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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Pencil Problem


Like most teachers, I require students to come to my classroom prepared with their instrument, music, and a pencil.  Students are penalized points when they are unprepared for class, but I admit that I need to be more consistent with keeping track of point penalties.  It's hard for my right-brained self to track such things...especially when I don't want to stop the flow of my class and waste time.  Students who don't have pencil are in crisis mode...and they do one of the following:


  • Sit silently and do not attempt to complete the task at hand...hoping I won't notice.
  • Some raise their hands and announce to the entire class that they don't have a pencil and ask if anyone has one they can borrow.
  • Other students get out of their seats and start searching the classroom for a stray pencil.
  • Students come and ask me if they can go to their lockers to get a pencil.




All of these responses drive me CRAZY!  I just want them to be prepared and be ready to immediately do what I ask them to do.  I surely don't want my valuable class time to turn into a pencil scavenger hunt.  To combat the issue I give each student a pencil and a folder at the beginning of the year.  Students are instructed to bring the folder and pencil to class every day.  It just doesn't always happen.

At the end of the school year, my PLC group discussed the pencil problem at our collaboration meeting.  The art teacher at my school got really excited because he said he has solved this problem.  He told us that his students always have a pencil because he keeps pencils in the classroom for students to use.  He buys hundreds of pencils provides them for students.  I was thinking...well I do that, too...I have a giant cup full of pencils and students are allowed to borrow them.  This doesn't quite solve my problem because I don't want kids out of their seats to fetch a pencil...that all takes time.  Sometimes I bring pencils around the room to students that don't have one...yet again, it takes time.

 I've been thinking a lot about this pencil problem.  How can I provide pencils that are conveniently accessible?  I looked for options online.  Music stores sell spring-like contraptions that attach to music stands, but they are a bit expensive.  I need something cost effective, efficient, removable, durable, and something that would allow the music stands to be stacked without having to move it.

Here's what I came up with....DOLLAR STORE HAIR BANDS!  They come in packs of 8 - so 8 bands for $1.00.  I can wrap one of these babies around each of my 48 music stands and it will only cost me $6!  They easily hold 2 pencils and it is very simple to take pencils out of the band and put them back in.  Pencils can stay in place, even when stacking stands on racks at the end of each day.  If I don't want pencils on the stands during a concert, the bands can quickly be removed.






Some classroom management strategies will need to be in place for this work.  Students will be expected and required to store pencils appropriately after each rehearsal.  They will not be allowed to remove the band (or mess with it in any way).  Students must be taught a procedure for sharpening pencils when needed. 

Having pencils readily available for students to use will save a lot of time in rehearsal.  No more searching for pencils.  No more excuses.  Pencil problem....solved.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orchestra Rehearsal Re-Focused

Coming back to school after spring break....you never know exactly how that first rehearsal will go.  I always hope my students have practiced a little bit during their one week of freedom, but I understand that some families have busy vacations and practicing doesn't usually happen.  Over the break I began thinking of policies and expectations that I should review with my classes.  I created this orchestra survey for students to determine their own level of work ethic.  It went amazingly well.  I didn't have to harp on them for not doing this or that....they filled out their own survey and we talked about 'what if.'  What if every student in class stopped right when I stopped...what if every student prepared difficult passages at home...etc.  It really got them thinking and it helped remind them of my expectations.  The rehearsal went great and students were sensing their progress...it's amazing how much more work can be done when students are truly attentive and focusing.

Download this for FREE at the TPT site: Orchestra Classroom


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Recruiting Round-up

Every year I add new ideas to my regular recruiting routine (search for my other posts about recruiting for other great ideas) and consistently have enjoyed an increase in students.  It is important to stay on top of current trends and use those things in your recruiting program.  I keep thinking I've reached my max number of students, but my numbers keep going up!  Last year I had to cut 30 students out of my beginning strings class because I didn't have enough room in my schedule to teach them all.  This year over 160 signed up for beginning strings (making my total student load 330!) and I'm not planning on cutting any because the school will hire a second orchestra teacher help teach some of the classes.

 I'm ecstatic that over 27% of our student population is in orchestra.  It feels like orchestra is taking over the school!  That is what inspired me to create new recruiting materials featuring a zombie orchestra theme:

BROCHURE:


 SIGN-UP FORM:


I also had these postcards printed at vistaprint.com.  You can buy the image at my TpT store.


