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Saturday, December 31, 2022

New Years FREEBIE for your first day back to school


Hopefully your beginners practiced during the holiday break, but if not, here's a fun activity for the first rehearsal back to school...FREE!  All you need is a set of dice for every 2 students.  Or, you can use one set of dice and have the entire class work on the same exercises/activities at the same time.  This kind of activity is student-driven, freeing up the teacher for helping individual students or tuning troublesome instruments.  Get yours free HERE!

Friday, December 30, 2022

New music for beginning orchestra!


I've been wishing for the perfect concert music for beginners, so I wrote some! 

I'm no Richard Meyer or Soon Hee Newbold, but I have a lot of experience teaching beginning strings and I know how hard it is to find the perfect piece for a concert. Beginners are learning so many new skills. It is important to choose concert music that reinforces those skills. Since there is much to learn, I like to have my beginners play concert music that is quick to put together.  Students feel great when they get a real piece of music they can actually play!  A piece that focuses on just a few notes and a few simple rhythms is great for beginners.  

My new music is very attainable and easy to learn because all parts take turns playing the various melody/harmony lines. That means students can practice the same melodies and harmonies before putting it all together. When rehearsing, have students practice all matching measures until they are comfortable with the notes and rhythms. Next, put it all together and it works up very quickly! 

Five Note Ramble for Beginning Orchestra - grade .5

This piece drills only 5 notes - D, E, F#, G, A.  All rhythms are simple.  All instruments gets the main melody/harmony lines at some point. 

Catalyst for Beginning Orchestra - grade 1

This piece is fast paced, set in e minor. All notes are on the on the D string and A string (D string and G string for basses). Rhythms included quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes, whole notes, and rests.  All parts share the same melody/harmony lines at some point, so it works up very easily.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Christmas lesson plan no instruments!


Last day before Christmas break and students want to play a game.  Many are absent because they had family plans/ it seems unproductive to have a regular rehearsal.  So we'll play my favorite game!  I love this game because once students know how to play, they can do it themselves. It frees me up to get some work done and get my classroom ready for the new year.  Students love the game and it promotes friendship and team bonding.  Access for free HERE!

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Give students time to CREATE - favorite websites for music creation


Once a week, I do a 'Flex' day in my orchestra classes.  This is 20 minutes of time devoted to helping struggling students, allow students to complete missing work, and provide enrichment activities for students who need no help from me.  I have grown to love my flex days.  Many of my students have found a new passion for creating music because of the time they get to spend exploring various websites. Here are my favorites....   (as a side note, these sites are GREAT for sub plans!)

Turn everyday sound effects into music:

Lots of settings here to create music.  For a challenge, try to re-create a recognizable tune:

Links to an external site.

Make your own grooves to use as metronome:

Blob opera: to an external site.

Make a Line Rider music video: to an external site.


Turn text into music.  Send kind musical notes to friends or teachers.:

Links to an external site.

Write your own song: Links to an external site.  - $2 per student account - way worth it!

Type a drum beat - turn text into a groove.  Save the link and send to friends for a 'groovy' message:

Links to an external site.

Groove pizza - create your own slices of music: to an external site.

If you like Mario, you'll love this:  Mario Sequencer:

Links to an external site.

Turn keyboard into a piano. Record a song and email it to friends:

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Emoji Game for Orchestra


Need a fun rehearsal game?  I like the emoji game because it works for any holiday!  I'm using this game for Halloween.  As an intro to the game, students could watch the following video featuring Hilary Hahn and TwoSet violin playing a game where they have to guess the emotion being played.

In my free online EMOJI ORCHESTRA GAME, students perform the challenge the corresponds to the emoji.  Send one or two students to the hall while the class or the teacher chooses an emoji from the game board.  

Click on the emoji to show the class the challenge that corresponds to that emoji.  Next, click on the emoji to return the screen back to the main game board.

Don't forget to click on the emoji to return back to the main game board!

Have students come in from the hall and have the class perform the challenge using any music your class is working on.    Students from the hall then must guess the emoji based on what they heard.  You can form teams and keep score if you want.


Thursday, October 27, 2022

Teaching Beginners how to TUNE!


I am so excited for tomorrow because my beginners are going to learn how to tune themselves!  I absolutely love it when my students can enter class, set up, and tune without me.  There are a few VSO's in my classes so I'll probably have to help sometimes...but that's better than tuning all 50 in each class!

