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Monday, July 29, 2019

Incentives...Yes or no?

Do you believe in offering students incentives for learning or mastering tasks?   I know this can be a controversial subject.  There has been research that has shown incentives are not good for long term motivation.  The best kind of motivation is intrinsic motivation. I understand that...but I also understand that learning an instrument is hard work.  As a culture, we ARE motivated by free stuff.  I've stood in an unsightly huge line at Jimmy Johns to get a free sandwich, gone shopping in the middle of the night on Black Friday to get a free gift card, and I thoroughly enjoyed my free meal for 'teacher appreciate day' at Red Robin.

Teaching a slew of beginners is hard work!  I teach huge groups of students how to play their instruments.  With only one of me, and 65+ of them in each class, I can't possibly give each student the one-on-one attention offered by private instruction.  Offering little incentives for students to achieve specific learning targets has helped me reach more students in my classesUsed only occasionally, incentives help my students focus and critic their own playing.  Out of necessity, I need my students to self-evaluate and self-correct.  Students know they are doing the work to improve their playing, and that feels good.  A little extra icing on the cake...a little reward...goes a long way to keep students progressing, especially when certain tasks require very detail-oriented work with a lot of self-correction and adjustments.

Sometimes (only 3-4 times per school year) I offer a reward for students who complete a certain learning challenge or master a specific task.  I've done this for things like:  passing off correct bow hold, maintaining proper left hand position, proper finger placement, completing practice goals, or passing off a specific passage in our music.  My beginners are 7th graders and they aren't too motivated by regular stickers and pencils.  Here are some things I use for incentives:


Students can earn these to stick in their lockers as locker decorations.

Case stickers
Students collect these for their instrument cases or orchestra folders:

Balance Birds
For students who are able to play with proper left hand position - on their finger-tips.

 Vitamin pens
For students who are remembering to take their practicing vitamin and meet practice goals:


 If I can use a prop which captures the attention and imagination of every student and helps them learn a concept more efficiently, I'd say it was worth it.  Here are a few fun finds I'm adding to my closet this year:

Carrot pens with attached bunny:
I plan on using these for teaching bow holds.  We start out with our hand in a bunny shape, and we do bunny bow exercises.  This little pen will help students visualize the correct bow shape.

Sequin Slap Bracelets:
These are to help students remember to keep their wrists out - no hiding their bling with a pancake hand!  Slap those wrists into shape. 

Funny Face Stress Balls
An entertaining way to build finger strength and mix-up finger training drills.

Tiny bunny charms:
Fun for balancing games.  No one wants to let a cute little bunny drop.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How to motivate and inspire your students to work hard and rehearse as a team

Several years ago I was asked to speak to a group of youth about what I do in my profession as a teacher.  I told the group that my job is to MOTIVATE and INSPIRE students.  Yes we make music, we learn instruments, but at the core of those things is inspiring students to try new things, work to achieve their goals, and to discover their potential.  This affects the way I run my classroom.  It creates the climate of my rehearsals.  I believe the first lessons of the school year can do a great deal to set the tone of your orchestra.  Lessons that motivate and inspire help students buy-in to your program.  They can help students commit to work harder in rehearsals and make the decision to practice outside of class.

I work hard to motivate and inspire my students throughout the year as needed, but I developed 5 lessons for the beginning of the year that help ensembles start off with increased motivation, goals, discipline, and teamwork.  These lessons are close to my heart...because I believe students NEED to know this stuff.  They need someone to teach them how to discover the greatness that in inherent in their natures.

These 5 lessons can be used all at once or broken up into a series of mini-lessons to be used over the course of a term or a school year.  You can preview and purchase them now at my TPT store

This is a 26 page resource full of inspiration with assignments and links to my favorite YouTube videos.  Great for any age and any group that needs a jump start. 

Happy teaching, my friends.  The work we do is important. 



Monday, July 22, 2019

Orchestra theme for the new school year

I've been working on little graphic design to come up with new stickers, magnets, and posters for my students to earn throughout the year.  I also use these supplies for recruiting when I visit the elementary schools.

All these designs are now available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Purchase HERE

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

High School Orchestra Warm-ups

Teaching high school felt totally different from teaching younger grades. There are so many resources, books, and ideas for elementary and middle school orchestras, but not very much for the high school level.  I used a popular method book with my high school groups last year and it was alright.  It just felt like I needed something for warm-ups that had more substance.  In May I was helping at our high school state orchestra festival and had the opportunity to hear many amazing groups from around my state.  I made of list of things I wanted to work on with my students to bring them to a higher level of playing.  The vast majority of my students do not take private lessons.  It is up to me to make sure they learn advanced techniques. That is how my new book came to be:  18 Etudes for Advanced Orchestra Warm-ups.

Available for purchase HERE

I began this project by studying the book BASICS by Simon Fischer.  This is a great book for violin playing and has some excellent exercises to help with advanced technique.  There are many gems in the book to help with advanced warm-ups. I wanted to write similar exercises that could be used in a string orchestra setting.

 The 18 etudes were each written with a specific skill in mind for students to develop and master.  My goal is to help my students gain greater bow control and flexibility to produce a more uniform tone.  All etudes include skills for left hand and right hand technique.  Each etude includes a page with practice suggestions and 'I Can' statements to help students know what and how skills should be mastered.

I'm excited to bring my orchestra to the next level by using these etudes in my group.  They might not be perfect.  But I'm confident my groups will be stronger.

As a disclaimer...I'm not a cellist or a bassist.  There might be fingerings that could be different here and there.  I'm sure there are differing ideas about some of the techniques in the book.  However, this book provides a way to have all instruments playing at the same music at the same skill level.  This helps all musicians improve.

Digital printable resources are so perfect because for one low price you can print and copy as many times as you need, as many parts as you need.  And you'll have it forever.

Check out the samples below and purchase at my TPT store  or Orchestra Classroom store.

8 Etudes for Advanced String Orchestra Warm-ups drills specific skills in each etude. The purpose of the book is to help an orchestra transition to a more advanced level of playing by working on right hand and left technique. Each etude includes one page of practice suggestions to help students master the techniques presented in each piece. This packet includes a 43 page book for violin, viola, cello, and string bass as well as a teacher score. 289 pages total.