Music Centres to support guided instruction

Just like reading and writing, music is a subject that needs built in time for guided instruction to meet students’ needs. While I have been doing guided instruction with a small group of students, the rest of my students have been working on skills that they needs to refine at Centres.

Here is what a lesson plan looks like in my class with Music Centres:

Grade: 4

Assessment for learning that informed this lesson: Students have written one piece of music on the staff 3 weeks ago. After individually performing their piece for the teacher, I have identified that playing the correct rhythm and blowing less on the lower notes are two areas of need with this class.

Grouping of Students: Students have been placed in heterogeneous grouping in order to support learning when doing independent practice.

Duration: This lesson will take between 3-4 classes to complete.

Curriculum Expectations:

Grade 4 music expectations: C1.3 create musical compositions for specific purposes and audiences (e.g., write a composition for recorder using musical notation on the five-line staff)

Minds-On Activity:


Ask students “When you have a new piece of music to learn, how should you learn it?

Review the following steps to learning a new song.

  1. Read and say the rhythm of the song. (Ta, ti ti)
  2. Read the notes of the song (B, G, E)
  3. Read the notes according to the rhythm
  4. Finger the song on the recorder
  5. Play the song

Apply the steps to an eight-beat piece of music


Students will participate in 6 centres that focus on the development of skills required to write compositions on the 5 line staff.

Centre 1: (with Ms. Axt) Students will have guided practice in writing and performing their own 8 beat piece of music on the recorder following the steps for learning a new song. The requirements of their created song will be in line with their next steps from their previous assignment.

Centre 2: Roll and Compose. Students will compose their own piece of music by rolling a dice. They will record their piece on an Ipad with an introduction about how they make a good sound on the recorder.

Centre 3: Rhythm BINGO. One student will be the BINGO caller as others try to find their rhythm on the BINGO card.

Centre 4: Students will play the game musical snakes and ladders. This will help them review the beat quantities for each rhythm symbol.

Centre 5: Creating and recording their compositions. Students use cards provided by the teacher to write their own piece of music and record each other on the iPad for the teacher to review after class. Students will add an introduction about how they read the notes on the staff.

Centre 6: Rhythm Cat: Students will use the app on the iPad called rhythm cat. This app gets progressively harder as students can play more difficult rhythms. Each student will have their own tablet and headphones.

centre 2Centre 6centre 3centre 5Centre 4


Introducing Indigenous Music through the Junos

3 weeks. 6 days. 23 hours. 5 minutes and 6 seconds.

As of the writing of this blog, that is exactly how much time there is until the unveiling of the 2018  Junos.

In preparation for this monumental event, my grade four classes and I have been focusing on one particular category. We will be taking on the role of “judge” and making our own decisions about who we think should win the Juno in the category of Indigenous Music Album of The Year.

For those who are unfamiliar with this category at the Juno, to win the award, 50% of your album music must include either traditional forms, hand drums/flutes, Inuit throat singing or Métis and other fiddling. The nominees may also fuse contemporary music with traditional styles and/or reflect the aboriginal experience in Canada through words or music.

There is an incredibly musically diverse group of nominees this year in this category. The nominees are fantastic examples of a variety of musical genres, diverse instruments and singing styles.

I have focused on two curriculum expectations when introducing the music:

C2.1 express detailed personal responses to musical performances in a variety of ways
C3.2 demonstrate an awareness, through listening, of the characteristics of musical forms and traditions of diverse times, places, and communities
In each class, we have listened to one piece of music for each performer and the students have had a choice to draw, write or orally share their thoughts about the music. I have given them some guiding questions for them to think about during their response: “How does this performance make you feel?” “What do you think is the message of this song?” “Why do you think the composer wrote this piece?” “Describe the music elements that you are hearing.” “How do the elements help create the mood of the music?”  I also stress with them the idea that their personal response must be detailed and the phrase “I like the music” is not enough.
After we have shared our responses, I introduce one aspect about the characteristics of indigenous music that no one shared in the class. Some examples include explanations about PowWow music, historical context for some of the lyrics, singing style, or instruments included.  Below are the five nominees for this year’s Juno awards, the music videos I used in class, and a bit of information and links to get you started in preparing your class for a fun Indigenous music exploration.
Kelly Fraser      Album: Sedna
Kelly Fraser rose to fame in my world with the viral video of her singing a cover of Rihanna’s Diamonds in Inuktitut. Learn more in the article Kelly Fraser-Revitalizing Inuktitut by singing Rihanna

She has been nominated this year for the album “Sedna” that includes the track “Fight for the Right”. The song is a combination of English and Inuktitut. This song has a direct message against land ownership. This was a song written in May 2016 to encourage people to vote “No” against the referendum happening in Nunavut that asked the question “Do you want the municipality of (city or hamlet name) to be able to sell municipal lands?”

