Archive for April, 2013


Treating Yourself

April 27, 2013

This time of year can begin to take its toll on teachers, particularly us Music teachers. Not only are the kids a bit (unbelievably) stir crazy, but we are trying to get them focused on rehearsing for concerts, end of the year assemblies, and/or graduation. We battle scheduling conflicts caused by last minute field trips and nearly school-wide state testing. It can all become a bit…much.

All musicians must take care of their instrument. If you don’t take care of your violin you could pop a string or break the bridge. You can break your clarinet reeds. Your valves will get sticky. Your guitar could tip over, cracking the headstock.

It is important to remember that YOU are your primary instrument.

As the stress level builds during concert season and report card time (because they always seem to coincide) you have to take care of yourself. We need to maintain our physical and vocal health, as well as our emotional health.

We all have our ways to make it through these last months, but here are a few simple reminders:

1) Hydrate! I don’t do this enough. It is something I have vowed to be more conscious of this year. I even have started to infuse water with herbs to make drinking water more appealing to my easily bored taste buds.

2) Sleep. None of us get enough of this. We are teachers. It comes with the territory, but it is imperative to rest our bodies so as not to impact the immune system.

3) Chocolate! Ok, ok, I’m kidding. Well, not really. Having a little something in your desk with which to treat yourself is a great idea. Had an extra taxing rehearsal and need a pick-me-up? Grab a Hershey’s Kiss out of the desk drawer. That little indulgence give me a boost every time. Maybe for you it is Swedish Fish or salty peanuts or some trail mix. Perhaps it is listening to your favorite guilty pleasure pop song. Whatever it is, keep it on hand.

4) Plan ahead. I am a maker of to-do lists. It helps me keep focused. The more stressed I become, the more details I lose track of. Post-it notes are my best friends. They are tacked to everything with all sorts of reminders.

5) Give yourself some time off. If you are working every waking moment you WILL burn out. It is ok to watch your favorite show without a pile of papers to grade or the laptop open to your concert program file. Go work out, take a walk in the park, go snuggle your best friend’s baby, see a movie, go salsa dancing, try tackling a new recipe. Do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with school.

6) Treat yourself to something. It could be a Frappucino. Take a bubble bath. Go buy yourself a new comic book. For me, it was a ukulele strap. I needed one for for my upcoming concert and found the most adorable one on etsy. I will be able to use it while playing for my own enjoyment, but it is practical, as well. The gal who made it is super sweet and creates wonderful environmentally sustainable items. Also, the uke strap has cute folk owls all over it!

So, yes. Chocolate, uke strap and a bubble bath. I’m all set for this concert season. How about you?


Butterfly Rhythms: ta, ta-ti (ti-ti), and rest

April 19, 2013

I had acquired a number of foam pieces shaped like butterflies on a visit to my local the dollar store. I had a couple of different ideas of how I might use them, but just didn’t feel very happy with any of it. They sat in the extra bedroom languishing until about a week and a half ago.  I was doing some last minute lesson planning and needed a quick opening activity that I could also use during the next class for learning centers. I also wanted a way to see if individuals in my kindergarten and 1st grade classes were able to identify patterns of rhythms.  As Spring is finally upon us in New Jersey, I decided the butterflies had found their time.

I took eight butterflies and, using a permanent marker, wrote a four beat rhythm pattern across the shape. For Kindergarten I made a set using quarter notes and eighth notes. The 1st grade set included the same rhythms, plus quarter rest. I had this grand idea of getting a butterfly net and asking the kids to “capture” the butterfly I performed.  As with many grand plans, practicality won the day. Hence, Bop the Butterfly was born.


Bop the Butterfly, a rhythm identification game

•Place the rhythm butterflies on the floor or on a table, randomly spread out.
•Choose one student to be the “entomologist” or “lepidopterist.” Give them a mallet.
•The “expedition leader” (at first the teacher, but later on a student) reads one of the rhythm patterns aloud.
•The “lepidopterist” needs to search/hunt for the correct butterfly. They can “bop” the butterfly by tapping it with the mallet.
•The “lepidopterist” can ask their assistants (the rest of the class) for helpful hints. (ie. “It starts with a ta.” “It is near the door.”)
My students loved this activity.  It is so simple, yet effective. In fact, during the next class the students had a chance to play Bop the Butterfly as part of learning centers. They took turns being the expedition leader. Some groups even made the game competitive by seeing who could discover the butterfly first.  Just last night my school held a curriculum fair for the families. I included Bop the Butterfly at my table. The children taught their parents how to play.  Many were impressed to see the children playing together, reading and identifying the rhythms.
Check out my TeacherPayTeachers store to download the game and rhythm cards for FREE! While you are there, check out the other items I have created.  There aren’t that many right now, but I would love to hear what you think.

Dictation: Checking What Your Students Are Hearing

April 12, 2013

I am a huge fan of technology. HUGE! When I was hired at my new school I was in raptures over the fact that I would have a SmartBoard in my room. Well, really I was in raptures that I would finally have an actual classroom and not a desk shoved in the corner of some poor teacher’s classroom. But I digress. I love tech. I use the SmartBoard, I borrow the cart of iPads and laptops. The kids love it and it can make assessment a breeze.

