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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Orchestra is Awesome

My kids keep singing the 'Everything is Awesome' song from the Lego movie and it is totally getting stuck in my head.  I decided to change the words a bit, just for variety.  :)  So now, I'm singing in my head, "Orchestra is Awesome!"

Monday, July 28, 2014

Teaching Sight-Reading

One of my goals for my students is to teach them the skills needed to accurately read and perform printed music at their level of ability.  Students can learn so much more music if they have high notereading fluency and are able to sight-read.  I also teach music by rote, but I recognize that students need good ears and good music literacy skills.  

Many students try to tackle sightreading all at once and they can get frustrated if the music seems hard.  I am teaching my students to first look at the rhythm and practice only the rhythm.  After that, students practice the notated pitches with the rhythms.  The next step is to add the bowing and after that, reading the music as printed.  I believe students will experience more success if sight-reading is broken down into these smaller steps.  

This is an example of a sight-reading exercise that follows this process:

You can download this assessment for violin, viola, cello and bass HERE:

Apps I use in my Orchestra Classroom

I thought I should do another post about apps I that like to use in my orchestra class.  Students love technology and I love to incorporate the ipad in my classroom.  Ipad's work great for game days.  When I did our Orchestra Olympics game day, I divided students into small groups and had them rotate around to different 'events' every 5 minutes.  I used an iPad for 2 different events - one was the Note Squish Game.


This app works great for the orchestra classroom because you can customize the note range and it has all clefs.  Students enjoyed competing to see who could get the highest score.

I used the app TE TUNER for another game for the Olympics, but also I use this app in class now and then during rehearsals


For the game, I had students take turns slowly playing a scale with the tuner app turned on.  Every time a students plays exactly in tune, the app will create a green smiley face.  Students got 1 point for every smiley face they earned while playing the scale.  The app creates a  great visual to help hear and adjust intonation.  Students really liked watching results of their intonation as they played.  I used this app frequently in rehearsals to help students understand that there is only one F# (as an example)...they must all match each other and not just stick to their tape as tapes are not absolute.  The only problem with this app is that is takes up a LOT of space on your hard drive.

AnyTune is another app that I like to play around with.  It will take any music you have in your iPad music library and allow you to make adjustments....change keys, make it faster or slower.  One day I might use this as a rehearsal tool if I am rehearsing music that is not on SmartMusic using the mp3 file from JWPepper.  I have used this app while writing arrangements for my class so I could slow music down while I transcribe.


ScoreCloud is an app I just learned about.  It is pretty amazing...all you have to do is sing a tune or play a song, and the app with notate what it hears in standard notation.  I am not sure how I will use this in my class yet, but I may come in handy on a unit about music composition.


Explain Everything is an app that I use quite frequently.  I do not have a document camera in my classroom, so I use this app by uploading my worksheets or files for my class and I project those things for all to see in front of the room.  The app allows me to explain assignments by drawing right on them on my iPad.  I have also created several presentations using Explain Everything.  I use it to teach key signatures, rhythms, bow distribution, practice strategy, note reading, and I use it for bellwork assignments.


I just found this Sightreading Machine app a few weeks ago and I am planning on using it in my orchestra class for warm-ups now and then.  This app generates short sight-reading excepts based on specific parameters that you can set.  I like that I can select only notes and rhythms that my students would know.  I am hoping students will enjoy this activity enough to download this app themselves and practice with it at home.  It is not very expensive and I feel students would really increase their note-reading and sightreading skills by practicing with this app.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rehearsal Procedure

I have never had an official rehearsal procedure for my students.  I tell them what I expect, but have never put it in writing or posted it on the wall.  This is something I am adding to my bulliton board in my classroom this year.

Brand new Rhythm Basics Resource/Workbook Download!

The Rhythm Basics Workbook shows how you can introduce and teach basic rhythm to your  music students.  In the book, I compare the beat to oranges on an assembly line.  Students have done well with this analogy in my class and I like to bring a few real oranges to my class and I cut the oranges into pieces to show students how the beat can be divided when we get to eighth notes or sixteenth notes.  I use a sharpie to write the beats on the orange... 1   +  ...then I cut the orange and show the 2 halves of the beat.

