Fifth Grade - Music - Overview

The Core Knowledge Scope and Sequence for music in Fifth Grade is ambitious and demanding in terms of the students' familiarity with reading music notation and with their mastery of what could be called basic skills of music theory. Since we cannot assume that this year's fifth graders have followed the Core Knowledge music curriculum for Third and Fourth Grade, at least one of each month's two music lessons will be spent presenting and reviewing these materials. The other music lesson for each month will usually be devoted to listening/appreciation of pieces of recorded music and will include questions designed to utilize the skills the students are learning.

It is hoped that many other opportunities will arise for the children to listen to music during the school year--whether at the beginnings and endings of the school day, during times of transition, or as supplements to other activities. The History/Geography curriculum for Fifth Grade offers many opportunities for enriching those lessons with lessons of music from South America, the Caribbean islands, the Reformation period in Europe, as well as the Civil War period here in the United States.

Two assumptions we have tried to avoid are, first, that the lessons will necessarily be taught by a teacher trained specially in music. This means that if there are some of our schools fortunate enough to have trained music teachers, we hope they will not be insulted to find explanation of music skills extremely basic and far more detailed than they need. For those teachers, we hope that by carefully organizing the presentation of these materials, we will give music teachers more time to observe and evaluate their students' progress and individual talents. In addition, in the event that an intended music class cannot be taught by the music teacher, classroom teachers will be able to teach the lesson, and the children will not have to miss music.

The other assumption we avoid is that every one of our schools has a piano or electric keyboard available for teaching. Consequently we will be providing and utilizing a mock keyboard as a teaching tool for many of our lessons, which may not be necessary if teacher and students are lucky enough to have the use of the real thing.

Core's guidelines for the elements of music (rhythm, melody, harmony, form, timbre, etc.) for the total Fifth Grade year are given below. We will design the lessons to cover (in some cases review) all of these elements gradually over the course of the year:

A. Recognize a steady beat, accents, & the downbeat; play a steady beat, a simple rhythm pattern, simultaneous rhythm patterns, & syncopation patterns

B. Discriminate between fast & slow gradually slowing down & getting faster; accelerando & ritardando

C. Discriminate between differences in pitch: high & low

D. Discriminate between loud & soft; gradually increasing & decreasing volume; crescendo & decrescendo

E. Understand legato (smoothly flowing progression of notes) & staccato (crisp, distinct notes)

F. Sing unaccompanied, accompanied, & in unison

G. Recognize harmony; sing rounds & canons; two- and three-part singing

H. Recognize introduction, interlude, & coda in musical selections

I. Recognize verse & refrain

J. Continue work with timbre & phrasing

K. Recognize theme & variations

L. Name the ledger lines & spaces of the treble clef

M. Sing or play simple melodies while reading scores

N. Recognize chords: I (tonic), IV (subdominant), V (dominant); & intervals: third, fourth, fifth

O. Recognize the term "octave"

P. Understand the following notation:

grouped sixteenth notes

quarter note & rest

eighth note

half note & rest

whole note & rest

tied notes & dotted notes

sharps & flats

treble clef, staff, bar line, double bar line, measure, repeat signs

Da capo [D.C.] al fine

meter signature: 4/4; 2/4; 3/4

soft p mp pp; loud mf f ff

Since Fifth Grade students are expected to be able to read music notation, we will concentrate heavily on that for the first few months and, when we provide notated musical examples as part of the lessons, they are designed to be used as transparencies. The more familiarity the students have with music notation as they sing, the more quickly they will be able to read it and produce music from it.

Fifth Grade - Music - Lesson 1 - C Major Scale


Sing notes (pitches) and intervals of C major scale (review from Third Grade).

Locate C major scale on the white notes of the keyboard.

Observe the letter names of the pitches of the C major scale.

Observe that notes (pitches) of C major scale can be notated on a staff.

Notate the C major scale on a music staff.


Pattern of C major scale on keyboard (make one copy for each student)

Pieces of tagboard, 9 x 12" for each student

Scissors and glue

5-line music staff written on chalkboard, pattern below

Copies of 5-line music staff labeled "C Major Scale," see below

Suggested Books

Danes, Emma. The Usborne First book of Music. London: Usborne, 1994.

