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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Music March Madness: exploring musical genres

I'm trying some new ideas for recognizing Music In Our Schools Month this year, and one of them is a March Madness- style bracket for songs from a variety of genres. I'm excited to use this as a way to generate thought and discussion around a wide range of genres among students and the broader school community, and it ties in perfectly with this year's theme: "All Music. All People." so I think it's the perfect time to try it out!


The basic idea is to play 2 songs over the announcements each morning and ask students to vote on which one they prefer, then gradually put the winners of each round against each other in a bracket format until we end up with one top favorite song for the school! Because we have 21 school days in March this year, I came up with this bracket so that we would have one round for each school day:


That's 24 songs that get narrowed down to 1 by the end of the month! As you can see, I had to have one round where 3 songs go against each other to make the math work out, but that will just keep it interesting towards the end, right?

I decided to choose songs that I don't think my students will be familiar with, because I don't want certain songs to have the advantage of being well-known. Some genres will definitely still be more familiar than others, of course, but hopefully it will help students be more open-minded if they don't instantly recognize certain songs.

Here's the list I've come up with for this year (in no particular order), or you can see them all in this YouTube playlist:
























Of course you can do this with any songs you like! Although they will all be unfamiliar to most of my students, I tried to also pick songs that would be appealing to at least some portion of my student population rather than pick things that are so foreign that students would immediately tune it out. I do use a lot of music that is less comfortable for them in my own classes, but since I won't be there to help them know how to listen to it, I thought it would be more of a "fair fight" to choose things that they will at least be able to appreciate at some level without my input.

I don't know if this will work out, but I'm hoping to also have staff from around the district vote as well. I'm hoping to send out a simple poll they can click in their email that would make it easy for them to listen and vote- it would be interesting to see what the staff would pick compared to the students, and it would be great to involve more of the adults from around the district to raise awareness as well!

Have any of you tried a "march madness" bracket like this before? What songs or genres do you think I should include next year? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Informances 4 Ways

I asked my readers recently to tell me what they would like to see me write about, and one of the most-requested topics was informances. I think a lot of music teachers are intrigued by the idea of moving away from the time-consuming and stressful process of performance and concert prep (music education's version of teaching to the test), but are confused about how to go about putting together a meaningful informance (or aren't quite sure what an informance even is). Today I want to share some general tips for different ways you can structure an informance with your students- with Music In Our Schools Month fast approaching, this is the perfect time to try!


First, what even is an "informance"?

The idea of an informance, as I understand it, is to present music to an audience, like you would in a performance, but with a focus on informing the audience about the day-to-day musicking process rather than showcasing one, shiny, final product. It's more about the "audience" being invited to observe and experience a fuller breadth of students' musical development rather than being presented with a set of particular songs that students have perfected. Less about product and more about process. Less for the audience to consume and more for the audience to learn.

If this is your first time hearing about informances, I'm sure you can see why the idea is both intriguing for educators and also confusing. Less time spent drilling students on memorizing specific songs and more time for a rich and broad music education? Less pressure for young students to achieve a certain performance standard, and more opportunity to showcase student creativity? Yes please! But how?

I've done this a few different ways over the years. Here are some basic ways to think about structuring an informance:

1. Full School Assembly

One option is to set up your informance as essentially a full-school assembly, where each class or grade shares something with the rest of the school. This works especially well if you have some kind of unifying theme. I did this last year as part of our school's international festival- each grade shared a song or dance from a particular country. I stationed each grade in one area around the gym with their instruments and props already set up where they were. They stood up when it was their turn to share, and watched the other grades from that same spot, so there was minimal transition time.

2. Grade Level or Class On Stage

Most "standard informances" will probably fall in this category, and if you are worried about parents or administration complaining about moving away from more formal "concerts", this may be your foot in the door. The idea is to still have a class or grade up on the stage sharing their music, but rather than a strict "stand and sing/play", have students share original compositions or improvisations, incorporate movement, or otherwise involve other aspects of music-making that you would find in your normal classes. You have options for how you inform the audience about the purpose behind what students are doing: students can give verbal explanations as part of the program, you can act as the narrator yourself, or you can include written explanations either in a printed program or projected on a screen.

