Monday, November 23, 2015



Vocal Exploration. I'm sure many of you are doing this frequently.  It is so good for young voices! I use exploration with my younger students to discover high vs. low, smooth vs. choppy, long vs. short, and so much more.  I have some pre-made sets that I show on my white board, or have the students draw on the board with a marker.  They've even followed a leader as they wave a scarf or some object, and students will follow that with their voices.  We pick a neutral syllable, and off we go!  As simple as it sounds, the kids really do enjoy it.

Movement Exploration.  I'm Kodaly trained and have been doing vocal explorations forever.  But, I recently have been working on my Orff certification, and have been using lots and lots more movement activities in my classroom.  To clarify - I've always been moving in class, but it used to be really structured all of the time - folk dances, specific actions, etc. I still do all of that, but in Orff, a huge push is for improvisation and exploration.  This past summer, we really worked on exploring different pathways through movement - zigzag, spiral, straight, etc.  And then it dawned on me - why can't I use the same exploration activities through movement that I'm already using with voice?

So easy, and maybe I'm the only one that hadn't thought of this - but it's so much fun!  The kids love finding pathways through the music room.  Fun really happens when they use their voices and movements at the same time.

So, I uploaded this little file to Teachers Pay Teachers - free from now until Thanksgiving 2015.  You can click here to get it.

Included are some basic exploration slides, like this:

 Also, a couple of slides where the kids can create their own pathways, like this:
And, a couple of printable worksheets for your kids to draw/color, like this:

Simple and effective - just the best!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Swat that bus!

If you've ever looked around this blog, you'll know that I love fly swatter games.  They are great for individual assessments - and the kids don't even know you're testing them!  You just split them into teams, and 2 at a time come and try to identify the rhythm that you clap.

Here are all the makings of a great lesson:

We first read the book "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" by Mo Willems.  You can see that book here:  

After every page, we practiced saying the phrase "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus."  The kids love the pigeon books, and so do I :)

Anyway, after the book was read, we figured out the rhythm together.  We decided it was "ta ti-ti ti-ti ti-ti ta rest rest rest."  We've been learning about bar lines, and it was a great moment to decide where the bar line was, and how many rests we needed to fill up that measure!

I found these foam buses in the dollar bins at Target.  I love foam manipulatives!  I have drawers and drawers full of them.

For only $1, it came with 10 pieces.  I was able to write different rhythms on them with a sharpie, and the fly swatter game commenced.

Great day!  We were able to incorporate literature, aural dictation, and aural assessments all on one day.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Room design - oh what a nerd I am!

So, I am a huge nerd when it comes to certain TV shows.  I know they're kind of dumb -  for a select group of people - , but I love them anyway.  I'm not ashamed to admit it.  One of the shows that my husband and I like to watch is "Dr. Who."  It's definitely not for everybody, but we really like it.  I like that it's generally clean (family-friendly), and the premise of the show is good too.  Dr. Who basically travels around, saving people from bad things in a non-violent way.  Yes, it's cheesy.  But, it's also awesome.

Based on this love for such a silly show, I've decided my entire theme for my classroom this year is "Dr. Who."
I even have a door to my storage room designed to look like the TARDIS (Dr. Who's traveling space ship).  I wish I had darker blue butcher paper, but I had to make do with what I have :)

I've decided to use this door for my composer units.  My 3rd graders will be learning about Woody Guthrie very soon, so I put up a "Wanted" picture with him on it.  As we learn more about him, I'll add facts to the blank blue spaces on the door.

Next to this door, I have my rewards chart (I do a star chart) with a Dr. Who quote hanging up.  It says "900 years of time and space, and I've never met anyone who wasn't important."

I have various other Dr. Who quotes/plays on words as well:

I also have some music rules posted on the way into my room with this theme:

And, one of my favorite touches is my row of hats (the center one is a fez that I still need to hang up) - representing the different cultures Dr. Who, and our music classroom, can discover.

My students love it - even if they haven't seen the show.  Always a good thing :)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Little Sally Water - add shapes!

Many of you know the folk song "Little Sally Water."  It's in the good old 150 American Folk Songs (orange book), and I've used it for years.

