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Saturday, December 17, 2016

6 things parents can do to help students succeed in music.

I want my students to be successful and am always working and thinking of ways to help students progress and stay motivated.  There are a few things parents can do to help their children thrive in a string orchestra experience.

1.  Buy or rent a quality instrument.  

It's very hard to help students progress if their instruments literally will not stay in tune.  Parents should avoid purchasing instruments online.  Anything under $250 is not going to work (ever).  That is because a string instrument has many moving parts and pieces that need to be fitted exactly for the instrument to work properly.  When a student plays on an instrument that can not be tuned they become frustrated with their sound.  They recognize that they don't sound the same as everyone else and they feel like a failure, even if technique is correct.  Parents should communicate with the teacher for recommendations on where to find a quality instrument.

2. Support practicing and correct playing by providing appropriate gear.  

Violin and viola students need a shoulder rest.  I provide a free sponge to students who can not buy a shoulder rest, but all students must have one.  Brands I like are:  Kun, Everest, Bon Musica, and Comford Shoulder Cradle.  These are fine to purchase online.  Consider purchasing a music stand to help your student practice with correct position.  Slouching over propped up music is not beneficial and promotes poor position.  Students will need rosin on their bows to make a good sound.  I have tried many different kinds and they all work, but I recommend Pirastro Olive.

3.  Show interest.  

I don't recommend nagging your child to practice since that often causes contention, but you can provide a lot of motivation just by being interested in what your child is playing.  When your child is practicing, listen now and then without correcting and offer sincere and generous praise.  Let your child show you what they are learning and share in the excitement.

4.  Listen to string music.  

It doesn't always have to be classical music.  Find an artist on YouTube that features violin, viola, cello or bass.  Students are motivated by watching amazing performances.  Discover the Piano Guys, 2 Cellos, Lindsey Stirling, Time for Three, Simply Three, Apocolyptica, and Mark Wood...along with classical greats like Yo-yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Maxim Vengerov, Itzak Perlman, and Edgar Meyer.

5.  Stay through the whole concert.  

I know that parents and families are busy, but your child doesn't have that many concerts in a year.  Dedicate your time to stay through the entire concert.  I require my students to stay through my concerts (and some still sneak out. Sad.) because that is how they become motivated to continue and stay in orchestra.  The beginners get to hear the more advanced kids and they get excited at the prospect of learning more fun music in a year or two.  The Advanced students hear the beginners and reminisce about being a beginner and they realize how far they have come in a short amount of time.  They realize their abilities are noticeable improving.  It's worth it.  Don't leave early.

6.  Say thank you!  

I don't think teachers choose to become teachers for the money.  We are there because we are passionate about music and we love to teach.  Teaching is rewarding, but also draining.  Sometimes we have bad days and frustrating days.  When I get a nice note or email from a parent my teacher batteries are re-charged.  I am able to continue on and do my best to help and inspire my students.  Teachers want to make a difference and knowing that it's worth the effort will keep us going.  'Thank-you's' are teacher fuel.  (And diet coke helps, too.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pick up the PACE! 8 Strategies for effective rehearsal pacing:

We live in an age of speed.  High speed internet, faster speed limits, and shorter attention spans.  Orchestra teachers need variety and quick paced lessons to help students stay interested, involved and focused on progressing.    Every minute is important to me in my classes and I don’t like to waste a moment.  By establishing effectives routines class time is used effectively and time flies.  I love it when students are amazed when the class is over and when they wish they didn’t have to leave.   Here  are 8 ways you can maximize rehearsal time in your orchestra classroom:

1.  Learn to tune quickly.  

In my beginning classes with 30-45 students per class I tune every student one by one.  Students hurry and line up next to me for tuning and then frequently have a bell-work assignment to occupy their attention while I tune other students.  I make sure this takes 5 minutes or less and very little class time is used since I start tuning as soon as students enter the classroom before the bell rings.

I use a couple different tuning procedures for my Intermediate and Advanced classes.  Often we use the tuning sequence from this website:   I like this routine, but usually only let each pitch play for about 40 seconds instead of a minute.  Other days we tune to my violin.  I play 4 open A’s while students listen and they echo back with 4 A’s and tune/adjust as needed.  We repeat this procedure several times for each string and it goes very fast.

2.  Put music in order.  

This simple procedure helps create smooth transitions in the rehearsal.  I write an agenda on the board listing the things we are working on that day.  Students are required to open their method books to the appropriate page and have their music in order.  I don’t like to wait for students to open books, find pages, etc.