3. Invitation to Class Time

Of course one way to truly invite the "audience" to learn about what is happening in music class is to actually invite them into the music room during a normal class period! Sometimes if a class is working on putting a song together with different instrument parts etc, or is creating a piece based on a book, I will invite parents and any available staff/ administration in the building to come and watch our final class period when we put all the parts together. I've also sometimes been able to arrange to have another class or grade come to watch- this is especially fun when an older grade shares with a younger one, or vice versa. In my current school each 6th grade class is paired with a kindergarten class as "book buddies" and they meet every few weeks to do something together- if your school has something like this already set up, that is an easy way to bring in a musical sharing time!

4. Sharing Recordings

If logistics are too difficult to manage getting people to observe your informance in person, don't negate the impact of sharing a recording from class! Although you'll need to be careful to make sure you have the appropriate permissions before sharing a video, if you make sure to protect student privacy appropriately, this can be an easy way to help others in the community see what students are doing in music class, and give students a chance to share what they can do. I record my classes quite often when they are working hard on something together as a group, and I'll share the video with administrators and their homeroom teachers with a brief explanation of what the students have been learning, and a request that they send back a comment after they watch. The students are always thrilled to hear me read the comments they receive, and it's a fantastic way to advocate for what you do with others in your building without having to organize an event in advance!

If you want to see what a more formal, on-stage, fully-developed informance can be like (with lots of information and ideas on how to do it yourself), you'll want to read this post (and the rest of the ones in the same series) by We Are the Music Makers- hers are definitely more involved but she has lots of wonderful ideas for tying the informance to literature as the connecting theme, which you can absolutely use as a starting point for any of the more informal structures I've described.

Music In Our Schools Month is a great time to include an informance, because it draws attention to the important work that we do each and every day in our classrooms. This year in particular, NAfME has been encouraging music teachers to focus more on sharing process over product, and has several resources available to help you put together an informance or share things from your classroom in other ways- be sure to check out their resources on their website!

I hope these ideas make informances less intimidating and helps spark some new ideas to try in your own classrooms! If you have had experience doing an informances, I'd love to hear about your tips and ideas in the comments below. There are so many ways to incorporate this idea in your school!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

My Family Plays Music: exploring musical genres

I found a new book for my classroom that I can't wait to share with every single class, and it is absolutely perfect for Music In Our Schools Month too (but really would be great any time of year)! I don't know why I didn't hear about this book sooner, but I'm so glad I found it and I hope you all enjoy these lesson ideas as much as I am.

This post may contain affiliate links, which will not affect the purchase price or buying experience but will support this blog.

My Family Plays Music by Judy Cox is a beautiful book about a young girl who comes from an diversely musical family- from a great-grandmother who plays organ at church to an aunt who plays vibes with a jazz combo (and everything in between). On each page, the girl introduces us to a family member and the music they play, and shares a classroom percussion instrument she likes to play with each genre. The book features people of all ages, gender, shades, and sizes, and of course a wide range of musical genres.

The MIOSM theme for 2019 is "All Music. All People". What could possibly be a more perfect fit for this book than that?!? I am planning to use this lesson during the month of March this year to explore and celebrate the variety of musical genres and ways we can participate in music-making, no matter who we are.

For this lesson, I'll be stopping after each page to show students an example of the genre that is mentioned on the page. Before we start the story, I will pass out one of the instruments the main character plays to each student. After watching the video/ listening to the excerpt for each genre once and discussing what we see/hear, I'll have a small group of students play along with a short repeated rhythmic pattern on the instrument that she mentions on the same page while we listen/watch again. Of course there are plenty of recordings you could use for each one, but these are the ones I found that best match the descriptions in the book:

1. Mom's country-and-western fiddle (play along on tambourine)

*note there is one swear word in the first verse of this- I plan to start the recording midway through around 1:03



2. Dad's string quartet cello (play along on triangle)



3. Sister's marching band clarinet (play along on cymbals)



4. Brother's rock 'n' roll guitar (play along on cowbell)


5. Aunt's jazz vibraphone (play along on woodblock)


6. Uncle's big band saxophone (play along on maracas)



7. Grandma's bluegrass banjo (play along on jug)



8. Grandpa's polka band tuba (play along on rhythm sticks)



9. Great-grandmother's pipe organ (play along on hand bell)



10. Cousin's spoken word bongos (play along on wind chimes)



11. Niece's pots and pans (play along on pots/pans)



The story ends with the entire family dancing together, with the text:

"...And when we get together, we celebrate!"

That's when we'll watch this rendition of "Celebration" and dance along with the music.


