Music Class Manipulatives: Why Not?

 Ah, manipulatives! Kids like to touch things, so using little something to help teach is so popular. Manipulatives in music class enhance the tactile and visual learning styles. A manipulative is a small tool or toy that students can handle to see concepts differently; thus, it gives the students one more means to understand the idea.

Manipulatives work wonderfully for the following:

  • Visualizing form patterns
  • Creating solfege patterns
  • Creating rhythm patterns
  • Illustrating phrasing
  • Vocalizing

You can purchase manipulatives, or you can create your own. That may sound like a daunting task, and some of these do take some time. You may not be able to use them right away if you take your time creating them, but that's OK. They will be available for the next school year.

Here are examples of some manipulatives that I have used in the past that take little time to make.

Flat Marbles

Flat marbles look beautiful at the bottom of the vase or scattered on a table, but they are also excellent for melodic dictation. All you will need are flat marbles from the dollar store, little round sales stickers, and staff pages (you can decide on 3 4 or five lines on your staff.).

Using flat marbles for solfege dictation

  1.  Write solfa syllables on the stickers, color coordinating them. For instance, put all the SOs on red stickers.
  2. Put stickers on the marbles. This task would be a perfect job for some of your students who might want to come in to help during their recess if you do that.
  3. Divide all the marbles into Baggies by solfege name (color). Or, you might want to divide them for individual people or games by putting a few marbles of each syllable into a bag. Dividing the manipulatives by activity set will make it easier to pass everything out.
  4. You can divide your students into small groups, or the students can work individually. The students can compose melodies or use the marbles for dictation.
Using flat marbles in music class for solfege dictation

Craft Sticks

Craft sticks are probably almost as popular in a music classroom as in an Art Room. Using craft sticks has been a famous trick to make rhythmic dictation more fun. The students can also use large craft sticks for singing solfege patterns. You will need the sale price stickers again.

  1. Color coordinate your stickers by solfa syllables.
  2.   Starting with the lowest pitch, put the stickers in order from bottom to top, making sure to leave space for any skips or leaps.
  3. If you are preparing for a new pitch, use another color, add a question mark, and put it where the new pitch will be. The students hold the sticks, you hold a stick, and as you are singing, ask the students to point to each syllable. This tactic gives them a visual reference and a tactile one as well.
Using large craft sticks to help with singing solfege patterns

Mini Erasers

How many of you love to go to the Target dollar bin and look over all the cute erasers? They make cute manipulatives as well. I would often buy little erasers that fit the topic of a song or a book that was a springboard two rhythm practice. With these little guys, you can do a couple of types of dictation.

  1. Put the number of erasers you need in separate Baggies.
  2. Use the staff paper previously mentioned for melodic dictation, with the erasers as the noteheads.

Using craft sticks to dictate rhythm

  To use the erasers for rhythmic dictation, you can either use one eraser for quarter notes or two erasers for an eighth note pair. If you like, you can include small diameter dowel rods (cut into thirds), little coffee heat savers, small craft sticks, coffee stirrers, or even all those recorder cleaning rods in the bag. Using these sticks for stems and beams makes using erasers easier when you begin 16th notes.

Using craft sticks and mini-erasers for rhythmic dictation

Chenille Stems

This is an idea I got from the marvelous Artie Almeida. Divide the class into groups and instruct them to rhythm patterns by shaping the stems. Using stems is a fantastic way to dictate half notes.

Using chenille stems to create rhythmic notation

Chenille, Foam, or Wooden Shapes

If you go to a craft store, you will probably find a variety of small shapes packaged together. Use these for form. Again, you will probably want to sort them out in Baggies so that you can pass them out quickly. Designate shapes to go with the parts of the listening example. Students map out the pattern with their shapes on the floor.

Tiny Wooden Cubes

I got the following idea from my Kodaly Level 3 pedagogy teacher, Jamie Parker. Draw either a solfege syllable or a rhythm on each side of the cube. Students can work together or individually to create and perform new patterns.

Using wooden cubes in music class


Yarn is wonderful for kids to use to create contour so they can follow the patterns with their voices.

Students use yarn to help with vocal practice

What manipulative ideas do you have? I will take suggestions through April. Please feel free to share them, and I will update this post with new ideas! If I use your idea, you will receive a $10 Michaels gift certificate so you can start making new manipulatives!

Click here to give you a head start on your manipulatives. Download a PDF of 2, 3, 4, and 5 line stave masters.

Social Media

I will be starting a scavenger! On March 25th, based on words or pictures found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, newsletter, Instagram, or Facebook page. Each item is only located on one source, so if one of the choices is from my newsletter and you don't get my newsletter, you won't be able to mark it! I will add all correct entries to a drawing for prizes, which include West Music gift cards, TPT gift certificates, and Amazon gift certificates.

In the Store

As I write this, the situation in Ukraine is not getting any better. I have added a Ukrainian folk song Webquest to my store. All profits from now until Easter will be going to the UCC Ukraine Emergency Appeal for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

Generally, we teach the families of the orchestral instruments in our elementary classes. But some instruments just don't fit! However, the new wall d├ęcor at Dr. Stafford's Musical Cures TPT Store is all about sound production families. It comes complete with pictorial examples AND sound clip samples of various instruments such as folk and ethnic.

Stress Tip:

 Get kinetic sand. Seriously. This stuff is so incredibly soothing. You can pull on it to the tempo of your breathing. Pull on it. Mold with it. Adults need tactile, too!

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