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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Top 10 Posts from 2022

It's hard to believe another year has passed but here we are! Looking back on posts from the year is always fun for me because I forget what I've written about and it's so interesting to be reminded of what I wrote. My blog is a reflection of what is on my mind so these top posts are, I think, a reflection of what we as a profession have been thinking about and discussing this year- here are the top 10 most read posts that I wrote in 2022.

10: Upbeat, school-appropriate songs (without being "kids' versions") that are perfect for field day, slideshows, or any dancing/ movement game:

9: These songs have been passed around in music education workshops, books, and resources as originating in other countries but they are actually written by US Americans:

8: Why it's harmful to use the term "specials", and what terminology you can use instead:

7: A treasure trove of lesson ideas and resources for finding lesson ideas by concept and skill, and the actual curriculum writing process:

6: These are some of my favorite lesson activities for different ages to teach triple meter:

5: Lunar New Year lesson activities, including not just China but Korea and Vietnam as well, for a broad range of ages:

4: A simple formula for a competitive game to drill/ practice pitch concepts, whether it's treble or bass clef letter names or solfege:

3: Lesson ideas and resources for introducing elementary age students to elements of hip-hop including break dancing, DJing, and beatboxing:

2: Lesson ideas and resources for introducing the history, background, and context of hip-hop in elementary music:

1. A complete list of songs, and how I do a "march madness"-style bracket with the whole school, with instrumental pieces that convey different emotions:

Thank you all for reading, interacting with, and supporting this page. Having the opportunity to interact with other music teachers, and the platform to share my thoughts and ideas, has been such an amazing creative outlet and source of encouragement for me! I can't wait to see what 2023 brings us. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Favorite Music Lesson Activities for Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is one of those things that often gets thrown in as an add-on to a lesson, concert, or sing-along with Christmas songs as a way to "be more inclusive", but I think if we stop to think about it we all know Kwanzaa should not just be treated as a "Christmas add-on". And of course, as with anything else, it's important to make sure the resources we use are truly representative of the culture they represent and not appropriative or caricatured. Today I want to share some of my favorite lesson activities to use in elementary general music class for Kwanzaa- I hope you find something new to use in your classes, because these lessons are always so joyful for me and my students!

What is Kwanzaa?

My general philosophy on holidays in public school classrooms is that I want to explicitly teach the context, not just use the holiday as a "theme" where I assume my students know what the holiday is (which is especially harmful when done with more culturally dominant holidays, like "Christmas themed" worksheets or play-alongs etc). With very young students (K-2) I just talk to them about the basics of the holiday, but for upper elementary students I have found this video very helpful and concise in introducing the holiday and the meaning and history behind it:

Happy Kwanzaa song

There are several great Kwanzaa songs out there but this one is my favorite because it is informative, catchy, and very easy to learn. It's also written and performed by Black musicians, which is not true of some of the songs I see elementary music teachers using most often with their students. Check your sources!

Depending on what musical concepts each grade is working on, I use this song to identify A and B sections, practice expressive elements like tempo and dynamics (I write all the vocabulary they are learning on the board and point to different ones while they sing the chorus), and/or have students create and perform accompaniment parts by creating a rhythm pattern to play on drums with the song. 

Another fun way to have students interact a bit more deeply with the seven principles is to split up the class into 7 groups and assign each group to one of the principles. They practice their word and come up with a pose or gesture that embodies the meaning of the word, then we sing the song and they each stand up and do their pose/ gesture while singing their word in the verses (everyone sings the chorus together). I do this on a bigger scale in my sing-alongs by assigning each grade in my K-6 building to one of the 7 principles- it is so fun for kids to stand up and sit back down quickly on their word!

If you have more time to work on a song in class, or are looking for a performance piece, I recommend A Kwanzaa Song by Lovely Hoffman or This Kwanzaa by Fyutch and Pierce Freelon (both of these even have accompaniment tracks, accompanying teaching materials, etc available!). 

Kwanzaa dance

I added this one in this year with my younger grades and it was a HIT! I recommend this for K-3 definitely, 4th grade will love it too depending on the group you have. There is a very brief tutorial at the end that I show first, then we go back to the beginning and I tell students to dance along with the part they learned and sit down to watch/ listen on the other sections:

I'm sure there are other wonderful resources out there that I have yet to come across- if you have found other great lesson ideas for Kwanzaa please share them in the comments! I hope this helps you find new ways to incorporate the holiday in your teaching.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Turn Around a Negative Lesson

Sometimes lessons get off on the wrong foot. One (or more) student is dysregulated and gets into a power struggle with you. They just came from PE and the half of the class that lost the dodgeball game is mad about losing, and the other half is mad that the other half is mad. Whatever the reason, it can be hard to save a lesson once it has gone south, but I have found there are ways to "reset" a lesson to get things back on track that have worked well for me on many occasions. 

