Reply To: Patriotic Music

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When I teach patriotic pieces, I begin with the musical concepts in the piece. For example, the pick-up notes in “America, the Beautiful.” The students will find the phrases in the pieces. Over the years, my students have learned that finding the content in each and every piece is important. Sticking with “America, the Beautiful,” we analyze the verses and what they mean. There are great books out there, but we dialogue about how Katherine Lee Bates wrote it sitting on top of the mountain in Colorado looking over our beautiful nation. I often do not bring in books that explain it–instead I describe it and then have the students think, pair, share with each other on the meaning of the words. Then, I will pull out some scarves, hula hoops, bean bags, etc. and have them create some movement to each verse. Sometimes I group them by verses, or sometimes I have them go in pairs and they have to do a creative movement for verse 1-4.

Along this same idea, with “Yankee Doodle,” I will teach the melody and harmony parts, the fact that it was a joke by the British but the soldiers loved it. Then we discuss the time signature. We look at 2/4 vs. 4/4 and then we pull out tennis balls and have the students experience the meter by bouncing the tennis balls to the beat in 2/4 then in 4/4. You can also modulate it to a minor key (Share the Music series does this). You can pair them up and have them bounce the ball to the strong beat across to each other. And then try 3/4 with a creative piece. Of course, analyzing the words is great too–it’s a very creative piece.

If you do “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” you can have the students create movements to the piece. It is interesting that most classes will come up with very similar movements and then you merge them into one for the performance. You can add a stick passing game to this piece–(tap, tap, pass, pick-up is my favorite ostinato pattern)–everyone has blue sticks and there is one red stick. Whomever gets the red stick has to give one fact about the United States like “What is our national flower?” Or going on the musical lines, they have to answer a musical trivia question.

The thing I have found most enjoyable about our patriotic pieces is that they have so much great content in them regarding verse/refrain, pickup notes, vocabulary that is not common now days (’tis & thee), and it links so well with literacy and understanding the story that is being told. But the best thing you can do to make it enjoyable for the kids is think of creative activities to go with the pieces. My students LOVE showing off to the parents that they can not only sing the piece, but also bounce the tennis ball. Then we change tempo and have added a new musical element.

Good luck!