National Anthem: Tips and Lesson Plans for Performing and Celebrating
Earlier this summer, we asked NAfME members to share their tips and lesson plans for teaching and performing the National Anthem. Here are their ideas to inspire you as your students prepare to perform the Star Spangled Banner this school year. Share your own ideas below!
“I use this lesson with second graders. They LOVE it! Of course, I go all out to recreate Francis Scott Key’s experience.”—Melissa Ellenberger, Woodmen Hills Elementary, Peyton, CO
“This is a lesson plan that works very well with 3-5 graders. Along with the music and lyric study, we spend a significant amount of time discussing the Battle of Fort McHenry, and how Francis Scott Key must have felt suddenly being in the middle of a terrifying experience.
“Because of the thoughtful and timely discussions that may ensue, it is a very endearing and powerful experience for the students.
“The students feel an ownership of and connection to this song. They frequently ask to sing it in class and at performance.”—Lynn Chasanov, Cannon School, Danville, IL
“‘Stop ripping up the flag!’
“This is the warning I give the students as they attempt the daunting task of executing this national treasure—don’t mind the pun!
“My advice to them is to ensure that each word has its place. The ‘O’ at the beginning introduces the question that is the whole first verse. If it is given too much importance, the singer can’t make it to the end of the first phrase—can’t make it to the ‘light’. And phrasing is the key to artful performance. The most common error in phrasing is the ripping of the flag at: ‘O, say does that star-spangled—breaaathe—banner yet wave’. To breathe between the adjective and its noun is as criminal as trampling on the flag, in my humble, musical opinion!
“Sing it in B-flat! There is a complete lack of resonance in young voices if they sing it any lower.
Tell the story of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. Setting the stage, the emotion, the drama, these historical facts are the details that will entice students to perform this song well, with pride!”—Lucien Saurette, East Farms STEAM Magnet, Newman Lake, WA
Lesson Plan for Teaching the Anthem to 4th Grade Students, submitted by Susan McCoy, Heyworth Elementary, Heyworth, IL
“My favorite way to teach the Star Spangled Banner is through a patriotic music throw down—a la Bobby Flay.
“I have all my classes record patriotic songs—one per grade level—and then the opposite grade votes on who does it best. But, I save the Star Spangled Banner for my fifth graders, mostly because it’s so hard to sing well.
“Using my classroom laptop, a mic, and audacity, I record each class singing it. Then, we critique it together, making suggestions for improvement. The kids rearrange the room, re-position themselves, change the volume on the clavinova, etc., in addition to suggesting better warm-ups and tone quality to make the best recording they can. After each homeroom has recorded their very best version, the winner is announced and is then featured on a custom CD that’s used for morning announcements. It’s been an incredibly motivating and worthwhile project!”—Joann Benson, Sandymount Elementary, Carroll County Public Schools, MD
Tips from North Pole, Alaska: “We do the Star Spangled word scramble! Students sing along with the music all the while trying to unscramble the song!”—Melanie Linton, North Star Borough School District, Fairbanks, AK
Two ways to teach students the Star Spangled Banner:
- Clap the rhythm and sing on scale degrees.
- Have the students play it in C on the piano with the numbers 1 – 10 on the piano keys. Place all 10 fingers on the keys and follow the key system on the music.
*Note* Students are taught the left hand 2nd finger will play f#. It works.—Leila Elkins, Cousins Middle School, Covington, GA
“While teaching my 4th graders the Star Spangled Banner, I usually spend a few weeks on this unit. First, I record them singing the song without learning a single note or using music. Then, I take time to teach them the song and record them after they have learned it. Then I play them both recordings and we critique both performances.
“Then I show them a 10-minute video on the history behind the Star Spangled Banner and have them fill in a guided note sheet.
“I then play ‘American Idol – Star Spangled Banner version.’ Here, students are the judges and critique various performances of famous singers (clips found on YouTube) in three categories: diction, memorization, and overall performances (the same categories they critiqued their own performance with). They LOVE this!!