After finishing the story, we'll review the genres and instruments we read about and have a discussion about which genres and instruments (either from the story or otherwise) we enjoy and why. Then we'll talk about how different people can enjoy different styles, and the variety of ways that we can make music in our lives. Then we'll talk about how all the different children around the world came together for the song in the final video, and how the family came together to dance at the end of the story, and we'll practice having the whole class play together on their different instruments (for kindergarten I'll have them all play the same rhythm together, 1st-4th grades can layer one instrument in at a time on different rhythm ostinati, and the oldest grades can come up with their own patterns for each instrument).

There are so many musical concepts you can address through this lesson: musical genres and instrument names, names and playing techniques for classroom instruments, musical elements (through the discussions about genres etc), performing and/or creating rhythm ostinati, and rhythm reading (if you have students read a rhythm from notation for their play-along patterns). Most importantly, it is such an accessible and engaging way to expose students to a wide range of musical genres, musicians, music-making opportunities, and instruments!

I love using books as a basis for music lessons, especially with my younger students! You can see all of my literature-based lesson ideas in this post:


Have you ever used this book in your classroom? This book was first published in 2003- why in the world am I just now discovering it?!? If you have used it before I'd love to hear how you used it in your music classroom- leave a comment below. I hope you get some fresh inspiration to use during your Music In Our Schools Month celebrations or any time of year!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Current Musicians of Color for Black History Month and Beyond (Part 2)

In celebration of Black History Month, I'm sharing more current musicians of color that I like to use in my classroom. These are artists who are currently active and have school-appropriate music- in fact many of these artists have created music specifically for the classroom. These are also lesser-known artists who you may not have heard of before- I hope you'll find a new song or artist to share with your students this month and all year long.


My goal in including these songs and artists in my lessons is to provide students with more role models, and to "normalize" musicians of color. If the only time students see people of color represented in the classroom is in February, or only when you talk about Jazz or spirituals, it limits their understanding of the contributions people of color have made to the world of music, and the contributions that they themselves can make.

1. Desmond Dennis



2. Resound


3. Asia Monet



4. Griot B



5. Ms. Niki



6. Black Violin



7. The Roots


8. Our Native Daughters/ Rhiannon Giddens


I know there are plenty of other musicians that could be mentioned here, particularly more well-known ones, but my hope is to share some artists you may not have heard of before. I'd love to hear what other names you would add to the list- share them in the comments below! If you want to see more musicians that I shared last year for Black History Month, here is that post:


To read more about how we can all better respect, reflect, and respond to students of color in our music classrooms all year long, check out these posts:



Although Black History Month is a great opportunity to focus our attention on better representing people of color in our classrooms, it's important for this not to be a one-month change but rather be the impetus for lasting improvement! 

Monday, February 4, 2019

January Favorites 2019

It's crazy to be typing "2019"- one month already gone in the new year! January is always a busy month in my house- here are some highlights from last month as told by pictures from my Instagram photos!


1. Birthdays



One of the biggest reasons January is busy for me is because of all the birthdays! Besides a few friends who have birthdays this month, my daughters and my mom both have January birthdays. This year my mother turned 60, so we had some extra planning for that, and I loved hosting my daughters' bug-themed party. Each year the girls pick out a theme and we figure out snacks and activities to go with it. It's so much fun to see how creative they get, making up their own games and coming up with fun snack ideas :) Busy but fun!

2. Hip-Hop Unit



I am partnering with a local hip-hop artist to take my 6th graders through a class project creating their own hip-hop song and recording it. This has definitely been a new adventure for me in so many ways, but an important one, and I am learning a lot as I go (as are the students!). The books in the picture above are not for the 6th grade unit specifically, but I also ordered these books for my classroom library to add more variety to my book selections, and I'm so happy with these!

3. Planner Updates



If you've been around these parts for a while you'll know that I start working on next school year's planners in January. I've gotten several great suggestions from members of my Facebook Planner Collaborative group- if you want to have input into the 2019-2020 planner updates, or just want to hang out with other planner lovers, come join us! For anyone who owns one of my planners, the free updates should be available by May, so stay tuned...

4. Music Education Articles

I always round up my favorite finds from the month in music education blogger world- click on the pictures below to read each of these awesome posts! I share these each week over on my Facebook page, so follow me there if you want to stay up to date on all my favorite posts :)






I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, and best wishes on a wonderful February ahead!