3.  Talk less.  

I remember my orchestra teacher in 7th grade used to talk a lot.  I wanted to be playing and would become frustrated when rehearsals came to a halt because of unnecessary chatter.  Sometimes students need a story or an analogy to help them play the music better, but they also need practice and they need to work hard in class to get better.   When drilling passages, keep a quick pace and talk very little.  My favorite words to start the class are ‘ready, play.’  They can get the tempo and start from just those 2 words.  When I want to repeat a section, I can quickly say, “Measure 35!  Ready, play!”   I like students to keep their instruments up so we can get a lot of playing done in a short amount of time.

4.  Know the music. 

It’s very helpful to have music memorized so that you don’t have to be staring at a score.  If you know the music well, you are free to walk around the room and help students throughout the rehearsal.  You can be more attentive to the needs of your students.  I often walk through the room during a rehearsal and if I need to check a part or play along on my violin I just look at their music.  When you know the music you can always be thinking ahead of what to work on next.  Right now I can tell you all of the measure numbers that need work in our concert music.  It’s all memorized in my head because those places need drilling every day and we do it a lot. Tricky passages need to be reviewed and carefully practiced every day.   Always have a specific objective for each rehearsal to be sure students are constantly progressing.

5.  Follow a rehearsal schedule.  

Set an appropriate amount of time for each part of your rehearsal.  If I was a student, I would get very frustrated if 20 minutes of class was spent on scales and only 10 minutes on concert music.  Use time to your advantage and cover all the material with careful planning.  In general, I spend 2-4 minutes on a warm-up.  We do scales, but also cover new technique.  For example, last week I taught my beginners about 4th finger (4th position for cello and 3rd position for bass).  We did left hand pizzicato and finger taps to strength that finger, then played D, E, F#, G, A A A--.  Students worked to match intonation (A on the D string to open A).  It didn’t take very long and next week students will be reading 4th fingers in their method books.  With pre-exposure  in the warm-up students are set up for success.

Here's a video of a warm-up I did with my beginning students.  They had been playing about 2 months and my objective for the warm-up was to help them be comfortable with string crossings, match pitch and correct intonation on D scale note, and play the D scale.

We spend 5-8 minutes in our method book to reinforce note-reading and technique.    Sometimes I use GarageBand to play a drum beat during method book work.  This helps things move along and we don’t waste time.  The last 25 minutes are spent on concert music. 

This is a sample from my beginning class.  This was the first time looking at that line in our method books and the video shows how we rehearsed it that day.

6.   Don’t offer free time.  

The weather is changing and those cheap violins just won’t stay in tune.  Instead of halting an entire rehearsal to re-tune that eBay special, give students a specific assignment.  You can have them play a certain measure 10 times, or play a line of music for their stand partner while the stand partner checks for proper position or perfect finger placement.   They can hunt for ½ steps or mark dynamics.  They don’t need free time – put them to work!

7.  Use a looper. 

I enjoy using SmartMusic as a rehearsal tool.  It has that great looping feature that plays specific measures over and over again.  This is a great tool to help drill tricky passages while keeping you free to walk around the room to help students.  Just set the measures and let it play.   You don’t have to talk…you don’t have to start and stop the group.  This helps get a lot done is a short time.

8.  Read facial cues.  

Always be aware of the attitude and feeling in your classroom.  Are students working, are they frustrated, are they bored?  Adjust pacing based on what the students need.  If you spend 5 minutes on one measure students might begin to ‘check-out.’  Switch things up and let students try something else.  Allow them to feel success in every rehearsal.  It’s okay to leave a piece of music and come back to it another day.  Baby steps.  J

Sunday, November 6, 2016

SUB PLANS for Orchestra

It's not easy preparing for a sub in orchestra.  I have tried many different activities for students to do when I am gone and some work better than others.  I always wish students could just work in small sectionals and practice but they just don't use their time wisely and some students don't cooperate when there is no teacher present.  Here are some ideas for sub plans in orchestra:

1.  Plan a composition activity.  Let students create a short piece of music.  You can create a worksheet and keep it on hand for those days when you will be gone.  A fun variation might be to show a short clip from a silent movie - there are lots of options on YouTube - and let students work in small groups to create music for the movie.  Here are a few worksheets I have used over the years:

2.  Create a listening assignment.  Have students listen to music and draw pictures of what the music make them think or feel.  You could have them listen to their concert music and mark the sheet music with things they need to work on.  This is a listening assignment I created using The Planets:

3.  Play a game.  Recently I used this ORCHESTRA OLYMPICS (click the link for access to the presentation) game for my beginners.  The sub showed the presentation from google drive and students completed each activity and filled out the worksheet with their scores.