It's wonderful for teaching so-mi-la - and especially for isolating so-mi on the "turn to the east" part.  I've used this with my kinders for high/low and then labeled the solfa in 1st grade.  Great, great song.  The original game is also fun for my kids:

The children stand in a circle, joining hands.  One child stands in the middle as "Sally," covering his or her eyes as the rest sing the song.  "Sally" imitates the song throughout, pointing at another player at the end of the song, still covering their eyes so the choice is accidental.  The chosen player becomes "Sally," goes to the center, and the game starts again.

Fine.  Simple game, and the kids do enjoy it, but do get bored easily.  So, I've been trying to think of different ways to do this, as I do love the song and it is great for teaching so many things.  And then it came to me - movement!

As I've been going through my Orff levels (I completed Level 2 this past summer) I've really been trying to incorporate a lot more movement in my classroom.  I love using Kodaly approaches to music literacy and beautiful singing, but the Orff improvisation and movement really speak to me as well.  I feel that really, you can tie both approaches together, and your students end up better musicians.  Anyway, one thing we worked on a lot in my Orff classes was creative movement, and creating different kinds of shapes with our bodies.  The Laban Movement Analyses words for the 4 basic kinds of shapes are ball, pin, screw, and wall.  Here are some pictures of my adorable daughter demonstrating these types of shapes:

Ball shapes are rounded shapes.  

Pin shapes have sharp angles.

Screw shapes are twisted. 

Wall shapes are large and flat.

So, as a class, we decided that "Sally" was going to find a shape he/she liked.  Students sang the song and walked around "Sally," as regular, but on the words "east," "west," and "best/next," they created different statues.  "Sally" would then walk around, find a statue he/she liked, and copy that shape.  The student whose shape was copied would then become the next "Sally."

I loved this, because the kids were improvising/arranging what they already knew.  They were practicing making different types of shapes, and we were labeling them with new vocabulary!  I also loved that it really eliminated any kind of talking we had going on before - because their statues had to stay still (including no talking!)

How else would you improvise on this?

I've also created an analysis file you can use to present ta/ti-ti or so mi la to your kids on Teachers Pay Teachers here.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Professional Development - do it!

I'm not writing this post to condemn anybody; rather, I hope to inspire.

Music teachers - go do professional development!

In a conversation with some music teachers from my district this year, I shared how I really enjoy going to my local Orff and Kodaly workshops, and all of the great things I learn there.  In response, one answered "Oh, that's great, but I just can't give up my Saturdays."

I was dumbfounded.

I don't get it.  I am constantly trying to improve my teaching.  I reflect about myself, but it is at conferences, workshops, and training where I can focus my energy on developing myself as a teacher.  I may not use every single little thing the presenter has to offer, but I always walk out of a workshop with a renewed energy and loads of new ideas.  It might not even have been what the presenter said, but how they presented it.  I think my kids can tell when I have been to workshops as well.  Class always goes better.  There are fewer behavior problems.  My kids seem to learn more and have more excitement.
First of all, I want to talk about workshops.  Go to (Orff) or (Kodaly). Find your local chapter.  Each chapter has workshops they present 3 or 4 times a year.  3 OR 4 TIMES, people.  This really is not that big of a time commitment - it's not like you're giving up every weekend.  They always bring in fantastic presenters or have share sessions where you can learn from your colleagues.  Go.  Learn.  There may be a small cost involved with this, but it is well worth it.  Check with your chapter - there may be discounts too.  I know that my local Orff chapter offers college students a deal where $5 buys them membership in the chapter as well as FREE attendance at all 4 workshops for the year!  First-year teachers can do the same for only $10.  Also, my local Orff chapter offers 1 college credit (for salary movement/license renewal) for only $50 - all you have to do is attend 3 workshops and write a brief summary of each one.

Some great clinicians I've had the privilege of learning from recently at my workshops have been:
  • Thom Borden
  • Amy Abbott
  • Gloria Fuoco-Lawson
  • Julie Scott
  • Lynn Kleiner
  • Linda McPherson
  • Dr. Leigh Ann Garner
Google them.  They are master music teachers!  And for only a small fee and a few hours a few times a year, I can learn from them.

