The Maple Leaf Rag is a fantastic piece to teach students about steady beat, syncopation, and the genius of Scott Joplin. The concern I hear from most teachers, is that they just don’t know where to begin when it comes to incorporating Western art music into their elementary music classroom. If you have similar concerns, I’d suggest reading this post, where I share several different pieces you can use to teach tempo. You can also search the term “art music” on my blog to find more posts on this topic.
When I presented a new piece of Western art music to my students, I almost always started with movement. My students were used to playing the game “music freeze” with art music, so they felt comfortable moving to it. Depending on the focus concept, I would tell them to “move to the beat” or “show the dynamics” or “freeze on the rests”. If the concept was still fairly new, I would model by moving along with them. Plus, I just really enjoyed doing it!
Movement props are an excellent motivator for students who are new to active listening. Below are a few props you can try, along with links on where to purchase them:
- Parachute from Music in Motion
- Stretchy Band from BPC
- Ribbon Streamers from WestMusic
- Scarves from WestMusic
- DIY Rainbow Ribbon Streamers
- DIY Stretchy Band
MUSICAL OPPOSITES with SYNCOPATION
I think Joplin’s piece in particular would be great for reinforcing the concept of syncopation. To help students really feel the difference, try playing a Sousa piece, like the one featured below. Then, play the Maple Leaf Rag, and ask students what they notice. Sometimes, the best way for students to understand a concept, is by showing its musical opposite. In this example, it’s the King of Ragtime and the King of Marches.