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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Motivating students to learn their note-reading

I got a letter on my desk last week and it really made my day.  It was from a student who thanked me for teaching her how to read notes.  She said in the letter that she had been taking piano lessons for 5 years and had always been struggling with reading notes.  She thanked me for not giving up on her.

Since reading that letter, I have been thinking about what made the difference for this student to begin reading notes.  What did I do that helped her?  I truely believe that the biggest factor is getting students to memorize their notes is convincing them to do it.  Ultimately, students must DECIDE to memorize the notes...I just have to motivate them to do it.

I have a note-reading book that I use and I believe the book teaches students the logic of the staff and how to figure out notes if they come across a note they do not already know.  It is the first step to getting students to read notes...but students need more than a workbook.

From the beginning of the year, I was continuously targeting students who were struggling with note-reading.  We did many exercises and games to encourage memorization.   I also had students make flashcards and pass them off in under one minute.  I taught students exactly HOW to memorize notes using flashcards and let them know that anyone can read notes if they memorize them the way I show them.  Here's how we do it:

Students have a few flashcards to memorize (I like to do 4 at a time).  Students say the note name on the card, AND they must pluck the note on their instrument.  Once students have all of the flashcards on the D and A strings, they must pass them all off by naming and plucking in under one minute.  Students can do this in just one week if they practice their flashcards 5 times per day and I show them that it only takes a short amount of time to practice them.

There are quite a few students to begin in my class with a knowledge of note names because they already play the piano.  These students have a bit of a head start and I use these students to quiz my true beginners.

I also tell my students stories about me learning notes to different instruments in college and how I learned the notes quickly.  I constantly encourage.

We begin class with lots of rote playing.  I don't use much out of the method book for awhile, but to get kids used to reading notes, I like to turn to the first note reading pages.  Even while doing rote activities through most of class, students can spend the last 5 minutes learning and reading ONE note - like open D.  Students need to be introduced to notes slowly, one at a time so that it won't be overwhelming.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Teaching Key Signatures

Understanding how to read and interpret key signatures is very crucial for music students.  I don't like nagging students to play C natural, when they would already know that if they read the key signature.

When introducing the concept of key signatures, I begin with a story about me in drivers ed.  I tell them about my first experiences driving on a real road and my teacher pointing to signs along and road and testing me to see if I knew what all of the signs meant.  We eventually came to a sign I had never seen before and I didn't know what it meant!  I didn't know what I was supposed to do!  We then discuss the importance of understanding signs.

Next, I show students these slides and we laugh at the silly signs.  We then talk about key signatures...what they mean, etc.

When reading music, our eyes are 'driving' along the staff and we must know what all of the symbols mean so that we can play correct notes, fingerings and rhythms.

Christmas Concert Repertoire and A Letter to Students

I haven't had the chance to post much lately because the time between Halloween and Christmas is always so crazy as we frantically learn new music for our Holiday Concert.

This last week, I had my concert and it went pretty well.  My beginning orchestra played 'What Child Is This' from the Strings Extraordinaire book by McCallister/Monday.  They also played A Chanukah Festival by John O'Reilly and A Christmas March by Handel/Meyer.  The Christmas March was quite difficult for my beginning class, but they totally embraced the challenge and they really sounded great.  They were determined to learn that piece and now I feel they are way better players.

My Intermediate orchestra played Dance of the Tumblers - arranged by Sandra Dackow, A Christmas Canon by Michael Green, and A Boomwhacker Christmas by Richard Meyer.  The boomwhacker one was the biggest hit and the audience absolutely loved it!

I sometimes have a hard time finding good Christmas arrangements for this concert, but I really liked what I found for my advanced orchestra this year.  They played 'Sleigh Ride' by Mozart arranged by Seinnicki from 'Three Christmas Classics.'  They also played Boreas by Todd Parish and Fiddle Like the Dickens by Tim McCarrick.

After the concert, I was feeling very grateful for my students and for their hard work.  I really love teaching orchestra and I appreciate the support I receive from students and parents.  I wrote a little note to students on my white board after the concert for them to read the next day.  When learning to play instruments, sometimes it is difficult for students to realize how far they have progressed.  I wanted to help students realize how far they have come since the beginning of the year, and that they are filled with potential to accomplish anything they choose to work on.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Checking for Proficency in Note Reading - 1 minute note-naming exercise

In my district, teachers make goals that we are to work on through the school year.  This year, I have been working on collecting and analyzing data in order to ensure that my students are developing proficiency in their note reading skills.

Today, I had my beginning students do this little assessment to check for fluency on the notes of the D scale:

Students were divided up into groups of two.  I set a timer for one minute.  One student would hold the paper and point to each note while the other student had to name the note and pluck the note on their instrument.  The student holding the paper marked any missed notes with an 'x' and drew a line showing how far they were after one minute.  The students then switched roles so they each could have a turn naming and plucking the notes.

I really liked this assessment because it only took 2 minutes and the I got some great data!  I can see who my really fast note-readers are and I can see who is slower and who needs extra practice.  I was really happy to discover that all of my beginners are able to read notes and all were able to read quite far into the exercise.  I would now like to work on increasing note-reading speed for some of the slower readers.

I have been brainstorming ideas of how I can get my slower note-readers to get a little extra practice.  I decided that I will do this same assessment activity using lines in our method book.  If we do this just one time per class period, it would only take up 2 minutes and that little bit of extra practice with the notes will help all students gain speed and fluency.

Also, I think I will set up a little note reading app on my iPad during tuning time.  Students bring their instruments to me at the front of the room and I tune every student indiviually every day.  While they are waiting, they can play the note-reading app for a few seconds to see how many notes they can get right.