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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Teaching students how to tune

 



I've re-vamped all my lessons about teaching students how to tune.  I wanted to use NearPod and make the experience more interactive.  I made 3 lessons using google slides and incorporated them into NearPod with websites for students to explore, games to practice adjusting pitch, and quizzes to check for understanding.  

I think it's important to establish some pre-tuning skills before students actually get to tune their own instruments.  These skills include understanding what 'in-tune' and 'out of tune' means, how to adjust pitch, and how to use pegs/fine tuners.  Here are snapshots of the lessons I prepared...you can use them at Nearpod:

Lesson 1:  Exploring Pitch:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/oFRUWV95edb






I LOVE LOVE LOVE this game!  It's at https://trainer.thetamusic.com/en/content/html5-dango-brothers    It's GREAT practice for studetnts to learn to adjust pitch to be 'in-tune.'  Students enjoyed practicing using this game. 


Lesson 2:  Pegs and Fine Tuners:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/8FStsce6edb








Lesson 3:  Rules of tuning:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/59eUmMf6edb   (the videos don't work in this lesson...I don't use them.  It was created in google slides...and I didn't really need the videos when I presented this to my class.  Videos can be cut out and replaced with pictures.)

After lesson 3 I help students tune themselves for the first time using my tuning procedure. It worked great - and no broken strings!



Sunday, January 17, 2021

The path to greatness - music selection grid and taking ownership

 


I've been thinking a lot about the different playing abilities in my classes.  I realize all students learn at different rates.  Students come with varying backgrounds, opportunities, and skills.   All students have different needs and desires in their quest to learn their instruments.  I don't have an audition group, so my students are lumped together by grade.  I choose challenging music and help the class learn it together.  But I want them to learn it better and faster...and that takes some student accountability.  Much of the variance in abilities can be minimized if all students are taking ownership doing their part to achieve greatness.  

Term 3 jus started.  I have a concert in 5 weeks.  Students chose the music for this concert....and I really love how that went!  I normally like to maintain control over the repertoire, but a few weeks ago I did a Music Selection assignment with my classes where I chose 12-14 pieces and had students listen (and view the music at JWPepper if there was preview) and take a few notes about each piece.  Students then used google form to vote of their top 4 choices.  

Here's a sample of the form I used (students typed directly in the form using Canvas.)


My class didn't pick the pieces I expected they would pick.  We started worked on the new music a couple weeks ago and it has been a blast!  Students are motivated and they're working extra hard because they really WANT to get it.  Often at the end of class I hear the best words ever...."That was so FUN!"  Allowing students to have ownership for what they are learning has helped them progress more easily.

Now I'd like to help my students take on even more ownership and accountability in their own playing.  I'm still hashing out the details.  Maybe I'll have them make goals then record their progress using FlipGrid.  But it's all going to start with this poster....  Too many students settle for progressing at walking pace.  It's time to drive.  I want these students cruising.  You can access and edit this poster for your own classroom at Canva.com:   https://www.canva.com/design/DAETgkvKjhU/jwqEq4U__ME9AhFF6QSsEw/view?utm_content=DAETgkvKjhU&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link&utm_source=sharebutton&mode=preview








Saturday, November 28, 2020

Make more progress with mindful rehearsals

 

'MINDFUL PRACTICE WEEK!'

I think we all get stuck on auto-pilot sometimes.  Sometimes I zone out on my drive to work and I don't remember stopping at stop lights.  I'm sure I do stop, but I'm not always actively allowing my brain to pay attention to every detail during my drive.  I think I sometimes get stuck on auto-pilot at work, too.  I run my rehearsals with fast pacing in much the same style every day.  I target what to rehearse and quicky go about fixing things.  A couple weeks ago, I noticed I was fixing the exact same passages in our music every single day.  I know students need repitition, but at what point should it stick?  I realized I needed to change the way I was running my rehearsals.  I had been thinking for my students...telling what how and what to fix.  A shift was needed to help students become more accountable.

