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When it comes to December, every elementary music teacher has The Nutcracker on repeat. This is for good reason– Tchaikovsky’s ballet is absolutely beautiful and has some incredible music. After reading this article, you’ll have 4 (new!) Nutcracker music lessons to use with your general music class.
Before we get started, I wanted to mention that many of these activities– and other ones– are included in my Nutcracker Virtual Field Trip. This Google Slides lesson includes 7 different songs as well as activities for instruments, rhythm play alongs, movement, listening, and more. All of the activities are embedded play along videos, so that all you have to do is press play and let your kids go to town.
Prefer to watch?
First thing’s first….
Before we get into individual activities, of course you will want to have students learn the story and watch videos of the ballet.
As far as learning the story, I will typically read this book to the younger students. With the older students, we usually watch this video. The quality isn’t amazing, but it goes through the whole ballet in about five minutes, and time is of the essence!
As far as videos of the ballet, there are 17 million on Youtube. I will encourage you, though, to start with Russian dance– specifically because there are usually all or mostly boys in this scene. This will just squash anyone who is thinking that ballet is for girls. I find that my classes are much more successful when we start here.
Also, pay attention to the videos you’re showing, and do your best to include ballerinas from diverse backgrounds. There’s a video of Misty Copeland dancing the pas de deux, and it is beautiful. (I typically introduce Misty during this unit, or when we learn about Swan Lake. You can click here to purchase a Google Slides presentation to help your students learn about Misty.)
Shall we start with my favorite Nutcracker music lesson? This one is out of Artie Almieda’s Ribbons and Scarves and Parachutes, Oh My! Which happens to be one of my absolute favorite music teaching books ever. You can purchase from Amazon here.
I won’t share the whole lesson, but basically we are pretending to be painters. On the A section, you move your paint brush along with the contour. On B, we go looking for more paint. And on C, we look at our painting in different ways to see which way it looks bst (spoiler: It needs more paint!).
We do this first with our hands, then with scarves to make it more interesting.
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Play along with Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy
Did you know that this piece can be played with just quarter notes, eighth notes, and rest? I like to use this one with third grade, and I show them what just on eighth note looks like. We compare how it feels to play with single eighth notes v. paired eighth notes, so that they understand why we bother pairing eighth notes (Shout out to Tanya from Music Teacher Coffee Talk Podcast for sharing that one!).
There are a few play alongs on Youtube, but this one is my favorite.
March from The Nutcracker Movement Activity
Next up, March! There are a few things that I do with this one, but this is probably the simplest one.
- A section: Play rhythm on legs, then clap. Wave hands back and forth on the second part.
- B section: Hands go up for 8 beats, then down for 8
- C section: “Blizzard hands” (hands open and close while going in a circle really fast
This helps me to be ready when we get to the parachute! The parachute activity is very similar:
- A section: March in circle, then move parachute side to side
- B section: Up for 8, down for 8
- C section: Little tiny shakes
March Cup Routine
- A section: Play rhythm on top of cup, then clap
- B section: Pass to your right for 8 beats, then pass to your left 8 beats
- C section: Toss cup from one hand to the other moving up and down.
The cup routine, movement activity, and a rhythm play along are all included in my Nutcracker Virtual Field Trip, which you can get by clicking here.
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Going to be absent?
Now, if you’re going to be out in the month of December (I usually am because field trips!), what I usually leave is Nutcracker printable sub plans. Thse are available in my TPT shop, and they are all fun activities that are easy to do that go along with the Nutcracker.
There are upper elementary and lower elementary versions (in the same file– you’re welcome!).
- Drawing pictures of the songs
- The story (with comprehension questions)
- Drawing the beginning, middle, and end of the ballet
- Color by notes
- Separating Nutcracker words by rhythm
- Word search
- Make your own ballet!
- …And more!
Or, hey, use them in class with your Nutcracker unit. There’s no reason to leave it for a sub!
Alright, friends, I would love to know how you use The Nutcracker in your lessons. Send me a DM on Instagram (@beccasmusicroom) and let me know your favorite Nutcracker music lessons!
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