Some additional resources for information about Kelly Fraser

Kelly Fraser

Kelly Fraser-Facebook page


DJ Shub    Album-PowWow Step

DJ Shub has just started a solo career. He used to perform with the talented group a “Tribe Called Red” that fuses hip hop and electronic music with traditional drums and voice. DJ Shub has continued that tradition, and his video for Indomitable ft. Northern Cree Singers is a celebration of culture and community. An article with DJ Shub can be found at DJ Shub PowWow Step.

dj Shub’s Website


Buffy Sainte-Marie     Album: Medicine Songs

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album is full of old and new songs that will encourage any young person to become an activist. Her new song “You Got To Run” from her Medicine Songs album has an amazing message about believing in one’s own power. Medicine Songs Article, Medicine Songs Article CBC

Buffy’s Website

IsKwé    Album: The Fight Within

Iskwe is Cree and Irish, and the word “Iskwe” means “woman”. Iskwe has created her music to counter the stereotypes people have and push back against the idea that indigenous people won’t or can’t succeed.

Influences behind “The Fight Within”

Indian City  Album: Here and Now

Indian City is a band that has performed all over North America. The band uses dancers, musicians and imagery to represent the vibrant indigenous culture in Canada.

Indian City’s Website

Learning lyrics the fun way

Learning lyrics to a song can be a time-consuming task. It can also be a task that is really challenging for some students. The repetitive nature of it can make it boring with a capital B. I know that my very heavy population of English Language Learning students find lyrics to songs difficult to remember. In the past, I have taken an approach where we repetitively sang the song over many music classes until everyone in the class had grasped the lyrics. This approach was effective at helping students to learn the songs, but I am not sure it made the experience fun for everyone involved. This year, I made a commitment to make the experience more enjoyable. Ultimately, when you are stuck on lyrics, it can be difficult to focus on all the other aspects of singing such as breath control, enunciation, and good singing technique.

The first song of this school year that we have worked on learning has been our school song. There has always been one line of the song that the students have messed up and I have tried repeatedly to get them to perfect the fourth line. However, it wasn’t until I added a bit of fun to the experience that they really had it. I brainstormed fun ways to learn the song before school started and lo and behold, the idea of two pool noodles and focusing on words from the song seemed to really make things work.

I started by singing the whole song for the students followed by echo singing parts of the song with the lyrics posted in the classroom. I then took the lyrics away and had the students complete the missing words in the song while I sang. For example, I sang Red, Red Willow we are so _______ and the students all chimed in “cool!” when I stopped singing. After I felt that they had a solid grasp of the song, we sang the whole thing from beginning to end as well as we could. Next came the part with the pool noodles. I had volunteers come up to the front where I had words from the song scattered over each side of the blackboard. I sang the song and they had to listen closely because when I stopped singing they had to hit the next word of the song on the blackboard with the pool noodle. Students all took a turn, some individually and some as a team effort.

school song

school song 2

The greatest part of this activity was that the students were really into thinking about the lyrics. We all learned the lyrics quickly and could really work on our technique in subsequent classes. One unexpected positive that came out of this game was that the students wanted to take over the teacher role. This meant that in all my classes, multiple students sang solos in the first two weeks of school. Talk about risk taking early in the school year! Making it more fun made the whole experience more enjoyable for all.

Celebrating Our Student’s First Language Through Music

Do you recognize the lyrics to this song?

Lyrics better!

I didn’t until one month ago, when my students began a project I created about celebrating songs in other languages. This project came out of a desire to change one part of my music program. The most important part of any arts program is student creations. In my class students create songs, ostinatos, percussion compositions, raps etc… You name it, my students have probably created it. However, I felt that the part of the music curriculum that focuses on exploring forms and cultural contexts could be improved. I felt like the music that I was bringing in was authentic and reflective of my student population but the problem was, it was always initiated by ME. So I decided to try something new and it has been the most amazing project.

