Chance Music in the K-8 General Music Classroom + FREE Downloads

Oh general music class … what a challenge it can be. It seems like we always want something that will grab their attention and be FUN, but still teach them something valuable and leave them wanting more. One of my go to activities to accomplish this is Chance Music.

With chance music activities I can:
Let students get as creative as they want.
Let students create something as complex as they want.
Let students invest as much effort as they want.
Let students explore new instruments and sounds.
Let students create their own system of notation.


All of these things while having an easy couple of days of teaching. (I personally like to do this at the beginning of a new school year!)

Here’s what I do and what grade levels I’d recommend for each step.


Step 1: (K-8) Complete a class or group chance composition. I like to use Boomwhackers and dice. I have students assign a Boomwhacker to each color of the die, roll the die, then write the results. I keep it basic and slim – no rhythms, just the pitch of the Boomwhackers. Our Boomwhacker Chance Music Worksheets are available for FREE on TpT! I have the students perform the song(s) they wrote.

Step 2: (2-8) Using these songs we just wrote – I ask the students, “What makes these different from typical songs?” Ideally I’m looking for someone to mention things like just pitch, no specific rhythm, no lyrics, single sounds, etc. From here I will ask the students how we can add something like rhythm to this song. There are a LOT of ways you can go here – this is just what I do when my class doesn’t take me down a different creative path. We’ll work together as a class to use the same method of randomization (rolling dice) to assign a rhythm to each pitch. Something as basic as a 1 is a quarter note, 2 is a half note, etc. Students roll through their songs again, this time notating rhythms WITH the pitches. Perform the song(s) again!

Step 3: (4-8) Here is where we can get into some REAL creativity. I like to show this video. Then, I have the students work through some simple questions on a worksheet (FREE download available HERE). It’s healthy to have a class discussion and work through answers to the questions on the worksheet (listed below with my answer goals).

What is chance music? Music that has been created by leaving some or all aspects completely up to chance or methods of randomization.
What aspects of music can be left to chance? Pitch, Rhythm, Dynamics, Timbre, Instrumentation, Meter, Phrasing – etc. (basically ANYTHING)
What are some methods of randomization? Rolling dice, drawing a card, flipping a coin, drawing straws, etc.
What is a notation system? A method of keeping track of information so another individual can understand it. (more on this later!)

Then I ask the students to:
“Create a chance composition using any notation system you desire.  Write down whatever is required to correctly perform your song on separate paper(s).  Be specific!  Make sure someone else could look at your song, understand it, and perform it without being able to ask you questions.”

Before you turn them loose – have a serious talk about your expectations of a notation system. I put zero limitations on this (which can present challenges) – it can be as simple or complex as they want. I expect to see things that are literally just letters on a piece of paper, maybe a line of different colors, sometimes I have students use full music notation and even put their composition in with notation software – it really can be whatever they want. BUT – I have to be able to understand how to perform their song JUST by looking at their notation system. If that means there is a key of to the side where a red block means this and a blue block means this – that’s fine! It HAS to be on the paper. Not worrying about a specific notation system frees those students who don’t have a good grasp of music notation to be creative. Okay, ready?

Prepare for creative chaos!

I open up the room and tell the students to get creative.
I provide dice, cards, and coins for students to use (or let them create something on their own for randomization).
I let the students use the classroom instruments, their OWN band instruments (if they are in band), and whatever else they can think of to create music (within reason of course.)
Give the students time to work as long as you feel they are being productive (I usually give them about 2 periods of 45 minutes to compose their song.)
Then have them perform the piece for the class – using friends if need be to cover other parts!

What about the “I’m done!” crowd?
-Wow your song is four notes and that’s it? Okay, how about we roll a die for each of those notes and see how many times you are going to play that note. Then flip a coin to see if it repeats or not!

This activity is less about the final product and more about the complete process underwent.

I absolutely stress this statement to my students. Sometimes the songs sound cool and fun – sometimes they sound like nonsense. It’s about what you put into it. There are no wrong answers with this activity!

My Favorite Student Creations:

I have had an entire composition that could be played on a single chair using a pencil – and it was actually really cool! They flipped a coin numerous times to see if they were supposed to hit the seat or the back (which each had different sounds). Then I pushed them to take it a step further and see if they could find a method to add dynamics by chance.

