The Best Songs for Teaching La

After students have discovered the singing voice, have differentiated between high and low, and have mastered sol and mi, it's time to introduce a new note: la.

>>> Songs to Teach Sol and Mi
>>> How to Prepare Sol and Mi
>>> How to Present Sol and Mi
>>> How to Practice Sol and Mi

La is an interesting melodic element to teach because it's used primarily in two different ways in most of our folksong literature:

sol mi la


sol la sol mi

Although these patterns use the note, la, they both approach the pitch differently. Students will sing each of these melodies naturally, but the way they think about them and become conscious of them may be different. 

Our students will have an easier time recognizing "a note higher than sol" when sol comes directly before the new note. The whole step between the two pitches highlights the higher of the two, and helps students differentiate between sol and la. When la is preceded by a pitch much lower (in this case, mi) students can get lost in the jump from the lower pitch to the higher. 

In other words, it’s easier for students to hear the step above sol to identify la, rather than a fourth above mi.

That said, here are my favorite songs for teaching la! 

Although both sol-mi-la and sol-la-sol-mi appear in a huge amount of folksong literature, I've chosen to share only my favorite sol-la-sol-mi songs. 


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1. Apple Tree

There are two songs that every student in my school knows from Preschool to 3rd grade. One of those songs is Apple Tree. I use this song for so many musical concepts including

  • steady beat
  • rhythm vs beat
  • ta and ta-di
  • sol and mi
  • la
  • Do
  • Improvisation
  • partwork

The Game

The big beautiful bow that ties all these elements together is my students’ love for the apple tree game! I’ve written about the apple tree game here and here but in case you're not familiar with it, here it is!

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.

2. Bluebird

Bluebird is the second song that almost every student in my school knows. Again, the game that students love so much is the only reason I can continue to pull this song out year after year. Bluebird is a big hit in my classroom for:

  • steady beat
  • rhythm vs beat
  • ta and ta-di
  • Half note
  • sol and mi
  • La
  • Re
  • Do

The Game

There are lots of different ways out there to play this game, but here’s the version I use:

  • 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
  • All three chosen students get in line behind the head bluebird and the game begins again. Continue singing until all students are in the bluebird line.

3. Firefly

For something more lyrical that can emphasize beautiful, resonant singing, I turn to Firefly.

I had always sung this song in its english translation until I came across the Japanese version in this recording by Elizabeth Mitchell. If you haven't listened to her music before, please try it out! 

I can also use this song to teach:

  • Uneven phrase length
  • partwork 
  • Re
  • Do
  • Quarter rest

I like to sing this song in a round. We also use a simple bordun to accompany out singing.

4. On a Mountain

Like all the songs that end up on my favorite's list, my students LOVE On a Mountain. And how could you not - when you pair a jumping game with a singing game you have a smash hit!

One reason to love this song is that it can double for both sol la sol mi and sol mi la.

In addition to teaching la, I use this song for:

  • Ta - mi (or, “tim - ka”)
  • Fa
  • Re
  • Do

The Game:

This is a traditional jump rope song, and like many folk song games, I've seen it played a variety of ways. Here is the way I use it in my classroom:  

As everyone sings the first half of the song, two students swing the jump rope while one student jumps. At the lyrics, “jump in my ___” the child in the middle sings the name of a student. Everyone else echoes the next “jump out my ____” with the name of the child leaving the jump rope game. The new student called jumps in, the old student jumps out, and the game begins again.


Why these songs?

These songs make my list of favorites for several reasons: 

  • I love that I can layer concepts with them.
  • I love that they have an interesting game or musical activity that gets students engaged right away.
  • I love that they’re enjoyable to sing.
  • I mostly love how much my students love them!

More songs to teach La

There are lots more songs that use la out there.

As I teach, I try to collect the ones I enjoy and write them down. I've compiled that list here to share with you.

This Sheet Music Library is totally free and you can sign up for access below.

Happy teaching!

