Music in First Grade: How to Teach Sol and Mi (Part 1)

When we prepare sol and mi, we're asking students to interact with this element before they realize its name. Instead of simply asking students to memorize the sound, we're asking students to use sol and mi to sing, play, improvise, and more. Then when we add the name, the name has meaning because students know the element so well.

Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare sol and mi.

First Grade Music: How to prepare Sol and Mi

1. Play the Apple Tree game

Games are one of my favorite ways to prepare a melodic element. We have a few variations of the game, Apple Tree in my room. Here is how I use it for preparing sol and mi:

  • Play the Game: First we sing and play like normal. If you’re not familiar with the game, you can get directions here.
  • Find High and Low:  After I know we can play the game in our sleep, I’ll ask students to notice the high and low sounds in Apple Tree.
  • Sing with Solfege: We’ll sing the song with modified solfege hand signs I use for this grade: sol is hands on head, mi is hands on shoulders. We always practice this sitting down before we apply it to the game.
  • Change the words: Then we sing the song with “high high low, high high low” in the place of “apple tree, apple tree” while we play the game. (The rest of the song is sung on regular text.)

Teaching Tip: This game works great for rhythmic elements as well! When you play the game, insist that students keep a “steady beat in the feet” to reinforce other rhythmic concepts they’ll use later. Since the students like to run when they get near the trees so they don’t get caught, it’s important to set this expectation at the beginning.

2. Improvise a melody to a known rhyme

The minor third interval is so natural in a child’s world that this can be done easily. Choose a rhyme your students know well - maybe one from a previous grade. Bee Bee Bumblebee is a great one to use since students already play the game after Burnie Bee in my classroom. (Read more about my songs for teaching sol and mi here.)

I was nervous to try this activity at first; I thought students might not understand what I was asking them to do. However, I have found that if I say, “now try it with your singing voice” students can do this task very naturally.

Teaching Tip: Keep in mind that students might want to add a whole step above Sol (La) into their songs. This Sol Mi La tone set is so naturally occurring that students might not even realize they are adding an additional pitch. I try to correct this the very first time I hear a student add La to a Sol Mi song.

3. Write down your melody

After students have created their melody, ask them to write it down. You could do it as a class, or have students do it individually using the printable below.

You might choose to do the entire rhyme, or only the first line. I’ve included both options in this free download.

Another common rhyme to use is Engine Engine Number Nine. I've thrown that in there for you as well!

Just cut out the icons (or get a parent volunteer to cut the icons!). I also recommend laminating the staff paper to make it last more than one class! 

Both sets of printables are totally free in the Sheet Music Library! Just look under "Activity Sheets".  If you don't have access yet you can sign up below!

4. The case of the missing notes

My students love this activity!

The teacher writes down the melody to one of the songs students learned from this post, but leave a few notes out. Tell the students some of the notes have gone missing, and the class needs to help find them.

Again, this activity could be done as a whole class or as individuals for assessment. I recommend doing this activity together before an individual assessment.

Teaching Tip: When doing this activity as a class I find it helpful to present the problem, and then have students turn and work with someone next to them to figure out the missing notes.

Young musicians are capable of so much! They can sing, play games, improvise, and compose easily and musically.

These some of my favorite ways to prepare the first melodic interval that will lead to many more musical discoveries.



My Favorite Songs for Teaching Sol Mi (Music in First Grade)

First grade is such a fun time.

My curriculum goals for first grade include reviewing what we learned last year, and prepping for sol mi and practicing ta ta-di.

To do that, we need songs. Songs that are high quality, that can be used both for having fun and for learning a lot.

First Grade Music: Favorite Songs for Sol Mi

Apple Tree

If you’re not familiar with the song, Apple Tree, you’re in for a real treat.

Apple tree is a song and game I use with Kindergarten through third grade at the beginning of the year. My students love this game so much that it makes it okay for me to sing every day for several months!

To play the game, students sing and walk in a circle keeping the steady beat. Two students (the “apple tree”) hold their hands above heads, creating an arch for students to walk under. On the word "out" the apple tree quickly lowers its branches and traps an apple.

That caught student becomes a new apple tree with the teacher and the game continues - catching more apples, creating more trees, until there is only one apple left.

Other Musical Uses:

  • Rhythm vs beat
  • Ta, ta-di
  • La
  • Do

Bell Horses

I always pair Bell Horses with the rhyme, My Little Pony.

