Saturday, January 6, 2018

Recorders everyday!

Many music teachers teach recorders as a unit during the year and review that material the following year. I tried that. I found that my students did not retain much from year to year without practice. Gee, I can barely remember how to input grades in the latest version of Powerschool from semester to semester.

So how could I get my kids to retain more skills?

Teaching recorders on and off throughout the year seemed like a good idea but when I tried that idea, my lessons were kind of hit and miss. Sometimes my students would remember their recorders, sometimes not. And the progress was not where I wanted it to be.

I noticed that my students are required to wear sneakers on P.E. days, bring a pencil to Art and headphones to Computer. They are used to bringing items to Special Area classes. I wanted to capitalize on this idea and have the kids bring their recorders to every Music class.

For years we have done rhythmic reading during each class. The kids clapped, stomped and created body percussion sounds to practice reading rhythms.

Now we play the weekly rhythm on the recorder. So they are touching that instrument every class. I started with the easy notes (I teach recorder beginning with E) and eventually challenged the kids to play more difficult pitches.

Sometimes, I have a different note on each line of rhythm (4 lines of rhythm).

Sometimes we create harmony with 2-3 different pitches.

This has become an amazing confidence booster for my students. Consistently playing the recorder each week has helped them remember fingerings and allows them to focus on technique. (My kids do not like tonguing!)

Now if a student does not bring his/her recorder, s/he stills play an instrument. We have a bucket of recorders to borrow. What I have found is that more and more students are purchasing their own recorder. I think this weekly practice is contributing to that. WIN!

Any questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you!

Happy Honking! Ellen

Don't miss this week's Musician in the Spotlight
 ...   Katy Perry 

and ...Ed Sheeran

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How to Keep Kids Motivated to Play Recorders

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about teaching recorders by starting on E. It totally changed my beginning recorder program and truly made a difference in the tone of my beginning students. Two years later, I am still sold!

 My students cannot get enough of these squeaky little instruments. I am asked DAILY "when are we gonna play for belts?" It took me a while to figure out how to carve out time for individual testing for new belts BUT... this is my current strategy.

On the first week of the month, I set aside MOST of the class time to work on belt songs. I pair students up according to what song they are working on. For the kids who are several belts behind most of the class, they get to choose another student who has mastered a few more belts than they have and get "tutored"! THEY LOVE THIS - both parties, the tutor and the "tutee"!

All the kids are playing at once or taking turns with their partner. Yes! it is quite a cacophony BUT the kids are SO motivated to practice! When a student feels prepared to play for a belt, s/he walks up to me to perform. I usually have a waiting line. In addition to listening, I am always scanning the room to ensure that everyone is on task!

I LOVE the motivation this first week of the month generates and I want to keep it going. So I open my room up twice a week for a half hour before school to let individuals play for belts too.

How do you work recorders into your curriculum? I'd love to hear!

Happy Honking! Ellen

Don't miss this week's Musician in the Spotlight
 ...   Men and Women of American Idol

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

How to survive interruptions to your plans

Half days. Early dismissal days. Teacher work days. Even assemblies. If you are on a weekly schedule (in other words, you meet with the same classes on the same day of the week), this can really throw off your attempt to keep all your classes on the same page.
After a couple of these days, you probably want to throw up your hands in frustration!

Relax! It's all good!

First of all, take a deep breath and remind love this job! You chose it because you love working with kids, you love music, you want to share your love of your subject with your students, perhaps even inspire them. So...with your attitude realigned, let's talk about what is truly important and what you can let go of.

Adapt your lessons. If all your 5th grade classes learned "casting off" with Alabama Gal but 2 classes missed it, YOU get to decide what was important about the lesson and what could be dropped out. If you dance alot in music class and the 5th graders will be learning more dances incorporating "casting off", then that dance step is probably not one to skip.
So as you review last weeks' lesson with all the kids that learned "casting off" last week (kids LOVE repetition but change it up a little), teach Alabama Gal to the kids that missed it. And then like Elsa, LET IT GO!

If you try to cram all of the material you covered in 2 lessons with the majority of the classes into 1 lesson with the kids you missed, you will stress yourself out and the joy of the material will not reach your students. And isn't that the point?

We have the loveliest job! To teach kids how to connect to the beauty of music. Obviously music means a great deal to you or you wouldn't be in this business.
Don't forget WHY you are here!

