28 January, 2016
10 things they don't tell you about being an elementary music teacher

10 things they don't tell you about being an elementary music teacher

Over the 17 years I have taught elementary music, I have learned so much about my profession, about the students, about music, and about education. Today, I'm blogging about the things I didn't learn from a workshop, from a book, or from a blog post, but instead just from experience!

10 things they don't tell you about being an elementary music teacher...yes to all of these, but especially #10!

#1: You will lose your voice...and if you're not careful, you can damage it forever.
My first year of teaching, I lost my voice EVERY single weekend. It shocked me how much I had to use my voice as a music teacher: singing, giving directions, managing my class. I wasn't expecting to barely be able to talk to my family and friends, or to barely be able to speak to my students! I soon began to worry about getting vocal nodes, and also realized that I was using my voice incorrectly  (as I started as a trumpet player and wasn't employing proper vocal technique or breath support.) I started voice lessons, and I didn't lose my voice quite as much. I still have to be careful though, by drinking lots of water, not singing with my students all the time, and using some of the strategies in this blog post to help save my voice.

#2: You have to be ON all the time!
Teaching elementary music is a very active profession. You are singing several songs, playing instruments, dancing, and more all in one lesson. It doesn't matter if you are sad, or tired, or whatever...you have to be ON and ready for the students to walk through the door!

#3: You have to be able to switch gears very quickly.
Teaching 5th grade music is a bit different than teaching Kindergarten...so you have to be able to switch from one to the other smoothly (and make sure to not treat the 5th graders like they are five years old...it doesn't go over too well!)

#4: Many people will assume you can play piano.
I once had a staff request that I accompany them on the piano for a Christmas party, so they could sing carols...but I'm a mediocre piano player, and I kind of wanted to just relax at the party instead of having to practice and stress out! In the end, I fudged my way through the carols and they were probably surprised I wasn't great at the piano....but I never said I was! Some people assume that you play the piano because their music teacher did, which brings me to my next point...

#5: Some people will assume they know what happens in your classroom.
I had someone in the same school district ask if the reason I didn't play piano with the kids was because I wasn't very good at the piano.
I was a bit offended. It's true I'm not a stellar piano player, BUT she just assumed that she knew what should be going on in my classroom, and that because I wasn't playing piano I must not know how to. I calmly explained that the best way for children to match pitch was to sing unaccompanied, matching someone else's voice instead of an instrument, but I'm not sure she believed me.
I also had a custodian in the same district ask incredulously why I needed to use the blackboard...
So you may have to inform people of what goes on in your classroom. Invite them in. Talk to them about what the kids do. Tell them to ask the students what you do. Host an informance (read more about that in this blog post.) Educate them about what you do, because otherwise they may assume you do exactly what their music teacher did, which is probably not true.

#6: Some people will assume you would rather be teaching high school band.
While working at a band camp my first year of teaching, my former high school band director's husband stated that I must have wanted to use elementary music as a stepping stone.
Again, I was a bit offended. Why would he assume that? I calmly explained that teaching elementary music was exactly what I wanted to do.
Some people think of high school band as the most important job, and while I have immense respect for my friends who teach secondary music, teaching children the basics of music, in my opinion, is pretty darn important!

#7: You will sometimes be thought of as a babysitter.
Even at the most supportive school, you may run across a teacher or two who thinks of you as a babysitter first and a teacher second, because in most situations, you are providing that teacher with planning time.
I love my planning time too, but it is frustrating and disheartening. The best thing you can do, in my experience, is to keep doing what you are doing, and the teacher will soon hear their students singing as they work, or making cross-curricular connections they discovered in your class, or talking about how much they love music, and hopefully they'll get that you're much, much more than a babysitter!

#8: You may have to teach something you thought you'd never have to.
Hopefully you took all sorts of methods classes in college (strings tech, double reed tech, vocal tech, etc.) because you will likely have to get out those old binders and teach something you thought you'd never have to!
When I was in college, I never thought I'd have to teach strings or 7th grade general music, but I've done them both (and enjoyed them both!) Was I sometimes only one page ahead of the kids? Yes. Were there violinists who'd been playing since they were three and were better than me? Yes. But still, we all had fun and learned!

#9: You will watch the students grow into young adults, and it will be very hard to say goodbye.
The fifth grade "clap out" at my school is very difficult...because I have had these kids since Kindergarten. I saw them on their first day of Kindergarten, their eyes wide with awe, and watched them grow into young adults. I watched them grow as musicians, from not finding their singing voice to singing beautifully, from squeaking on the recorder to confidently playing "Mary had a little lamb."  Even though I may have only seen them once a week, I saw them for six years of their lives. These students are near and dear to our hearts, and it is not easy to say goodbye.