The game that goes along with this song uses one “horse” and one “driver”. The horse is given bells to play as he or she moves. The driver uses a scarf around the horse’s waist and they walk, trot, or gallop around the circle. When the song is done, a new set of students become the horse and driver.

I don’t use this game with my students.

Instead, I ask students to move around in open space as they sing the song. Sometimes they simply walk in open space, and sometimes they listen to my woodblock to tell them if they should trot, walk, or gallop.

When the song is done, students freeze where they are and we go straight into My Little Pony. (You can get the free sheet music to these songs in the Sheet Music Library.)

Other Musical Uses:

  • La
  • Ta, ta-di
  • Rhythm vs beat
  • Movement in free space
  • Quarter rest


Burnie Bee

“Burnie Bee” isn’t actually about a bee at all. “Burnie bee” is an old english term for a ladybug! Your students won’t care though, and I pair this song with Bee Bee Bumblebee.

I’m not aware of a game that goes with Burnie Bee. With my class we sing the song while students move (“fly”) throughout the room. By the time the song is over they need to be back in their spots.

After we do that a few times, we sit down and go into the rhyme, Bee Bee Bumblebee. 

Other Musical Uses

  • Rhythm vs beat
  • Ta, ta-di
  • La
  • Movement in free space
  • 2 bar phrase length

Doggie Doggie Where’s Your Bone

Again, if you’re not aware of this game you’re in for a real treat! Doggie Doggie is one of my young students’ favorite games to play.

Kids this age love guessing games so this song is a big hit in my room.

One student is given the “dog” role and is not allowed to look at the class. Another is secretly given the bone. All students sing the main part of the song. Then the dog sings, “who stole my bone?”, and the person with the bone answers, “I stole your bone”. When the dog turns around everyone’s hands are in their laps, so the dog cannot see who has the bone. Instead he has to guess whose singing voice he heard.

Students love it, and ask for it again and again.

Other musical uses:

  • Rhythm vs beat
  • La preparation
  • Ta, ta-di
  • Singing assessment of the soloists

Sheet Music to the Songs

Free Sheet Music Library

All of this music is available - totally free - in the sheet music library. You can sign up below.

(You’ll also find more sol mi songs there, plus more melodic and rhythmic elements!)

After learning the songs, students can start to explore sol and mi in new, creative ways. Stay tuned for next time when I share some of my favorite ways to prepare this interval!

My Favorite Songs for Halloween

Our weather has finally changed here in Southern California. Trees are beginning to change colors and mornings and evenings are cooling down. Neighborhoods have started putting out pumpkin decorations and those who plan ahead have already begun to gather candy.

Halloween is coming.

I shared in this post that I’m actually not a huge fan of Halloween. Many people love being scared. They love all things spooky, and are thrilled to dress up as witches, ghosts, and goblins. I happen to not be one of those people.

Our students are the same way. Some of them love spooky songs, others can take them a bit too seriously and it’s not a fun time for them. Some schools may even discourage teachers from singing scary songs.

Songs for Halloween

So today I’m sharing songs that are perfect for Halloween - whether your students love to be spooked or they’re just in it for the candy.  

1. Spooky Scary Halloween Songs

Witch, Witch

This song has its origins as a nursery rhyme.

The two note chant it easy for students to sing in tune, making it appropriate for younger grades. Alternatively, you can speak it as a rhyme like I have notated here.

Young students will also love the game that accompanies the song: the student as the “witch” stands in the middle of the circle. After the last line (“no, you old witch!), the students scatter and the witch must catch someone to take his / her place in the circle.

Recommended Grades: K - 2

Musical Uses:

Witch, Witch, Fell in a Ditch
  • Singing assessment of the child in the middle
  • Solidify steady beat in a compound duple meter
  • Shouting versus singing voice
  • AB Form

Miss White Had a Fright

This rhyme is pretty humorous, and fun to chant. Many teachers use it with younger grades because the rhythm is so straightforward. I’ve done a post about using it for rhythm vs. beat here.

However, creatively this rhyme is so playful it lends itself to older grades as well. Here are some ideas:

Recommended grades: 2nd - 3rd

Miss White Had a Fright

Musical Uses

  • Act it out in small groups
  • Ask students to create an ostinato using sounds like "Eek! A ghost!" "yummy yummy" and "shhhhhhhhhhh" or whatever inspires you from this rhyme.
  • Add an intro with wind chimes, a rain stick, or any other instruments students choose
  • Add dynamics: ask students to decide which places should be quiet, and which should be loud.
  • Perform: some students speak the rhyme, some act out the rhyme, some play instruments, some speak the ostinato.