To make a difference! This is all about ATTITUDE here!

On the surface, you may feel like you are just a break for classroom teachers. They may not realize that you actually have plans and standards that you are planning to teach. But quite honestly, we are ALL in our own little microcosms. Classroom teachers are focused on their plans and standards just like we are. Sometimes you meet some classroom teachers who "get it". They understand that we are actually teaching content. CHERISH THEM!

For the others who cannot see beyond themselves, be kind. People cannot understand what they have not experienced. Be patient with adults as well as kids. Again your attitude says so much about who you are.
And how people will accept your music program.

You can't do everything! Do what you can and remember to make it musical and joyful. That is what the kids will remember!

Hang in there! Ellen

Don't miss this week's Musician in the Spotlight
 ... the very sassy  Mariah Carey

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Moving Your Music Classroom?

The beginning of the year you set up your Music room just the way you want it.  It's organized and easy to maintain. You teach your students how to enter and exit in an orderly manner. Things are flowing the way you'd like and then...

there's a change in your space. It could be some kind of school construction or you could lose your room to a new section of first grade. This will require you to have a different space... now... just after you've gotten your students into a routine!

So... how do you set up a new space and keep similar routines? You realize that you cannot get everything in place before the classes start coming. The school schedule must go on. What can you make sure is ready before the kids arrive and what can you add little by little?

SET UP THE PHYSICAL SPACE the way you want. 

1)Are you setting up the seating in a semi-circle or in rows? Think about where you "present" most of your lessons: near the Smart board? next to your instruments? by the piano?

Do you have a "front" of the room where the students will face most of the time? If you use a rug or chairs or sit spots, decide where they work best and put them in place.

2) If your students bring their lunch boxes because they go right to lunch after your class, where should they put them? The special area teacher across from me has her students place their lunch boxes in a neat square (marked off by tape) in the hall outside the room. In the Music Room, I have a table and the kids put their lunch boxes under it.

Water bottles are commonplace in my school so I have a small area next to the table for them. I keep them separate so that a leaky water bottle does not get lunch bags wet. (Lesson learned from experience.)

3) Think about where you will set up your instruments (or at least store them).
Will your students move to this space or will you bring the instruments to them? If you teach different grade levels in a row, can your change what materials you are using easily or will you need to use the same stuff class after class (no matter what grade) because there is no time in your schedule to exchange materials?


After you've figured out how you are going to set up the physical space, think about how you will get your students in and out of the room. How will they move from the entrance to their place in the room? I use assigned seats for a few reasons: knowing where to sit creates better flow and less confusion. Now how will the kids exit your room? How will they gather their lunchboxes, etc?

Once you have your physical space and transition routines figured out, you can add your posters, silent teachers, etc. as time allows. Don't worry about getting that done right away unless you have the time.

The change in your Music Room will definitely affect your students. Most likely they will be taking it all in and not be as focused as usual. Go with the flow. Remind them of your classroom routines. Refocus them if necessary. It's almost like the first week of school all over again but they should respond more quickly.

Your classroom is a place where you spend ALOT of your time. Be thoughtful about how it will work FOR you.

If you have a topic you would like me to cover, please feel free to suggest it in the comments below.

Happy Honking! Ellen

This week's Musician in the Spotlight is country music superstar Tim McGraw. Be the first person to PM me on Facebook and I will send it to you for free! 

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Organizing Tips for Boomwhackers

artwork by Music K-8 magazine
- you know, those colorful plastic tubes that kids love to play! As fun as they are, these enticing instruments can be a challenge to organize and store.

Big bins can make this much easier. Separating them into 2 groups can keep them even more organized: diatonic (C-c) and chromatic add-ons (the sharps/flats).

When preparing for the week's lessons, try separating the boomwhackers according to which notes you will use and then put those in a smaller bin(s). For example, if your third graders will be using D-A for a steady beat (great as a substitute for a level bordun on an Orff instrument), gather those tubes and put them in a temporary bin or crate for use in class. In a different bin you will put the D pentatonic tubes for your fourth graders.

When teaching harmony, divide the I chord and the V chord boomwhackers and put in bins labeled as such for your fifth graders.

In an earlier post, I discussed the use of classroom helpers. When the bins are labeled by grade level, helpers can easily get the them for the class. Smooth set up and pick up during class - who doesn't want that??!!