I am very fortunate to work in a very diverse school where many of my students are bilingual or multilingual. In previous years, as many songs as we learned from different communities and cultures, I didn’t feel as if I was really helping my students increase their multilinguistic skills or supporting them through their cultural identity journey. In the past, I felt that my students learned a lot about cultural music through units I created, but I wanted something deeper this time.

The idea for this project was inspired by a project called “Dual Language Identity Project” In this project, students were encouraged to write stories in their first language to support their acquisition of English Language Skills. I really liked how the students had ownership and pride in their linguistic skills in their first language. The inability to write proficiently in English was not placed as an obstacle for their expression.

My students differed from the students in the “Dual Language Identity Project” because they have a lot of proficiency in English. Most of my students were born in Canada and spoke another language at home until they came to school, but are now fairly fluent in English. However, I recognized the pride that came from the “Dual Language Project” and I wanted to emulate that. Being a music teacher, I decided that we would complete a project with songs. Students chose a children’s song from their first language and created a lyrics book so that our younger students could learn the songs. For many of our younger students who do not read or write in their first language, it also gave them exposure to text in Punjabi, Singhalese, Urdu, Guajarati, etc.

In addition to completing the project to increase student’s engagement with their own personal cultural music, I had some other goals with the project:

a)     To increase the exposure to languages that were unfamiliar to them. The project helped students become accustomed to hearing and interacting with people who speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds. At the beginning of the project, with 6 or 7 different songs being played at the same time in the classroom, students would look up and sometimes react to the sounds of other languages. However, a couple of weeks into the project, students started asking questions about the songs instead of reacting negatively.

b)    To increase students’ pride in their cultural identity. At first, students were very shy to share their cultural heritage. Four weeks in, however, I have heard about students’ family trees and the multitude of different languages that are spoken in my students homes every day, and many, many other stories. I believe that holding onto first languages and culture has positive impacts on the social and emotional well-being of students.

c)     Studying the linguistic structures of one language really helps the growth of language acquisition skills in all languages.

d)    I have been looking for ways to include my incredible multicultural families into our music program and this was a perfect way.

To complete the project, students were primarily placed in groups based on their first language. If they were multilingual, they were allowed to pick which language they wanted to join. If they spoke no other language, they were allowed to choose which language they were interested in learning.  Today, my student who does not speak another language performed quite a lengthy song in Guajarati!

Some students worked alone by choice, others worked in groups of approximately 4 or 5. The students were given an IPad to use as a reference tool if they needed it.

In the first period, the students spent most of the time listening to different songs they might be interested in using. Some students found it difficult to find songs online so they asked their families that night at home for ideas.


Their next job was to work together to create the books. The students wrote one lyric per page and drew a picture that corresponded with them. They were also responsible for including an English translation at the back of the book and a title page at the front. All of the books were between 6-12 pages.

Title better!

The books turned out amazing and I can really see the desire each group had to create a polished product.

Teaching the younger students has been really fantastic as well. It is so special to see a grade four student connecting with a grade one student who both share the same language.


In addition to watching the most amazing interactions between students, I had one student who did not speak Japanese but was really interested in learning a Japanese song so I told her go right ahead. Wow! She learned that song in no time. She was even teaching a rather reluctant student in my class to sing it (and he HATES singing). I felt like this project was a miracle worker.

I watched students of Trinidadian background learn songs in Urdu and students who are sometimes rather shy in my class absolutely shine as they shared their deep knowledge of their language and culture. Artistic students helped consult on picture and colour choices

Everyone had something to bring.

Everyone was allowed to choose their direction and course.

Were there mistakes in their multilingual writing? Yes, there were. For those of you who are proficient in Punjabi, my students literally sounded out the word foot and wrote it in Punjabi instead of writing paair. However, I could hear students discussing and trying to figure out how to write certain words, helping them to grow in their first language. Some rarely get this opportunity. I also listened to a 10 minute conversation between two students who speak Tamil about the translation to English. They were working with the song “Nela Nela Odiva” and the direct translation was about the ‘moon running’. They talked it out for a quite a while and decided that the ‘Moon was moving quickly’ made more sense.

