24 July, 2019
Escape Rooms for the Music Classroom

Have you ever heard about escape rooms in the music classroom, and wondered what that would look like? In this blog post, I'm detailing the why, what, and how of escape rooms!

Escape Rooms in the Music Classroom: Ideas for running your own Escape Room

I had heard of escape rooms for the general classroom, but I first heard about escape rooms specifically for the music classroom from Carrie, from Music Teacher Coffee Talk. In this video, she describes how she set up one for her music room.

What are escape rooms?

If you've ever been to an actual escape room, you may have had to solve a series of puzzles in order to unlock the lock and escape the room. A music escape room is similar. Students would work in small groups to solve a series of puzzles or complete a series of tasks. At each task, they'd receive a letter, then unscramble those letters to form a word and then escape the room. Students wold work in small groups, and could go to whichever task they want in whatever order they want.

Why use escape rooms?

If you're wanting to make your music room feel more student-centered, and you want something super engaging and fun, then you should try an escape room! They are also great for instant feedback (as you could have a way for students to check their answers) and for collaborative work. Lastly, students' understanding of musical concepts could improve  through using an escape room.

How can you set up an escape room?

There are many ways to set one up...so I'll just explain how I've done it. I create five tasks and spread them out around the room (similar to centers.) Students get into a small group, then each group receives a worksheet and pencil, so they can write down the letters as they get them. Then, they watch a video explaining the escape room (or you could just tell them the premise of the escape room.) A 30-minute timer starts, and they begin! After they're done with the task, they either get a letter through the technology (for example, if the task was a Google form quiz), or they come to me, show me their work, and I hand them the letter.

The tasks can range from anything like a Kahoot, a puzzle or code they have to solve, an interactive music game they have to play, or this set by Kelly from Rhythmically Yours, in which students use keys to unlock the correct locks (click the picture to see the set on Etsy):

Escape Rooms in the Music Classroom: Ideas for running your own Escape Room

Here is a visual of some of my tasks from my End of Year Music Escape Room:

Escape Rooms in the Music Classroom: Ideas for running your own Escape Room

After they are done with all five tasks, they unscramble the letters to form a musical letter, then unlock a word lock on my lock box, like the one below:

Escape Rooms in the Music Classroom: Ideas for running your own Escape Room

Once they open the box, they get a certificate that tells them what to do. I've had students "escape" the room by going onto the stage and playing a game or playing on iPads, going to the office to get a prize, and going into the hallway to play on iPads. There are a lot of possibilities...it just depends on your school and what you have around you for students to "escape" to (but still be supervised!)

If you're looking for more details about what to do for each task, check out this overview, which is from my 5-Day Music Escape Room Challenge this summer. I have five detailed videos as well as directions for creating tasks with Google Forms, Quizizz, and more (as well as non-technology options!)

Want to try one out? Check out my Back to School Music Escape Room:

Have you tried a music escape room? I'd love to hear about it...feel free to comment below!

30 June, 2019
Types of long range plans for the music room

Since it's summer, it's a great time to sit down and really look at our overview for the next school year. What do we want our students to learn? Which songs and pieces will we use? Long-range planning is a passion of mine, something I learned about in my Kodály training at Capital University, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I began to understand how all of the pieces fit together. Here is a list of all the different types of long range plans for the music room, and how I feel they fit together.

Types of long-range plans for the music room: Year plans, song lists, scope and sequence, and more!

First, when planning out my year, I like to figure out my grade-level scope and sequence. This is an  overview of which concepts each grade level will learn. For example, you could plan for first grade to learn sol-mi and la for melody, and ta, ti-ti, and rest for rhythm (or whatever you have time for in your year!) This could simply be a bulleted list for each grade list.

Next, I like to write concept plans, also known as PPP's. These plans are an overview of all of the songs and chants students will learn for a particular concept, with physical, visual, and aural activities for preparation, practice, and new practice, as well as the presentation process. These can be a great "idea bank" for inserting activities into lessons to prepare or practice certain concepts. Here is a screenshot of a partially filled out concept plan, from my First Grade Concept Plan Starter Kit:

Types of long-range plans for the music room: Year plans, song lists, scope and sequence, and more!

