Sell a Piece of Music!


My students spent the last few weeks learning about the elements of music. We IMG_2851practiced identifying and describing things like tempo, dynamics, pitch, tonality, timbre, and texture. After lots of activities to reinforce their learning, they demonstrated their knowledge by completing a listening analysis of 4 pieces of music (Classic Rock, Jazz, Classical, and a song of their choice) and writing a review of one of the pieces.  To wrap it all up, they used their creativity to create an advertisement to
“sell” one of the pieces of music!

For the analysis, I gave students a choice of 5 songs in each category. To  give students some independence in their listening, I provided QR codes for each song. They were able to preview each piece and pick the one they wanted to analyze.  The review they wrote for one was meant to show their understanding of what they heard and their ability to apply appropriate vocabulary. These activities combined took 4-5 days to complete.

IMG_2859The advertisement  was fun because students got to share about the music and be as outrageous in their ad as they wanted to be.  We warmed up by watching a couple of “as seen on tv” product commercials and clips of infomercials.  We also looked at types of advertising techniques. You can find many websites that have student centered information on this – I used this one. Your ELA teachers might cover this as part of their standards so it may be an opportunity to collaborate! Once you start talking about these kids will come up with all kinds of current examples.

Students created a print ad (on poster or a google slide) or a script for a live commercial. The ad had to describe at least 3 elements of music in the song and use at least  advertising techniques. They had a great time with who could come up with the most outrageous claims!  The ads took about 3 days to complete (including the introduction of the advertising techniques.) You might need one more class period depending on how many students choose to present live commercials. If you have the technology the live commercials could be recorded and played back to the class, too.


We displayed many of these in the hallway with the QR codes so everyone in the school could check out some new music!


Remember that this is how I did things THIS TIME in my classroom. I’m

Here are links to all the materials used in these lessons:

Introduction to Project

QR Codes for Listening

Listening Analysis Grid

Music Review

Review Rubric

Advertisement Directions

Advertisement Rubric

Using Tech to Hook Students: Makey Makey + Scratch = Human Drum Machine

Using Tech to Hook Students: Makey Makey + Scratch = Human Drum Machine

Want to get kids excited to be in your middle school music class? Then turn them into a human drum machine and beat box!

As you can see, this is great fun for your students – and even teachers!

The human beat box was actually where we ended – we started with a drum machine.

You can see the students have pieces of foil they are tapping on to create a sound. You can use all kinds of things with the Makey Makey to create sound – foil, clay, bananas, and as you already saw, humans!  Since we did this at the beginning of the school year, my students took a piece of foil and turned it into something that represented them.  We had everything from baseballs to ballet slippers to initials.

So how did we do this?  Believe it or not it wasn’t too hard.  All you need is a Makey Makey and a computer to access the website Scratch.

I started out creating a free account on Scratch.  This is a great website that teaches kids (and teachers) to code.  There are countless things you can create – as you’ll see from the examples on the site – but I stuck with the music.  When you first start creating on Scratch there is a helpful tutorial that will show you the basics.

After I got the hang of telling the computer what I wanted it to do, I was able to create a drum machine. I chose the “Sprite” I wanted  – in this case, a percussion instrument.



Once you choose an instrument you’ll be able to choose from several sounds it can make.

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Then you simply choose the language to tell them computer what you want it to do and when.  In this case I dragged the Event, “When space key pressed” and the Sound “Play sound low tom.”  Each time you add another sound, you assign it to a different key on the keyboard.  To use the Makey Makey at it’s simplest, you’ll want to stick with the space key and left, right, up, down arrow keys.

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I continued adding “Sprites” (instruments), choosing sounds, and the event that would make them happen until I had everything I wanted.

Now to add the Makey Makey…


This looks complicated at first, but it really isn’t – I promise! The Makey Makey directions and website will walk you through the set up, but here’s the basics – each color cord clips into a hole that corresponds with a key on the keyboard. For instance the orange cord is clipped into the down arrow key hole, so whatever I told the Scratch program to play when I hit the down arrow will happen when I touch the orange clip.

img_0080There is one cord (in this case the white one) that is the grounding cord. Nothing happens
unless the grounding cord is being touched. We made the cord the “Drummer’s Cord” – whoever holds that is the drummer. S/He gets to use the other students as drums by tapping their hand as they hold one of the colored cords.

Obviously, there are many instruments to choose from when creating your Scratch code. There are even pitched instruments like the piano where you can create a separate Sprint for different pitches so you can play a melody.


To create the beatbox I used the microphone and created a Sprite for each different sound.


img_0084As you can see from the videos I started with, everyone loved this!  Even greater is that this can be used with every level of students. Our special needs kids even had a blast trying out all the sounds!

