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
Pin this for later:

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. 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!
12 December, 2018
Renewal and rejuvenation over winter break

Looking ideas for rejuvenating over winter break? In this podcast episode, Emily Karst and I talk about renewing and rejuvenating over winter break.

Rejuvenation and renewal over winter break: Ideas for music teachers

Listen to the podcast here:

Links mentioned in the podcast:

28 November, 2018
Christmas and other winter holidays in the music room

Looking for fun activities during the winter holiday season? In this podcast episode, I discuss my favorite ways to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa in the music room!

Winter Holidays in the Music Room: Picture books, movement ideas, performance pieces, and more for your music lessons!
Listen here:

Links mentioned in the podcast episode:

Picture books:

Sleigh Ride Cup Routine:

Choir songs:

What I'm consuming: "Meditation Now"
08 November, 2018
Learning Styles in the Music Room

Looking for strategies to address physical, visual, and aural learning styles? In this podcast episode,  Katie and I discuss learning styles, strategies, and more!

Learning Styles in the Music Room: Strategies for addressing physical, visual, and aural learning styles in the music room, to practice rhythm and melody!

Listen to the podcast here:

Links mentioned in the podcast:

03 November, 2018
Differentiation in the Music Classroom

The term "differentiation" has been used more and more often in education lately. What does it mean? How does it apply to the music room?

Differentiation in the music room: Lesson plan strategies for differentiating for your music lessons!

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson--an expert on differentiation-- differentiated instruction is defined as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan (from this blog post from Concordia University- Portland.) So what does this look like in the music classroom?

I've heard many music teachers say that differentiation happens naturally in the music room. I agree...to a degree. There IS a lot of differentiation that happens organically in music, but there are also differentiation strategies that we can employ with thought and intention. Here are my favorite ways to differentiate:

Include lots of variety
By including lots of variety in your lessons, including activities that cover the gamut of Bloom's Taxonomy, you can help address each student's ability. For example, in one lesson, you could ask students what these rhythms are called (i.e. ta and ti-ti, which would be remembering), you could have students apply their knowledge of rhythms by playing rhythm patterns on non-pitched percussion, and you could have students create using ta and ti-ti. This variety would not only lead to an active, engaging lesson, but would allow students opportunities to showcase their knowledge at their ability level.

Plan for extensions and simplifications
Let's say you've given your students the chance to figure out how to play "Bounce High" on barred instruments, with G as sol. If a child is able to figure it out sooner than other students, you could have them figure it out with C' as sol, or A as sol (if you add a F# bar.)

If a student is struggling with figuring it out, you might write in the note letters for them, or give them a simpler song without la, such as "See Saw."

Have students self-differentiate
If you've given students a few tasks at different levels (different ostinati, for example) you could have students choose which one they'd like to do. If one of the ostinati is simpler than the others and one is more difficult, this can be a great way for students to perform at their ability level and feel comfortable.

This could work with Orff arrangements, as well. After teaching a more difficult part, I've sometimes looked for students who could perform the body percussion to assign that part, and I've also simply asked students who wanted to try it. Students who are ready for the challenge will volunteer, and those who are not quite ready likely won't.

Differentiate during centers
This has been new for me this year. I've created at least two centers during centers lessons that are differentiated. At these centers, students complete the task for the color they've been given. I've taken pre-test data, and have sorted students into three groups (level 1/ basic= blue, level 2/ proficient= green, and level 3/ advanced= pink.) Before students start doing centers, I hand them a slip of paper with their color, so they know which task to complete at those centers.

One example of this is rhythm flashcards. At this center, students play patterns on non-pitched percussion. The blue flashcards at that center have simpler patterns, the green flashcards have middle-of-the-road patterns, and the pink flashcards have more challenging patterns. If a student has been given a green slip of paper, they play the green flashcards. I've also combined this idea with having students choose their own centers, like in this blog post, where students can float from center to center and change whenever they want, but at the centers with differentiation, they do that color task.

Looking for more ideas for differentiation with centers? Check out this bundle; individual sets can be bought separately.

Also, check out this post by Debbie from Crescendo Music with more differentiation strategies.

What's your favorite way to differentiate in the music room? Feel free to comment below, and happy teaching!

latest videos