After I write concept plans, I like to write song lists. A song list is an index of all of the songs and chants that you will teach in a given year, categorized by concept. So for example, for second grade, if you're teaching do, re, tika-tika, and half note, then your song list would have all of the songs you're teaching that year, indexed by which concepts you'll use them for. Here is a tutorial of how to put together a song list:

After I compile my song lists, I create my year plan for each grade level. A year plan is an overview  of the entire year by grade level, including concepts taught, songs and activities taught, skills learned, program preparation, assessments, and more. If it's too difficult to figure out the full year--especially if you are new to the school and aren't sure what the students know--you could do a monthly plan instead, with the same parameters. If you're looking for information on how to create a year plan, check out this video:

We're almost there! I just discovered the Unit scope and sequence for classroom teachers, and adapted it to the music room. A unit scope and sequence is a plan for how you will teach a particular concept, including specific activities in the order you will teach them, assessments, standards, and more. This is similar to the concept plan, but you can figure out which lessons will include which activities from your concept plan, so you make sure that you are teaching the concept as thoroughly as you can. Here is a screenshot of the second page of my unit scope and sequence for ta and ti-ti, for first grade:

Types of long-range plans for the music room: Year plans, song lists, scope and sequence, and more!

Finally, we can lesson plan! Daily lesson plans include all of the specific details for a grade level, with objectives, materials, procedures, etc. This is what you would teach from on a daily basis, using all of the above material to guide you. Here is a free first grade lesson plan so you can see how it all fits together.

If you want to dive more into long-range planning, check out this set, which includes templates and completed examples of year plans, song lists, and more!

I hope this helps you as you plan this summer! Happy planning!

16 May, 2019
Student Teachers in the Music Room

Looking for strategies for student teachers in the music room? In this podcast episode, I include my top ten tips for working with student teachers, so they have a successful teaching journey with you!

Student Teachers in the Music Room: Ten tips for making sure your student teacher is successful!

You can listen to the podcast episode in iTunes, or you can listen here:

As discussed in the podcast episode, my top ten tips for student teachers in the music room include:
  • Plan out everything in advance
  • Decide which grade level or how much of a lesson they’ll be teaching first
  • Reach out and try to meet your student teacher beforehand
  • Share a Dropbox/Google Drive folder with various goodies
  • Ask higher level thinking questions to make sure they’re teaching thoughtfully
  • Be okay giving up some control 
  • Give homework (beyond lesson plans)
  • Don’t be afraid to be too honest or critical
  • Give your student teacher a gift at the end of your time together
  • Maintain the relationship with your student teacher afterwards
Links mentioned in this episode:

Have any tips for student teachers? Feel free to comment below, and happy teaching!

09 May, 2019
A Peek at my Week: Presenting rest, Improvising Melodic Patterns, and More!

Interested to see a peek at my week in the music room? In this podcast, I discuss my lessons for the week. You can listen here; links and a description are below:

With first grade, I discuss in the podcast presenting rest, and using these "See the Old Witch"
composition cards. The SMART Notebook I discussed for presenting rest can be found in this set.

With second grade, I talk about using the songs "Sammy Sackett" and "Who's That Tapping at the Window" to prepare half note, assessing tika-tika with this "Which amimal" game, and using a process similar to the one described in this blog post for the song "Apple Tree."

With third grade, I discuss using "Ida Red" to practice ti-tika (you can find the song in this blog post), using this "Unlock the door" game to assess identification of ti-tika patterns, practicing low la with "Skin and Bones," playing the cup game with "I've been to Haarlem," and coding. You can learn more about STEM/STEAM here, and you can find out more about coding with this set:

With fourth grade, we're practicing syncopa with the song "Oboshinotentoten," which you can see here:

We also used this sunglasses game (which you can download for free) to have students read patterns with syncopa. Students also practiced low sol with "Black Snake," and used this haiku composition set to begin writing a haiku, which they will eventually set a melody to:

For fifth grade, I did centers for students to practice ti/ major scale:
  • Boomwhackers (students play up and down the major scale, then compose whatever they want)
  • Worksheets: Students use a worksheet like one in this set to practice writing melodic patterns on the staff
  • Specdrums: Listen to more about Specdrums here and read more here
  • Otamotone: Students figure out how to play a song they know on the otamatone. Read more here.
  • Legos: Students build a major scale with half and whole steps here. Read more about using Legos here.
  • Ti/ Major Scale Quizizz: Check out my Quizizz here
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Peek at my Week: Ideas for your elementary music room, including small group composing, improvising word patterns, centers for major scale, and more!

