In this tutorial, I delve into some ways to teach the tune, "Shoo Fly Shoo" from my book, Fifty Tunes for Teaching.
This is a very simple tune in terms of melody, harmony and structure.
You can listen to the tune (and try some of the activities) using the video below:
Verbal Association Level
After the students hear the song a few times (either by you singing it, or by playing the video above or using the mp3 from the Digital Resources Pack), you may wish to ask students if they hear any repeated words. Hopefully they respond that the words "Shoo Fly Shoo" appear after every line.
Next, I point out to students that the first "Shoo Fly Shoo" happens on the pitches DO MI SO, which, I remind them, is a major tonic chord. Similarly, the second "Shoo Fly Shoo" happens on the pitches SO MI DO, another example of a major tonic chord.
Sing the song again, and have students sing DO MI SO and SO MI DO on the first and second "Shoo Fly Shoo" respectively.
Bridging to Creativity/Improvisation
A very logical place to go is to encourage students to sing a different tonic chord in response. I like to show students a slide (like the one below) and see if they can come up with other example of three pitch tonic chords. If students sing them incorrectly, I repeat them back to the class correctly.
One technique I find useful is to give students an opportunity to audiate their response before they sing. (Thank you to Heather Shouldice for the inspiration for this idea!) This gives them a chance to work out some of the cognitive and/or struggles before they sing. I sing a few verses for them, and tap my brain to indicate I am audiating (as they should be, as well!)
Then, we all go public and sing our responses together. It's a cacophonous and wonderful mess. If the class and/or individual students are up for it, we can hear individual responses, as well.
How to Teach the Language of Music
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Because this song only has tonic and dominant functions, you can easily have students perform it using ukuleles, guitars or Boomwhackers. However, I really like taking this song to the keyboard. My beginning students already learn to play root position major chords, so this is a perfect opportunity to connect a song to their audiation and then reinforce it using an instrument.
So, instead of singing DO MI SO and SO MI DO as the responses, students can play those pitches on the keyboard as their response. For a very student-friendly way to teach tonic chords on the keyboard, you may wish to try my free Keyboard Cards. (These are based on the revolutionary JamCards from Little Kids Rock, but they use more MLT-friendly terminology.)
You can just pop these cards behind the keys, and wherever you put it, it shows you where the pitches for a major tonic chord are. Genius! You can view and download the Keyboard Cards I made for free here: Keyboard Cards Folder. To make them, I print them out (be sure to check to make sure your printer is printing at 100% or they won't work) on hard stock paper. Laminating them will extend their life considerably.
You can extend the Creativity/Improvisation activity from above by having students play a different major tonic chord in response. I move this around from key to key so students get a chance to try out many different major tonic patterns!
Here is a standard out-of-the-box MLT technique at the Partial Synthesis level that you can use for any number of tunes. I learned it from Jennifer Bailey (of course).
On another day, tell students you are going to sing a familiar song, but you’re going to changes something about it. Sing the song again, but this time, sing it in minor tonality. Have the students sing the response. Explain to students that to change "Shoo Fly Shoo" from major to minor, you sing LA DO MI and MI DO LA. Have them sing that as the response.
The next class, explain to students that they are going to have to figure out if you’re singing in major or minor. Sing a phrase to the song in major. Explain that the tool you use is to listen for the quality of the tonic chord. “If I’m audiating DO MI SO as the tonic chord, I know it’s major tonality. If I’m audiating LA DO MI as the tonic Chord, I know it’s minor tonality.” Alternate between major and minor phrases, pausing in-between. Ask students, “Are you audiating DO MI SO or LA DO MI?”
On the final class, continue to alternate between major and minor, and have students sing DO MI SO or LA DO MI as the response.
Fifty Tunes for Teaching
Check out this book which contains 50 new songs with and without words for use in the general music class. Sequenced according to Gordon's Music Learning Theory.
Do you have any other ideas for this tune?? Leave them in the comments below.