I learned a lot about my students, their interests and their cultures through this project. I learned that some of my students work hard on their Saturday morning to learn how to write in Hindi, Singhalese, Punjabi, Tamil and so many other languages. I learned that Guyanese kid songs are incredibly difficult to find on the internet (that might be my next project).

Music is about connecting with who we are as expressions of ourselves and I feel this project helped me to get to know my students more deeply. It was also a powerful way of learning and working with cultural music.

Learning Academic Vocabulary

It is the time of year to start reflecting on what went right and what you would like to improve on for next year. As teachers, it is important to say “I did a good job this year on helping Paramjot learn his timetables or Kayla adjust to a new school and make friends.” However, in more cases than not, we spend time looking at what we can improve on as that is what makes us good teachers.

If I had to choose one area that I would really like to improve in the next couple of years is helping my students acquire academic language in music. This has been an area of my program that has challenged me over the past five years as I feel that the vocabulary is not ‘sinking in’. I feel like we use it to describe the music we are listening to, but when we try to use it again a couple of weeks later, the students have forgotten it. I feel like I am constantly re-teaching the vocabulary.

I teach at a school where there are many English Language Learners, so vocabulary in general is a challenge for them. After doing some reading about vocabulary acquisition for ELLs (there is a great monograph from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat called “World of Words”) I learned that many of my students come to school about 1000 words behind their peers. This means, as teachers, that we are constantly in a catch up game for our students.

After thinking about why the vocabulary acquisition part of my program is not working, I think one problem is that I do not place enough emphasis on it. We play, compose and rock out all day in music class, but we don’t spend as much time talking about the music. I feel the other problem that could be plaguing that part of my program is that I try to introduce too many words at once, which overwhelms the students.

The other issues are that most of the approaches that are suggested for direct vocabulary instruction don’t really happen in music class. We rarely, if ever, do shared reading, and making inferences from context can be more challenging when the new words are used orally instead of in a reading passage. I also see how word analysis can be really challenging, as a lot of the academic vocabulary that we use is in Italian. Students are therefore unable to look for clues in prefixes and suffixes that they might know from other subject areas.  

The one suggestion that I have read about that I am going to try for next year is called 30 on the wall. The goal is to target 30 subject specific words that students become “intimately familiar” with by the end of each year in every subject. 30 words seems really manageable and by the end of their five years with me they would know 150 words very well-related to music. It would take some forethought and planning to target a specific set of words, but that is going to be my goal for the coming year. I will spend some time this June looking at a natural progression of vocabulary words, which ones will work best with the curriculum expectations for each grade, and which words are most useful and transferable in my students’ academic career.

But at the end of the day, as we work towards our goal, I will still take time to raise a glass and proclaim….






Music Monday

Today is Music Monday. It is a nation wide celebration of music and music education, always on the first Monday in May.

Schools celebrate Music Monday in a variety of ways. Some schools go outside and have a sing along in the great outdoors. Others have a sing along over the announcements. Some go to a special celebration in a city park designed to bring schools together.

Our Music Monday celebration today was a mini concert with a variety of students speaking, performing and singing. Below is what we did and hopefully it will give you some ideas for a Music Monday celebration at your school next year.

First up, we had our choir present two songs that they have learned in April. One was a Tamil Lullaby and the other was a great jazz piece from Doug Goodkin called “Step Back Baby”.


Next, I introduced my student who spoke about my teaching partner and the impact that her teaching has had on him.


Some grade four and five students then led the school in some actions to go along with the Music Monday song “We Are One”


Our school had raised some money in honour of my music teaching partner, Ms. Lynda Wulkan, and we had a presentation to Brampton Animal Services.  (Some of our grade 2 teachers made the cheque. They used bristol board and markers and it looked fantastic.)


Next in our presentation we had groups of grade two students do movement pieces to go along with the Carnival of The Animals. There were…


IMG_0445 IMG_0448



and the Aquarium


We finished up our presentation today with an excerpt from Peter and The Wolf.  The students acted out a part of the story and showed the instruments that are used in the story.


I hope you had a great Music Monday! It is a great way to bring community and school together to focus on the importance of Music Education. Music programs are vital to creating vibrant, creative and successful communities.

Photo of Tammy Axt

A music lesson inspired by the awesome BLUE JAYS!

If you are like me, you have been watching every Blue Jay game with excitement as they get closer and closer to becoming the AL East Champions. I decided instead of fighting the desire to spend every waking minute talking about them, I would incorporate this excitement into my music program for September and early October.