My personal favorite was a student who created a 12 by 12 grid of color blocks. Each color meant a different instrument was supposed to play an unspecified pitch. He had 3 friends perform with him. But what I LOVED about this was before his performance he asked me to pick a number between 1 and 4. Whichever number I said was the direction he rotated his grid and that was the direction of how the song was played through. So he basically was able to write 4 songs in one simply by rotating his piece of paper.

I had a student who randomized EVERY possible aspect he could and put his composition into Noteflight (music notation software). He rolled a die to see how many measures, flipped a coin to see what time signature, drew cards to see what pitch, flip a coin for what dynamic, rolled a die to determine what rhythm, etc. The end result sounded ….. pretty outlandish – but I absolutely LOVED the creativity and initiative he showed in his work.

Well … that was a rather lengthy post! I hope this at the very least gave you some ideas to help conquer the beast that is general music class!

How to use Presentation and Guided Note Units for Distance Learning

Hey everyone! We’ve got some ideas & how to’s for using our presentation/guided note units for distance learning.

The products we’re using are our Music Cultures: World Music Unit, Composers of Music History Unit, and Instrument Families Unit. But there are good ideas for distance learning in general throughout the post – including several helpful How To videos (linked throughout and below)!

We’re laying this out based on 5 different situations, so read through to see which one most closely resembles your own. Please also know that we have the most experience with Google Classroom and are working from our experience with it. Other LMSs (Learning Management Systems) are fully capable of making things happen but it will take adjusting. We cannot possibly cover every detail required to make things work for every LMS and situation. You can certainly Contact Us. We are willing to help out in anyway we can, but please be understanding if we cannot answer all of your questions!

Synchronous Instruction (live teaching through video conferencing)

Video Conference Class & Student access through LMS
If you are teaching live via video – almost all of the most common services offer a share screen option. You can simply have your screen share be the presentation and take the students through it almost like a normal classroom! Send students the Digital Guided Notes through your LMS. Make sure you get each student their OWN copy of the guided notes (you don’t want everyone trying to make edits to your original document!) – In Google Classroom be sure to change the settings to “Make a copy for each student” when you create the assignment VIDEO GUIDE. For other systems you can send them the link to the Digital Guided Notes but change it to make what’s called a “Force Copy Link” VIDEO GUIDE.

Video Conference Class & No LMS In Place
If you are teaching live via video but do not have an LMS in place, do everything from the paragraph above as far as video conference screen sharing, BUT – To get the guided notes to the students you can either send home a printed packet for them to write on, or email the students a copy of the Digital Guided Notes. There are a few ways you can email these to students:
As a PowerPoint File – Anytime you download Google Slides out of Google Drive they convert to a PowerPoint file. VIDEO GUIDE
Force Copy Google Slides – Create a force copy link for students to each get their OWN copy of the Guided Notes Google Slides files in their Google Drives. Do this by creating a force copy link and sending it to students. VIDEO GUIDE
After the students complete the notes, they can email them back to you.

Asynchronous Instruction (teacher assigns, student works at own pace)

Fully Digital – Full student access through LMS?
Send the Presentation & Digital Guided Notes to students through your LMS as an assignment. You need each student to get their OWN copy of the guided notes. In Google Classroom be sure to change the settings to “Make a copy for each student” VIDEO GUIDE. For other systems you can send them the link to the Digital Guided Notes but change it to make what’s called a “Force Copy Link” VIDEO GUIDE. You will also need to send the students a link to the presentation so they can view it on their own. VIDEO GUIDE It is important to change the sharing settings so they cannot just copy and paste the presentation into the Digital Guided Notes– this is covered in the previous VIDEO GUIDE.
In this situation students will have the presentation AND the digital guided notes open at the same time. They can go back and forth between them or have one window open on one side of the screen and the other window open on the other side of the screen (I even had a student use her phone as a second screen). They will not get all of your extra tidbits you can add during a live presentation, but they can still read the information and watch the videos.
One afterthought – Instead of sending the students the presentation, you could record yourself GIVING the presentation and send that video to students instead! You could use screen capture software like Screencastify or ScreencastOmatic so students could properly see the presentation information and hear your recorded voice.

