Friday, December 3, 2021

My Top 5 ways to keep planning stress low and engagement high

Ya'll. This year is hard. SO HARD. However, now that we are in December I have found a few things that are really helping me with planning this year to keep stress low and student engagement high. Check out my list below of my Top 5 planning tips (in no particular order). 

1. Utilizing awesome websites to help teach concepts in a kid friendly way. 

Want to compose? Use Chrome Music Lab to focus on form, or specific solfege.  Use Groove Pizza to focus on Time Signature and rhythm. 

Classics For Kids has a lot of great games to help explain musical concepts as well.

Need a kid friendly way to define terms so students understand?  Have them research to make flashcards or other games to practice- giving them a bank of websites that may help such as:   - This website even has listening examples to accompany many musical words!  Thank you to Celeste (the student of one of our EKM readers) for showing me this website. I love the way the definitions are so clear and concise. - This one has listening activities, instruments of the orchestra activities, a page for teachers, and a page for families! 

2. Themes

Almost all of my lessons, especially in K-1, have some sort of theme that guides me while planning. I can connect our concept songs, any listening we may be doing, and any story books together to make a seamless lesson. 

Recent K-1 Themes have been Thanksgiving (lots of turkey and pie songs!), Birds (Bluebird, Old Mr. Woodpecker, Cuckoo in the Clock, Old Mr. Owl, Turkey songs, Aviary from Carnival etc.), Ocean (Larry the lobster, charlie over the ocean, etc.) and more.  Check out a previous post on Winter themes HERE

2-4 themes are often looser like Travel in 3rd grade (From Hungary to Japan, to different US states, all while practicing DO and prepping Tika-Tika) or Autumn (So many great listening examples and autumn songs for all ages to practice so many musical concepts!) 

3. Planning the same activities for each grade level (just changing the difficulty)

Often my plan outlines for each grade look exactly the same. If I'm doing melody flashcards with 2nd grade, I'm also doing them for 3rd and 4th.  If I want to practice writing melodies on a staff using manipulatives, any grade that has been presented some solfege is doing it so my materials for each group are the same.   Games students of all ages love in my classroom include: Poison Pattern (both rhythmic and melodic), Rhythm Football, computer melody and rhythm games (like PDF or Smartboard games or Boom Cards), the Vote Game, and rhythm/ melody tag (students can only move on the given rhythm/ melody pattern) 

Listening examples are an awesome activity that can be adapted across grade levels. We recently did an Autumn Leaves compare/ contrast activity where we listened to Nat King Cole's Autumn Leaves and then Ed Sheeran's Autumn Leaves (different songs) and each grade was able to use age appropriate vocab to describe the similarities and differences. Younger students were able to float like leaves during the song and then freeze in tree pose to give their bodies something to do while listening.  This would work great with snow songs as well! 

Example lesson skeleton:


Song 1

Melody Flashcards (with last card leading to song 2)

Song 2

Add instruments using Ostinato (ostinato is isolated rhythm from song 3) 

Song 3

4. Mini Group Projects

These projects are with-in one class period but really help me assess who still needs help with our concepts.  I may have groups create movement/body percussion showing the rhythm of a song or create new body signs to represent solfege. Or maybe students are getting into groups to come up with a new way to define and practice one of our vocab words (this works GREAT for tempo and dynamics words!) Students love teaming up and it really helps them become facilitators of their own learning (and I can just supervise and help as needed). 

Recently, students created a 4 beat pattern using quarters, beamed eighths, and beamed 16ths and added body percussion- choosing one action for each type of note (quarter = clap, etc.)  They then presented to the class and the class had to ID the rhythm just from watching the performance.  Students LOVED it and I got to see who was able to create a pattern, keep a steady beat, and apply the body percussion as they were presenting. 

5.  Using my and my students FAVORITE activities

Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed this year I pull out a tried and true activity that I know students LOVE (and I love teaching).  Students really pick up on the mood of their teachers, so when you are in a rut- think back to why you chose to teach music in the first place and pick a favorite activity that brings you joy.

