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Friday, August 30, 2013

I Am Exhausted!

Well, I have my largest class of beginners ever.  50.  It has been a bit more challenging than I expected...I see so many students that need help with holding their instrument and holding the bow can be overwhelming.  After 2 days of teaching them some basics, I felt like I was failing.  Too many to help in a sea of students.   So, today I tried something new.  I divided my class into 4 groups.  I taught one group some basics and fixed bow holds/position.  Meanwhile, on the other side of my class, I had students take a quiz where they label the parts of the instrument.  In the band room, I had 2 other groups playing games.  One game was just bow games where they try to keep a life-saver candy on their bent thumb.  The other game was Staff Twister.  I found these whiteboard spinners on

I made a large staff on the floor using masking tape.  Then I used 2 spinners on the of them pointed to left foot, right foot, left hand, or right hand.  The other spinner pointed to which line or space on the staff students should cover.

It worked great to divide my class, and I felt I was able to get a lot more done...even though kids had to rotate to a different station every 10 minutes.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

More pages to the rhythm book

I decided to add more pages to the rhythm book that I made and wrote about in a previous post. (see  I noticed that my method book only begins theory worksheets once students know eighth notes, so I created worksheets that will get beginners to that point.

This book is now available for download HERE!

Also check out my note-reading book!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Orchestra - Mission Possible

Check out this little video I just threw together for fun....I was just trying to learn PowToon.

Orchestra - Mission Possible.

Bow Games/Exercises

Bow games are an huge part of my routine in my orchestra class.  I use these games to check bow holds every day, but also to get student's attention and get class started.  As students enter the classroom, they bring me their instruments and I tune them.  All students must be on time and be tuned by 1 minute after the bell rings.  While they are waiting for class to start, they are working on bellwork that I write on the board each day.  The class can start getting a bit noisy with 36 beginners...(and this year I will have 54 beginners in one class...yikes!) class begins when they hear music coming through the speakers.  I always do our bow games to the beat of some music that I choose.  I use different music throughout the year....Here is a list of some of the music I like for bow games:

Stayin' Alive  - BeeGees
I Like to Move It - Crazy Frog
You Spin Me Right Round - The Chipmunk version
Lindsey Stirling music
Vanessa Mae electric violin music
Piano Guys music
Monster Mash  - at Halloween
Ghostbusters - at Halloween

I recently found a neat website that tells about some games and particular music to use for each game.  I may have to try some this year:

As soon as students hear the music start, they get their bows and their eyes are on me to lead them in bow games.  Later in the year, I turn that job over to a student, and I let students begin class so I can walk through the students and fix bow holds.

Now to the games:

1.  Rockets - moving the bow straight up and down.  For more challenge, you can have students hold a canning ring and move the bow through the middle...controlling the bow so that it does  not touch the sides.

2.  Side to Side - moving the bow left to right with right arm straight - this works the shoulder muscles.

3.  Open and Shut - moving the bow by opening and shutting the elbow - this is an important bow game to teach students how to bow straight.

4.  Tic Tocs - moving the tip of the bow back and forth like a second hand on a clock.  Students should be watching the tip of the bow while they do this.

5.  Stir the Mush - a stirring circle motion with the you are stirring a pot.

6.  Wind Shield Wipers/Railroad Crossing - moving the bow to point straight up, then tilting left until the bow is parallel to the floor.

7.  Pinky taps - for violins and violas only - tapping the pinky on the top of the stick

8.  Elevators - With the stick parallel to the floor, move the bow up and down.

9. Spider Crawl - crawling up and down the stick with fingers only

10.  Disco - moving bow from top left to down right - like the disco dance from Saturday Night Fever

Student don't get bored with these for awhile.  I like to introduce at least one per day.  When they do get bored with these exercises, I start to switch things up a little bit.  I bring a penny for each student and have them do bow exercises while keeping a penny balanced on their right bent thumb.  You can do the same with hard lifesavers, M&Ms, Skittles.  You can put gummy lifesavers on the tip of the bow and have them try to keep the lifesaver there throughout the bow games.  Students can race each other on the spider crawl.  I send a few students out in the hall, then pick certain students to do bow games with bad bow holds.  Then the kids that were in the hall have to come and find the students with bad bow holds.  I buy balloons and have students try to keep a balloon in the air while doing the rockets bow game. 

I feel bow games are important to do every day because a proper bow hold is so important.  I am constantly checking and fixing bow holds, and I find that students quickly learn to hold the bow the right way if I am doing bow games and checking their bow holds every day.

For violin/viola students that have trouble with keeping their pinkies on the bow, I buy the small size corn cushion stickers, and I stick one on the top of the stick.....we call the stickers 'Pinky Donuts' and the pinky will sit quite nicely in the sticker.  This can solve a lot of bow hold problems.  Sometime I use the sticker for cello/bass thumbs.

See more about bow games at another post HERE.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reflections from my First Year Teaching Orchestra and Advice for NewTeachers

I remember in college my professors telling me that the first year of teaching is always hard and difficult and not to worry...that the first year is terrible for everyone, but that things would be better after that. I cant say those words made me super excited for my first year, but i had a great mentor teacher who would say, "can you believe they pay us for this!?" My mentor seemed to always be having fun and he enjoyed his work.  I liked his attitude and enthusiasm.

 I found the mentor's words to ring true my first year (2000). I wondered when things were going to be as scary as my professors said, but that never happened.  I remember there were some interns doing their first year teaching at the same time as me and some of them struggled a lot.  One of them even quit, but my first year was just plain fun. After being told what to do and how to do it all through college and student teaching, it felt great to make my own decisions and run my own classroom.

So, my advice to new teachers......

1. Be Yourself. Sometimes I see and hear of amazing teachers with huge award winning programs and I feel a little intimidated because I dont know if I can ever be as good as they are. But really, I can't be someone else. I have to teach my own way and my own style and not pretend I am someone else. Students know when you are genuine. Let your own passion of teaching and music come through.

2. Have Fun. If it's not fun for you, its not fun for the students. If you have fun, the kids have fun. When I notice that I am stuck in a routine or if I am getting bored, I go home and think of a way to switch things up in class. I play games and I try to surprise my students to keep them interested.

3. Make friends. I remember hearing this in college...make friends with secretaries, janitors, helps a lot!  One thing I regret about my first year is that I did not make strong connections with my co-workers.

4. Trust yourself. You know what you are have had plenty of instruction....go with your gut. 

5.  Be Aware.  I am constantly gauging student reaction to my teaching.  If I see they are bored, I try to change what I am doing.  If they look lost, I try to another teaching strategy.  If they are noisy, I get their attention.

6. Pacing.  One reason why I rarely have discipline problems is because I keep my classroom busy.  The kids don't have time to goof off.  There are some days where I am better at this than others....and sometimes the pacing has to be different based on what we are working on.   I have to keep my energy up and get enough sleep to keep my pacing as fast as I like it.

Feel free to add comments!  What happened during your first year?  What advice would you give a new teacher?