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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

My Favorite Lesson for Teaching Sol / Mi

One of the most fundamental concepts in general music teaching is melody/ pitch. When I'm creating my scope and sequence for all of the grade levels I teach, I always start by mapping out the rhythm and pitch elements I'll be introducing in each grade level. Although there are variation within different methodologies for the exact sequence in which specific pitches are introduced, I wanted to share some of my favorite lessons for introducing each pitch set in the order that I teach them. Today I'm starting with the first two notes I introduce in first grade: mi and sol.

Of course before I introduce the specific notes mi and sol, I spend a lot of time in kindergarten teaching high and low, along with other fundamental musical concepts. If you want to see the lessons I use to teach high and low, here is my post on that:

Once we get to first grade, it's time to start identifying specific pitches. I like starting with sol and mi because when we talk about notation it's easy to see the higher and lower notes and practice writing them on lines or spaces, and because so many playground chants are sung/spoken on mi and sol. I start by teaching students the song, "Rain, Rain, Go Away":

I like using this song, even though it has other pitches besides mi and sol, for 2 reasons: 
  1. It uses quarter and eighth notes, so I can review those rhythms with the same song, and
  2. I can have them repeat the song several times and keep it fun by changing out the name in the second line ("little ___ wants to play") for different students' names.
After using the song to practice steady beat and review rhythms, I have students sing the first measure and have the class identify which notes are the "high note" and which are the "low note", then have them sing the measure with the words "high" and "low" for the corresponding notes. While they are singing it that way, I use the Curwen hand signs for sol and mi to show "high" and "low". Then I have them practice identifying the difference between the high and low notes by having students echo me as I sing 3-note patterns on the two notes. I ask them to show the high and low notes with their hands while we do it. After the first few patterns, I hum the notes and have students sing it back on "high" and "low" to see if they can hear the difference.

Once I'm confident that the majority of the students can differentiate the two pitches aurally, I introduce the names of the notes: mi and sol. Then we go back and repeat the process: identify which notes are which in the first measure and sing the notes on "mi" and "sol" with hand signs, then echo 3-note patterns on mi/sol. 

Once students can identify mi and sol and sing them with the correct names and hand signs, I show them how to write the notes. I use a floor staff (masking tape lines on the floor) and have students place bean bags on the higher or lower lines to match the notes I sing, then have them stand on the matching lines, then repeat the process putting mi and sol in the spaces. I tell students that mi and sol are partners- they always follow each other to be either space notes or line notes- but sol is always one spot higher than mi. Once they get some practice writing the notes in different ways, it's fun to turn it into a race! I'll sing a 3-note pattern and have the the students race to place bean bags on the correct lines/spaces. 

There are of course plenty more great songs to use to practice mi and sol- you can find more ideas for teaching those and other pitches, along with tips for teaching melodic concepts in general, in the MusicEd Blogs melody ebook (download it for free right here)! I'll be sharing more favorite lessons for other pitch sets in future posts, so be sure to stay tuned ;) And if you want to see the full lesson plans for how I teach mi and sol throughout the year in first grade, along with all the materials I use, you'll find them in my 1st grade curriculum set here.

Want to stay up-to-date on the latest from Organized Chaos, and get access to free curriculum overviews for general music? 

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Planner Quick Tip: advance planning for the new year

For those of us on a traditional U.S. school calendar, this is often the time of year when we start looking ahead to dates for next school year. And with all of the concerts, festivals, and springtime chaos to already keep track of for the current school year, it can get pretty confusing trying to keep track of all of those dates and plans! Today I have another "quick tip" for streamlining your planner: how to keep track of important dates and information for the new school year!

Sure, you could go ahead and get all of your weekly and/or monthly calendars printed out for the next year and start writing in your plans there, but I found when I did that I got completely overwhelmed by #allthecalendars and could not keep track of things very easily. Whenever a new event or question would come up about the following school year, I found that I either didn't have those calendars with me because I didn't want to carry 2 year's worth of planners around, or it took me forever to find the information I needed because there were just. so. many. pages.

My solution: print off a one-page overview for the new school year and stick it in the front of my current planner. I started doing this last year and have found it much easier to keep track of everything without getting overwhelmed.

