We’ve Had a Good Time Playing the Game: Now What? (Revisited)

by Dr. Peggy D. Bennett

August 2023

From the Archive
Have you ever felt stuck or unsure what to do next after you’ve played a game with your students? In this article from the August 2013 MEI (SWEA) Newsletter, Dr. Peggy Bennett gives us specific ideas for how to progress from sounds to symbols in order to study a song.

Because singing games are foundational experiences that begin music study in SongWorks teaching, they often receive a great deal of time and attention… in our planning and in our lessons. Attention to games is important: we need to know what each game offers our students, and we need to know how to manage all the behaviors that each game may evoke. 

But, what comes after the game is played? How can the intellectual play, begun by the game, continue through other study practices? 

In 1985, I identified a teaching sequence that outlines the means, the rationale, the progress, and the process of leading students from sound to symbol. Even though it was created nearly 30 years ago and long before SongWorks 1 was published (about 10 years later), I think this procedure may still have some merit for those of you who struggle with “How do I get from playing the game to studying music notation?” 

A SongWorks Teaching Sequence:
Progressing from Sounds to Symbols and Symbols to Sounds

  1. Build students’ repertoire of songs. 
  2. Develop students’ awareness of musical sound and specific sound patterns. 
  3. Allow students multi-sensory experiences with what they hear in select sound patterns. 
  4. Assign appropriate labels to select sound patterns. 
  5. Guide students’ notations of whole songs and select sound patterns.
  6. Present conventional symbols for select sound patterns.
  7. Provide music reading opportunities with select sound patterns.

Step 1: Build Students’ Repertoire of Songs

Means: Singing games 

Rationale: Games provide varied repetition of songs. This repetition allows students to internalize the whole song, including sound patterns within the song that will be studied later. 

Build Independence 

  • Respect the song while playing the game (encouraging/reminding singers, giving a starting pitch for the song1). 
  • Provide sufficient repetition so that students can learn the song well. 
  • Give students responsibility for various turns during the game.2 
  • Tap students’ imaginations to give the song and game meaning.3

Sample Questions & Statements4 

  • “Who will start the song for Sarah’s turn?” 
  • “Wiggle your thumb if you think you can sing all the words to the song during this next turn.” 
  • “Just as our song begins with a brief silence after you hear the starting pitch, the end of the song has a brief silence after we finish singing. Let’s listen for those silences this time.”

Step 2: Develop Students’ Awareness of Musical Sound and Specific Sound Patterns

Means: Antiphonning, movement, chinning, inner hearing/audiation

Rationale: Experiencing a singing game does not necessarily develop awareness of specific sound patterns. The teacher leads students to perceive sound patterns (aurally cohesive chunks of sound)6 within a song by using playful focus to highlight those patterns through antiphonning, movement, chinning, and audiation. 

[For a thorough treatment of finding and teaching study patterns in a song, We’ve Had a Good Time Playing the Game: Now What? (Revisited) Published Winter 1985, Revised Summer 2013 see “Song Analysis Process” in SongWorks 2, pp. 274-275; “Common Rhythm Patterns for Study,” pp. 277-278; “Common Tonal Patterns for Study,” p. 279; “Phases of Learning Music Notation,” pp. 284-286.]

Build Independence 

  • Give students opportunities to demonstrate their bodily and aural awareness of the whole song and select sound patterns through antiphonning, audiation, chinning, and movement. 
  • Allow students to function in smaller groups (solo, partner, 3 or 4 students) occasionally as they demonstrate what they hear. 

Sample Questions/Statements

  • “Choose a new way to make the sounds of ‘go jiggety jiggety jog.’ How could you do that? Let’s sing the whole song and listen for your sounds of ‘go jiggety jiggety jog.’” 
  • “Let’s see if you can put that part of the song in your inner hearing and just show the movement when we get to that pattern.” 
  • “Here’s our challenge! Let’s audiate the whole song, move our knees every time we hear ‘Circle Left’ in our heads, and pat the rhythm of ‘shake those fingers down’ on our tummies. Good luck! [singing] Here’s our starting pitch.”

