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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The coolest thing I've ever done at a concert


I believe concerts should be engaging, entertaining, with the highest possible caliber of playing...even for beginners.  I had my holiday concert a couple of days ago and we did one of the coolest things ever.  I needed to fill an entire concert with just my beginners because my audiences get too large to fit when I try to combine all my students into one concert.  All of their pieces were quite short, and I wanted to add some length (and some fun) to the program.

I found a play along video on YouTube for 'Let it Snow' and created very simple sheet music so my students could play along:

I used some money from my school budget to purchase mini flashlights - one for each of my students, and a whole bunch of snowflake holiday specs.  If you've never experienced Christmas lights through a pair of holiday specs, you have to check it out!  Super cool and fun. They turn every beam of light into a shape.  Because we were performing 'Let it Snow,' I chose to purchase only the snowflake shape.

To perform the piece (students memorized it), all the lights were turned off in the auditorium.  Students waved their flashlights around in the air and the audience wore their snazzy 3D holiday specs - which turned all those little flashlight beams into snowflakes.  It was SO FUN and it looked AMAZING.

Here a short video of what it looked like when the flashlights were being waved around on stage (it looks WAY cooler through the glasses)

Here's a pic taken through the glasses when I had the audience turn on their phone lights and wave them around during a different piece in the program:

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Notereading doesn't have to be boring


Note reading doesn't have to be boring.  I actually enjoy helping my students master note reading because there are so many ways to practice and improve. Students get really excited when they see how much they are learning and progressing.  Here are a few of my latest note reading creations: 

click here for: CRACK THE CODE

click here for: SPEED NOTE READING

click here for: NOTE READING CHECK IN

Monday, October 30, 2023

Halloween freebie for beginning orchestra!


 Parts for violin, viola, and cello/bass!  Happy Halloween!

Also be sure to check out my new 'Roll A Rhythm Game!' HERE!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Favorite Review Activity for String Orchestra Classes

I like to call Friday rehearsals 'Friday Fun Day!'  I want Fridays to be a celebration of all we learned during the week, but also serve as a meaningful review and reinforcement of material.  Last week one of my students said, 'It's funny you call Fridays 'Friday fun day' because every day is fun!'  Learning an instrument is fun...that means the pressure is off!  No need to spend hours and hours planning intricate games.

I've found my favorite Friday Fun Day is a review day using Ninja Belts as my theme.  Many music teachers use karate belts as a way for students to pass off tunes and achieve a certain level of playing.  When I taught small elementary string classes, I used the belt system and tied yarn on the scrolls of instruments and all of that.  While I feel it can be a good way to motivate students to practice certain exercises, the karate belt system can be leveraged in other ways.  I use karate belts as a review tool and self-assessment tool.  I adjust and change the belts as students progress. I don't give out any physical object - no real belts.  There's nothing I have to track or pass-off.  Students help each other and work hard just to achieve 'black belt' status. 

Here's how I do it...

I begin class with a short video showing some awesome ninja skills or a clip from 'America's Ninja Warrior' showing how people train and work to pass the 'obstacles' in the course.  Then I tell them we're going to see if students can pass each 'obstacle' in our training ground.

I made slides with each skill I want students to review.  Each slide contains a belt color and we rehearse from the simplest skill to the most advanced.  We rehearse some slides as a class...and some slides students practice themselves for a minute or so (all at once). Sometimes I give students a worksheet where they can track either progress as we rehearse/review the skills on each slide.  Sometimes students assess themselves and let me know with a simple thumb scale or finger scale how they are doing.  Other times I have stand partners assess each other and provide feedback.

Students learned how to switch from pizz to arco while holding the bow.

Each violin/viola student got a straw to put in the f-holes to use as a guide to keep the bow straight. Cello/Bass students practiced bowing in paint roller tubes on their instruments. After that, we all played the open strings with straighter bows.

