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Activities and games to teach melody in elementary music

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Three music notes on a wooden floor, with the text, "Teaching melody in elementary music class"

Are you looking for ideas for teaching melody? Teaching solfa and melody can be much trickier than teaching rhythm, especially during COVID-19 regulations, when you may not be able to sing. In this blog post, I detail five fun activities and/or games to improve your students' musical understanding.

Using melodic icons to show contour

Using icons to show melodic contour can be a very helpful way to prepare or practice melody. One of my favorite activities to improve melodic understanding is to use small erasers. You might have students write in boxes, like this:

Or you might have students write on the staff, like this:

You could change the type of eraser you use, depending on the time of year, or on the song you're using. For example, if you're practicing la, you could use ball erasers like this for “Bounce High.”

Here are links to the erasers; these are affiliate links:

"Melodies" and "Poison"

A simple way to improve your students' understanding of melody is simply to sing patterns on solfa and have them echo. Then, you could have them sing back from a recorder or xylophone–you play the pattern, and they have to decode and figure out what the pattern is. If you don't have an instrument on hand, you could simply sing the first solfa, show the hand signs for the remainder of the pattern, and then students have to sing back the entire pattern.

Want to make this even more engaging? Try the game Poison, in which students have to echo every pattern EXCEPT the poison pattern. My students LOVE this melodic game! You could simply write the pattern on the board, or use sets like these:

Visualize the song on an instrument

A good way to have students visualize melody is to have them “see” the song played on an instrument. To do this, you could use a virtual xylophone like this one, or a piano sampler like this. You could also hold up a glockenspiel so students can see it, and tap a melody. If you hold it vertically, it's easier for them to conceptualize high vs. low.

Singalong videos

Just like there are way more rhythm play along videos since the pandemic began, there are now many more melodic sing along videos! Here are a couple that I've enjoyed using in my classroom; the second one is by my friend Debbie O'Shea at Crescendo Music Education. You could use them as an opening activity, or as a transition.

Figuring out a song on an instrument

A wonderful way to practice inner hearing and students' understanding of steps and skips is to have them figure out a known song on a barred instrument. You could have them do this all by ear–giving them only the first note, and having the instrument set up appropriately–or you could give them the stick notation for a song, and tell them which note to start on. For example, if practicing re, you could write out “Hot Cross Buns” on mi, re, and do, and tell them that mi= E. Then, they look at the music and figure out how to play. This works especially well in centers.

Looking for more sets to practice melody? Check out my sol-mi set, which I've just updated to be more digitally friendly, as well as these worksheets!

Hope these activities and games help your students with their understanding of melody and solfa. Happy teaching!

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Hi, I'm Aileen

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