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“Which Elementary General Music Curriculum Should I Use?”

| June 10, 2013 | Reply

red-question-mark-circle-clip-art_428358As the school year is winding down or may have already ended, many elementary general music educators are finding out that they will have a budget to purchase a new music curriculum for their classrooms. This is always exciting news, however, it can be accompanied with the feeling of being overwhelmed because there are so many great products on the market. In the past few weeks, the question of which curriculum to purchase, or even the more vague question of how to spend  the money, has been posted in numerous social music educators’ networks from the music teachers and general music teachers groups on Facebook to inquiring tweets on Twitter to the NAfME boards. The questions have garnered a variety of answers and after reading so many of them, I wanted to brief some of those responses in this blog in case you were trying to figure out what to purchase for your classroom.

These include curriculum as well as philosophies. Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on any of these items listed below, except for two. I have taken levels in Orff and Kodály. I am a contributing author on the newest Silver Burdett Series. I have written a book on technology integration in the elementary music classroom. I have been a contributing author to a keyboard curriculum in the elementary general music classroom. I have authored numerous articles on elementary music education and technology. I have presented workshops about elementary music education and technology at districts, state, and national conferences. I have utilized some aspects of all of the items listed below in the 17 years I have been teaching general music to students in PreK through grade five. 

  • Activate! Magazine – This series is published five times a year. It includes lesson plans written for teachers by teachers, addresses all National Standards, and includes choral and recorder music, classroom percussion, and movement activities. There are contributions from great music authors/educators such as Artie Almeida, Denise Gagné, Greg Gilpin, and more. I have used it when I have needed vocal music for specific events and the students have loved the music. Other music educators have posted that they like the  original and public domain related material. A one year subscription costs around $80.
  • Artie Almeida – Artie Almeida has written numerous materials for the general music classroom. These include Mallet Madness, Recorder Express, and more. Her mallet series includes lesson plans, flash cards, and digital resources. She also gives ways of using this series even if you have limited resources in your classroom. Artie is a music educator to over 1100 students. I have liked using Mallet Madness in my classroom. The lessons are set up well. Other music educators have raved about her and her materials in their posts. Her materials range from $5 and up.
  • Dr. John Feierabend – If you are a music educator that teaches early childhood and/or elementary music, then you most likely have heard of Dr. John Feierabend. If you have not, then you should check out his website and read about his work. He is a music educator, researcher, clinician, author, and a Past President of the Organization of American Kodály Educators (OAKE). He is also known for utilizing and preserving folks songs in his curriculum.
    • First Steps in Music – This series is broken into two separate curriculum, one for infants/toddlers and one for Prek and beyond. I have used these books several times in my early childhood music classes. The songs and activities vary from singing to movement to reinforcing the steady beat. My students love them.
    • Conversational Solfege – This series goes into a deeper understanding of melody and rhythm and eventually leads to reading notation.
    • If you have ever seen Feierabend in a workshop, you are immediately intrigued because he is well-versed on music education, he is enthusiastic, and you can relate to what he is stating very well. Many music educators adore him and his materials. His materials range from around $12.95 and up.
  • GamePlan – Written by DeLelles and Kriske, two very popular authors, clinicians, and music educators. GamePlan is a curriculum that is written for grades K-5. It includes 35 weeks of lesson plans organized into objectives of five musical categories. It is logically sequenced, based in Orff-Schulwerk and Kodály philosophies. Assessment charts as well as seasonal activities are included. I have utilized many of Jeff and Randy’s resources and they are always excellent and my students thoroughly enjoy them. Other music educators have stated that they love their resources because the lessons are laid out well, the song literature is great, and the orffestrations are wonderful. Music educators have stated that they like that the curriculum is based on National Standards, has children’s books incorporated into it, and is flexible. It also has digital extras. Price for the curriculum begins at $105 for Kindergarten and goes up from there. The supplements and the digital resources are extra.
  • The Gordon Institute of Music Learning – As written on the website: “Music Learning Theory is an explanation of how we learn when we learn music. Based on an extensive body of research and practical field testing by Edwin E. Gordon and others, Music Learning Theory provides the music teacher a comprehensive method for teaching musicianship through audiation, Gordon’s term for hearing music in the mind with understanding. Teaching methods help music teachers establish sequential curricular objectives in accord with their own teaching styles and beliefs.” There are two levels to become certified and to acquire mastership in this program. This program is geared for early childhood, elementary general, and instrumental music specialists. Many music educators swear by Gordon and his philosophy and state that learning his philosophy changed the way they teach for the better. The price of the program varies.