Ghost of Tom

This song also goes by the name, Ghost of John. Like many folksongs, Ghost of Tom has a shared background between more than one place. Some sources say it has its roots in Kentucky, though some have traced it to Europe. Either way, it’s a great one to use this time of year.

Upper grades who are not as easily frightened may find humor in the last line. It also has a pretty extensive range, making it great for your older students.

Recommended Grades: 3rd - 5th

Ghost of Tom

Musical Uses:

  • Sing it in a round
  • Range extension (the “oo” vowel is great for helping kids with their head voice)
  • Singing in natural minor

2. Not So Spooky Songs

If you teach in a school that doesn’t celebrate Halloween, or you have students who are easily spooked, enjoy this collection.

Five Little Pumpkins

This rhyme is darling, and perfect for young students who enjoy counting songs. Much of the song can be dictated easily, allowing you to pull target phrases out for students to analyze. The exceptions are lines with an anacrusis to the next phrase, or lines with a rest.

Recommended Grades: K - 1st.

5 Little Pumpkins

Musical Uses:

  • Rhythm vs. Beat: students track the beat by pointing to strips of pumpkins
  • Act it out
  • Give each pumpkin an instrument representation to play while the class speaks the rhyme
  • Dictate the last phrase using pumpkins placed over hearts

Who’s That?

While note technically a Halloween song, nor necessarily a fall song, I think Who’s That fits nicely into our theme. Students can recall going door to door collecting candy when you introduce this song.

To play the game, students march in a circle, with one student in the middle who has his / her eyes covered. Two others are stationed somewhere else in the classroom. One child outside the circle is assigned to sing “mammy”, the other to sing “daddy”. When the song ends the two outside students silently walk back to the circle so the child in the middle can guess whose voices he / she heard.

Recommended Grades: 2nd - 3rd

Who's That Tapping at the Window

Musical Uses:

  • Half note
  • Do - sol
  • Singing assessment
  • Add a call and response intro: the teacher “knocks at the door” (claps hands) and students give her a contrasting answer.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

The length of this song alone makes it appropriate for older grades.

There are a few versions of this song. Some have a little more detail about the main character in this song (a traveling "hobo"). I chose this version because it was the one I grew up with, and the focus is on the candy - perfect for Halloween!

Recommended Grades: 3rd - 5th.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Musical uses:

  • Ask students to think of types of candy, and then group them by names that have the same rhythm
  • Create a contrasting B section of candy names, then put on body percussion and/or instruments.
  • Make up a new verse
  • Anacrusis
  • Dotted quarter and eighth note
  • Fa

Halloween is a really special time for our students.

These songs are perfect for meeting students where they are musically, while enjoying all the fun of Halloween!



Classical Music for Halloween

It's no secret that I've never met a Saint-Saens piece I didn't love. I've blogged about him and his works here, here, and here. Students also love his pieces because they're so easy to listen to and use some amazing imagery. He's by far one of my favorite composers for introducing classical music to children. 

But as much as I looooooove Saint-Saens, I do have a confession to make: 

I'm not too crazy about Halloween.

There. I said it.

I've never been one for scary movies. I have an aversion to being scared out of my wits by a spooky ghost story. Hauntings, witches, zombies popping out of nowhere. . . just not my thing. 

That said, I've never protested to eating my weight in Halloween candy. (I suppose the holiday isn't that bad after all.)

Many of our students enjoy all things spooky and scary but some students can be really bothered by it. With that in mind I work to find a balance between the two types of students. Perhaps that's another reason why I love Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre so much. 

It's creepy for sure, as any song about Death dancing with skeletons should be. But the music is also so fun and clever it's hard not to love it.

Classical Music Activity for Halloween

About the Piece: 

If you aren't familiar with this piece already, Saint-Saens based it off of a poem by Henri Cazalis. Here is the translation: 

Zig-a-zig-a-zig it's the Rhythm of Death!
Death at midnight playing a dance tune,
Zig-a-zig-a-zig on his violin.
The winter wind whistles and the night is dark.
The winter wind whistles and the lime trees moan.
Weird white skeletons streak across the shadows
Running and leaping wrapped in their shrouds.
Zig-a-zig-a-zig the dance grows even wilder
You can hear the eerie clatter of the dancers' bones
But wait! Suddenly they all stop dancing.
They scatter, they vanish for the cock has crowed.