Sending packets home & home has internet?
Print the PDF guided notes to send home, and send the link to VIEW the presentations through your LMS – VIDEO GUIDE. If you don’t have an LMS in place – you can send home a list of short links VIDEO GUIDE for students to easily type into a browser to access the presentations. Students read through the presentations online and fill in blanks of printed guided notes.

Sending packets home & home has no internet?
One option is to print the PDF guided notes AND print the Google Slides presentations out for students to take home. Students read through printed presentations and fill in blanks of printed guided notes. This is probably not ideal for this particular product as students would be unable to view the YouTube videos, but if you have a situation where only one or two students in your class don’t have internet and the rest do, it would suffice.

Link to Playlist of All Included How To Videos

That’s it for this blog post – be sure to check out more Distance Learning ideas we have!

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E-Learning – Distance Learning and Music

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We’ve put together a list of materials that we’ve created and/or can be used for E-Learning/Distance Learning/Remote Teaching. This post is being updated as we create new content – to receive updates when we add new products – sign up for our newsletter below!!





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UPDATES (Recently Created/Added)

Theory Masters: Music Theory Curriculum – Printable PDFs and Digital Interactive Google Slides. This curriculum was designed to work in person and for distance learning. We have created 3 different levels to work for all ages K-12, you can purchase them as a bundle or individually as you need.  Each lesson contains instructions and guides on the page for students to be able to learn on their own or with a parent’s help. We have ALSO started making video lessons for each included lesson and plan to continue creating these throughout the year. View the YouTube playlist HERE.

Music From a Distance – A completely no prep packet for shorter term distance learning that can be used on Google Slides, TpT Digital or printed and sent home. Also includes several samples of our other products that work for distance learning.

Check out our growing list of Boom Cards! Boom Cards are digital interactive task cards that make learning fun and provide instant feedback for students.


FREE STUFF

We are giving away 16 FREE Listening Journals that use a variety of music, are ready for distance learning, are self-grading, and are done via Google Forms. You can’t go wrong with free things right? Find out more info in our new blog post SELF-GRADING LISTENING ACTIVITIES WITH GOOGLE FORMS.

I highly encourage everyone to take a look at my Noteflight Mystery Song Assignment Blog Post – This is a great FREE activity that teaches students about chord progressions, creating a bass line, etc. – It also helps them learn how to use notation software!  From there, if you want to continue along this path, I recommending looking into my Mystery Song Bundle.

A one week safety net review plan mostly using MusicTheory.net  This incorporates perfectly into Google Classroom with people dealing with a 1-1 computer situation.  You can literally copy and paste the information directly out of this and make assignments in Google Classroom!  View the Google Doc Unit Plan here.

Our growing list of fantastic free resources including links to many great websites that can educate and entertain students!  This is a bit of a catch all list – if you have suggestions to add please let me know!  View the list here!

Try some FREE samples of great products:
Music of Africa (Presentation & Guided Notes)
John Williams (Presentation & Guided Notes)
Color by Music Mystery Image


Project Based Learning – Middle School & High School


We have several projects geared towards Middle School & High School. Distance learning provides ample opportunity for students to work at their own pace on a project. View our bundle of projects (also available to purchase separately). Included in this bundle are a large scale Music Genre Research ProjectMusic Time Period Research Project, smaller Music Genre Presentation ProjectComposer Presentation ProjectMusic Culture Presentation Project, and an Instrument Presentation Project.


Presentation & Guided Note Units

All of these units are completely digital and ready for distance learning.  We have a Music Cultures: World Music Unit, Composers: Music History Unit, and Instrument Family Unit.  All units have Google Slide Presentations and guided notes (print and digital) to accompany them.  There are EXCELLENT links to YouTube videos for students to experience what is being discussed.  For a complete walk through of “How to use Presentation & Guided Note Units for Distance Learning” in multiple situations- read our blog post HERE.


Elementary Specific Ideas

We have three completely independent sing-along and activity books that could be sent home with students. All of the products come with sheet music, color by music pages, and other activities to keep students learning about music from home. Can You Count? is a song about learning the value of whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and 8th notes . Name the Notes is a song about about learning the lines and spaces of the treble clef. Old Blue is a fun song about living with a faithful dog. These are great send home packets for elementary students. Each product also has a sing-along video hosted on Raonna Studio’s YouTube (linked below).

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I hope this list at least gives you some ideas to help during this difficult time! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to Contact Us.