Here are some resources I have created in Nearpod to teach my students how to tune:  (I'm sharing these with teachers.  You need a Nearpod account.  Slides are editable.)

How to tune lesson 1 

How to tune lesson 2

Rules of tuning

After the Nearpods, I am going to demo how to use a tuner using a FREE online tuner.  I am LOVING this website - lots of great tools for demo in class.  Also I love the rhythm activities...great for sub plans!

Students will then tune their own instruments (with my help of course) using clip on tuners.  I keep one tuner on every music stand.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Things I never thought I have to do as an orchestra teacher


There's probably way more than 5 things!  What am I missing?  I thought of a few more:

  • Tie shoes
  • Give out snacks when students are hungry
  • Make a student cry (I feel so bad if that happens)
  • Break a bridge in half with my bare hands (while trying to fix it)
  • Become my own secretary, graphic designer, curriculum developer, delivery person, purchasing supervisor, inventory manager, etc.
  • See every little toy trinket as a possible teaching aid.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Note-scapes worksheets for music students


Tired of boring worksheets?  These new note-scapes worksheets are fun!  Students get to be creative by creating their own unique rhythms.  Students stretch their skills by figuring out words using notes of the musical alphabet (D scale notes)...all in the style of popular word-game apps.  12 worksheets total in the set:  3 rhythm worksheets, 3 note worksheets for treble clef, 3 note worksheets for alto clef, and 3 note worksheets for bass clef.


Thursday, October 6, 2022



Do you find it a struggle to motivate students to practice?  I personally don't believe in practice records or practice cards.  Instead, I work to motivate students to practice and grade using a variety of assessments and practice challenges.  Years ago, I remember feeling frustrated after a rough rehearsal.  Students were not progressing as quickly as I wanted and I thought, 'If only they would practice at home, everything would be better."  The problem with that thought is this:  A teacher can not control what students do at home.  Homework does not always deliver excellence.  I could try to require practice time, but that would not ensure honest student effort.

I get to work with my students every day for a 50 minute class.  One day per week, I have a 'Flex' day where I devote 20 minutes to help struggling students, hand out missing work, and enrich/extend the learning for students who are on track.  Flex day has become one of my favorite days of the week!  There are so many things do explore.  Students have been composing music on, practicing ear training, and drilling notes and rhythms.  My favorite flex day activity is when students complete a practice assignment in class.  I've witnessed amazing things happening as I guide students through an effective practice experience.  I believe once we teach students HOW to practice and let them EXPERIENCE how their efforts help them PROGRESS, students then become more willing and more motivated to practice on their own.

Here is a FREE sample of a note reading practice exercise.  I grew up in the age of the original Nintendo and used to play Super Mario Bros.  That game was sometimes frustrated because when you made a mistake and ran out of lives, you had to start all over again at level 1!  But I eventually got really good and was able to win the game in one life.  In this exercise, students practice each level.  They are not allowed to move on until they can play the level with no mistakes.  For an ultimate challenge, some students decided to start from the beginning if they made a mistake.  Students enjoyed the activity and it helped them immediately become more fluent in note reading.  As we moved on to rehearsal time, students felt a difference in their playing!  Reading notes was noticeably easier.  They learned that practicing works!  Plus, the notes in the exercise were excerpts from our concert music.  Bonus practice!

Today, I told my students a story about my son who started learning violin at age 4.  We started Suzuki lessons from an excellent teacher with very high standards.  She told us to practice each part of Twinkle 10 times perfectly every day.  My son was not naturally motivated to learn the violin, so it was very hard to get him to practice!  Especially to repeat things 10 times in a row.  I found myself bargaining with him and allowing him to practice only 5 times on each section.  We were stuck on the Twinkles for 2 YEARS!!!!  Finally, I determined I would have him practice the way the teacher requested.  We got up early in the morning and play each section of Twinkle 10 times per day.  After just one week of strict obedience, we returned to the lesson where my son finally played perfectly and was able to pass off the piece.  The teacher exclaimed, "That was amazing!  What's your secret?!  What did you do!"  I was embarrassed to admit, "We finally practiced how you said to practice."  