See pp. 40-43 for basic information about music notation with concrete illustrations consistent with the approach of our lessons.

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. What Your 4th Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday Dell, 1992.

The section on notation and harmony, pp. 210-212, is a good reference for the classroom teacher with no special music training. (The book for 5th Grade has material useful later in the year; meanwhile material in the 4th Grade book, pp. 210-212 is useful for this first lesson.)

Suggested Recording

Rogers & Hammerstein, Sound of Music, Columbia cassette #32601, $7.98 (original cast recording).

The familiar song, "Doe - a Deer" is on this cassette recording so that the class can hear it sung in a spirited way before they sing it themselves. If you are comfortable singing the song yourself for the class, the recording is not necessary.

Note to the Teacher

If you have access to a piano, you may not need to use the keyboard patterns provided at the end of this lesson. In that case, you can demonstrate the way the white keys on the keyboard produce the notes or pitches of the C major scale as long as you begin the scale with middle C.

Otherwise, be sure to duplicate the keyboard patterns for the students, be sure their names are written on them, and save them carefully after this lesson. They will be used for other lessons during the year. It is important that the students have a way to visualize the notes on the keyboard as well as being able to sing them and notate them on a music staff.


Start by playing the tape (or other recording) of the Rogers & Hammerstein "Doe - a Deer" for the students a few times. Then ask whether anyone knows what the song is about. If no one says that it is really naming the music syllables to a major scale, sing just the scale pitches with the their musical names, in order (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do) and have the students do the same, several times. Congratulate them on singing the correct pitches for the C major scale.

Next, ask: Has anyone ever played the C major scale on a piano or electric keyboard? If someone has, ask them to tell the class how they are able to find the correct pitches for the scale. If no one can tell the class, tell them: You are going to find the pitches on the keyboards so that you will always know where to find them.

Pass out the copies of the keyboards plus the pieces of 9 x 12" tagboard, one to each student. Have the students glue the keyboards to their pieces of tagboard and sign their names on the tagboard so that they can identify them next time they need them. Tell the students they will find that same scale on this keyboard and that any keyboard they ever try--whether it is a piano, a xylophone, an organ, an accordion, an electric keyboard or synthesizer--will have the exact same arrangement of keys.

Say to the class: There is a secret to playing the C major scale on a keyboard. The C major scale uses only the white keys of the keyboard; the only problem is figuring out which key to start on. Have them sing the scale with you again, just to make sure they know what the pitches sound like. Then ask: What other color keys besides the white ones are on every keyboard? (black keys) Tell the students that the black keys are always arranged in a certain pattern between the white notes. That pattern is always two black notes, then three black notes; two black notes, then three notes, and so on, all the way up the piano.

Tell the students that C is always the key immediately to the left of the first of the two black notes and that middle C is the one right in the center of the whole keyboard. Have all of the students find middle C on their keyboards and put their right thumb on it, as you circulate around the room to check that they have found it. (They should each have a right thumb on the first note marked C on the keyboard.) Have them sing the scale with the syllables do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do, placing their fingers in the order thumb, index, 3rd finger, thumb again--reaching under and to the right of the other fingers--then the rest of the fingers in order.

Have everyone in the class do the singing of the syllables and "playing" of the notes several times. Make a vertical list of the syllables on the chalkboard so that the students can see clearly how each is spelled. Then say: Take a look at the letters C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C printed under each key. Those are other names for the pitches of the scale you've been singing. We will talk more about them in another lesson. For now, each one of you is going to write the names of the syllables to the scale on your keyboard in the correct place, starting with do on middle C.

Circulate around the room again, making sure they are placing the syllables on the correct keys of their keyboards and that they realize that middle C is the first C written on the keyboard. When you are sure they have all written the syllables correctly, have them sing and "play" the scale again. Ask: Which direction does the scale go on the keyboard? (from left to right) Ask: Can you start at the other end and sing the pitches or notes in the opposite way? (If they need help with the fingering, show them that when they go in this direction, they start with pinkie down to thumb, then cross third finger over the thumb and "play" the last three keys with 3rd, pointer, and thumb again. Have them practice going in each direction several times, using their fingers and singing the syllables at the same time.

