Billie Jean

When I ask my students what songs they would like to perform on Rock Friday, Billie Jean is always a popular request!  Although we tackled it in class a few years ago, we are bringing it back this week as part of our Rock Friday lesson.  Access the chord chart and song structure here!  Billie Jean – Rock Friday Simplified

I love using Blendspace from time to time to post lessons.  This allows me to reference photos, documents, and videos in an easy to use gamification format.  Just scroll from one square to the next to access the next part of the lesson.  In this lesson you can access the song chart, how to play piano chords video, how to play the running bass line on the piano, and a class activity to practice the main drum beat of the song.  Utilize these resources by visiting the Billie Jean Blendspace lesson we created.

A “Thrilling” RockFriday

Today’s Rock Friday got the kids into a frightening mood with Michael Jackson’s Thriller!  The class divided into three parts- singers, pianists, and sound effects.  This arrangement was super easy, and it took the kids about 15 minutes to pull together the video below.  Next year, we will start working on it a little earlier so we can have the whole song ready for Halloween!  This is a great assignment, as a student can participate at many different levels- singing, playing the piano, or by simply touching a button to play sound effects.  The app we used is called “Halloween Sound Shelf.”  Enjoy!


In December, the students were inspired by a spoof of Adele’s hit song “Hello,” performed by Jimmy Fallon, Adele, and house band The Roots.  Check it out!

The students loved the video, seeing the similarities between it and “RockFriday” in our classroom, where we take popular songs and arrange it in a way that all students can participate no matter what their skill level is.  So we decided to borrow Jimmy Fallon’s arrangement, and make it work for an ensemble music class.  Here is our arrangement!  We only had two days to rehearse and film, so it is pretty easy to pull together!

Want to learn how we did it?  Use these video below as a resource for the pitched instruments.  The students created their own harmonies, and listened to the original version to determine percussion.

2015 Holiday Virtual Concert

This year we are trying something new- a Holiday Virtual Concert! Normally we just do a late November fall concert, and then sing at special performances in December like tree lighting ceremonies.  This year, we decided to put together a virtual concert that could showcase our students and their talents in a format that would allow for more creativity and opportunity for our diverse learners.   It also helps avoid over programming our families during this busy time of year, and gives an opportunity for long distance friends and relatives to “attend” our concert.  Featured are students in our six choirs at RSMS, as well as our special music program.  Enjoy!

“Bad Blood” on RockFriday

Our First Rock Friday song this year was Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” featuring Kendrick Lamar.  This song was an immediate hit with our program.  The girls liked it because what middle school girl doesn’t want to be Taylor Swift, and the guys were still engaged because they could rap.

First, Mr. Brad reproduced the song in GarageBand, so the kids had their own backing track they could use.  Next, the kids split up into different groups- vocalists, pianists, and drummers.  The great thing about Rock Friday, is that the curriculum is built so any student can join any group.  You can modify the content based on your skill level.  So if this is your first day on the piano, just play the sections of the song that you are most comfortable with- maybe just the chorus.  For students with several years of piano lessons, they may try to tackle the entire song.  Here is the Rock Friday song sheet, that highlights the drum and piano parts. Bad Blood Parts-2

Earlier in the week, we will introduce all parts of the song, and have every child learn it.  For example, we will get out our drum pads and drum sticks, and every child will be exposed to the main drum beat.  That way on Rock Friday, they can immediately get to work mastering the music, and time isn’t wasted with part introductions.  We also post videos online, that students can use at home and in class to assist with music learning.  This gives students that aren’t involved in private lessons more of an equal footing in the classroom.  If they are really interested, they can watch and practice at home, so they can participate confidently on Rock Friday.  Here are a few of our practice videos for Bad Blood!

Drum Part- Bad Blood

Drum Part- Piano

Piano performance with backing track

You Want a Chalkboard?

Yesterday, a visiting high school administrator observed our special music class.  Her first comment when entering the classroom was, “Wow, this doesn’t look like a chorus room!”

I mulled that over in my head all afternoon.  What is typically expected of a chorus room?  Chairs, black binders, stacks of sheet music, a director’s stand, and one piano?  As a lifelong singer in choirs, I know this is what I will see 9 out of 10 times when I walk into a chorus room.

When did educators decide that music has to be siloed into band, orchestra, and chorus, and that these groups should be mutually exclusive?  What makes a band, orchestra, and chorus room visually different?  The majority of our state performance standards  are the same- singing alone and with others, performing alone and with others, playing instruments alone and with others, analyzing and describing music, understanding music in its relation to history and culture, etc.  So if we have so much in common, why does it look like we don’t?  Why is their confusion to outsiders over instruments in a chorus classroom, or even band students sight singing their music before playing it?   I asked my middle school students today what their dream chorus classroom would look like- the keyword being chorus- and this is how they responded.

  • Listening Station with Beanbag Chairs
  • Small recording studio for group collaboration
  • Recording equipment suspended above choir for instant recording, listening, and feedback
  • Electric Drumsets with headphones so lots of students can play at once
  • Tons of guitars and keyboarding stations
  • Area to compose music- keyboard and computer
  • Several projector screens so students don’t always have to look in the same direction
  • Class set of iPads
  • Launchpad Station
  • DJ Booth
  • A chalkboard (hahahaha- they think these are really cool)
  • More rooms for sectional rehearsals

I was amazed by the students’ answers, mostly because not a single 8th grade boy requested a snack machine.  But I was also surprised, and equally impressed, to find that everything they mentioned would enhance student achievement.  I believe the students are ahead of us, the music educators, on this point- Music is music.  Students want to play a drum set, sing on a microphone, compose their own music, make up a vocal harmony by ear, and pull a bow across a violin.  They want to try it all- they want to be musicians.  And yes… different students will have different strengths… but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t provide them all with opportunities to try, experiment, create, and learn broad musical concepts, instead of being pigeonholed into only one area.  Why is this creativity and collaboration encouraged in elementary school general music, but then put aside to pursue only one discipline at the secondary and collegiate level? Shouldn’t that be when we expect students to expand their horizons? I think this is why my students are so drawn to Rock Friday: they stop being only chorus students, and start becoming collaborative musicians.