The goal when things take a bad turn is always to reset, to get everyone to feel positive and motivated to try again. I remember when I was a new teacher, I would try so hard to encourage a class that had started off on the wrong foot to turn things around by verbally telling them they could do it, and most of the time that did NOT work when things were truly bad! When you and/or your students are stuck in a mindset that "today is a bad day", it's almost impossible to pull yourself out just by telling yourself to. These tricks help get everyone out of that rut and get the class moving in a positive direction so you can build momentum.

1. Simple Compliance Tasks

This is particularly helpful when there has been a power struggle, or the whole class is in a funk and does not want to do anything you are asking them to do. Pick a very basic simple task that everyone can do: for me, I use my established hand signals to get the whole class to stand up, sit down, and sit up (yet another reason you should really do these hand signals with your classes if you aren't already!). If there is one student who is in a particular funk and can't even manage to stand up with everyone when you give the signal, ask them to sit out and take some space to gather their thoughts. Then get everyone standing up and sitting together on cue, pointing out the people who do it the fastest and the quietest. Suddenly everyone is doing a thing together, and focused on it! I reinforce once everyone is doing it together, then quickly move to some other simple musical task, like echoing my 4-beat body percussion rhythms or moving with the steady beat of some music I turn on, and give them a letter in our whole class behavior management system to reinforce it some more. I gush over how awesome that was and remind myself to smile and be truly excited about getting everyone on board, and that's usually all the push we need to get us back on track. The trick is we all need to prove to ourselves that we can do something positive and productive, and then we can do more!

2. Magic Count

This is really more for younger grades but I've used modified versions with older students too: I tell them they are being weird and this isn't going to work so we need to start over, then I tell them I'm doing a magic count to make them go back to normal, turn away from the class, cover my eyes, and count down from 5. For K-2 this usually does the trick and it's an easy way to let them know it's OK, they can start over.

3. Write it Down

If there are specific students who are clearly upset, either at another student, about a situation, or some unknown reason, I ask them to write down what they are upset about on a sticky note to give to me. This gives them a way to address the situation without taking time away from the lesson or sucking the energy out of the room, gives them an opportunity to process what they are feeling as well. The key with this is my follow-through: students are only willing to continue to use this as a communication and problem-solving tool if they believe I will act on what they tell me. You can read more about this strategy in this post.

4. Focus on the Positives

You may not be able to get everyone back on track right away but there are almost always a few who are eager to get on board immediately- focus on them and teach to them! I make sure to give dojo points, our schoolwide positive reinforcement platform, to individual students who jump on board when I am trying to turn the tide of the class and make a big deal about it to everyone. I even go and stand closer to those students and look just at them to keep me focused on their energy. Students get the message pretty quickly and, most importantly, it helps ME focus on the positive energy and feed off of that instead of focusing on the negative. 

What do you do to turn the ship around when a lesson starts poorly or takes a negative turn? I'm not saying these strategies are a magic cure that works 100% of the time, but they have been very effective for me in many situations and in most cases, work well to turn things around. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

3 Music Lesson Ideas for When Your Brain Is Fried

Sometimes your brain is just overloaded, and you can't process any more information. And by sometimes I mean music teachers in December. For those days when you don't have any more space left in your brain to think, here are some lesson ideas that require very little mental energy (but are still fun and educationally valuable).

1. Winter Play-Along by Mr. Henry's Music World

OK yes this is a video and yes there are a million play-along videos out there but this one has rapping, singing, steady beat body percussion, movement breaks, and rhythm notation reading (quarter, eighth, and half notes and quarter rests). You might think it would be too corny for the older grades but I have found my students loved it, even up to 4th grade, when I used this last year. Have students do the song/ rap the first time with the body percussion/ motions, then repeat it and have them sing/ rap as well! The song is guaranteed to get stuck in your head too.

2. Instrument Merry Go Round

This is one of my favorite lesson activities to use when I know it will be difficult for students to focus, I know they need a mental break, or we need something to get us back on a positive track after some negative class periods. The best part is you can easily throw in some practice with multiple concepts depending on what you're working on at the time!

Have students sit in a circle and get out one instrument for each person (or let them pick one themselves). Have the instruments sitting on the floor in front of them but tell them not to touch them until you tell them. Show them a gesture to cue them to pick up their instrument quietly without playing it, then tell them to play when your hands are open and stop when you close your fists. Then gesture for them to put the instrument down, and scoot one spot around the circle to the next instrument, and repeat. 