I showed students this 10 times perfect TORTURE device.  (hahaha) 

 It looks like a game, but it's how you count reps when kids are practicing to encourage them to get to 10.  To make it torture, you return the counter to 1 and start all over if there are any mistakes.  We talked about holding high expectations while practicing because our habits become like cement.  We want to make sure our best playing 'sticks.'  Students then practiced for 15 minutes using the following worksheet.  

Each line is one measure from our various concert pieces.  They were asked to play each measure 10 times and keep track on the counters on the page.  I showed students that playing one measure 10 times really doesn't take very long.  They were excited to try it and they practiced like champions.  Students were able to see how their practice time payed off as we rehearsed our music for the rest of the class period.  When student see they are progressing, they are naturally motived to continue!

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Orchestra Inc rehearsal game in Monsters Inc style!


Try this new fun rehearsal game - ORCHESTRA, INC!  Perfect game for the month of October to get rid of any  'scary' sounds/habits coming from your students.  :)

Just click on the number above each door to reveal the challenge behind the door.  Customize the Powerpoint by changing the text to match your pieces and curriculum.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Note Reading Worksheets: Note Stories!


Now available!  3 note reading stories where students write the note names to discover the missing words in the 'story.'  My students LOVE doing these worksheets.  Today they told me it was the most fun worksheet for note reading I had every given them!   3 different stories in all 3 clefs:  treble, alto, and bass clef.  9 worksheets total.  PURCHASE HERE!

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Ninja skills tracker for beginning orchestra


THIS WORKSHEET worked wonders in my beginning orchestra class. It shows each skill students must master in order to learn 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.' In class, I began the activity asking students to become teachers by helping 'grading' their stand partners on each skill. I prepared students by having them grade a sample of my playing during a demonstration. Students were told they could NOT go on to the next belt until the previous belt was mastered. Each skill builds on previous skills, so posture, bow hold, and left hand position must stay consistent throughout in order to keep passing off belts. Stand partners then worked together to assess each skill. They spent time practicing together when needed in order to keep moving forward. The vast majority of my students earned the black belt in about 25 minutes. After doing this worksheet, my classes sounded transformed! Twinkle became a piece of cake. :)

Get yours HERE!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Beginner boot camp day for position and rehearsal protocol


My beginners have been playing for about a week.  They are learning how to handle instruments and bows and how to manage holding/playing instruments during rehearsals.  In order to establish great position and positive rehearsal habits, I held a 'Position Boot Camp' day.  Here's how I did it:

1.  Dress up in camo gear.  All I had was a jacket, but maybe I can add to my wardrobe some day. :)

2.  Show part of the following video to demonstrate how a well trained military group handles equipment.  They are disciplined.  They move at the same time.  All soldiers know their part.  It is synchronized.

3.  Show just the first part of the following video to show how much self-control is required of soldiers.  In orchestra, it can be difficult to NOT pluck/play instruments and hold still when listening to instructions.  It's important to develop self-control to play only when directed.  In orchestra we play when I give the following command:  'Ready, play!'

4.  Act like a drill sergeant while teaching students how to handle equipment.  Teach rest position, ready position (violin/violas on knees, all bow hold get set are are held vertically on right knee), and play position.  Once in play position, students place bows on the strings without making a sound.  Bows not begin playing until the command 'ready play.'  Use drill sergeant voice while practicing:  "Sit Tall."  "Bows up"   "Left hands set!"   Short commands work great.  This really helps clean up rehearsals as students remember to play only when directed.

5.  As a reward, use a rubber chicken to try to distract students.  Squeak chicken while students are playing to see if they will stay focused.  Have students line up and squeak the chicken by each student to see if they can keep a straight face.  (It's all about practicing self-control)

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

First Impression


I teach at a middle school where students are rotating through classes for the first time.  Our school hosts a '6th grade day' where students attend each of their classes for 5 minutes to help them practice their schedules.  This is the first 5 minutes I get with my beginners.  It can be difficult to choose what to cover in such a short amount of time.  I decided the most important thing to is create a good impression that leaves students excited for my class.   In previous years, I did a presentation about how orchestra is your 'ticket' to many amazing opportunities.  It always went really well, but I've been doing the same thing for so long...I decided to change it up.  

This year, I'm using a presentation I made at to show students their 'future fortune' in belonging to orchestra.  At the end, each student will receive a fortune cookie eraser with a custom fortune.  (I take out the fortunes that come in the eraser and create my own orchestra fortunes.)  You are use my canva template for free HERE.