#10: You will be reminded often of how amazing your job is.
Teaching music, given the frustrations listed above, can be hard. But then you'll hear your choir sing beautifully, or your students tackle a round for the first time, or students make a really awesome connection, or a student tell you how much they love your class, when you will think:
"This is the best job in the world. I get paid for this?!?"
And that is what makes it all worth it: the joy.

I would love to hear what you've learned over the years about being a music teacher! Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!
24 January, 2016
Guest Post: The Envelope Game for Beginning Band

Guest Post: The Envelope Game for Beginning Band

I'm excited to have a guest blogger today! Tamarie Sayger will be writing about a game to help incorporate the Kodály philosophy into the band classroom. You can read more about her at the end of this post; thanks to Tamarie for sharing her expertise!

As someone who has been lucky enough to teach elementary music as well as secondary band, I love finding ways to incorporate Kodály philosophy into instrumental instruction.  Kodály training taught me how valuable different aspects of music education, other than just performance, are for children. 
This article explains how I would use The Envelope Game in a beginning band class, but can easily be adapted for any of the elementary situations below. The music - free to download here- is written for beginner clarinet, trumpet, French horn or keyboard. It can also be used for teaching do, re, mi, so, la in key of C with stick notation. The envelope game helps me teach objectives such as aural discrimination, melodic recognition, note naming and performance. It is also ideal for assessment since students must individually show their understanding to choose the correct answer.

Here are a few places you can use variations of The Envelope Game:
  1. Younger elementary students working on stick notation.
  2. Older elementary students working on reading music on Orff instruments.
  3. Older elementary students working on recorder. (Range would need adjustment)
  4. Younger secondary students learning to play instruments in band or orchestra.

Preparation Before Class
  1. Print the Great Big House in New Orleans Envelope Paper.  (Download Free Here)
  2. Copy enough for each child in your room to have a set (on cardstock if possible).
  3. Laminate.
  4. Cut into 4 motives. (2 measures each) 
  5. Put one set in each envelope - enough for a class set.

Before Beginning The Game
  1. Give each child an envelope with the melody cards inside. (If playing this game with young children you can appoint a ‘postman’ to ‘deliver the mail.’)
  2. Have them ‘open their mail’ and take out all 4 cards and put them in front of them on the stand (or floor for elementary students).
  3. Have students be sure the stars (asterisks) are in the top right corner.  (I purposely don’t use clefs and cut off the final bar because that would give away the first and last card which would make it too easy. You can be sure students don’t have it upside down by having them check that their ‘stars are in the sky.’)

First Round
1. You sing (on loo) or play on an instrument the first 2 measures of the song.
2. Students identify which card is correct.  (In this song example of Great Big House in New Orleans measures 1-2 and 5-6 are the same, so they can choose either.)
3. Demonstrate the first 2 measures again and have them check their card.  If it is not right they can switch it.  Have them hold up their card where you can see it and be sure everyone has the correct card. (If they are having trouble you can also sing on solfége or note names to help them identify the correct card.)
4. Students sing/handsign the card with solfége.  
5. Students sing the note names while fingering the notes.
6. Students play the 2 measures on the instrument.

Envelope Game for Beginning Band or General Music: Great idea to work on inner hearing and reading!

Second Round
Repeat the steps from round one for the next 2 measures, but after playing measures 3-4, play measures 1-4.

Envelope Game for Beginning Band or General Music: Great idea to work on inner hearing and reading!

Third Round
Repeat the steps from round one for the next 2 measures, but after playing measures 5-6, play measures 1-6.

Fourth Round
They will know the last card is the 4th one.  Repeat the steps 4-6 and then play the whole song.  
(Another option to challenge them is when they have picked the 3rd card, have them immediately put the 4th card back in their envelope.  Then see if after the third round is complete anyone can figure out the last 2 measures without looking at the card.)

Optional Final Round
1. Have students mix up the 4 cards again.  2. Have students sort them into the correct order by themselves.  
3. Sing on solfege and note names.  
4. Play the entire song again.  

I hope this game is a huge hit with your students!  For more ideas on teaching band, head over to www.BandDirectorsTalkShop.com and be sure to like us on Facebook.
For a similar version of this game - the Rhythm Envelope Game - along with a free printable, click here.

Tamarie Sayger is a music teacher in Texas with experience in elementary music, secondary band and private teaching. The website she contributes to regularly, BandDirectorsTalkShop.com, is a collaboration of band directors, former band directors, administrators and private lesson teachers who provide practical articles you can use in your band room today.  Learn. Share. Inspire.