This workbook includes work pages for students and also some group learning activities with a total of 13 pages including the cover.  Students learn about the difference between beat and rhythm, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes and corresponding rests and also eighth notes.  Students also learn basics about measures and time signatures.  You can download a copy of this book and make as many copies as needed for your students at my store: HERE.

You may also be interested my my note-reading book.  You can read more about that resource HERE.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Don't forget to purchase your download of Be An Amazing Note Reader for Orchestra

Purchase this resource at my store!

Summer is almost over for teachers and you want to make sure you have your materials for the beginning of the year.  This book works great for the start of your beginning orchestra class.  Find more information about this resource HERE.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FREE Fingering Chart printable worksheet for orchestra

Here's another free printable for you!  You can use this worksheet for so many different things.  I use this for teaching notes on the different strings, teaching whole and half steps, finding all notes for different key signatures, and even fingering for other positions.  The gray circles and lines are to show where the basic fingering position is in relation to the other circles.  If you use fingering tapes on instruments, the gray lines show where the tapes are...and this works for every instrument.

Click HERE for your free download!

Rules for the orchestra classroom

This year I decided to re-write my classroom rules.  I looked on pinterest and found an idea I liked where a teacher used the letters from the word RESPECT to make the rules.  I used the same idea, but changed the rules to apply to orchestra.  The last few years, I only had 3 simple rules.  That was working for me alright, but I think broad rules can be a  little too open for interpretation and I recently read a book where the author recommended more specific rules.  This is what I can up with and you can purchase a download HERE.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Must have FREE PRINTABLE for your school string orchestra!

I have students coming into my beginning orchestra class with different skills levels.  Some students are brand new beginners and some students have had about 1/2 year of training already.  One way I like to keep every student engaged at the start of the year is to use music with an easy part for the true beginners and a harder part to challenge the more advanced players.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a tune that works great for this.  Beginners play the basic melody or a harmony part that I teach them.  The more advanced beginners play a version that I call "Twinkle Extreme."  It all sounds great together and students love it!

Here is the harmony part for Twinkle in the key of D:

D    D    F#   F#       G    G     F#---

E    E     D    D         A (on g string)   A    D----

F#   F#    E    E      D    D   A-----

F#    F#    E    E     D    D   A-----

D    D    F#   F#       G    G     F#---

E    E     D    D         A (on g string)   A    D----

Find a FREE download of Twinkle Extreme HERE!

Orchestra classroom: Introducing......My theme for the 2014-15 school year

Every year in orchestra, I like to have a theme to help me design t-shirts and also to help motivate my students to be their best.  Last year, I used the musical tree (see poster) on my t-shirts and I frequently talked to my students about the effort required to nurture their talents in order for them to improve and grow.  We even had an orchestra plant in our classroom that I watered when enough students practiced so students could watch our plant thrive with our diligence.

This year, I decided to use this as my slogan:  Orchestra Gives You Wings

I like to design my t-shirts on   It is probably cheaper to use a local shop, but I like the design feature on and they have been great to work with.  Plus, it's nice to not have to create everything from scratch in Adobe Photoshop.  CustomInk has a lot of clip art available when designing a shirt, so I was able to piece all of this together using their graphics.  Here's what I came up with:

Here's what I'm most excited about:  My plan is to have students earn their own wings to pin on their shirts.  I found little plastic aviator-type wings that I can customize for music.  Students will earn their wings after earning a pre-determined percentage on all of their playing tests.  This is manageable for every student because I allow students to re-take playing tests as many time as they need.  I am also going to try a new policy where I require students to re-take a playing test if they don't reach a certain score.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The most successful practicing motivation for students

I have mentioned in previous posts that I am constantly trying to motivate my students to practice because I do not like to force students to fill out practice sheets.  I do many things to motivate students, including having a 'video-of-the-week' every Monday right when class starts.  I always have a positive message or moral to share about the video and they usually focus on developing skills the students need at the time.