Next week I am heading to  Dallas to present at the NAfME National Conference.  On one of the days I will be gone students will play this card game I just made - Music Matching Spoons (This is a free download at TPT - just click the link!).  The rules are the same as regular 'Spoons.'  I bought a couple packages of plastic spoons from the Dollar Store and I think students will have fun.  Students need to pay attention and have good reflexes when playing an instrument and this game is all about developing those skills.  This did require a lot of prep work because I printed 4 sets of the game and had to cut out all of the cards.  

4.  Make a video.  I don't usually do this, but since I will be missing 3 days next week I wanted to make sure my students are practicing and rehearsing in class.  I recorded 9 videos using my iPad and uploaded them to YouTube so my sub can project the videos in front of the class as they follow along with my teaching.  Learning music takes a lot of repetition so my sub will use the same videos for 2 days in a row as students follow along.  I recorded videos for our warm-up, method book, and concert pieces.  It didn't take me very long and I have 45 minutes total...which is the length of my classes.  My beginners will use the videos through most of the class period.  I didn't record as much for my intermediate and advanced groups because it is easier to rehearse those groups.  This was really easy to do....Here's a sample:

5.  Practice Assignment.  This works well for smaller classes.  If the class to very large it would be too noisy for quality practice unless students can spread out into practice rooms.  Assign specific sections of music for students to play perfectly 10 times.  I like to use this repetition tracker:

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?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Rhythm Cat - Air-bow Exercises

I have previously posted about how I use the Rhythm Cat app in my classroom.  That is one thing that I do every year with my students because it helps them learn to count rhythm in a fun way.  Thanks to AirServer, it is now easier than ever to use Rhythm Cat with my students by projecting the app on screen in front of the class and passing my one iPad to students in the classroom who are just beginning to read rhythms.  Other students follow along by clapping and saying the counting for each rhythm.

This year, I started using Rhythm Cat for bowing exercises.  It is important for string students to know how to count and clap rhythms, but ultimately students create rhythms using their bows.  For the last few days, I replaced my regular bow exercise routine to an air-bow routine done with rhythm cat.  Students say the counting while moving the bow up and down as if playing the rhythm.  We talk about how the entire class should have the same bow direction.  They are easily able to see why they need to focus and count if their bows start going the wrong way!  I noticed some students trying to follow the bow direction of the class without reading the counting.  We talked about driving and the need to keep eyes on the road in order to drive safely.  To read notes/rhythms, the eyes must stay on the 'road!'  That helped a lot of students focus on the notes and I believe they are now more prepared to play rhythms on their strings.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First week strategies that work!

I just made it through my first week back to school and it was great.  There were a few problems with my technology, but thankfully that was worked out pretty quickly.

On the first day of school I introduce my theme for the year.  This year my theme is STRIKE YOUR POTENTIAL.  Our shirts, magnets, stickers, and stuff have lightening on them and we have a brand new lightning plasma ball in our classroom...which draws a lot of students into my room.  In class, we had a discussion about talent.  One does not become talented because of one event.  No lightning bolt comes from the sky to determine who is talented and who is not.  The power is within each student to be successful.  The lightening and drive inside of each of us is what determines how much each can accomplish.

To help introduce my theme, I showed my 'video of the week', which was a compilation of a few different clips.  The whole point was to inspire students to put forth their best effort and act like an 'orchestra student'...which means they are the most considerate, hardest working, most respectful, most responsible..etc.  When they act like an orchestra student we can accomplish amazing things.

There are so many things we have to take care of during the first few days of school.  Instrument rentals, lockers assignments, and seating charts.  All of that takes a full day, but I want to keep students inspired.  While I take care of necessary business, students read short articles about brain development, goal setting and how to achieve goals.  They work with other students to discuss the material and it helps them get to know each other a little bit.   I use material from a book called 'Helping Students Motivate Themselves." by Larry Ferlazzo.  Here's a link to the book on Amazon.  I also use excerpts from the book 'Nurtured By Love' by Shinichi Suzuki.  Students work to set goals for the term and goals for the year.

