Posted in 4th and 5th Grade, Fourth Grade, Multicultural Activities, Singing

African American Spirituals and “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd”

Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd

In fourth grade, we have been learning about a type of song called a “spiritual.”  The term “spirituals” refers to songs that were created by enslaved African people in the United States.   Our primary focus was on learning the song “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd.  We learned to sing the song, watched a wonderful Reading Rainbow movie, and performed a skit of the story as a class.

follow the drinking gourd

Wade in the Water

Another spiritual we learned to sing was “Wade in the Water.”  It is one of the fourth graders’ favorite songs to sing every year!  Wade in the Water features a “call and response” figure, where a soloist sings, and then the chorus “responds” with a phrase.

“Wade in the Water” tells of a method of escape- by treading through rivers and streams.  Slaves chose this route whenever possible, because the water would erase their scent, throwing off the dogs used to track and capture them.  “Israelites” and “Moses” refer to men and women who would show them the way to freedom.  The song promises also that God will trouble the water: stir it up, giving it a power that would shield them from slave catchers.

Here are some audio clips of classes singing the song.

Wade in the Water: Sung by Mrs. Morrison’s Class (Soloists: Brady, Sophia, Julia, and Melissa)


Wade in the Water: Sung by Mrs. Morrison’s Class (Soloists:


Wade in the Water: Sung by Ms. Keeley’s Class (Soloists: Hannah, Connor, Kyle, Celia, and Mary)


Wade in the Water: Sung by Ms. Grattan’s Class (Soloists: Megan, Eryn, Kayla, Abby S., Sam, Cam, and Ryan)


Tue Tue

To accompany the unit, students also learned the African children’s song “Tue Tue,” a song from Ghana, which is sung in the Ashanti language.  Here are the lyrics:

Tue tue, barima tue tue
Tue tue, barima tue tue

Abofra ba ama dawa dawa
 Tue tue
Abofra ba ama dawa dawa 
Tue tue

Barima tue tue
Barima tue tue
Barima tue tue

Of course everyone wanted to know the translation of the lyrics, but it is very tricky to find!   After a bit of internet research, it seems that the song is an apology song: an apology to an elderly man for accidentally tripping him and causing him to fall flat on his face.  Not a very exciting translation in the end!  😛  Despite the translation, it’s a very fun song to sing, and there is a clapping game that goes with it.  Pictures to come soon!


Posted in 3rd Grade, Recorders

Third Grade Recorder Unit!

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Third graders at West have been working hard learning to play the recorder.  Students work especially hard because they know they can earn their Recorder Karate belts for each song they can play with correct technique and no mistakes!  After we review the songs we are working on, students get to practice on their own, and may move about the room to do so.   They may work with a partner or on their own.

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When a student is ready to try for their next Recorder Karate belt, they must return to their desk and “put out their flag” (let their recorder case dangle a bit over their desk) to signal that they are ready.  They also must keep practicing!  If they have been working hard and their flag is out, they will soon find a ticket on their desk!  The ticket looks like this:

Recorder Line ticket

There are only six tickets, so there are never more than six students in the try-out line.  If a student can play their song correctly with no mistakes, they get their next belt!  The belts are made of embroidery thread.

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When a student is done playing and has either earned his or her belt, or has been sent back to practice a bit more, that student brings their ticket to whichever student Ms. Friedmann sees is ready to try next.


Posted in 1st and 2nd Grade, Classical Music, Dance Activities, Movement Activities, Scarves, Spring Activities

Rondo Form and “Spring” by Antonio Vivaldi

Students in first and second grade are learning about Rondo Form.  A song is in rondo form if it has an A section that is repeated several times, with new sections in between each A section.  An example of a song that is in rondo form  is Spring by the famous Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.  When we listen to Spring, we call the A section “The Trees” because it is played by the whole string family and sounds strong and graceful like trees in a forest.   This tree or A section music is represented with green and brown scarves.

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After the tree music comes “The Birds,” which sounds different from the trees: it is played by violins which trill and sound a bit like chirping.  Because this new section sounds different, we give it the next letter of the alphabet and call it the B section!   The bird music or B section is represented by pink and purple scarves.

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After the bird music, the tree music comes back.

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Next we hear new music that does not sound like the tree music or the bird music, it is bubbly but peaceful sounding, so this music is “The River.”  Because it is different than the A section and the B section, we give it the next letter of the alphabet, and call it the C section.  The river music or C section is represented with blue scarves.

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After the river music, the tree music comes back again!  Next we hear music in a minor key that has a fast tempo and sound “zig zaggy,” so this music is “The Thunder and Lightening Storm,” and we call it the D section.  The storm music, or D section is represented by yellow and white scarves.

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Suddenly, we hear music that sounds just like the trees, but is still in a minor key, so this is tree AND storm music- we still call it the A section though.

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Next, we hear slow violins playing: this is “The Rising Sun,” and is the E section.

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Then we hear music that sounds a lot like the trees but is a little different, so this is the tree AND sun music- but we still call it the A section.

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Towards the end, the bird music (B section) comes back!

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And finally, the song finishes with another section of tree music (A section).

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The form of the song is: ABACADAEABA

I usually help students the first two times we do the activity (I do it two times every week for about three weeks, they always ask to do it again and again).  The next week, I tell them they need to hear their part on their own!

We also have a coloring sheet to go along with the activity:

spring rondo form pic

Click here for the PDF: Spring Rondo Form

You can listen to Spring at home by clicking here

You can watch real musicians play it by clicking here!

Posted in 4th and 5th Grade, Group Activities, Pop Music

5th Grade Music Video Project

Fifth graders at West have been busy making music videos here at West!  We are using iPads and the apps Videostar and Recording Lite to make the videos.  Many of the students are familiar with Videostar, an app in which you can film yourself, using all sorts of filters, lip-syncing to your favorite songs on the radio.  We have taken it a few steps further though!  Each group was able to pick a school appropriate pop song, change the lyrics to the song, learn to sing their “new version” of the song, and then record themselves singing the song using the app Recording Lite and instrumental tracks that are easily found on youtube!  Recording Lite was necessary, because unlike other recording apps, anything you record in Recording Lite can be opened in Videostar.  Some student work will be uploaded soon!

Project Directions look like this:

Music Video Directions

Here is our checklist:

Music Video Checklist

Here is the Videostar Directions Worksheet (double sided):

Videostar Directions 1

Videostar Directions 2