Up, Up, Down: A Book and Xylophone Activity for Working with High and Low

The terms “up” and “down” cause so much confusion in my elementary music classes! My kids are used to hearing these terms used by their families interchangeably for both pitch and volume and as a result, frequently come to music confusing these concepts. If I had a nickel for every time I demonstrated using a high voice and a student said it was loud…or vice versa...

Needless to say, when we start working with “high” and “low”, I become extremely particular about the vocabulary both the students and I use. So, initially I wasn’t too enthused about this book I found in my closet which used the forbidden words. But, then I read through it. It has tons of opportunities for vocal exploration, has a simple refrain that allows students to identify melodic direction, is easily transferable to the xylophones, and, well, it’s just charming!

When reading the book, I sing each refrain using this melody:

The first time, I sing the ascending line, pause and ask the students what direction the music moved (“it moved higher”), then sing the descending glissando and ask the same question (“it moved lower”). After a few repetitions, the kids are joining in with the singing and I ask them to show me the direction with their bodies.

When the book is finished I pull out these cards and stick them on the board:

Then I ask the students if they can arrange them to show me the way they sound. “You’re showing me with your bodies that they move higher, can you show me with the cards, too”?  This is usually their first attempt:

And here it is, my first opportunity to show them that we read music just like we read words, from left to right- even when the music is not on the same vertical plane. I use my hand to show them how I track from left to right. “Oh no! These words look like they all happen at the same time. How can you move them so I can tell which is first”? It may take some additional guidance, but eventually we get here:

Then I add the last card. I sing the whole phrase, being sure to sing “Fall Down” on the same pitch. “Something’s not quite right. I want it to sound like this (model), but right now it sounds like this (model)”:

We finally reach our end product:

I usually wait until the next class to add the xylophones. We review the melody and I project a picture of a xylophone. We discuss which end is high and which is low and how we know. Depending on the experiences your students have had, there are a number of different techniques that can be used to play the ascending line. I have my students use alternating mallets and then they play a glissando from the top of the xylophone down. You could even add non-pitched percussion instruments into the story as there are many other sound effects in the book! 

I hope your students are as taken with this story as mine were!


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