17 January, 2016
Composing in the Music Room

Composing in the Music Room

So, you've taught students how to read music, using rhythm, solfa, and letter names, and now you want to have them compose. But where to begin? Just this year, I've really started delving into composition projects with my students, so I thought I'd share some ideas. Up until now, I think I've been so focused on teaching students how to read that I didn't feel like I had time to have them compose. However, after doing some reading on the subject and attending some great workshops, I realize that composition projects are doable in the general music classroom, even if you only see your students once a week. Here are some ideas for composing with your students:

Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose!

#1: Composing with pictures
I first happened upon this idea at a workshop with Jay Broeker (who is an AMAZING presenter, if you are looking for a clinician.) He had us composing patterns with bee pictures, and I had an a-ha moment: you can compose without specifically knowing rhythms and melody, AND without writing the composition down with paper and pencil! Inspired by Jay's idea, I created a set for composition with "We are dancing." First, students sing the song and play the game, shown below:

Afterwards, I had students clap and say the words "forest" and "tree," then compose an 8-beat pattern using the pictures in whichever order they wanted. This can be done as a B section, and you could perform ABA (sing the song/ perform the composed chant/ sing the song.) This could also be done with partners or in centers. Easy way to have students create and prepare ta and ti-ti! You can download the composition visuals for free by clicking the picture below:

#2: Composing with cards
After students learn BAG on recorder, I love using the cards below, which you can download for free by clicking the picture:

Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose! Blog post includes link to free recorder composing cards!
I have students work in small groups or partners to arrange the cards in any order they want. You might tell them to only compose 8 beats. Then, they play through their composition with their partner or small group. Again, easy way to have them compose, but they are creating AND improving their recorder skills. You can also make them aware of their role as the composer: if they don't love what they've composed (maybe they've decided they don't like the composition ending on A, or on a ti-ti), they can change it!

#3: Composing with rhythm
To have students compose rhythm, you could give them a few parameters, like 1.) Compose 16 beats, 2.) Use certain rhythms, and 3.) End on ta or rest. I know it seems restricting to have rules, but composers sometimes do have to compose within a framework, and I find having some kind of framework can be helpful.
I have a rhythm composition worksheet for free on TpT; simply click the picture below to download it.

Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose! Blog post includes link to free composition worksheet!

#4: Composing with melody
In my district, we talk a lot about transfer: the ability of students to transfer their knowledge from one setting to another. Melodic composition is a great way for them to apply transfer, as they are composing rhythm, then adding solfa or note letters, then transferring their melody to the staff! Here are some pictures of my students working on their melodic compositions in class. First, they wrote a rhythm and played it all on B on their recorders:

Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose!

Then, they copied the rhythm again and added B, A, and G:

Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose!

Then they added noteheads onto the staff:
Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose!

And then they added stems to the noteheads:
Composing in the Music Room: Great ideas for your music lessons to easily have students compose!

If you are looking to do a project like this, I just posted my recorder set to TpT, as well as a grade-level sets for each grade level. Below is the recorder set as well as the bundle:


#5: Free composition
Although having guidelines can be very helpful and beneficial for expanding students' understanding of musical concepts, it is also beneficial to have students compose without as many guidelines. I was first inspired to try something like this after reading the book, "Can I Play You My Song? The Compositions and Invented Notations of Children" by Rena Upitis, shown below:

It is a wonderful read, with detailed ideas for having students compose without rhythmic or melodic guidelines, and having them create their own notation. I've done something like this with my own students--giving them instruments and few guidelines in a small group--and have found that they LOVE this. We talk about how bands don't just sit down with their instruments and stare at each other as they play; they have conversations! So it gives us a good chance to talk about the songwriting process. They often compose music that they haven't learned notation for yet...but that's okay! I firmly believe it's important for them to have both types of experiences.

What are your favorite ways of having students compose in the music room? Feel free to comment below, and have fun with your students!
11 January, 2016
Fifth Grade Performance {Wangari's Trees of Peace}

Fifth Grade Performance {Wangari's Trees of Peace}

This past fall, my fifth graders performed a program based on the book, "Wangari's Trees of Peace," by Jeanette Winter (click the picture to view the book on Amazon.)

The book is a really inspiring true story about a girl from Kenya who plants trees to replenish ones which had been cut down. It's a great story about perseverance and courage!

Today, I'm blogging with a summary of songs and dances I used for the program, as well as scenery ideas. 

Ideas for a Fifth Grade Program: includes ideas for the basing a musical off the multicultural book "Wangari's trees of peace"

I divided all of the text in the book into one or two sentences, with 26 or so narrators reading lines and music and dances interspersed throughout. 