We start learning basics about playing from day 2.  Here's a quick overview of skills you can teach using no instruments:

3 things you can do with students during the first week that help them master playing position and bowing without using instruments:

1.  Strengthen Fingers.  We start strengthening fingers from day 2...before students bring instruments.  This is super fun and really helps with dexterity.  I have a set of foam Emoji balls that fit perfectly in the hand.  While I blast the music 'Burn Baby Burn,' we do finger workouts using the balls.  Students follow my lead as we squeeze the ball between the thumb and index finger, thumb and middle finger...etc.   We alternate between hands to give all fingers a good work-out.  We toss it between hands to develop coordination, we squish the face with both hands.  There are tons of possibilities..students just follow me and I pretend to be a personal trainer.

2.  Teach students how to hold the bow using thick straws or pencils.  This is super easy and quick:  Students keep right right hand relaxed and floppy.  We pretend water is dripping off all of the fingers. Place a straw in the middle of the fingers, add the bent thumb behind the middle finger, curl the index finger around like a snake, and put pinky on top for violin/viola.  We then do bow games to fun music and students are give an assignment to create at least 10 perfect bow holds per day.

3.  Visualization of playing position.  I am amazed at how much the following strategy helps students achieve perfect position right from the start.  I teach students how to hold their instruments BEFORE bringing instruments to school. This really helps all students focus and not become distracted.  For the violin/violas we practice sitting on the edge of our seats with feet firmly planted on the floor.  I have them feel their left shoulder with their right hand and explained how the instrument would sit on that shoulder.  We practice turning our heads (as if placing the head on the chin rest) while keeping our heads straight and tall.

For cellos, we practice sitting on the edge of the seat with the feet planted.  We feel our knees and I explain where the instrument will sit and be held with their knees.  I have students place their right hands on their chests as if saying the Pledge of Alliance.  They learn that the cello will rest on their chest and they will need to stay strong like superman and not collapse when holding the cello.  They reach up behind their left ear to feel where the cello pegs would be.  Students learn how to adjust the end-pin and how to determine if it needs to be higher or lower.

These strategies really help my students gain confidence and learn more quickly when they bring instruments to class.  It is so much easier to teach proper play position when they have already visualized how it should be done.  Yesterday was our first day playing and I couldn't help but smile as I gazed on the sea of brand new violin/viola players with perfect position.  My cello players looked comfortable and confident.  We began plucking open strings and so far, so good.  :)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to do Playing Tests

If you've read a lot of my blogs or seen my articles in the NAfME blog, you know that I do not believe in using practice cards.  One thing I do instead is bi-weekly playing tests.  My students know that I will listen to them play individually every other Friday.

On the Monday before playing test day, the measures are announced so students can begin practicing and preparing.  Every day class, we spend a little time drilling those measures and providing practice tips to help students overcome any tricky parts.  On Friday, students are given a worksheet to do while they wait their turn for the playing test.  The worksheet involves theory items we have been working on in class...rhythm, note-reading, term, etc.  I make my own worksheets much of the time, but I also use the String Explorer worksheets from the teacher pack.

As I listen to individual students play, I am very careful to keep the atmosphere of the class friendly and non-threatening.  Students get nervous and it takes a great deal of bravery to play alone.  I believe it is good for students to face the challenge of performing alone. It strengthens their performance ability and they gain confidence for our concerts.  For my playing tests, students stay in their seats when it is their turn to play...I don't have them stand up or come to the front.  That would just add more stress.

Using a playing test rubric, I quickly grade each my 45 minute class period, I can listen to about 45 students, but I have to be quick!  In my beginning classes, playing tests are only about 8 measures long.  In Intermediate and Advanced classes, playing tests are longer.  I write comments on the rubric to help students improve.  If students receive 50/56 points or lower, they must re-take the playing test.  Any student may re-take the playing test as many times as they like, but not on the same day because I want them be practicing and preparing before each attempt.

There is a great video on YouTube about how in music class, an A is not enough.  For a superior performance, we need tremendous accuracy.  He explains it so well...check it out:

That is why I want students to keep re-taking playing tests to get perfect scores.  I want them to master the music and reach their potential.  It is possible!  This year, to encourage students to aim for perfect playing tests, I have little incentives.  Each year, I design my own orchestra folders that go with a yearly theme, and this is on the inside pocket of the folders:

For the term 2 'name on a classroom brick' award, I bought chalkboard tape and chalk markers and will place a piece of tape on various bricks in my classroom (my walls are all brick) with their name brightly decorated.  I will forever keep their name on a brick if they get that award.  It doesn't cost much, but students really want to be remembered so that is a huge incentive.

To help encourage students on continually improve and progress, I am starting a new thing...I put this survey/goal sheet on the back of every playing test form.  After I listen to each playing test, I give the student their scores on my playing test rubric form.  I don't want them to just glance at it and throw it away....I want them to reflect.  Students will be required to turn this in after their playing test. 

