Search This Blog

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Masks for Orchestra Teachers and students
Looks like I'll have to be wearing a mask when I start teaching school again in the fall.  I'm a little worried about having to keep a mask on all day and keep student engagement and attention without them seeing my facial expressions.  I decided to design some custom masks to at least send a good message...

Order yours HERE!

Perfect for all string teachers, musicians, and makes a great gift!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Online learning fun - no stress!

Before the term ends, I want to give students the opportunity to rack up as many points as they can.  Since online learning began, I've had quite a few students who accumulated missing assignments.  Students often feel very overwhelmed when they realize they have a list of 10+ assignments that have to all be made up.  I don't want my class to feel burdensome in any way!  Music should be fun and inspiring and uplifting!  To help all students get caught it in a more relaxed/fun way, I created this 'PUMP UP YOUR POINTS' assignment.  Hopefully students will enjoy choosing their own activities and making music.

Here's a link to the google may use and edit this assignment.  Just click on 'FILE' then 'Make a copy' so I can keep my original intact.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

LEGO Ideas - Help make the LEGO Symphony Orchestra a reality

My family loves Legos!  I was recently contacted by a musician/Lego fan designer who created this cool Symphony Orchestra set...

Daniel (aka PieceOnEarth), the fan designer of the Symphony Orchestra on Lego Ideas, has invited me to share with you how you can be a part of making this orchestra into a real Lego set! Lego Ideas is a website where people can submit or vote on idea proposals that they would like to see made into an actual Lego buildable model. If that idea receives 10,000 supporters, Lego will consider producing it as an official set!

Daniel has designed an intricate buildable orchestra that he hopes would give the opportunity to people of all ages to build their very own orchestra and would also help inspire the next generation of musicians. He needs your help to get this idea to 10,000 supporters.

I think this would be a fun set to have on display in my classroom.  Kids are always drawn to Legos and it would make a great conversation piece.  I love the creativity with the different instruments.  I imagine it would be fun to have students create a stop motion video using this set.  Student could even create and record their own soundtrack!  

If you would like to help support this idea, please visit the link below and then click the ‘SUPPORT’ button on the idea page. Signing up and supporting is quick, free and easy to do!  Share with colleagues and friends and let's see if we can get this set off the ground!

You can check out the project here:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The world of online teaching - where does music fit?


I now have had 3 weeks of distance learning experience and am on Spring Break.  It's been good to have some time to reflect on how things are going with my students and reevaluate my goals and objectives.  When this all started it seems like teachers were ultra motivated to make assignments and find content for students.   And we succeeded!  There was no shortage of great ideas.  I was creating and posting assignments every day for my high school class (which normally meets on an A/B schedule) until one parent contacted me to tell me that every teacher was piling on work and it was too much!  Of course....I was so excited to post the awesome stuff I was creating, I forgot balance.  I hear stories about students who feel over-burdened with hours of work and assignments and feel overwhelmed.  All subjects are important.

It made me think...what do I REALLY want students to learn right now? 

Is now the time to make sure my students memorize the circle of 5th, memorize every major and minor scale, master 3rd position?   Maybe those would work great for online learning.. but at the end of all this, what do I want my students to really know?   I definitely don't want my class to end with a burdensome feeling.  There is time for all that stuff when social distancing is over. 

It seems to me that now is the perfect time to teach students - Why Music?  Music is healing, music expresses our deepest emotions, music moves people, music inspires.  There have been awesome articles online and in the news about people using music to deal with the challenges of this pandemic.  Isn't this why we do music?  To reach, uplift, inspire, and provide hope ourselves and others?  Music teaches us that anything possible.

I had been teaching new music to my students.  There is no way we'll ever perform that music.  Concerts are cancelled for the rest of the year.  I don't think that music is going to mean much to my students.  I need a new plan.  After Spring Break I am going to shift gears.  We'll still learn music, but it won't be for a traditional concert.  It's going to be for us to heal.  It's going to bring families together.  It will be for neighborhoods and friends.  I want my students to see what music can do for others.

My new 'Music Inspires' objective will focus on the following lessons:
  • Students will identify weaknesses and strengths in their playing and make a plan to overcome weaknesses.  Because in life, we can always overcome any obstacle.

