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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.

Monday, January 20, 2020

I know you're desperately looking for sub plan for your string orchestra classroom. Here you go. You're welcome.

Are you desperately searching for an easy sub plan for your string orchestra classroom?  Here you go.  It's free.  It's editable.  It's easy.  You're welcome.  Now enjoy your day off!


Friday, December 27, 2019


A few days ago a received a letter from a reader:

I teach 4th and 5th grade beginning strings and orchestra. I absolutely love your website and use many of your ideas and tips! I am wondering if you have any advice on classroom management within orchestra rehearsals.

 I have 60 fifth graders who have been playing their instrument for about a year and a half. I am mainly having trouble at the beginning of class. Oftentimes there are about 15 kids lined up for me to tune their instruments, kids asking me a million questions about going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, calling their mom before the end of the day, etc. At my school, the kids have orchestra every other day for 40 minutes during the last period of the day. After I've gotten around to tuning many out of tune instruments and tending to my needy students, 10 minutes have passed before we begin warming up. My orchestra teaching colleague has suggested having the kids immediately find their seats and not ask any questions, not ask to be tuned and never use the bathroom during orchestra (unless it's an extreme emergency). I followed her advice recently and it seems to have gotten a bit better but there are so many instruments horribly out of tune during rehearsal and kids who still call out to me with all of their needs and it's a bit overwhelming. I am still very young and soft spoken and have a difficult time putting my foot down so that may be the main issue. 

If you have any insight on how to address needy 5th graders at the beginning of orchestra and would be willing to share, I would greatly appreciate your help. 

Here are my TOP 6 tips for classroom management:

TIP 1:  Find a management plan that fits with your personality.

Classroom management is a big topic.  There are so many ideas and methods for classroom management, but I believe to be successful in this area you must stay true to your own personality and style.  Several years ago I went to a great conference session about establishing ‘pin-drop quiet’ rehearsals.  There was some useful information and I thought I’d give it a try.  I experimented with the procedures as taught in the session, but quickly discovered that those procedures were not true to my personality.  I didn’t have fun while doing it and my class felt different.  The tone wasn’t what I wanted for my class.  That method might work for some, but it just wasn’t right for my own personality.  We all tolerate various levels of ‘noise’ or chaos.  I happen to be able to tolerate a high level of chaos, but only when I have complete control.  Sometimes a room of 50-60 beginners can get loud.  That’s not abnormal.  I don’t expect pin-drop quiet all the time.  But I do expect students to follow directions, be quiet as required, and work hard.  My personality is not that of a stern disciplinarian.  I don’t mind having some laughter and fun – and of course focusing and getting to work.  My classroom management suggestions come from that frame of mind and I hope some will find it helpful.  I recommend teachers try lots of different ideas until they find one that fits with their own style and vision.  I enjoyed reading some books about Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) in regards to classroom management.  You don't have to be mean, but you do have to be in charge.  You're the boss.  Expect students to do what you say and follow procedures. 

TIP 2:  Keep them busy

I believe most classroom management issues occur when students are bored.  They get bored when they are waiting, they get bored when they are lost,  and they get bored when they are not sure what they are supposed to be doing.  To ease the burdensome feeling of being bored, they creatively find things to do.  It’s not hard to find things to do while holding loud instruments and sticks.  The first step to great classroom management is well-planned, fast-paced rehearsal with highly efficient use of time.  I try to keep my students so busy they don’t have time to act up.  While creating lesson plans, think about what students can be doing during ‘down’ times, like tuning.  Or when you’re working with another section.  I keep students busy during tuning with bell-work activities.  Sometimes these are just rhythm or note-reading worksheets.  Bell-work can also be little practice exercises – like running through finger strengthening drills, bow games, or plucking a certain passage of music 10x perfectly.  When students are waiting for me to finish tuning, they know to finish bell-work and it put all of their music in order as listed on the board.  Sometimes I check and give points for following this procedure.  Once my rehearsal begins, there is no time for students to act up because my pacing is very fast.  While students are playing, my brain is constantly assessing and determining what I’m going to do next.

TIP 3:  Don’t be afraid to adjust and change.

This year I started some very large classes of beginners – 55-60 in each class.  One day I had some bellwork for students to pick up as they entered the classroom and it was taking forever for students just to get through the door.  I had inadvertently created a traffic jam.  Students couldn’t pick up papers fast enough so there was a huge line of students trying to get in the room – then trying to get in line to be tuned.  It all look way longer than I wanted and I realized there was too much chaos for my classroom.  It was chaotic because entering, picking up work, getting tuned…it all took too much time and students were left WAITING….which is a classroom management no-no.  I talked to my class about it and said, ‘It seems like the start of class was really chaotic today.’  I saw students nod their heads -they wanted a smoother start and so did I.  We spent a couple minutes talking about how we can set up faster and how we could distribute necessary bellwork more effectively.  (I now ask students who come to class early to pass out bell-work.)  Students appreciated having their voices heard, and the next day we started some new procedures that were a better fit for such a large class.

Classroom management is moldable and changeable.  If something doesn’t work, you can change it right then.  You can establish new procedures, revise old procedures…you are the master.  Students like routine, but they can also learn and adapt to new routines. 

TIP 4:  Establish procedures.