  • Interactive Now – I first discovered Interactive Now when a SMART Board appeared in our school. Aside from finding interactive whiteboard lessons for music educators on the internet, this was one of the first series of music lessons to be specifically written for interactive whiteboards. This series took off and there are now eight volumes of lessons that can be used on a variety of interactive whiteboards. The lessons are laid out well, can be adapted and edited for your specific music lessons, and are based on a variety of musical concepts. Originally written by Debbie Anderson and Phyllis Thomas, the later volumes are just written by Debbie. The price per series is $24.95, however, you can purchase a multi-user license or a district-wide license.
  • Kodály: Organization of American Kodály Educators (OAKE) – As written on the website: “Inspired by the vision of Zoltán Kodály, the mission of the Organization of American Kodály Educators is to support music education of the highest quality, promote universal music literacy and lifelong music making, and preserve the musical heritage of the people of the United States of America through education, artistic performance, advocacy and research.” There are three levels to complete to be Kodály certified. When I participated in the classes, I liked how I spent the day in different portions: curriculum and lesson planning, theory and singing, ensembles, and conducting. It felt like I was back in my undergraduate music education degree, but with a focus on choral (mine was a focus on instrumental). I enjoyed learning this philosophy thoroughly and have used many aspects of it in my daily teaching. The price varies depending on where you take the courses and I would highly suggest that if your district or school can cover the cost of the course and the materials, that would be ideal.
  • McGraw Hill’s Spotlight on Music (2011) – As written on the website: “Macmillan/McGraw-Hill’s Spotlight on Music provides opportunities for students to understand music concepts and skills, read music notation, perform music, and celebrate music with fresh, age-appropriate materials. Students gain confidence and discover the joy of music through familiar songs, exciting recordings, engaging performance materials, and sequenced instruction.” From what I researched about this series, music educators like the flexibility of this series as they can teach any unit at any time of the year. The series’ units is based around answering the question, “How is music important in our lives?” When I first started teaching, I used the MacMillan’s Music and You series written in the early 1990’s. Spotlight on Music has grown significantly from the days of Music and You. Pricing comes from a retailer.
  • Music Express – This magazine is written by one of the music education world’s favorites: John Jacobson. If you have never heard of John Jacobson, then you need to google him and see him on youtube. When you attend one of his workshops, you leave feeling invigorated and exhausted because he is one of the most enthusiastic, energetic, and passionate music educators that you will ever meet. Says John, “MUSIC EXPRESS is the magazine designed to help you, the everyday hero, as you share music with young people in your classrooms. It will bring you fresh ideas from some of the best music educators in the country in a format that’s easy to use and fun!” Published six times a year, each subscription comes with one teacher’s magazine, 30 student magazines, and a CD. The magazine provides info on current musical trends, five news songs in each publication, and as other music educators have stated,  helps provide the educator with current pop music that students love. The price ranges from $195 and up.
  • Music First – This relatively new company offers “teachers and students easy to use and affordable tools for music learning, music creation and music assessment that are accessible anywhere.” All of the resources they offer are cloud-based, which means that your elementary students can create, compose, and learn about music, and be assessed from any device at anytime, anywhere, as long as you have a web browser. For elementary, they offer such resources as Noteflight Classroom (notation), Noteflight Teacher, Music Delta (music history), Inside Music (composition), and Charanga Music World (instrumental music). Music First has been happily received at numerous state music education events this year. This company is directed by Dr. Jim Frankel, who was a public music educator in New Jersey for over 15 years. Prices ranges from $195/each and up for an annual subscription.
  • Music K8 – There are days where I declare Teresa Jennings, composer and owner of Plank Road Publishing-publisher of Music K8 Magazine-my hero. Why? When I need music for a concert, Music K8 magazine is where I turn to first for original and public domain songs that are age-appropriate for students in grades PreK-6. The materials can be sent every other month to you via hard copies or digital. There are fabulous descriptions and teaching ideas for each song. Her accompaniments are outstanding as she always uses live musicians (my best friend from college who is an oboist was used on one of her recordings) to record her songs. You can join an email network to bounce ideas off of other music educators. Her publication has been around since the early 1990’s, which is a testament to its usefulness and longevity. Prices range from $99.75 and up. Need just one song from Music K8? Check out their student website which sells most songs for 99 cents.