While elementary school kids were out of the classroom watching my recruiting assembly performed by my group of 100+ beginners, I had a group of my older students place one of these postcards on every student's desk.  Many of the postcards had a personal note on the back from a student in my program saying how much they love orchestra.  (My 8th graders enjoyed that assignment.)  I only wish I would have seen their reactions to see their room had been taken over by zombie orchestra signs.  :)

The Greatest Showman is a very popular movie in my area, so I had a high school student come with us and she played an AMAZING variation of 'Rewrite the Stars' on an electric violin with a back-up track.  Kids were mesmerized and many sang along.  I had introduced my student as they next famous YouTube star...like Lindsey Stirling and Rob Landes (who had just performed at one of my concerts).  Many elementary students got her autograph afterwards.

We left these posters at each school...and the image is available at my TpT site:


In years past I purchased fortune cookies and painstakingly removed every fortune and replaced them with my own pro-orchestra fortunes.  This year I simplified by purchasing these fortune cookie erasers at OrientalTrading.com:  Fortune Cookie Erasers



Student helpers easily replaced all the fortunes with things like, 'You belong in orchestra'   'Life is better in orchestra'  'Orchestra is for you!'   At the end of our recruiting concert, we invite students to come try our instruments for a couple of minutes and afterwards they get the eraser.  I heard one kid say, "That was fun!  I'm totally going to join orchestra.  Plus my fortune cookie told me to."  It was hilarious.

Another fun addition this year was a bubble machine! We always play 'Appalachian Hymn' by Soon Hee Newbold as students enter the assembly.  This year be had a pro bubble machine pumping out bubbles galore as students took their seats.  It was fun and added an exciting unexpected twist.



Advice for New Teachers!



Recruiting is finished and numbers for next year have come in.  Looks like my program is still growing...over 330 students signed up for orchestra next year at my school.  That's over 25% of our student population enrolled in my program.  It feels pretty good to spread the gift of music to so many students.  How did I get so lucky to be able to do this?   I'm at a point where I need help with managing my large program, so another teacher will be hired to teach a few orchestra classes.  This is my advice for that teacher, as well as any new teacher out there...


Program Philosophy

What are your beliefs and desires for your program?  Here are my thoughts: 

The plight of many people in the world is complacency and mediocrity.  I believe in inspiring students to rise above the tendency to do only minimum effort.  All students have greatness in them and all can achieve success.  It’s only a matter of learning how to work for it and push to overcome obstacles.  We learn about our true potential as we turn challenges into strengths through diligent work and effort.  I want students to discover they are amazing and can truly accomplish anything.  Greatness is in reach and we reach for it daily.  When students think they can’t…I show them they can.  They will rise to the challenge.  I will never give up on a student.

Book Recommendation:  Nurtured By Love by Shinichi Suzuki, Ability Development from Birth to Age 0, by Shinichi Suzuki

Practicing

Students don’t know how to practice.  They don’t realize that they must practice small sections correctly over and over.  When in class, I do my best to model how to properly practice and teach students how to practice at home.  Of course I would like students to practice.  I remind them, encourage them, and even sometimes incentivize them.  We have playing tests and practice assignments.  Even so, I NEVER assume students are going to get the work done at home.  Sometimes there are struggles at home we can’t even comprehend.  I never blame students for poor playing and berate them for not practicing enough.  In my program, practicing is simply an expectation tracked through weekly assignments.  Even if I required practice cards or had more frequent tests, I don’t believe students would practice more.  I make sure our rehearsals are effective.  That is our practice session.  I insist students master music in class.  It is my job to help them learn and achieve success while they are with me. 

Book Recommendation:  The Little Book of Talent, by Daniel Coyle

Rehearsals

We work hard and the pacing is quick.  I try to involve all students all the time.  There is a need to hear individual sections at times, but with some quick thinking, all students can be always working and practicing – even if it’s just fingering notes, air-bowing rhythms, or writing counting.  During rehearsal, I am demanding and authoritative without demeaning students. They must feel it is ok to make a mistake  - everyone will make mistakes every day and our room is a safe place for mistakes.  But in our quest to overcome mediocrity, we work to fix all errors and reach the highest possible level of performance.  If it’s not right, we do it again.  Students can master anything with proper teaching and patience.   Make every minute of rehearsal valuable.

Tips for effective rehearsals:

·       Introduce new skills AWAY from the music.  Warm-up time is perfect to try new rhythms and master new note patterns and fingerings.

