I'll admit that the first time I thought about doing a genre study on "Island Music" it was because I was excited about an upcoming vacation to Hawaii, and couldn't resist getting in the vacation state of mind by spending all of July immersed in the sounds of the Islands! As it turns out, Island and Calypso music lends itself nicely to learning and practicing key concepts in music.
One of the first things I like to do when exploring any genre of music, is talk about what kinds of instruments help give the genre it's unique sound. One main ingredient in Calypso is the Steel Drum. I happen to own a small, portable steel drum, and every time I bring it in, it's a hit! The children get to see, hear, and touch the steel drum, so it's already a rich experience. When they get a turn to play it, they begin to understand how each different part of the drum makes a different sound or "pitch". They engage their fine motor skills to hold the small mallets and gently tap the drum to find the best sound.
Then we listen for the steel drum in some recorded music. This is huge. Being able to listen and pick out a sound among other sounds promotes "ear training" which helps improve pitch reference and articulation. Your ears can be trained just like many other muscles in your body. When you practice picking things out of a group of sounds you are focusing, recognizing, and recalling. So much exciting brain activity! We do this type of ear training with specific instruments, and then we take the entire genre and A/B it with other genres. Once we have picked out what kinds of instruments and characteristics make "Island Music" unique, we can pick that style out of a group of styles.
Another way we work on listening and recognizing is to listen to two versions of the same song in different styles. For this particular lesson I used a ukulele version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and compared it with a classic Judy Garland version. The children recognize right away which is an "Island" song and which is not, but more importantly, I want them to understand the similarities too. I want them to hear that the melodies are very similar and the lyrics follow a very similar pattern.
My favorite part about this theme is doing the Limbo! We have some fun and get our gross motor skills rev'd up by seeing "how low we can go!". The kids get a kick out of it, and the joy the music brings helps them experience a bit of the fun and relaxed nature from which the music is created. On this particularly fun occasion, I had a guest come in and teach us Hula Dancing! It was the best!