I am always striving to get my older kids engaged in meaningful ways. I want them to be as creative as they once were in their early years, but it becomes increasingly difficult to get them out of their shells. One method I always turn to is steady beat work, especially just moving around to the beat. This allows them freedom to express their creativity in a simple manner and it really sets a good tone for the rest of the class. This is why I tend to always start my classes with some kind of movement activity before diving into the main “meat” of the lesson.
With my 4th and 5th graders we are beginning to work on the steady beat changing meter as we move to it. I begin like I always do just playing a steady beat on the drum and having them move in creative ways to the beat. Then I start to change the beat to emphasize the 1 beat , in a 2 beat meter. So it would be Strong-Weak-Strong-Weak etc. I challenge the students to change their movements to reflect the change in the drum beat. They may even want to try 2 different but similar movements to get the desired results. We try this out for awhile, and maybe this is all we do the first day. I make sure to call out and praise students I see who are moving creatively and doing the desired strong-weak pattern. This helps the other students in the class to see what I am asking for, but it’s not coming from me; it’s their peers who are showing them.
Once we get the handle on moving in a strong-weak beat fashion, I challenge them again by changing to a meter of 3 (Strong-weak-weak). We talk about how the 2 weak beats should be the same movement. Repeating the process again, we work on different ways to move in this meter of 3. I also ask them to try and find ways to move in this meter in a non-locomotive way (this will help prep us for later).
Finally, after we are successful in doing both, it’s time for the ultimate challenge: changing between the 2 by listening to the drum. When I am playing this on the drum, I like to keep the amount of measures I use in each meter predictable to the students. So I might do 8 measures of 2 beat meter and then switch to 8 measures of 3 beat. This helps them to anticipate the changes and be more successful in them. Eventually we get it all the way down to switching every single measures (which results in mass chaos, but it’s a fun way to end that portion of the lesson).
Sunrises are one of my favorite things, I am a morning person 😉 So when talking about mixed meter and meters in 5 I have to bring in the Sun. My students have already moved a ton to meters in 2 and 3, so now it’s time to combine them. I have the words Beautiful Sunrise written on the board and just simply ask the students to say the words I have written. Then we talk about how many syllables each word has, and if we added the syllables together what would our answer be (Hint: it’s 5!). So then we begin discussing 5/4 meter and how it usually is a combo of 2+3 or 3+2. And we figure out that my phrase “Beautiful Sunrise” is a 3+2.
Then it’s time to make some body percussion to match our meter. I start with my teacher example:
- I like to keep the strong beats the same movement to get consistency for the pattern, it’s not necessary and I don’t make the students keep that rule when they make up their own.
- This is my “Pandemic” version of the pattern because we can’t high five each other. Typically we are standing in 2 circles with students facing a partner. So that the pattern looks like this:
- Beautiful = Clap, hit both partners hands x2
- Sunrise = Clap, hit hands of people on either side
The students and I try out my body percussion pattern, and then we take suggestions on how we could change it. I only try to change 1 aspect of the pattern at a time so that we don’t get too confused. For example we could Stomp instead of pat, but then keep the claps and snaps. The next time we might change the claps, keeping the stomps and the snaps, etc.
After doing a few as a whole class, I let the students try out their own individually or with a partner/small group. Then we perform them all together and even share some if time allows.
Finally, I love using the Ugandan Folk Song “Dipidu” within the Purposeful Pathways curriculum books (This is not an Ad, I genuinely think they are the best Orff centered Curriculum out there) The beginning of this song is in ¾ and the second half is in 2/4. This makes it a perfect ending to our changing meter unit we have been doing.
Once we have learned the song, I have the students remember the beat keeping we did with the Beautiful Sunrise activity. But for this song, we will have to keep the 3 beat movement for the whole beginning before switching to the 2 beat. We try it out and get going. And then just like in the Beautiful Sunrise activity, I ask the students in pairs/groups to come up with their own way to do the different meters while singing the song. We all practice and perform together and then have some groups demonstrate.
From here we can really start to dive into some rhythmic pieces that are in 5/4. There are some great ones in the Orff Supplemental “Rhythmische Ubung” , if you are wanting to check some out!