Songs for Teaching Half Notes

Our students are ready to learn about half notes after they have a solid understanding of the difference between rhythm and beat, and lots of practice with quarter notes and eighth notes.

The Significance of Half Notes

Half notes represent a huge accomplishment in the lives of young musicians, because this is the first time they’re asked to subdivide.

That’s why is so crucial that students have worked so much on rhythm vs beat, and quarter and eighth notes. Without the knowledge and skills of these elements, the length of a half note is arbitrary.

Future posts in this series will look at some great ways to teach half notes, but before that, we need repertoire. 

The Song Collection

I love this collection because it uses songs with games or movement, songs to develop artistic singing, and a spoken rhyme. As always, I’ll point out where we can double-dip for other musical concepts.

Let’s jump right in.


 
Songs to Teach Half Notes
 


1. Bluebird

I’ve written about this song, posted about this song, and sang this song in my classroom for what feels like ages.

Strangely, I’m not sick of it yet!

That’s because my students love the game that goes along with this song. It’s the reason I can pull it out year after year and it’s still fresh.

The Game:

Formation: Children stand in a circle with hands joined and raised to form "windows."
Measures 1 - 4: One child “flaps wings” and weaves in and out the "windows"
Measure 5: The bird taps one child on the shoulder in a steady beat.
Measure 6: The bird taps a second child on the shoulder in a steady beat
Measure 7: The bird taps a third bird on the shoulder in a steady beat

Other musical Uses:

  • Steady beat
  • Ta and ta-di
  • Quarter rest
  • Sol and mi
  • La
  • Re
  • Do
  • Fa
  • High do


2. Who’s That

Who's That.jpg

Students of all ages get a real kick out of the mystery of vocal recognition guessing songs. “Who’s That” is a song that I’ve only started using in my classroom recently, but my students have responded so well that I’m sure this will become a classroom regular.

The Game:

Students are seated in a circle, with one child in the middle who has his or her eyes closed. That child is the “guesser”. The teacher silently chooses two people to be “mammy” and “daddy”.

When the song begins, students walk around the circle, keeping a steady beat in their feet. When the time comes, “mammy” sings measures 5 - 6, and “daddy” sings m. 7 - 8. Then the student in the middle guesses whose voices he or she heard.

When the song is over, the student in the middle will choose a replacement who covers his or her eyes while the other two students silently choose their replacements. The game begins again!

Other Musical Uses:

  • Steady beat
  • Eighth notes
  • Do - sol
  • Mi re do

3. Listen to the Sun

This rhyme is from the Orff Schwerk volumes.

I learned about it in Jane Frazee’s book, Artful, Playful, Mindful. (By the way, I was so impressed with the thoughtfulness of this book that I videoed a book review - you can watch it here.)

I like using this rhyme to remind students that speech is also musical.

The word "sun" is elongated here to a half note, and I like to encourage students to imagine long rays of sunshine as we speak this rhyme:

Listen to the sun
Listen to the sun
Listen to the sun shine
all day long


4. Seashell

Sea Shell Kodaly .jpg

Seashell is a song that can be used to encourage lyrical, artistic singing.

I love performing this in a round. As we sing in a round, I ask students to listen to how the rise and fall of the melody mimics the rise and fall of the waves in the ocean.

Quick tip using this song: Since the half note comes at the end of the phrase, it's easy for students to sing it as a quarter note and quarter rest instead of as two full beats. When you model the song for your class, be sure to elongate the words "me" and "sea" so they last a true half note value. 

Other Musical Uses:

  • Round
  • Do - sol
  • Ta and ta-di
  • Mi re do


Other songs I love for teaching half notes:

  • Fais do do
  • Great Big House in New Orleans
  • Grinding Corn
  • Who has Seen the Wind

You can grab the sheet music to these songs totally for free in the sheet music library.

The sheet music library is my collection of songs I've put together for my own classroom, and wanted to share with other music teachers. I have things arranged by element so you can find exactly what you're looking for! 

Sign up below for the password and enjoy!



What are your favorite songs for teaching half notes? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Happy teaching!

 

Practicing "La" in the Music Room

When students have a solid understanding of what “la” sounds like, feels like, and looks like, they are ready to move on to practicing this melodic element.

In the practice phase students refine their skills and explore la in new ways - and it can be tons of fun for both students and their teachers.  

Today we’ll look at practicing la through aural skills, instruments, composition, and improvisation.

Heads up, this is a lengthy post, full of activities that challenge students, and took me about five to six weeks to unpack. 


