A Half Note Presentation Plan

If your students have great repertoire for half notes, plus solid preparation strategies, they’re ready to move on to the presentation phase!

In the Kodaly philosophy, the presentation phase is where students learn the real name of the element they’ve been using. I love this approach because it reminds me that the name of the element itself does not have as much meaning as many teachers would be lead to believe. The name “half note” is simply something we assign to a two beat sound to make communication between musicians easier. Memorizing the label and shape of the notation has little significance when we put it in the context of experiencing how a half note feels, sounds, and how we can use it.


 
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Before we begin, make sure your students have plenty of experience with half notes in the preparation phase. Some of my favorite ways to prepare half notes are to: 

  • Experience first through games
  • Notice a note that lasts two beats
  • Explore through movement compositions
  • Explore through instruments
  • Read a visual representation

With these activities - or your own favorites - we're ready to move on! 


Choosing Classroom Repertoire

I wrote about some of my favorite songs for teaching half notes here. You can go to that post to see how I use each song, and get directions for downloading the sheet music. 


Are they Ready to Move on? A Presentation Test

Before we present the name of a half note, we need to be sure students are ready to move on from the preparation phase. That’s where our presentation test comes in.

I want to make sure my students have had lots of experience with this element, but the thing I care most about is aural skills. Can they aurally identify a half note? If they can, I know whatever mistakes they make in performance of a half note will sort themselves out.

That said, in my classroom the presentation test is essentially an ear training test.

There are two main ways this might look in my classroom:

  1. Whole-Class Test: The teacher will sing a phrase from a known song on “loo” and the students will echo back on ta, ta-di, and long.
  2. Small Group Test: If you want more targeted information, you can load the phrase into an app like Seesaw and have students submit a recording back to you in small groups. (P.S. I made a video that mentions assessment in the music room using the seesaw app. You can watch it here.)

Presentation!

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With the data back from your test, we can move on to presentation.

However, if the results of your test show that most students aren't ready to move on yet, don't push them before they're ready. You've still had a wonderful preparation activity and gained some valuable data! Take a few more lessons to prepare half notes and circle back around to presenting in a week or two.

If it is time to present, sing a song your kids both know and like - something from this post would be perfect. 

For this example, we'll use the American folk song, Who's That. 

1. Aural Presentation

  • Tell the students that musicians have a special name for “long”. When we hear a sound that lasts for two beats, we call it a “ta-a”. The real name for a “ta-a” is a half note.
  • Sing part of the song that contains a half note on rhythm syllables.
  • Try with another song or another portion of the song that contains half notes.

2. Visual Presentation

  • Tell students that musicians have a special way to write a half note, and show the notation on the board.
  • Have students help you write out a target phrase of a song containing half notes.
  • Sing the target phrase on rhythm syllables while students point to the board.
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Practice

The formal practice phase will take up the next several lessons, but I like to include it here so to help students bridge the gap between the two phases.

By this point in the lesson students have been sitting down a lot! It’s time to get moving - which means we need a game.

Games as Intentional Practice

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Bluebird Bluebird is a great one for this.

Students should have plenty of experience playing this game, and they should know the song very well.

  • The first time you play the game, do it completely as normal. (Students sing on regular text.)
  • Then, ask students to play the game while they sing on rhythm syllables


The presentation phase is the smallest of the three in the Kodaly philosophy. It matters that students all elements by the correct names, but it’s more important that they understand what these elements sound like, feel like, and how to use them.

Next week we’ll look at some specific ways to practice half notes!

 

Preparation Activities for Teaching Half Notes

In this post I wrote about some of my favorite materials for teaching half notes.

When we prepare half notes, 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 half notes to sing, play, improvise, and more. Then when we add the name, that name has meaning because students have been given enough experiences to truly understand the element.

This method is intuitive and calls on students to discover music on their own - not just to memorize that a half note gets two beats.

 
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Experience First

The very first step in teaching a new rhythmic element is to play games, sing songs, and speak rhymes that contain that rhythmic element. This first step might not feel like “teaching” at all. And in many ways it shouldn’t. Instead, this stage should feel like play.

I wrote about some of my favorite materials to use for teaching half notes here. Some of my top choices are: Bluebird Bluebird, Listen to the Sun, Seashell, and Who’s That. You can go to that post for songs, plus the directions to games we use in my classroom.

The experiences we give students in this stage are the foundation for everything we want them to do later, so it’s important that we don’t short-change this step. In my experience it’s often one of the most joyful parts of the process as well.


Notice a sound that lasts two beats

Again, this step in the process is crucial, though it may seem simple.

After students have experience moving, playing, singing, and speaking a half note, they’re ready to become aware that they are using a note that lasts longer than a “ta”.

In my classroom, we do this by keeping a steady beat while we perform a known song or rhyme. I’ll pick one phrase and ask students if I sing a word that lasts longer than one beat.

  • What is the word?
  • Does it happen more than once?
  • How many beats does it last?

Through these questions, students guide themselves in understanding what a half note is.

When students have identified a note longer than one beat, we’ll assign it a name. Since it’s a long note, we’ll simply call it “long”.


Explore

After lots of experience with half note songs and rhymes, and after becoming conscious that a note lasts longer than two beats, we’re ready to explore half notes in other ways, like instruments and movement.

Movement

Start by showing these sunbeams. How could students show these sunbeams through their bodies?

Orff Sun Movement

In some classrooms you may have all your students create the same shape: standing slanted, and reaching up with vertical arms. This may be especially true if your classroom doesn’t have a strong movement component.

To challenge students, especially if your class doesn’t do much movement, consider inviting students to make the shape without using their arms. In such an open activity like this, I praise students using different levels and body parts.

Instruments

Instruments are another great way to explore half notes.

What instruments might you choose to represent that long sunbeam? What non-pitched percussion instruments can we find that elongate sound to last more than one beat?

Some great options students might discover are:

  • Triangle
  • Guiro
  • Cabasa
  • Finger cymbals
  • Crash cymbals
  • Sand blocks
  • Wind chimes

What instruments might you choose to show a short sound? Some options students might discover are:

  • Rhythm sticks
  • Tambourine
  • Wood block
  • Claves
  • Shaker
  • Cowbell

Perform the rhyme, Listen to the Sun with instruments and movement. As they speak, students will listen for a sound that lasts two beats. When that sound happens they will either perform their sunbeam movement, or play their two beat instrument.  Other class members not moving or playing may choose to speak the rhyme.

You may also choose to have students speak rhythm syllables instead of the text of the word:

“Ta-di ta-di long,
Ta-di ta-di long,
Ta-di ta-di ta ta
Ta ta ta long”


Create a Visual Representation of What You Hear

After all these preparation experiences, students are able to create a visual representation of what they have been singing, speaking, playing, and moving.

Different teachers have different preferences for this part of the process. For me, the significance of a half note is that students are combining two large beats, so I want to show that visually. We do this with a tie.

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Start with a half note song students are familiar with (check out songs for teaching half notes here). For this example, we’ll go with “Who’s That”.

Starting at the last beat, have students help you notate the first phrase of Who’s That. Explain to students that we don’t know what “long” looks like yet - do they have any ideas of how to show it? Remind students that “long” is the length of two ta’s.

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Students will likely come up with something that looks close to this:

Since you have a visual, have the students help you notate the rest of the song:

 
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With a visual representation in place, and with students reading their version of half note notation, you can tie two quarter notes together to show that a half note lasts two beats. 

 
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Strategies like singing, playing games, moving, playing instruments, and reading notation give students preparation they need to truly understand what a half note is before we add the label. 

The next step in the process is to present the real name!