I started off by introducing my favourite player’s names and practiced saying the names to a steady beat. I chose different names according to the curriculum expectations for that grade. For Grade Three and Four classes I chose Tulowitzki, Price, Pillar, Smoak, Revere and Goins. For Grade Five classes I chose Donaldson, Bautisita, Price, Pillar, and Revere. The initial goal was to get the students to feel the rhythm of those names before they had to label them with standard notation.

In groups, students then chose their 4 favourite players from the list and put them into an order. Their first job was to get everyone in their group to say their players in unison to a steady beat. After they completed that task successfully, they took the player’s names and did it with body percussion. They could clap them, stomp them, snap them as long as they made the rhythm of the names to a steady beat. After that, they took their rhythmic composition and chose an instrument to perform their creation.

After the students could say those names comfortably we labelled them together. Tulowitzki represents 4 16th notes which is pronounced tikatika, Donalson represents 2 16th notes connected with an 8th note which is pronounced tikati and Bautista represents 1 8th note connected with 2 16th notes. All two syllable names represents 2 eighth notes which is pronounced titi and all one syllable names represent 1 quarter note which is pronounced ta.

Once we labelled their rhythms, each group made a final composition. They could use the names of the players, body percussion or instruments in any order they wanted. They were encouraged to add different dynamics and to use their different members of the group for solos or duos. Some of my groups added Beat Boxing or awesome stomping to get a good beat going. My instructions were to be as creative as they could be.

We then put all of their presentations together in a rondo form ( A B A C A D A E A F etc.). The A part of the song could be any short chant or baseball song. I took the song Alabama gal and changed the words to “Let’s hit a home run, Let’s hit a home run, Let’s hit a home run, Toronto Blue Jays”. Then I assigned each group a letter such as B, C, D, E etc.

I learned so many things about my students through this fun project. I learned that very few of my students know anything about baseball as they often compared the positions in baseball to the positions to something they were more familiar with, such as cricket. I also learned how passionate they are about sports. I feel like I have tapped into a whole new hook when I feel their energy is lacking later in the school year.

Next Friday, hopefully when the Blue Jays are getting ready to play their second game in the American League Division Series, I will be holding a kick ball tournament during the day at my school. The gym teacher and I decided to celebrate our students’ music by holding an opening ceremony where each class will share their creations followed by the game they have been learning in gym. I am sure we will probably even take some time to sing “Okay, Okay, Blue Jays, Blue Jays, Let’s Play Ball”.blue jays

Photo of Tammy Axt

Getting Started With Music

Hi everyone! My name is Tammy Axt (formerly Tammy Gallant) and I am a music teacher for students in grade 3, 4 and 5 in the Peel District School Board. This is my fifth year as a music teacher and I hope to be able to assist those new to the planning time role in schools across Ontario. My school is a suburban school about 30 minutes outside of Toronto with a very high ELL population. In addition to music, I also have planning time coverage in a contained Autism Spectrum Disorder class.

At the end of June last year, one of my students was very surprised to learn that my family lives in PEI. I realized when she mentioned that fact, that I don’t talk or mention things about myself very often. We are so busy in my music class creating or practicing that I rarely share things that happen in my life. So I decided this year to start off by doing a music activity where both the students and I share a little about ourselves.

To share the things I did during my summer, I created a “Prezi”. Prezi is a great online program for preparing presentations that are a little bit more exciting than PowerPoint. I made slides about learning to ride a motorcycle, getting married and hanging out with my nephews. All the things that I love and that made my summer so great. You can see the Prezi I created at While completing the prezi, I made sure to include things that I did that could have clear and obvious sound effects.

After I presented the Prezi to my students, I gave them an opportunity to talk with an elbow partner about some sound effects that go with some of the activities that I did over the summer. I encouraged the partnerships to make the sound effects with their body or their mouth. I showed the Prezi again and we added all sorts of crazy sound effects to the slides.

After hearing about my summer, the students chose one thing they did over the summer and created a sound effect that went along with their activity. Listening to all of their sharing, it gave me some really great insights into my student’s lives. Some of them come from BIG noisy families, some had great tragedy over the summer and some of them love sports. All of this information will help me in planning our upcoming lessons and helping them all be successful this year!