Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Teaching Partner Songs and Rounds

Well, we are back to school after a Spring Break that seemed to FLY by! Right before the break, I did my all school sing-alongs and they went GREAT! I was so happy with my students' participation and how well prepared they were. I feel very confident that this is going to become a yearly tradition to celebrate Music in our Schools Month at my school. 

Now we are ready to finish up the year and I am heading into my next unit: Harmony/Texture. As with the rest of my county curriculum, every grade, PreK through 5, does this unit at the same time. I like teaching my units to every grade at the same time because it gives me the opportunity to scaffold activities: I know what I want my fifth graders to be able to achieve, so when I start teaching the concept in kindergarten I already have that in mind. 

One of the main concepts I focus on in this unit is singing partner songs and rounds.

I like to start my unit with these to get my students thinking polyphonically. I want them to be able to identify how many distinct melodic lines they can hear at the same time. I find this to be an easier and more accessible way-in than if I asked them to sing two-part harmony right away. 

Another thing to remember is that before students can sing a partner song or round in parts, they must already feel confident enough to sing their part alone. They have to take ownership of it. If I ask them to try and sing a song in a round before they really know the song, it is going to crash and burn.

This is the process that I use to teach a round: 

I like to lay the groundwork by teaching a part in unison during one lesson and challenge them to see if they can sing it without any help from me. I started Frere Jacques with primary grades yesterday, and after learning the words to the song, I added interest by having students ring handbells to the steady beat. This kept the students engaged long enough to do MANY rotations through different groups of students. By the end of class, they sang it at least ten times. 

During the next lesson, I will review the song with them and then task the class to sing their part together while I sing the other part. (I always have the students start the round and I sing the more challenging second part.) If they are able to hold their own while I sing the other part, then I will pick a few "high flyers" to join me. Eventually I will add more and more people to my part until the class is split evenly. 

Helpful tip: for primary grades (and even with older grades, if they seem to be struggling), I find it helps to physically separate the groups. I will have them stand, facing each other, on opposite sides of the room. After they sing their two parts successfully, I tell each group to take a step towards the middle of the room. (This activity always reminds me of the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story!) Eventually they should end up side-by-side, singing in two parts with confidence.

Tomorrow, I'm going to introduce some of my intermediate grades to this super fun set of partner songs:

Happy singing! 


  1. Great post, thanks for sharing! I introduced those concepts in much the same way, and I agree that it helps to have the groups physically separated. I loved seeing the kids' faces the first time they sang in a round. They were in awe :)

  2. They love ROUNDS! Thanks for sharing your ideas!