Edvard Grieg: Lesson Plans and Materials for Lower Elementary Music
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
These lesson plans and activities on Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg are aimed at kindergarten and first grade. Grieg is a very accessible composer for young kids, and his music inspires movement, art, and play. In this blog post, I’ll share my sequence when teaching Grieg to my lower elementary students, including all the activities and music I use. Get ready to have a blast!
Grieg is one of my favorite composers. My husband and I were able to visit his home, Troldhaugen, and museum in Bergen, Norway on our honeymoon. In fact, the tram we took to get there played the opening of his Piano Concerto as a signal when we were approaching the location!
So many people know Hall of the Mountain King, or Morning Mood, or possibly the Piano Concerto. And I know a lot of music teachers might think he’s a Halloween composer. But I focus on a lot of his other music when I teach about him. I find that there is so much to do at Halloween already that Grieg can be saved for just about any other time of the year.
So let’s dive into how Grieg can fit into your lower elementary music lessons!
I spend 2-3 days on Grieg with my littles, and we have such a good time!
First off, there are a few things to have set aside or on hand:
• Materials: Grieg mini poster, scarves, Listening Logs, coloring page and drawing utensils, Morning Mood puppet show kit (the poster, Listening Logs, and coloring page are freebies in my TPT store; the puppet show kit is from another seller)
• Musical excerpts: March of the Trolls, Butterfly, Morning Mood, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen (here’s my Grieg Spotify playlist with a few more pieces)
Additionally, here are the big concepts I introduce with Grieg:
• Listening and imagining/responding
Introducing composers and composition
My kids had already learned about a few composers before Grieg, so they knew what a composer was. It’s very important to make sure they understand that the composer is the person who thinks of and makes up the music, even if they aren’t alive today.
That can be a tricky concept to understand, so my students and I do a lot of songwriting exercises during the year, like writing winter songs using this template as a guide, where they are the composers. Or this xylophone composition center (scroll to Center #4), where they use colors to write a piece of music. It’s easier for that concept to click when they’ve had personal experience with it.
Grieg Day 1
Grieg: Activity #1 – Listening and Imagining with March of the Trolls
Most of my music classes begin with MUSIC! I don’t say much of anything, we just all come inside and listen and move to the music.
Grieg is no different. Students enter the room and follow me around the rug as we listen to March of the Trolls (No. 4 from Lyric Suite, Op. 54)- grab my whole Grieg Spotify playlist here.
It begins softly and then bursts into loud, adventurous crashes, with the excerpt ending at about 1:00 with a soft, sneaky melody. Rather than being scary, my kids have found this piece delightfully surprising and sometimes they even laugh, particularly if you put movements to the music. But on a first listen, I usually let them react as they naturally would.
**Note: The actual piece is about 2:30, but this one minute chunk is a perfect amount of time. You do not need to play the whole piece. Excerpts are absolutely fine, especially with young kids. We listen many times this way. I used to be so afraid of repetition, thinking kids would get bored. But that’s just not true. Keep listening excerpts short, add a new component each time, and listen, listen, listen!**
When we listen a second time, I lead them in beat keeping- small motions for quiet, big motions for loud. Only on the third listen do I tell them the name of the piece: March of the Trolls. This is how I introduce listening and imagining.
With the title in mind, students have a little springboard into thinking about a scene or story that could be happening in the music. And because we’ve distinguished loud and soft with our beat-keeping practice, this is another piece of information they can use to imagine deeper.
Some questions I might ask before or after we’ve heard it a third time are:
“What is a troll?”
“Are trolls good or evil or somewhere in between?”
“What is the troll doing in this song? What makes you think so?”
“Close your eyes and picture your troll. What does it look like?”
And when our mini discussion is concluded, we might even listen a fourth time, but this time we’ll act out what we see as we are sitting in a circle. Even if students are mimicking what you or others are doing, this is good practice for them to get their imagination churning. Thinking creatively is a skill, and practicing it with music and story-telling is so important for young students!
Grieg Activity #2: Who Was Grieg?/Grieg Song
It's now time to introduce Grieg himself! I always put up a mini poster of our new composers for our first lesson with a picture, the composer’s name, and small graphics that help us learn and recall some basic facts.
I tell my students that the person who wrote March of Trolls’ name was Edvard Grieg. (Yes, I know songs technically have words. In young grades, I use it to refer to any music we listen to.)
This can be a tricky name for students, so we repeat it many times and talk about how names from other places in the world might sound different from ours, but we should learn to say them correctly.
We find Norway on our big map and I show some pictures from when I visited (or you can show pictures of scenery you find online). Another fun fact I usually pull is that Frozen takes place on (or at least is based on) Norway!
But enough talking at your students. Whenever we begin a new composer, I write a short song about them rather than list a bunch of facts.
Before I sing my Grieg song, I ask them to listen carefully to see what they can learn about him from the words:
There was a man named Edvard Grieg
And Norway was his home
He played piano for his friends
And he loved fairies, trolls, and gnomes
And he loved to compose
As everybody knows!
And he wrote songs with special names
So you could see the pictures in your brains
I sing this three times, and then we do a fill-in-the-blank listen where I leave out the last word in each line for students to sing. Lastly, I ask them to recall some of the facts from the song, either in a turn and talk or just out loud with the whole class.
If your students don’t know the words ‘composer’ or ‘compose’ yet, now’s a great time to teach them. I keep it as simple as I can: a composer is someone who thinks of music in their head and shares it with other people. Some people think of stories (authors), some people think of pictures (artists), and some people think of music (composers). Even if they aren’t living anymore, we can still hear their music because they have written it down and shared it with the world!
