Lunar New Year Music Lesson Ideas for Elementary

Over 1 billion people worldwide celebrate Lunar New Year! (That’s also why I’m referring to it as “Lunar New Year” instead of “Chinese New Year” – it’s celebrated in many countries outside of China, and each country and culture has their own traditions.) Lunar New Year marks the first new moon of the lunar calendar and ends on the first full moon, 15 days later. Traditions vary by culture, but the origins of the holiday are thousands of years old and involve various legends.

When teaching about a culture that’s not your own, it’s so important to learn from people who are from that culture. Full disclosure: I didn’t grow up celebrating Lunar New Year either. Below are resources from culture bearers that can help you and your students learn more about this exciting holiday.

Introducing Lunar New Year

D is for Dragon Dance

I’m excited to try this book out with my students this year! I only recently discovered it. “D is for Dragon Dance” by Chinese-American author Ying Chang Compestine is an alphabet book with a twist: each letter introduces something related to Chinese New Year.

Even though it’s not a “musical” book, strictly speaking, I think this will be a great way of introducing some Lunar New Year imagery and symbolism to younger students. If you wanted, you could have students create and perform rhythms from some of the words in the book.

A New Year’s Reunion

A New Year’s Resolution doesn’t go into as much detail about Lunar New Year as D is for Dragon Dance, but it highlights the situation of hundreds of millions of migrant workers in China. Protagonist Maomao only gets to see her dad once a year, when he comes to visit for Chinese New Year. Maomao finds a coin in her sticky rice balls – a sign of good fortune – and heartwarmingly decides someone else needs it more than her.

CBeebies: Prepping for Chinese New Year

This short and sweet video follows a pair of young British Chinese siblings as they prepare for Chinese New Year. Your students will surely relate to some of their traditions, like cleaning the house and buying a new outfit, and may learn about traditions they aren’t as familiar with, like eating 8 or 9 dishes for luck.

Lunar New Year Music Lessons

Qian Yi x Carnegie Hall Lunar New Year Lessons

I used these lessons from Qian Yi and Carnegie Hall last year during virtual teaching and they were a hit – I’m excited to try them again now that we’re in person!

Mo Li Hua

Mo Li Hua is about a jasmine flower. Yi pulls from Chinese traditional opera to create hand movements to go with the song. They are easy enough for even lower elementary students to follow along with! Your students can create movements based off of other flowers or plants and even add D pentatonic melodies to their flowers. (Mo Li Hua is in D pentatonic.) They also include a PDF about the pipa, the Chinese traditional instrument used in Yi’s recording.

Gong Xi, Gong Xi

The first time I used this lesson, several students exclaimed that they had learned or performed this song at Chinese school. Their surprise at hearing it in music class reminded me I have a long way to go in making sure all my students feel represented in my classroom.

I like that Gong Xi, Gong Xi has real-life cultural applications and is, in fact, quite well-known. In addition to the cultural value of the song, it’s also great for practicing syncopation. The lesson plan gives an example of iconic notation to prepare syncopation, but of course you can use Western standard notation if your students are already familiar with it. They also provide three other Chinese New Years phrases that students can use to compose their own syncopated rhythms to. (Don’t speak Chinese? No worries – Yi has provided recordings for you!)

Little Dragon Tales: Chinese Children’s Songs

I just learned about this album this year, so I’m looking forward to figuring out how to incorporate it! (Got ideas? Drop them in the comments!) This album from The Shanghai Restoration Project, featuring Yip’s Canada Children’s Choir, gives a modern twist to traditional Chinese songs. You can stream this on most major platforms or you can purchase the CD, which comes with pinyin, translations, and names of composers and performers.

Aren’t they so cute? And man, I wish I had a setup like that!

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