I am fortunate in that my local Orff chapter is only a 30 minute drive for me.  My Kodaly chapter is harder to get to, because it is always based in Wichita - a city 3 hours from where I live.  Yet, I go to every workshop I can, because they are that valuable.

You may recall the story of Bach.  He traveled almost 300 miles (the way I heard it was that he did it on foot) just to learn from master organist Dietrich Buxtehude. 

I am currently going through Orff Level 2 at Baldwin-Wallace in Ohio.  I have already completed my Kodaly training - it was part of my Master's degree.  I love both approaches to teaching music.  They both offer something immensely valuable.  Are they the same thing?  Absolutely not.  Do I use them both?  Yes, absolutely.  Zoltan Kodaly and Carl Orff had the same idea - they wanted to teach children music.  They may have gone about it with different approaches, but the end goal is the same - to provide a quality musical education for kids.
Training is a harder thing to do than workshops.  If you feel like you just can't sacrifice 2-3 weeks in the summer to do it, then start with the workshops.  However, if you want your teaching to be transformed - GO DO THEM. 
My family is in Kansas City, and I am in Ohio for 2 weeks.  I Skype with them every day for an hour or more.  It is hard.  Of course it is hard.  But, it is so worth it.  I will become a better teacher, and that will help me to become a better wife and mother too, I think.  You might know this if you've been teaching awhile, but there are some days (maybe more than some) where you just bring work home with you all of the time.  Maybe not an actual work load, but at least the emotional wear and tear from the day.  What if instead, you had amazing days at work because your training taught you to teach more effectively and efficiently.  You'd bring back less actual work, and you'd be more emotionally available for your family.
This 2-week sacrifice I'm doing right now will offer a lifetime of benefits.  That is why I do it.
Additional Opportunities
Go to state conferences for NafME, ACDA, or whatever you have in your area.  Sometimes schools will even give you professional leave.  I've been fortunate that my school district allows a few teachers to go every year.  I've applied and they've let me go.  But, I've been in situations in the past where I have to use personal leave to attend these things.  I go anyway.  I may not go the whole time in those situations, but I do what I can to better myself.
If you feel like you have amazing ideas to share, start sharing them!  Sign up to present at conferences!  Some people learn best by teaching.  This is my goal for myself - someday.  Someday I will present and share....
Go to Pinterest and look up music education ideas.  I call myself a "blog-stalker."  So many amazing music teachers put a little bit of what they do up on the Internet, and you can learn from wherever you are.  I have a few links on the right-hand side of this blog to some of my favorites.  Click on them and learn!

Why I do what I do
My life might seem crazy for other people looking in at what I'm doing.  Here's a brief overview of the past year:
I went to 6 Saturday workshops around my area.  I paid a small fee, but was able to take home months and months worth of teaching ideas.
Over Spring Break, I went to Minneapolis and spent half of it inside a hotel.  But it was relaxing for me.  Why?  I got to go to the Kodaly National Conference and learn from the best.  When I feel better-prepared for my job, that relaxes me.
The week after school ended, I attended a 3-day summer conference put on by my school district.  There weren't really any sessions geared towards music specifically, but I went to amazing sessions on classroom management, technology, and more.  Don't discredit a learning opportunity simply because it may seem to have nothing to do with you.  Go and get what you can from it.
Later in June, I also had the opportunity to attend a week-long training with Teaching Guitar Workshops  Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect going in.  I could sort of play 3 chords on the guitar before this.  However, after a week, I can play dozens of chords and I have the skills now to teach guitar to kids.  Who knew?!?!!   It was so much fun.  PLUS, for around $500 you get 3 graduate credits, the workshop, and hundreds of dollars worth of supplies (books, extra strings, capos, etc.)  Well-worth it. 
Now, I'm spending 2 weeks in Ohio, living in a college dorm room, completing Orff Level 2.  I am becoming a better musician myself, and learning different approaches to teaching my students.  As my teacher tells us, "Your students can only know up to what you know.  The more you know, the more they do as well."  I have already learned so many strategies, and instead of dreading the upcoming school year like I used to, I am excited to share music with kids.  PLUS, I'm getting 4 graduate credits for this.
In the future....
I'm planning on completing my Orff levels next summer.  But I won't be done.  There are so many other things out there - studying Kodaly in Hungary, Orff in Austria, Dalcroze, Music Learning Theory, Feierabend, World Drumming, and more.  I'm just trying to be the best I can be at what I do.
In short - you don't have to go all crazy like I do, but start somewhere.  Start by attending one Saturday workshop.  Do more if you can, but anything you do is better than nothing.  I promise you that it will be well worth it!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Let's go fishing!

