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!


7 Fundraising Ideas for Your Elementary Music Class

We all have ways we want to expand our program. As music teachers, we’re always looking for funding for new instruments, sheet music, programs, and teaching materials. Most of us are doing this on a shoestring budget.

I’ve been dreaming up ways to expand my program too, with things like adding more Orff instruments, tubanos, and quality literature for my choirs. When I added the numbers up I was reminded of the scene in White Christmas:

So I sat down and thought of 7 ways to fundraise for your music room. They don’t involve grants, selling candles, or going door-to-door.

These ideas are based on the practice of creating funding through creating engagement in your program. Quite literally, creating buy-in. Not all of these need to be implemented, and they certainly don’t need to be implemented in the way I’ve listed them here. You can take the basic concept and tweak it for your specific program.

7 Fundraising Ideas for Your Music Room

Here are 7 fundraising ideas for your general music room:


1. After - School Ensembles

What instruments do you have already that you could use for an ensemble? If you don’t have enough instruments for an ensemble, start a choir. Charging students around $10 per class will seem like a bargain to the families, while supporting your program financially. Consider structuring it for about 6 to 8 weeks each trimester, or 12 weeks each semester. Have this ensemble perform at your regular concerts.

Pros: Even with students only paying $10 per class, you can get some good funding out of ensembles when large numbers of students join. It adds publicity to your program when these groups perform at regular concerts.

Implementation: Have notes sent out several weeks in advance, and then talk about your ensembles constantly in class to get students excited!

2. After - School Private Lessons

Similar to the idea above, consider giving private lessons to students after school. What is your primary instrument? Chances are, there are students who want to learn that instrument too!

Pros: You can charge a bit more for these lessons because they are one-on-one.

Implementation: If you go this route, check around for the average price of private lessons around you. Your goal is to cut their prices while still looking reputable, and still raising funds for your music program.

3. CD’s

Do your students improvise and make song arrangements in your classroom? Most of the time parents never hear the “small wins” in music class. We normally save presentation for performances. Putting together a CD of 2nd Grade’s Greatest Hits is a great way to keep parents involved.

Pros: You’re likely already rehearsing and creating original ideas with your students. Just press “record” on the device of your choice.

Implementation: This idea would work best with a small explanation of each track that gives parents insight into the musical process.

4. Notes for Notes

Have you ever been to a marching band competition where parents give “shout outs” to their musicians on the field? Why not take that idea and apply it to general music? Parents could pay $5 - $10 to have a personal note attached to classroom instruments. Once parents submit their message, type them up in school colors and attach them to instruments. This can be done in a way that is safe for the instrument, doesn’t change the sound quality, and still looks attractive. If you’re concerned about the look, consider just creating a border instead of covering the whole thing, or putting the notes on the performer’s side only.

Pros: Increases parent buy-in for your program; adds a personal touch to your performances

Implementation: Give parents a character limit before you start. This could be even more effective if you can tie the notes into a school theme.

5. Adopt a Note

Trying to raise funding for an entire set of Orff instruments can be tough. But broken down, the cost of a single Orff bar is around $40 - $80. Instead of asking for huge donations, consider asking families or organizations to adopt a single note. The Jones family might adopt a soprano xylophone F. Maybe a local business adopts an alto xylophone A. Pretty soon you’ve built an instrumentarium one bar at a time. Then, each time you perform, give a thank-you to the donors who “adopted the notes” to allow each song on the program.

Pros: People feel that they’ve made a difference through a manageably sized donation.

Implementation: Since people are only adopting one bar at a time, have clear communication about what bars still need to be adopted. This idea also works best when many people take part, so build excitement around it!

6. Concert Purchases:

I saw this basic idea on Facebook once and I can’t track down the original post. Partnering with a music vendor, your “wish list” instruments could be set out on display at the back of the performance area. After seeing students perform on the instruments you currently have, parents can walk back and contribute funding to building the program.

Pros: The performances gives parents a small picture of where your program is going. They’re probably excited about the direction the program is moving because they’ve just enjoyed a performance of their child.

Implementation: This could be especially effective if class reactions to the new additions were filmed and then sent out as a “thank you” to donors.

7. Front Row Tickets

At our school, the front two rows of music performances fill up quickly. It’s the best spot for parents to ensure they can see their child. It’s easily accessible by grandparents. It has a clear line of vision for filming. Since these seats go so quickly, why not charge a small amount for a front row ticket?

Pros: Though it’s a small amount of funding, over the course of the year you could make enough to replace old choir folders, purchase replacement recorders, buy yarn to repair mallets. . . .

Implementation: Have ticket sales ahead of time as part of the promotion for your event. It sends the message that your program is going to be highly attended, and people are excited about it.


What I love the most about these fundraising ideas is that each of them builds the program through partnerships with families or local businesses.

It’s not an isolated pathway to funding like writing a grant. Building your program while building your community is a great way to ensure that your vision continues year after year.

What other ways do you like to raise funding for your program?


