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Monday, March 1, 2021

Note to Fingerboard Matching Activity


I've spent the last few month exploring all kinds of ways to use technology in my orchestra class.  This year I have been almost paperless and I love not having to grade piles and piles of papers.  I've moved many of my resources and curriculum online and students access everything through Canvas.  A few months ago I posted some online worksheets made with google slides where students drag and drop notes to the correct place on the fingerboard.  I received a request to make a version that showed the notes on the staff.  So, here it is!  Students open the file in google but do NOT run as a slide show.  Students grab the notes and drop them on the correct tapes.  This version does not have every possible note...only the notes my beginners have learned so far.  This kind of worksheet works great in Canvas as a 'google cloud' assignment.  This is where each student gets their own copy of the slide show where they can edit and turn it in.

Access your own copy HERE.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Rhythm Activities for Beginning Orchestra


My beginning orchestra is currently learning 'Medieval Wars' by Brian Balmages and students are loving it!  It's a grade 2, but I would say it's on the easy side of that grade.  The rhythms are not too difficult, but for some reason my students are struggling to count while they play.  Progress has been slow because students haven't been counting as I've been mostly drilling notes/pitch.  Last week I decided to starting reviewing rhythms and counting to help students play without getting lost.  With rhythm as our focus, students made it through the entire piece and they're learning it so much faster!

Here are some of the fun rhythm activities I've done with my students:

1.  Rhythm reading/coordination:

Since I always do a 'video of the week' on Mondays, I had students clap/count rhythms with these videos:

We talked about how we sometimes must play 2 different rhythms at the same with our bow hand and one with our left hand.  For example, when playing 2 quarter notes that are slurred, the right hand plays a half note rhythm while the left hand plays the quarter notes.  This takes a great deal of coordination!  We practiced rhythm coordination with both hands using part of this video:

After we practiced with the video, I had students write their own right hand/left hand composition.  They practiced their own composition then we traded papers and students practiced each others rhythms and graded the assignment based on a few key components: 1.  Is it neat?  2. Are there 4 beats notated in every measure? 3. Is it challenging?    Students took this assignment very seriously and they enjoyed having me try to perform their compositions.  They were sure they would get me to mess up...but it turns out I'm quite coordinated.  :)


2.  Rhythm challenges using scales.

I used the 'Around the World' rhythm game just to use the rhythm slides for this easy activity.  Students had to play a D scale and change the rhythm every time we changed pitch.  I just scrolled through the presentation while they played the scale.  It was very challenging for them to switch rhythms so quickly!

I asked the students if the entire orchestra HAS to play the same rhythm in order to stay together.  Most said yes - we must always play the same rhythm.  We then experimented with scales and discovered half of the orchestra could play a D scale using 2 half notes per pitch while the other half of the orchestra could play at the same time with 4 quarter notes per pitch.  We discussed how each section can play their own rhythms in our music, but must count carefully for the rhythms to line up - like a puzzle.  I projected my score to Medieval Wars on screen for students to see different rhythms in each section and how the rhythms were supposed to fit together.

3.  Rhythm Dictation

I've done dictation with students before, but this time I made a quick NearPod for students to draw the rhythms they hear.  I liked using NearPod because it allowed me to see student responses right away. I was easily able to identify students who needed help.  I was in a hurry when I made the audio files for the rhythms so they're kind of low quality...but it works! 

You can access and edit the nearpod HERE.

4.  Rhythm Detective Game - variation

I've used the Rhythm Detective game in my classes before and students have always enjoyed it, but I changed the game a little bit to make it more applicable to drilling specific rhythms.  I found tricky rhythms from our concert music and had students repeat the one measure of rhythm over and over in different ways as determined by the 'leader.'  For example, clapping, stomping, snapping, sliding their hands, tapping their cheeks, patting their heads, etc. The class repeated the rhythm and copied the leader while the detective tried to figure out who the leader was.  My class practiced rhythms over and over again...hardly realizing they were drilling concert music.  It was such a hit with my beginning classes I used the same game in my intermediate class to help them drill a few rhythms from 'The Code," by Silva. 

5.  Rhythm Telephone

This is the first time I've tried this game and it went so well!  I LOVE it!  I found the idea on this website.   I put away all the music stands and had students sit in 4 long rows.  I showed a simple rhythm to the students on the end of each row.  They then had to tap that rhythm on the shoulder of the person sitting in front of them...and so on...until the rhythm reached the other end.  The student at the far end then had to write the rhythm.  Teams got a point if the rhythm was correct.  I then had students every student eventually had the opportunity to sit at each end of the line.

6.  Rhythm Self-Assessment

I used this assessment to help students determine their level of ability in reading/counting rhythms.  It was good for students self-assess their skills because it made them more motivated and willing to work hard to improve and get to the highest level.

Free assessment for beginning rhythm and notereading HERE.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Battleship game for String Orchestra


Are you looking for a super fun game you can play with your orchestra students that won't take much time to prepare?   Try BATTLESHIP!  This game works great to review any type of music students have been learning.  It's very simple to play and students love it!

Here's how to play...

1.  Choose your music.  I chose one of our concert pieces, but you can use exercises from method books or anything you like.

2.  Project your gameboard on screen.  I quickly made a gameboard using JAMBOARD.  You can use my game board.. you just have to click the 3 dots at the top of the screen...then click MAKE A COPY.  


3.  Each section of the orchestra is a team.  Each team gets to fire a torpedo at any other section of the orchestra class by calling out one measure (you could do between 1-3 measures) from the music they have to play.  If the section plays the music in tune and in time with correct bowing, the torpedo is a MISS.  If the section does not play the measure correctly, it's a HIT and I move a little explosion icon on top of their ship on the gameboard.  Any team who gets 3 hits goes down in flames.


*When playing this in class, we rotated turns between sections:  bassess, cellos, violas, 2nds, then 1sts.  Game play continued in this way until the students sunk a few ships.  I allowed sunk teams to still fire torpedos at other sections so they could continue to participate.

*Before starting the game, I had my orchestra play the music we were using in the game so they could 'spy' on other sections to find measure where they could fire some torpedos.

My students are already asking to play this game again!  It was a great way for them to review tricky measures and find places that still need practice.

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 can use them at Nearpod:

Lesson 1:  Exploring Pitch:

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this game!  It's at    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:

Lesson 3:  Rules of tuning:   (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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Make more progress with mindful rehearsals



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.


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:


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's a lot like 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 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.


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:


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? 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:

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:

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)

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

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!

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:


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:

Voice Activated video game - timing is crucial for rhythm:

Monday, September 7, 2020 digital supplies available at!


I've been selling digital resources for the last few years on my website at and my Teachers Pay Teachers site:   

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 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!  You can find me at this link:

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



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  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)

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