Once they get the hang of it you should be able to keep them moving around pretty quickly without anyone saying a word. You can add in some concept review by doing different gestures to have them play at different dynamic levels or speeds, or tell them to echo the rhythms you clap, or call out groupings of instruments (pitched, unpitched, shakers, woods, etc) or names of specific instruments and only those instruments play. This works with truly any age group, from preschool to adult.

3. Animal Music Composition

Play a couple of examples from Carnival of the Animals and discuss how the music conjures the image of the animal: what instrument timbre, pitch and rhythm elements, and expressive qualities match the animal? Then tell students to either individually or in small groups create a song about an animal using instrument sounds. That's it. Those are the parameters. At the end of class, have students play their composition and ask the class to guess the animal. For older students, have them identify the musical elements they used to try to convey the image of their chosen animal. 

What do you do to keep things going when your brain is fried? This time of year can be overwhelming, for teachers and for students! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Hip-Hop in Music Education

After periodic posting on the topic of hip-hop over the last few years I decided it was time to compile all of my writing on the topic in one place. If and when I write more posts related to hip-hop in the future, I will add them back here, so if you're interested in the topic this is the post to save! 

This post is dedicated to the late Jarritt Ahmed Sheel. He was a driving force in research and advocacy for hip-hop in music education, and a trusted mentor for me as I embarked on my own learning journey a few years ago exploring ways to authentically, respectfully, and effectively incorporate hip-hop music into my own teaching practice. 

Reflections on how to incorporate hip-hop in music education appropriately and holistically:

Lesson ideas for K-12 general and ensemble music classes, resource list, and school-appropriate song examples:

Lesson plans and resources for teaching the history and context of hip-hop in an age-appropriate way (an important step to take when teaching hip-hop):

Lesson plans and resources for teaching break dancing, DJing, and beatboxing:

Lesson plans and resources for teaching rapping and rap writing in elementary music:

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Decolonizing Our Approach to Hip-Hop

I've been reflecting on how we approach the hip-hop genre in US American schools, and the many ways that we tend to caricature, devalue, and ostracize the genre in our attempts to include it in our school music curricula. It is a long and arduous process to get to where we need to be, but that shouldn't stop us from embarking on the journey! Here are my thoughts on what needs to change.

1. Holistic Approach

We need to teach hip-hop holistically, teaching students the context and culture of hip-hop and all of the major pillars and elements that are a part of the genre. Too often we pull out the one element that sticks out to outsiders- rapping- and think that giving students one isolated experience with rapping, or writing raps, means we have successfully incorporated hip-hop into our music curriculum. Compare that approach to the hours and hours we spend teaching the elements and "pillars" of Western classical music, from music history to music theory, repertoire to instrumentation. 

2. Scaffolded Skills

Just like we sequence out our instruction on reading Western classical music notation, and understanding fundamental concepts from Western classical music like steady beat, tonality, harmony, and skills like singing or playing instruments, we need to incorporate skill development in the skills and concepts that are at the core of hip-hop musicianship into our teaching as well. There is definitely some overlap between the skills and concepts we teach already and the skills and concepts that are a part of hip-hop, but things like flow, rapping, mixing, and beatboxing etc are separate skills that need to be scaffolded and embedded in our scope and sequence. And time spent on skills and concepts from one genre will only improve skill development and understanding in other genres as well- rather than stealing time from one area to teach another, we will be enhancing student learning.

3. Regular Examples

This is a much easier fix than the first two and many of us are on our way to doing this already- make hip-hop music a part of the regular course of learning alongside any other genre. When we're practicing steady beat movement with Kindergarten, playing rhythm examples, learning about famous artists, or playing a Bb major scale as a warmup in band class, hip-hop music should be incorporated not as a "special topic" but as a part of regular instruction along with a broad range of other genres.

4. Teacher Education

I am far from the first person to say this but we will never embed change in music education practice until we start training teachers how to do things differently. We need music education programs across the country to start including training in how to teach hip-hop skills and concepts in our school music programs so teachers enter the profession with some background in how to do so effectively and appropriately. That means bringing in people who know what they're talking about to help re-write the curriculum for music education courses, serve on faculty, and come in as guest speakers.

5. Listen and Learn

Hip-hop has not been a part of classroom music education, so it can feel like talking to someone in a foreign language when you talk to hip-hop artists and educators about the culture and genre to try to learn how to incorporate it authentically in your teaching. It might seem easier initially to just listen to people like me and just absorb the "translated" information second-hand, but we all need to be learning from culture-bearers directly. It took a few years for me to wrap my head around how to take what hip-hop artists and educators were telling me and bring it to my classroom, but the time, effort, and trial-and-error process were necessary for my journey, as they are for all of us. 