  • Students will choose music they personally want to learn.  My best private teacher was one who talked to me and let me learn music I had always wanted to learn.  I worked harder for that teacher than any other because I was heard and I had ownership of my learning. 

  • Students will learn 'Amazing Grace' and we will perform it all at the same time on our porches.  I will encourage students to perform the melody for family members, friends over video calls, neighbors, and all who will hear to uplift the world and provide hope and comfort.
You can have my arrangement of AMAZING GRACE for FREE at my TPT Store:  

Click here for MIDI audio:  

  • Students will read and learn about how music makes a difference:



Dutch orchestra performs 'Ode to Joy' from self-isolation

The Italians Making Music on Balconies Under Coronavirus Quarantine | The New Yorker

Heartwarming Moments Quarantined Italians Sing Together from Balconies


Family's lockdown adaptation of Les Misérables song goes viral


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Fun ONLINE learning activity - Learning to use a LOOPER

This is a fun activity - all online - and no instruments needed!  You just use the keyboard or click on the screen to change sounds.

Students can create their own looped tracks at this website:

Then they can save their creation and send you the link.  Here's one I did while I was messing around with the website:

I think this is a GREAT activity for students because they immediately learn how important it is to keep a steady beat and maintain accurate rhythm.  It look me a few tries...and I'm not perfect at looping, but it was fun!

To teach my students how to use the website, I made a Loom video with me experimenting and teaching them what to do.  Very fast and easy!   Here's a sample of how you can do it with loom: 
(this was my mess-up video - not perfect. Sorry).

Thursday, March 19, 2020

RECORDING online practice videos

If you're looking for an easy video recording tool....check this out!

I've been experimenting with options for recording practice videos for my students. I started by trying to record videos directly into canvas and it wasn't working - my videos would not save.  I have a nice digital camera, but was looking for something fast and easy.  Then I heard about  I made a few videos for my beginners and it was so fast and easy!  It's all online - I don't have to worry about uploading stuff.  I just send students the links to the practice videos.  It's free right now for educators. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Online Teaching - the new frontier


Like many other orchestra teachers across the state, I will be teaching my orchestra classes online for the next few weeks.  There has been no shortage of information.  Companies have been sending free subscription options, facebook has blown up with ideas, emails are flooding my inbox with suggestions and resources.  The big challenge is sifting through everything and deciding what to use.  I have been trying to keep things very simple.  Here's what I'm doing...

1.  I decided to use Canvas, because that is what my district supports and uses.  I know that all of my students can already access Canvas, so I wouldn't have to worry about sending out special codes to join some other LMS.   I have never used Canvas before, but I've got enough basics down to make it work.

2.  Routine is good. My students are used to having a 'Video of the Week.'  I have posted a video in the  'discussion' tab of canvas for students to watch and comment.   I decided to post a video every couple of days.  There are some cool stories and videos coming out about music amid the current world health crises.  I just sent out this one for students to discuss...What good can I do?

3.  I got some great practice assignments from a genius orchestra colleague - Meagan Thorup.  I made a couple changes, but I think these practice assignments are a great way to start an at-home learning experience because students need to create a new routine.  Here's a link to my first assignment - day 1:

4.  Day 2 assignment - listen to new concert music.  I sent links to our new music where students can listen to the recordings, mark difficult measures in their music, and write how they feel about the new music.

5.  Day 3 assignment - Developing a practice routine:

 6.  My next assignments will be short videos of me teaching small chunks of the new music and will include specific practice assignments.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Video tie-ins - Using YouTube to engage students and teach concepts

I've been using lots of videos to help my students grasp the concepts I'm teaching in class.   Videos are such a great way to begin a rehearsal.  It settles everyone down, everyone is intrigued, and it gives me 1 or 2 minutes to re-set my brain and gear myself for another class.

A few tips for using videos in class:

*Always preview the entire video.  I make sure every video is appropriate for school and I never show a video I have not pre-screened.  If there is one or two swear words. I edit those out by hitting the mute button.

