Musical Conversations Unit


Here is a unit called “Musical Conversations” i did with my 6th and 7th grade general music classes.  I’ll lay it out here as I did it with them but of course you should tweak it to work for your schedule and students.  I like to use thematic units in my classroom – I build lessons around a theme – in this case musical conversations.  This allows me to pull from almost any time period or style of music.  I find this helps to keep my students more engaged because I’m constantly “mixing it up” when it comes to musical examples.

In this case, the musical conversations are mostly reflective of call and response form.  I include examples that I’ve used and found the kids like – but please feel free to use your own favorites.  I’ve been known to throw in new ones as I hear them, myself!  This unit is divided into two parts – the first introduces call & response by listening and analyzing then has students apply that knowledge to playing and composing on tubanos (or any other drum).  The second part goes a little deeper into call and response examples then has the class compose a call & response song and create a music video.  You could easily do both parts or one.

Here are the first videos we did  – the kids had a great time doing them but I have to admit it was WAY more involved than I expected!  And let’s be honest, you might not be able to do this with every class.  It takes a class that can work well together AND independently.

The entire unit and materials are listed for download at the bottom of this post.


Student Learning Objectives (based on Ohio Music Standards)

  1. I can aurally identify, describe, and demonstrate the forms of call and response and trading 4’s. (6.1CE, 6.1 PR, 6.2 PR, 6.3PR, 6.5PR, 6.2RE)
  2. I can explain how these forms are/were used in music, especially jazz. (6.3CE, 6.4CE, 6.6CE)
  3. I can create four, 4 measure rhythmic phrases in 4/4 time, both improvised and written, and perform them to lead others in call & response and trading 4’s. (6.1PR, 6.2PR, 6.3PR, 6.3PR)
  4. I can evaluate the quality and effectiveness of my and others’ performances, making note of strengths and areas for improvement. (6.1RE, 6.2RE)

Day 1 – Student goal: I can answer a musical question on the tubano and describe 3 characteristics of a musical conversation.

Activating prior knowledge

  • Strike up a conversation with a student or the class. After a minute or so, stop and ask what we’re having…. A conversation. As a class, list the characteristics of a conversation.

Transfer to music

  • Watch the following video and ask students to look for characteristics of a conversation.
  • Wynton & Wycliffe: A Conversation 
  • After viewing discuss similarities to the class conversations and/or differences.


  • Tubano Conversations
  • How can we create conversations using the tubanos?
    • Statement/Statement
    • Question/Answer (Call & Response)
    • Speaking together (unison and/or parts)
  • Begin with Statement/Statement (Students echo teacher)
    • Teacher to class
    • Teacher to individuals (around the circle)
  • Continue with Question/Answer
    • Teacher says and plays question in rhythm, ex. “What’s for dinner?” “Spaghetti and meatballs”
    • After going around the circle and matching drum rhythm to words, go around again without speaking – let the drums have the conversation.
      • To help students maintain a steady beat it can be helpful to use a background metronome or rhythm track
    • If time allows, have students create new questions
  • Exit Ticket: Name 3 characteristics of a musical conversation

Day 2 – Goal: I can improvise an appropriate response on the tubano.

Review characteristics of a musical conversation

Listen to Tijaniyya

  • ID # of beats in call and response, ID voices
  • Review & practice question/answer on tubanos
    • How many beats in each question/answer?
  • Improv around the circle starting with 4 beats and increasing as the class is able (I find it’s easier to keep the beat going if the teacher/leader is inserted between each student, i.e. teacher- student 1- teacher – student 2- teacher- student 2- …)


  • Assess student ability to improvise a rhythmic pattern in the designated number of beats
    • 4 = advanced (independent and accurate); 3 = proficient (complete independently but with some inaccuracies); 2 = developing (needs assistance to complete); 1 = unable to complete

Day 3 – Goal: I can read and play the rhythms of a call and response. I can explain the process of creating our class’ call and response.

  • Review characteristics of musical conversation
  • Review process of improv/taking turns
  • Move to reading rhythms for question/answer (These can be pre-made or notated as they are played)
  • As a class, create a 2 measure call and 2 measure response. If time allows, increase this into 4 call and response phrases. Keep either the call OR the response the same in each phrase.

Assessment – Check for student understanding during class composing time

Day 4, 5 – Goal: I can create, evaluate, and perform a rhythmic call and response composition.

  • With a partner, notate 4 phrases of 2 measure call and 2 measure response
  • Use Call and response composition worksheet to notate correctly with 4 beats in each measure
  • Perform and self-evaluate
  • Make revisions
  • Class performances/assessment

Assessment: Completed composition, reflection, and performance

Day 6 – Goal: I can identify the patterns of call in response in examples.

  • Intro with Chuck Berry’s School Days 
    • Complete School Days lyric dictation
    • ID conversation
    • ID as call and response
    • ID the pattern of the call and response (Does the response echo a changing call or does the response remain the same for each changing call.
  • Listen to Mannish Boy
    • ID who is having a conversation
    • ID an example of the call and response
    • ID the pattern of the call and response
  • Listen to Banana Boat Song
    • ID an example of the call and response
    • ID patterns of call and response

Assessment: Student responses (oral or written) to questions

Days 7-10 – Goal: Complete my job so that I contribute to the class music video production.

  • Song project
    • Create a call and response song based on Manish Blues or My Generation
  • Write lyrics based on own experiences
    • Manish Blues – Call = Things you want/to do but parents say no; Response= NO NO NO NO NO NO
    • My Generation – Call = things people misunderstand or stereotype about middle school kids; response = talkin’ bout my generation

Assessment: Group project rubric; Video Reflection and Assessment

Please be sure to share how this goes with your classes – and any changes you made to make it work for you!

Downloadable Documents:

Musical conversations unit

Call and response Composition Worksheet

School Days lyric dictation

Music Video Project Jobs

Group Project Rubric

Video Reflection and Assessment

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Ukes In The Middle – IMEA 2015 Presentation | Room 143

  2. Pingback: Not Just Another Ensemble – IMEA 2015 Presentation | Room 143

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