I have favorite lessons connected to books and different listening examples that really can be inserted into my plans at any point in the year. Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger and I Promise by Lebron James are two examples of awesome books with lessons that can be adapted to any age (Click the book titles to be taken to lesson ideas).  La La La and Journey are both books shown while classical music is playing to help enhance the story.  Love the Nutcracker like I do? Pull out an activity at any time during the year - it doesn't have to be December to learn about Tchaikovsky or do movement activities with props to Nutcracker Music.   Check out a ton of Nutcracker ideas HERE

Speaking of movement activities- I LOVE props like Ribbons, Scarves, and Basketballs so any time I am feeling stuck, I am sure to plan a favorite movement routine to work on Form, Rhythms, Melodic contour, mood, and more. Check out my youtube channel to see some of my favorites! 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tuesday Book Club - I Feel Teal

 Ya'll! I just finished an AWESOME project with my 4th graders. I was BLOWN AWAY by their creations for our I Feel Teal Project.  (Click the picture to get the book!) 

I Feel Teal is an adorable book about how different colors can represent different moods. There aren't many words, but the illustrations really help tell the story of a little girl going through her day and all of the feelings and emotions that a person can feel from minute to minute.  

After reading both this book and "The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh" (which would also work well for the same project!) each student group was assigned a page/ color.  Students had 4 main tasks: 

1. Decide what mood their color/ page represented and how that would translate musically (tempo, dynamics, etc.) 

2. Write a little more about their mood- Students could choose between writing a paragraph, a poem, or creating lyrics for step 3. 

3. Create a song to go with their page- as if we are creating a soundtrack for the book. Students used either Chrome Music Lab song maker, beepbox, groove pizza, mario paint composer, classroom instruments or even a combo!  

4. Find an existing favorite song to match their mood.  We wanted a playlist of awesome songs that really embody different emotions and I loved all their answers! 

While many of the pictures were fairly clear cut in the mood they portrayed, I thought it was really interesting that when groups chose the same color the moods they came up with were sometimes different- yet still both well thought out answers.  

For example: 

One teal group said that a teal song would be "Bored, Slow, and Quiet" and created this song: Teal- Bored

The other teal group said a teal song song would be "calm, medium slow, and mezzo piano" and created this song: Teal - Calm

I think both songs are great in their own way, and both match the picture. I LOVED that they had different interpretations of the picture! 

Overall, there were so many creative groups! Some of my other favorite creations are below. I did not share any of the awesome video submissions I got- but there were some groups who went above and beyond and made movement routines to go with their work or divided up the lyrics of their songs so there were solos and instrument parts included. 

After everything was turned in, I created a slide show with student paragraphs/ poems and QR codes to each groups song/ video performance and hung them in the hallway. Teachers were then able to hear the awesome creations.  I played creations for younger classes as well. I loved this project so much, I decided I will be saving the slide show as a book to use as an example in future years. 

Grey - Two girls who created 2 separate songs, and then combined them into 1. 

Grey - Chill

Our mood is chill and apprehensive. The song we created is slow piano. The volume is soft. We tried to create a very relaxing piece.

Golden - A group of girls who went all out with their slide. I love the rhythm of this one. 

Golden Warmy Shade

Yellow is so mellow, it makes me feel like jello. 
Yellow is so bright it lights up the night. 
Yellow is my fellow, gold is bold.

Red/ Orange - This group was 4 boys who really love the Beastie Boys :)  

Red/ Orange Groove Pizza

I am mad like a storm, raining hail that destroys cars.

I am mad and bad and this song is very rad.

Blue- This was a group of 4 awesome musical girls. 

I’m Feelin’ Blue, I Don’t Know what to do

I feel depressed, Oh my gosh I’m so stressed

Because you left me, Because you left me

I never thought friendship would end, But Listen. 

But Listen.

I’m Feelin’ Blue, I Don’t Know what to do

I feel depressed, Oh my gosh I’m so stressed

(This video is me singing because they wanted me to share their work, but didn't want me to share the video they made.)  

I hope you LOVE this book as much as I do! Let me know if you come up with another awesome lesson for it, or use mine. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

ANOTHER Basketball Routine! Dynamite by BTS

 Check out my new basketball routine to Dynamite by BTS! 

