There isn’t a day that goes by in my town without the sound of a train. For many students, train sounds are a familiar part of life. And what better way to feel the beat, than to imitate the sounds of a moving train through a speech piece?
Engine, Engine, Number Nine is a speech piece with multiple variations. You can find a few of those variations here and here. Some teachers set it to a so/mi melody, while others use it as a speech piece to focus on barred eighth and quarter notes. There are several concepts you can teach through this piece. However you choose to use it, it’s a great addition to any elementary music repertoire.
Ask students about the sounds that trains make. If you’re introducing this song in first grade, cross the curriculum by referencing the word onomatopoeia. Then, pull out a few different rhythm instruments, showing them how they can make the sound of a train using the instruments.You could use hand drums, sandblocks, kokirikos (clatterpillars), egg shakers, maracas, and/or cabasas. The possibilities are endless.
Rob Amchin has a great example in the video below. By rubbing the hand drums, students are creating the sound of the train wheels, while practicing steady beat. If you aren’t subscribed to Rob’s Youtube Channel, I would highly recommend it. He shares amazing lesson ideas and walks you through the process of how to teach them.
I always loved adding rhythm instruments to lessons on steady beat. It gave me a great opportunity to review the playing technique as well go over the dos and don’ts of each instrument.
It’s never too late in your student’s life to remind them that rhythm sticks don’t belong in their mouth.
The more entertaining you are when explaining the dos and don’ts, the more likely they are to stick. My students almost always remembered what not to do with the instruments because I would dramatically act outexactly what I didn’t want them to do.For example, you could hold an egg shaker in your armpit and then let it fall dramatically to the floor. Then, ask your students if that was the correct thing to do. They will loudly exclaim “NO!!” while laughing hysterically. An added bonus is that you will be forever remembered as the “funny teacher”. And that’s a title to hold proudly!
Once your students have their instruments in hand, you can begin working on steady beat. Ask them to get in a circle and speak the piece as they walk and play to the steady beat. Make sure to exchange instruments occasionally so that all students get a chance to play.
Play “follow the conductor”. Choose one student to be the “conductor” of the train and have them stand in front of the line of students. If you have a large class, you could break them into groups and have several “trains” and “conductors”.
Start the students out with a tempo that was faster or slower than before. It will be the conductor’s job to keep that pace as the students follow. After going through the piece a few times, ask students whether it was faster or slower than before. Continue doing this until students are consistently answering correctly.
Keep students engaged by occasionally throwing in a wildly fast or incredibly slow tempo. It will be both challenging and entertaining for them.