Lower School students grow as tuneful, artful, and musically literate musicians


Giana Mazotas, Grade 4 student, feels she "likes music class because there are so many songs that you can learn and instruments you can play. You can work with friends and practice independently when you're playing the ukulele. It helps me learn when we can talk to each other and move around the room to keep ourselves active. Because we know so many chords and songs, I feel like I can keep playing the ukulele even after we stop playing in music class." 

Lower School students at King School focus on becoming tuneful, artful, and musically literate musicians who can sing in tune; embody steady beat; analyze and portray the emotion of a piece of music while playing, singing, or moving; and read music in western and other forms of musical notation. Building the curriculum around these four pillars allows PreKindergarten-Grade 5 students to take the lead in driving the main focus of the study units while learning core musical skills to become lifelong music makers.

Cara Grimaldi, Performing Arts Faculty and Lower School Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator, recently described how she reimagined the music program this year and how students enthusiastically grow as musicians. 

Q:  What do you hope students learn in your class and carry with them? 

This year, I was nervous about what music classes would look like. I did not know how it would feel to sing or move with masks on. I knew we needed to change our curriculum in order to follow our Covid related health and wellness protocols.  

I was determined to make music a constant in my students' school lives. Things would be different, but I was confident we could adapt to make music feel just as meaningful as it did prior to the pandemic. A whole new world of opportunity opened up in the way I thought about curriculum. 

Instead of playing traditional band instruments in the way we used to, we decided to learn to play the ukulele. Students were excited to create a composition using informal percussion instruments, to build and hand paint dulcimers, and to learn how they are used to accompany folk songs.  

Instead of singing in big groups, students recorded themselves singing at home and used new technologies to create a round song that joined voices coming from separate locations. Students were very flexible, so though the way we made music looked different, we enjoyed all the opportunities for innovation and growth. 

Lower School students become tuneful, artful, and musically literate musicians. I also hope that my students will continue to be excited and impassioned about learning. My passion for music and teaching students is what drives my creativity. I hope my students find that thing for themselves — the thing that drives them to be a better learner and innovator. 

It is exciting to help students become lifelong learners and problem solvers. I hope that my students are learning that music, as well as everything in our world, continues to change and we can choose to be a part of that change in a positive way by embracing the uncomfortable and using it as a catalyst to make something new.  

Q:  Can you describe how our youngest students are engaging with learning this year?

PreKindergarten and Kindergarten students are building the foundation for the rest of their school life. So, it is particularly important to take the time to foster healthy social-emotional learning as well as to expose students to engaging academic content. In our Reggio inspired PreKindergarten and Kindergarten early childhood program, we recognize that confidence is an extremely important factor to positive social-emotional growth, so we encourage students to be the leaders of their own learning, validating their ideas by allowing them to drive the curriculum. 

For example, in my PreKindergarten music classes, while I have a list of skills that I want students to achieve by the end of the year, and an immense repertoire of songs and games to get us there, student choice, interest, and engagement leads our lessons.  

PreKindergarten students begin each class with a movement song and each individual student gets to choose a movement to warm up our bodies. Our class sizes are small enough that students can easily share their ideas with classmates. Furthermore, students integrate ideas they are learning from other classes into the music class. When PreKindergarten students studied castles, for example, they found and hatched a dragon egg. So, of course, we learned the ever-popular "Puff the Magic Dragon" and sang it to our baby dragon egg as a lullaby. 

Kindergarten students similarly are actively hands-on in directing their learning. In one unit, they learned a call-and-response song and got to know the structure of the poetry. Then, one of our students decided they wanted to change the ending to the song. Together we wrote an alternate ending to the poem where each student added a line. We also paired pictures with each of the lines of our song so students could follow along and perform it together. 

Q: How did Grade 5 students create percussion compositions?

Grade 5 students this fall found it especially exciting to create informal percussion compositions. While they normally spend the first half of the year singing and preparing for a concert, this year our plans needed to change. Students researched what we called "informal percussion instruments" and how to play music with them.  

Students wondered how everyday materials can be used to make music. To tackle this question, they watched videos of musical groups making music with pots, pans, brooms, basketballs, and even plastic cups. We discussed the process of making a composition. How could it be done? What do we need?

In small groups, students created their own informal percussion compositions using plastic cups and classroom surfaces. Students had a list of musical requirements that the composition needed to cover, so their final product stemmed from their own creativity and choice built upon the foundation of their previously-learned musical skills. 

Learn more about King's Lower School and the Music program.