Step 3: Allow Students Multi-Sensory Experiences with What They Hear in Select Sound Patterns

Means: Verbal/Vocal description, movement 

Rationale: Students need to process perceptions initially through their own bodies, their own vocabularies, and their own experiences. The teacher gathers important information by observing and studying these demonstrations of students’ perceptions.

Build Independence 

  • Give students time to explain and demonstrate what they hear, see, and think. 
  • Ask supportive, follow-up questions if students’ answers are unclear. 
  • Treat answers as opportunities to clarify and learn about students’ thinking while interacting with an attitude of curiosity and interest in students’ ideas.

Sample Questions & Statements 

  • “How would you describe what you hear in that part of the song?” 
  • “Show us how the melody moves during that part of the song.” 
  • “What words would you use to describe this rhythm pattern?” 
  • “Show us how you will demonstrate (move to) the slur as you perform the rhythm of “hi ho hi ho hi ho.”

Step 4: Assign Music Labels to Select Sound Patterns

Means: Say the label (solfa syllables, rhythm syllables, music terms) and write the word for students to see 

Rationale: After awareness and student description, it is appropriate for the teacher to give students the label (name) for the pattern being studied (anacrusis, MI MI RE RE DO, DU DA DI DU DA DI DU, fermata, treble clef, solfa syllables, rhythm syllables, and so on)7. [See SongWorks 2 for mini-lessons of this type of study.]

Build Independence 

  • Challenge students to sing the new words/ labels when the select pattern occurs in the song. 
  • Create opportunities for practice with new labels through varied repetition of the song using antiphonning and audiation. 

Sample Questions & Statements 

  • “Let’s call that pattern MI MI RE RE DO. Sing those words this time when we get to that pattern in the song.” 
  • “Some people call this a ‘bird’s eye,’ because it looks like that. But, the musical word is ‘fermata,’ and that’s the word we’ll use. Freeze and look surprised this time when you hear the musical fermata.”

Step 5: Guide Students’ Notations of Whole Songs and Select Sound Patterns

Means: Line maps, song dots, ideographs

Rationale: Prior to reading conventional music notation, students need to translate what they hear into movement, then into graphic notation. Introduced through teacher modeling, line maps, song dots, and ideographs allow students to record their perceptions on paper, with simple symbols that are drawn and read simultaneously with the singing of the song. 

Build Independence: Students need several opportunities to notate during initial writing experiences. Repetition helps students become comfortable with writing the sound at the same time as they are producing the sound. Encourage students to read and check their notation several times by touching and tracking the symbols as they sing or speak. Challenge students to read the notation with original song words, as well as the solfege and rhythm syllables for the select pattern/s.

Sample Questions & Statements 

Line Maps 

  • “Let your finger sing the song as you move it on your paper… Now let your marker sing as it moves on your paper… Now, you get to sing the song as you read your map! Let’s see how you do that.” 

Song Dots 

  • “Let your fingers tap the words to the song [the pattern]… Now let your marker sing the rhythm of the words [or “each syllable of each word”]… You get to read your song dots so that they fit with the words you are singing. Your body already knows how to do it!” 


  • “Point to the symbol and say/sing the words that go with it. Read at your own speed.” 
  • “What would your speaking voice sound like if you read the symbols as if you’re telling us the story? We’ll listen.”

Step 6: Present Conventional Symbols for the Select Sound Patterns

Means: Write/draw the conventional symbol/s for the pattern/s being studied.

Rationale: Just as with the previous steps from sound to symbol, repeated, playful experiences are used to introduce conventional notation to represent the pattern/s being studied. The meaning of the symbol is already “present” in children’s bodies, now they see the symbol in “music language.” 