Say to the class: In music, we talk about scales and melodies going higher and lower, going up and down. Who can sing the scale going from lower to higher? (Have individuals sing it for you with the syllables.)Which direction is that on the keyboard? (left to right) What about higher to lower? (Have them sing it for you with the syllables.) Which direction is that on the keyboard? (right to left, going down)

Finally, tell the children you are going to put the same scale in its musical notation on a staff to look at. Tell them that this is the way all composers write their music. Put a sample on the blackboard.

Then have the children sing the scale with its pitches again, this time having them watch the notation on the chalkboard as they do. Point out that there are both lines and spaces on this staff, and that this C major scale moves up its ladder one step at a time, including both lines and spaces. Ask in which direction the scale goes on the staff? (left to right) Ask: How do you think it would look if we went in the opposite direction? (Let a volunteer come up and make the notes going in the opposite direction.)

Have everyone sing the scale in both directions as you point to each note with a pointer. Quickly pass out the music paper pattern provided below, marked C major scale and with middle C & D (do & re) written in notes and syllables to get them started. Tell them to notate the C major scale on their music staffs, first going up, then going down. Have everyone sing the scale again in each direction using the do, re, mi syllables as you circulate around the room to check that each person has notated the scale correctly. Ask: Can you see how clear it seems that the notes are going up and going higher on the staff as we sing it, then going back down again, getting lower as we sing in the opposite direction?

Tell the students they will be working with their keyboards again, so they must be sure they have put their names on them. Congratulate them on actually reading music as well as singing it, and tell them this year they will be learning a lot more about reading music, singing it, and playing it on a keyboard.

Fifth Grade - Music - Lesson 2 - Music from Brazil

Note: This lesson should not be taught before the students have had History Lesson 1.


Listen carefully to a piece of music by Heitor Villa Lobos.

Locate Brazil and review geographical features from History Lesson 1.

Differentiate between pizzicato and legato playing on stringed instrument.

Identify soprano range of solo singer in Villa Lobos piece.


Classroom size map of the world or of South America

CD or other recording of Heitor Villa Lobos Bacheanas Brasileiras No. 5, 1st movement, c. 5 min. playing time

Pictures of stringed instruments in books about instruments, see Suggested Books below

Suggested Recording

CD EMI 61016 has Victoria de los Angeles as the soloist and Villa Lobos himself conducting the piece. The other pieces on the recording are the Bacheanas 1, 2, and 9.

Suggested Books with Pictures of Instruments of the Orchestra

Barber, Nicola and Mary Mure. The World of Music. Parsippany, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1995.

Danes, Emma. The Usborne First Book of Music. London: Usborne Publishing, 1993.

Doney, Meryl. Musical Instruments. NY: Franklin Watts, 1995.

Hausherr, Rosemarie. What Instrument is This? NY: Scholastic, 1992.

Jeunesse, Gallimard and Claude Delafosse. Musical Instruments. NY: Scholastic, 1994.

Taylor, Barbara. Sound and Music. NY: Franklin Watts, 1991.

These books are all inexpensive, available in paperback, and useful in the classroom primarily for the pictures that illustrate various instruments and families of instruments.

Background for the Teacher

Heitor Villa Lobos is a Brazilian composer of classical music who was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1881. He first studied music with his father, who was a 'cellist, which may account for his predilection for writing prominent parts for the 'cello in many of his best pieces. As a very young man, Villa Lobos traveled throughout Brazil as a concert pianist. It was only in 1912, when Villa Lobos took part in a scientific expedition to the interior of the country, that he first heard Brazilian folklore, which deeply influenced his own music.

Beginning in 1915, compositions by Villa Lobos were played in Brazil. His lifelong preoccupation with Brazilian folk music made his compositions popular in his own country, and the government gave him a stipend in 1922 which allowed him to spend a few years in Paris, where he soaked up all the music-making that was bubbling there. Once he returned to his own country, Villa Lobos became very involved in education, and in 1931 became director of music education for the public schools in Rio de Janeiro. He also became well known as a conductor and wrote a book on Brazilian folk music called Alma do Brasil. An example of the kind of subject that suffused Villa Lobos' music is a folk legend about the tears of the moon that produced the Amazon River. The legend inspired his orchestral piece of 1951 called The Origin of the Amazon River. Villa Lobos, the most prolific and the most famous composer Brazil has so far produced, died in 1959.