  • Musicplay – This K-6 series is written by beloved music educator, author, and clinician, Denise Gagné. Many important musical concepts are taught through play, songs, and music games. This series works easily with Orff and Kodály philosophies as well as covering the national standards. The listening resources are excellent and thorough. There are also several digital extras. Denise also has a wonderful recorder series as well as an app to accompany the series. I adore Denise. I have attended several of her workshops and she is a music educator at heart. Her materials easily show that and her passion for music education. I have used her Alphabet Action Songs and her Sing and Play on Special Days with early childhood and elementary students for years. Music educators posted that they love the sequence of the Musicplay series as well as the teacher’s guide, listening resources, and Orff arrangements. The pricing varies from $20 and up, depending on whether you are purchasing an item to a whole series.
  • Orff-Schulwerk (American Orff-Schulwerk Association)As written on their website: “Orff Schulwerk is a way to teach and learn music. It is based on things children like to do: sing, chant rhymes, clap, dance, and keep a beat on anything near at hand. These instincts are directed into learning music by hearing and making music first, then reading and writing it later. This is the same way we all learned our language.” This philosophy incorporates xylophones, metalophones, and glockenspiels to encourage students to perform in an ensemble, become active listeners, play melodies, and to become considerate participants. Students create, compose, improvise, move to music, and become very active music makers with this philosophy. I enjoyed studying Orff-Schulwerk and came away from the course with many new materials, songs, activities, and resources. My binder of activities and lessons was overflowing and I continuously go back to it and use it today. Other music educators have stated that they like its child-centered, child-led approach to music that focuses on student creativity. The price of taking levels and the materials vary so it is highly recommended to have your school or district pay for this training.
  • Phyllis Weikart’s  Rhythmically Moving/Teaching Movement and Dance - Weikart is synonymous with music and movement. Music educators have stated that they love her materials. She has numerous books, CDs, and DVDs out there all on this topic. When asked about a movement and movement resource, most music educators will name Weikart as their first resource. Prices vary and range from $15.95 and up.
  • Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music – This series is created by David V. Mastran, retired executive, Graham Hepburn, concert pianist, producer Steve Gilreath, and many more of the Quaver team. This series is based on the national standards, has an accompanying website that can be used as a stand-alone, and comes in a box-set which includes 30 music lessons on 15 DVDs, including 30 online Quaver classrooms and the Teacher Admin Panel. The 30 lessons are arranged into four separate units: “Music Theory,” “Instruments & Ensembles,” “Composers & Music History,” and “Music Styles.” The set also includes worksheets and the website is highly interactive with games and ways of creating music. Quavermusic.com currently states that they view the program “as a supplement rather than a curriculum. We believe teachers have the best understanding of their students’ needs in the classroom and we want to be a great resource for them.” I did read from one of their expert educators that a curriculum is in the works. They also recently came out with app called QDancer which lets your students tap into their inner-choreographer, which the students loved. Most music educators rave about Quaver. They love the program, they love the lessons and they love Graham’s energy. The only con that I have read is that the interactive website for the teachers and the students cannot currently be accessed on an iPad. The current pricing for the program is $1495 for the entire set of DVDs, episodes, online classrooms, and admin panel.
  • Recorder Karate – This series is also published by Plank Road Publishing, as is Music K8, and is written by Barb Philipak. You can use this series as is, or you can use it to supplement your own method. At the heart of this method is a positive reward system where the students earn “karate belts” to hang from their recorders as they pass each progressively harder song. This series always receives good reviews from music educators as their students love to earn belts. However, the consensus is that it is necessary to switch around the “belts” songs, supplement in worksheets for theory, or use it as a supplement to your own recorder curriculum. Music educators and students do like the system of progressing up belts like one does when studying karate. The series runs from $33 and up depending on what format you order (hard copy or digital).
  • Silver Burdett - I am proud to be a contributing author to their newest series. The Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by SILVER BURDETT™ with Alfred, is all online and downloadable. You can download the materials or if you move from classroom to classroom, you can organize it all online and access it from any computer. Their series includes many philosophies, interactive lessons, national standards, excellent music (including Alfred music), and more. Some of my favorite features of this series is that it is very flexible and all lessons are applicable to a variety of standards, goals, musical concepts, philosophies, etc. I adore the Interactive Notation that shows the notes to flash as the students sing the melody, play the orffestration, or perform on the recorder. I also love the interactive player which easily changes the song’s key (the notation on screen changes too), and tempo. Their listening maps are superb and their lessons are mostly interactive. Numerous lessons are based in HTML5, which means that they can be accessed by iPads. The price of the series can be found from the dealer.
  • Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom – I had to add this one because it is my book. Though not a curriculum, it includes over 50 elementary music lesson plans that integrate technology into the general music classroom. Over 20 music educators contributed to it and the supplements for the lessons can be found on my website. Price: Varies, but you can always find it cheap on Amazon.