My most successful big event I have done for practicing is having students earn music money for each minute they spend practicing.  (I did a 10 minute minimum to earn the money because I didn't want to mess with one dollar bills)  I was able to immediately hear a difference in my orchestra when I started this event and my students are already requesting that we do it again!

Here is where I downloaded the temple for my money:

I then used Publisher to make my money look a little more musical:

This was then printed on green paper and I had my TA cut them all out.  (It was a lot, but she had time.)

 I gave students 3 weeks to earn their practice money.  As students came to class each day, they picked up the correct amount of money depending on their practice.  They wrote their names on the back and put them in a special manilla envelope.

At the end of the 3 weeks, I had my TA sort all of the money into piles and paper clip together the money that was turned in by each student.  I then held an orchestra auction and allowed students to bid on items and spend their money.  We did this right after our last concert and it made for a great celebration.  I auctioned off things like candy, dollar store items, bumper stickers, pencils, certificate for extra credit, certificate for a free pass on one playing test.......

How to use GradeCam for your Playing Tests:

I've noticed a great deal of response on my last post about GradeCam.  I decided to share with you some screen shots so that you can set up a playing test (rubric style) using GradeCam.  You can use my playing test form if you like by purchasing the download HERE, or you can just make your own.

First, set up a free GradeCam account (refer to my last GradeCam post).    This account is always free if you are ok with just 10 questions or less on your tests.  This works out just fine for me because my playing tests only have 7 questions.

Once you are logged in, click on 'CREATE' under the Assignments tab.

 Under the "Create Assignment" screen, you can name your assignment, put "7" for the number of questions (if you are using my playing test form) and you can change the date for the assigment.  Next click DONE.

You will now need to configure your answer sheet. Be sure that every questions is check-marked and then click on the button that says "Type."

Click on "MORE..."

Click on "Rubric" and customize the values as noted in the picture below:

Now you can print the form to use on your own playing test form or to make the settings compatible with my playing test form.  Click on "Forms"

 Click on the little gear button and change the student ID to use 4 digits.

Now you can print the form to your printer, or save it as a picture to embed on your own grading sheet.

You are now ready to scan!  Select your class and simply hold up a filled-out answer sheet to the camera on your ipad or computer.  It's pretty awesome!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Now available for download - Fiddle Tune for Beginners

Fiddle Tune for Beginners is an arrangement of a simple fiddle tune for string orchestra.  The arrangement includes parts for 3 different skill levels so that this can be used in a classroom with true beginners and more advanced beginning players.  Each part is only 8 measure long, but it can be repeated over and over as students try to play a different part each time.  I would use this for the first week of my beginning orchestra class.  Parts are included for violin, viola, cello, and bass.  There is also a score included.

In my orchestra class, I have some experienced players in my beginning class.  I teach the bass line to all students and I sometimes write out just the fingering or note names for the bass line if students are not yet reading notes.  The true beginners can then focus on a more simple part while others in the orchestra work on the harmony and melody.  I have found that my beginners enjoy this piece because they like the sound of all of the different parts happening at once.  It's a bit more satisfying for them to hear themselves on this piece than the typical 'Mary Had A Little Lamb.'

I have found that beginning students thrive when they are able to hear more advanced parts to the music they are learning.  Students always desire to learn the more difficult part because they like how it sounds.  That makes students practice more and figure out the harder parts.  It keep the orchestra class moving quickly!

Fiddle Tune for Beginners is available for download HERE or HERE!

A lesson about practicing correctly - and eating junk-food

Can you spot what is terribly wrong with this picture?  :)

I am always working very carefully with my beginning classes to ensure that they develop good habits.  It is so hard to fix bad bow holds and pancake hands later on!  I have a private student one time that always played with a pancake hand.  Every week I coached her and did everything I could to keep her wrist straight using every game and gimic I could think of.  By the end of each lesson, my student would start keeping her wrist straight.  However, that practice was never reinforced once she got home and I was never able to completely fix her position.

I firmly believe that students must learn position correctly right from the beginning and I am very strict with my student's position.  I am constantly checkin and fixing through every class period.