This system has been working well for me over the years.  There are many ways to do playing tests.  Sometimes I have my students send me recording or I let them take the test using SmartMusic.  Technology is great!  Even so, it is helpful to listen to each student live in person.  It helps me gauge my teaching and gives me direction to meet students' needs.  There have been times when I thought all students had mastered dotted quarter notes for example...then heard a playing test and realized only 1/2 were proficient and the rest were 'followers.'  I was then able to re-teach and help all students acquire the necessary skills to further their abilities.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Disney filmed this in my classroom!

My students and I are so grateful to the GiveANote foundation and Radio Disney for the many opportunities presented to us after winning the Music In Our Schools contest.  It almost feels like a dream.  The day the production team came to film the commercial, I was so excited I didn't sleep more than a couple hours the night before.  They have helped inspire my students to continue pursuing their dreams and fulfilling their potential in music.  Music education is so satisfying...I'm just grateful to be a part of it.  :)

Here a link to the commercial that is currently airing on the Disney channel until 9/1.  Hope you like it:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Method Book Madness

I haven't written as many blog posts this summer because of other major projects I've been working on.  It has been fun collaborating with 'NinGenius' app creator, Curtis Winters, to develop a revolutionary new method book for beginning strings.  It's the method book of my DREAMS!

We're still creating, testing, and improving our ideas, but I'm super excited about what we have accomplished so far.  I don't know of a method book that prepares students for note-reading and shows how to successfully play each exercise like our book.  

We have created multi-levels parts for each piece to help reach all student's needs.  The multi-level parts motivate students to push themselves to learn the advanced parts which helps them learn faster and stay interested.  The harmonies in each piece help students learn to listen, adjust intonation, and count carefully in order to make the ensemble work.  Before each piece in the method, there is a preparatory page with exercises that explain exactly how students must practice to successfully master the material.  This helps teach students how to practice effectively.   

Here is a sample so you get an idea...I hope you like it!  

Presenting at the NAfME National Conference!

I am presenting this year the the NAfME conference in November.  It was a wonderful experience attending and presenting at the national conference last year and I can't wait to do it again!  Here is my article published in the NAfME's Music In A Minuet blog.  (  This gives an overview of my topic and it's something I'm really passionate about.   I hope to see some of my readers in Dallas!

Orchestra Gives You Wings

How To Propel Student Learning For A Flying Start.

By NAfME member Angela Harman

My family has a pet bird.  He’s a parakeet that lives in a quaint little cage with a mirror and a swing. The bird lost interest in the mirror and swing long ago and seems to have only one ambition…to escape! For hours each day, the bird bites the door of the cage and attempts to lift the lever to open the door. He is tireless in his escape attempts. Perhaps that is because he once tasted freedom. As I passed by the cage one day, I noticed the door was open and the bird was gone. It wasn’t hard to find him though because he could barely fly. The cage that traps my bird did not allow him to develop his wings. When I got close, he stretched his wings and took flight, but did not have the strength or control to travel far and was easily placed back into captivity.

When I was a student in orchestra class, there were times when I felt like I was trapped in a cage. I was ready and willing to work hard. I was hungry to learn and wanted music that would stretch me and make me better. I felt like I was being held back so that others in the class could catch up. It was a frustrating feeling to have my wings ‘clipped’ in this way. This experience has helped me as I reflect on my own teaching. Am I allowing my students to spread their wings? Are my students fulfilling their potential and given the freedom to move ahead as quickly as they are able?  What about students who ‘fly slower’ than the rest?
Teaching can be like a balancing act. If I choose material that is too easy, the class becomes bored, but if I select material that is too hard the students become frustrated. It can be overwhelming to attempt to teach the many different ability levels in one classroom and meet all of their needs. As I attempt to allow students to learn at their own pace and give them freedom to constantly grow, they have truly taken flight in their progress.  Every year, I find that my classes learn faster and become better. Here are 3 strategies to propel students forward to accomplish all they are capable of doing:

  1. Embrace Differences in the Flock
In order to help all students succeed, embrace their differences in ability by ensuring all levels can learn together.  Sometimes one size doesn’t fit all in an orchestra class, but differentiation can be simply implemented to create an atmosphere where students motivate each other to progress. On the first day of class, give students a survey based on previous musical experience to determine which students will likely learn quickly and become ‘advanced’ beginners. Using information from the survey, create a seating chart which pairs ‘advanced’ beginners with students who have had little or no experience with music. When teaching the basics, allow a lot of interaction between stand partners. Let them work together to check and fix bow hold, position, intonation, and notes.   Students learn leadership through teaching their peers and take responsibility for learning correctly. 