I plan to use this again in my classes and have students create the Scratch codes so they can learn coding basics and test out their creative music making abilities using technology.

Have you used a Makey Makey or Scratch before? Let us know what you’ve tried so we can learn from each other!




March Madness: The Music Edition


So it’s March.

Two-thirds of my students are boys.

Many of my girls love sports.

Next up is teaching music vocabulary and critiquing performances.

What’s a middle school music teacher to do?

Call it March Madness and throw in every basketball connection possible!

And that’s how we arrive at March Madness: The Music Edition.

The Music Edition of March Madness is divided into two basic parts: (1) learn music vocabulary and (2) apply music vocabulary. Each part involves practice and varying levels of application – the final application being the March Madness Tournament.

We spent 3 days a week on this unit – week one was building vocabulary strength.

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The “strength training” component was completing guided notes to define specific vocabulary words.  I also gave demonstrations on the piano and drums of what each word sounded like in action.

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After getting down definitions, we had a “shoot around” with the vocabulary words. I explained that a shoot around is used for warming up and the goal is for everyone to make as many baskets as possible. Students got into teams of 2 or 3 and I passed out cards with the vocabulary words.  I then played an example on the piano or drum and students would hold up the card that correctly identified the musical element. When I gave a team a thumbs up for a correct answer they would say “swish!” as they “made their basket”.  Some even figured out that if they got it wrong they could “rebound” and try again.

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Once I felt students had a handle on identifying one term at a time, we had a scrimmage. I played another example that demonstrated several vocabulary words. Their teams pulled out all the cards that correctly described what they heard.  As I visited each team, the students had to use the words in sentences to describe what they heard. Each word was worth 1 to 3 points, depending on it’s complexity.  Teams added up the points for words they used correctly to compete in the “scrimmage”.  Below you can see the terms we used and their point value.

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I rolled out these terms over three days and followed the same routine each day – note taking, shoot around, scrimmage.  Since some terms were familiar to the students and some were new, I tried to pair new and old concepts so students weren’t overwhelmed with all new concepts all at once.


Next, we were on to week 2 –

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In Week 2, we worked on applying vocabulary to write about an entire piece of music.  For this first exercise I chose Brahm’s Hungarian Dance, No. 5.  It’s full of musical elements to identify, isn’t too long, and is usually well-received by students.

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We start out writing an introduction that includes the composer, title, and background information about this music. I provided a short paragraph of background information where students could pick one or two bits they thought the reader would find interesting.

The body of the paragraph is where the music is described in a much detail as possible. I remind students to give a “play by play”, being sure to help the reader “hear” what happens in the beginning, middle, and end of the piece.  Students underline the vocabulary words they use and “score” their paper just like they did in the vocabulary scrimmage.

Before writing the body of the paragraph, students listen to the music and collect evidence on a paper similar to the vocabulary list above.  This way they can focus their listening without having to formulate their writing at the same time.

Finally, they write a conclusion where they restate the composer and title, and give their opinion based on the evidence they heard.


Week 3 brings us to tournament time!

Screenshot 2016-03-11 at 2.09.55 PMI created a tournament bracket where students have one “game” a day in which they listen to two pieces of music, identify what they hear, and write their opinion based on the evidence they collect when listening. Along with their opinion, they choose the piece of music they like best as the winner.  The piece with the most votes moves on to the next round.

We take 4 days for the first round. Since students have already heard the music when we move on to rounds 2 and 3, we re-listen to remind them of the music and allow them to choose another winner. During this time students choose one piece from all the selections to write a complete critique with introduction, body, and conclusion. (I originally thought I’d have students write a complete critique for every piece they chose as a winner but very quickly realized that was way too much writing and time consuming. Revising it to identifying the elements/vocabulary, writing their opinion, and one critique seems better balanced.)

Here’s what our bracket looks like …


Just for fun, we invited staff to vote on the music in the bracket, too. I kept this separate so we could compare tastes in music. The kids always love to see what their teachers like and it creates the opportunity for conversations about what’s going on in class.

One more extra – we usually do world music drumming on Fridays, but during this unit we brought in basketballs to use instead! I knew it would either be a great success or a disaster – luckily the kids loved it and did and awesome job!  I led them through using the balls to actively demonstrate tempo words (bouncing the ball at the appropriate tempo) and meter (creating strong beats on one and adding the appropriate number of beats afterward.)

Finally, students picked a form or concept to demonstrate, such as call & response, theme & variation, and complimentary rhythms (or moves in this case.)



I’ve done March Madness brackets before where students write about and vote on their favorite music but I was very pleased with how we incorporated learning music vocabulary into this unit.  The students were very motivated to use as much vocabulary as possible when they earned points for every word.  Obviously, anyone can take as much or little from this to use in their own classroom and make it work for where their kids are.

Have fun!