MINDFUL VIDEOS

To begin my rehearsal transformation, I showed a couple Brain Games clips to help students learn the idea of paying attention and noticing details:



To keep with the mindfulness theme, I showed a short video clip at the start of each reheasal.  This reminded students to be mindful during rehearsals.  I used about 20-30 seconds of this video (carefully screen this one become showing students).  It's amazing to watch this guy sneak hot-dogs into people's pocket's without them noticing:


MINDFUL GAMES

Poetry for Neanderthals is a fun game for teaching mindfulness.  I bought the actual game and we played it as a class for about 5 minutes.  It takes a lot of mindfulness to play the game..it's a lot like Taboo...you have to get your team to guess a word on a card, but you're only allowed to give hints that are one syllable.  If you say a word with more than one syllable, someone gets to hit you on the head with an inflatable caveman club.  It's pretty hilarious.  It makes you think really carefully about how and what you say.  Students loved this game, so I made my own cards with orchestra terms and words from our concert music to play an 'orchestra version'.  



In my beginning class we played a game I created called TWO-WORD rehearsals.  I told students that I had to run the entire class only being able to say 2 words at a time.  No other talk...no other explanations.  Students who had comments or questons were only allowed to say 2 words.  It made me really think about what to say and how to say it.  I couldn't count off  '1...2 ready go' to start the group, so I used conducting motions to start them and they followed like pros!  The rehearsal was quiet, focused, efficient, and very mindful.  It's more fun for students if they play along and try to ask questions or make comments during the rehearsal.


MINDFUL READING/RESPONDING

During the week, students completed an assignment in Canvas where they read an article and summarized what they learned.  It was really interesting to read their responses.  I learned a lot about how I needed to change my rehearsals to encompass a mindfulness approach.  I highly recommend you read this article, too:  https://bulletproofmusician.com/how-many-hours-a-day-should-you-practice/


ASK QUESTIONS



The key to transforming my rehearsals was to ask mindfulness questions.  These questions changed depending on what we were practicing, but here are some examples:

1.  During our scale, was your F# in tune?

2.  Did you use your whole bow the entire time?

3.  Did you play every slur?

4.  Did your eighth notes match your stand partner's notes?

5.  Did you play spiccato at the balance point?

ETC....so many possible questions - it all depends on what you want students to become aware of.

Students responded YES by giving me a thumbs up, NO a thumbs down, or I DIDN'T NOTICE with a flat hand.  I explained to students that a 'yes' or 'no' answer is great - it means they are mindful.  The 'I don't know' response means there is no mindfulness/awareness.  

After rehearsing this way for a few days, I noticed students were taking way more responsibility for their playing.  We fixed things FASTER and EASIER because students were doing it themselves.  I feel like I didn't have to work as hard to help them make progress.  When I needed to stop to rehearse a passage, I tried to ask a mindfulness question instead of just telling them what to do.  Students were more engaged and worked so hard!  

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Intonation Week

My students are still enjoying my weekly themes!  I wanted to post some ideas for INTONATION WEEK.  


1.  Listening tests

See how well students can distinguish in tune versus out of tune pitches.   One idea is to use the Listening Test I created a couple month ago:  https://orchestrateacher.blogspot.com/2020/08/listening-test-for-beginning-string.html

Some districts block my sound files in this resource.  In that case, you would have to create your own audio clips.  I used Garage Band to record my clips.


2.  Use the 'bean-boozled' game to introduce intonation.  

Most students have an impeccable sense of taste and can tell what flavor of jelly bean they are eating...and if it tastes like coconut or rotten egg, for example.  They know what tastes good and what tastes bad.  Can their ears do the same thing with sound?  During rehearsal, ask students to focus on matching their intonation to make the notes 'taste' good.  If one section plays out of tune, ask for a volunteer to come and eat a jelly bean.  This game really gets the entire class focusing more carefully on pitch and intonation.

3.  Rob Landes Videos

There are some great videos from Rob Landes about playing by feel.  These are great for teaching students to develop muscle memory and not rely on tapes to play in tune.  You can even have students try to play blindfolded or with gloves on.




4.  Play 'What's in the box' with students.  

I like to show the Jimmy Fallon 'What's in the box' videos to introduce the game.  


