3 Songs to Teach Form

It's so important to teach our students how to listen for the form of a song. Sometimes we (or perhaps just I!) get caught up in teaching rhythmic and melodic concepts and have to remind ourselves not to let poor elements like form, texture, and harmony fall by the wayside. There's so much to teach, so little time.

Well no more! 

Today I'm sharing my favorite songs for teaching form. They're fun, action-oriented, and perfect for introducing "big picture" listening for AB form. 


Songs to teach AB Form in Elementary Music

Why Teach Form?

Before students can analyze the form of a Beethoven sonata, or even before they can tell a chorus from a bridge in a pop song, they need the ability to recognize form. 

Being able to look at music on a large-scale level is so important for any musician at any age. Sometimes our lessons are geared toward specific isolated rhythmic and melodic concepts that have us focusing in on one small phrase of a song. We need to help our students stretch their ears and take in large chunks of music.

When students can recognize form they can write more interesting and cohesive songs of their own. They can study a sonata score. They have a better framework for listening to classical music. 

Kind of a big deal. 

For us in elementary music, it starts with the simple recognition of same and different: AB (binary) form. 

Wake Up, You Lazy Bones: Preschool and Kindergarten

This song is hilariously fun to sing with young students. The actions involve pretending to fall asleep while waiting for the cows to come home. Students stay asleep until the teacher slaps the floor and yells "Wake up, you lazy bones!". They giggle through their snores as they wait for the teacher's call to jump up and start the song again. So much fun for everyone. 

There are several ways to approach students learning AB form in this song. As students play and sing they'll experience contrasting tempos, meters, and dynamics. Have your preschoolers or kinders identify the changes in dynamics and tempo (using whatever vocabulary they know) to figure out the form.

I honestly don't remember where I learned this song. I'd love to credit the composer if anyone knows who wrote this! 

How to Play

"Wake up you lazy bones" - Students stand in a circle and jump in place, waving arms above heads. 
"The sun is hot" - kneel on one knee
"The cows are gone" - kneel on both knees
"I think I'll rest" - place one elbow on the ground and put fist underneath chin
"Till they come back" - Place the other elbow on the ground and put fist underneath chin
At the fermata, students pretend to fall asleep until the teacher slaps the ground and cries, "Wake up you lazy bones!"
All students jump to their feet and the song begins again.

Little Jonny Brown: 1st or 2nd Grade

I learned this song from my cooperating teacher when I was student teaching and then used it again with Grade 2's when I was teaching in Guangzhou, China. I can truthfully say that children love this song all over the world! 

The first part of this song is much higher and slower. During the verses the range lowers and the tempo picks up. Students will be able to identify these changes easily after singing the song several times. 

For your 1st and 2nd graders, this song also perfect for preparing or practicing half notes.

The game has several steps, but they're all sung in the song. If students are listening it will be easy to follow. 

How to Play: 

I've seen several ways to play this game online, but here's my preferred way: You'll need enough handkerchiefs for half the class (they'll pass them to another student later in the song).

"Little Johnny Brown, spread your comfort down" - lay handkerchief down on the ground. This part of the song is quite slow.
"Fold down the corner, Jonny Brown" - fold one corner of the handkerchief inside. Continue folding until all four corners have been folded in to create a smaller square. The tempo of the song picks up here.
"Take it to a good friend" - The student picks up the handkerchief and gives it to another student.
"Show him a motion, Johnny Brown" - Now the real fun begins. The student who just passed off the handkerchief does a motion (jumping, patting head, chicken dance, disco) while the student who now has the handkerchief copies the motion. (Be sure to have a quick, simple conversation about the difference between silly and fun, versus inappropriate motions!)

Sing the song again from the beginning. This time a new group of students has the handkerchief.

Floating Down the River: 3rd - 5th 

I like Floating Down the River for teaching form because it uses two meters. The song starts out in a slow 6/8 and then moves to a fast 4/4. It's a great opportunity for students to practice feeling the subdivision difference between the two meters, even if you're not going to introduce 6/8 time for a while. 

Your 3rd and 4th graders can practice 16th note patterns easily with the second half of this song. If you teach 6/8 time in 5th grade, you can pull it out to use as an example so students can understand the meter change using a song they already know .

How to Play: 

"We're floating down the river" - Students take hands and walk in a circle, keeping a steady beat with their feet. One students stands in the middle of the circle.
"Two in the middle" - The student in the middle chooses one student to join him or her and jump inside the circle.
The song begins again, except this time, both students in the middle choose a partner to jump with and the lyrics change to "four in the middle". 

Continue until everyone is jumping! 

Child's Play

Recognizing same and different in music is the core building block to some much more complicated form analysis later. But as always, when our students learn these concepts through play, they'll discover that what they have mastered is child's play. 

I hope you enjoy these songs for teaching form to your students. 

Have a musical day!