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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

No more traditional practice cards!

I am not a fan of practice cards.  PRACTICE CARDS = TORTURE.  I don't use them in my program because practice cards don't do much to motivate students.  I've even given a presentation at the NAfME National Convention about how to motivate students to practice without using practice cards.  Instead, I motivate students with videos and goals and track progress with playing tests.

Well now there's an even better way to motivate students to practice effectively, meet their goals, and develop into amazing musicians.  I was speaking to an orchestra teacher friend, Meagan Thorup, and she was telling me about this practice curriculum she developed that she uses with her high school orchestra.  I saw what she was doing and I got so excited....IT'S PURE GENIUS! 

Meagan has developed a full year of one-week long practice assignments.  These assignments are thought-provoking, goal focused, and they TEACH students how to practice effectively.  They motivate students by inviting them to reflect and focus on their progress.  These not not the typical practice cards...these are meaningful practice experiences that will truly shape students' lives. Meagan has received amazing feedback from her students about how these assignments have positively influenced their lives - in more ways than just music.  

When I saw what Meagan was doing in her class, I asked her to make it available for sale on TPT.  She finally agreed and put it up yesterday.  Believe me when I tell you it is WORTH EVERY PENNY!  Meagan gives an outline with her experienced recommendations on how to use the materials.  The 15 page outline contains links for 4 terms worth of practice experiences (8 week-long assignments for each term).  That's 32 lessons - ready for you to use and motivate/inspire your students to REALLY PRACTICE and make REAL PROGRESS!  

Here's how this resource is organized:

Term 1: Developing a Habit of Practicing - 8 lessons

Term 2: Deliberate Practice - 8 lessons

Term 3: Music Specific Practice Strategies - 8 lessons

Term 4: Year Review and Long-Term Planning - 8 lessons

Meagan puts these google doc lessons straight into Canvas and has students complete them in Canvas.  They can also be printed or used in Google Classroom.  

This practice resource will change you and your students forever.  BUY IT NOW!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

FREE Online 'Notes on the Staff' Activity

I found this background for slide shows and I love it! I don't think it's really meant to be a music staff, but it's perfect. Different colors for each line of the staff to help students distinguish the lines.  This is FREE RESOURCE for your online adventures.  A drag and drop 'Note of the Staff' activity created in Google Slides.  Just make a copy of the file, and you can customize specific note names for students to practice.


Do I dare go paperless?

I don't enjoy making copies.  Many mornings, I rush into school as quickly as I can to get in line to make my copies for the day.  Thankfully, I have many of my materials printed for me at our district print center before school starts so I don't have to live in the copy room too much. 

Because of covid, all students at my school will be getting a Chromebook to use for all their classes.  We are meeting in person, but now students don't have to share chromebooks.  This opens up many new options for my teaching.  In the past, I didn't have my students do very much online because not all of my students had access to a device.  Now I can move many of my materials online! 

It's hard to choose how much to put online.  I decided to create a class website to start collecting content and resources.  I'd LOVE to move away from paper.  I get tired of copying, printing, finding missing worksheets, re-copying.  I want students to be able to access everything online.  Google Sites is really easy to use and I love that you can create as many pages and sub-pages as needed to organize content.  I have tons of work to do still, but I'm enjoying filling up my site.

Here are some screen shots of how it looks so far:

I am organizing content by the national standards:  Create, Perform, Respond, Connect.  I use the 'Classroom' tab for class info and business.

The home page introduces me to my students and below that tells about the school program with pics of program awards and accomplishments:

I'm excited about this tuning page.  Under these link are my favorite YouTube videos to help students learn how to tune themselves:

Sometimes I create materials and forget what I have!  Things get lost in all my files.  Google Sites lets me embed almost anything!  Pretty much anything you have in Google Drive will go in a Google Site.

I decided to go paperless on my disclosure document this year.  I turned my disclosure into a google slide show with a link at the end that leads to a form to collect parent info and a check-box 'signature.'  This is going to save me tons of time!  Plus I created assessments in google forms to quiz students on the information from the disclosure and put the link right in the website.

Here a link to a copy of my disclosure so you can see how it works in Slides:

Hurrah for less paper and saving trees!

Monday, July 20, 2020


5 Things students should practice with NO instruments!

Many teachers are contemplating how to teach a group of beginners with virtual or hybrid instruction.  In my district they are planning to have students come to the school for full time in person instruction, but I feel I need to be ready for if/when we all get sent home again.