This video is my latest asset to help students understand the importance of learning things right the first time.  I love showing them this video because it's funny and  because they really remember the message behind it.  The video is of a guy who is working out at the gym while eating junk food.  I tell students that practicing while holding their instrument or bow incorrectly is like working out and eating junk does no good at all!

How to Care for Instruments and Bows - A presentation for beginning orchestra

I made this presentation last year to teach my beginners about how to care for their instrument and bow.  My students enjoyed the videos that are part of the presentation, but you don't have to use the videos.  One of them is a little irreverent.  At the end of the presentation, I have included a way for you to give an instrument parts test to your students.  You could project the last 2 slides for students and have them write the answers on simple answer sheets.

Here is the link to this free presentation:


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The awesomeness of GradeCam

I went to a workshop earlier in the summer and overheard some teachers talking about a great new online program called GradeCam.  It is a grading system where you can print out bubble style answer sheets and then when it is time to grade the assignment, you simply hold up the answer sheet to your document camera, laptop camera or iPad and it instantly puts the grade in the computer and gives you any data you could possibly want.

I have never once given a multiple choice test in my class, so I wasn't sure if this program would work for me, but then I found out that you can use a rubric for the answer sheet.  That works perfectly for how I do my playing tests!  Every 2 weeks, I have students perform for me alone in front of the class.  I grade students using a rubric.  Using a rubric style grading sheet from GradeCam, I added the bubble form to my grading rubric and now can scan those super quick into the computer after each test.  What I like about it is the data analysis feature.  Our school district is requiring a lot of data comparison as we implement SLO's (Student Learning Objectives) this year.  When I use this program, I can easily get all the data I need and track student progress.

Sign up for GradeCam for free right here:

Need help setting up GradeCam for your playing tests?  Read my step-by-step instructions HERE!!!

Here is how I adjusted my playing test form to be compatible with GradeCam:
Students will fill in their own GradeCam ID number - which is just their lunch number so they will already have it memorized.  You can find tutorials at that explain how to import your classes and student ID numbers.  The bubble sheet below is aligned with my grading sheet.  I only have to fill in the number that corresponds to the score I give the student in each section.  I set up the grading so that points will be awarded based on the number I mark and then multiplyed by 2 (since I like to have my playing tests worth more points).

(This form is available for download HERE.)

It really only took me an hour or so to play around with GradeCam and figure it out.  Start by creating an assignment (you may choose multiple choice or a rubric style).  Mark the key on the computer and then print a blank answer sheet.  Look at the sample class provided on GradeCam and use that number for the student id while you are experimenting.  Then mark some answers and hold the sheet up to your camera on your computer or ipad (where-ever you are logged into GradeCam) and DING --- it grades just like that - super easy and fast!

Check out my next post about GradeCam:

Have you tried Kahoot?

I ran across a pretty neat little tool online that creates interactive quizzes for your classroom.  You can sign up and try it for free here:

Most students have phones in class these days and this website is designed for that to be an advantage.  You project your quiz for the class with a projector and the class can all answer questions using their phones.  It gives you as a teacher some insight as to whether or not the students are learning the things you are teaching.

In orchestra, I don't do many multiple choice quizzes, but I do see some uses for Kahoot.  I created a quiz to teach the parts of the instrument using pictures that I took using my iPad.  I think students would enjoy learning the parts of their instruments with this tool.  You can check out the quiz I made here:

You can try the quiz yourself, but you need 2 devices.  You run the quiz on your computer and when it gives you the code you go to on your phone and you answer the questions from your phone.

It was super easy to make and it only took a few minutes.  I also like that the site offers a database of tons of quizzes that other teachers have created so that you can find things you can use without making something yourself.  It's worth checking out!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Introducing my new website!

Now that it is summer and school is out, I have much more time to update materials I use in my classroom and also create new materials for next year.  I have decided to offer downloads of my workbooks, worksheets, graphics, orchestra arrangements, and posters at my new website:

I hope you will check it out and find something useful to you as a teacher.  I know it can be very time-consuming to create your own materials and it is so nice to find an in-expensive way to print materials for your class.  I will be adding items all summer so keep checking!