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Columns | Spring 2019
Photo: sun salute

Music With Older Kids

Rituals and Rhythms,
Part II

In the last issue of PIO!, I wrote about my work with fourth- and fifth-grade students and how establishing rituals to promote Social Emotional Learning (SEL) resulted in greater class cohesion, enhanced classroom community, and more learning. Even with rituals, scaffolded lesson plans, and well-defined expectations for appropriate behavior, working with this age group is not for the faint of heart. I remind myself to embrace the energy and goofiness. More often than not, it’s good-hearted.

My classes are composed of students who do not attend the band program—the “non-band students” (NBS). This past year I had more than forty students in my fifth-grade class, and the ratio of girls to boys was 1:2.


Classroom management approaches that work in Kindergarten through third grade work for older kiddos as well. Seating is one example. I teach in a library, where seriously heavy tables and chairs have to be pushed to the perimeters and small alcove before the first class begins. This leaves enough room for six columns of students by however many rows are needed. I place bright orange Velcro “sit spots” at regular intervals in each row, so each student has their own space and enough of it. Students are seated alphabetically by first name. When I can’t recall a student’s name, sometimes just remembering they are in the “J–M” row prompts the name to pop into my head.

I designate the first student in each column, or the first crosswise row, as “student leaders,” and their jobs include distributing and collecting materials. They are also first choices for class demonstrations. To keep things fair, which is hugely important, I rotate the student leaders after classroom procedures are humming along, which may take a month or two. They go to the back of their column, and the second row moves into the student leader position, which they keep for four to five sessions. The rotation is repeated until everyone has had a chance to be a student leader.

Beat, Rhythm, and the Lure of Novelty

Kiddos this age are competent and fast learners and respond to activities that are fast, challenging, fun, and even goofy. The following beat and movement activities fit the bill.

Disciples of the World, Unite

A friend who attended a summer music intensive in Ghana told me, in passing, about one of the favorite games she had learned there, “Yo, Yo, Yo!” I was able to find the song notation and an excerpt from a book that tells more about it. The directions reminded me of a Community Youth Children and Sport YouTube training video I had stumbled upon. It’s called “Disciples of the World Rhythm Game,” with “idea from Uganda” as a tagline. No music attached to the activity, but I confirmed that the movement was the same used for “Yo, Yo, Yo!”

Rhythm Game

This game is perfect for steady beat practice and community building, plus participants must be on their toes and ready to go when their turn comes.

Formation: Players make a close, shoulder-to-shoulder circle, facing into the center. Designate where the movement will start.

  1. As a group, say “Disciples of the world, unite!” and immediately start the pat-pat-clap-clap pattern, which continues for the duration of the game.
  2. The movement is done with units of three people, all while patting and clapping. The first and third person turn their bodies to face each other, and pat hands over the second person, who ducks during the “clap-clap” overhead.
  3. The second and fourth person are now the “clappers” while the third person ducks. Immediately, the third and fifth person in the circle are the clappers, while the fourth person ducks. . . and so it goes around the circle.

To make the game more challenging, gradually increase the tempo. The addition of music also elevates the game. Consider singing a song or chanting a nursery rhyme with a strong 4/4 beat. For advanced players, choose two starting points at different parts of the circle.

The Dum Dum Song

I am always tickled when I find a great YouTube activity from my home state, Minnesota. “The Dum Dum Song,” as performed by the Minnesota Boychoir, has been a delight to view, replicate, then use as composition launching pad in my older classes.

I have not been able to link the melody with the penny lollipop treats of the same name. That would have been too perfect! If anyone has information on the song history, please share!

The Dum Dum Song

Beat competency, ensemble work, composition, and a boatload of smiles are the end result of this song. Enjoy!

Formations: Ask players to sit in rows with knees touching. If gender avoidance issues arise, be calm and matter of fact. They usually subside and become a nonissue after a minute or two.

It’s helpful to demonstrate with one or two students before beginning. When direction is an element, all eight- or sixteen-beat patterns start by going to the right. Most patterns end with three pats on the knees while singing “dum dum dum.”

  1. SIDE TO SIDE: Pat both knees for two beats, pat two beats to the right (one hand on right knee, one hand on closest knee of person next to you), pat two beats to the left (one hand on left knee, one hand on closest knee of person next to you).
  2. CROSS: Pat knees for two beats, cross arms and pat knees for two beats, pat knees for two beats, pat neighbor’s closest leg on either side for two beats.
  3. BACK: Pat knees for two beats. Turn to the right and pat the back of your neighbor for two beats. Pat knees for two beats, then turn to the left. Repeat sequence.
  4. SEAL: Pat knees twice, clap hands twice, flip each hand and clap with neighbors on both sides. At end, bark like a seal. (I eliminated this for my classes, as they got too wild.)
  5. EGYPTIAN: Channel your King Tut á la Steve Martin. Turn to the right for two beats with the right arm up in a “cobra” position and the other arm down, left hand flipped like a tail. Reverse to the left for the next two beats.
  6. BODYBUILDER: Arms in low circle for two beats and up for two beats, then strike a body builder pose for two beats, first to the right, then to the left.
  7. HANDJIVE: Pat, clap, hand jive (parallel hands over and under), pound, hitchhike right, hitchhike left. Each action gets two beats.
  8. MACARENA: Same as dance sequence. Each movement gets one beat except for the last shimmy-down movement, which receives four beats. Sequence: hand, hand, palm, palm, cross arm, cross arm, behind head, behind head, hip cross, hip cross, hip, hip, shimmy.
  9. WRISTS: With raised arms parallel to body, tap wrists together twice, tap elbows twice, tap wrist twice, pat hands on knees twice.
  10. ELBOWS. Hands placed in back of head. Pat head twice, elbows close for two beats, then open for two beats. End by patting head for final two beats of the sequence.
  11. and 12. are too complicated to write directions for! I yield.
  12. Finale: Pat knees, right hand crosses to touch left ear while left hand crosses to touch nose. Repeat in other direction.

I introduce two to four of the above patterns during a class period, eventually presenting all of the sequences. When the whole sequence is mastered, it is time to share the YouTube video. Sharing after competency is achieved amplifies the impact, and students are absolutely delighted to see the performance. Though my go-to video is the one shared above, you may also watch the choir in full performance mode!

In future class sessions, students have the opportunity to create their own “Dum Dum Song” sequence and share it with the class. It’s such a hit that I bring the activity back on occasion and find it especially useful to channel the unfocused energy that descends before school breaks. The criteria:

  • Work with your row or a small group of your choosing to create a replicable four-, eight-, or sixteen-beat pattern while singing the song.
  • Consider shape. Will you work in rows, a circle, or other shape? Will the shape remain static or move?
  • Consider levels. Will you work seated, standing, or in a combination of levels?
  • Perform the final sequence for the group while singing one complete repetition of the song. Performance protocols (and decorum) count.

After each group presents its sequence to the class, their peers critique them. We discuss performance etiquette, form, levels, creativity, and whether the movements were clear and could be easily replicated. We test the last point, so everyone in the class gets to try out new patterns. Over time, my kiddos become increasingly creative, and some groups start interweaving two simultaneous patterns in surprising and visually beautiful ways, worlds away from where it first started.

As I stated earlier, working with this age group is not for the faint of heart, but when it works, I can think of no better pleasure.

Email me at to let me know what happens when “Disciples” and “The Dum Dum Song” come to your school!