I like seeing my beginners every day.  I feel I can ensure proper technique, keep them motivated, and ensure they are progressing.  Seeing them less often feels more risky, but kids who take private lessons only see their teachers once per week.  The rest of the time, they are on their own - practicing what has been assigned.  I think as we move to some online instruction, we need to take it slow, break everything down into even smaller chunks of mastery, and be very clear on exactly what/how to practice.

There is a lot to do to get beginners playing comfortably.  It takes a lot of time and skill.  I think students can prepare themselves to learn their instruments by practicing some skills AWAY from their instruments.  These skills work great for online learning and I believe will help students learn fingering and rhythm more effectively ON their instruments when the time comes.  

Here are some ideas for things students can practice AWAY from their instruments:


I have students practice finger taps with me when in school to learn finger numbers.  I just created an online game in Google Slides for practicing finger taps.  It can be used in classroom, or virtually.  It seems easy at first, but it gets harder!  Students learn finger numbers, but also work on coordination and dexterity. 

To use the game, push 'present.'  At the very bottom of the present screen, you will see some controls. Click on the gear and go to 'auto-advance.'  Change the timing to every 3 or every 5 seconds...depending on how much time students need to do the exercise.  (see pic below).

The music should start automatically, but if it doesn't start, push the play button at the bottom left.  If you don't want the music background, just turn the volume down.  NOTE: The audio track is shared as part of the slide show in google slides, but some district block the sharing of that type of file.  If the audio does not work for you, just use the slides with your own background music - or insert your own audio track.

When sending to students, you should 'Publish to Web' first and send that link.  This link begins with the slide show instead of a 'slides' editor screen:


Finger pops and flicks are great for building finger strength.  Just tap each finger and thumb together to create a 'popping' sound.  The stronger the fingers, the louder the pop.  Student can also build strength by performing a flicking motion with each finger and thumb.  It's more fun to do this with background music!  Or you can create speed challenges.  For example, create a practice sequence of  8 finger pops on each finger, then 4 on each, then 2, then 1..and see how fast students can do it.  


I don't use TikTok, but many students do!  This is a trend that was going around TikTok  - a emoji hand challenge.  It gets extra tricky when you try 2 hands at once!  I think this exercise help students move to a beat and build it's fun!  Student might enjoy as assignment where they practice this exercise...then create their own hand emoji pattern for other students to master.  You can find downloadable royalty free music to use for this at


This is another popular activity on TikTok.  I think students would enjoy learning the hand rhythm, then create their own.  This would also be a fun way to introduce basic notation.  There are some great YouTube tutorials below!  This activity builds rhythmic skills, coordination, and memory.


Student can do a number of exercises with straws.  They can form a bow hold and balance pennies, or ping pong balls on top of the straw or on top of their right thumb knuckle.  See my post HERE with ideas!  I think it would be fun for students to create their own practice video using straws...where students are the 'fitness instructors' and teach a full workout for straw-bow exercises.  I could create one for my students...but they might like to do their own....and I just don't have time!  Students can then practice with each other's bow workouts.   

Not sure if I'd show this particular work-out video example to students...but I'll post it here for entertainment.  :)  Imagine this being done with straws and bow holds!

Beginners do better when they build basic skills BEFORE they start on their instruments.  Now is the perfect time to implement a gradual start and build coordination and dexterity in our students.

Friday, July 17, 2020

YouTube is an AMAZING educational tool


I have been playing around with tech that I can implement in my classroom this year...especially with unknowns surrounding the pandemic.  Did you know you can use a YouTube video in an online platform called Playposit - where you can place questions in a video to make sure students are watching and learning the material?  It's pretty cool.  You just choose where you want the video to stop and make the question.  It can be multiple choice, fill in the blank, comment box, etc.  Students can't continue the video until the question is answered.  Playposit collects the data - so it can be worth points and go on a students grade.

I was watching a funny YouTube video with some funny babies and thought it would be a hilarious way to teach some orchestra rules.  I didn't make test questions, but used the comment feature to stop the video to let students know the rule that goes with each clip.  Not sure if I'll use it in my class or not...but I think there are many awesome possibilities with PlayPosit.  

Here's a link to my Playposit activity:


Friday, July 10, 2020

Make your own videos for FREE

I have been experimenting with different platforms online to make instructional videos for my classes.  I was worried that making videos would take too much time, but it's really not too bad! 

Videos are a great way to get students to remember your instructional content.  Every year, I make hundreds of copies of my disclosure document as required and students/parents are supposed to read the document and sign a contract at the end.  People don't read those things.  I hate to admit it, but when my own children bring me piles of documents to sign at the beginning of the year I just sign them.  Maybe I'll skim a little if I have time.  That doesn't mean disclosure documents aren't important...I tried to cut my 6 page document down to make it more reader-friendly and I couldn't find anything to cut!  The problem is, students and parents do not always get the important messages/information from that document.