I hope these lesson ideas are helpful to you! Feel free to comment below with what you're doing this week!

14 April, 2019
Adapting your lessons during testing

Testing, testing, testing...there is SO much testing going on right now! How can we as music teachers make sure that students are engaged and excited when they've already been sitting for hours, taking a test? Here are some ideas that have worked with my kids.

Testing week in the music room: Ideas for adapting your music lessons for when students are testing

#1: Play more games!

During testing days, I like to make sure kids get even more relaxation, so I'll shift the balance of concentration/ relaxation and throw in another game or two, or let a game go longer than I would otherwise. They've already been concentrating SO much, so I'm okay giving up a little bit of focused work so they can get out their wiggles.

#2: Get them moving!

Along those lines, I will also throw in a movement activity, especially if I see they really need one. One of my favorites for lower elementary is the statues game, which is like freeze dance, but students make a statue when they freeze. You can download the free visuals on Artie Almeida's website by clicking here.

Another great way to get students moving is to put on a recording with a steady beat, and have them follow your beat motions. For example, students could listen to "Root Beer Rag" by Billy Joel, and you could tap your head for 8 beats, tap your shoulder for 8 beats, twist for 8 beats, dab for 8 beats...whatever! And then, students follow you. Halfway through the song, I invite student volunteers to lead the beat. It's great for movement improvisation AND for getting students moving!

Here is a video of "Root Beer Rag":

#3: Take them outside

If the weather permits, you could take students aside...even if only for 15 minutes, to have them play singing games. Whether you play "Skin and Bones" (find the song and game here) and have the students hide behind trees, or play "Big Fat Biscuit," the games are so much more fun outside. And let's face it, kids need the outside time after sitting inside, testing!

#4: Allow for more student choice

During testing days, if a kid makes a request for a certain game or activity, I try to fit it in. Whether it be poison (which you can find out more about in this video) or just one of their favorite singing games, if it's something that I could adapt my lesson and fit in, I will. You could also save reward days, like the one I wrote about in this blog post, for testing week(s).

#5: Be understanding

On days that students have tested, they might not be as focused. They might be wiggly and giggly because they've been sitting still for so long and need to expend some energy. We as teachers could be frustrated...or we could be understanding. Wouldn't you be unfocused, wiggly, and maybe even giggly if you'd be sitting still for potentially more than two hours taking a difficult test?

If you're looking for more brain breaks during testing week, check out these musical brain breaks:

I hope this is helpful to you during your testing week! Do you have any other suggestions? Feel free to comment below, and happy teaching!
05 March, 2019
Strategies for teaching the major scale

Looking for fun ways to teach about the major scale? In this blog post, I'll detail my favorite singing game for teaching the major scale, a hands-on way to teach the major scale, and how to use instruments to deepen students' understanding!

Strategies for teaching the major scale: A singing game, hands-on manipulatives, and instrument ideas for teaching the do major scale!


If you've taught fa and ti to your students and would like to teach about the major scale, folk songs can be a great way to reinforce these concepts! One of my favorite singing games is called "Chumbara," a French-Canadian singing game. Here is the notation:

Strategies for teaching the major scale: A singing game, hands-on manipulatives, and instrument ideas for teaching the do major scale!

For the game, students sit in a circle and do these movements:
Beats 1-2:        Pat x 2
Beats 3-4:        Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 5-6:        Pat x 2
Beats 7-8:        Pat own right knee with left hand and neighbor’s knee with right hand x 2
Beats 9-10:      Pat x 2
Beats 11-12:    Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 13-14:    Pat, cross
Beats 15-16:    Pat,  pat left neighbor’s knee with left hand and right neighbor’s knee with right hand
Beats 17-18:    Pat x 2
Beats 19-20:    Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 21-22:    Pat x 2
Beats 23-24:    Pat own right knee with left hand and neighbor’s knee with right hand x 2
Beats 25-26:    Pat x 2
Beats 27-28:    Pat own left knee with right hand and neighbor’s knee with left hand x 2
Beats 29-30:    Pat, cross
Beats 31-32:    Pat,  pat left neighbor’s knee with left hand and right neighbor’s knee with right hand

For additional verses, students can sing "fy-do-lee," for the second verse, "chow-ber-ski" for the 3rd
verse, and they can also create their own verses with three syllable nonsense words!


