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Performance Playground

Welcome to UMS Performance Playground! Here you’ll find great resources about the performing arts for students in grades K-12. Check out our videos featuring UMS teaching artists performing and talking about their craft. You can join them to begin your own journey! To learn more, explore accompanying slides and worksheets.

These resources are for educational use only, and are free to everyone. Children are encouraged to explore resources with the guidance of teachers, parents, or on their own.

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2023/24 Units

For Grades 5-10 (Ages 10-15)

An Instrument Ringing Throughout the Centuries

The nyckelharpa is a folk instrument mostly known in Sweden. Depictions of this unusual instrument can be seen on stone reliefs on Medieval churches and paintings dating back to the 14th century. Its name is based on two parts: nyckel, the Swedish word for key, and harpa, the collective name for stringed instruments. Join us as we learn about its history and enjoy the unique sounds of this ancient instrument.
Added 1/19/23

For Grades 5-9 (Ages 10-14)

The Small Instrument with the Big Sound

The ukulele is a small guitar-like instrument that is synonymous with the music and traditions of Hawaii. The word ukulele translates as “jumping flea” in Hawaiian. This may refer to the small size of the instrument or the quick, staccato style of playing. The ukulele is not only intrinsic with Hawaiian culture, but its distinct sound and versatility has become popular with people of all ages. Join us as we learn about the history and the musicians that are breaking the forms of all musical genres with this unique instrument.
Added 12/13/23

For Grades 2-9 (Ages 7-14)

“Que¡Que Viva el Mariachi!

Mariachi music has its origins deep in Mexican history. The sound of its oldest rhythms and melodies are rooted in Mexico’s colonial times. Colonists from Spain, enslaved Africans and their descendants mingled with indigenous peoples to create a new Mexican culture marked by many regions, each with its own signature musical tradition. Join us on a musical adventure as we delve into the rich and vibrant traditions of mariachi.
Added 11/9/23

2022/23 Units

For Grades 2-7 (Ages 7-12)

Pointe-ing in the Right DirectionPointe-ing in the Right Direction

Ballet is a theatrical dance form with a rich history and tradition. It began in the early 15th century in the Italian Renaissance courts. It quickly became popular as performances brought together court dances, music, sets, and costumes to create an elaborate spectacle. Learn about the origins of this centuries-old dance form that continues to dazzle audiences around the world today, and try some of the foundational movements.
Added 3/15/23

For Grades 3-6 (Ages 8-11)

Singing in StyleSinging In Style

Vocal jazz music emerged in the early 20th century, with a unique style of singing called scat. Scat singing is when an artist improvises melodies and rhythms with nonsense syllables or no words at all, using their voice to sound more like an instrument playing in a band. Join us as we learn some of the fundamental elements of jazz and explore this distinct style of singing.
Added 2/13/23

For Grades 3-8 (Ages 8-13)

Taking it to the StreetsTaking it to the Streets

Born on the sidewalks of the south Bronx (NY), Breakdancing is a unique form of dance that is acrobatic, athletic, and highly creative. Dancers seem to defy gravity as they spin and balance on their heads and hands. Come with us on a journey of movement and learn about the origins of this exciting art form and how you too can move like a breaker.
Added 1/23/23

For Grades 1-6 (Ages 5-11)

Shadow Puppetry Stories Through Shadows

Have you ever used your hand, a ray of light, and a wall to make a shadowy figure? Perhaps a hopping bunny or snapping crocodile? Shadow puppetry is a unique form of storytelling and the oldest type of puppetry on record. Come with us as we explore this ancient art form still practiced today by cultures from around the world.
Added 11/17/22

For Grades 3-6 (ages 8-11)

Allen Dennard teaching jazz trumpetHitting the High Notes with Jazz Trumpet

New Orleans, Louisiana is undoubtedly considered the birthplace of jazz. New Orleans’s unusual history and its rich ethnic and cultural makeup set the stage for the development and evolution of this musical genre. Join us for this introductory lesson to learn some of the fundamental elements of jazz, and explore the rich tapestry of history that makes this music popular all over the world.
Added 10/10/22

2021/22 Units

For Grades 2-8 (ages 7-13)

Creating a CharacterWest African Dance

In many traditional cultures music and dance are as much a part of everyday life as eating and breathing. In West Africa, as with other parts of the world, ceremonial dance tells a story. More than mere entertainment, it may recall history, express emotions, celebrate rites of passage, or help to unify a community. Come with us as we explore the rich history and culture of West Africa through the celebration of dance.
Added 4/15/22

For Grades 5-12 (ages 10-17)

Creating a CharacterCreating a Character

A painter uses a brush to make images, a musician plays an instrument to play a melody, but what does an actor use to create a character? Using their voice, body, and most importantly their imagination, actors bring characters to life using a distinct combination of choices. You can learn how to create a unique character all your own. So let’s put on our imagination caps and have some fun!
Added 3/18/22

