This article was contributed by Preschool Teachers Mavi Kier and Elizabeth Jones
Stools in the classroom become a drum set. A wooden spoon becomes an electric guitar. A pencil becomes a microphone. Soon, you hear the creative lyrics of a rap song accompanied by instrumental sounds, ringing through the classroom. Our kiddos have been making music together since walking through the classroom doors in August 2021.
When we (Ms. Mavi and Ms. Elizabeth) began to talk through possible project topics, music was at the forefront. Specifically making music. Our students were excited about doing a project on making music, but we didn’t know what the culmination of the project would be. Instead, we shifted our focus to creating experiences around music, noting wonders and wishes, and letting the kiddos’ interest direct the outcome.
One of the first experiences we did was to put various materials, like cardboard, tissue boxes, straws, rubber bands, paper, tape, glue, etc., and invited the kids to make their own instruments. They enjoyed exploring the materials and coming up with creative ideas for their instruments. We removed the furniture from our dramatic play area, layed down a piece of plywood on the floor, set up a couple of mics and a speaker. Then we sat back and observed what our kiddos did. They formed their own bands, playing instruments and singing. They pulled chairs in front of the stage and sat as audience members watching their friends perform. They sang songs from their favorite movies (“we don’t talk about Bruno, no, no, no..”), that their parents listened to and made up their own songs. We had a project!
The kids did journal entries on what instrument they would play if they were in a band. They did observational drawings of a ukulele and a keyboard. Our class charted what we know about making music and what we would like to know. These wonders would spur our investigative efforts in Phase 2. We asked, “how can we investigate a wonder/question?”
Our students answered:
- ask someone who knows the answer
- we can look in books
- ask Siri
- watch YouTube
- go on a trip and see for ourselves
In other words, we can conduct interviews, research, and explore. We read books and watched videos learning about instruments. Our kiddos were fascinated with the guitar. There are many different types of guitars and they produce different sounds. Oscar Valez is a local business owner who just happens to play in a punk rock band. He visited our classroom and shared his knowledge about guitars with us. Our kiddos got to hear and play the bass and electric guitars. Ms. Lily, our Spanish teacher, taught the class about music from her country of origin, Columbia. She showed them an accordion, an instrument that is used in a lot of Columbian music. Our friends played the maracas and danced to Hispanic music.
We went on a field exploration to Mount Vernon Middle School to hear a presentation by the Middle School Instrumental Ensembles, including the String Ensemble, the Band, and the Percussion Ensemble. They talked about each instrument and played them individually so we could hear their individual sounds. Our class stopped by the World Drumming Class at Mount Vernon High School. We listened to the different beats and rhythms they were creating and how they were working together to make music. The kiddos loved moving to the beat!
We had the opportunity to see how live music is made, but what about music we listen to on the radio, our iPads, videos we watch on YouTube? How is that music made? Thus began our exploration into recorded music. We learned about recording studios and using our computers to make a song. For further insight into the recording process, our class conducted an interview with Shay Samuels, a Gospel recording artist. In preparation for the interview, we delved into examining, “what is a question?”
Our class practiced asking questions, not statements, by conducting interviews with each other. It was an enlightening experience. They not only learned more about their classmates, they were also able to apply their developing communicative skills (listening and responding appropriately and within context, and taking turns in conversational exchange). The class came up with a list of questions to ask Ms. Shay. During the interview, the kids were intrigued with the idea of writing thier own song, making your own music. They asked, “How do you write a song? How do you come up with the words?” Ms. Shay shared that “it comes from your heart. Write about what you know. Sometimes it starts with a little beat you are tapping around or a little melody that pops in your head.”
We explored the elements of music. We learned about tempo, rhythm, dynamics, melody, harmony, texture and timbre. We learned about form. Music is made up of notes. The notes C D E F G A B make up a scale. Musical notes can be written down on paper on a staff. This is sheet music. We learned that the type of note you draw lets you know the duration of the note (how many beats you sing the note). We had a lot of fun exploring rhythm and beats. The kids wrote their very own sheet music.
We have an “I Am” board in our classroom that we use to spark conversation, share about ourselves, and engage further exploration into a subject area. The kids used the “I Am” board to pick which instrument they were (a guitar, saxophone, drums, or piano) and on another occasion, to pick which beat they “were feeling” (we had four different beats that we clapped out and they picked the one).
After all these experiences, the class decided that they wanted to record their own song. We reached out to Matthew Neylon to see if this would be a possibility. He connected us with Vann Thornton. The class voted on what the song would be about. They decided to write a song about school: “PK Love”. Then we brainstormed about what we love about school. We made rhyming pairs with words to make sentences. The kids came up with different rhythms/melody for the chorus and they voted on the one they liked best. Then, we visited the recording studio on the Upper Campus. Mr. Vann listened to the kids sing the chorus and he helped create the instrumentation for the song on the computer. Our kids were so excited. We took the music that Vann had done for us and practiced, practiced, practiced. We visited the recording studio again and Mr. Vann recorded each child singing their line for the verses and everyone singing the chorus together.
To finish out the project, Mr. Vann came to our campus and helped us record a video. He is currently working on putting it all together. We can’t wait to see the final product. This has been such a fun project. Our kiddos have developed such a love for music and the creative process. Not only that, they have also learned to work together and to celebrate each other’s individual talents.