I recently came across this really cute Guatemalan folk song:
If anybody knows me, I love all things Latin American - except beans.  For some reason, I just hate those!

Anyway, this is a great song for teaching ta rest for your 1st graders, or bringing it back later on to practice low so.  I wouldn't really use it to present that, because the interval is always re-so, but it would help enforce I-V accompaniment, and is really good for practicing that interval.

Latin American folk songs often have an uneven feel to them, because a lot of the time, their phrases are a little uneven - just different from what we're used to here in the good old U.S.A.  This song has that uneven phrase thing - sort of.  It has 4 equal-in-length phrases, but each phrase is 6 beats long.  That's a little unusual - but cool.  Something that you can point out to your kiddos!  The form is ABA'B - so it's great for pointing that out as well.

The words are:

1. Vamos a la mar, tum, tum,
A comer pescado, tum, tum.
Boca colorada, tum, tum,
Fritito ya asado, tum, tum.

2. Vamos a la mar, tum, tum,
A comer pescado, tum, tum.
Fritito y asado, tum, tum,
En sarten de palo, tum, tum.

The meaning is (not an exact translation, but this way it can also be sung in English)

1. Let's go to the sea
To get fish to eat.
Mouth as red as ruby,
Grilled and fried and crispy.

2. Let's go to the sea
To get fish to eat.
Grilled and fried and crispy
In a wooden skillet.

There is not a game that I can find, but you could have the kids create their own (mine love doing this).

I found a cute little video of some kids adding body percussion to this song.  They do it a little differently - they add an extra measure of rests to make the phrases even.  Find that video here.

Also, since this song is so great for practicing/presenting ta rest, I came up with a little game I call "Fishing for Rhythms."  Basically, you print off a set of these cards:
Cut them out, laminate them, etc.  Then, you can spread them around the "pond," face down.  A student has to "fish" for a rhythm and either you can do individual assessment - that student performs it by themselves, or you can have their team perform it.  Either way, if it is performed correctly, they get a point.  If it is incorrect, have them throw it back in the "pond," and continue playing.

You can also use these cards for games like "Post Office" or the fly swatter game - you know how much I love that one :)  I've provided a set of these cards (12 in total, practicing ta, ti-ti and ta rest) in both color and black and white.  You can get my whole file on this song (and support my adoption savings) here.

OR, you can wait until next week, when I'm throwing a big Cinco de Mayo sale and get this for 20% off, as well as all of my other Spanish language files :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cotton Eye Joe

Do you know "Cotton Eye Joe?".  I have this wonderful folk song in a couple of my books - the standard (orange) "150 American Folk Songs," and in "My Singing Bird."

This song is great for teaching so many things - cut time, low la, practicing half notes, etc.  I like to use it in 3rd-ish grade for low la.

We talk about la in relationship to both low so and do.  Then, we notate it on the staff:

The rhythm can get a little tricky - in my primary sources, it is in cut time.

But, sometimes, this meter can be a little tricky for kids, so depending on where my kids are, I've also done it in 4/4 time:

Or, I've also actually done it where I use both versions for a compare/contrast meter thing.

Now, the first time I actually have ever heard this song was back in college, when I used to go country dancing every Thursday nigh.  I don't really even like country music, but I had so much fun dancing that I ignored that I didn't like the music :)

I used to dance to the version by Rednex, but since that's a little inappropriate for elementary school (some of the lyrics), I've actually stumbled across another great one for line dances by The Chieftains:

You can learn the line dance here:

Of course, this one is based off a different version of the song, notated here:

That version has lots of possibilities to use with your older students - syncopation, fa, etc.

What I like to do is teach the kids the first version, then introduce the second version with the line dance.  They love it!