Today the students will hear only the first movement of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, called Aria or cantilena. The cantilena was written in 1938 and immediately became extremely popular, so much so that Villa Lobos wrote a second movement to it in 1945.


Tell the students that today they will hear some unusual music from one of the two largest countries in South America. Ask: What are the names of the two countries? (Argentina and Brazil) Which one has a rain forest and the Amazon River flowing through it? (Brazil) Have someone point out Brazil and the Amazon on the map.

Say to the class: The piece was written by a famous Brazilian composer named Heitor Villa Lobos (HI-tor VEE-ah LO-bos). Have the students pronounce the name several times with you and ask: Who knows what language most people in Brazil speak? (Portuguese) Why Portuguese? (Explorers and settlers from Portugal colonized Brazil by conquering the indigenous people.) Tell them that Portuguese sounds a little bit like Spanish. Can you guess why? (Portugal and Spain are close neighbors on the continent of Europe. Have someone point out their common border on the world map. Also, all South American countries, except Brazil, have Spanish as their major language.)

Tell the students a little bit about the life of Villa Lobos. Then say: The piece you are going to hear today is the first movement of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (bah-kee-AH-nahs brah-zil-ee-AIR-ahs). It was written about fifty years ago. (You might want to put this on your time line.) Write the name of the piece on the chalkboard and ask: What two names do you see in those two words? (Bach and Brazil) What does that suggest to you about what inspired Villa Lobos to write this piece? (classical music of Bach and folk music of Brazil)

Next, tell the students that you will play the piece for them a few times. Say to them: I will ask you to answer some musical questions after you have listened to the piece, so you should think about these questions as you are listening. The first time you hear the piece, you will be able to write the answers to questions 1 through 3 in complete sentences. The last two questions are a little harder, and you will have to listen again before you try to answer them.

Write the following questions on the board:

1. What is the first instrument you hear as the piece begins? (Hint: part of the string family) Do you hear the instruments playing with bows or pizzicato?

2. When the voice begins, what vocal range is it? (bass, tenor, soprano, or alto)

3. What do you hear when the voice begins? Is it any particular language?

After listening the second or third time:

4. How many sections would you say the composer has divided the piece into? How can you tell?

5. What is the surprise about the voice in the last section?

Note: The students will be expected to answer these questions on their own and in writing. Tell them before they listen that Villa Lobos wrote the piece for one voice and 8 instruments. Depending on their musical sophistication, you may decide to play the piece two or three times

for them. Remember, the piece takes approximately 5 min. to play. You may decide to show them pictures of the string family of instruments from the Suggested Books if you think it necessary (and have them name violin, viola, 'cello, and bass) and review with them the difference in sound and action between playing a stringed instrument with a bow (legato) and plucking it with fingers (pizzicato). You may also need to review the basic vocal ranges for men's and women's voices (from Fourth Grade) and put them on the board as well (tenor = high, bass = low for men; soprano = high, alto = low for women).

When you have played the piece several times for the students and they have written their answers, go over the questions with the class. Encourage everyone to contribute to the discussion that follows and write the answers on the board.

1. 'Celli start the piece; a few notes of the scale going down with bows while others play pizzicato.

2. Soprano

3. Voice simply sings the melody on "ah" with pizzicato 'cello accompaniment (sounds a little like a bird).

4. 4 sections

1st section: soprano sings melody on "ah" with one 'cello doubling the melody by bowing and all the rest accompanying pizzicato.

2nd section: a solo 'cello plays the same melody with pizzicato accompaniment

3rd section: soprano voice comes back singing some real words in a very high range in a very declarative way, like an insistent actor on a stage; entirely different from melody of 1st two sections

4th section: melody returns in voice with pizzicato accompaniment

5. Soprano hums the melody on "mmmm"; also, she jumps up an octave to a very high note for the last note

Do not expect the students to answer all the questions fully. The intention of the questions is simply to guide their listening and help them approach the listening with a focus that helps them to see that pieces of music have sections and divisions just the way compositions written with words do. If there is time, play the piece one more time and ask the students what they think is unusual about this piece of music.