·         Drill very small sections.  Let all students learn the hard parts from different sections by writing notes on board or by making practice parts.  If students can’t seem to master something, keep breaking it down into smaller and smaller skills until it is manageable.  If students aren’t getting it within a couple minutes, switch to different approach.

·         Reinforce difficult passages daily.  It can take weeks of consistent practice before a measure stays correct all the time.  Keep reviewing until students can play correctly on their FIRST try….and even then keep reviewing.  Do everything you did at the last rehearsal while gradually adding new skills and content.


·         Be creative and think outside the box.  Don’t use an excuse like “I’m not a creative person.”    Try new ideas and always be learning.  I love to keep students guessing what will happen next in my classroom. 

Book Recommendation:  Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess

Classroom Management

Many new teachers worry about classroom management.  Before my first teaching job, I remember having dreams about attempting to teach a class and the students wouldn’t listen and things were in complete chaos.  What a nightmare!  Don’t fear.  In a properly run classroom, there will rarely be a discipline problem in class.  Busy students don’t have time to act out.  A teacher must be authoritative.  Don’t be afraid to tell students what to do.  Learn to speak loudly.  You can have fun and should feel free to be yourself, but there must be a way to quickly bring students back to focus.
Students must know your expectations through well established routines and procedures.  These routines must be practiced every day.  Once a teacher becomes lax, students will in turn become lax about following procedures.  It’s perfectly fine to remind students about procedures every day. 

Important procedures:  How to enter the classroom, what to do when they enter, how to get out supplies, where to put their things, how to handle instruments, putting music in order on stands, completing bellwork, how to hand in assignments, how to get tuned, how to act during rehearsals, what to do when not playing, what to do if they can’t find their music, what to do when they don’t have an instrument, what to do if they have a problem with their instrument during class, how/when to put instruments away, what to do before the bell rings, how to leave the classroom.

One thing that helps with classroom management is to keep pacing quick and efficient.  Slow pacing creates classroom management problems and class morale will suffer.  Be aware of how long it takes to tune…how long takes to do transitions…how long to explain concepts.  It’s important to keep instructions quick and efficient. 

Students will stay on task better when you walk the room.  Learn to teach while moving about the room.  Switch student seats frequently (every 2 weeks).  Be aware of student body language throughout your lessons.  If students are getting tired or frustrated it is time to switch to a new idea or a different part of the music.   Sometimes, students need an analogy or a story to inspire them to keep working.  Sometimes they need a story just for a 1 min. break to help them refocus.

Remember, EVERYTHING is fixable and changeable.  If you don't like how your class is going, change it.  Make it how you want it. 

Book recommendation:  Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle

What do students really want? 

Several weeks ago I interviewed some students from another program.  They spoke of frustration with their music class because of the trouble kids who would not take the class seriously.  They wanted their group to be the best.  They wanted the teacher to take control and insist on greatness.  Students want order.  They want ‘trouble’ students to be dealt with so that rehearsals can be effective.  They want to work hard and sound great.  All students want to succeed – that is why they are with you.  They want to be their best and will follow you as you show them how. 

How to get students to work hard.

I believe students want to work hard, but it is much easier to get students to work if you have fun!  Many times hard work can be disguised into a game.  Much of our rehearsal time involves repetitions – repeating short musical ideas over and over correctly.  Try to create fun ways to add variety to the repetitions.  Use props to add interest and create memorable ideas to help students retain skills.  Fun and light-heartedness is good and sometimes needed to help them re-focus and overcome frustrations. 

How to inspire students.

Music is inspiring.  Overcoming challenges to achieve greatness is inspiring.  Help students recognize their greatness by pointing out how they improve throughout a day, a week, or a month.  For example, remind them how hard it was for them when first holding a bow the right way – and let them realize how easy it has become with consistent effort.  Students gain self-confidence as they recognize their progress.  They must be aware of progress to have any motivation to continue.  If a student does not feel like he/she is improving, they will quickly become frustrated and quit.  I like to use a weekly ‘Video of the Week’ to inspire students to work and love music.

Book Recommendation: Helping Students Motivate Themselves by Larry Ferlazzo. (I use the first couple of lessons at the start of the school year before we start working with instruments.