Of course, you can help support my adoption fund by getting my file of the song here :)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Happy Easter, 100 followers and a forever freebie!

Last Friday (March 27) I reached 75 followers on Teachers Pay Teachers, so I posted a little freebie I developed to the "Bunny Hop!"  You can find it here.  It's been pretty popular, and now I'm over 100 followers, so I'm throwing a sale today!  Everything in my store is 20% off!

Here's a preview of the freebie:

I developed a little rhythm stick play-along for my 1st graders, as they are practicing ta and rest right now.  The form of this song is so repetitious, it is so easy for my 1st graders to follow along:

Then, I thought it would be fun to extend this into a stick-passing game.  Now, I don't know if you have ever tried stick passing games with your young ones before, but it is basically impossible to ask 1st graders and Kindergartners to pass sticks to the beat.  They just haven't developed enough yet.  But, I am preparing them for the future.  So, when you first start a passing game, just work on passing the correct direction.  Also, start with only one object.

Once they are doing well with the right direction, you can start encouraging them to pass only on the downbeat.  This reinforces the downbeat, as well as slows it down enough so that your kids can be successful.  Add more objects as your kids feel more successful.

Older grade levels could have fun with this as well.  Have them pass to the rhythm of the rhythm stick play-along.  On the fourth measure every time, though, have them hold on to the stick instead of passing it right away.  They tap to their right (in front of neighbor), then in front of themselves, then to their right again, where they finally pass it.  It's kind of like the end of "Pass this Shoe," if you've ever played that one before.  If not, check out Amy Abbott's blog here.  She has a fantabulous post about shoe passing games.

Of course, the Bunny Hop would not be complete without actually doing the dance.  Here are the steps, if you are not familiar:

You can also see people doing it on the Lawrence Welk show here:

My kids are really enjoying this!  Hope you have fun with it as well!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Play Parties and Pie!

I have always loved the song "Great Big House."
The melody is so catchy that even though I usually use this in 2nd grade for "re" and half note, I have used this very successfully in older grades for improvisation, I-V harmonies, etc.  The kids love it.

Of course, I prepared a file for Teachers Pay Teachers (found here) that has all of my regular stuff - intro to the rhythm, melodic preparation, etc.  It's all great stuff, if I do say so myself.

But, that's not why I'm here.  I'm here because I recently attended a conference, and up until then, I had no idea this song had a "game."  It's really an old play party song - so it's traditional and everything!  And, my goal for this year was to make the kids do more folk dances and move more, so this fits right in with my goal.  Yay!

Formation:  single circle, with class divided into partners

Verse 1:  The whole class stands in a circle and walks to the right (or the left, it doesn't really matter).

Verse 2:  Partner #1 walks to the center of the circle and joins hands with the other #1s.  Then, Partner # 2 reaches in between the center circle to join hands with the other #2s.  On "put one arm around my wife," the #2s raise their arms up and behind the #1s, and on "the other round my daughter," the #1s raise their arms up and behind the #2s.

Verse 3:  All shuffle to the right or left while still holding their hands in a "basket weave." 

The kids love this!  It is so much fun!  I am so surprised I didn't learn it until recently, but I'm so glad I did.

Here's a video of some random 3rd grade class I found on YouTube for better visualization:

Monday, March 2, 2015

I've Been Impaled!

How do you teach solfa?  How do you get your kids to remember it?  I am a Kodaly teacher at heart, so I love the sequence of teaching these notes, but sometimes my kids would still struggle with remembering which ones go where on a staff.

I teach that my solfa notes live on a magical mountain called "Melody Mountain."  (Next door is "Rhythm Valley" for when I teach rhythmic concepts).  I've seen other people use "Music Street" or "Pitch Hill" kinds of ideas - and these are great.  I love the mountain concept because it helps the kids remember which notes are higher than others - because they can see it visually.

Last year, I had an entire bulletin board specifically for Melody Mountain.  I wish I still had that.. My principal also doesn't want us hanging stuff on the walls because of holes/residue....anyway, I'm trying (still) to figure out how to get it up without a bulletin board.  I'm supposed to get one eventually....

I made the rise on the hill smaller for mi-fa, and again for ti-do (this really helps my kids with half steps).