*Make sure there is a point.  I always relate my videos to my rehearsals and I refer back to the video during the rehearsals to reinforce/remind students about the skills we are working on.  Videos help my students quickly grasp concepts.

*Use the same video for every level.  It would be way too hard for me to find different videos for every level I teach.  I use the same videos and focus on the same basic concepts in each class.

*Show only the best parts of the videos.  Time is precious.

Here are the videos I have used recently and an explanation of how I related each video to my class:

We discussed the need to develop muscle memory and to feel the spacing between notes and fingerpatterns.  Also 'feeling' correct position, correct bow holds, and maintaining 'feel' of the instrument while playing.  For a fun Friday activity, I brought my game 'What's in the Box' and we played the game for a few minutes.  Students LOVED it.

I LOVE this video!  We were able to discuss artistry and what makes good music.  I let students watch the video once, then we re-watched the performance and paused to discuss things the singer did to create such emotion in the music.  


We watched only the first 3 minutes of this one.  GREAT video to discuss bow distribution.  We talked about how some players use the same amount of bow no matter what they are playing.  It is way more interested to use LONG bows and SHORT bows depending on what the music calls for.  We then went through our music to decide where we should be suing more or less bow.  This really transformed some of our concert music!


Showed from 1:55 to 4:48.  We talked about how smart students are able to do things on their own!  They don't need a teacher to tell them what to do all the time.  Students can figure out what to fix on their own.  As we rehearsed I had students complete a worksheet where they had to write the measures we were practicing and what they needed to do to make those measures better.  Frankly, I was tired of telling them the same things all the time in every rehearsal.  This worked wonders in my rehearsal.  Students thought about each section of music and took ownership for their playing.  They improved a TON...and I didn't have to say a thing.


I only showed the very beginning of this one...with the baby.  I told students that I hope they feel about orchestra and performing and their instruments the same way this baby feels about ice cream.  It's hilarious.


This video shows that every part, every note is important in the entire piece.


This video teaches about tone color.  We talked about how we can use our bow to change the tone color of our instruments...and in older classes - how adding vibrato changes tone color.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Practice assignment for orchestra students of all ages

My 2nd year players have been working on a really difficult piece.  They love it and they are quite motivated, but still need a little push to keep working on the measures that are most challenging.  This practice tip helped students learn to study the music and figure out what makes certain passages so hard.  By identifying the skills necessary to master the music, students were empowered to practice more effectively. 

I began our rehearsal by showing this clip to students (skipping through the dialogue so it didn't take very long).

We then had a discussion about the skills we have to master to learn our music.  When playing an instrument you have to be able to do all sorts of cool skills!  What makes certain measures hard?  Is it bowing, shifting, fingering, etc? Once students can figure out specific skills in challenging passages, they can target their practice to master those skills.

Students can use this worksheet to map out their practice:

Another idea is you can have students practice in small groups to help each other identify the skills and practice effectively.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Weekly Motivation Strategy - Video of the Week

Those who have been to my conference presentations know that I show a lot of short videos in my class to motivate and inspire my students to work hard and be stay focused.  Students really connect to my videos and they look forward to watching them each week.   I have a special gift where I can tie any video to my class.  Sometimes students try to stump me, but there's always a way to apply things into orchestra!  In fact, at the end of the year, we play 'Video of the Week - Apples to Apples.'  Students are divided into teams and are given a dry erase board and marker.   I show the class a video and students have to write how the video can apply to orchestra.  One person per team (designated as team captain for that round) collects the responses and chooses one response as the winner - and that person gets a point.  The team captain position rotates to the next person...and the game continues the same way.  Just like Apples to Apples.  I'm amazing that students acquire my same gift - they can tie everything into orchestra, too!

I was just looking at my YouTube suggestions and found this video:

I think this will be one of my 'Videos of the Week.'  It got me thinking - is practicing a form of generosity?  Is a positive attitude in class and a good work ethic a from of generosity?  In an ensemble we depend on one another to learn and progress for the benefit of the entire group.  I would argue that when one student practices, it is an act of generosity for the group.  One strong player generates and promotes good playing for those around him/her.  Like a ripple effect, the group becomes stronger.  Practicing at home is a great and generous gift to offer other students in the ensemble.  A positive attitude and attention in rehearsals is the same.  It is a generous act to be respectful during rehearsals.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Nailed It! for ORCHESTRA

Have you ever seen the show 'Nailed It' on Netflix?  It's a show were non-professional bakers try to bake and decorate some pretty intricate cake designs.  The end result is often less than spectacular. 