This one is so fun and great for Moving On/ Graduation Ceremonies~ In fact, that's why I created it! My 4th graders are loving learning it to perform for their families. 

To teach this routine, I usually spread it out over 2 class periods. The first class we learn the verse and Chorus, giving ourselves breaks during the Pre-Chorus and 2nd Chorus.  Then in our second class we fill in the blanks and try the whole thing all together! All of the sections are pretty intuitive for my students,  especially after they see it a few times- they really feel like the movements match the song. To help cue us in a different way, we talk about how different parts of the choreography match different rhythms to help cue ourselves. Basketball routines are always great for to rhythm practice, identifying form, gross motor skills, connecting to PE, and so much more! And of course, they are SUPER FUN! 

This song uses a few basic skills throughout: 

~Bounce/ Catch (Ta Z) This happens in the verse AND Chorus! 

~Dribble with R, L, and Alternating hands (Quarter note pulse)- This one happens in the pre-chorus! 

~Pass between hands above head/ at waist (Quarter OR eighth note pulse- up to you!)- This one is in the 2nd Chorus 

We also punch the air with the ball and swirl it around our heads during the Chorus. 

I have never been super athletic so I am always sure that ALL kids can feel successful with the routines I create.  The hardest part is the dribbling, but I let kids know they can always use their dominant hand the whole time if that is easier.  After they do basketball in PE, my students are pros! 

The Form of the song is as follows: 




Chorus 1



Chorus 1 

Chorus 2 

Chorus 2 (adapted) 

Chorus 2 (adapted) 

Chorus 1 

Chorus 2 

Intro- walk out slowly bouncing (ta Z ta Z) 

Verse Choreo

Bounce Catch (4x)  (we think of this as Ta Z T Z | Ta Z Ta Z)

Bounce Catch with quarter turn R each bounce

Bounce Catch 4x

Bounce Catch with quarter turn L each bounce

Pre-Chorus Choreo

6 Dribble with Right Hand  (The dribbles are all quarter notes!)

On Oh-Oh Punch out before switch to L

8 Dribble with L hand

4 with R 

4 with L

7 dribble alternating hands and then catch on 9 to be ready for what is next

Chorus 1 Choreo 

Hold in both hands and punch up r, l, r, l (on ah-ah-I’m) 

Stars tonight- swirl around head


On Shining….   Bounce 4x slow (Ta Z Ta Z)

Hold in both hands and punch up r,l,r,l 

Swirl around head 

Chorus 2 Choreo

(dy nanananana) Pass back and forth (8 up and 8 down) (If you wanted you could do 16 for each as eighth notes here!)

On Shining….   Bounce 4x slow

Hold in both hands and punch up r,l,r,l 

Swirl around head 

Chorus 2 Adapted Choreo
(Dy nananana) Pass back and forth above head for 4
Pass back and forth at waist level for 4
pass back and forth above head for 4
Bounce 1x

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Basketballs in the music room!

As you may know, one of my very favorite things to do is make up (and have the kids make up) prop routines! They are great for this year, because many props can be easily sanitized between classes and they are super fun.  I use prop routines to introduce students to new music, give them an opportunity to move to their favorite music in class, teach form, teach mood, and more! 

When it comes to basketballs (or kick balls), we always start in 2nd grade with Bounce High, Bounce Low to get used to bouncing together in class and expand from there.  After we are awesome at just bouncing to the beat, I challenge students to make up movements to show off their skills. They can toss the ball, pass under their legs, move side to side, etc.  In fact, a few of the movements in my newest routine came from ideas from my kiddos! 

As we get better at our ball skills, we move on to more challenging routines. A few years ago, in combination with our PE class, we did a routine to Trepak from The Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky, and last year during quarantine we did Believer by Imagine Dragons (videos below).  This year, for Mozart's Birthday, I made up a routine to Rondo Alla Turca that my 3rd and 4th grade students LOVED it! We were able to practice ball skills, rhythms (sixteenth notes!), form, and have so much fun.   Note- When talking about the form of this piece we discuss how Mozart's Rondo is a little different than other rondos.  Typically a rondo has the A section repeating (ABACADA, etc.) but Mozart's keeps coming back to the shorter B (ABCBABcoda).  I do NOT teach this all in one class- especially only seeing kids for 30 min at a time.  We may do the beginning one day, and then add in the other sections the next class. 