Grieg Activity #3 – SQUILT with Butterfly
“What does it mean to see pictures in your brain?” I ask my students. That’s part of the Greig song we just sang, and it’s one of the main themes of our Grieg mini unit. We think back to March of the Trolls and how that is a special name that Grieg chose to help us see trolls as we listen.
The next piece I introduce is Butterfly, a solo piano piece that whirls and dips like a butterfly dancing through the air. I tell them the title and how we’re going to use this song to practice something new- SQUILT!
SQUILT is an acronym for Super Quiet Un-Interrupted Listening Time. I have it posted on my wall so we can refer to it often during our Grieg unit and beyond.
I tell my students that SQUILT can be tricky because being silent for a long time is hard. We might want to share our thoughts right away, but it’s important to listen so we can practice imagining. What can we do instead of talk as we’re listening? We can close our eyes, tap a quiet beat on our legs, and try to see a butterfly in our heads. We can imagine what it could be doing or how it’s feeling.
The excerpt I use from Butterfly is the first 30 seconds (the whole piece is about 1:30). That can feel like a long time to young kids, so giving them instructions for what to do while they listen is key. It’s not enough to just say, “Close your eyes and picture a butterfly.” Acknowledge that this is a new skill that we’ll all be practicing, and explain how to practice!
And then we try it! As soon as the music starts, we all close our eyes and listen to let the pictures come in to our brains. There is no talking (since it’s Super Quiet) and I don’t interrupt the music. So if students talk, the music keeps going, but we address it once the music stops. Were we super quiet? Did I interrupt the music? If not, we try again next time.
**Like I said before, don’t be afraid to repeat! In between 2 or 3 listens, I ask if students can see the butterfly. We turn and talk about what we see, or how to help each other see pictures inside their heads. Again, this might sound like a simple ask, but the number of times I’ve asked older students to picture original scenes or stories and had them come up blank (or say things that already exist, like Tom & Jerry or Star Wars) is too many to count. It’s important for students to come up with original imagery. Knowing the title is Butterfly is a springboard to them eventually listening to other music without such descriptive titles and responding in a creative way.**
Like March of the Trolls, we share what we saw in our heads. And if there’s time, we listen to all of Butterfly and either move our hands like butterflies or I pass out scarves to move with as they listen.
At this point, our class time is likely over. If you did not end with Butterfly, I’d begin the next class with March of the Trolls again and review what you did in this first lesson, then do Butterfly/SQUILT the next day.
Grieg Day 2
Grieg Activity #4 – Listening and Responding With Wedding Day at Troldhaugen
I begin with something students have already heard of Grieg’s, which is either March of the Trolls or Butterfly. We review everything! We sing the Grieg song, remind ourselves about SQUILT, and how our big goal is imagining pictures in our brains.
**If review of these things takes 15-20 minutes, that is okay! You might think you need to hurry along and teach new things because of limited time, but I promise you that even with repetition, you will not actually be doing the exact same thing. Students will come up with new ideas, you will find new ways to move or respond to the music, and students will hone their listening skills. Classroom teachers do not just teach addition on one day and move on to the next step the next. Repetition is practice in math, in reading, in science… and in music!**
Today’s new piece is Wedding Day at Troldhaugen (which I just call Wedding Day). Since it’s very possible that your young students have never attended a wedding, begin with a mini discussion on what happens at or what you might see at a wedding. So we have some idea of what Grieg wants us to see in our brains.
But to add a little more to Wedding Day, I lead a seated movement activity that I made up where we imagine ourselves as gnomes, fairies, and trolls, with some music-matching motions thrown in. For this piece, I use the first 1:40 or so (stop before it moves into the slower, contrasting section).
The motions are springboards to letting them imagine what is happening during this wedding. So when we’ve done our activity, I ask them what kinds of pictures they saw in their brains. At this point, there might be a wide range of responses. Some kids get very elaborate; others have trouble picturing things. Prompting them by recalling some of the motions could be another way to get their imaginations going. There are no wrong answers, and simple responses like, “I see gnomes walking” are all fine!
With review and one new activity, this might take you to the end of your class! The next day, you’re going to begin with something new they did today.
Grieg Day 3
Grieg Activity #5 – Morning Mood
There’s so much to do with this piece!
SQUILT it! Practice being super quiet and listening after you’ve
given them a few springboards, like what you might see or hear
early in the morning. (I'd end the excerpt at around 1:26 as it
dwindles after the big orchestral moment.)
Follow up, or just begin with, a Listening Log where they respond
Perform a seated movement activity where your motions match
the calls and echoes in the flute/oboe, the ups and downs, and
the increases in volume. I end with a big yawn and stretch when
the music reaches the high point!
Listen how you would like, then make little creature puppets using
Creative Technology Pedagogy’s Morning Mood Puppet Show
Kit. When I did this, I cut out the critters, randomly handed them
out, and had student color them and tape them to straws. We did
not use the puppet show element. Instead we moved our critters
to the music as if they were waking up to a new morning (it was
still SQUILT, but with our eyes open!).
As you can see, Grieg has so much potential with lower elementary grades. And we didn’t even get to Hall of the Mountain King or anything else Peer Gynt!
The best part about this guy?
He is one of the best composer to use to teach students how to listen and imagine. And that's an important skill for young people to develop.
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