What are your thoughts? I know this post is a departure from my usual- I'm not at the point in my journey where I can offer concrete, specific steps towards solutions yet, I just have gotten some clarity on where I'm headed. I know I'm not the only one thinking about and reflecting on this topic and trying to bring about change in music education- I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, November 21, 2022

24 Days of Family Christmas Activities

One of our most treasured family traditions is our advent calendar. Since my daughters were 2, I've been putting together an advent calendar with a small holiday-related activity to do each day leading up to Christmas. I never thought it would become such an important part of our lives but now, with my girls about to turn 11, they start asking about the calendar several months in advance! The last few years our options were a little more limited by the pandemic, but this year that's less of a concern- here's what I'm planning to do this year (and you can too with very little prep work).

Because I am all about low-maintenance, especially as a music teacher in December (if you know you know), most of the things are things that might normally be considered "chores", like decorating and sending cards, but now they are fun family activities! It's a great way to really focus on the small joys of the holiday. Here is a list of what we're doing this year:

1. Put up the Christmas tree

2. Decorate the tree with ornaments

3. Hang the Christmas lights

4. Make gingerbread truffles

5. Make hot chocolate with all the fixings

6. Put out the advent wreath

7. Make plastic cup ornaments

8. Decorate the front door

9. Make and send Christmas cards

10. Write gift idea lists (to receive and to give)

11. Bake cookies

12. Decorate sugar cookies

13. Put up the rest of the decorations around the house

14. Shop for/ make gifts to give

15. Read some Christmas books

16. Wrap gifts

17. "Jingle" a neighbor (here is an explanation and free printable)

18. Watch a Christmas movie (this year will be Hip-Hop Nutcracker)

19. Do this salt crystal snowflake experiment

20. Go caroling to friends and family's houses (in person and video call)

21. Drive through a lights display

22. Hang the stockings

23. Make a gingerbread house

24. Set out cookies, milk, and carrots for Santa and the reindeer

This kind of Christmas countdown / advent activity calendar is so easy to set up because the activities are low-prep, low-mess, quick activities, most of which are things families celebrating Christmas would do anyway. If you want to do something similar this year but don't have time to make a calendar, all you really have to do is write down each activity on a piece of paper and fold it up with the number for the date you want to do it on the outside. Then open a paper each day to reveal that day's activity!

Here is how I made the calendar we use every year (so easy if you have the supplies)- click the image to see the tutorial:

And you can see how my list of activities has evolved over the years as my daughters get older in these posts from previous years: my list for 9 year oldsfor 7 year oldsfor 6 year oldsfor 5 year oldsfor 4 year olds, and for 3 year olds.

If you're looking for ways to add a little cheer without a lot of effort I hope these ideas will help! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

(Further) Toward an Inclusive Holiday Sing Along

Holiday sing-alongs are something many music teachers are tasked with. They can be a lot of fun, and they're a great way to bring the entire school community together. But they also inherently center certain religions and cultures while ignoring others, and that is problematic. I have been reflecting on my practice and seeking input from culture bearers and educators from a range of backgrounds, and after doing a lot of thinking over the last few years I have made some changes that have certainly brought it a long way in making it more reflective of our school community and our world. I have shared a couple of times in the last few years about what I'm doing as I continue on this journey to hopefully help other teachers think critically about their current practice and encourage others to join me in my journey- here is my latest update on what I'm planning this year.

A few important thoughts I've had as I continue to reflect on this that I think are important for everyone to consider in planning a holiday sing-along:

1. The songs we choose should invite students to learn about the holiday more than they invite students to participate in celebrating them. 

I used to be a little uncertain about my choice to include the Eid song in particular, because it isn't traditionally sung by culture bearers during the actual holiday as part of the traditional celebrations. I've since come to understand from the culture bearers I've spoken to that this is fine and in fact better. The song was created by culture bearers to teach others about the holiday and that's exactly the way that they want the holiday to be presented in school- trying to have students experience each holiday by participating in them does a disservice to the religious meaning of each one and can put students and families in an uncomfortable, offensive situation.

2. Any decision to include songs about holidays in class or in a whole school sing- along assembly should be accompanied by deliberate communication with families to ensure anyone who objects to all holiday content can be accommodated, the actual holidays celebrated by the community is represented, and families understand the intent and purpose behind the lessons and/or event.

I do have a very small number of students who do not participate in recognizing or learning about holidays at all, and I'm very careful to make sure those students have alternate assignments (and the one time I had more than one student in a grade I changed the lessons entirely). But I've also found that when I explain that students are learning about the holidays rather than participating in songs that celebrate them, several of the families who originally were hesitant actually were excited to have their children participate.

