesn’t stop at being a great teaching tool for elementary school students. Many people still play this great instrument, leading to some recent innovations. This summer I learned about the Elody, a recorder that is now at the top of my wish list. The Elody is – wait for it – an electric recorder! It can be plugged into an amp and distorted just like the guitar. I always love when old traditions find new life in unexpected ways!

Leave a comment

Fa – A Long, Long Way To Go!

Our students at Maury begin reading rhythms in Kindergarten. As they grow through Music, the rhythms get gradually harder until they are working with sixteenth notes, syncopation, and even 6/8! It’s not enough for musicians only to be able to read rhythms, however. Most music people encounter has a melodic component, so we need to work on putting pitches to those rhythms. Thankfully, we have our friends on Solfege Street (contributed by my own mother) to help us out.IMG_2650Some beginner rhythms to get us started.

As we are learning different rhythms, we are also finding out that the different pitches we sing have their own names and relationships to each other. In Kindergarten, most of the songs we sing have two or three pitches, so we are able to get a good grasp of Sol, La, and Mi. Just like the rhythms we know, we expand the scale as we get older, hopefully completing it by Fourth Grade.

 IMG_2648Solfege Street. Looks like a nice neighborhood.

Because our Third Graders need to begin playing recorder from printed music as well as by ear, our Second Graders are diving into the marriage of pitch and rhythm: sheet music! We are learning where our solfege friends live on the staff (soon we’ll be finding out they can move!) so we can start learning songs from notes on the page. Once we have this kind of independence, there’s no limit to the music we can produce!

IMG_2649Solfege Street for our more mature musicians.

Second Grade blew me away this week with their progress. They were able to sing a song, turn it into the correct solfege syllables with hand signs, find where the notes would be on a xylophone, sing it again with letter names, and then play the song on xylophones! They definitely showed me they are ready for the next step, reading a new song from printed music! I can’t wait to hear the music our students will be making all on their own in the coming weeks.


 A xylophone visual to help us get oriented before we move to the instruments.

Leave a comment

Chorus Returns!

Chorus is back, which means there must be a concert around the corner! With all of my new Orff training, I have been making some HUGE changes to the concerts. This week, I have been letting the students in on a secret I have always kept from them. I don’t plan out the entire concert before we begin rehearsing! Every semester, I look at what we have been learning in each grade and pick one or two songs that show that off. After that, I let inspiration strike! We explore these pieces through song, movement, pitched and unpitched percussion instruments, and dance. In our Chorus rehearsals we play with the pieces and let the music lead us to an end point. The process of finding where our music ends up is always a lot of fun and ends up being even more surprising to me than to the students.


This Spring, get ready to hear and see what our students have been working on in Music all year. Each grade is already busy working on discovering what our concert will look like! I am most excited this Spring that the students will have a hand in deciding where the music takes us. Not only will student improvisation and composition befeatured again, but the students will be making decisions about when to use movement; or which instruments we should play; or whether a piece turns into a speech piece, a barred percussion piece, or movement, etc. Our students always blow me away with their creativity and willingness to try new ideas. I can’t wait to see where we end up for this concert!