Creating Meaningful Performances in General Music

educational tips music teachers teacher tips Jan 14, 2020
How to create meaningful performances in general music

      Performance is obviously a large part of what music is and how it is taught in the public schools these days. The thing is, sometimes we as music educators get too focused on the final product and forget about the musical moments along the way. While I personally think that performance experiences in general music are incredibly important, I also believe that they should be stress-free and demonstrative of actually happens in our classrooms!

      My personal philosophy on performances at the elementary level is that our lessons should support the performance, not the other way around. While the way I plan performances is a little bit more work on the front-end than buying the newest pre-made performance, I truly believe that it makes the entire process on the students as well as myself.

      As I'm sure a lot of you are, I am in the midst of preparing for a holiday program. In my case, its with third grade. Below are the steps that I used to plan this performance, as well as others I've done in the past.

Picking a Theme

      Whenever I plan performances, I always start by picking a theme. In all honesty, this theme will probably change a few times throughout the process, but I always start with something to get the ball rolling.

      For this year's holiday performance, I ended up with Christmastime around the world. I thought about my students and the population I serve, and I really wanted my students to have their understandings of different cultures expanded upon. I also knew that I wanted to be sure to include songs from Latin America, as I have a large percentage of students that live in Spanish-speaking homes.

Choosing Repertoire

      Ok, so I had my theme. Now it was time to dig deep into the repertoire books, online databases, and Facebook groups to find high-quality repertoire. I personally use as much repertoire from the oral tradition as possible, especially with the theme that I chose for this performance.

      When I  am looking at possible repertoire, I am looking for a few things. Firstly, I want to make sure that it is representative of the culture that it is attributed to. I think its important that if I am teaching something as a Mexican folk song, for instance, that I do my homework and make sure that it is really a folk song from Mexico.

      Secondly, I look at the melodic and rhythmic elements that I can pull out of each song. For instance, I knew that my third graders were going to be working on Tika-Tika, Tika-Ti, and Ti-Tika, so I paid special attention to those songs that had extractable patterns with these rhythms. That way, I can teach concert repertoire without needing to let my curriculum stall in the process.

      Lastly, I look to make sure that each song I choose is developmentally, musically, and thematically appropriate for the age of students I am looking for. I want to make sure that the music I am choosing is challenging enough for my students, but not too difficult for them to learn in the time we have to prepare. I also think it's really important to make sure the songs aren't too simple that they will be perceived as "baby-ish" by the older students.

Making a Plan

      Once I have all of the repertoire selected, I sit down and make an outline of the entire lesson sequence, starting from the day of the performance and working backward. I literally sit at my desk with a bunch of post-it notes and go lesson by lesson. I always know that my final two lessons are going to be some variation of a run-through, so that's always where I start. 

      Next, I go through my list of repertoire, along with the extractable elements of each, and compare them to my rhythmic and melodic sequences. I fill in any presentation moments in my sequence and then work backward from that to make sure I have enough preparation activities so that my students are ready for that presentation moment.

      The last thing I do when inserting repertoire into my sequence is build in extension activities. Whether these be adding Orff instruments or creating a B section with rhythm cards, I think it's important to make sure that there are opportunities for extension and synthesis, even during concert preparation.

      Creating meaningful performance opportunities for our students can be hard. But it doesn't need to be. If you are looking at the amount of pre-planning I am doing and thinking that I'm crazy, I get it. It's a decent chunk of work on your end up-front. But, I promise that the work that you put in at the beginning of the process will be well worth it.