My song selections for this year have not changed since last year, when I hosted it on zoom, but it will be great to get to have students fully engage with the activities for each one as a group with us all physically in the same space this year!

1. Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah (we do a very simple circle dance- each class in a circle)
2. Feliz Navidad (I use this song as a jumping off point in class to talk about the ways to say "Merry Christmas" in different languages. in the assembly one grade level will have maracas to play with the Spanish section.)
4. Diwali is Here (we will sing in canon, and one grade level will have mini flashlights to wave around as we dim the lights for this song)
5. Gong Xi, Gong Xi (we sing the verses in English standing in a circle with hand motions that match the lyrics, then on the chorus in Mandarin turn to one side and shake hands, then turn to the other side and shake hands on the beat)
6. Eid Mubarak (we stand in scattered formation and do a clapping pattern with a partner at the beginning of each verse, then while singing the last line quickly find a new partner to face for the next verse)
7. Happy Kwanzaa Song (one grade is assigned to stand and sing each of the 7 principles during the verse, then everyone drums on the floor during the chorus)

This is a topic that we need to continue to engage in professional discussions on as music educators, and we need to continue to be open to new insights and thoughts on how to do it, and even whether or not to continue the practice, to be as inclusive and respectful of all of our students as possible while giving students opportunities to learn about different cultures. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and you can catch up on my ongoing journey of learning how to do this better in my previous two posts on sing-alongs:


Tuesday, November 8, 2022

This School Year is One Long October

This school year is one long October.

I came to this realization a couple of weeks ago, when it was mid-October, and as I've shared the thought with a few colleagues I've found it a really helpful thought to hold onto in those challenging moments when student behaviors are so disruptive, when adults are frustrating, and when things just seem suddenly completely overwhelming. If you've felt like this year has been frustrating and exhausting, maybe you can relate.

Most teachers with a certain number of years of experience know what October is like every year. You spend the month of September patiently reviewing expectations, taking the time to establish routines and build relationships, and giving yourself and everyone else grace because hey, it's the beginning of the year, of course we're all overwhelmed, we're all tired, and we're all still learning how to do stuff. We've got time. Then October comes. Finally, all that hard work you put into introducing and reviewing and practicing and reviewing procedures and expectations, all the time you've had to get settled into a routine and get to know each other, all of that time and effort will pay off and we can really start chugging along with the school year. 

Except then come to find out, we don't magically all become superstars in October. Actually there is still practice and reviewing of expectations that needs to happen, and there is still a lot of relationship building that needs to happen. October is when we think things will be smooth sailing, and we're incredibly frustrated when it isn't. Every. Year. Then one day a few days or weeks into October we realize hey, I remember this, and we take our expectations down a couple of notches and start giving ourselves some grace again.

This entire school year is like one long month of October. For the last 2 years we've been giving ourselves and everyone else grace because hey, it's a pandemic. We've been learning and reviewing and revisiting expectations because nobody knows what they're doing. We've been patient and understanding with emotional outbursts and disruptive behaviors because we've all experienced trauma in ways we don't fully fathom ourselves. 

But the pandemic protocols have been mostly set aside. No more mask mandates, social distancing, cohorting, dual teaching, or incessant hand washing. This is the year we can finally get back to real teaching and learning! This is when things will finally, after two years of intense struggle, be smooth sailing, right?

It's incredibly frustrating to realize that we're not there yet, but it's time to realize hey, I know what's going on, and take our expectations down a couple of notches and start giving ourselves some grace again. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Music Teacher Vocal Health

It's that time of year: it was my annual tradition to lose my voice a couple of months into each school year for my first decade of teaching! As much as I tried, I could never seem to kick the habit. Over the years I've learned more about how to maintain vocal health as a music teacher, and honestly, started taking more seriously the things I have long known I *should* be doing. Here are some of my top tips for maintaining a healthy voice when you're teaching elementary music.

This post contains affiliate link(s) that do not impact the price, purchase experience, my opinions, or my writing.

First, of course, a disclaimer: I am definitely not a doctor and have no medical background! If you have serious vocal health concerns, or just want to get more specific, data-based recommendations for your individual health needs, please go see a doctor. Our voices are so important as music teachers and we need to treat our vocal health with the same importance we place on our overall health. So please don't hesitate to seek professional help! 

That being said, these are some things that have worked for me, in order from biggest impact to smallest (from my very informal, unscientific observations!):

1. Talk less

It's amazing how much of the time we spend talking is superfluous. Take one class period and try to focus on speaking as few words as possible. I've found that the longer I teach, the less I talk in class. Of course I know that's easier said than done! The main factor that makes it possible for me to speak very little is good preparation. I find when I'm talking a lot in class it's because I am processing and talking through what we just did or what we're about to do. If I already know what's next, a lot of times I can just start- no need to say anything at all! Instead of saying "OK everyone, I'm going to teach you a new song today- everyone listen and echo after me", just sing a line while you point to yourself, then point out to them. Most of the time they'll get it, and if they don't, do it again and they will the 2nd time. Trust me, the more times you practice talking less, the more ways you'll find to reduce your talking time!