There are many manipulatives that could work for practicing the major scale. Solfa manipulatives could be a great way to practice half and whole steps. Another fun way to practice the major scale is to use Legos or building blocks to build a scale!
Amy Abbott wrote about this very idea in this blog post; click the picture below to read more!

This could be done in small groups or in centers! I love how half and whole steps can be practiced in such a hands-on way!


Another great way to practice the major scale is with instruments. There are three types of instruments I'm writing about today: Boomwhackers, Orff instruments, and the Otamatone.

I'm not normally a huge fan of Boomwhackers, because I don't think they make the best sound, but I do think they work really well for the major scale. To use them to practice the major scale, you could randomly hand out the Boomwhackers, have the students arrange themselves lowest to highest (which can be great for science integration, having them compare pitch to length), then play from lowest to highest, singing on solfa. This set by Amy Abbott could also work really well for Boomwhackers!

If playing Orff instruments, you could hand the students a song they know written in stick notation, such as "Chumbara" or "Come Follow," and have students figure out if do is C, how to play each song. If students are doing well with this, you could have them play in different keys, such as F major or G major, as long as you have  a Bb bar or F# bar. To further improve their inner hearing skills, you could have them figure out which bars need to be swapped out if starting on a different note!

My last activity for using instruments to teach the major scale is the otamatone. This is a really fun instrument that my upper elementary kids love! It is a battery-operated instrument that plays different pitches depending on where you slide your finger. You can mark the solfa on the side, like this:

Strategies for teaching the major scale: A singing game, hands-on manipulatives, and instrument ideas for teaching the do major scale!

I plan on having students work with the otamatone soon, during centers. I'll have a song in stick notation, similar to what I described for Orff instruments, and students will take turns figuring out how to play the song by sliding their finger!

I hope these ideas are helpful to you as you prepare to teach the major scale! I've created this set, which could also assist you in teaching ti, low ti, and the major and minor scales.

Happy teaching!

20 February, 2019
Six Routines to Improve Productivity and Happiness

Looking for ways to improve your productivity and happiness as a music teacher? In today's episode, I talk about six routines that have helped me. You can listen to the episode in iTunes, or you can listen here:

Here are the show notes for this episode:

    • Batching
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Six tips for productivity and happiness: Strategies for being more productive and calmer, from Airtable, to meditation, to batching!
30 January, 2019
Tips for Teaching First Grade Music

First graders are at such a fun age. They are curious, but can follow directions a bit better than their Kindergarten counterparts. They are excited, they are joyful, and they can really start diving into musical literacy! In today's blog post, I'm writing with tips for teaching first grade.

Tips for teaching first grade music: Activities and strategies to make your elementary music lessons fun and engaging!


In this blog post, I wrote about my tips for teaching Kindergarten, which included routine. With first grade, routine is still important. Just like I do with Kindergarten, I start with a singing game, such as "Apple Tree" or "We are dancing," and then we do the song "Here we are together," which is to the tune of "The more we get together." I use the words:

Oh, here we are together, together, together,
Oh, here we are together in music today.
With Macy, and Jenna, and ....(sing all students' names)
Oh, here we are together in music today.

After that, we do greetings, in which I listen to four students sing solos, and then we sing the first song of the lesson and do concentrated work with it, whether it be with rhythm or melody. However you structure your lesson, it's wonderful for there to be aspects of it that are routine, so kids know what to expect.

Try centers

Although I have tried centers in Kindergarten with success, I feel like in first grade they are even more ready to work independently in centers. They love the autonomy and being able to showcase their knowledge!