Before we started the story, we sang the song "Twiangia," which is a welcome song from Kenya. This can be found in the book below, which is an AMAZING resource! It includes many songs, social and cultural context, and a wonderful DVD in which the author teaches the songs to your students! The DVD also includes field recordings and performances of each song...WELL worth the money! Click the picture below to see it on West Music.

After the students sang "Twiangia," I had three narrators come up, and read until the words, "maize from the rich soil." After that, two of my five classes did the "Kenyan Harvest Dance," which can also be found in the book above.

One more narrator comes up and reads the next part of the story. After "study in America," students sing "America the Beautiful" with piano accompaniment. (I actually used a recording of piano on CD so I could be conducting the students, but you could also play piano.) You could also do a different patriotic song here.

One more narrator comes up. After he/she reads "Kenya home," students sing "Step by Step," which can also be found in Kenya Sing and Dance. I had one class perform all of the motions and do the dance.

Two more narrators come up. After one of them reads "Where are the birds?" I had students sing "Little Swallow," first in unison, then with a vocal ostinato (ddd s, dddd/ Little swallow, fly to your nest.) My friend Amy Abbott writes about the song in this blog post; she included the music and game.

Four more narrators come up. After "row after row of tiny trees," I had one class perform Ensemble #1 from World Music Drumming. If you have several tubanos and/or djembes, this is a really great resource to have! Click below to see it on West Music.

At this point I split up the next lines in the book, from "Next, Wangari convinces..." to "put her in jail" between nine narrators. When the women plant trees, I had several students add leaves to trees which I had taped onto the walls on either side of the risers. Here is an example of one of the trees before leaves were put on it (buy the tree here):

After "put her in jail," I had students sing "Banuwa" (since the words mean "don't cry, pretty girl, don't cry.") You can find the music for "Banuwa" here at Beth's Music Notes.

One narrator comes up and says, "Still, she stands tall." Then I had all students say, "Right is right, even if you are alone." More narrators spoke until "maize grow again in the rich, red earth." When more women plant trees, I have more students come up to another tree and put their leaves on the tree. Then, students sang "Grinding Corn," first in unison, then in a round. You can find the music at Amy's blog here.

Two more narrators come up. After "brought back to Africa," I had students sing "Take time in life," which can also be found in "World Music Drumming." I had one class perform the instrumental accompaniment, and I chose two students from that class to sing the solos.

Of course, you could change the songs however you want; the idea is to choose songs and dances whose lyrics and motions match what is going on in the story.

The fifth graders really enjoyed this performance, and I was really happy with what they did musically, from singing, to dancing, to playing instruments! Hopefully I've explained everything so that you could recreate it or adapt it for your own students.

If you're looking for more programs that are accessible and easy to use with your students, check these out:



 You can also read about another fifth grade performance, based on "On the Day You Were Born," here.

Which programs have worked for you? Let me know, and feel free to send me any questions. Good luck, and have fun!

09 January, 2016
Five favorite pins of January

Five favorite pins of January

Hope you have had a wonderful start to your year! Since it is January, I am posting my five favorite pins of this month.

If you are a blogger, feel free to join the linky party by following the directions at the end of this post. Here are my five favorite pins this month! You can click on each picture to be taken to the original pin.

#1: Snowman melodic activity

I love this idea of breaking down a song into its parts: lyrics, rhythm, and melody! I've been trying to break down songs like this with my students, but I love this visual!

#2: Teaching Music Backwards
This is a really interesting article about teaching music history backwards, so that you can teach students about a musician's influences, then study those influences, then study the musicians influencing those people, etc. This could be a great way to bring in more relevant and current music, then work backwards to the masters!

#3: 8 things to have at your desk
This is a great list to take to the store so that you're ready for anything while teaching! (I could have used a glasses repair kit the other day when a student's glasses broke!)

#4: Tinikling Blog Post
My friend Tanya wrote a great blog post about tinikling...if you've never tried tinikling but want to try something different in your music room, this is a really comprehensive post that could help! My colleague Jenna just got done with a tinkling unit and it got me thinking I should try it too. (As an aside, my only memory of elementary music was that I got to do tinikling at the 6th grade music concert!)

#5: Ho Hey Orff arrangement
I LOVE this song, so when I saw this pin I was intrigued. She outlines a step-by-step process of teaching the song for barred instruments, non-pitched percussion, and ukuleles. I think I'm going to try this with my 5th graders later this year! AND the lyrics, in my opinion, are appropriate for kids, which can be hard to find with pop songs!

There are my five pins! If you'd like to see more pins like this, make sure to follow me on Pinterest. Happy pinning!

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