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Using Our Voices to Improvise

Aim: How can we create and perform rhythmic patterns in simple and compound meter?
Summary: Students create nonsense syllables and improvise on a familiar or created melody.
Standards: US 1, 2, 3, 7; NYC 1, 2, 3
Grade: 2nd
Concept: Pitch, Singing
Artistic Process: performing, creating
Materials: familiar songs, sticky notes or index cards, chart paper, markers
Time Required: 20 minutes


  1. Have students warm up their voices by singing a familiar song as a class and trace the melodic contour in the air with their fingers.
  2. Lead a quick and fun call and response using scat syllables like (“shoo,” “bop,” “doo,” “woo,” “la,” “fa,” etc.). Invite students to take turns leading scat patterns for the class to echo.
    The type of singing we are doing is called scat. In jazz music, a singer will often substitute nonsense syllables for the words of the song to try to sound like a musical instrument.
  3. As a class, think of nonsense words, or scat syllables, and write them down on sticky notes or index cards.
  4. On chart paper, draw a line representing the melodic contour of the warm-up song used in the first step. Draw blank squares or spaces spread out along the contour line to fill in the sticky notes or index cards. (This could also be prepared before class.)
    Download Teacher Worksheet (PDF)
  5. Have students choose from the collection of scat words created by the class on the sticky notes or note cards and fill in the blank spaces along the contour line.
  6. Sing the melody together as a class with the scat syllables chosen by the students. Change the order of the syllables and try singing it again with the new order.

Going Deeper

  1. Listen to an example of scat singing by Louis Armstrong.
  2. Draw the lines of a staff across the melodic contour chart on the Teacher Worksheet and draw attention to how the squares/spaces show distinct locations for words or pitches to fall (i.e., notes). Have students count lines and spaces between boxes to begin to introduce them to the idea of notes on a staff and space in between them.


Grade 2 Summative Assessment Exemplar: Performing

This video is an exemplar of an activity from Carnegie Hall’s Music Educators Toolbox entitled "Demonstrate Singing in Tune." Students take turns singing phrases of a known song a cappella to demonstrate singing voices and intonation.


Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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