I then let students play the game to see if they can determine objects in a box by feel.  You can use a box with holes cut in the sides - or there's a game you can buy:  https://www.amazon.com/Whats-In-the-Box-B07QHFLD7H/dp/B07QHFLD7H



We then try to play our intruments with perfect intonation by feel through the following challenges:  

  • Play in the dark with lights out focusing on good intonation.
  • Play with eyes closed
  • Drop left hand every time you play an open string in order to reset the hand by feel and play in tune.

5.  Use an app.

I just discovered an app called Intonia available for both Apple and Android.  All you do is play music and the app reads the intonation draws the pitch.  You can see if the pitch stays in tune or if it deviates.  It provides great data and an accurate visual to determine pitch accuracy.  I think it works best if it is projected on a screen so students can see the results as they play.




My class also does well with the TE tuner app projected to the front of the room on a screen.  I like to use it when practicing scales to see how many green happy faces my students can get as they play.  I also use TE tuner for drones for warm-ups.  


6.  Magnetic darts game


I LOVE this magnetic dart game.  I often get this game out when I want my class to focus on intonation because it provides such a great visual - showing that we want the pitch to be perfectly on target - exactly at the center of the pitch.  You can let students take a turn throwing darts if they play very well in tune.  This helps students put so much effort into their playing just for a chance to throw a dart.

7.  Just use tape

One time I had a student who was cutting an orange and accidentally cut open all of her fingers on her left hand.  She came to school with bandaids around the top of each finger.  She remarked that it was so much easier to play on the tips of her fingers since her fingers were wrapped.  That gave me the idea to have my students put scotch tape around the tops of each finger.  THIS DOES MIRACLES FOR INTONATION.  Students play with awesome position and they really focus on what their left fingers are doing.  It sounds weird - but it totally works!



I hope you have a very happy INTONATION WEEK!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Using google slides for ONLINE activites


 

There are some things I totally LOVE about online learning.  I've been creating rhythm building activities in Google Slides for my students to learn how to build and count rhythms in 4/4 time.  These activities have been AWESOME for my students.  Today I used a rhythm building activity by sharing the file as a google cloud assignment in Canvas.  That automatically creates a copy for each student.  In class, I divided students into groups and had them work together to create/build rhythms and practice counting.  Why in groups?  Because I've been taking tech classes where I learned students do better with technology activities when they work in groups because it keeps everyone on task.  I found this to be totally true.  Everyone particpated and worked to help each other build and count.  And I feel this technology helped my students learn rhythm better and faster than any regular old worksheet.  ;)



Here's a link to the easy rhythm building activity: (this link will automatically have you create a copy in your own google drive so I can keep my original intact)

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1GYw4wJL8gTAksBPu80CmBp7vwwr0ZHVbHwNs-CnccBQ/copy?usp=sharing


This activity worked so well, I created another one with dotted quarters and single eighth notes: 

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1x0Cb-LPBctUpPAQOwA2hHu1cvur4-lFTnZRi-QjDRQs/copy?usp=sharing


And, I'm excited to help my students understand fingerboard geography better with this drag and drop activity.  You can have students do all the notes on the fingerboard, just naturals, or notes from scales.  So many possibilities!  

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RyVFJhYsufOUgG4zk0YUFw7rOl3NFkaLRKHMOmVGw4U/copy?usp=sharing



Friday, October 16, 2020

Theme Weeks for Orchestra Classes

 


Need an idea to liven things up in your orchestra class?  I've been having a lot of fun with weekly themes to get my students focusing on improving certains areas of their playing.  A few of my favorite are:  Rhythm Week, Intonation Week, Listening Week, Performance Week, Slow-Mo Week, Go Pro Week, Practice Week, Ear Training Week.

Here's a post which includes ideas for doing RHYTHM WEEK as a theme:

RHYTHM WEEK

Focus on mastering:  steady beat, the difference between beat and rhythm, clapping/plucking/air-bowing rhythms, figuring out rhythm by ear.

Ideas for daily activities:

  • Practicing a quick 'rhythm of the day' as part of warm-ups.

