Opposites in music
Every week, I share a music lesson I've done with the kids at playschool. Parents can do these lessons at home as a fun musical activity, and preschool/playschool teachers can use them for their music rings.
This week’s theme is opposites, so it’s an awesome opportunity to start teaching the children about musical dynamics – loud and soft, fast and slow, high and low. We’ll also learn about big and small musical instruments. And then I’m going to stretch the kiddies a little bit and teach them about legato and staccato, and introduce them to happy (major) and sad (minor) sounds.
Sing the Rocking the Playroom Welcome Song.
Singing and learning: Opposites Song
Sing the opening prelude of "Music's More Exciting When There's Opposites". Download the Chord Sheet Here.
And I've done the roughest of recordings here (sorry, you can hear the pedal on my Clavinova creaking!). But really just wanted to give you the tune. If you do use the song at home or at school, please let me know in the comments! :) I'd be delighted!
Explain that there are opposites in music and demonstrate with a musical instrument (I’ll use my guitar, but you could use a piano, or a set of rhythm sticks and your voice):
Big and small musical instruments
Show some pictures of big and small versions of instruments, for example a small violin and a big double bass, a big guitar and a small ukulele. a small piccolo and a big clarinet, a small trumpet and a big tuba.
Sing the "big and small" verse of the song together.
Loud and soft
Play and sing a simple tune like “Mary had a little lamb” loudly, and then softly.
Sing the "loud and soft" verse of the song together.
Fast and slow
Play and sing “Mary had a little lamb” fast, and then slowly. It’s natural to go louder as you go faster, and softer as you go slower, but resist the temptation so that the children don’t get confused between the concepts.
Sing the "fast and slow" verse of the song together.
High and low
Pluck the top string of the guitar to demonstrate high notes, run your finger down the fret plucking as you go to illustrate how the notes get higher. Pluck the bottom string to illustrate a low note.
I'll also play some songs on the music player that illustrate "high" and "low". At the moment, there are plenty of hits with guys singing in falsetto (very high male register). At the moment, "Sugar" by Maroon 5 and "Jealous" by Nick Jonas are favourites in our house, thanks to Marco from South Africa's edition of The Voice! We've also had a revival of a classic, "I wanna dance with somebody" by Whitney Housten (also thanks to The Voice!), which is another great example of the contrast of low and very high vocals. And for an example of particularly low vocals, I'll use a Barry White number, "Can't get enough of your love, Babe".
Sing the "high and low" verse of "Music's More Exciting When There's Opposites" together.
Legato and staccato
Play the guitar strings and let them ring for legato; then play a chord and mute the strings with your palm for staccato.
Sing the "legato and staccato" verse of the song together.
Happy and sad
I’d like to introduce the concept of major and minor sounds to the children, but using the terms “happy” and “sad”. It’s a more advanced musical concept and the kids might not understand it completely right now, but at this point, exposure to the concept is what we’re looking for.
Sing the "happy and sad" verse of the song together.
Sing "Music's More Exciting When There's Opposites" from start to finish, all together.
Rhythm: Rhythm Sticks
Demonstrate how to play the rhythm sticks for each musical concept:
- Big - hold the sticks on their ends so that they are long
Small - hold the sticks further down the stick to make them shorter and "smaller"
- Loud - play the sticks loud (without taking wild swings!)
Soft - play the sticks softly
- Fast - play the sticks quickly, in double time (two taps for every one "normal" one)
Slow - play the sticks slowly, lengthening the sung words
- High - sing high while playing the sticks
Low - sing low while playing the sticks*
- Legato - scrape/rub the one stick along the other
Staccato - tap the sticks together to create a clear, sharp sound
- Happy - smile when playing the sticks
Sad - frown when playing the sticks**
* I considered telling the children to play the sticks up high and then down low, but this is not entirely musically correct and creates the wrong idea - on a guitar for example, the high tone strings are low in position, and the lower tone strings are higher in position. So to avoid confusion, the kids can just use their voices to demonstrate this concept.
** The rhythm sticks won't be able to produce a musical chord, so the children will use their faces to demonstrate "major" and "minor". I've adjusted the chords for this verse so that the major chords are sung with the word "happy" and the minor chords are sung with the word "sad".
Sing "Uthando Lwakhe". In the verse, we sing sihamba naye (we walk with Him) and sihlala naye (we sit with Him) - point out that these are opposites. Then we sing silala naye (we sleep with Him) and sivuka naye (we wake up with Him) - these are also opposites.
Sing "Big Family of God". There are also a few opposites in this song, so I'll point them out as I go through the words and actions.
Here are some less-structured activities that the younger kiddies can do while the older ones are in the more formal lesson:
- Explore the musical concepts of loud and soft; and fast and slow using shakers or other rhythm instruments.
- Pretend to play a big musical instrument, and then a small musical instrument (air guitar, then air ukulele!).
- Use shakers to demonstrate opposite directional concepts - shake up, then down; shake front, then back; shake left, then right; shake inside, then outside (use a box or hula hoop).
Looking for more fun musical activities to do with your kids?
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