Music in First Grade: How to Practice Quarter Rest

Finally, after choosing songs and preparing our mystery rhythm, we know the real name to a beat without a sound.

>> Songs to Teach Quarter Rest

>> How to Prepare Quarter Rest

>> How to Present Quarter Rest

Teaching students how to truly hear a rest is teaching students how to be thoughtful, aware musicians. To not play something, but to silently hear it, takes a lot of musical maturity, and it’s one reason I love teaching quarter rest.

Here are some of my favorite ways to practice ta rest. They involve student compositions, instrument choice, performance, and a reflection time.

Let’s jump in!

How to Practice Quarter Rest

Compose with quarter rest

Student-created rhythms are wonderful for practicing elements - what better material to use than material students have created themselves?

This rhythm pattern could serve as an ostinato for the whole piece, or it could serve as an interlude, intro, or outro.

For the song, Bluebird, Bluebird, my students were given these rhythm building blocks:

(Click here to download!)

In small groups, students create a four bar pattern using their rhythm building blocks. Since the purpose of this activity is a quarter rest, students include a silent sign for rest.

When the rhythm cards are in their final order and students can clap and speak their rhythm several times in a row as a group, students put their composition on body percussion.

**Teaching tip: Especially in younger grades, it’s a good idea to model how to have a creative discussion when several students are contributing ideas. Explain that your idea may not be chosen every time, and it’s important to work together as a group to come up with a musical idea that represents everyone.

Add Instruments and Perform

Once students have their compositions ready, it’s time to put them on instruments.

Step 1: Choose instruments in each group:

The teacher may demonstrate several options for instruments: Triangle, rain stick, hand drum, cabasa. . . .

Ask students to discuss in their small groups which instruments would be best, and which would be worst for playing their compositions. Students will discover that not all instruments are appropriate for their compositions - some instruments have a reverberation that lasts far beyond its strike - no good for playing a rest.

Since the purpose of this activity is the quarter rest, students should opt for guiros, hand drums, tambourines, cabasas, maracas, and other instruments that allow the quarter rest space to be clear.

Step 2: Practice their composition on instruments

When students move to instruments, I ask if they can recreate their body percussion on their new percussion instruments. Students can think through all the different sounds their instrument can make (high / low, loud / quiet, etc.), and make connections to levels, volume, and pitch of their body percussion.

Step 3: Give a performance!

With a composition, body percussion and instrumentation complete, students are ready for a “final” performance of their ostinati.

This performance could be in front of peers, in front of you, in front of the classroom teacher, or a larger parent or school audience.

Talk it through

Did we stay together as a group the whole time? Was the space for the quarter rest totally empty?

Our students need time to think through and evaluate their musical performance. They need time to hear feedback from their peers. Create space in your lesson for students to reflect on their performance, and make revisions if they feel it’s necessary.

When we teach quarter rest, we’re practicing inner hearing - inner pulse. We’re teaching how to listen.

I like this activity for practicing quarter rest because it draws upon so much previous musical knowledge. It also puts students in the driver’s seat of their own learning: creating music, exploring new ways to play it, and thoughtfully reflecting and revising their work. It’s a beautiful process to watch!

You can find more songs for teaching quarter rest in my Free Sheet Music Library. You can sign up below, or jump straight to it! 

Happy teaching!

Music in First Grade: How to Present Quarter Rest

In this post we looked at some great ways to prepare quarter rest through singing, games, listening, analyzing, and notating.

Now that students have this preparation it’s time to present the real name and symbol for a quarter rest.

To do this, we first need to know if students have enough experience with a quarter rest. Then we need a solid presentation plan to follow.

Let’s jump in!

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A Quick and Simple Presentation Test

The point of a presentation test is to ensure that the class is ready to move on to labeling and seeing the real notation for the rhythmic element. If you have data from these preparation activities, great! If not, this presentation test is perfect for you.

When I give a presentation test I’ll use one of my favorite songs for teaching quarter rest, such as Bow Wow Wow.

