elementary

Teaching K-3 students to solo

Creating patterns

Creating patterns

Soloing can intimidating. It’s a tough skill that draws on multiple competencies; acute awareness of the pulse, a large “beat vocabulary,” confidence, and more.

Soloing can be taught, but students get overwhelmed if you try to do it all at once. My method of introducing soloing to younger students breaks the skill into bite-sized pieces learned over several weeks. It’s one thing I do in class over those 4 weeks, rather than the only thing we work on. With students this age I let them create and play duets if they want, which is less high stakes and cultivates confidence.

Here’s my method:

Week 1

  1. Teach kuchishoka using the Squirrel Village story.

Fill the boxes with one  kuchishoka  each.

Fill the boxes with one kuchishoka each.

Week 2

  1. Remind students of the squirrel rhythm pattern from the story. Have them play it on their laps. Point out that the number of syllables they’re saying corresponds to what they’re playing.

  2. Draw a horizontal rectangle on the board. Divide it into 4 equal boxes.

  3. Choose 4 kids. Have each say don or doko. Write the words they say on the board, one per box.

  4. Lead the class through clapping the pattern their classmates created.

  5. Have students move to drums.

  6. Lead students in playing the pattern on the drums.

  7. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 6 two or three times.

  8. Introduce su. (It’s in the squirrel rhythm, but they won’t have realized it.)

  9. Repeat steps 3, 4, and 6 several more times, adding su into the mix.

Week 3
(Ask teachers to bring individual whiteboards, markers, and erasers to class.)

  1. Do steps 3, 4, and 6 from last week to activate their prior learning.

  2. Give 2-3 minutes for students to create a 4-beat rhythm pattern on their own whiteboard, drawing boxes and writing words inside them (the way they’ve been doing it as a class). Allow them to work in pairs with their drum partner or own their own.

  3. Have students say and clap their individual patterns all at the same time.

  4. Have students play their individual patterns on the drums all at the same time.

  5. Have students leave their whiteboards and rotate to a new drum.

  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 at the new drum.

  7. Rotate and repeat for up to 20 minutes.

Week 4
(Ask teachers to bring whiteboards again.)

  1. Have students make up their own patterns individually or in pairs.

  2. Have students play their patterns all together.

  3. Have students play patterns one at a time. You need to conduct this. I count in the whole group, then make friendly eye contact with a student when it’s their turn to play and mark their 4-beats with my hand. The first time around is rocky, but the second time goes fine.

At the end of Week 4, each kid or pair has a short solo ready to plug into a song. Have them play it twice if you need a longer one. Be sure to email your classroom teachers before Weeks 3 and 4 to ask them to bring their individual whiteboards to class (I have yet to run into a class that doesn’t have a set).

If you try this approach, let me know! I’d love to hear how it goes. Happy teaching!





Introducing a jiuchi: 4th and 5th grade

blog pic mel ost ji.jpg

The hardest part about teaching by yourself is holding the jiuchi. If you play it, students will try to copy you; if you don’t play it, then the group as a whole will have trouble staying on the same pulse.

Below is my method for introducing a jiuchi to 4th and 5th graders (here’s the post about doing this with younger students). The alphabet/ostinato activity is from my original Orff training, and I developed the taiko extension.

This activity takes 20-30 minutes, longer if you have to do Step 9. The three parts are written out here for reference.

  1. Teach the alphabet body percussion exercise described here.

  2. Point out that you have two elements going: a melody and an ostinato.
    NOTE: “melody” isn’t exactly the right word, since clapping isn’t pitched, but it’s close, and it’s a word they’re likely to recognize, so I go with it.

  3. Have students do the alphabet body percussion with the ostinato again.

  4. There is a 99.9999% chance that they will speed up. Point out that they did. (If they didn’t, congratulate them on that, and say that groups usually do.)

  5. Define tempo. Discuss how faster isn’t always better, and that what you’re usually going for in music is a steady tempo and a shared pulse.

  6. Explain that in taiko, we use a jiuchi to help keep a steady tempo and shared pulse and that this rhythm pattern usually happens on a shime.

  7. Demonstrate the pulse for the body percussion exercise they just did.

  8. Have them do the exercise again using body percussion while you play a jiuchi on a shime.

  9. If students haven’t yet played drums in your class yet, spend some time describing how to play the drum safely, respectfully, and musically.

  10. Have students transfer the body percussion to the drums as outlined in the pdf.

In my experience most 4th and 5th graders do well with this method. A few get confused, but they usually figure it out by watching their classmates. Notice, there’s more talking/explaining with students this age than with younger kids.

Let me know if you try this method and how it works for you. Happy teaching!



The Critical First Day: Taiko Fundamentals Gr 4-5

With older students, the taiko fundamental I start with is staying together as an ensemble on a shared pulse. Again, it’s easier to scaffold this using voices and bodies before drums. Two music vocabulary words come up in this activity: ostinato (a repeating pattern) and polyrhythm (combining two or more different rhythms simultaneously).

My current 4/5 residency is 8 weeks of 30 minute classes - only 4 hours of instructional time! - so I move through things FAST. Here’s what I did on the first day to get them started on this skill:

  1. Have students clap and sing the alphabet with you. Clap on every syllable.

  2. Clap without singing.

  3. Teach the ostinato.

  4. Define ostinato.

  5. Split them into two groups and have each group do one of the parts.

  6. Define polyrhythm.

The students in the video speed up, which is pretty normal. In the second class, we return to this activity and I add a straight beat jiuchi to help them keep a steady tempo. The week after that, students translate the beats to drums. They play “don” instead of clapping the alphabet and the ostinato becomes “don don ka su.” Students learn kuchishoka in Week 4,  use the kuchishoka deck to create solos or duets (their choice) in Week 5, learn a song structure in Week 6 and voilà- a polyrhythmic taiko song with solos, all from the clapping alphabet! I first got this activity from my Orff training and have adapted it over the years.

Questions? Hit me up. Until next time, happy teaching!