Planning Ahead: How to Choose Repertoire for your Elementary Music Class



Now that we know what elements and concepts we want to teach, it’s time to start plugging in songs.
>>>> Read: Planning Ahead - Mapping Out Your Ideal Music Curriculum 

Song choice is very important as we plan the year, because the musical material we choose is the curriculum. These songs and pieces will introduce students to new ideas, give the springboard for creativity, and encourage their awareness of their own musical development.

Let us take our children seriously! Everything else follows from this... only the best is good enough for a child.”
— Zoltan Kodaly

Here are some of the criteria I use for selecting musical material.

Songs for Elementary Music

1. Choose Material that is High Quality

It can be simple, and it can be fun. But remember that the repertoire we use will shape our students musically. 

I look for two main things when selecting music that is artistic: the lyrics, and the music itself.


Look or songs with interesting melody lines or rhythms. As we choose repertoire, it's best to get a variety of material so that we don’t end up with all the same chord structure or time signature in each piece. This can be tricky in some of the younger grades when their musical vocabulary is limited - but it’s not impossible!

For melodic pieces, sing the melody without the words. Is the melody interesting on its own? For pieces without pitch (spoken rhymes or unpitched percussion pieces), do the same thing. Is the rhythm interesting enough to play back in your head on its own?


Does the poetry explain something about life as a child? Is it gratifying to speak without a melody? Is it particularly beautiful or insightful or humorous? All these things contribute to the lyrical quality of a song.

One of the best ways to test this to write out the lyrics or speak them by themselves. This will give you an idea about the extent to which the poetry can stand alone, without melody or harmony to aid it.

We select the musical influences from which our students will grow - and that's pretty exciting.

2. Choose Material You Like

You’ll spend a lot of time with this material. You’ll likely sing or play it several times a week as you rotate through different classes in each grade level. Additionally, you’ll be using it to sing, play games, play instruments, and create.

Since you’ll use this material so much, it’s important that you like it!

I used to think it was selfish for me to think about my own preferences when selecting songs or pieces for my class. Now I realize that having a connection to the musical material isn’t optional - it’s one of the core criteria.

As a trained musician you have developed an ear for quality music. If a song strikes you as cheesy, there’s probably a good reason. If a melody seems unnatural to you, you have a legitimate reason to keep it out of your repertoire.

Personal preference takes a key role when choosing material for your year.

3. Choose Material that Meets Your Curriculum Goals

Take a look at the songs that intrinsically are of high quality and that you would love to teach. Which of these meet the musical goals you have for your students?

Of course not every song needs to have a literary tie-in. Some material is worth teaching for its beauty. Some is worth teaching because of how fun it is to play. 

In the same way that we read The Chronicles of Narnia to young children who can’t necessarily read and write every word in it, so we also expose children to music of other cultures, classical music, jazz music, etc. This music may be beyond their reach literacy wise, but not beyond their understanding or enjoyment as young musicians.

That said, it would be a shame for students to leave our classrooms without the ability to record their musical ideas in notation or recognize the form of a pop song. For that reason, I usually pick about 5 pieces of material (songs, rhymes, movement activities, or instrumental pieces) for each target element in my curriculum.

These pieces need to meet the following criteria:

The target element is musically and lyrically obvious.

Look for material that uses the target rhythm or melody on a main word in the sentence, or a strong beat. The target element should also exist naturally in the music.

For example, a  2 over 3 rhythm in 6/8 time is technically an eighth note pattern but students won't get it intuitively. Finding mi re do in a la-based minor song is technically still mi re do, but students will have a hard time hearing it and applying it to other songs.

Think about what is natural to point out in a song; what the students will naturally hear.

The Singing Range and and Intervals are Appropriate:

The appropriate range of a song will change depending on the age of your students. Here is a quick reference I use.


It’s also good to look at the intervals in the song to make sure your students can sing them tunefully. Especially when working on target melodic elements, tuneful singing is essential.Avoiding half steps or large leaps for young singers will help them be more successful.

Our repertoire should move us toward our curriculum goals.

4. Get Creative!

Look through each song and decide how this song will actually live in your classroom - the shape it will actually take.

Some questions to consider:

  • How could you teach the song? 
  • Can it tie into any programs you have coming up?
  • Is there room in this song for students to apply their own musical creativity?
  • How would it transfer to instruments?
  • Is there text painting that could be emphasized?
  • Is there a story or strong emotion you could act out?
  • Is there creative material students could use to create an ostinato?

The higher quality the piece is (from point #1), the easier it is to take it apart and explore it piece by piece. And once you know why you have chosen that particular piece in your curriculum (from point #3), it’s easy to look for creative paths to enhance the purpose of the piece. You’ll probably be especially motivated to give this some serious thought because you actually enjoy the piece your students are working on (from point #2)

Where to Look for Songs

Like I said in the intro video, there’s never a bad time to think carefully creatively about your goals for your students, even if you’re in the middle of the school year.

If you want a collection of material that meet these criteria for me, try checking out the Sheet Music Library. It’s a totally free collection of songs from around the world that are perfect for your use in the classroom.

You can sign up below!