Build Independence: Students write conventional music symbols on their individual papers to represent a portion of a line map, a section of song dots, or a symbol in an ideograph. Maps, dots, and ideographs can be mixed with conventional music symbols to create a score for the whole song. When working with rhythms, encourage students to read their scores by touching the bottoms of note stems (the dots/note heads), rather than tracing the stems or beams of notes. Students sing notated songs or patterns with original song words and with rhythm or solfege syllables, connecting new knowledge of symbols with previous knowledge of symbols. [See SongWorks 2 mini-lessons for numerous examples of connecting sound to music symbols.]

Sample Statements & Questions 

  • “You already know how to sing and read this pattern, so reading it with music symbols will hardly be a challenge.” 
  • “This is what MI MI RE RE DO looks like on a music staff. How would you describe this pattern?”

Step 7: Provide Music Reading Opportunities with Select Sound Patterns

Means: Show the traditional notation of the study pattern in new contexts. Create new arrangements of the rhythm or tonal pattern. Challenge students to find the study pattern in a full score of the song, a different familiar song, or an unfamiliar song. 

Rationale: Moving from familiar to new contexts, the teacher leads students to recognize the same and similar patterns in music notation. Stretching students’ knowledge and recognition this way can give them confidence in music reading and a system of scanning for familiar patterns in an unfamiliar score. 

Build Independence: Give students time to study in their inner-hearing when they are challenged, “See if you can read this.” Also, reviewing/singing the song just prior to the reading experience can help get the song “in their heads” before students are to audiate the score.

Sample Statements & Questions 

  • “Let’s see if I can create a reading challenge for you. I’m going to change just a little part of the score for Scotland’s Burning, and see if you can still read it.” [Teacher makes a slight change in the rhythm or tonal pattern notation, i.e. repetition, deletion, inversion, augmentation, and so on.] 
  • “Here is the score for a new song. Take a moment to study it and see if you can find any patterns of DI DU DI DU. Cross your arms if you found that pattern and can perform the sound you are reading.”

Summary and Caveat

I originally wrote this article and have revised it here to offer one answer to the question, “Now What?” for teaching music notation to children. The best way to make these ideas successful is for you to breathe life into them through your own teaching style. No teaching sequence can accomplish its purpose without your eagerness and ingenuity in teaching it.9 

So, the caveat is… you need not stick to these steps, accomplish them in order, or avoid teaching one step before students have mastered the previous one. Ideas presented here are a pathway, a “game trail” of sorts, that others in SongWorks have traveled and found to be a successful, reasonable way to teach music to children based on the Principles of Teaching and Learning Music. Infused with your own vitality for teaching and curiosity about your students’ learning, this pathway could offer you some answers for the ever-present, perennial question in teaching: “Now what?”

Endnotes and References

  1. See SongWorks 1, pp. 55-57. 
  2. See SongWorks 1, pp. 16-17. 
  3. See SongWorks 1, pp. 335-337. 
  4. For additional examples of statements and questions to engage listening, see SongWorks 2, pp. 44-46. 
  5. See SongWorks 1, pp. 86-94. 
  6. See SongWorks 1, pp. 122-126. 
  7. In teaching children, even young children, I have never used “watered down” or “cute” labels for music terms. To me, there is no reason to do so. Children learn the meaning of terms such as “anacrusis,” “fermata,” and so on by experiencing them. 
  8. Doug Bartholomew’s Two Part Songs books are excellent examples of weaving the familiar and the unfamiliar for challenging and delightful experiences with reading music notation. 
  9. See SongWorks 2, pp. 284-286 for a synopsis of “The Four Phases of Learning Music Notation”

Bennett, P. D. & Bartholomew, D. R. (1997). SongWorks 1: Singing in the education of children. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing. 

Bennett, P. D. & Bartholomew, D. R. (1999). SongWorks 2: Singing from sound to symbol. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

This article was originally published in Tunings, ETM Newsletter, III, 2, Winter 1985, Revised Summer 2013. It has been adapted for the “From the Archive” series.

Visit the Newsletter Archive for more articles like this and to subscribe.

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