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Saturday, January 28, 2023

No more playing tests?

I've always been against traditional practice cards, but I have been a huge proponent of playing tests for years.  Ever since I first started teaching, I have assigned playing tests.  Some years, I held tests every Friday.  Some years I held a playing test every 2 weeks.  I've done playing tests in class...listening to each students one at a time.  I've done tests where I listen to small groups of students at once.  I've done tests using technology...spent hours listening to recorded playing tests.  Now, after many more years of teaching, I'm done with playing tests.  

What was my purpose of having playing tests?  To motivate students to practice specific music excerpts to make our music sound better.  To make sure students were progressing.  To push students to fix 'issues' in their playing.  To give feedback.  But do playing tests really accomplish all of those goals in an effective and efficient way?  There are many cons to regular playing tests.  1.  Playing tests take up a lot of valuable rehearsal time.  2. Students don't all prepare for playing tests.  Certain students always do well, while others consistently score poorly.  3. What do you do when a student plays poorly on a playing test?  Once they have a grade, it seems the test is over.  Music should be a refining process.  A test is not a final mark in ones playing ability.  I allowed students to retake playing tests, but most did not.  4.  I'll admit it... I hate grading playing tests. 


What I do instead...

1. Self Assessments

I want my students to be able to self-reflect on their own playing.  In order in improve, students must be aware of what/how they are playing in order to decide what to fix or change.  Frequent self-assessments promotes student ownership and accountability.  They know what is expected and where they stand.  Self-assessments are quick and take very little class time.


2. Peer Assessments

Instead of using an entire rehearsal for playing tests, I have students grade each other using very specific rubrics.  We practice using the rubric as a class by having students grade me.  Students listen to each other and circle the scores on the rubric.  I love doing peer assessments because they don't take very much time.  Stand partners actually talk to each other and help each other and I believe it creates a team dynamic.  It helps students realize all are students need to master the skills for our group to succeed.  At the end of the rubric, I ask a few questions:  1.  Do you agree with your stand partner's assessment of your playing?  2.  What did you do well?  3. What do you need to work on?  Do you need help? 


3.  Guided Practice

When I want students to master a specific challenging passage in our music, I create guided practice sheets.  During class, students spend 15-20 minutes going through the practice sheet.  By the end, students have drastically improved.  After one guided practice assignment, one of my students said, "This is witchcraft!  You should make these sheets more often.  I'm so much better at playing that part now!"


Saturday, January 21, 2023

8 ways to maintain engagement during rehearsals


There are times during rehearsals when some sections need to wait while another section receives special help and instruction. Students do need to learn proper rehearsal etiquette and know how to sit quietly with their instruments.  But too many episodes of sitting/not playing can make rehearsals drag on and on.  

Every rehearsal will likely have moments when some students are not playing, however, there are many ways to include all students in the rehearsal process.  Including all students increases engagement, builds a culture of team responsibility, and creates a more immersive rehearsal experience. It also helps with classroom management since students are too busy to begin off-task behaviors.   As often as possible, I find ways to include all students at all times.  Here are some ideas for including all players while rehearsing one section at a time...

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Rehearsal Game for Orchestra to help students master tricky measures

My orchestra classes have been tirelessly working on concert music to perform in a few weeks.  They're doing a great job and I feel our music is mostly ready.  There are just a few measures here and there that I still visit and work in rehearsals.  Today, I created a game to get students practicing those final tricky measures.  It worked so well!  Students played the game with their their stand partners.  It was interesting to see what measures they chose to have each other play.  They were exactly what I wanted them to practice!  And it turned into a great practice exercise because they had to play any missed measures together five times.  If students tied, they kept playing until the tie was broken.  Students who won the game got a small treat.  

I used a worksheet for students to fill out that shows the measures chosen and helped track the points.  I copied the worksheet on both sides of the paper, so students could keep playing if there was time, or settle tied scores.

Click HERE to access the worksheet with game instructions for students.


Monday, January 2, 2023

Drone Song for Beginning String Orchestra grade .5


Tired of Twinkles?  Here's a great first-ensemble piece for your beginners.  This piece is very simple, grade .5 with the following skills: quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, Notes: D, E, F#, G, A. Violin and viola sections play in unison and cello/bass play in unison. This makes the piece quick to put together.  Let students experiment and decide on dynamics.

Parts included: Score, Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass.

Listen here.