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Friday, November 26, 2021

Christmas Activity for beginning string orchestra


I've been posting a lot about working on note reading fluency in my beginning strings class.  I'm happy to say that all of my efforts are paying off and students are getting better and faster at reading notes.  They were able to sight read some sheet music I passed out and I was super excited (and relieved) that we are progressing!  I've been reinforcing note reading skills with all kinds of worksheets, activities, games, and online exercises.  

A couple weeks ago, I used a 'Name That Christmas Tune' worksheet to help motivate students to de-code notes.  Students who were able to figure out the most tunes got a small prize.  Students worked so hard note reading and practicing to get all of the right notes.  After students tried to figure out the tunes on their own, we played each line as a class.  Students really enjoyed recognizing the tunes.  Once students realized they could pluck away on familiar tunes, I noticed many students were seeking out more new music they could play and I think it spurred some practice motivation (a huge bonus!).  Some students excitedly showed me more tunes they were able to figure out.  Playing familiar fun tunes is an important part of learning an instrument.  Students light up when they can play even a little bit of a favorite tune.

Access my FREE Name that Tune worksheet here!

We have our 2nd concert of the school year coming up in a couple weeks.  It's tricky filling up an entire concert with just beginning orchestra.  We're working super hard...but we can't perform more than 5-10 minutes worth of music.  I'm going to add a little time to our concert by have students demonstrate some skills while having some parents come try some of our skills as well.  For example, have a parent volunteer try some of our bow exercises or try to bow on only one string at a time.  Another way to add a little time is to use the 'Name That Tune' worksheet to play that game at our concert!  It's an easy and quick extra piece.  I'll ask the audience to raise their hands to guess what each song is...and I'll have fun prizes.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Two favorite web tools for beginning string orchestra


I have been using a couple of website in my classroom that have saved me so much time!  I'm loving all of the possibilities these free websites have to offer.  Check them out!


This website is super time saving!  I want my beginners to practice counting rhythms, but it takes a lot of time to make/draw my own different rhythms every day.  This website does all the work for me!  For daily rhythm drills, I just go to this website, select my parameters (note values, time signatures, etc.) and rhythms are automatically generated.   Rhythms are projected on a screen in front of the room.  Students then count/clap rhythms, take turns playing rhythms 'solo' as a game, pluck rhythms on open strings, pluck a rhythm on each note of the D scale, etc.  We started with very basic rhythms - only quarter notes, half notes, and quarter notes (with rests).  Students were saying 1, 2, 3, 4 while performing the rhythms.  I just switched them to counting with subdivision (1+2+3+4+) to help them transition into reading and counting eighth notes.  Next week I'll change the parameters to add eighth notes.  Students are quickly and easily getting lots of practice with rhythm thanks to this website. 


I've been having so much fun with this website.  It's super easy/quick to use and is a great way to gamify your lesson.  There are quite a few games you can do with your students using the picker wheel.  Here are a couple games I've done which were super effective to help my students learn their music:

1. Note Recognition Game

My students are playing their first 'real' concert piece.  They are still pretty new at reading notes and they need lots of repetition.  For this game, I created some short music snippets from our concert piece (First Christmas March) using an add-on in Google Slides called Flat for docs. 

I then put the names of the notes on the picker wheel.  

To play the game, I passed out 1-2 music excerpts to all my students.  I spun the wheel to select a series of notes.  Students then raced to be the first one to stand up if the notes on the wheel matched their excerpt.  It required students to read the notes on their excerpt over and over while waiting to see if theirs would be next.  Candy isn't necessary, but I gave students 2 Tootsie Fruities before the game.  I told them if their excerpt came up and they didn't stand, they would have to give a candy back to me...or if they stood up and their excerpt didn't match the wheel, they would have to give me a candy.  I gave students a candy if they were first to stand.  That added a little extra incentive and competitive aspect which was really fun.  I just did one round...but I could have had students trade excerpts to keep things going and have them practice reading more notes.

2. Intonation match challenge

Now that my students are getting faster at note reading, I wanted to help them listen better and play better in tune.  I used the same picker wheel (since these are the passages that need tuning) from the last game.  After a lesson about ear training, intonation, and matching pitch, I spun the wheel to select a series of notes from our concert piece.  I played the notes, and students had to echo the notes back to me with great intonation.  They had to listen to try to match my playing.  After a few spins, I let students be the model and I was pleasantly surprised to find almost all of the students volunteering to play alone and model great intonation for the whole class...after which the class would echo and try to emulate each other.  I complimented each student who volunteered and I felt it created a lot of trust in my classroom.  This simple activity dramatically improved the quality of intonation.  

Monday, November 1, 2021

D scale focus activity


I use the D scale for warm up time A LOT.  It's not the same every day because there are many ways to change rhythms and bowings to make it different.  The D scale is pretty easy for my beginners because the notes move step by step on each string.  It's much more difficult for students to skip notes and still land accurately in tune.  I created a simple PowerPoint for students to practice the D scale in a new way.  In 'Present' mode, I click on a box and make the note disappear and become a rest.  As notes disappear, students have to maintain a steady beat and keep track of the notes/rests.  This activity also helps students practice skips using the notes of the D scale.   If you find students are 'tuning out' during scales, this activity will help them pay attention!  Students also love choosing which notes disappear - which gets them involved in the process.

I just uploaded to my TPT store for FREE!  It's totally editable and customizable so you can copy the slides and create any scale you're working on.