The Comedies and Tragedies of a Small Town
Finale Notepad (or some other music composition program)
Garageband (or real instruments recorded into Garageband)
Subject and Grade Level: Any Grade
We do an entire unit in which we study our community. This unit, Global Positioning of History, involves interviewing locals, researching local events, locations, myths, legends, etc. that are unique to our town, area, region, and county. To get students in the mood to study and appreciate their small town, we like to begin this unit by playing the song “Small Town” by the John Cougar Mellencamp. After they hear the song, it is fun to have them do a quick write (about 5 minutes) about what their own small town is like.
Once they have done a quick write, then I like to play the song a second time and let them jot ideas as they listen. I then will move on and play songs that are similar and let them continue to write notes as they listen. (If possible I like to have enough songs to listen for about 15 or 20 minutes and I like to have them from several different genres of music.)
We then talk briefly (very briefly since I am not “versed” in music) about the parts of a song. Stanzas, the chorus/refrain, rhyming, syllable count, repeating for emphasis, etc. The kids are then set on a task of finding a song from their own collections that are similar to a class song. By the next day I like to have them list things about their small town (funny, serious, surface, career, family, sentimental, etc.) I remind them not to hurt anyone’s feelings… we all want to stay friends. If this is not possible, then the students can write a fictional small town song and not use anyone’s names, locations, jobs, etc.
Then they begin the writing process. They need to write a song/poem. (I tell them I don’t grade for quality, but for effort if anyone is really in a panic.) If there is time, they can write music with a composer, use the loops in Garageband, or play the song with an instrument of their own. They don’t have to be a good singer (Adam Sandler-esque), so they can ask someone else to record the words for them with the instrumental. Often bringing in the music teacher to team teach is a good plan and makes it really fun. Who knows… maybe they will want to play song at Class night, a graduation party, or reunion.
Intergrated Subject Areas Also Covered:
LA 12.2.1, 12.2.2
After playing songs from my collection (which I try to have songs from several decades), I ask the students if they have songs that are similar in the general message. I encourage them to bring the CDs or put the songs in a folder in their iTunes so it is easy to play the songs when called upon.