That being said, there is absolutely nothing that can replace a good set of manipulatives.  Give the kids something to hold or move around with their hands and their level of engagement goes through the roof. I find this to be especially true with activities such as dictation. Paper and pencil works, but can challenge younger students or those with fine motor issues. Provide a pile of popsicle sticks or coffee stirrers and they can easily manipulate them into quarter notes and eighth notes.

During a recent visit to my local dollar store I found a few packs of foam hearts. They are about four inches across, so quite a good size. I knew immediately they were going to be perfect for my classroom.  I had created staff dictation sets a couple of years ago, but wanted something separate to give the kids for when I just want to work on rhythms. Over Spring Break I redistributed some of my classroom materials (because what else would I possibly want to do on vacation??!?!) Into each bag I included eight hearts, three pieces of yarn about six inches long, eight popsicle/craft sticks, twenty coffee stirrers, and four coffee stirrers that I had cut in half (eight halves in all.)

What to do with these new rhythmic goldmines?  Why not work on placing barlines between the appropriate beats for music in 2 meter?

Bar lines

Perform a pattern using rhythm syllables or by playing on an instrument. The students use the hearts to keep track of the beats and use the coffee stirrers to “write” the pattern they heard . The long stirrers are good for stems and the short “half sticks” are perfect for the beams connecting rhythms such as eighth notes or for making a quarter rest.


The yarn is a new addition to my manipulative repertoire. In one of those “oh, duh!” moments, I heard a teacher mention using yarn or pipe cleaners so that students could create half notes during dictation. This has opened up a whole new world of dictation possibilities for 2nd grade!


If you are working on a particular song your students can recreate an entire phrase of a song.  Here are my 2nd graders recreating the first phrase of Rocky Mountain with the correct number of beats, bar lines, and rhythms. They were so excited to get to “play” with the materials and show off how to create their new long rhythm.  I was thrilled to be able to look around the room and get an instant snapshot of how well my students are understanding the concepts. I now know for which students I need to provide a bigger challenge and which students need some more practice when next we do learning centers in class.


If you have dictation materials such as these, how do you use them?  Do you have any different ideas you could share? Any unique materials you have used in the past?



Folk Song Arranging (and my first TPT upload)

April 8, 2013

When you look at the cognitive domain of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy the most complex level of critical thinking involves the creation of something new, utilizing the recently acquired  knowledge. In Music, the learning activities that best allow students to engage in this mode of thinking are those that involve improvisation, composition and arranging.  Improvisation is often overlooked as too difficult or set to the side in the interest of time. (There are already so many concepts and performances to squeeze into the curriculum!) It is vitally important that we give our students opportunities to improvise…but that is for another post.

Composition activities are more often completed in class. They can be as simple as writing a four beat rhythm pattern to play on a hand drum, or as complex as writing a song in Rondo form in la pentatonic on the music staff with lyrics based on the current Social Studies unit.

Song arranging falls through the cracks so often that, when I mention doing an arranging project at my school, many music educators look at me with surprise. Why is this?  Arranging a know song or songs into a unique performance is a wonderful way to get your students’ creative juices flowing and gives you a chance to see how well they are synthesizing the elements you have recently worked into the curriculum.  An arranging project can highlight and enable you to assess a multitude of musical elements:

  • form
  • texture
  • the use of the singing voice
  • the ability to sing and play simultaneously
  • effective use of dynamics
  • the ability to write and perform a specific rhythm through the creation of ostinati
  • steady beat (while performing the arrangement)
  • ensemble skills
  • part singing…

The list could continue on and on.

Recently in my own classroom I have had my 3rd graders working on a group project arranging three known folk songs into a new performance. They will be performing the three songs (Rocky Mountain, Dinah, and Great Big House in New Orleans) in the Spring Concert. What better way for the kids to become deeply acquainted with the songs? Each group consists of three or four students. Their goal is to create and perform the three folk songs in a new and different way.  They must have a bordun and an ostinato in their performance, and all group members must sing. They can sing in unison or layer the songs to create harmony. The beauty of using do-pentatonic folk songs is that when sung simultaneously they create a lovely sound. To help the students to achieve their musical goals as smoothly and successfully as possible, I created a packet.  Each group would receive these materials at the beginning of the project when I explain what they need to accomplish. Each step is laid out for the students so that they know exactly what to do and in which order.  I have created manipulatives to assist the students in developing the form of their piece.  There is a graphic organizer to use in the planning phase, and which will act as a map of their arrangement.


I have led students through projects like this in the past, but this year is the first time I am using these materials. The students have a much clearer understanding of what they need to do in class and I am freed up to assist more with the creation process.  While I am using those three particular folk songs, the forms I created do not specify the repertoire, leaving it open for use with different grade levels and selections of repertoire.

If you are interested in downloading these materials, please visit my new TeachersPayTeachers store. Since this is my first item posted on the site it is FREE! Check it out and please let me know what you think.


The manipulatives were made using graphics from My Journey to 5th Grade.

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