Teaching High-Low | Early Elementary & Kindergarten Music Assessment

Teaching high-low is one of my favorite early elementary and kindergarten music concepts. But, it is not as easy to teach as you might think. Children often mix up high-low and loud-soft.

As with all grades, early elementary, and especially kindergarten music assessment should be integrated naturally into music class activities.  Assessment should be a fun, learning experience.

Read on for tips to teach and assess high/low using fun classroom activities.

How to Teach High/Low in the Music Classroom | Early Elementary Grades

Teaching High-Low Spatial RElationships

I like to introduce high-low by starting with drag & drop sorting activities on the whiteboard. Don’t take for granted that early elementary students know the meaning of high and low in terms of spatial relationships. It is important to practice this step. A simple sorting activity paired with singing “high” or “low” provides a good foundation for learning the concept.

Don’t have access to a white board? Consider using toys or other visual prompts. If you can’t find the toys you want in your stash, print off pictures of items to classify as high or low.

White Board High-Low Sorting Activity

Teaching High-Low Animal Sounds

I use a similar drag and drop sorting activity to introduce high-low animals sounds. I always make the sound as students place the animals. This gives children a reference point. Encourage them to make the animals sounds as well.

Instead of a digital activity, consider using stuffed animals or pictures of animals as visual cues. Or, even simpler, use sign language for each animal. Have students place their signs high or low as they make the corresponding sounds.

Animals for Sorting High-Low Sounds

Teaching High-Low Vocalizations

Halloween is a fun time to integrate “ghost voice” vocalizations. Students love to use a flashlight and follow the light with their “spooky voices.” Shine the flashlight on the wall moving from low to high. 

Vary your patterns. And, make sure to hold a steady pitch moving straight across the wall too. This helps to teach students to really follow the pitch and not simply bounce between high and low. You can even create staccato patterns by turning the flashlight on and off.

Using scarves and having students mirror your movements and echo your vocal patterns is another way to practice vocalizations all year long.

Make learning fun!

Teaching High-Low with Storybooks

There are several good storybooks to teach high-low. My favorite is “Up, Up, Down” by Robert Munsch. There is a YouTube video of the author reading, but he does not follow the words with the pitch and inflection of his voice. 

I always believe it is better to read directly to students anyway. As you read, accentuate the pitches moving your voice upward more each time you say up and moving your voice downward each time you say down. Use your free hand to trace the highs and lows in the air.

Up, Up, Down, storybook by Robert Munsch

Students will automatically begin to join in on the repetitive sections. If they don’t prompt them to join you and help tell the story. 

I always read this book at least twice. The kids LOVE it and it is such a good way to reinforce the concept of high/low pitches.

Assess by Drawing

Consider having students draw a picture of animals that make high pitched sounds and animals that make low pitched sounds. Students should draw the high-pitched animals near the top of their paper. They should draw the animals that make low-pitched sounds near the bottom of the page.

Assessing High-Low with Movement Activity

After students have had many opportunities to practice high-low in different ways, it is time to assess. Try this fun movement activity I call “Tortoises & Ballet Dancers.” 

Play simple melodic patterns using only the black notes of the piano (pentatonic scale). When you play low, students should crawl low like a tortoise. When you play high, students should move on their tiptoes with hands over their heads. 

The first time you play this game, do it just for fun and just for practice. I never record as an assessment the first time. Even when I am recording grades, it is no different for students. To them, it is still just a fun game. 

Activities to Teach High-Low

These sweet kindergarten students loved learning and I loved teaching high-low. Music assessment & learning should be fun and authentic.

Enjoy these cute Tortises and Ballet Dancers!

More Early Elementary Favorites

When your early elementary and kindergarten students are ready, these have been some of our favorite rhythm reading activities. I have also used these for student-led conferences. Parents are always impressed when they see their children reading music using icons and standard notation. Each of these lessons includes Take it Home Pages to share at home.

More About Assessment

Take Home Pages make perfect assessments. They also build support for your music program by building music literacy skills and sharing those skills at home. Click to read this post for more on using Take Home Pages as Elementary Music Assessments with all grade levels.

4 thoughts on “Teaching High-Low | Early Elementary & Kindergarten Music Assessment

  1. Could you list the books that you would recommend to teach high and low?

  2. Hi Claudine,

    My favorite book for teaching high/low is “Up, Up, Down” by Robert Munsch.

    I also use “Goldibocks and the Three Bears” using a low voice for Papa Bear, a mid-pitched voice for Mama Bear, and a high-pitched voice for Baby Bear. I pair this with visuals using stuffed animals. I hold the bears low/middle/high when each speak. The second time you do this activity, you can ask students to hold the bears and have all of the students say “someone’s been eating my porridge” in the correct voicing.

    The storybook “Up, down and Around” By Katherine Ayres is about plants growing in the garden. As you read “_____ grows up” make your voice go up. As you read “_____ grows down” make your voice go down. This is good for melodic direction too.

    Another useful book is “Fast-Slow High-Low” by Peter Spier.

    Best wishes!


  3. What was the melody that was being played in the video 🙂 ?

    1. Hi Celia, I was just improvising on the black keys of the piano. It is very easy to do without creating any dissonances I watch the kids and try to mix up the high/low sections. I like this activity because the kids really learn to listen first, then identify the high/low sounds.

      A little later in the year we repeat this activity adding mid-range or “middle” pitches. For the mid-range pitches, we walk with hands on their hips.

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