  • Rhythm clapping game:  teacher claps a rhythm, students echo.  To make it hard, the teacher begins clapping the next rhythm while students are still echoing the previous rhythm.
  • Around the World Rhythm Game - presentation where students take turns clapping rhythms on screen.  Use THIS LINK to access this free resource! 



  • Practice rhythms with party blowers or kazoos.  Or any rhythm instrument.
  • Practice making/sharing rhythms in class- students create rhythms and trade to play different rhythms.

  • Give students notes to a popular tune and let them figure out the rhythm.  I did this with Cheap Thrills and my students LOVED IT.  Many students practiced a TON to get this tune down.  It really helped my beginners progress quickly.  Get FREE Cheap Thrills resources HERE.
  • Have students practice playing notes to a steady beat to the tune of Andy Grammer's 'Keep Your Head Up.'  Resource HERE.


VIDEOS IDEAS TO USE in class for Rhythm Week:


Putting sounds together with cool rhythm - Among Us Rhythm:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5LS4kqJjKo





Voice Activated video game - timing is crucial for rhythm:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBNjz_2f6Pc&list=PLdKxs7i55u4G0yccywfuwwdc6UlEOSlUU&index=180



Monday, September 7, 2020

Announcing....OrchestraClassroom.com digital supplies available at JWPepper.com!

 

I've been selling digital resources for the last few years on my website at www.orchestraclassroom.com and my Teachers Pay Teachers site:  https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Orchestra-Classroom   

Digital resouces are super cost effective because you get to keep the PDF file and copy the resource as many times as needed for your own group.  For example, I use the resource 'Be An Amazing Note-reader' every year for my beginners.  I get it printed at my district - a copy for every student.  For one very small fee of buying the PDF file, I get to copy and use the resource every year.  This is WAY cheaper than havig to buy books for students every year.  (Quick copyright note:  these resources should not be posted on a public website...post on canvas or google classroom all you want...just not publicly.)

Some teachers and school districts are not able to purchase my resources due to purchase order restrictions.  Now it is even easier and more convenient to buy materials because many of my products are now listed at JWPepper.com!  You can find me at this link:  https://www.jwpepper.com/sheet-music/search.jsp?keywords=angela+harman

JW Pepper doesn't have previews of the resources up, yet.  You can always preview materials at the TPT store...then purchase at JW Pepper.  If you see something at TPT that is not at Pepper, let me know and I can see if we can add it.  

I hope this will help more teachers access my resources and use them to help their students succeed...and save money in the process!

Saturday, August 15, 2020

FUN GAME for FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL in Orchestra

 

I just realized I can't do what I normally do on the first day of school!  Ack!  I usually have students play Kahoot without devices - they answer questions by running to a corner of my classroom before the time runs out (each corner has a symbol that corresponds to each answer choice).  Students normally love that activity and it gets them all moving and bonding with each other as they find similarities. 

What to do, what to do.  No more running around the classroom.  I decided to do this activity with my 8th and 9th graders to see how well their coordination skills stayed intact over the summer.  They can all participate from their seats.  I'm going to have the class try several times per hand sequence so they can see that practice really does help them improve.  I want them to feel that the hand sequence gets easier as they increase their reps.  

There are 2 music tracks in the slides, so when the slower one starts to get easier, students can try the faster one.  Perhaps the class can do a challenge by row to see how well they can keep it together.  If some students master it before all the others, I suggest changing it up for those students......right hand only, left hand only, both hands at once, backwards, once hand forwards with one hand backwards.


*You may view and use this resource HERE.  

*If you would like a copy to edit, use THIS LINK.  

*If the audio tracks don't work for you, there is really nothing I can do.  Audio tracks don't share well on google.  You will have to find and insert your own audio.  I got mine for free from www.bensound.com.  I just clipped the music shorter to use for this exercise.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Music to get back into playing after covid

 


It will be great to get back to class to teach and make music with  my students.  Those first notes should be interesting...I'm guessing many of my students have not played their instruments in months.  My son who started learning bass in my class last school year was asking me how to play F# the other day.  That tells me a lot of review will be needed!