Rondo Alla Turca

Here is a rundown of the routine.  A, B, C and Coda are color-coded! Use the video to help decode what I mean- this rundown is meant as a reminder.  Feel free to adapt the routine and do what is best for your students! 

4 slow bounces, 7 passes between hands fast 

4 slow bounces, 7 passes between hands fast 

3 dribbles to the right, then 3 to the left 2x 

4 slow bounces (adding a quarter turn each bounce if you want!), 7 passes between hands fast

3 dribbles to the right, then 3 to the left 2x 

4 slow bounces (adding a quarter turn each bounce if you want!), 7 passes between hands fast

2 tosses up (not too high or you won't catch it in time!), 2 slow bounces  4x 

8 beats- dribble fast and lower to ground, Next 8 stand back up 

8 beats- dribble fast and lower to ground, Next 8 stand back up 

16 beats - Swirl, swirl, swirl, toss, swirl, swirl, spin 

8 beats- dribble fast and lower to ground, Next 8 stand back up 

16 beats - Swirl, swirl, swirl, toss, swirl, swirl, spin 

8 beats- dribble fast and lower to ground, Next 8 stand back up 

(Note about the C section- this is where I have kids improvise and show off their awesome skills.  Some keep it as I teach, but others like to spin the ball on their finger, pass it behind their back, dribble between their legs, etc.  I just ask that they pay attention and are ready for the next section! If this were to be done in a performance, we would discuss phrase length, repeating sections of the movement, etc. so it wasn't chaos as it can be when they are just improvising) 

2 tosses up (not too high or you won't catch it in time!), 2 slow bounces  4x 

4 slow bounces, 7 passes between hands fast 

4 slow bounces, 7 passes between hands fast 

3 dribbles to the right, then 3 to the left 2x 

4 slow bounces (adding a quarter turn each bounce if you want!), 7 passes between hands fast

3 dribbles to the right, then 3 to the left 2x 

4 slow bounces (adding a quarter turn each bounce if you want!), 7 passes between hands fast

2 tosses up (not too high or you won't catch it in time!), 2 slow bounces  4x 

Punch air to R, Punch to left, swirl around head, bounce twice

Punch air to right, punch to left, swirl around head, bounce three times

Punch air to R, Punch to left, swirl around head, bounce twice

Punch air to right, punch to left, swirl around head, bounce three times

Toss in air 




Toss to finish! 

I hope your students LOVE this routine as much as mine do! And don't forget to check out the other basketball routines below! 

Trepak from The Nutcracker Ballet 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Tuesday Book Club - I Promise by Lebron James

Have you seen this amazing book by Lebron James yet? Yes- That Lebron James. This book is beautifully illustrated by Nina Mata. Click the book to get it from Amazon. 

This is a wonderful rhyming book full of promises students can make to themselves to be their best! It is the perfect lesson after returning in the new year! 

 Promises include: 

I promise to use my voice and stand up for what's right. And when things get tough, to keep up the fight. 

I promise to be me. 

I promise to ask for help whenever I need it. 

My students this year got to read the book and then create their own I Promise Rondo! The A section of the Rondo was created by me, and then each class made a few of their own Promise Chants for the other sections.  After the chants were created, we went to chrome music lab and added melodies.  They were a little tough to sing, but the kids LOVED creating a full song with a melody, a drum beat, and words. We ended up with a really cool video! We just used body percussion this year, but instruments could easily be used in all sections when social distancing and sanitizing after each touch is no longer required. 

Student Promise Chants Include: (Click the link to get to the Chrome Music Lab Melodies) 

I promise to treat others how I want to be treated. Respect my school, listen carefully, never give up

I promise to be nice, kind fair and honest, to be brave. I promise to not lie

I promise to listen and be a good citizen, I promise to keep trying, to fight for whats right. 

I promise to be nice, I promise to be kind, I promise to not be mean. 