We played 'Pandemic' with creepy music.  All students freeze in play position, but we decide on one thing they do incorrectly. A small group of 'doctors' walk through to try to find out what ailment is happening with left hands.

Pizz up and down the strings with great left hand placement (practiced in previous belt).

I called out any note in the D scale and students had to place the correct finger and pluck 4 times.

We played the finger twisters as a class...trying not to make a mistake.

I had to skip this one because of time..but will do it next time.


Twinkle using pepperoni pizza rhythm - students are getting better and better!

I didn't give a written tracker/assessment to students this week...but here's the one I gave them last time we did a Ninja Belt review activity.

I've done this type of review twice this school year...and both time my students were engaged, focused, working HARD, and thriving.  It's easy to prep...helps rehearsals stay relevant and meaningful...and it's fun!  When students notice and understand how much they are progressing, they have fun and they are motivated to keep working.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Copy Cat Concerto - free music for very beginning string orchestra first concert

 Have you ever stared at your music library, trying to find something for your beginners to perform at their very first concert, and discovered all of your ensemble music is too hard?  I have a pretty good sized music library with lots of great beginner pieces, but none seems to be quite easy enough for my very near concert. I'm expecting students will just barely be reading notes on the D string.  We have had time for only very basic rhythms.  I needed a concert piece that will be fast to put together and simple to learn.

So, I wrote one:  Copy Cat Concerto!  It has LARGE print and notes in the note heads to help beginners learn it quickly.  I designed this piece to be a bit like 'call and response.'  The great thing about it is you can feature many different students as 'soloists.'  I plan on choosing a different student for each 2-measure solo.  That way many students will be featured as they stand up to play and the entire group plays after.  To add variety/fun, you could add repeats throughout the solo sections and allow soloists to play with different styles, volumes, and articulations for the group to follow.  In the middle, you could add an audience participation portion where a student leads them in call and response through various rhythms. You can be creative!

For a limited time, you can have the score and parts for free at my TPT site!  

Friday, August 11, 2023

Instrument Care Online Quiz


I went back to school this week and have been busy getting ready for students to come back next week. Before I begin handing out school instruments to my students, I want to make sure they understand how to properly care for them.  I made a video I will be sending to parents to watch with their students about how to care for large instruments at home.  I'll also have students do this online instrument care quiz.  If you would like to to use it, go ahead!  It's free!

Please check out my many popular orchestra classroom resources at    and

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Note Reading for beginning orchestra

I am big on teaching note reading and I have students do a TON of worksheets, games, and assessments to make sure they are fluent at rhythm/notes.  I use a variety of worksheets so they're not the same old boring style all the time.  My students don't complain about practicing note reading. It can be fun! 

This new crossword activity is available HERE.


Also, check out my new note reading compilation of creative worksheets and assessments!  This is exactly what I use for my beginners through the first year...along with 'Be An Amazing Note Reader' (which we complete quite early on).

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Progress and practice tracker

 One thing I want to do better is help students develop a practice plan by teaching them what and how to practice.  Also, I believe it is important to teach students how to be reflective as they practice to achieve specific learning targets.

Earlier this week, I discovered it was possible to create drop-down menus in google sheets and in tables in google docs.  I think it's so cool!  There are many ways to used the drop-down menu feature in a classroom.  If I had smaller classes, I might use a google sheet or doc to track each student as they progress through various skills.  Since each of my classes have about 60 students and I am the only teacher, I have to find strategies that are efficient.  Tracking is important, but so hard to do because of how much time it can take!  To make this manageable, I need students to take on the ownership of tracking their skills and practice time.  

At the beginning of the year there isn't always much for beginners to practice at home, yet they are so excited to start!  I need to be better about making practice expectations clear and teaching students what and how they should practice at home.  (I don't grade on practicing...but that's a whole different article).  I believe this Student Progress Tracker will help me communicate with students/parents what needs to be practiced and mastered each week.  

I listed 'I CAN' statements for the week at the top and used drop-down menus for students to assess their current skill level in each area. That way students will have an idea of what needs their attention during practice time.  

I've always wanted to give my beginners a practice routine goes really well on this tracker.  I think it will really help beginners establish better practicing habits from the start of the year.  I also provided links to resources to help students practice specific skills.  That way students will have resources to help them learn outside of class.

At the bottom of the tracker, students reflect and makes practice goals and can type a note to me if they need help or have questions.  This will be a good way to me to 'check-in' with more students as they are working through the learning process.

Free Template HERE

At my school, we use Canvas for our LMS.  I will create an assignment where each student gets their own copy of the tracker in their google drive.  Students can access their document and update it throughout the week.  Rehearsal time is valuable so I have to be careful with chromebooks because of the amount of time it takes for all students to log on.  I am thinking of giving time 2x per week in class for students to access, review, and update their trackers:  Mondays and Fridays.  Each week there will be a new tracker for them to follow along for practicing at home and reflecting on their goals.

I was toying with the idea of using drop-down menus for playing test assessments, but I've decided it would take WAY too much time to review and grade individual digital files for 340 students.  I found way I can assess students efficiently that will also be quick and easy to grade.  Stay tuned...I'll post about to quickly and efficiently assess students more often.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Creative Strings: Beginning Fiddle Bowing - a collaboration with Christian Howes to teach beginners fiddle bowing and improv


A couple of months ago, jazz violinist and educator Christian Howes spent a day working with all of my students. I admit I was a bit nervous to have him come. Would my beginners be 'good' enough to do what he asked? Was he going to think there were skills I should have taught better? Would my students enjoy a new way to think about and play music?

I didn't need to worry. Christian was immensely knowledgeable and professional in how he selected activities that were engaging, relevant, and appropriate to the skill level of my students. He was encouraging and supportive as my students experimented with his methods for improv, feeling the beat, making musical choices, and exploring sound. After his visit, I knew my teaching would never be the same.

Traditionally, beginners are taught a somewhat rigid curriculum, focusing solely on technique and music literacy. While these elements are essential, it is equally important to recognize that even our youngest musicians possess an innate sense of curiosity and creativity, waiting to be unleashed. I've always felt my lesson plans were creating and engaging, but I realized there was more I could do to help my students begin to CREATE. By embracing their inherent creativity early on, we can nurture their confidence, problem-solving abilities, and overall connection to the music.

Allowing students to explore their own musical ideas from the outset is a vital step towards their growth as musicians. Nurturing a safe and supportive environment gives students the freedom to make choices about what notes and rhythms to play. This approach not only empowers them but also instills a sense pride in their musical achievements.

I believe beginner string students must be encouraged to delve into improvisation and creative exploration from the start to express their creativity, but also as a means of developing their technical skills. For example, by playing with a steady beat in a groove, they cultivate a sense of rhythmic accuracy, internalizing the fundamental pulse of the music. This foundation not only enhances their overall musicianship but also strengthens their ability to communicate and collaborate with other musicians in ensemble settings.  And most importantly, it is FUN!  My experience with playing/teaching improv and eclectic style is limited. After Christian Howes came to visit, I knew I HAD to teach these things...but I wasn't sure where to start.

So here's the big news. I recently collaborated with Christian Howes to develop a resource for beginning orchestra classroom to help students learn fiddle bowing in a way that allows for exploration and creativity. I can no longer just pass out a piece of music and go about rehearsing note after note and rhythm after rhythm. I want my students to be making choices and exploring the sound on their instruments. I want them thinking about how they want the music to sound.

CREATIVE STRINGS: BEGINNING FIDDLE BOWING features 7 detailed lesson plans with videos by Christian Howes to help teach students bowing simple fiddle rhythms, playing in a groove, maintaining a steady beat, improv using various fiddle rhythms, and turning Hot Cross Buns into a fiddle tune.