With four steady beat hearts on the board, I’ll ask students to tell me on what beat there is no sound. They will show the correct number of fingers on their hand (holding up 1, 2, 3, or 4 fingers), but only when I say “Go”. This helps me know that students aren’t simply looking at someone else’s answer and copying.

Students keep a steady beat on their laps as we sing the second phrase of the song, “whose dog art thou?”, and then I ask them to stop and think before they answer.

Then we sing it again.

By the time I say “go” students are confident that the answer they give is their own. I also ask students to hold their answer close to their chest, so their neighbor doesn’t accidentally see.

Then I can quickly go around the circle with my seating and assessment chart and mark grades for each student.

When I see that the majority of the class has given the correct answer, I know we’re ready to move on to presentation.

2. Presenting Ta Rest

With the data in from our presentation test, students are ready to move onto the next phase. The purpose of the presentation phase is for students to give a name to the sound they hear, and see the visual representation.

To present ta rest, follow a procedure and script something like this:

2. Give it a name:

  • Students keep steady beat on their laps while the teacher points to steady beats on the board. Sing Bow Wow Wow together.
  • T: “Remind me, how many sounds do we hear on this beat?” (none)
  • T: “Musicians have a special name for no sound on a beat. It’s called ta rest. Let’s say ‘ssshh’ when there’s a ta rest, that way we remember not to make any sound there.”
  • Students sing the whole song speaking “ssshh” at the appropriate time.

2. Give it a symbol:

  • T: “We can represent ta rest by using this sign: Z”
  • Students help the teacher notate whole song in rhythmic notation.
  • Students speak and clap the whole song in rhythm syllables

You can grab this free presentation lesson plan to use in your classroom - just click the image to download! 

I love this presentation plan for a few reasons:

The presentation test is super simple and gives me the information I need before moving forward.

I also love how the presentation script uses everything students have learned about rhythm so far - steady beat, rhythm, ta, ta-di. . . And now we get to build on that solid foundation of musical experience.

Next time we’ll look at some awesome ways to practice ta rest.

Happy teaching!  

How to Prepare Quarter Rest

In this post we looked at some great songs for teaching quarter rest. Now that we have songs picked out, we’re ready to move on to preparing this rhythmic element.

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Experience first!

One of the first tasks we have when preparing a musical element is letting students experience it without a label through what they feel, what they hear, and what they see. We do this through singing games.

Tinker Tailor

Each of the songs in this post has an accompanying game or dance that works great for preparing quarter rest, but my favorite is Tinker Tailor.

Tinker Tailor is ball passing elimination game sung on a two note chant (that’s right, this song can double for Sol Mi practice!).

There are three specific ways this song helps prepare students:

  • Kinesthetically: Students keep a steady beat on their knees while they pass the ball. Since students are out when they get the ball on the quarter rest, they are feeling the beat without a sound because it’s a crucial part of the game.
  • Aurally: Having the “out” students reinforce the steady beat on instruments allows students hear a beat being played without a sound.
  • Visually: Students watch the ball being passed around the circle and see that the ball doesn’t stop with the singing. It continues with the beat. Students can see that there is a beat even when there isn’t a sound.  

Describe what you hear.

The next step is for students to describe what they hear in the song. We do this by asking guided questions to get the students thinking about the specific rhythmic element.

After playing the game to Tinker Tailor, ask students to keep a steady beat on their laps while they sing the last phrase of the song ("rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief"). Then, follow a script like this:

T: How many beats are in this part of my song? (8)
T: What word do I sing on my first beat? (Rich)
T: What word do I sing on my last beat? (There’s no word)
T: Does our voice make any sound on the last beat? (no)

These questions guide students to describe a beat without a sound.

Match known phrases to sound / no sound on a beat

Students are aware that there can be a beat without a sound, so it’s time to identify a quarter rest in known songs.

Using the songs in this post, as well as some others your students know, have students listen to specific phrases to determine if they contain quarter rests. For this example, I used Cobbler Cobbler, Tinker Tailor, Rain Rain Go Away, and Bell Horses.