Since my district is not allowing any concerts to happen for at least 1st term, I'm going to focus on reviewing notes/rhythms, intonation, and technique.  I feel like a great way to review and keep students engaged is to use popular music they know well.  

I think I can use the tune Cheap Thrills to teach many skills.  It's not in a friendly key for beginners, so I recommend purchasing the tune in itunes, and using the app called AnyTune (I LOVE THIS APP) to change the key.  All you do is push the the 'flat' icon 2 times to bring it down 2 half steps.  You can then download the AnyTune modified version to use as a back-up track for your students.  Also in AnyTune, you can slow down the speed...making it a great practice tool.


I made this music sheet for students to learn the tune:
 

Here's what I'm thinking students can work on in this piece:

1.  Beginners can learn the back-up part 1 to learn how to play G on the D string and keep all fingers down...and to lift just one finger to switch notes to F#.

2.  Students can learn back-up part 2 to explore and review G string notes.

3.  More advanced students can try the melody notes - listening/matching/playing the rhythm by ear.

4.  Students can practice pieces of the melody and focus on tuning/intonation because they know what it is supposed to sound like.

5.  Tuning C naturals on the A string (using last line ...la la la la la la la)


Cheap Thrills has been covered on YouTube by the Ember Trio.  I students students would enjoy working on the tune and watching this video:



Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Listening Test for Beginning String Orchestra Students

 

Intonation.  The life-long pursuit.  People make jokes about how bad beginner orchestras sound.  I am a firm believer in teaching about intonation/adjusting right from the start!  Many people who come to my concerts tell me they can't believe my students are beginners. 

Sometimes students come and practice in my classroom in the mornings while I am getting ready for the day.  It's hard to listen to students practice without chiming in with 'fix that note!  higher 2! etc.'  I believe students need to be taught how to listen.  It's a common problem to play out of tune simply because of a lack of awareness.  Students get so focused on notes, they forget to listen for how the music is supposed to sound.  

I just created a LISTENING TEST activity for students to listen to some common tunes to see if they can 1. recognize the tune, 2. decipher and decide what 'in tune' sounds like.   I believe this will help students practice the art of listening and help them remember to listen more intently as they play their instruments.



This resource is FREE to use!  Find it HERE

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Save time by posting assignments online: Be An Amazing Note Reader for Beginning Orchestra



I start teaching in person in just over a week.  I've been thinking about all the safety protocols and cleaning that will have to be done during each class.  That could take a lot of valuable rehearsal time!  I really want to do all I can to be efficient and keep students moving forward in the time we have.  That means, no more bell work.  I won't have time to pass out papers, collect papers, throw pencils at students who forget pencils, etc.  The majority of my assignments will be online in Canvas.  That way I can have students complete assignments at home, or work on assignments in class when working in small groups.  I think to survive in-person instruction, I will need to think and work as if I am doing online instruction.  Everything I do in class needs to be intentional and carefully selected to utilize the time wisely and effectively.  

I just spend a TON of time re-creating my 'Be An Amazing Note-Reader' worksheets to be usable online.  I'm happy with how they turned out and I won't miss making all those copies!  This book follows the format of the print version.  Beginning violin, viola, cello, and bass students complete 28 lessons to learn about notes, staff, clef, ledger lines, music alphabet, skips/steps, D string notes, A string notes, and G string notes. These google drive lessons were created in Google Slides and can be easily attached as assignments in Google Classroom, Canvas, or other LMS.  

You can buy this resource now at TPT:  HERE!








One thing I'm SUPER excited about in this resource is the flashcards/quiz links in Quizizz.  No more copying and cutting out flash cards!  Students can practice flashcards directly in Quizizz by following the links in my resource.  



There are other quiz programs online, but I chose Quizizz because my children told me all about the programs their teachers use and how they see students cheat on some of them.  My kids recommend Quizizz because they like it using it the most.  



Here's a link to a sample Quizizz for note reading - you can click on 'quiz' to try the quiz or 'flashcards' to practice.  If you want to save a little time, turn off the 'Memes' and 'Power-ups' so the questions will load faster.



Quizizz is super easy and fast.  I highly recommend it for online learning!