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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teaching Canon Singing

One of the first steps in learning part-singing is through canons/rounds. I love teaching students how to sing in canon- their faces just light up when they are first able to sing in two different parts without my help!! Here is a step-by-step walk through of the teaching process I use to get students singing canons for the first time.

First, a disclaimer: yes, I am aware that canons and rounds are two different things. For the sake of this post I'm going to primarily use the term canon, since that is what is used in most music textbooks that I've seen, but I've included a few references to "rounds" in case some readers are confused ;)

1. When to start

I've honestly taught students as young as pre-kindergarten to sing a canon independently- it can be done at almost any age. BUT I think the ideal age to start working on part singing is at the end of 2nd grade. I focus on it mostly at the beginning of 3rd grade, but I like to throw it out there at the end of 2nd grade as an exciting challenge to keep them engaged when the end of year crazies set in. Although younger children can certainly be taught to perform a song in canon independently, most of them will do so by ignoring the other part completely and won't have a true "part-singing" experience (so what's the point?). Focus on pitch matching and quality vocal tone with your younger students.

2. Picking a song

Of course to teach students to sing in canon, you need a good song to start with! My favorite one to use is this one about an obnoxious cat. I've looked high and low for the source of this song with no success- if anyone knows where it comes from please let me know!

The kids love this song because it's funny. I like it as a first canon song because each phrase that the students end up singing simultaneously has a different rhythm and pitches so you can clearly distinguish each part, which helps them stay on their own part when they first start singing in canon. You can find lots more great canons in this list from Beth's Music Notes.

3. Teaching the song

The key to any new part singing endeavor is to make sure students are able to sing their part confidently. I always start teaching the song without doing it in a round at least 2 classes before we start talking about canon singing. The other key element for helping them sing their part confidently is motions. Although having different rhythms and pitches for each phrase helps them distinguish their parts, having the motions to go with it make a huge difference because they can visually see which part they are singing, and kinesthetically show what they're singing. It engages them more fully in the song and helps them stay on their part. It doesn't matter what the motions are, but make sure that each phrase has its own motion.

I start off teaching the motions first- I tell them we are learning a new song and have them listen to me sing it while they mirror my motions (in the case of the cat song, I make sure to make angry faces etc as well!). Then students learn the song by echoing after me one line at a time with their voices and the motions, and finally sing the song together with me, still doing the motions. We review the song again next class as a "regular song" to make sure they know the words, melody, and motions well.

4. Developing independence

Once they've had a few days to let the song "sink in", it's time to get them singing in canon! Hopefully after singing the song several times over a period of a week or so this step is easy, but I make a big deal about telling them that they are going to learn something tricky today and tell them the first step is to sing the song without my help. First I stop singing and just do the motions with them, and then I stop doing the motions as well (at each step in this process, if they seem at all hesitant I have them try again and make sure they can do it confidently before moving on to the next step).

5. Teacher as "part 2"

Once they can sing the song on their own confidently, I tell the students I am going to try to be sneaky and distract them, but they should do their best to sing the song again exactly the way they just did and don't let me distract them (they usually get really excited about this!). I have them start the song, then I enter (singing softly and without the motions) as part 2 (in measure 5 for the cat song). If even my quiet singing is too much for them, I'll try avoiding eye contact as well- I've even done it by going behind them and singing from the back where they can't see me. If they can stay on their part, I tell them, "Well that was obviously too easy for you! I went easy on you that time, but I'm gonna really try to get you this time!" and have them do it again while I sing full volume and with the motions. Once they can do that, it's time to split them up into parts themselves.

6. 2-Part canon

The next step is to split them up into 2 parts. The key here is to make sure you have your most confident singers split up between the 2 groups- while they're practicing singing in canon with me, I watch to see which students are able to confidently hold their own and make sure they are split up between the parts. I start each part and then help them along with motions and/or singing if either part starts to lose it! Once they make it through the song, I switch part 1 and part 2 and do it again.

7. 3 (or more)-Part canon

If the song is long enough to allow it, I like to split up the class into more parts after that! With the cat song you can go up to 3 parts, which is plenty for 2nd graders. Again, I make sure to give each group a turn singing the first, second, and third parts, and I make sure to split up the most confident singers on each of the parts.

