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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Finally - A Meaningful Assignment students can complete when you need an ORCHESTRA SUB

I felt a little sick this week.  But, it's a ton of work to plan for a sub I went to school and taught my classes.  I'm sure you've all done the same can be really hard to find meaningful assignments students can do with a non-music teacher sub.  I've searched the internet for simple orchestra sub plans, but never found anything I really wanted to use.  I don't want to give my students busy-work.  My goal is to make the day productive, even if I can't be there.

Today I decided to brainstorm sub plan ideas and created this assignment:

In college, I remember learning how to study and mark up scores.  Then I realized that students can do the same thing with their music!  I want students to study every detail of their concert music.  This assignment takes students through their music-study step by step.  Students search for and mark various aspects of the music using colored pencils.  I plan on purchasing a classroom set of colored pencils to have on hand just for this assignment.  You can have students mark their current music, or you can keep some music copied/filed to have on hand for those days you need an instant sub plan assignment.  Download this assignment for FREE at my TPT site.  And take that day off!

Friday, October 20, 2017

NEW! Introducing - Orchestra Classroom tips on VIDEO!

I have had quite a few requests to offer videos of teaching tips and strategies.  I finally created my first couple of videos and they are available now at my TPT store:

The First Day of School lesson plan (for beginning orchestra):

 I believe the first day of school should be fun and exciting!  This video demonstrates my lesson plan for the first day and shows how I inspire students and make them LOVE my class.  My students don't get to play their instruments on the first day, but we still have a great time and they can't wait to come back.

How To Teach VIBRATO in a string orchestra classroom:

It can be difficult to teach vibrato in a large class setting.  Many teacher refer to private teacher to teach vibrato, but most of my students do not have private lessons.  This is how I get my 2nd year orchestra students to get the correct vibrato motion in just one lesson.

Since these videos are totally new, I am offering a 20% discount this weekend only!  (10/20/17-10/22/17)

I hope you will find these videos helpful.  If there is a particular skill or technique you would like to see on video, please comment below and let me know!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Building Note-reading speed and fluency

At the start of the school year, my focus for beginners is to develop excellent, comfortable bow holds and perfect position.  We played by rote for a couple of weeks and have since been learning rhythm and note names.  I don't like to drag note-reading out for too long.  All they have to do is learn 8 notes and they can play so many tunes! 

Students are usually excited to begin understanding music and reading notes.  I teach the open strings first.  I introduce the staff by comparing it to a highway with lanes and lines to show that notes are drawn (they travel) from left to right across the staff.  I then teach students that notes are 'parked' on the staff.  Some notes park in a space, and other notes park right on a line.  I tell a story about a person driving an expensive BMW who didn't want to get their car scratched, so they parked right on a line.  I have found that some students new to note-reading need the explanation that notes can be drawn ON a line.  This goes against all kindergarten/grade school coloring rules when they're told over and over to stay in the lines! 

Student learn open string notes so quickly - it only takes minutes.  I use my dry erase packets equipped with a staff and a dry erase marker.  I show each section of the orchestra where their open string D is 'parked' on the staff and tell them to memorize that spot. I tell a story about I time I went to the zoo and couldn't remember where I parked and was wandering the parking lot for 30 minutes before I found my car!  I explain that open D will ALWAYS be parked in that spot.  We also learn where open A is parked.  Next I call out various patterns of D and A and students draw them on the staff.  (D, A, D, D), (D, A, A, D), etc.  Students race to be the first one to draw the notes and hold up their packets.  After a few minutes of this, students are allowed to create their own arrangement of D's and A's on the staff and perform them pizzicato with their stand partners. 

My favorite method to get students to memorize notes is to use the foldable flashcards from
I copy a set for each student, but only pass out one string at a time.  Students spend 10 minutes in class memorizing the D string notes and passing them off with their stand partners.  For flashcard pass-offs, students must say the note name on the flashcard and pluck the correct note on their instruments.  I require students do this in 10 seconds or less.  After a week or so, we add the A string notes and students must pass off all 8 flashcards in 20 seconds or less.  I try to pair up students with piano/note-reading experience with those who are new to note-reading.

Sometimes we may underestimate how much a student can learn at one time.  When I was seven, I begged Santa Claus to bring me a recorder for Christmas.  I didn't know how to read music and had never tried an instrument before, but Santa delivered me a quality recorder and a book.  It was easy to look at the diagrams and understand the notes and fingerings.  I immediately wrote in all the note names for the first few pages and was able to play several songs.  After that, I got sick of having to look up note names for each note, so I decided to memorize them.  It didn't take 10-15 minutes I had memorized the notes and no longer had to write them all in.  Allowing students to write note-names in their music hinders and slows their progress.  Unless a student has special needs, expect students to memorize the notes! 


Sometimes it can appear students do not know the notes when they struggle to play through a simple exercise.  One day after some painful minutes working in our method book I became worried that my students were not fast enough at note-reading.  After having them say note names I realized this was not the case.  Students were slow at reading the notes because they were looking at their fingers instead of the notes on the page and they were getting lost.  I joked that they need to 'use the force' to find notes and stop looking at their fingers!  The next day, I did a lesson to help students learn how to find notes on their instruments using their sense of touch and hearing.  They can't always use sight to find the note - it's a lot better if they listen and train fingers to land in the right place.  To help students learn the skill, we watched a short clip from YouTube:  ( showing Jimmy Fallon and Taylor Swift attempt to draw each other without looking at the page.  After the clip, student used blank paper and tried to draw their stand partners without looking at the page.  They LOVED this activity and the pictures were hilarious.  We began reading a few exercises in the method book and it was totally different from the day before.  Students were more focused.  They were following the notes on the page and not looking back and forth between their fingers and the page.  They sounded so much better!

Every week I have been given my students note-reading assessments to make sure they are on target with note-reading skills.  Students must know that you are serious about them learning the notes!  I have students play the exercises are far as possible with NO hints written in the music.  After that, I allow them to label notes and fingerings to reinforce speed and memorization.  Students also complete bellwork exercises each day during tuning to reinforce note-reading.  I use my book, 'Be An Amazing Note-Reader,' 'Rhythm Packet,' and 'Rhythm Bellwork.'  Here are a few assessments I have used in the last couple week. 

Happy note-reading!