Saint-Saens does an amazing job of painting the imagery in this poem with his music. As you listen you can hear the howl of the wind, the dancing of the skeletons, and the rooster crowing before the skeletons leave. 

Take a Listen!

The Game:

For this game you'll need a violin bow. (If you don't have one, use a rhythm stick and just pretend!)

You'll also need to be pretty fimiliar with the piece, or at least have a good idea of what to listen for.

  • (0:25)To begin the game, all students stand drooped over, like sleeping skeletons.
  • The teacher (playing the part of Death) will slide through the graveyard as the song begins, holding her violin bow and looking at the sleeping skeletons. 
  • (0:50) When the melody of the song begins, the teacher will wake up the skeletons one by one by tapping them on the shoulder with her hand as she dances through the graveyard.
  • As the skeletons wake up they'll fall in line behind the teacher and copy her dance motions. 
  • (Since the piece is a little long you might consider passing off the bow to a new student to become Death and lead the dance.)
  • (6:57) When the rooster crows at the end of the piece (played by the oboe) the skeletons freeze and the teacher touches them on the shoulder again to make them fall back asleep.

This is a super simple game and very easy to play, as long as you're familiar with the piece. Your kids will love it!

Let me know how it goes!

What I Teach the First Month of Kindergarten

So we’ve decided what we want to teach. We’ve chosen our musical materials. Now it’s time to plug it all in.

Today I’m sharing how I’ve planned the first month of Kindergarten.

What to Teach The First Month of Kindergarten Music_9-26 Kindergarten Music.png


My main musical goals this month are to develop steady beat, and an awareness of the 4 voices. I also want them to get used to following classroom procedures and learn how to move in our classroom space.

Nuts and Bolts:

I see my kindergartners for 45 minutes on a 6 day rotation. That means roughly 3 times a month. It’s not much time so we have to make the most of it!

Rhythm: Developing Steady Beat

These are some of my favorite songs and rhymes for developing steady beat this month:

  • Engine Engine
  • Apples Peaches
  • Chop Chop
  • Hey Betty Martin
  • Jonny Works with 1 Hammer

Pitch: Developing the Singing Voice (4 voices)

To help awareness of the 4 voices I use many of the same pieces and songs.

  • Engine Engine
  • Goodnight, Sleep Tight
  • Little Kitty Cat
  • Doggie Doggie
  • Apples, Peches

Putting It Together: A Peek at my Unit Plan

With pieces and songs all figured out, we need to decide what to do with them. That’s where my unit plan comes in.

Mix of Kodaly, Mix of Orff

This unit plan follows the large Kodaly structure of Prepare, Present, Practice. I absolutely love this approach because it makes you think about the point of each element - what does it look like broken down? Within the prepare and practice structure, typically teachers think through the physical, visual, and aural activities they want to do. That’s where the tweaks come in.

After my Orff level training this summer I decided I need a better way of incorporating the Orff process in my mostly Kodaly model. I was especially inspired by Jane Frazee’s book, Artful, Playful Mindful.

I replaced the traditional physical, visual, aural with Imitate, Explore, and Respond. I still think through the different modes of learning I ask my students to do, but with a new emphasis on individual student creation and exploration of concepts.

So far, I love it.

Here’s a peek at what part of my concept plan looks like for steady beat.


Lesson plan time!

Once this is done, the easy part begins. I simply transfer these ideas into my lesson plans and create a teaching process. 

Thinking through how I will introduce each activity is really valuable. I may choose to repeat an activity to give students enough time to explore it. Or I might combine more than one activity in each class.


Of course you know that sometimes unit plans go the way you expect and sometimes they don’t. Information from the pre-assessment may cause me to tweak or extend some activities. Alternatively, information from the pre-assessment may cause me to zoom through material on which I would have spent large amounts of unnecessary time.

The details in this unit plan will change, but the process stays the same. It’s so exciting to look at my Kindergarteners and know that I have a plan for their learning, ways of assessing them, and pathways toward their own unique creativity.

If you think the unit plan would be helpful to you, I'd love for you to check it out. You can find it here.

Happy teaching!