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Monday, September 19, 2016

Rhythm Cat - Air-bow Exercises

I have previously posted about how I use the Rhythm Cat app in my classroom.  That is one thing that I do every year with my students because it helps them learn to count rhythm in a fun way.  Thanks to AirServer, it is now easier than ever to use Rhythm Cat with my students by projecting the app on screen in front of the class and passing my one iPad to students in the classroom who are just beginning to read rhythms.  Other students follow along by clapping and saying the counting for each rhythm.

This year, I started using Rhythm Cat for bowing exercises.  It is important for string students to know how to count and clap rhythms, but ultimately students create rhythms using their bows.  For the last few days, I replaced my regular bow exercise routine to an air-bow routine done with rhythm cat.  Students say the counting while moving the bow up and down as if playing the rhythm.  We talk about how the entire class should have the same bow direction.  They are easily able to see why they need to focus and count if their bows start going the wrong way!  I noticed some students trying to follow the bow direction of the class without reading the counting.  We talked about driving and the need to keep eyes on the road in order to drive safely.  To read notes/rhythms, the eyes must stay on the 'road!'  That helped a lot of students focus on the notes and I believe they are now more prepared to play rhythms on their strings.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First week strategies that work!

I just made it through my first week back to school and it was great.  There were a few problems with my technology, but thankfully that was worked out pretty quickly.

On the first day of school I introduce my theme for the year.  This year my theme is STRIKE YOUR POTENTIAL.  Our shirts, magnets, stickers, and stuff have lightening on them and we have a brand new lightning plasma ball in our classroom...which draws a lot of students into my room.  In class, we had a discussion about talent.  One does not become talented because of one event.  No lightning bolt comes from the sky to determine who is talented and who is not.  The power is within each student to be successful.  The lightening and drive inside of each of us is what determines how much each can accomplish.

To help introduce my theme, I showed my 'video of the week', which was a compilation of a few different clips.  The whole point was to inspire students to put forth their best effort and act like an 'orchestra student'...which means they are the most considerate, hardest working, most respectful, most responsible..etc.  When they act like an orchestra student we can accomplish amazing things.

There are so many things we have to take care of during the first few days of school.  Instrument rentals, lockers assignments, and seating charts.  All of that takes a full day, but I want to keep students inspired.  While I take care of necessary business, students read short articles about brain development, goal setting and how to achieve goals.  They work with other students to discuss the material and it helps them get to know each other a little bit.   I use material from a book called 'Helping Students Motivate Themselves." by Larry Ferlazzo.  Here's a link to the book on Amazon.  I also use excerpts from the book 'Nurtured By Love' by Shinichi Suzuki.  Students work to set goals for the term and goals for the year.

We start learning basics about playing from day 2.  Here's a quick overview of skills you can teach using no instruments:

3 things you can do with students during the first week that help them master playing position and bowing without using instruments:

1.  Strengthen Fingers.  We start strengthening fingers from day 2...before students bring instruments.  This is super fun and really helps with dexterity.  I have a set of foam Emoji balls that fit perfectly in the hand.  While I blast the music 'Burn Baby Burn,' we do finger workouts using the balls.  Students follow my lead as we squeeze the ball between the thumb and index finger, thumb and middle finger...etc.   We alternate between hands to give all fingers a good work-out.  We toss it between hands to develop coordination, we squish the face with both hands.  There are tons of possibilities..students just follow me and I pretend to be a personal trainer.

2.  Teach students how to hold the bow using thick straws or pencils.  This is super easy and quick:  Students keep right right hand relaxed and floppy.  We pretend water is dripping off all of the fingers. Place a straw in the middle of the fingers, add the bent thumb behind the middle finger, curl the index finger around like a snake, and put pinky on top for violin/viola.  We then do bow games to fun music and students are give an assignment to create at least 10 perfect bow holds per day.

3.  Visualization of playing position.  I am amazed at how much the following strategy helps students achieve perfect position right from the start.  I teach students how to hold their instruments BEFORE bringing instruments to school. This really helps all students focus and not become distracted.  For the violin/violas we practice sitting on the edge of our seats with feet firmly planted on the floor.  I have them feel their left shoulder with their right hand and explained how the instrument would sit on that shoulder.  We practice turning our heads (as if placing the head on the chin rest) while keeping our heads straight and tall.

For cellos, we practice sitting on the edge of the seat with the feet planted.  We feel our knees and I explain where the instrument will sit and be held with their knees.  I have students place their right hands on their chests as if saying the Pledge of Alliance.  They learn that the cello will rest on their chest and they will need to stay strong like superman and not collapse when holding the cello.  They reach up behind their left ear to feel where the cello pegs would be.  Students learn how to adjust the end-pin and how to determine if it needs to be higher or lower.