“After all of the lessons, we wrap up by singing optional solos and as a class. By the time the unit is complete, students value this wonderful patriotic tune much more than when the unit began. Understanding the historical significance and truly knowing what the song means makes a huge difference in their performance.”—Jessica Bieganski, Red Lion Area School District, York, PA
“I teach the National Anthem every year to my third grade students. We participate in our school’s spirit night at a high school basketball game, and all students who wish to sing the National Anthem get to do so at this event. It is a wonderful way to show the relevance of music in a student’s life as well as participating as a citizen in the social life of our nation in a musical way!
“I always present several versions of the National Anthem being performed—most notable are Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl performance, Huey Lewis and the News’ a cappella rendition at a ball game, and the Jimmy Hendrix guitar version, as well as a good children’s chorus version.
“I read to the students about the history behind the writing of the words to the national anthem—students are fascinated with details like Dr. Beans’ name and that he and Francis Scott Key were held hostage until the Battle of Baltimore was over. Some excellent book titles are: Peter Spier’s The Star-Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key and ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ by Lynea Bowdish and Harry Burman.
“We always sing the National Anthem a cappella; this not only prepares us for the performance at the ball game but allows for better intonation, confidence, and feeling. My students LOVE singing the national anthem and perform it with great pride and earnest feeling!”—Kendra Leisinger, Iowa Music Educators President-Elect
“The National Anthem is one of those pieces that can NEVER be mediocre. You’re representing your nation, and it is that one song that everybody knows.
“Here are some tips to get students singing the Nation
- Stand up straight, chin up, and show the audience your American pride.
- Write the words on the board. Students may know the piece, but not the exact words
- Speaking of words focus on the enunciation of the words. No twang allowed in this piece. Example: When you come to the word ‘perilous’, remember . . . it is pronounced per-ih-lus, not per-uh-lis.
- Just work on first three notes over and over again. Establishing the key and the first three notes will be essential to the success of the performance.
- Slow the piece WAY down and listen for intonation.
- Breathe and don’t breathe in the right places.
- Don’t feel like you have to overdo the end. This can get fishy and go out of key and abandoned the style.”—Michael Klepp, Music Education Major, Western Michigan University
“I scored the National Anthem in G major for handbells and choirchimes. I find it the easiest key for young children to sing in and to internalize the melody. I begin to explain the lyrics and meaning in Pre-K and add more details in Kindergarten and First Grade. I make a paper fort (with ramparts) and fashion it around the flag in the music room and explain O’er, dawn, gleaming, perilous fight and streaming, proof and patriotism, as well as Francis Scott Key’s role in writing the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner. I refer to it often, sing it in almost every music class and assembly, and in First Grade, the students begin to learn how to play it in the handbells and choirchimes.
“By Second Grade, they are able to play it for the Spring Concert and because of studying, playing and singing the music, they are very skilled and confident. I still have to give refresher courses from time to time, but I am certain that most of the students know the National Anthem before they move on to the middle school.”—Jane D. Smith, Primary School Music Director, Montclair Kimberley Academy
“One activity I use during my patriotic unit and specifically for teaching the National Anthem is a student-created flag that becomes their study guide for an assessment on the words. It goes as follows:
- Glue stick
- 1 piece of red construction paper (8 1/2 x 11)
- One envelope with white stripes (these have the phrases of the National Anthem typed on them) – make sure you have the correct number of white stripes to represent the flag and that they’re not in order!
- 1 blue piece of paper that is approx. 8 x 4, folded top down into a 4 x 4. On the outside is pre-printed the stars of the flag and inside is listed important facts about the music –title, who wrote the words, important dates, etc.
“Students take their envelope first and lay out the strips in correct order (this is great because it gets them singing the anthem over and over to verify the order).
“Once they think they have it in correct order I double check it, then they can glue the flag together. Starting with the blue star sheet in the upper left hand corner, then adding the white stripes, being sure to leave space for red ‘stripes’ to show through.
“When everyone is done we sing through it again as a group, and they take it home to study from before the assessment!”—Heidi Stathus, Green Tree Elementary School, West Bend, WI
Join the nationwide National Anthem Sing-Along on September 11 at 1:00PM EST / 10:00AM PST. Learn more.
Lessons in American Music, vols. 1 and 2, found in our online catalog.
Catherina Hurlburt, Communications Manager, September 3, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)