I thought it would be fun to bring awareness to our progress in class by playing a similar game in orchestra.  Are students able to 'Nail it?' 

Here's how I did this in class today:

1.  To introduce the game, I showed SHORT clips from this video.  DISCLAIMER...this video has some language.  I was very careful about which clips I showed to my class.

2.  I told my class I would be checking them throughout the class period to determine if they could 'nail it' while playing their music.

3.  For beginners, I had to show their bow holds to their stand partners and let stand partners determine if they had 'nailed it.'

4.  Play D scale with the focus being - is the bow traveling in a straight line between the fingerboard and bride?  If they 'nailed it' - they tell me by showing me their bow holds.  You could have them just shout out 'nailed it' at the end of each exercise, but it was quieter and more controlled to have them 'tell' me by holding their bows above their heads.

5.  Play D scale while focusing on intonation.   Could they plan in tune which correct finger placement the whole time?

You get the idea.  We did variations with bowings, fingerpatterns, method book exercises, and excerpts from our concert music.  Students focused really well and were putting extra thought in their playing because they were really trying to complete each skill carefully.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Work on position and release of tension in string playing

Sometimes you need an activity outside of the norm.  Something students won't expect...something that maintains interest and intrigue.  I saw this game called Goat Yoga and thought it would be fun to incorporate the idea into my classroom.

I had been wanted to revisit correct position to help students fix minor issues and help them learn to play without squeezing their thumbs.  I did this little 'Instrument Yoga' activity with all grades I teach (7-12) and they all LOVED it.  It was a great way to mix up the regular routine and review position without it seeming too basic.

For the mini-lesson on position review and release of tension, I showed a minute of so of this video:

I pointed out to students that the people doing yoga had to maintain position and balance even when baby goats where jumping all over them.

I then turned out this video for some background yoga music and told students we were going to do some instrument yoga:

Next I used my more soothing, velvety voice to instruct students through the following routine:

  1. Place bows on your music stands.
  2. Go to rest position.  Curl your back forward like you're rolling into a ball.
  3. Plant your feet.  Grow your body upwards like a tree.  Your feet are the roots.  Sit tall on the edge of your seat with your back straight.
  4. Go to play position.  Violin/viola - place the instrument on your shoulder.  Place your left hand on your right shoulder and maintain that position while keeping instrument still.  Cello/Bass - bring your instrument to your body while maintaining your position with back straight, feet planted.  Hug your instrument.
  5. Violin/Viola, place left hand on fingerboard.  Become aware of your thumb and check thumb placement.  Feel your thumb completely relax.
  6. Cello/Bass, place left hand on fingerboard.  Place fingers in the grooves between the middle 2 strings.  Slide your forward and fingers up and down the fingerboard with a relaxed smooth motion.
  7. Violin/Viola, tap your fingers one at a time on the tapes.  Watch for the placement of the fingers. Aim for the thumb-side corner of each finger.  Check to make sure fingers hover directly above each tape.
  8. Cello/Bass, place left hand in 1st position and tap each finger on the tapes.  Watch to be sure fingers hover above tapes.  Be aware of the thumb to keep it relaxed and soft.

Also students could do bow exercises with the yoga music to work on release bow hand tension.

As I went through this exercise with students with the peaceful yoga music, I was able to walk around the classroom and make minor adjustments or help students when needed.  Super easy!

For a fun friday activity, I let my students pose and play the game I bought on Amazon - Goat Yoga.  We talked about how it's important to be able to hold and maintain posture when playing an instrument.  It's a crazy game, but my students liked it.  I had to work with my 2nds and violas for 10 mins at the high school and I let the other sections play that game while I drilled the music with the students who needed it. 

I'd like to have students create their own poses and draw them on a paper to create our own version of the game.  I have a styrofoam violin and it would be fun to use that as the object students have to balance.