Once the students have mastered canon singing, they're ready to move on to partner songs! I'll be back in another post to talk about those ;) What are your favorite rounds/canons to start your students on? What age do you start teaching canon singing? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Fostering Empathy

Empathy. I've been thinking about empathy a lot lately for a variety of reasons, and today I wanted to talk about fostering empathy as parents. I've always been very conscious of wanting to encourage my daughters to be highly empathic people. I'm not a psychologist or parenting expert, so these are just my personal thoughts on how I think empathy was fostered in my own character and what things I am consciously doing to foster empathy for my daughters.

The first and most important component that comes to mind is being physically present in places where you are not in the majority, whether that be in race, nationality, gender, worldview, religion, or otherwise. Obviously empathy comes directly out of understanding the "other", and there is no substitute for being physically present in the place where they live and breath when it comes to growing in our understanding a person or people group outside of who we are. In practical terms, this means I have been deliberate about where I live and where my children and I spend our time. The girls' school and neighborhood are very diverse. Having grown up as a foreigner in 3 different continents myself, I know that having someone come into your sphere and talk to you, whether that's a guest speaker in your classroom or a visitor in your home (as helpful as that can be as a starting point), can't take you out of your element and into another world in the same way that planting yourself in a setting where you can see their worldview being worked out in everyday life can. And while you can grow in understanding by talking to people, until you are physically in "their space" and put in the position of learning to live within that space, it is hard not to think of those other people groups as distant or "other" from who you are to some degree. It is always so encouraging for me to hear my daughters come home talking about the people they meet at school in a very matter-of-fact way. I know that growing up with an awareness that different people do things and think about things in different ways will serve them well.

Another component of encouraging empathy in our children is modeling. We all know that we learn a lot of our worldview, our personalities, and our opinions from what we see the important adults in our lives model for us. More than what they say, it's what we see them act on that has the greatest impact. This is a scary one for me as a mother, because I know how many times I have modeled things that I would never want my daughters to imitate, and I know pretty much every parent has the same worries. But there is also encouragement in knowing that our children learn from and take on a lot of our positive character traits that we model for them just by watching us live out our lives. One thing I have been more conscious of as the girls get older is voicing out loud the thoughts in my head so that they know what I'm thinking and can hear my empathy, my concern and respect for others, etc.

I'm sure there are much more sophisticated and complex ways to foster empathy that I haven't thought of, but I'll end with one final thought: the importance of practicing acceptance before intervention. When we see someone who is upset, we are often quick to want to "fix" the problem to help them stop being upset. Although there is a lot that is right with that instinct, I think it is important to first acknowledge and legitimize what the person is feeling before we launch into trying to change those feelings. Since the girls were tiny, I have been very aware of how often we as adults jump straight to telling crying children that it's OK. Clearly it's not OK- that's why they're crying. And while of course I know (trust me, I have two 5-year-old girls here) that there are very good reasons for comforting children in that way- they need to know that it's actually OK, and that they are more than likely WAY overreacting to whatever has upset them- I think often that can de-legitimize the child's feelings. We do it as adults too. Someone shares something that has deeply hurt them, and we immediately launch into, "have you tried this?", and "well at least_____" before taking the time to simply be with them in their pain. I still catch myself doing this with my daughters and my friends, but I want to continue to try to remember to legitimize/accept/acknowledge their feelings in a real, non-cursory way before offering any help.

I hope these thoughts will spark some thoughts and conversations about how we can all continue to foster emphathy in our children and in our own lives! If you have thoughts on the subject, I'd love for you to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Music Classroom Organization

With the New Year still fresh in our minds, a lot of teachers (including me!) have organization on the brain! I've shared quite a few organizational tips on this blog over the years- it is half of my name after all- so today I thought I would share some of my favorite organization tips for the music classroom. I hope you find some fresh ideas in this post, and if you have other organizing tips for the music room I'd love for you to share them below! Click on each picture to read my tips for organizing every aspect of your music classroom (warning: this post is LONG)!

1. Instrument Storage

2. Sheet Music

3. Recorders

4. Manipulatives

5. Seating

6. Teacher Area

7. Grades / Data / Records

8. Substitutes

9. Centers

10. Behavior Management

11. Planning

I think that just about covers it for today! If you made it to the end of this post: congratulations, and thank you ;) I hope you found some new ideas to help you be more organized in your music room! Which one(s) are you planning to implement? What are your top organization tips for music teachers? I love hearing from you- leave a comment below! And if you love these organization tips and want to make sure you catch my future posts, there are a few ways you can do so: follow me on Bloglovin', Facebook, or Pinterest, get my posts sent straight to your email inbox (there's a place to signup in my blog sidebar), or subscribe to my newsletter (below). Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Small Ways to Fight the Winter Blues

Now that the holiday season has ended, many of us are heading into that dreary time of year when it can be hard to maintain a positive disposition. Whether you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder or just have a mild case of the winter blues, here are a few strategies that can help lighten your mood in the winter months (and beyond!).