2. Drink more

When we came back on a cart in a hybrid model fully distanced and masked in 2020, I suddenly found myself drinking over 70oz of water just during the school day which was a huge jump for me! Not only was I expending more energy running all over the building, but because I had more passing time between classes and I was often passing by bathrooms, I was able to use the bathroom more often and got into the habit of drinking between every class. Now that we're back to more pre-pandemic schedules I'm still drinking way more than I used to, and it has made a significant difference. I know, I have days with many classes back-to-back, but I've learned it's important enough to just drink the water and if I have to ask a homeroom teacher to wait a minute while I use the bathroom, so be it. 

3. Use a voice amplifier

I always swore I would not be one of those people but yes, here I am. The 2020-21 school year was the first year of my teaching career that I did not lose my voice. It was partly, I think, because of other things like drinking so much more water and being exposed to fewer germs because of the covid protocols, but I am convinced the biggest difference was that I wore one of these personal voice amplifiers every lesson, every day, all year. I stopped wearing it at the beginning of this school year because I wasn't wearing a mask, but now as I feel a bit more of a tickle in my throat I am putting it back on, mask or no mask- I plan to continue to keep it in rotation any time I feel my voice getting tired! 

4. Take care of your overall health

Obviously you're more likely to have vocal health issues if you're sick. It's easy for me to put my own health on the back burner when life gets busy but I've started taking my own health more seriously and it really does make a difference. Eating and sleeping well are the main things I focus on, and of course you can talk to your doctor about what they recommend for maintaining and improving your overall health!

5. Use attention getters

There are so many attention getters out there, I'm not going to repeat them all here, but if you don't have an attention getter you use to quiet a classroom you need one (and calling loudly to them over the noise doesn't count). Even better, use attention getters that don't use your voice. I have 2 attention getters and neither of them require anyone's voice (nor do they involve clapping that one pattern everyone loves to use). If we're in the middle of a whole group lesson activity and the class gets chatty, I use my hand signals (read about them here) to silently have them go from sitting to standing, or vice versa. It becomes very obvious very quickly who is paying attention! If students are working independently, my attention getter is to turn off the lights. My students know that lights off= sound off. 

6. Warm up your voice

I haven't gotten to the point where I feel the need to do actual vocal warmups, but I do make a conscious effort to hum along, and then gradually switch to singing along, with the radio in the car on the way to school and in my classroom before classes start, ESPECIALLY on the days I have choir first period. It makes a huge difference!

Remedies to try

None of these are prescriptions or anything, but when my voice gets tired in spite of the vocal health strategies above, these are my go-to remedies that help a lot:

  • gargle with hydrogen peroxide (or salt water): I know it sounds ridiculous but it really works! 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 2 parts water, gargle for 1 minute. Read more here.
  • throat coat tea
  • drink warm water with honey and ginger
  • breath in steam: I like to use this as an excuse to make a giant pot of chai. I get a big batch of chai to keep in the fridge, a wonderfully scented house, and some lovely smelling steam to breath in over the simmering pot all in one! Here's my basic recipe if you want to try, or just boil a pot of plain ole' water or run a hot shower.
What do you do to maintain your vocal health as a music teacher? Teachers and musicians in general use their voices a lot, so music teachers get a double-whammy that makes proactive vocal health strategies so important! I'd love to hear what you've found works for you in the comments.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Resources for Recognizing Heritage Months in the Music Room

So you want to recognize Black History Month, Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month, AAPI Heritage Month, and other heritage months in your classroom, but it feels overwhelming to think about trying to do another thing on top of everything else you're juggling as a teacher with so little class time. You also don't want to do it wrong... how do you avoid being performative, or even disrespectful, especially if you are not a part of the culture you are wanting to celebrate? As I continue to listen and learn from culture bearers from a broad range of cultural heritages, I'm sharing here my favorite resources for celebrating specific heritage months in the music classroom.

First, if you haven't seen it already, I wrote a post last week with some general thoughts on recognizing heritage months in the music room, focusing on how to do so appropriately and respectfully but also being realistic about what we can do with our limited class time- you can read all of that in last week's post here

Today I want to share specific ideas and resources to learn from culture bearers for some of the specific heritage months I've incorporated into my classroom. I said this in last week's post but it bears repeating every time: I am not a member of any of these cultures that are recognized in the heritage months, and therefore I should not be your final destination for doing your own learning and finding your own ideas. I've intentionally avoided sharing too many specific examples of what I do in my classroom because that's not my place. My goal here is to help jump start your research, because I know it can be overwhelming at first. I hope that by sharing these resources you will feel empowered to learn more and find respectful, purposeful ways to celebrate these in your own classroom! Don't miss the lists of people to follow for each of the heritage months below so you can continue your learning.