 
Music Lesson Ideas for La
 

Ear Training

One of my favorite quotes from Carl Orff says:

 
Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child’s play.
— Carl Orff
 

It’s no surprise that games are our first choice when looking for ways to practice any element.

One of the games I love to use is called "Put a Pin On It!".

It's such a simple listening activity but it requires players to aurally discriminate between several melody patterns. My students always have a blast with this game, and I do too! 

How to Play: 

  • Pass out the page you choose to use, along with a clothespin for each player. 
  • The teacher sings each number on a neutral syllable (such as "loo" or "la")
  • Students place the clothespin on the number they think they heard. 

This game is totally free - just click on the image to download!

There are four individual pages so you can play this game again and again. Enjoy!


Instruments

There are a few important steps I take before my students play instruments, and they all happen away from the instruments themselves. 

The Purpose: 

Because the purpose of this activity was to practice la, I want melody to stay the focus point of this experience.

Aural Skills Before Instruments:

La Practice Images-01.png

One way to do this is to write out a song using la in stick notation. I chose Apple Tree, and wrote out the first eight beats.

From a list of four song options on the board, students choose which song they think they heard (this can be done individually, or with a partner). When they have their song, they'll show you the number they chose on their fingers. 

When students have correctly identified Apple Tree, we'll prep for instruments by singing it on solfege (using hand signs), and then singing it on letter names where do is C.

"Ghosting" and Manipulatives

Orff Without Barred Instruments

In the beginning stages of instrument playing, I have students "ghost it", or mime out playing their instrument silently. This can be done with students looking at a visual on the board, with barred instrument manipulatives, or at the instruments themselves. 

In my classroom we're lucky to have a handful of barred instruments, but not enough for each student. To help every student be successful on instruments, I created these manipulatives that I shared recently on my instagram. By laminating them and adding some velcro they allow students to practice, even when there aren't enough instruments to go around! 

To Instruments

Finally, students play the first eight beats of Apple Tree on instruments while the rest of the class plays the game.


Put a rhyme on S M L

Adding melody to an existing rhyme is another way to help students practice la. In my classroom, I chose the rhyme, Rain on the Green Grass: 

Rain on the green grass, rain on the tree.
Rain on the housetop but not on me.

A Noisy Worksheet

I have a few rules in my classroom when students do this kind of work - the most important rule is that students are not allowed to work quietly. Their eyes light up and a few of them giggle. I say, “That’s right! Working quietly is against the rules. This room needs to be full of noise as you work.” My most important rule is that students need to SING as they write.

What Makes a Valuable Composition?

One of the dangers of worksheet based compositions is that students end up jotting down notes at random and calling it a composition.

True, it technically is a composition because they are adding melody to an existing rhythm - but there was no thought given to how they wanted it to sound. It’s a sight before sound approach, and it normally results in a melody that is not singable. When students try to perform their compositions they find an arrangement of pitches that is unnatural and difficult to sing.

Composing with Kids

Instead, I want students to think of a melody first, and then write it down.

  • Step one: Sing the rhyme on sol, mi, and la.
  • Step two: Figure out the rhyme using hand signs.
  • Step three: Finally write down your melodic idea!

For students who struggle to approach their compositions this way, working in partners is a great option. It gives students a bit more accountability and allows them to think through the process out loud.
 


Melodic Improvisation

Improvisation with 2nd Grade

For this activity, students read first four beats to a song they know very well, and improvise the second four beats.

I find this works best, especially at the beginning, if students are allowed to choose from a written melody, or make up their own.

This could be done easily with any songs from this post, but I chose Bluebird Bluebird.

Student Choice in Improvisation

Especially the first time you try this activity, it’s good to give students written options. True, this is not pure improvisation in the sense that students aren’t making up original music from scratch. However, they are making their own musical choices, and that’s a big first step.

Before We Improvise:

Not all students may be ready to improvise right away.

  • This may be because they haven’t solidified the melodic material enough yet.
  • It may also be that they’re not ready for the independent musicianship it takes to create something new on the spot while hearing their classmates create a contrasting material at the same time.
  • It may be very simply because it can be intimidating to improvise for some students.

That’s why we offer musical choice. It offers differentiation and student ownership, while still meeting our objectives.

It’s the extra layer of scaffolding some students will need as they grow into holistic, independent musicians.


I'm always impressed by what young musicians can accomplish. Singing, playing, instruments, composition, and improvisation all require playfulness, and courage to take a front seat in the music room.

Enjoy your teaching week!