Procedures are the heart of classroom management.  Students should always know what to do and how to do it.  What do you want students to do when they enter?  How should they act when they enter?  What is your tuning procedure?  How should students act during rehearsals?  What should they do if they have a question?  You and your students should be able to answer all of these questions.   One of my favorite ‘rules’ for my class (after tuning) is - NO ONE GETS UP.  I don’t want students out of their seats, ever.  My classroom is so packed it is very unsafe students to try to move through the group.  Since I don’t allow students to get up, there has to be a procedure for them to get papers they need, get tuned, etc.  It cuts down on chaos when students stay put. 

Here’s a list of basic procedures I use in my classroom:

TIP 5: Tuning in 5 minutes or less.

It can be daunting to tune a huge class of beginners, but I believe it can be done quickly.  I give myself 4-5 minutes total for tuning all 55-60 students.  I have students line up as they enter the classroom and get out instruments– violins on my left, viola/cello on my right.  I can fly through the whole class in record time.  For me, that is fast and easy.  But everyone is different.  If you don’t want students to line up, you can to go to them.  I’ve done this too, but I think it takes just a little longer.  Some days I like to go to them because then students can pluck the strings while I make the adjustments.  Then students are involved in the tuning.  Just before Christmas I spent a week and taught my beginners how to tune themselves and established a new tuning procedure where they tune themselves.  It’s pretty great!  Read more here: 

TIP 6:  Establish student-led procedures for the start of class.

Teaching orchestra is high energy, busy, and tiring.  Last year I was feeling exhausted after teaching a full day of 400+ students.  I didn’t like the feeling of starting each class as an exhausted, tired teacher.  I decided I needed to give my students more responsibility so I didn’t have to feel so drained.  I’ve been experimenting with having students start class and lead the group though tuning/warm-ups and it has been AWESOME!  It frees me to help students, watch how students are playing/focusing, and gives me a moment to think.  Here’s how it works:

I allow a student to be a ‘leader.’  As soon as the bell rings, the leader stomps loudly on the podium – a signal to the class to go to rest position and listen.  The leader plays 4 long open A’s and the class echos the open A’s while tuning.  The leader then repeats the 4 A’s, and the class echos/tunes.  I’m free to move through and help students if needed.  Once a student is in tune with that string, they go to rest position.  When most of the class is in rest position, the leader goes to the next string…etc.   This tuning procedures only takes 2 minutes.  Next, the leader goes through the warm-ups I outline on the board.  I get to watch and observe my students and assess their progress.  I take over after that – mentally ready to do my best and reach my students. 

I hope this is helpful!  I’m passionate about teaching and maintaining a well-run orchestra classroom.  I’m not perfect and I make mistakes, but I enjoy the problem-solving process and love the thrill of helping a group of students to discover new abilities and talents.  I believe in my students.  They want to do well, they want to sound good, they want to be their best selves.  I am just one of their life-guides to help them discover the power in themselves for goodness.  Your class will rise to your leadership. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Focus during rehearsals

Rehearsals are hard work.  At least they should be!  I think students sometimes get too comfortable with the predictable routine of rehearing and may start to become distracted and work less effectively.  In rehearsal we have to repeat and drill music daily to reinforce skills.  It can be difficult to get students to maintain their highest levels of focus and skill building.  Minds are prone to wander. 

I decided to make a self-assessment regarding levels of focus to hang in my classroom.  I explained the levels of focus to my students and they used the posters to evaluate their productivity in class.  Students easily understood that a 'Level 4' focus would be best for individuals and would most benefit the entire class.  All students want to do well...and developing a habit of focused rehearsal skills is an important part of progressing.

Over the last couple weeks I've referred to my posters when I need more focused effort in my rehearsals.  It's helped snap our work back into place.  It's also a great tool to direct individual students to step it up!  Sometimes I just say a student's name and point to a poster and they get the hint.  :)

Download free at my TPT store!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Note Reading Secrets - make note reading stick

I'm passionate about teaching my students to read notes because I want them to love learning an instrument and play in orchestra.  How can it be fun to play an instrument and perform in a group when you're always lost because of note reading struggles? 

I begin by teaching students to read open strings and we memorize those notes first.  I explain to students that they must remember where those notes are 'parked' on the staff. (I tell a story about forgetting where I parked at a parking lot and how I was wandering around forever to find it.).  Students practice drawing open strings on my staff packets - a dry erase packet with a staff and expo marker.  Within minutes, students are able remember those few notes, draw them, and play them.

Next students work on my ROTE to NOTE packet.  This resource is awesome because the 'rote' portion is notated like notes on the staff.  Without even realizing it, students are 'reading' note names on the staff.  This helps them transition to actual note reading.  I've been using this book for the last few years and have it's been my little secret.  Now it's available on my TPT store!

Rote to Note has been great for my students!  On the note reading pages - I make sure students practice each exercise 10 times to GO PRO.  Note reading takes a great deal of repetition and I like how each note reading line has the 'go pro' tracker to help students remember to repeat each line as they practice.

These tips help my students when it's time to read music from a page:

1.  Always keep perfect play position and hover left hand fingers OVER the tapes.

2.  Focus on the notes and don't look back and forth between the notes and your fingers.  Check hand position before you start to make sure everything is lined up, then trust your brain to get the fingers to land in the right place. 

3.  While reading notes, always look ahead to the next note while playing. This helps you read notes faster.

4.  When practicing at home, only move the bow AFTER the left hand is set on the tape.  That little bit of space between the notes helps develop accuracy.

Last week I had students play this game and it help them so much with developing note reading skills!  After completing the activity I asked students to raise their hands if the game helped them get better at note reading and almost the entire class shot up their hands.  It's so easy and simple, but so effective.  HIGHLY recommend this for beginners - and for days when you need a sub plan.