February: Black History Month

In the United States, Black History Month is celebrated in February. Click on the image above to see all of my suggestions and resources for recognizing BHM in the music room, and learn more about Black History Month in general on this site.

May: AAPI Heritage Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is recognized in May in the United States. Click the image above to read my suggestions and resources for recognizing AAPI heritage month in the music room, or click here to learn more about the heritage month in general.

September 15-October 15: Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month

Commonly known as Hispanic Heritage Month, I've learned that many culture bearers prefer the term "Latine", so I am using both here. This heritage month is celebrated from September 15th to October 15th in the United States. Click the image above to see my favorite resources for recognizing this heritage month in the music room, or click here to learn more about the month in general.

As I learn of new resources, find new ideas, or add new heritage months to my list I will keep this post updated! What resources from culture bearers have you found most helpful as you plan your own celebrations in your music classroom? I'd love for you to share what you've found in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Recognizing Heritage Months in the Music Room

So you want to recognize Black History Month, Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month, AAPI Heritage Month, and other heritage months in your classroom, but it feels overwhelming to think about trying to do another thing on top of everything else you're juggling as a teacher with so little class time. You also don't want to do it wrong... how do you avoid being performative, or even disrespectful, especially if you are not a part of the culture you are wanting to celebrate? I certainly don't have all the answers, but here are some ideas that have helped me as I navigate this issue myself.

1. Pick something

I say this about a lot of things but it's important to remember that we don't have to do all the things for it to be worth doing. Don't worry that if you do something to recognize Black History Month, you'll be doing a disservice to every other heritage, and let that stop you from doing anything. Start with something, and as you learn more you'll be able to incorporate more in the future. 

This also applies to the ways we incorporate heritage months in our classrooms. We don't have to have an entire month completely dedicated to studying one heritage for it to be meaningful- pick one way to recognize the month, and then as you learn more you can find more ways to celebrate.

2. Learn from culture bearers

I can't stress this enough: check your sources! Don't pick out a song in Spanish written by a white American to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, and don't be fooled by books, recordings, online posts, and other resources that are labeled as "from" a particular culture without checking to see who shared/ wrote/ published it. It may seem harmless, because the kids won't know the difference right? But using something that isn't from the culture it claims to celebrate, especially as a way to recognize a heritage month, is entirely contrary to the work of antibias antiracism because it takes away the culture bearers' voice and allows someone else to speak for them. Take the time to get to the real sources, even if they are less accessible or less convenient.

Along the same lines, listen to culture bearers about how they want their cultures to be recognized during these months. There are plenty of educators and other culture bearers who have taken the time to speak up about how those of us outside their culture can appropriately and respectfully recognize these months and celebrate their heritage- that is important perspective for us to seek out and heed.

3. Weave it in

Recognizing a heritage month shouldn't, in general, be a separate event that takes time away from scaffolded music learning. In fact in my view, teaching about a particular heritage as a separate lesson or activity outside of the "main lesson" makes it seem like a "special topic" and inherently less important. The better approach, in my view, is to weave it into the lessons you're teaching. If 1st graders are practicing reading rhythms in February, practice reading and playing the rhythms to the beat of music by Black Violin. If 5th graders are learning about bass clef in September, introduce them to Oscar Stagnaro. Weaving it into the curriculum will make it more natural, and lead to more meaningful learning. It will also make it much more possible to incorporate heritage months more frequently if you don't feel like you have to "stop learning" to do so!

4. Don't stop there

Of course there's no reason to confine opportunities to learn about music representing these cultures to their heritage months- it's so important for these opportunities for students to interact with different genres and cultures to be incorporated throughout the school year. Heritage months are a great chance to shine the spotlight and focus on one culture specifically, but don't wait until May to feature Yo-Yo Ma! 

Learning how to appropriately recognize heritage months in my classroom has been an ongoing learning process for me, and I continue to learn more every year. What are your thoughts on how to do this respectfully and meaningfully? What are your favorite ways to recognize heritage months in your music classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Using Pop Songs in Elementary Music

I love being able to incorporate a broad range of musical genres in my elementary general music classes, and while there are plenty of "classics" from bygone eras that have stood the test of time and remain in my repertoire, I also think it's important to show students that the music they're listening to in their day-to-day lives is relevant to everything they're learning in class as well. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use current music in my elementary general music lessons.