Start by listing out the phrases on the board (lyrics only - no rhythms) and writing four hearts. We want students to do the actual determining of sound / no sound by ear instead of by sight.

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  • Cobbler cobbler mend my shoe, have it done by half past two
  • Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief
  • Rain rain go away, come again some other day
  • Bell horses bell horses what’s the time of day

While you point to the hearts to keep the steady beat, students may sing the phrase or clap the rhythm of the words.

Have students help you group each of the four the phrases into two categories: “beat without a sound” and “sounds on all the beats”.

Notate it!

After students can describe what they hear and aurally identify it, they’re ready to see it represented visually.

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Using a song like Bow Wow Wow or Bell Horses have students help you notate the first 8 beats. Start by placing two lines of steady beat hearts on the board, then ask students to clap the words and tell you how many sounds they heard on each beat. (This is great review for quarter and eighth notes!)

Since we’re in the presentation phase, we’ll use a question mark for the quarter rest - students have not learned the proper notation yet.

You can do this as a whole class, or use these printables for individual or partner work. They’re available totally free in the Sheet Music Library. Just scroll down to “Activity Sheets”.

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Next time, we’ll look at how to know your students are ready for presenting a quarter rest, and peek at some awesome ways to practice!

Happy teaching.

Songs to Teach Quarter Rest

Many music curriculums teach quarter rests in first grade. However, if you are relatively new to a school (as I am), your older students may be learning quarter rest along with your younger students. Today I’ve gathered some of my favorite songs for teaching quarter rest, and I’ve brought some that work for kindergarten through third grade.

These songs:

  • Are satisfying to sing
  • Have great accompanying dances or games
  • Can be used as a creative springboard to inspire student-created ostinati
  • Work for a variety of grades
  • Can be used later in your curriculum to highlight other rhythmic and melodic concepts

Let’s jump in!


Bow Wow Wow

Bow Wow Wow is an American folk song with an accompanying partner dance.

You'll probably love it as much as your students do!

How to Play the Game:

Create a single circle, with partners facing each other.
Measure 1 - Stamp three times (right, left, right)
Measure 2 - Shake finger at partner in steady beat
Measure 3 - Partners clasp hands and quickly trade places
Measure 4 - Stamp three times turning away from partner and facing neighbor (new partner)

I love watching students’ faces light up when they turn to see a new partner!

Other reasons to love this song:

  • Mi Re Do
  • La
  • Sol-Mi-Do
  • Ta, Ta-di



This is an African American folk song with a great game to go with it!

My students love playing this game, and I’ve used it successfully with first, second, and third grades.


How to play 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

All three chosen students get in line behind the head bluebird and the game begins again. Continue singing until all students are in the bluebird line.

Other reasons to love this song:

  • Ta, ta-di
  • AB form
  • La
  • Half note
  • High do

Bell Horses

I’ve written about Bell Horses here, and how I use it to teach sol and mi. It’s also great for teaching quarter rest, and since my students are already familiar with it, all the better!


How I use this song:

I combine this song with the rhyme, My Little Pony. As we sing the song, Bell Horses, some students prance in open space around the room. To accompany us, a small group of students is chosen to play jingle bells in one corner. Another small group uses rhythm sticks to play the “nails” when we speak My Little Pony.

Other reasons to love this song:

  • Partwork: some students move, some students play, some students speak the rhyme
  • Ta ta-di
  • Sol mi
  • La


Tinker Tailor

This is an elimination game from England, and one of my favorites for teaching quarter rest. I like it because the students are naturally listening for the "beat without a sound" as we play the game.


How to play the game:

Students pass a ball in a steady beat and sing the game. On the quarter rest, the student with the ball is out. In my class the out students go to the “orchestra” to play a steady beat while we play the game again.

Other reasons to love this song: 

  • Ta , ta-di
  • Sol, mi

....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

I love each of these songs for teaching quarter rest, not just because of the songs themselves, but because they remind me that the magic of teaching is in making our teaching concepts child’s play

Happy teaching!