Selecting music

Be very careful when choosing music.  It needs to be challenging, but attainable.  There should be some pieces that students can learn quickly, and some that might take more time.  I try really hard to never cut a piece of music after passing it out to students.  It is demoralizing to take music away from a student – it makes them feel like they have failed.  Whatever you choose, make sure it sounds great.  Do all in your power to help students learn the music well and feel successful. 

How to connect with students.

Students need to get to know you.  It is important that you are genuine and real.  It’s ok to make mistakes and acknowledge your mistakes.  It’s ok to show your sense of humor and laugh with your students.  If you are authentic and show an interest in your students, they will develop a connection with you as a teacher.  Don’t try to teach like someone else.  Be true to you and find your style.  Students love stories – learn how to tell stories with powerful delivery.  Use stories in your classroom every day.

Book Recommendation:  The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds. This book is about doing presentations, but it has so many gems for teachers.  After all…we are presenters.

Friday, December 29, 2017

My Story - how to promote your string orchestra program



I began teaching at my current position in 2012.  My interview had gone very well and I was 99% sure I would be offered the position.  I remember the principal asking me if I could grow the orchestra program and I answered confidently in the affirmative.  I never thought to ask how many students were in the program and didn't find out until I was setting up my classroom right before school started.  There were 3 orchestra classes - beginning with 37 students, intermediate with 15 students, and advanced with 11 students.  Numbers were small - I had the smallest orchestra program in my district, but I decided to make my class the best it could ever be.  I wanted to offer my students the greatest possible orchestra experience.

2017 Beginning Orchestra at our Halloween Concert


My program began to grow every year.  I remember a chat I had with my principal.  I was asking him about how many orchestra classes I would be able to have in the future.  He told me that it would be impossible to be full time.  There was not another orchestra teacher in our district with enough students to be full time at one school.  He backed up his claim with statistics that said no more than 25% of the student population enrolls in a music class - and those numbers had to be split between the other music programs.  I didn't believe my program had achieved max student enrollment and continued to create a quality program and recruit more students. The next year I was full time with 250 students.  This year I had 315 students enrolled and had to cut 30 students because my classroom space can not accommodate more than 55 students in a class.  My program is now one of the largest in the state.

How did all of this happen?!  I believe a music program must be carefully marketed and promoted - just like a business.  There must be a quality product and we must create the demand.

Here are 10 key strategies that helped me grow my program.  Keep reading for a description of each strategy!



1.  Create a class motto.  

One thing I want for my students is to learn that anything is possible..that they can accomplish anything with dedication and effort.  The one phrase I want my students to remember after being in my program is to 'Be Amazing!'  Reaching ones full potential is a choice...it is a determination to achieve and work for greatness even when it's hard.  I want students to live with no regret - to choose to be amazing at anything they set out to accomplish.  This motto is hanging in my classroom, it is found on every orchestra shirt, and I remind them of this motto as we rehearse in class.

2.  Create a logo and use it on all shirts, programs, and other promotional items.

I love graphic design, but I'm not an artist.  Luckily I worked in a computer lab when I was a university student and was able to pick up the basics of a few design programs including Photoshop.  Every summer I scour Shutterstock.com and purchase images to use for my orchestra shirts.  I choose to design my own shirts every year and feature a specific theme for the year.  Here are a few shirts I've used over the years...


3.  Create quality promotional items.

I use logos and themes on shirts as well as bumper stickers and fridge magnets (perfect for students to use to decorate lockers).  One year I bought rubber wrist bracelets and I don't recommend those...no one wears them.  Students enjoy magnets and bumper stickers.  I design mine at 'buildasign.com' and 'stickersbanners.com.'  It is very satisfying to be driving on the freeway and see a car with one of my bumper stickers.  Stickers are also great for decorating instrument cases.  I purchase images from Shutterstock.com and design these items myself.  I promote program by visiting elementary string programs and handing out these items.  We also pass out stickers during recruiting assemblies.

Magnet samples:



4.  Use social media to promote your program.

Students and parents love to follow happenings on facebook, instagram, and twitter.  Keep your program in the spotlight by sharing pictures from every concert and anything else interesting.  Brag away on all social media!

5.  Make your concerts AMAZING.

I have a confession.  As an audience member I sometimes get bored at concerts.  With 5 children of my own, I've been to countless concerts and recitals.  I want to be entertained - and I don't think I'm alone in this wish.  Blame it on the short attention spans of today, but whatever the reason...audiences need to be entertained.  I want parents to enjoy my concerts and want to be there.  For the best possible audience reactions to your concerts, follow these tips:

  • Play a recognizable piece now and then.  Audiences love to hear music they recognize.
  • Keep concerts under one hour.  You don't want the audience to feel trapped.
  • Make sure your groups sound surprisingly great.  My favorite concert story is when I heard from a grandma who brought ear plugs in her purse to my first concert of the year.  She was astounded to find she did not need them at my concert and kept them in her purse.  :)
  • Involve the audience.  There are certain pieces that are great for incorporating audience participation.  Guest Soloist from Richard Meyer, The Adventures of Stringman by Richard Meyer, A Boomwhacker Christmas by Richard Meyer.  One year when the Christmas concert happened to be on my birthday, my advanced orchestra played 'A Minor Case of Birthday Blues' by Lauren Bernofsky.  Audience members with December birthdays were invited to the front to wear party hats and celebrate.
  • Just Simon Cowell used to say on American Idol  - song selection is everything.  Pick the right pieces for your group!  Make sure pieces are the right level so students can master the demands of the music.  
  • If you have to transition between different performing groups, make the switch as quickly and efficiently as possible.  You don't want to have too much audience down-time.  You could have small ensembles perform in front of the stage while switching ensembles on stage.  At some of my concerts, I have a game or other fun activity happening in the audience while students re-set the stage.

6.  Encourage students and parents to post about your concerts on social media.  

I created a hashtag for my group and print social media info on my programs where I encourage people to post on social media.  At my last concert I thanked the community and parents for all of their support.  A few days later a received a letter in the mail from our Congressman with a check for my orchestra program.  You never know what will happen when you promote your program!



7.  Seek out and go after contests, grants, or other special opportunities.

I have been very blessed to offer a number of special opportunities for my orchestra program.  A couple of years ago my group won the Give A Note/Radio Disney Music In Our Schools tour.  We won an Ardy, had a special concert from boy band 'Forever in your Mind,' and was able to have a Disney commercial filmed in my classroom.  In a week my Advanced orchestra will be performing with American Idol finalist JAX among other artists with professional lighting and audio.  This opportunity came from a local business who wanted to support my program.
There are marvelous opportunities out there...seek them out and try!


8.  Recognize your group on your school's announcements, webpage, and newsletters.

It seems like one more thing to do...but make sure students and parents are able to read and hear about all the happenings in your program.  It can be helpful to submit stories about your program to post on our school's website around recruiting time.


9.  Volunteer to perform in the community.

Recently the wrestling coach at my school asked to have some of my students perform the National Anthem at their wrestling match.  It's a great way to get your students visible and promote your program.  One year I had a call from a local grocery store who was looking for a group to perform Christmas music for a special event in their store.  They couldn't find a high school group who would be willing to come, so they reached out to my junior high orchestra.  We went and had a great time.  Even my beginners played a few pieces and were well received.  The store was so grateful they donated money to my program and each student went home with a free 2 liter soda.

10.  Give them something to talk about - make your class amazing.

Parents often tell me at parent teacher conferences that they have heard so much about me and my class.  Students love to tell their parents about our fun rehearsals, entertaining experiences, and occasional shenanigans.  When students are having fun they love to share the excitement with friends and family.  It's a good sign when people are hearing great things about you and your program.


I am passionate about making orchestra a BIG DEAL!  Music education is the best - let's promote this wonderful experience, create bulging programs, and inspire more students.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Percussion ensemble in orchestra - teaching subdivision



A couple months ago I was at a community event where various groups performed.  A local orchestra performed some fun movie music.  Since the stage was outside they were mic'd.  As they began to play a small crowd gathering to watch on some seats set up in front of the stage.  Right after the orchestra performed, a drum group from a local university performed and WOW - the crowd went wild!  The chairs in front of the stage filled up and people were moving and getting into the music.  The drum group involved little children and let them have a part in one of their pieces.  The difference in reaction between the two groups was huge...and as an orchestra lover, I was left with the desire to make orchestra more exciting!  What can I do to draw people in?  2 things come to mind- add a drum beat and involve the audience.  This post will focus on...Adding a DRUM BEAT!  Time to think outside the box and draw in our audience with an energetic, infectious performance.


One reason why people love the drum line is because percussion seems cool.  People like a beat - and a good solid beat makes people energized.  I teach string orchestra.  We don't have the benefit of a percussion section.  I learned about a Cajon box drum a few years ago and purchased one for my classroom.  My little drum gets used quite a bit!  Students love to try to create cool drum beats and I have allowed students to add cool beats to some of our concert music.  For example, my Advanced orchestra played 'Perpetuoso' by Brian Holmes...a really fun piece.  It doesn't have a part for percussion, but really lended itself to an added beat with the cajon.  Plus it helped our ensemble with rhythmic accuracy.



My cajon comes with me on every recruiting trip.  We use it to add drum parts to our recruiting music and it the audience love it.  It helps our easy versions of 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' 'Viva la Vida,' and even 'Dragonhunter' come alive.

I just created some sheet music to turn my orchestra into a giant percussion ensemble. Many string groups tap on their instruments to create a drum beat (Simply Three, Piano Guys, Time for Three, Rob Landes).   Here's an example from Simply Three:



This little exercise I wrote called 'Wipe-out' can be performed with stomps and claps away from instruments...but I think it would be more impressive if the percussion sounds were made on the instruments - as long as students are trained to be gentle and not hit instruments too hard.  Click here for an audio file to hear what the piece sounds like:  WIPE-OUT AUDIO





When I was creating a percussion exercise for my students, I realized that many of my students would have a hard time reading the eighth rests and finding the off-beats.  To make my piece accessible for many levels, I created parts that show the subdivisions in each measure.  Students are to perform ONLY the notes which are black and must be silent on the gray notes.  It teaches students how to sub-divide.  It takes tremendous focus and concentration for students to only make sound on the black notes.  Students quickly learn to follow the notes very carefully and a higher level of determination begins to encompass the entire class as they work to make the piece sound awesome.  The piece is called 'Wipe-out' because it takes tremendous effort to only perform the black notes and not accidentally fall into the trap of playing a grey note.



'Wipe-out' can be used as a teaching tool to teach eighth rests.  Have students re-write parts with eighth rests in place of the grey notes and see if they can still count it correctly.  Teach them places where they can combine two eighth rests to create one quarter rest.

I will be using this piece with my beginners and we will perform it when we go recruiting.  I want to electrify my audience of potential students and show them that orchestra can rock, too!

Download Wipe-Out for FREE at my TPT store HERE.

NEW...Follow me on Instagram!   - find me as orchestra.teacher.life



Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teach students HOW to practice

My beginning orchestra has been working on a piece called 'A Spark of Courage' by Doug Spata.  It's a bit of a stretch for them, but they love the music so much they are really working hard and it has helped students solidify fingerpatterns and notereading.  Today I wanted to work carefully with each individual section.  In order to do this, I created an assignment for students to complete while waiting for their turn to work with me.  It worked out really well and students picked up some really helpful tips for practicing.  This is a great assignment for any level.

1.  Read the article "8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently." 



2.  Complete the worksheet:

This was great for the day before Thanksgiving break - it left students motivated to keep working and practicing over the holiday.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Post-Conference Reflection


Last week I presented at the NAfME National Conference in Grapevine, TX.  I love presenting and had a great experience...this is the 4th presentation I've prepared for the national conference and I've found that presenting in another one of my passions.

Attending this conference was very rejuvenating for me.  Teaching 275 students every day is a lot of work and can be exhausting.  After attending sessions at the conference, I felt my energy return and I was excited to get back to my classroom and try out some new ideas.

My favorite session was by Christopher Selby - author of 'Habits of a Successful String Musician.'  I enjoyed his insights about how to get your performing group to the next level.  I am confident in my ability to teach proper notes, intonation and rhythm, but something seemed to be missing in my groups.  Dr. Selby's session helped me realize what I was missing.   Since my orchestra groups are very large (70-100 in each group) I have struggled with helping students learn to perform as a team.  They all play pretty accurately, but we sometimes have trouble with rushing and balance since students are not listening to each other.   Upon returning to my students I immediately set out to train my students to listen to each other and make beautiful music together.

Here are some of my notes from Dr. Selby's session to help students listen to each other, work as a team, and achieve the next level of performance:


  • Agree on what part of the bow should be used.  Decide on style and phrasing...make sure each student matches each other by asking questions.  For example:  "What part of the bow is your stand partner using?"  "Can you make your tone disappear inside your partner's tone?"  "How much bow is your section leader using?"
  • Have students practice with their eyes on each other.  Get out of the music.
  • When fixing intonation, have players tune to each other.  Must match the person sitting next to you.  Tune unison as well as intervals.  Fix blend - don't allow one to be louder than the rest.  Each player should be able to hear themselves as well as people around them....and other sections.
  • Teach students to breathe together and move together.
  • For a responsive group, change conducting...different tempos and dynamics.  Train students to follow you by making it necessary that they pay attention.

I noticed a difference in my students as soon as I began implementing these ideas.  I'm so happy I attended the conference - totally worth the new insights!

I also appreciated Dr. Selby's thoughts on teaching high school and upper level orchestra students.  He spoke about the need to teach technique in high school.  Since there is usually no method book used at the high school level, many teachers work to perform music but never drill or reinforce technique.  I totally agree...students need constant reinforcement of skills learned during their early years.  One cannot assume that a student who performs one piece in the key of A Major (even if it is flawless) would never need to drill extensions and G#'s again.  Every skill requires consistent attention and practice.  That means a high school teacher may need to re-teach and review many skills students previously learned.  I believe Dr. Selby's book is excellent for the high school level to drill technique.

In the session, there was also a discussion about music selection.  Many teachers select music that is too hard and the performance ends up being less than successful.  I agree and believe music selection in crucial. However, I do sometimes give difficult music to my students.  Every year we perform a just a few grade 2's with my first year players, 3's with my 2nd year players, and 4's with my 3rd year players.  It stretches my students and they rise to the challenge.  Still, each piece must be carefully selected and I have to be confident that I can teach my students to achieve the demanding technical skills in the music.   I've found a great deal of success balancing our concert load with a carefully selected mix of music levels.

Have you attended a conference, lately?  I highly recommend it!



Saturday, October 28, 2017

Finally - A Meaningful Assignment students can complete when you need an ORCHESTRA SUB



I felt a little sick this week.  But, it's a ton of work to plan for a sub I went to school and taught my classes.  I'm sure you've all done the same thing....it can be really hard to find meaningful assignments students can do with a non-music teacher sub.  I've searched the internet for simple orchestra sub plans, but never found anything I really wanted to use.  I don't want to give my students busy-work.  My goal is to make the day productive, even if I can't be there.

Today I decided to brainstorm sub plan ideas and created this assignment:



In college, I remember learning how to study and mark up scores.  Then I realized that students can do the same thing with their music!  I want students to study every detail of their concert music.  This assignment takes students through their music-study step by step.  Students search for and mark various aspects of the music using colored pencils.  I plan on purchasing a classroom set of colored pencils to have on hand just for this assignment.  You can have students mark their current music, or you can keep some music copied/filed to have on hand for those days you need an instant sub plan assignment.  Download this assignment for FREE at my TPT site.  And take that day off!

Friday, October 20, 2017

NEW! Introducing - Orchestra Classroom tips on VIDEO!

I have had quite a few requests to offer videos of teaching tips and strategies.  I finally created my first couple of videos and they are available now at my TPT store:

The First Day of School lesson plan (for beginning orchestra):

 I believe the first day of school should be fun and exciting!  This video demonstrates my lesson plan for the first day and shows how I inspire students and make them LOVE my class.  My students don't get to play their instruments on the first day, but we still have a great time and they can't wait to come back.



How To Teach VIBRATO in a string orchestra classroom:


It can be difficult to teach vibrato in a large class setting.  Many teacher refer to private teacher to teach vibrato, but most of my students do not have private lessons.  This is how I get my 2nd year orchestra students to get the correct vibrato motion in just one lesson.

Since these videos are totally new, I am offering a 20% discount this weekend only!  (10/20/17-10/22/17)

I hope you will find these videos helpful.  If there is a particular skill or technique you would like to see on video, please comment below and let me know!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Building Note-reading speed and fluency



At the start of the school year, my focus for beginners is to develop excellent, comfortable bow holds and perfect position.  We played by rote for a couple of weeks and have since been learning rhythm and note names.  I don't like to drag note-reading out for too long.  All they have to do is learn 8 notes and they can play so many tunes! 

INTRODUCING THE FIRST NOTES
Students are usually excited to begin understanding music and reading notes.  I teach the open strings first.  I introduce the staff by comparing it to a highway with lanes and lines to show that notes are drawn (they travel) from left to right across the staff.  I then teach students that notes are 'parked' on the staff.  Some notes park in a space, and other notes park right on a line.  I tell a story about a person driving an expensive BMW who didn't want to get their car scratched, so they parked right on a line.  I have found that some students new to note-reading need the explanation that notes can be drawn ON a line.  This goes against all kindergarten/grade school coloring rules when they're told over and over to stay in the lines! 



Student learn open string notes so quickly - it only takes minutes.  I use my dry erase packets equipped with a staff and a dry erase marker.  I show each section of the orchestra where their open string D is 'parked' on the staff and tell them to memorize that spot. I tell a story about I time I went to the zoo and couldn't remember where I parked and was wandering the parking lot for 30 minutes before I found my car!  I explain that open D will ALWAYS be parked in that spot.  We also learn where open A is parked.  Next I call out various patterns of D and A and students draw them on the staff.  (D, A, D, D), (D, A, A, D), etc.  Students race to be the first one to draw the notes and hold up their packets.  After a few minutes of this, students are allowed to create their own arrangement of D's and A's on the staff and perform them pizzicato with their stand partners. 



MEMORIZING NOTES
My favorite method to get students to memorize notes is to use the foldable flashcards from orchestrateacher.net:  http://www.orchestrateacher.net/2013/08/13/foldable-music-note-flash-cards/
I copy a set for each student, but only pass out one string at a time.  Students spend 10 minutes in class memorizing the D string notes and passing them off with their stand partners.  For flashcard pass-offs, students must say the note name on the flashcard and pluck the correct note on their instruments.  I require students do this in 10 seconds or less.  After a week or so, we add the A string notes and students must pass off all 8 flashcards in 20 seconds or less.  I try to pair up students with piano/note-reading experience with those who are new to note-reading.

WRITING NOTE NAMES
Sometimes we may underestimate how much a student can learn at one time.  When I was seven, I begged Santa Claus to bring me a recorder for Christmas.  I didn't know how to read music and had never tried an instrument before, but Santa delivered me a quality recorder and a book.  It was easy to look at the diagrams and understand the notes and fingerings.  I immediately wrote in all the note names for the first few pages and was able to play several songs.  After that, I got sick of having to look up note names for each note, so I decided to memorize them.  It didn't take long...in 10-15 minutes I had memorized the notes and no longer had to write them all in.  Allowing students to write note-names in their music hinders and slows their progress.  Unless a student has special needs, expect students to memorize the notes! 



USE THE FORCE

Sometimes it can appear students do not know the notes when they struggle to play through a simple exercise.  One day after some painful minutes working in our method book I became worried that my students were not fast enough at note-reading.  After having them say note names I realized this was not the case.  Students were slow at reading the notes because they were looking at their fingers instead of the notes on the page and they were getting lost.  I joked that they need to 'use the force' to find notes and stop looking at their fingers!  The next day, I did a lesson to help students learn how to find notes on their instruments using their sense of touch and hearing.  They can't always use sight to find the note - it's a lot better if they listen and train fingers to land in the right place.  To help students learn the skill, we watched a short clip from YouTube:  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljybsB1LwVY) showing Jimmy Fallon and Taylor Swift attempt to draw each other without looking at the page.  After the clip, student used blank paper and tried to draw their stand partners without looking at the page.  They LOVED this activity and the pictures were hilarious.  We began reading a few exercises in the method book and it was totally different from the day before.  Students were more focused.  They were following the notes on the page and not looking back and forth between their fingers and the page.  They sounded so much better!


ASSESSMENT
Every week I have been given my students note-reading assessments to make sure they are on target with note-reading skills.  Students must know that you are serious about them learning the notes!  I have students play the exercises are far as possible with NO hints written in the music.  After that, I allow them to label notes and fingerings to reinforce speed and memorization.  Students also complete bellwork exercises each day during tuning to reinforce note-reading.  I use my book, 'Be An Amazing Note-Reader,' 'Rhythm Packet,' and 'Rhythm Bellwork.'  Here are a few assessments I have used in the last couple week. 





Happy note-reading!



Friday, September 8, 2017

Updated Starting By Rote

IMPORTANT NOTICE!!

I have been using my book "Starting By Rote" for my Beginning Orchestra and found a serious error on page 13.  We can't have a wrong note on Twinkles!  I fixed the error and have submitted a new page 13 available for free download HERE.  Those who purchased the book through TPT may upload a new version of the entire book from that site...the book has been updated.  Those who purchased from www.orchestraclassroom.com may download the free replacement pages from TPT or email me at angela@orchestraclassroom.com and I will send a replacement download of the book.  Sorry for the error!