First can I tell you a story? 

My first year in my current position, I had a 6th grader who was constantly disruptive and disengaged in class. Whenever I would try to problem-solve with him, he insisted that he hated all music. Multiple times I insisted he MUST listen to SOME music, and he always insisted he did not. I couldn't figure out how to get through to him. Then one day I saw him outside at dismissal waiting to be picked up and he was wearing headphones- I ran over shouting, "A ha! I knew it! You're listening to music!" and asked him what he was listening to. He hesitantly told me the name of the rap artist and, when I asked to hear, he quickly found a spot in the song that was "clean" to play for me. When I proudly proclaimed that I had caught him, he looked at me with genuine confusion and told me he didn't know I was talking about "his" music, he thought I was talking about "music class music". No matter how many ways I had asked him, it never once crossed his mind that my definition of "music" included the stuff he listened to outside of school.

That's the real heart of why it is critical for us to include current music our students are listening to in our music classes. 

And I know, there are many reasons why including current music in elementary school is challenging, mostly because the content of the music many of our students are listening to is just not appropriate for school. But I promise you the songs are out there- though they may be harder to find sometimes- and it is worth the effort of staying on top of current trends and looking for that needle in a haystack to make that connection for our students.

OK so now let's talk about the how- that's the easy part honestly! The most common ways I use current music in my lessons are:
  • As a listening example of a musical element we are studying, to have students aurally identify (tonality, rhythm or pitch elements, instrument timbres, genres/ styles)
  • As a choral piece for my choirs to add some solo singing and parallel harmony (I have a whole post on this you can read about here)
  • As a track to practice steady beat movement with Kindergarten
  • As a track to have students read rhythms or improvise with
  • To sing or play an excerpt on instruments to practice a musical concept that is in the song (usually a rhythm or pitch element), especially with upper grades
  • As a starting point for students to create an arrangement
Any time I come across a new school appropriate song, especially those that have a positive message, I try to make a note to myself to remember to include it. Often I'm just adding it to my rotation of steady beat movement and rhythm practice tracks, but I always try to do a quick analysis to see if there are any clear rhythmic, pitch, or other elements in the song that would be good to use it as an example of. 

What are your favorite ways to incorporate current songs in your elementary music lessons? What songs have you been loving in your class lately? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Favorite Songs for Practicing Eighth / Sixteenth Combinations

I have been on a quest the last couple of years to find new songs for practicing eighth note / sixteenth note combination rhythms, and today I want to share a couple of my latest favorites. Both of these songs include both types of combinations in the same song, so they are best to use for practicing these rhythms after students have been introduced to them separately. 

Has anyone else found it difficult to find solid resources for teaching eighth / sixteenth note combination rhythms (  and  )? We have these rhythms in our 5th grade general music curriculum and I've never been truly happy with the songs I had for practicing them. But I now have two songs that I've found have worked well with my students that I can't wait to share with you: Let Her Go, and Bim Bum.

Bim Bum

I found Bim Bum a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic hit, and it has been a crowd favorite. This is perfect for those "too cool to sing in class" upper elementary students because it has a challenging game to go with it. I first show them the body percussion pattern while I sing it and have them try to do just the body percussion, which goes like this:

Once they get the hang of it I start gradually speeding up and tell them they have to sit down if they make a mistake. Once they are good enough at the body percussion, I challenge them to sing while doing it to make it harder, and I end with a showdown contest to see who can go the fastest without messing up (I tell them every year the true story of one student who beat me, and that nobody has been able to beat me since, and that gets them excited for the challenge). I seriously catch them every year singing the song and doing the game at recess and their homeroom teachers tell me they practice in their rooms too! Once they have internalized the song I have them decode the rhythms in the melody to find the "1-e-and" and "1-and-a" rhythm patterns and practice counting and clapping the melodic rhythm.

Let Her Go

I've been searching for a more modern song that uses these rhythms for several years and this fall I finally found Let Her Go by Passenger. I'm still on the hunt for a more recent song to use as an example (this one was released in 2012), but this one was a good addition this year to give students an example of music that uses these rhythms in a more relatable genre. I just played the first section of the song, had students sing along while patting the beat, and had them decode the rhythms in the first line to identify the two eighth / sixteenth note combinations. This is a good one to use as students are first learning both rhythms because both combinations are right there in the very beginning of the melody!

Do you have other favorite songs for practicing both sets of sixteenth / eighth note combination rhythms with elementary students? I'd love to hear your other ideas, especially if you have any more recent songs that you've found! Let me know in the comments what other songs you use that include both combinations. If you want to see my favorite lessons for teaching other specific rhythmic elements, you'll find them all in this post: