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Monday, October 17, 2016

From Formal to FUN: Family Friendly Halloween Concert

I have 5 children.  I like to take them to plays and fun performances and enjoy the arts.  But of all the artsy things we can attend, it is hardest to bring them to orchestra performances.  A few years ago I took my husband and daughter to a Joshua Bell concert.  I listened in fascination to the beautiful crystal clear tone and intricate harmonies of the solo violin/piano performance.  My daughter and husband had an expensive nap.  My children don't attend all of my concerts.  They like to come, but it is sometimes hard to keep their attention for an entire concert.  I live in Utah, where children are aplenty.  Families have lots of kids and I want them coming to my concerts!  They can learn young to love music and to see how fun it is to play in an orchestra.  I want families to feel free to bring all of their children to my performances.  So, for Halloween we are putting on a family friendly fun performance with interactive activities to involve the audience.  Here's what we've got planned:

1.  I sent official invites to all of the parents and let them know that this concert is suitable for the entire family.

2.   In the hallway in front of the auditorium, we are setting up a 'selfie station' where our guests can take fun pictures by life-size cut-outs of famous people or use prop to create fun photos.  Some props will be orchestra instruments (the unplayable stash from my school).  I want guests taking pictures with orchestra stuff!  Here's a pic of my stand ups in their temporary home (my living room).

3.  Our first number is a variation of Twinkle which starts with a simple melody/harmony then gets more complex with an added advanced part.  While we are playing, the audience will be trying to keep 8 jumbo giant balloons with flashing lights in the air.  The entire audience has to work together to keep those twinkling 'stars' in the air.

4.  While my beginners play Demons, they audience will be allowed to stand and dance.

5.  While my beginners play Country Gardens, the audience will wave glow sticks in the air back and forth in time.

6.  We will play 'Pepperoni Pizza Rock' and feature some students on electric instruments.

7.  Next up - the intermediate Orchestra.  They will play Chicken Dance and we will invite all young children to come up and do the chicken dance in front of the stage.  We also will have a student dressed up like a giant chicken to dance with the kids.

8.  In between numbers, we will play a game called 'Lay It Or Break It' with some audience volunteers and our giant student 'chicken.'

9.  Advanced students are playing Brave.  I make a dramatic entrance dressed as Brave for this one.  Maybe I'll even practice a scottish accent.  :)  I'll look ridiculous, but hey - half the audience won't know it's me!

10.  While playing 'Blazin Bows of the West,' audience volunteers will have a potato sack race up the auditorium wearing funny western paper masks.

We have regular pieces where the audience will just listen, but I'm hoping kids will love coming to this concert and be inspired to join orchestra in school!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

D String Assessment

My classes have been working on D string notes and I want to make sure students have mastered them before I move on to the A string notes.  Tomorrow, students will complete this assessment so I can determine if they are ready to learn more.  They have to write note names, fingerings, and play an excerpt to determine fluency on the notes.  The exercise gets progressively more difficult as they play to give me an idea on the level of proficiency for each student.  
This would also work great as an SLO (Student Learning Objective) assessment.  I usually evaluate my classes on rhythm for my SLO, but this would work well as a pre-test. Our district is looking for a higher depth of knowledge for student goals, so re-call/memorization isn't good enough for a final test.  A good final test would be to compose and perform a piece of music utilizing notes and rhythms which have been mastered throughout the year.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How to Practice: A lesson about Reps

When I started learning the violin I didn't mind practicing.  I played through my pieces once or twice and enjoyed playing, but was never taught how to practice effectively.  It is helpful to teach little practice tips in class to help students learn how to use practice time wisely.  Recently, I showed this video for my weekly motivational video:

We talked about how our muscles require lots of reps in order to become stronger.  Same with practicing music...we can complete a lot of reps to help with muscle memory and to become stronger players.  Playing through a difficult measure only one time is like doing one push-up calling it an effective work-out.

I try to do lots of reps in class and encourage students to aim for 10 times perfect each day on every exercise to become PRO players.  This has been helpful for students first learning D string notes.  They have to fill out this tracker at home when they practice:

Grading Papers

Every Saturday I go to my classroom and file stacks of papers, put things away, and bring home a towering pile of worksheets to grade.  People are often surprised to learn that I grade a lot of papers.  They say, "You have worksheets in music class?!"  Almost every day, my beginning classes complete a short bell-work assignment which helps me check for understanding.  After a recent assignment which reviewed basics about note-reading, I was able to identify a few students from each class who did not understand how the staff works.  Our school offers a 25 minute flex time each day where students can go to any teacher to get help or make up missed work.  I had each of my struggling students come to me during one of these flex times and was able to re-teach note-reading basics.  Even though I don't love grading papers, I feel the worksheets help students improve basic music skills and it is important to identify students who need extra help.

There is one worksheet that I don't mind grading.  Several weeks ago I posted about playing tests and included a picture of a goal sheet/reflection paper that students complete after every playing test.  I love reading these papers!  They give me insight into how students feel in my class.  I learn if they are preparing for tests and I learn about their struggles and goals.  I can then tailor lessons to help students and I can offer encouragement to specific students.  Reading the reflection papers motivate me to be a better teacher.  Students want to do well and when I see how hard they are working it helps me work hard for them to help them succeed.  Since using these reflection papers, I feel my students are achieving higher test scores and taking ownership for their progress.  Here's one I just randomly pulled from my tower of papers...pretty cool, huh?