Lessons have custom resources included, such as worksheets and slides to drill rhythms and master each skill.

This resource can be used in 3 ways:

1. Teacher training on how to teach fiddle bowing and improv to young students. Teachers can watch the videos and use the skills and printable resources to help their students learn 'Hot Cross Buns' - fiddle style.

2. Use as an in-class resource. Students can watch the videos on each slide and play along and teachers follow the suggested lesson plans.

3. Asynchronous learning. Teachers can send all or parts of the slides to students via a LMS to practice with at home.

I'm so excited to offer this course to all beginning orchestra teachers and anyone who wants to start implementing creativity and improv in their classrooms. For a limited time, anyone who purchases Creative Strings: Beginning Fiddle Bowing will also receive a free BONUS resource: Creative Twinkles. This is a fun series of videos and worksheets for students to explore and create Twinkle Variations.

This set of CREATIVE resources is only available HERE at Hop over and get yours and enjoy exploring music with your students.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Orchestra Classroom Warm ups and Games for Beginning Strings


Teaching beginning orchestra is fun.  Students are excited to learn and there are so many warm-ups, activities, and games to play that are engaging and motivating.  I've taught beginners for 15 years and have tried all sorts of methods and techniques.  I now have favorite rehearsal strategies, games, and warm-ups that I used every year with my beginners.  For the last several months I worked to compile most of my favorite strategies into one big resource.  It's so nice to have it all in one place!  It such a huge project, it's difficult to showcase the entire thing, but here are the highlights:

Google slides - 100 pages total- with embedded content - so much more than 100 pages

Each slide contains an idea, a visual for an activity/warm-up, game instructions, and/or link to additional materials (for example a link for direct access to a ready-made rehearsal game).

11 Categories of content for beginners:

    -Awareness/Focus Games - helping beginners learn how to focus, think, and pay attention

    -Posture/Instrument position - activities and strategies for setting up posture and left hand position

    -Bow hold - Strategies and games to for establishing a great bow hand

    -Tone-Open Strings - Warm-ups on open strings to develop bowing and tone

    -Left-Hand Finding Notes - Warm-ups establish finger placement on tapes

    -Finger Twisters - Mixed up finger patterns to develop left hand independence/fingering

    -Simple Beginner Tunes - Visuals to help teach basic tunes without needing to print out music

    -Rhythm Games - Fun ways to rehearse and practice rhythm

    -Scales - Simple visuals to use when rehearsing basic scales

    -Intonation-mini warm-ups - Slides with short exercises for checking intonation and hand placement. I do these with my beginners almost every day and it really helps them with intonation

    -Rehearsal Games - Ready made, creative games to play in rehearsals to keep beginners engaged and focused on progressing

This resource is INVALUABLE to any beginning orchestra teacher.  Having visuals, games, and warm-ups ready to go makes prep fast and easy.  This google slide is full of links to take the teacher to whatever warm-up/game they want to find.  Plus, since it's a google slide, it can be edited and changed to suit the exact needs of the teacher!  If you need to change some wording or add specific notes it can be done!  

Each of the strategies and ideas in this resource have been tested and proven effective.  Plus the ideas are CREATIVE and FUN.  If you find yourself in a rehearsal rut, doing the same things over and over, this resource will save you.  

It would be difficult to show all 100 slides, but here are a few highlights.  Download your own copy HERE!

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Dictation is fun! Super Rhythm Challenge


Do you have students practice rhythmic dictation?  I have found my beginners enjoy doing dictation and it makes a great assessment tool!  If you have one-to-one tech like chromebooks, a dictation activity can be used for independent work and practice.  Once a week, I have a 'flex time' rehearsal where students spend 20 minutes working on make-up work or enrichment activities.  I created an engaging dictation game students can use during independent work time...check it out!  With a chromebook and headphones, students can work through the game and it's QUIET for everyone else.  Sometimes in orchestra, a quiet activity feels quite refreshing.  :)