Here is notation for the A section! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Tuesday Book Club- The Mitten by Jan Brett

One of my favorite books to use in the Winter, especially with K and 1 is The Mitten.  A Ukrainian Folktale adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett.  (Click the picture to get the book!) Students love seeing the mitten grow as more animals join in. 

Much of my lesson was adapted from this blog: High Shoals Music Blog. She also has an adorable Orff Instrument component that I haven't done- but need to, so be sure to check it out! 

After the first reading, we assign a rhythm to each animal using descriptive words in the book. These usually end up being similar, and I have a "deck" of common phrases kids come up with, using both stick notation and iconic notation.   Sometimes kids come up with silly things, and that is totally fine with me. We write all of our patterns on the board and then can refer for the rest of the lesson. Common phrases are below- all 2 beats long.

Tired Mole 
Snowshoe Rabbit or Hopping Rabbit
Snuffling Hedgehog or Prickly Hedgehog 
Big Owl or Swooping Owl
Digging Badger 
Trotting Fox 
Great Bear 
Meadow Mouse or Tiny Mouse 

White Mitten or Snow White Mitten 
Grandma Baba

Many of my patterns end up being the same rhythm, but usually we are either still prepping quarter and beamed eighths, or have JUST learned them, so I don't mind the kids having practice hearing rhythms with different words. 

Depending on the class, we may read the story again and have each student choose an animal to be, and an instrument to play their pattern on (in non-covid times of course- this year no instruments).  While reading, we chain the patterns together so when the Mole comes, just the mole kids play, but when the Fox comes many pages later, we hear the mole, rabbit, hedgehog, owl, badger AND fox in turn as their animal names are stated in the story.  On the sneeze we ALL get to play random for 3 seconds.  If I want more individual assessment, we may have students "act out" the story so each animal is only one student.  Then I can hear them play their own pattern and assess steady beat, rhythm and more quickly while having fun! 

Finally, kids then get to make up their own 8 beat patterns using decks of animal cards with the patterns.  If we are still preparing quarter and eighth, I use my iconic notation decks, but if we are practicing we use the stick notation decks. Get the decks HERE.  They are not super fancy, but they are what I use (Examples below)! While the mittens, Baba, and Nicki cards are not used while reading, they are included in the decks for students to create their own patterns. I always have blank cards ready so students can add their own if they come up with something awesome earlier in the lesson (just paper cut to the same size as my laminated cards)! 

After a few minutes to organize their 8 beat patterns (4 cards) students get a chance to share their creations. They read their patterns with both animal words, and rhythm words (ta, ta-di; long, short-short, etc.) This is another great quick assessment! Sometimes we share in a rondo form using the Mitten Song in the blog post mentioned above.  I also love using the 2nd verse of "Snowpants" from Music K-8 (which is about mittens of course). 

Do you use this wonderful book? Let me know how in the comments! 


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

21 things in 21

 Hello! We made it to 2021! 

Quick post to share 21 things I want to do in 2021! I was listening to the Music Teacher Coffee Talk podcast last night where they went through their 20 in 2020 lists laughing and reflecting on this past crazy year.  I thought it sounded like a fun idea, so here goes! This list is personal and professional things.  

1. Get off the phone and with family! Be intentional about one on one kid time. 

2. Make up more prop routines/ body percussion videos to popular songs (one a month at least!) 

3. Sew more (esp quilting!) 

4. Read 60 books (I did it this year, but quarantine definitely helped so I am keeping the same goal for next year). 

5. Explore Columbus Parks with family 

6. Take a drumming course 

7. Get better at Ukulele 

8. Write more postcards to students 

9. Organize recorder materials 

10. Keep Exercising (go for 5 nights a week!) 

11. SING! Hopefully in a performance or musical (thanks, covid) 

12. Present at a music or district conference or workshop/ chapter share 

13. Blog more! 

14. Sleep! Prioritize sleep more and go to bed earlier 

15. Be intentional about breakfast

16. Try more new recipes

17. Keep a Gratitude Journal - write one quick thing each day that I am grateful for

18. Plan at least two programs based on Children's Books (songs and routines!) 

19. Organize Craft Corner in Basement 

20. Organize teaching manipulatives 

21. Go somewhere new (I'm hoping by summer or fall travelling mask-less will be an option again!)