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How To Teach High and Low in Music – Basics of Pitch for Grade 1 Music

If you are teaching grade 1 music and don’t know where to start, the concept of high and low in music is an excellent choice. An essential but often overlooked fundamental music concept in the Ontario Curriculum for grade 1 is Pitch: high and low sounds.

Although I have been teaching music for 15 years, I’m always shocked by how many students begin grade 1 not having any idea what the words “high” and “low” actually mean. Most of the time, they confuse them with loud and soft – a boat horn for example, although low in pitch, will often be described by my grade 1 students as “high”, mistakenly trying to refer to the volume.

Separating the idea of “low” and “high” from “loud” and “soft” is an important step in teaching young elementary students to discern different types of musical sounds that they hear.

How Do you Demonstrate High And Low In Music?

The key to teaching young students what the words “high” and “low” mean is by connecting them to both the sound as well as the physical space. Students need to understand that high sounds are associated with being high up physically, while low sounds are associated with being low physically.

In kindergarten and grade 1, students don’t need to learn this in relation to the music staff. Even something as simple as singing a high note while standing on their tiptoes and singing a low note while crouching down will begin to build this basic association in their minds.

Help students associate the words “high” and “low” with the sounds of the pitches by using solfege hand signs.

Tips and activities for teaching high and low sounds in music:

  • Be careful with non-music examples. I’ve seen a lot of worksheets and activities that use animals as examples of high and low sounds. But this can be confusing. Most animals, like humans, have a “voice” and can make a range of sounds. A cat, for example, is capable of making a high-pitched mew, or a lower-pitched yowl. This can feed into the confusion between high/loud and low/soft. It is better to use examples that can only make a single sound that has a consistent pitch. (A fog horn, for example, is always low in pitch.)
  • Use actual sound examples. Another issue with real-world sounds as examples of high and low is that unless you are listening to examples, you’re relying on a child’s prior experiences and pitch memory more than you are measuring their understanding of pitch.
    For example, if you show a child a picture of an ambulance and ask them to identify whether it makes a high sound or a low sound, you’re assuming that a) the child has heard an ambulance before and b) remembers what it sounds like. Use recordings whenever you can so that children can actually hear the sound you are referring to.

Prodigies Music Video Suggestions:

These videos from the Prodigies library will help in teaching your Grade 1 music class.

lowCandhighC

Low C & High C (Preschool 2.1)
No bells needed – ask students to hold their solfege sign for “do” up high while singing high C, and down low while singing “low C”. Pause partway through: How do you know which ones to sing high and which ones to sing low? (Hopefully, students can connect that because the notes that are high are high on the screen, the low ones are low)

Listening C vs c (Preschool 2.3)
Ask students to “vote” for which bell they think is coming down the pipe by voting with their high C or low c solfege signs.

Low & High – Do do (Performance 2.1 Track)
Sing along with the track while continuing with high/low hand signs.

More Videos for Teaching High and Low in Music

No Prep Lesson Plans for High and Low in Music (Pitch)

Need a little more help teaching high and low sounds?  The Music-By-Month series helps teachers meet all music expectations easily – at grade level, with minimal prep, and can be done in just 30 minutes per week.

Also available to download on Teachers Pay Teachers