First, a disclaimer: as someone who has struggled with anxiety, PPD, and PTSD, I cannot say enough how much I recommend therapy / counseling for anyone going through a period (whether short or long term) of emotional/psychological struggle. In fact, I would recommend therapy to everyone on the planet if I could- all of us struggle in one way or another and there are few things better than a good therapist to help you develop strategies to manage those struggles. If you try some of these small strategies and they don't make much difference, or if you already know your struggles are bigger than the scope of these little tips, go find someone- you won't regret it!

For those pesky, seasonal "winter blues" though, I have found these strategies very helpful!

1. Vitamin D

A few years ago I started taking a vitamin D pill every morning from November until March (or so), and I have found it makes a significant difference in my mood. It's a simple way to get more vitamin D during those dark winter months! Here's the one I use- my doctor recommended 2000 IU and I find this brand available at most of my local stores- but you should ask your doctor to see what they recommend for you before starting.

2. Inspirational Mementos/ Visuals

There are a lot of ways to do this, but the basic idea is to keep visual, concrete reminders of things that make you happy / grateful / inspired handy. I've got a small box of inspirational quotes and family photos that I keep in my purse, a display of treasured mementos from my students/friends and family at home and at work, and a folder stored at home and work with more letters and gifts that remind me that others care about me. Even just printing off an inspirational quote and hanging it on the wall where you'll see it every day can help! You can read more about how each one works and how to make one for yourself, by clicking on each of the pictures below (the folder idea comes from Sally's Sea of Songs):

3. Set Up a Morning Routine

If you don't have one already, setting up a morning routine can make it a lot easier to get going each day, especially when it's still cold and dark outside when you're trying to get out of bed! If you have a morning routine but you're finding it hard to get out of bed, try changing or adding something to get you more motivated- maybe a new creamer for your morning cup of coffee, or adding some time to read a fun book for 15 minutes in the morning, or a short stretching or exercising routine. You can read about my morning routine below if you're looking for more inspiration:

4. Get the right amount of sleep

This goes both ways- after parenting twin infants, one of whom was a terrible sleeper, I am a firm believer in the importance of getting enough sleep. So set aside your worries and tasks at a certain point (the last 2 suggestions will help with that) and just go to bed. With a good morning routine in place, you can be confident that you'll be able to start the day off right and figure out any neglected tasks tomorrow. But I've also found that getting too much sleep can be a problem for me in winter- when I'm feeling down or anxious, it's easier to hide in bed than to get up and get going. Try to wake up around the same time each morning. A good morning routine will help with this too!

5. Phone a Friend

Of course one of the best things to do is some quality time with people you love! See if you can set up a regular meeting time, whether it's in person or on the phone, with a close friend or relative. As an introvert, I find myself making excuses for why I'm too busy to get together with people, but when I make a commitment to someone and start spending time with them regularly, I see the difference it makes! Join groups for people with similar interests in your community and/or online. Talking to people who can relate, and who are there to listen when you need to vent, can make a big difference in your mood! If you can't find (or afford the time or money) for face-to-face meetups (exercise classes, crafting parties, book clubs....), there are TONS of Facebook groups you can join for pretty much any people group you could possibly imagine.

6. Write It Down

Besides the change in weather, the other reason winter months can be difficult is because of the growing list of things to do paired with the lessening motivation to get out from under the cozy blanket and do the things! I find myself often stressing myself out because another thing I forgot to do keeps popping into my head. Writing those things down, no matter how big or small the task may be, takes the idea out of the spinning wheels in my brain and onto paper, and also makes me less worried that I'll forget it 5 minutes later! You could use something as simple as a stack of sticky notes that you keep handy, or get a notebook or planner to help you organize the information. If you're looking for planner inspiration, here are some places to get started:

I hope you found some fresh ideas to help you fight the winter blues this year! What are some things you do to keep moodiness at bay? Leave a comment down below- I love hearing from you!