Preparing Bruno for the Luncheon

In 5th grade music we have been busy bees learning and refining our singing and ukulele playing to Bruno Mars’s “Count on Me”, which we will perform at the Luncheon for a crowd of up to 1,000 people!

The students selected this song and it has been awesome to see them work collectively as a large unit, refining certain sections, identifying what needs to be worked on and then actively working towards making us sound the best we can be. Next week we’ll begin incorporating percussion instruments into the mix and working on our stage etiquette. We’ll be recording a high-quality version of this song as a class, so look for that in the coming weeks!

Count On Me - Bruno Mars

Sonic Creativity at Play!

In both the 5th and 6th grade music classes, students have been learning how to conceptualize, experiment, and track their own creative compositions! They are now acting as both composer and producer – layering their songs in garageband by applying technical recordings skills to build a track they are happy with. It has been a wild and happy ride which has yielded two tracks thus far: their first composition and a collective soundscape. You can hear a small sample of some of the recordings from students at the bottom of this post.

I have really enjoyed hearing the extreme imagination of the students, manifesting in their songs in drastically different ways. Some tracks lean more towards folk music, utilizing the chords we have learned with soulful melodies. Like Maddie’s track “Hawaiian Wilderness” on the included playlist.

Other students have taken a more software based approach, building tracks inside garage band utilizing electronic elements and software loops. Check out the piece from Camille and Daisy in sixth grade, appropriately titled “Camille the Unicorn and Daisy the Mermaid”.


(above: 6th graders record a flapping green screen to create the sound of wind)

Next the students created soundscapes meant to capture the atmosphere and feeling of sounds in a certain place. Miranda, Natalie, Georgia, Jemma, and Kate collaborated together on interpreting a snow-drenched forest. They first brainstormed sounds they would find there, then using instruments (both real and digital) and their voices imitated the natural sounds of this place.

Give a listen to some of the tracks below!

Onward to Original Compositions!

In Term One we learned some fundamentals of our instrument, how to play chords, some rhythmic patterns and experimenting with getting new sounds out of our ukulele while learning songs. In Unit Two, we are writing our own compositions, moving towards an all-school record by the end of the year.

By taking some influence from the punk rockers, the students are working with what they know to create their own progressions, melodies, and eventually songs. We looked at the poster below, (from a zine in the underground punk movement of London) as inspiration for us to jump into our own creativity!

here'sonechord, here's another

Another mantra that has been inspiring us is the old rock’n’roll / minimalist datum : “Three chords great, two chords better, one chord best.” I think the ethos of punk and minimalism are empowering places for these students to start writing their first songs. Takes the mystery out of them and opens the doors of possibility.

The students started their compositions by experimenting and jumping from all of their known chord progressions until they found interesting juxtapositions and movements they enjoyed. Then they established their own rhythms and taught them to a partner. Together they work on refining these ideas the next phase is recording demoes of them! Demoes are drafts that will eventually become songs.

Many are working in the pop / folk vein but some students have opted to create their own chords and are creating music that can only be described as  “out of the box.” Looking forward to hearing how these recordings will turn out and sharing the amazing music vision these students have.

Visit from Moon Honey and New Unit: Decoding Pop !

It’s been a beautiful past couple of weeks in music class as we’ve been exploring song structure, chord progressions, improvisation, and pop music in the 5th and 6th grades.

Recently we had virtuoso guitarist Andrew Martin and drummer Logan Baudean of the band Moon Honey (Live at KEXP) and Mike Brynes (ex-Smashing Pumpkins Drummer) visit two of our classes in a break on their recent tour through Seattle. It was a thrilling time where we talked about the massive influence of Jimi Hendrix on culture, rock and roll and Seattle. We then learned and performed Jimi Hendrix’s loud loose gem “Wild Thing” as a full band.


IMG_0244 IMG_0246

You can see video footage at an unlisted (untraceable) video here: 

Mike Brynes will be coming in for more drum workshops in the future and is excited to visit the other classes.

One of the main objectives of my class is to teach my students how to take control of their own learning and to figure out how to play simple pop songs at whichever technical capability they currently have. We’ve just started a new unit titled “Decoding Pop”. The students are breaking into teams of three and are investigating and figuring out how to play 1 of 8 pop songs from a curated list by using chord charts, their ears, and teamwork. Here are there selections:

Bob Marley – Three Little Birds                              

The Beatles – Eleanor Rigby

John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Sisters, O Sisters                          

Feist – 1 2 3 4

Arcade Fire – Wake Up                                                        

Joanna Newsom – 81

Alicia Keys – Superwoman               

 Bob Dylan – Knocking on Heaven’s Door

The students are to map out and write down the structure of the song and look deeply into what the song is about and what it means to them.  What emotions does it stir in them? Can you explain some of the lines in your own words? Then they will share what they’ve learned about the song and perform it for the class. I can’t wait to hear the results!


Growing Big Ears !

“All sounds are music; a sound can be a part of a piece of music. Enjoy sounds of your environment; you don’t have to understand, simply experience.”
– John Cage
In Music Class, we have been laying down the foundation for opening our ears by enhancing our consciousness awareness of sound. We have talked and experimented with how soundwaves are produced and assembled our own instruments out of various items in the classroom. One consisted of using two brooms to sling around a half-filled water bottle, sloshing and blending with the swishy bristles. Another instrument was a series of pencils rolled back and forth between two students on an uneven surface in a reoccurring pattern, a washy wooden rumble. The students came up with names for these impromptu instruments, explaining the materials used and how it resonates.
Next we worked on our listening and transcription skills by graphically notating the sound of our classroom! We each student was given a specific and secretive sound to create at any point in the six minute span listening span. We charted when the sounds start and stop and creatively illustrated notated how the sound existed – the texture, the shape, the timbre – on an axis of time, creatively illustrating the sound on the page. Afterwards, each student had translated the six-minute “song”, clearly illustrating the Cage quote above. They were excited to know that they had written down a way to recreate what they had just heard, as if we had created an audio time machine, able of replicating the past.
In the next class, we entered the Sound Palace (aka the new Music Room) and created our own compositions with a wide array of percussion instruments. The students first experimented by finding as many sounds as they could out of a single instrument, creating a repertoire of possible sounds and textures they could control. In groups, they improvised for a bit exploring how to use variety, repetition and balance while showcasing the range of their new sounds in order to craft a piece.  Working as a group, they composed a short piece of music. Finally, they graphically notated their pieces so the songs could be revived at a later time. They are excited to perform their pieces for each other! We will interpret other groups’ composition.
 We ended the class with the communal realization that they have just become composers, only three classes in!