These strategies really help my students gain confidence and learn more quickly when they bring instruments to class.  It is so much easier to teach proper play position when they have already visualized how it should be done.  Yesterday was our first day playing and I couldn't help but smile as I gazed on the sea of brand new violin/viola players with perfect position.  My cello players looked comfortable and confident.  We began plucking open strings and so far, so good.  :)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How to do Playing Tests

If you've read a lot of my blogs or seen my articles in the NAfME blog, you know that I do not believe in using practice cards.  One thing I do instead is bi-weekly playing tests.  My students know that I will listen to them play individually every other Friday.

On the Monday before playing test day, the measures are announced so students can begin practicing and preparing.  Every day class, we spend a little time drilling those measures and providing practice tips to help students overcome any tricky parts.  On Friday, students are given a worksheet to do while they wait their turn for the playing test.  The worksheet involves theory items we have been working on in class...rhythm, note-reading, term, etc.  I make my own worksheets much of the time, but I also use the String Explorer worksheets from the teacher pack.

As I listen to individual students play, I am very careful to keep the atmosphere of the class friendly and non-threatening.  Students get nervous and it takes a great deal of bravery to play alone.  I believe it is good for students to face the challenge of performing alone. It strengthens their performance ability and they gain confidence for our concerts.  For my playing tests, students stay in their seats when it is their turn to play...I don't have them stand up or come to the front.  That would just add more stress.

Using a playing test rubric, I quickly grade each my 45 minute class period, I can listen to about 45 students, but I have to be quick!  In my beginning classes, playing tests are only about 8 measures long.  In Intermediate and Advanced classes, playing tests are longer.  I write comments on the rubric to help students improve.  If students receive 50/56 points or lower, they must re-take the playing test.  Any student may re-take the playing test as many times as they like, but not on the same day because I want them be practicing and preparing before each attempt.

There is a great video on YouTube about how in music class, an A is not enough.  For a superior performance, we need tremendous accuracy.  He explains it so well...check it out:

That is why I want students to keep re-taking playing tests to get perfect scores.  I want them to master the music and reach their potential.  It is possible!  This year, to encourage students to aim for perfect playing tests, I have little incentives.  Each year, I design my own orchestra folders that go with a yearly theme, and this is on the inside pocket of the folders:

For the term 2 'name on a classroom brick' award, I bought chalkboard tape and chalk markers and will place a piece of tape on various bricks in my classroom (my walls are all brick) with their name brightly decorated.  I will forever keep their name on a brick if they get that award.  It doesn't cost much, but students really want to be remembered so that is a huge incentive.

To help encourage students on continually improve and progress, I am starting a new thing...I put this survey/goal sheet on the back of every playing test form.  After I listen to each playing test, I give the student their scores on my playing test rubric form.  I don't want them to just glance at it and throw it away....I want them to reflect.  Students will be required to turn this in after their playing test. 

This system has been working well for me over the years.  There are many ways to do playing tests.  Sometimes I have my students send me recording or I let them take the test using SmartMusic.  Technology is great!  Even so, it is helpful to listen to each student live in person.  It helps me gauge my teaching and gives me direction to meet students' needs.  There have been times when I thought all students had mastered dotted quarter notes for example...then heard a playing test and realized only 1/2 were proficient and the rest were 'followers.'  I was then able to re-teach and help all students acquire the necessary skills to further their abilities.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Disney filmed this in my classroom!

My students and I are so grateful to the GiveANote foundation and Radio Disney for the many opportunities presented to us after winning the Music In Our Schools contest.  It almost feels like a dream.  The day the production team came to film the commercial, I was so excited I didn't sleep more than a couple hours the night before.  They have helped inspire my students to continue pursuing their dreams and fulfilling their potential in music.  Music education is so satisfying...I'm just grateful to be a part of it.  :)

Here a link to the commercial that is currently airing on the Disney channel until 9/1.  Hope you like it:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Method Book Madness

I haven't written as many blog posts this summer because of other major projects I've been working on.  It has been fun collaborating with 'NinGenius' app creator, Curtis Winters, to develop a revolutionary new method book for beginning strings.  It's the method book of my DREAMS!

We're still creating, testing, and improving our ideas, but I'm super excited about what we have accomplished so far.  I don't know of a method book that prepares students for note-reading and shows how to successfully play each exercise like our book.  

We have created multi-levels parts for each piece to help reach all student's needs.  The multi-level parts motivate students to push themselves to learn the advanced parts which helps them learn faster and stay interested.  The harmonies in each piece help students learn to listen, adjust intonation, and count carefully in order to make the ensemble work.  Before each piece in the method, there is a preparatory page with exercises that explain exactly how students must practice to successfully master the material.  This helps teach students how to practice effectively.   

Here is a sample so you get an idea...I hope you like it!  

Presenting at the NAfME National Conference!

I am presenting this year the the NAfME conference in November.  It was a wonderful experience attending and presenting at the national conference last year and I can't wait to do it again!  Here is my article published in the NAfME's Music In A Minuet blog.  (  This gives an overview of my topic and it's something I'm really passionate about.   I hope to see some of my readers in Dallas!

Orchestra Gives You Wings

How To Propel Student Learning For A Flying Start.