When I introduce a new note, I tape one of these guys up on a house:
I don't know if you can tell (so sorry about the picture quality), but I alternated girls/boys with them.  Do is a girl, Re is a boy, Mi is a girl, etc.  I did that for one main reason:  lines and spaces on the staff!  My kids used to really struggle with this, but now, they are so, so good.

I make up silly little stories about each note.  For example, "do" is a girl who just really loves rocks.  Her favorite music is "rock and roll," her favorite candy is "pop rocks," and her favorite game is "rock paper scissors."  She always does "rock," of course.  And, because she built her house out of rocks, it is pretty heavy, so it has to be at the bottom of the mountain.

Each of my stories helps the kids remember where the note is in relation to the others, as well as the hand sign with the note.  Then, the kids remember that when do is in a space, all of the other "girls" are in spaces too, and when do is on a line, all of the other "girls" are on lines as well.  This quickly resolves which note goes where.  All the kids do is find do, or look for the do clef, and they are all getting great at alternating lines and spaces on the staff.

This technique has worked pretty successfully for me for a few years, and then came along the movie "Frozen."  For some reason, this little clip stuck with me:
My kids love this part!  We talk about how when notes live in spaces, they don't even really touch a line, but when they live on a line, they are "impaled" by that line.  The kids just giggle about that - they love it so much :)

Whenever I show a "mystery measure" on the board when the students come in, sometimes the first thing I hear is:  "Oh, look - the girls are impaled today!"

Or - "The girls are in spaces, so the boys must be impaled today!"

It's just these little things that make me happy :)

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Who doesn't love a good pizza?  Many of you probably know this song:
My kids absolutely love this song!  I have used it successfully with my younger and my older students.  The melodic structure is very easy - uses just the pitches so, mi and la, but in a way that if you use this with older kids they won't think it's too "baby-ish."

I also find that my older kids just get really nervous singing in front of others.  However, if you give them a really fun call-and-response song like this, they don't really notice that they're singing a solo, and it gives you a chance to individually assess them in a non-threatening environment.

Last year, I was looking around on Pinterest, and I found a blog post about this song with some fantastic improvisation ideas:  Pizza, Pizza, Daddy-o improvisation.  The authors of this blog, Janet and Laura, came up with a great improvisation worksheet that I have used countless times.  My kids love it too - plus it incorporates a little bit of that "writing" technique that many of us now have to use with the Common Core stuff....  (printable version of this worksheet on their blog)

After the kids come up with their different movements, each student leads the class in what they came up with.  Side note - as a proud music teacher, I love that the group above used "compose it."  Made my day :)

Anyway, another extension idea I found was on Teachers Pay Teachers.  A new seller, Megan Bracciano, came up with these adorable pizza composition worksheets.  You cut out red circles for the "pepperoni" (my school has a die cut machine that is perfect for these) and the kids can glue them on.  It helps them practice writing music left to right, placing notes on lines or in spaces, etc.  She has 3 versions of these worksheets you can download for FREE!

One is with "high/low" - you can use this with your kiddos who haven't labeled "so-mi" yet:
Another version is with just "sol/mi":
And finally, this is the version I will be using with my 2nd graders, as we have just labeled "do":

After they glue on the pepperoni (or just color them on if you want to go that route), you can have them color the rest of the pizza with other toppings, or whatever you want to do.

So cute, right?!?!?!

Going back to the "Pizza, Pizza, Daddy-o!" song, I made some files for Teachers Pay Teachers (you can find it here) for my kids to practice the melodic patterns found in the song, both on and off the staff.

Off the staff:
On the staff, where do is in a space:
On the staff, where do is on a line:
I also made some printable tone ladders, both in color and black and white:

And I even added a steady beat chart, though I don't use this song for rhythm as it contains some complicated syncopation:
Improvisation slide:
Game/dance instructions:
A couple of other great places to find extension ideas on this song:

I also found another really cute song called "Rico's Pizza Restaurant" on Beth's blog that would be great for practicing "re" and using some improvisation!

Have lots and lots of fun with this song!  My kids LOVE it!

Just for funsies for you music teachers - love this clip by Brian Regan!  :)