Another differentiation strategy is to use music that includes varied skill levels.  At the beginning of the school year, all of the music I use with my class has multi-level parts to include all abilities.  Some students may be working on open strings while others are given the freedom to learn a more difficult melody. Students who play the more simple parts hear their peers playing the melodies and soon decide they will learn it too. They are continually motivated to keep learning and working to play the more difficult part. As students progressively learn the harder parts the entire orchestra becomes stronger.

  1. Leave the cage open: Raise Expectations
If you want students to learn better and faster, raise your expectations. Instead of trapping them in a cage with a pre-determined idea of what they can and can’t do, let them test their limits. I will never forget a performance I once heard of Hungarian Rhapsody by David Popper performed by an 8 year old cellist.  I was mesmerized as I watched her fingers fly up and down the fingerboard with precision and finesse. That performance is what helped me expand my view of what is possible for young musicians. They can do more than we think!  Sometimes, there is a tendency to make students wait to learn a particular piece, but such limits can inhibit their natural motivation to progress. 

Music selection is crucial.  Find music that is challenging, yet attainable after a reasonable amount of work. Next, you must ‘sell’ the music to the student. Sometimes I play a recording for students to encourage them to love the music and want to learn it. Just letting students know that a particular piece will make them better players will inspire them to master it. Allow students to help make a final decision on the music to give them a sense of freedom and ownership. When students have a desire to learn the music, they will work harder than you previously thought possible. They embrace the challenge and gain a heightened sense of achievement. The music that takes the most effort is the one that becomes the favorite. 
  1. Ignite a passion for flying
Though they begin with an immense amount of energy and motivation, students can begin to slow down or stagnate in their progress. In her book The Passion Driven Classroom, Angela Maiers offers an explanation for student slumps. She states, “Students fail because we have not yet found a way to sustain the energy, excitement, and love for learning they came with when they first entered our classrooms.” If excitement and energy levels begin to decline, praise more. Nothing motivates like sincere and hearty approbation. Notice and make specific comments on every step of progress in the right direction. To keep students excited about learning and ignite a passion for playing, do something new or unexpected to get them out of their regular routine. New music, a change in seating, games or the introduction of a new skill will keep students wanting to progress. I have found that students are not afraid of learning hard things. They embrace and welcome new challenges and that is how they progress.

Once you capture and retain student passion, the stage is set for infinite potential.  When students love to learn, they will find energy and purpose in rehearsals and practice routines.  They will be able to overcome obstacles to discover their true capacity.  Recently I was able to witness my students perform an amazing concert that inspired me and the audience.  After hardships, struggles, and a lot of work, students were able to prove themselves.  They were able to reach a new height in their playing.  After learning the hardest music I have ever given a group of 2ndyear players, they magnificently demonstrated what is possible when students work to achieve their fullest potential.  Their performance touched all who were in attendance because it proved that anything is possible.  The words of Thomas Edison which adorn one wall in my classroom proved true: “If we did everything we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
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Angela Harman will be presenting a session on this topic at the 2016 National In-Service Conference.
About the author:
Angela Harman teaches orchestra at Spanish Fork Junior High in Spanish Fork, UT. Since starting in 2012, she has facilitated a 440% growth in the orchestra program at the school.  In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Angela oversees the elementary orchestra program for her district where she trains and helps other strings instructors.  She frequently seeks out special performing opportunities for her students and has been privileged to be selected for “The World We All Deserve Through Music” program in 2015.  She was awarded a Music In Our Schools grant and ‘Ardy’ by Radio Disney and the Give A Note foundation in 2016. 
Angela is passionate about music education and is the founder of, where she posts ideas and methods that she uses in her classroom. Her recent books, Be an Amazing Note-Reader and The True Beginning: Before the Method Book have sold many copies worldwide through her website.  Her ideas have also been featured in professional development publications.  She just completed a workbook called Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra to help students become more comfortable and confident with shifting skills.  Angela enjoys presenting at conferences and has presented sessions at the National NAfME conference.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in K-12 Instrumental Education from Brigham Young University and completed Suzuki teacher training. Angela enjoys baking, eating sweets, and caring for her husband and five children.

Angela will be presenting on her topic “Orchestra Gives You Wings!  How to propel student learning for a flying start.” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today! 
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Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!