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When it comes to listening to Classical Music, a lot of teachers groan about how difficult it is to get students actively engaged and enjoying it. Whether or not that is you, you’re in the right place! This is a lesson that I used with my 4-5 grade students to learn about the style of music the Waltz– and they enjoyed it. Even the fifth graders enjoyed this waltz lesson. It includes listening and moving, and can be done during distance learning or teaching 6 feet away.
I had never taught Blue Danube or the Waltz, but my county participates in a program called Link Up, where we learn a certain set of pieces and go to a concert to see them in concert (not to mention sing and play along with them). This year, not surprisingly (it’s 2021), the concert will be a video sent to us, but I still wanted my students to participate.
One of the pieces they wanted us to learn is Blue Danube.
So I got to work making a Google Slides resource all about it.
Whether or not– let’s get started!
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To get the students in the mood, start with some rhythm cards.I typically use rhythm cards in 4/4. To make it more fun, have the kids stand up and stomp the rhythms. I also added a backing track from Little Kids Rock to add extra umph.
Then, turn off the backing track and we review time signature.
Next, show them a few rhythms in 5/4 and then ¾. After practicing each of these, ask which of the three time signatures was the hardest.
Waltz Lesson for Upper Grades:
After that, say, “We are learning about a style of music today that is always written in ¾ time.”
We do Mirror Words from Whole Brain Teaching– which is basically just a way to get kids to repeat after you, but is a game changer– so then say, “The Waltz is a style of music that is a dance. It is always in ¾ time. The first beat of each measure is emphasized– which means it is extra loud.”
Show the students on the map where the Waltz is from– Austria and Germany for the most part– and then talk about the emphasized beat. I use a slide from my resource with 4 bars of rhythms. The first beat of each bar has an accent. You can use any rhythms in 3/4 , just make sure that when you read the rhythm, the first beat is a bit louder.
Next up, get moving. Put on a waltz and have students feel the emphasis. You can do this a few different ways. You can either have them do a step and two tip toes, or clap and then two snaps. Have them do one of these as they listen to internalize it. You can go ahead and use Blue Danube, but I like to use Tightrope from The Greatest Showman at least once in this lesson, so that they can hear what a more modern waltz would sound like. Also– it’s from The Greatest Showman. Need I say more?
Show students a video of someone dancing the waltz, and then learn the box step! The box step is SUPER simple– you literally just make a box. I use the slide that explains this step and has a big picture of a box, but you can also use this super helpful video to learn the box step.
Once you’ve gotten the kids up and moving, it’s time to analyze some music. Play Blue Danube (or of course a different Waltz– I used the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty)), and have the students listen for the instruments that they hear. It helps to play a video so that they can see the instruments as they are playing. I use the slide in my resource and have students drag a circle to the instruments that they hear.
Next, show students some pictures of the Danube, tell them the title of the piece, and ask them what they think the Danube is (we’re building critical thinkers here!). Introduce them to the Danube (a river in Eastern Europe that goes through 10 different countries!) and to Johann Strauss II– AKA the Waltz king. He wrote 500 pieces of dance music, including a lot of waltzes and polkas.
If you want, you can teach them words to help them remember the chorus. I used this from the Link Up Curriculum, which you can access here for free.
In closing, have the students listen to Blue Danube a few times and tell you what they think. I use the slide at the end of my resource for this. Students say whether or not they liked the piece, why or why not, and why they think this is one of the most famous waltzes.
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Pro tip: We did this lesson together on Zoom. For the closing portion, I copied the slide from the Waltz Google Slides resource into a new Slides document. I copied the page until there were enough for everyone, and added a box for their names. Then I shared the link to this document in the chat. Students were able to click on the link, pick one slide, and answer the questions.
This made it so that I had all of the answers from the class in one document. This helps with grading, because the classes were separate. It also means that you can see as the students are working– which means that you can make sure they are working. And say fun things like, “Johnny! Don’t forget your name!”
Also read: What Do I Do with 5th Graders?
Have you used a waltz lesson with your upper elementary music students? What did you use? Let me know in your Instagram stories, and be sure to tag me @beccasmusicroom. I can’t wait to hear from you! Happy teaching!