Organizing is a HUGE way to give you more energy - both physical and mental. I would love for you to share with me how you organize materials. Why not leave a comment below?

Happy Honking! Ellen

Hispanic Heritage Month is in full swing! Here are a few products that promote Hispanic music...

There are TONS of Musicians in the Spotlight at 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Beating the Sunday Night Blues

The Sunday night blues is a real thing! It can sometimes rob you of half of your weekend. You wake up Sunday morning and you realize you have to plan for Monday (tomorrow) and it bums out you! The amount of time you spend thinking, dreading and doing it really saps your energy too.

Why not try making the "start" of your week on a Wednesday?

You wake up Sunday morning and you realize, "hey, I've already done my plans! I can relax, enjoy doing things that I want to do and not have to worry/dread/stress about planning for this week."

As a Music teacher or special area teacher, you probably plan for the span of time between when you see the same class. Your classes could meet once a week, once every 6 days or something different. You probably plan one lesson for each grade level and you don't need a new lesson until you've taught all of your classes. Generally we consider Monday as the start of the week. But it doesn't have to be. Why not pick another day? You'll still see the same classes, just teach them in a different order.

For example, Wednesday is now your "new Monday". You think about your upcoming lessons on Monday during your planning period or after school and write down your plans. Then on Tuesday,  you fine tune the plans, create any powerpoints, Smart board notebook files and/or playlists and double check that you have all the materials you'll need. On Wednesday you begin the new lessons and teach them until next Tuesday. And voila! No more Sunday night blues!

Give it a try and let me know how this worked out for you!

Happy Honking! Ellen

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Making the Most of a Few Instruments

Using hand instruments in the music room seems like an obvious activity...unless you don't have many instruments.

How do you give your students the opportunity to play when you only have a few instruments?

First, choose an ACTIVITY that can be performed with both BODY PERCUSSION (clap, snap, pat, etc.) and hand INSTRUMENTS. You can adapt an Orff piece from some of the myriad of resources available or from your text series. Change it up: substitute body percussion for each of the parts and these will later evolve into instrument parts.

Disclaimer: Make sure you REALLY like the piece because you are going to hear it ALOT!!

EX. You have 5 triangles, 5 hand drums and 5 sets of rhythm sticks.

A) You teach everyone the 1st part with body percussion. Have them perform it successfully without you. Then have them perform the 1st part while you play the 2nd part. Teach them the 2nd part.

B) Divide the class into 2 groups. Have each group perform 1 of the patterns at the same time. Switch the parts giving students an opportunity to perform both parts. Then have them perform their parts while you perform the 3rd part. Teach them the 3rd part.

C) Divide your class into 3 groups. One group for each part - all using body percussion. Give every group an opportunity to play each part while the other parts are playing along too.

D) Now you add the INSTRUMENTS! YIPPEE! Demonstrate the proper way to hold and play each instrument.

E) Five kids out of group 1 play their rhythm on the triangles while the rest of Group 1 supports them with body percussion. Five kids out of group 2 play their rhythm on the hand drums while the rest of Group 2 supports them with body percussion. And the same for group 3 and the rhythm sticks.

F) Perform the piece several times. Then WITHIN EACH GROUP those who were playing the instrument will SWITCH back to body percussion and those who haven't played an instrument take their turns. Again perform the piece several times.

G) Now the groups will ROTATE to the next instrument. Group 1 kids will now play the hand drum part. Group 2 will now play the rhythm stick part. And Group 3 will now play the triangle part. Again, only about 1/2 of the students will be playing the instruments, the rest of the group will still be doing body percussion. Then SWITCH with the group.

H) REPEAT this one more time so that each group of students will have played all 3 of the instruments.

Use the space of the room you are teaching in and separate the groups physically. When you are ready to have the students move to the next space (group), have a SIGNAL. For example, before giving directions about where each group goes begin with "when I clap, group 1 goes to where group 2 is, group 2 goes...etc." The clap is the signal that they should be waiting for. If your students move before your signal, stop the class, have them go back to where they started and wait for the signal again. FYI having kids transition with NO SIGNAL = CHAOS!

I hope this was helpful. I'd love to hear how this worked for you so please leave a comment below.

Happy Honking! Ellen

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