Which one will work best for you?

That is the question. Throughout the various social music network posts, there was a continuous theme:

  • Music educators felt that you should begin with concepts and skills, such as note reading, rhythm reading, steady beat, singing voice, etc, and then choose a curriculum that meets those concepts well.
  • Many music educators suggested that you look at your goals of what you want your students to learn, the amount of time you have with your students, and then go from there.
  • Many suggested to look into planning methods such as backwards design (starting with the musical goal and working backwards), or project-based learning (integrating with other subjects to answer an essential question, however, keeping the musical concepts being taught intact), or if the school requires you to, relating music to the common core standards, as a way to pick your curriculum.
  • New elementary music educators should acquire Orff training, at least one level.
  • When you start at a new school or if you are beginning your teaching career, you will utilize a published curriculum daily. As you grow as an elementary music educator, you will use the curriculum less and use your own methodology (a mixture of many items listed above) more.
  • If you work in a district, find out what the middle school music educators want the students to know when they get into middle school and begin with those concepts.
  • If there is a way to try out some of the materials, either via a website, or a lite version of apps from the curriculum, or seeing other music educators use it in their classrooms, or see it shown in a workshop, try them out and see if one or more would be ideal for your classroom.
  • From my research of reading the various posts from social music networks, the top two curriculum that were suggested were GamePlan and Musicplay.

Finally, remember none of the resources listed above will be beneficial if the teacher does not believe in it and/or like it. We have all seen what happens to a music program when it is lead by a music educator who does not care or has “checked out.” The music program implodes and no music resource, excellent or not, will redeem the program. Therefore, when answering the question, “Which Elementary General Music Curriculum Should I Use?” the answer inevitably comes back to what you feel is important for your students to learn while they have you as their elementary music educator.

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About the Author ()

Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. This all-digital program, developed by Pearson in partnership with Alfred Music Publishing, will include lessons, resources, downloadable assets, and interactive musical activities to enhance any music educators' PK-8 general music classroom. In addition, she is the Past-President of Technology for Music Education TI:ME . You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com
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