The sixth graders demonstrated to Art and I the degree to which the success of a lesson plan is related to the class dynamic. The lesson that had been such a hit with the fifth graders, which we hoped to potentially amplify with the sixth graders by having them also compose music, was a total bomb. They were frustrated by the difficulty and ambiguity of the task. did not realize that what was obvious to me, an experienced musician, in terms of rhythmic notation, was not at all obvious to others. Even Art heard different ways to set the text than the one I was hearing in my head. We regrouped. We decided to have them write their own rap lyrics with money as the theme. Art played them a rap song as an example; one that we hoped would pique their desire to emulate it. We then explained that they were going to write their own reflections about money; what it represents, good and bad, what they might do with it, etc.. We also hoped to engage a group of somewhat disruptive students who enjoyed drumming intricate rhythms on their desks. What if you could write those down for other people to play? we asked. That’s what professional musicians and performers do.


Student #1

[caption id="attachment_1413" align="aligncenter" width="478" caption="Art preparing examples of rhythms for the students"][/caption] We had a few students in this class who actually understood the rhythmic exercises -- taking rhythmic dictation, finding and correcting errors in notated rhythms -- and did an excellent job. It was difficult to get the majority of the class to apply themselves to academic tasks, even the final survey that simply requested their opinions. But almost all the students did eventually participate in the group drumming sessions. They also were impressed by the rap that finally emerged from their efforts.

Student #2

This student's vision of a money rapper

Student #3

We hoped that the sixth graders would become interested in rhythmic notation once they realized that their improvised hand rhythms could be written down for others to play.


Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" as an exploration of theme

After a couple false starts with a 6th grade class that was already a bit recalcitrant, as well as reluctant to participate in any way, Art got them interested in “Big Time” by Peter Gabriel. He introduced it to them, and then we revisted it on another day, discussing our interpretations of the lyrics and coaxing the students into sharing their thoughts by creating a safe environment for discussion–no “right” or “wrong” answers–and liberally encouraging those who were brave enough to volunteer their thoughts. This got the class back on track and receptive. We had asked them to write some reflections regarding money–some of them came up with some very profound observations. I combined their thoughts with those of the 5th graders, creating rhymed couplets from the material they provided, and then asked the 6th graders to brainstorm some incomplete couplets as a class. We started by finding words–again, as a class– that rhymed with the final word in the first sentence (Money is green and grows on trees: leaves, knees, bees). Then, they were invited to work in groups at their tables to come up with a thematically appropriate rhyming sentence to finish the couplet pair. This worked surprisingly well, and by the end of another period, we had a rap ready to go, plus two rappers ready to prepare and perform the rap. This was HUGE, compared with an initial two class periods during which chaos reigned and no one would participate meaningfully. Also huge given that I had observed one of the future rappers being unkind (in my opinion), to the other smaller rapper, his “friend.” We intended to have the rappers rap over the rhythmic “ostinati” the students were creating in a final performance.

Student #1

[caption id="attachment_1403" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Lavar and DiVonte, rappers"][/caption] One of these students had been consistently disruptive. An opportunity to be the center of attention for positive reasons cut down on classroom distraction. Their forced teamwork also seemed to improve their dynamic--no more headlocks--at least while we were there. The smaller student was very good at rapping--I hope this gave him some additional status with his classmates. I had seen him being teased.

Student #2

[caption id="attachment_1405" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="6th graders enjoying working together"][/caption] Many of our activities focused on teamwork, in part because of the nature of our project, and partly because the students refused at first to volunteer answers or "put themselves out there" in any way.

Student #3

[caption id="attachment_1410" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="refreshingly irreverent reflections on money"][/caption] Here is a sample of their reflections regarding money. About half the class contributed reflections when given the opportunity during class to do so. We chose this theme to relate it to the charity song the 4th graders were doing; and also because we thought this would be relevant to them. I remember being a preteen and wanting (and not necessarily having!) money for clothes, gadgets, going out with friends, etc.. Their observations ranged from the obvious to some that were quite poignant, as ended up in the final rap.


In the end, our victories with this class were on a socio-academic level perhaps more than musical. Above is a student who at first was disruptive and a bit negative. By the last sessions, she was attempting to play a chord I had showed her on the guitar. Other girls at her table, who tended to follow her lead, were listening and participating and attempting to shush other tables when they disturbed the class. Another girl at her table tried to play the woodblock as a table leader. Their entire table tried to get a boys’ table on the correct “beat” when we tried to put ostinati and the rappers together as a class. Buy-in, some sense of ownership regarding their project, and tentative teamwork as well as very much improved class atmosphere, was a great outcome.

The quarter note beat box table. . .who tried to, but could not find, the beat!

As you will hear in a video clip interview with the two rappers, these boys tried valiantly to drum a simple quarter note beat as a table while the rest of the class played other ostinati, either as soloists or in tables. The desired result was to be a beat box of rhythms or “ostinati” that would be the tonal and percussive background for the rappers. We had assigned an agogo bell, cowbell, woodblocks, guitar, and gong, at this table, and gave each table simple ostinati that we had created, notated as a class, and also used in a rhythmic dictation exercise. The leader at this table consistently played the quarter note late. This led to attempts by both the rappers and girls at a neighboring table to help them get it right. It is amazing that the boys made several attempts to get it right in front of the rest of the class when a few weeks prior, none of them would even answer a question or volunteer an opinion. It is also amazing that students who had previously laughed at and derided each other whenever someone volunteered an answer–whether it was correct or not–abandoned that dynamic in favor of some actual teamwork.


Lisa teaches Brian, the original hand drummer, an ostinato

Here we have Brian, the original impetus for this project. As Art would say “right thing, wrong time.”. Brian was playing incredibly intricate rhythms on his desk during the first few classes that other boys would join, creating a noticeable disruption with what was a musical activity. We hoped to eliminate the distracting noise and give him an outlet for his creativity by building our exercise, in part, around the rhythms. Brian in this picture is attempting to read a rhythm we had worked on in class in preparation for leading his table in playing their assigned ostinati.

“Money helps save people’s lives, Money helps buy school supplies. Money helps me sleep, it buys me stuff to eat safely, Buy net flicks and rent a movie, Money is my homie but he smells kind of funny, All the money in the world won’t buy me. Money is honey, it’s sticky and sweet, I can buy anything with it off the street. Money helps for laundry, I see money in my dreams, It’s a nicety, it can feed my family. Money can’t buy love if I give myself up. Money buys me Hello Kitty stuff. Money could buy tools, but I use it for tissue. I really think that’s an issue. I would buy a private plane, buy a gold car, Money has very great power. I would buy the music program new violins and cellos, Buy myself a mansion, buy my own tv show. I would swim in money, I would buy a jet. Help the homeless, buy chocolate, give the poor gifts. Every kind of bill has a president on it. Money is sometimes hard to get. Fifty Cent sometimes makes a difference to some people. He should make a sequel, all people should be equal. Money is something you can keep, but when you lose it, you always weep.

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Student #1

[caption id="attachment_1424" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="The money rap, with blank couplets completed in class"][/caption] This is page two of the money rap.

Student #2

[caption id="attachment_1427" align="aligncenter" width="584" caption="Divonte having fun with money"][jwplayer mediaid="1428"][/caption]   
On the last day of class, we attempted to put everything together; the ostinati being rapped by Lavar and Divonte while their classmates drummed, played, etc. their ostinati either with their hands or on instruments.

Student #3

[jwplayer mediaid="1432"][jwplayer mediaid="1430"]      
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