I recommend making instructional videos for parents and students to help them learn the important aspects of your program and how you run your classroom.  Here are some great FREE online tools you can use to create videos:


Adobe Spark has some great templates for making short videos.  You can't customize the video very much, but you will end up with a professional result.  Adobe has great short tutorials to help you quickly learn how to put your video together.  FREE!


I really enjoyed using Animaker.  I had to watch the first 5 minutes or so of a 'how-to' video tutorial to understand how to make my video, but it was pretty easy once I learned to navigate the interface on the site.  You can customize a lot of things in Animaker.   That means, it might take longer to make the video, but you can make the video look exactly how you'd like it to look.  Animaker has lots of great stock videos and images to use in your videos.  Some require a premium subscription to the site, but I was able to find what I needed from their free options.  You do have to go through a process to get your video published once you are finished.  They had me fill out a google form to notify them of the uses for my video.  Animaker then emailed me a link to my published video.

Here's my first Animaker video about HOW TO PURCHASE/RENT A STRING INSTRUMENT:


After using Animaker, Biteable seems very simple.  I didn't have to watch a tutorial to use the site, as it seemed very intuitive.  They have a ton of quality images in their library to use in your videos.  You can't customize a Biteable video as much as Animaker, but that makes the video-creating process to go faster.  Once to complete a video, you can quickly and easily download it directly to YouTube.  I whipped up this video about ORCHESTRA PROTOCOLS in about an hour:

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Orchestra Fun Printables!

Someday, this covid crisis will be over.  We'll be back in the classroom.  We'll be tired of the phrase 'tech tools' and 'blended learning.'  We'll want to just get back to teaching orchestra.  In person.  Connecting with students.  Making music the same room.  :)

I think students get tired of technology, too.  Don't get me is amazing.  There are many tech tools I enjoy using in my classroom and I love finding new things to try.  It's strange to think that a hand-written note can become so special and unique.  A few years ago I noticed one of my students having a rough day.  I wrote her a quick note to cheer her up and sent it to her in another class. It only took me a few moments... and I didn't realize how much it meant to her until years later when she reminded me of that day and showed me that she had saved that little note.

This may seem old-fashioned in this digital world, but sometimes it's nice to have a tangible note.  I just created these printable pages to provide little fun details that will bring the orchestra experience up a notch for you and your students. Print on cardstock and/or colored paper to use in your classroom! Included in the packet at my TPT store

Well Played - fun way to give students a compliment and is something they will save for years!

Official Notice from your orchestra teacher - let your students know you recognize the amazing things they do.

Classroom Citation - great classroom management tool - helps students become accountable for their actions and preparation in rehearsals.

Get out of Playing Test Free - print these on cardstock and give them out for big rewards. This is a great incentive as an alternative to sweets.

Get out of Practice Free - print on cardstock to use as rewards or incentives.

Official License to ARCO - amplify the beginner experience with this license to use the bow. This makes student work extra hard to maintain a correct bow hold!

Stand Partner Chat - a simple activity to help stand partners get to know each other so they can work together more effectively.

Point Voucher - a fun incentive/reward.

Left Hand Check-list - use as an exit slip to help students self-assess and become accountable for left hand position.

Bowing Check-list - use as an exit slip to help students self-assess and become accountable for bow technique.

Today's Rehearsal Goal - students make a goals to encourage a more focused
and effective rehearsal.

1 2 3, GO - a simple exit slip to help students reflect on their learning and ask questions.

Exit Slip - a student self-assessment for the end of a rehearsal.

Exit Survey - a fast way for students to assess their progress on string technique.

I've Got This Rhythm - students write the hardest rhythm from the rehearsal. Great feedback to help differentiate instruction to the needs of the students.

Exit - an exit slip to assess student's feelings regarding a rehearsal.

Saturday, July 4, 2020


It's been a busy summer so far!  I've been attending classes and trying to get ready for a possible blending learning atmosphere when school starts.  I actually enjoyed teaching online at the end of the last school year.  It wasn't ideal for a performing group, but it gave me the time to find tech tools and resources that will enhance the orchestra experience for my students.

I just created this activity for my beginners...It's a CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE for orchestra students.  It takes students through a series of typical scenarios and teaches consequences of choices.  Orchestra is a huge adventure!  I want students to have the best possible experience.  I do all I can to make it great, but students have to commit and do their best. 

Try it out!  I made this using google slides.  (DISCLAIMER...I have not proof-read it.  I don't enjoy proof reading so I'll do it later. Sorry if you find a terrible type-o.)