If you haven't tried centers and are wondering what they might look like in the music room, here is a video I recently posted on my YouTube channel:

This video shows specific ideas for rhythm centers with first grade:

Challenge them

Even though they are only six or seven years old, first graders are ready for a challenge! Whether you have them keep the beat in their feet and the rhythm in their hands as they speak "Bee Bee," or have one half of the class read one rhythm with ta and ti-ti while the other half of the class reads another, they are SO excited to show you what they are capable of! My friend Amy Abbott created this game to practice partwork skills that is both challenging and fun!

...But don't forget that they are six!

Even though they are ready for more challenging tasks, they ARE still six or seven, so they love a LOT of the same activities that they loved in Kindergarten. Check out this blog post for some of my favorite Kindergarten activities...first graders still beg for the bunny game! The fun part about that game is that you can make it more challenging for them, by having the distance between the high and low trills decrease, so students really have to differentiate between high and low.

Give chances for small group work

At this age, first graders are more ready to work in small groups--to create, to make musical decisions, and more! In this blog post, I wrote about using composition cards to have students compose. This past November at the AOSA conference,  I found the book "Rain," linked below, at the West Music booth. I decided to use it with first grade, to assign a page to each small group, and then have them decide movement and/or instruments to accompany the reading of each page. Students were so creative with their choices, and had tons of fun performing! (Note: This is an affiliate link.)

If you're looking for more first grade ideas, I have a free first grade lesson; you can download by clicking below.

If you'd like more, check out these First Grade lesson sets:


Anything you want to add about First Grade? Please comment below! Happy teaching!
09 January, 2019
Best Practices for Children's Choir

Looking for ideas for your elementary or middle school choir? In this podcast episode, I'm talking with my friend and colleague Matthew Parker about best practices for children's choir!

Best practices for children's choir: Podcast and blog post with ideas for warm-ups, octavos, social events for choir, and more!

Listen to the podcast here:

Matthew Parker received his master of music in music education with an emphasis on Kodaly From capital University. He currently teaches at Johnnycake Corners Elementary school in the Olentangy Local School District in Central Ohio. Matthew was voted as Teacher of the Year during the 2008-2009 school year. Matthew was also selected as the Columbus Symphony Elementary Music Educator of the year in 2015. During the 2012-2013 academic year, Matthew worked with, and hosted, the Emmy nominated Carpe Diem string quartet to bring an online, interactive concert series to students in several states across the nation. Matthew was a director on staff with the Columbus Children’s Choir, and has two elementary choirs at his school. As a composer, one of the songs was prepared by the Columbus Children’s Choir. As a performer, Matthew has performed with the Capital University Chapel Choir, Columbus Symphony Chorus, and the Lancaster Chorale.

In this podcast, Matthew discusses everything from choosing music to warm-ups. Here are specific notes with his suggestions:

Matt conceptualizes his choir as having three aspects:
  • Performance: Formal performance opportunities, such as evening concerts
  • Community: Community performance opportunities, such as performing at a community center, caroling, etc.
  • Social events: Such as a pancake breakfast or movie night for choir students
Thinking of best practices for choosing music? Here is Matt's formula for choosing repertoire:
  • Well-written text: purposefully and authentically written
  • Excellent piano accompaniment: Make sure it's not in an odd key, not written by non-pianist. Can try out several with your piano accompanist to help decide your final repertoire.
  • Extractable phrases
  • Have to love it!
Here are Matt's favorite octavos:
Rounds can be a great way to improve partwork skills and add to a concert program. Here are Matt's favorite rounds:
  • Frere Jacques
  • Laugh, ha, ha
  • The Ghost of Tom/ John
  • Dona Nobis Pacem
As you are choosing music, here are arrangers and composers whose music Matt and I love:
  • Ruth Dwyer
  • Andy Beck
  • Susan Brumfield
  • Doreen Rao
When warming up your choir, try these warm-ups:
  • sfmrd on "ooo"
  • Follow the leader:
    • Students follow the hand signs step-wise
    • Students follow the teacher with hand signs, then teacher pauses and students pause with teacher
    • Students follow the teacher with hand signs, and the teacher moves up and down 
    • Split the choir into two groups: group 1 follows one hand sign, group 2 follows the other hand sign
As you're planning for choir, here are favorite resources from Matt and I:
I hope you have found this helpful as you plan for your children's choir rehearsals. A huge thank you to Matt for his expertise and willingness to share!

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