I already had these pages with monthly boxes to use for long-range curriculum planning, so I added the heading for the next school year at the top, printed it out, and stuck it in my current planner. Then I use sticky notes to add in important dates in the months that they fall, like extended breaks, school events, and potential concert dates.

I highly recommend keeping some small sticky notes handy for things like this- it's pretty simple to make your own dashboard to keep some sticky notes right inside your planner. Here's a tutorial on how I made mine:

You can easily set up a page like this yourself to add to whatever planner you use, or you can find these in my printable planner sets with all different date ranges to accommodate different school year calendars. I usually keep this page right next to a printed copy of the new school year's district calendar so I can reference that if I need to.

Want to see more of my teacher/ life planner? Here's a "tour" of last year's planner:

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Teaching Recorder: top tips

Teaching recorders can be tons of fun, but it can also be a never-ending headache! Whether you're losing your mind over classes full of squeaks and squawks and snail's pace progress, dreading the idea of putting recorders in every child's hands (and mouths) for the first time ever, or just looking for some new ideas to freshen up your recorder teaching, this post has got you covered!

You'll find my best ideas, strategies, and resources on a wide range of recorder-related topics below- just click on the picture to read each post in more detail. Don't see what you're looking for? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below, and I'll add it here!

This post covers all the basics you need to consider as you get your recorder program started: which instrument to purchase, the logistics of using classroom shared instruments vs having students purchase their own, what age to teach recorder, which curriculum resources to use, and more:

My step-by-step lesson plan to get students started on the right foot:

How I teach those first few weeks, after the first introductory lesson, to make sure all students have a strong foundation of appropriate fundamental skills:

Specific strategies to address the most common difficulties beginning recorder players experience, including over-blowing, improper tonguing, and finger placement:

4 different ways to structure recorder instruction in a classroom setting, including ways to manage leveled, self-paced programs such as Recorder Karate without sending the class into chaos:

Simple, effective, and cheap instrument storage solution:

Another quick organization tip for storing "belts" when you're using a leveled curriculum:

Organizing sheet music in a self-paced program to allow students to manage their sheet music independently:

Want to see all of my detailed lesson plans and materials for teaching recorder? You'll find them in my 3rd grade curriculum resource here. Want to stay in the loop and up to date with timely ideas sent straight to your inbox?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Planner Quick Tip: snow days

I love having all of my home life plans, school plans, and even my lessons all written in one planner because it is so much easier to keep track of everything and make sure I'm balancing and juggling everything the way I want. But keeping everything in one place definitely forces me to keep my planner super-streamlined! After using the same basic planner setup for about 4 years now, I've picked up a few little tricks that make my planner work smarter. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some of my favorite little tips that I've discovered this year. I hope they make your planning more productive, simple, and fun!

This post contains affiliate links

Today's tip is for snow days. Whenever there's a snow day, I like to mark it in my planner so that I can remember which lessons I missed and need to move to another day, and I can go back and see which classes I missed when we're making up those days at the end of the year. 

I've tried different ways of marking snow days in my planner over the years: I've tried drawing a line through the day's lessons in pen, covering the day with some washi tape, or writing SNOW DAY at the top of that day's lesson plans. There wasn't anything terrible about any of those methods, but I found the line and the tape made the page look extra messy and cluttered, and writing it in at the top of the day made it harder to find when I was going back to find those days later on.

This year I started using a simple trick: marking the day with a small snowflake sticker. 

Not only does it keep the page from looking cluttered and make it stand out enough to see when I'm flipping through the pages, but it's also much easier for me to mark when it comes up- I just grab a sticker and add it to the day. Done! If it's a delayed opening, I just draw a line from the sticker down through the lessons that were affected.

I'm hoping I won't be needing this tip any more this school year (although we did have two snow days just last week- yikes!), but I'm excited to have an easy way to mark those days when the weather turns cold again next winter! I have been using some stickers that I already had from this MAMBI seasonal sticker book, but you can find tons of weather stickers or snowflake stickers at any craft store or even make your own by drawing or stamping a snowflake onto plain labels (click here to see how I make my own planner stickers). You can also get these weather stickers or these snowflake stickers on Amazon.

Want more planner decorating ideas to keep things functional, streamlined, and easy to use? Check out this post on Functional Decorating for Teacher Planners:

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