For Grades 5-12 (ages 10-17)

Stepping into TraditionStepping into Tradition

The history of danceline is inextricably linked to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). At HBCUs, halftime IS game time. Fans flock to the stadium to enjoy the soulful stylings of the showtime band and the fierce dancers who accompany them. Their movements are sharp, explosive, and perfectly synchronized as they bring the music to life for the audience. Learn about the evolution of this celebrated Black tradition and how its popularity extends well beyond the stadium walls.
Added 2/18/22

For Grades K-6 (Ages 5-11)

Double Reeds, Double FunDouble Reeds, Double Fun

Sometimes referred to as “the clown of the orchestra,” its appearance and sound make the bassoon one of the most intriguing members of the woodwind family. Standing almost four and a half feet in height, a bassoon player must be tall enough to hold the instrument without it touching the floor. From the symphonies of Beethoven to the sound effects heard in your favorite cartoons, learn how the bassoon adds its unique timbre to music of all kinds and how the instrument has evolved over the centuries.
Added 1/14/22

For Grades K-8 (Ages 5-13)

Honoring the Past by Dancing TodayHonoring the Past by Dancing Today

There are few powwow dances as energetic and distinctive as the Jingle Dress Dance. The dresses, referred to as regalia and believed to have healing properties, are made of colorful fabric, adorned with long ribbons and cones made of shiny metal called ziibaaska’iganan. As the dancers move, one can hear the melodic vibrations as they dance, mimicking the sound of falling rain. Learn about this century-old custom that is still practiced today in First Nations and Native American communities.
Added 1/14/22

2020/21 Units

For Grades 3-8 (Ages 8-13)

Dancing through Mexico's HistoryDancing Through Mexico’s History

Ballet Folklórico can be traced back to the ceremonial and social dances of indigenous people living in Mexico in the early 13th century. Spanish Conquistadores and later colonialists from Spain and other countries brought their own music and dances to Mexico, forever influencing this tradition. Join us on an historic journey as we learn about Mexico’s history through dance.
Added 7/22/2021

For Grades K-6 (Ages 5-11)

Learn about the OudThe Beat of Your Own Drum

The djembe is an African icon infused with legend and lore. Learn about this mystical drum played by West Africans for generations. Perhaps if you listen carefully, you will hear the traditional rhythms and songs that were lost to the past and the spirits that once were.
Added 7/9/2021

For Grades 3-12 (Ages 8-17)

Learn about the OudA King Among Instruments

The oud has a mysterious beginning, with its origins hidden in antiquity and enhanced by myth, story, and legend. Come with us on a musical adventure through ancient times and civilizations as we explore the music and one of the most popular instruments from the Arab world.
Added 6/17/2021

For Grades 1-6 (Ages 5-11)

Learn about the BanjoStrummin’ Along

From the strumming sounds of New Orleans jazz to the fingerpicking melodies of Bluegrass, no other instrument better represents the diverse tapestry that shaped American culture than the banjo. Learn about this 400-year-old instrument and its origins from West Africa to across the continental United States.
Added 6/4/2021

For Grades 5-12 (Ages 10-17)

Telling Stories Through SongTelling Stories Through Song

Sometimes we feel emotions so intense that the only way to express them is through song. Musical theatre allows characters to express thoughts, feelings, and hopes in dynamic and entertaining ways. Join us on a journey of storytelling through song. Added 5/14/2021

For Grades 5-12 (Ages 10-17)

Performance Playground Detroit JitTime to Jit

Kicks, wiggles, floor and intricate footwork fused with the music of Funk and Techno give us Detroit’s native dance style called Jit. Learn the origins of this unique art form and get to know the artists that continue to push the boundaries of this dynamic dance style. Added 4/20/2021

For Grades 5-12 (Ages 10-17)

Performance Playground Rhythm and PoetrySpoken Word

Celebrate the power of words! Join us on a journey of alliteration, metaphor, and imagery as we explore this ancient oral tradition and show you how to write your own spoken word composition.

Added 4/5/2021

For Grades K-7 (Ages 5-12)

Performance Playground Rhythm and PoetryNot Just Another Stringed Instrument

Learn about the harp, one of the oldest instruments in the world, and discover the musical beauty of this majestic instrument.

Added 1/29/2021

For Grades K-4 (Ages 5-9)

Performance Playground Rhythm and PoetryViolin Vignette

Discover the wide range and versatility of this 400-year-old instrument and how to make your very own beginner violin at home.

Added 12/17/2020

For Grades 6-12 (Ages 11-17)

Performance Playground Rhythm and PoetryRhythm and Poetry: Rap and Hip Hop Culture

Explore the robust landscape of Rap and Hip Hop culture. Learn the history behind this truly trailblazing art form and how to create your own raps.

Added 12/7/2020

Share your new skills using #UMSplayground or email any photos, videos, or feedback to umsyouth@umich.edu.

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