By NAfME member Angela Harman

My family has a pet bird.  He’s a parakeet that lives in a quaint little cage with a mirror and a swing. The bird lost interest in the mirror and swing long ago and seems to have only one ambition…to escape! For hours each day, the bird bites the door of the cage and attempts to lift the lever to open the door. He is tireless in his escape attempts. Perhaps that is because he once tasted freedom. As I passed by the cage one day, I noticed the door was open and the bird was gone. It wasn’t hard to find him though because he could barely fly. The cage that traps my bird did not allow him to develop his wings. When I got close, he stretched his wings and took flight, but did not have the strength or control to travel far and was easily placed back into captivity.

When I was a student in orchestra class, there were times when I felt like I was trapped in a cage. I was ready and willing to work hard. I was hungry to learn and wanted music that would stretch me and make me better. I felt like I was being held back so that others in the class could catch up. It was a frustrating feeling to have my wings ‘clipped’ in this way. This experience has helped me as I reflect on my own teaching. Am I allowing my students to spread their wings? Are my students fulfilling their potential and given the freedom to move ahead as quickly as they are able?  What about students who ‘fly slower’ than the rest?
Teaching can be like a balancing act. If I choose material that is too easy, the class becomes bored, but if I select material that is too hard the students become frustrated. It can be overwhelming to attempt to teach the many different ability levels in one classroom and meet all of their needs. As I attempt to allow students to learn at their own pace and give them freedom to constantly grow, they have truly taken flight in their progress.  Every year, I find that my classes learn faster and become better. Here are 3 strategies to propel students forward to accomplish all they are capable of doing:

  1. Embrace Differences in the Flock
In order to help all students succeed, embrace their differences in ability by ensuring all levels can learn together.  Sometimes one size doesn’t fit all in an orchestra class, but differentiation can be simply implemented to create an atmosphere where students motivate each other to progress. On the first day of class, give students a survey based on previous musical experience to determine which students will likely learn quickly and become ‘advanced’ beginners. Using information from the survey, create a seating chart which pairs ‘advanced’ beginners with students who have had little or no experience with music. When teaching the basics, allow a lot of interaction between stand partners. Let them work together to check and fix bow hold, position, intonation, and notes.   Students learn leadership through teaching their peers and take responsibility for learning correctly. 

Another differentiation strategy is to use music that includes varied skill levels.  At the beginning of the school year, all of the music I use with my class has multi-level parts to include all abilities.  Some students may be working on open strings while others are given the freedom to learn a more difficult melody. Students who play the more simple parts hear their peers playing the melodies and soon decide they will learn it too. They are continually motivated to keep learning and working to play the more difficult part. As students progressively learn the harder parts the entire orchestra becomes stronger.

  1. Leave the cage open: Raise Expectations
If you want students to learn better and faster, raise your expectations. Instead of trapping them in a cage with a pre-determined idea of what they can and can’t do, let them test their limits. I will never forget a performance I once heard of Hungarian Rhapsody by David Popper performed by an 8 year old cellist.  I was mesmerized as I watched her fingers fly up and down the fingerboard with precision and finesse. That performance is what helped me expand my view of what is possible for young musicians. They can do more than we think!  Sometimes, there is a tendency to make students wait to learn a particular piece, but such limits can inhibit their natural motivation to progress. 

Music selection is crucial.  Find music that is challenging, yet attainable after a reasonable amount of work. Next, you must ‘sell’ the music to the student. Sometimes I play a recording for students to encourage them to love the music and want to learn it. Just letting students know that a particular piece will make them better players will inspire them to master it. Allow students to help make a final decision on the music to give them a sense of freedom and ownership. When students have a desire to learn the music, they will work harder than you previously thought possible. They embrace the challenge and gain a heightened sense of achievement. The music that takes the most effort is the one that becomes the favorite. 
  1. Ignite a passion for flying
Though they begin with an immense amount of energy and motivation, students can begin to slow down or stagnate in their progress. In her book The Passion Driven Classroom, Angela Maiers offers an explanation for student slumps. She states, “Students fail because we have not yet found a way to sustain the energy, excitement, and love for learning they came with when they first entered our classrooms.” If excitement and energy levels begin to decline, praise more. Nothing motivates like sincere and hearty approbation. Notice and make specific comments on every step of progress in the right direction. To keep students excited about learning and ignite a passion for playing, do something new or unexpected to get them out of their regular routine. New music, a change in seating, games or the introduction of a new skill will keep students wanting to progress. I have found that students are not afraid of learning hard things. They embrace and welcome new challenges and that is how they progress.

Once you capture and retain student passion, the stage is set for infinite potential.  When students love to learn, they will find energy and purpose in rehearsals and practice routines.  They will be able to overcome obstacles to discover their true capacity.  Recently I was able to witness my students perform an amazing concert that inspired me and the audience.  After hardships, struggles, and a lot of work, students were able to prove themselves.  They were able to reach a new height in their playing.  After learning the hardest music I have ever given a group of 2ndyear players, they magnificently demonstrated what is possible when students work to achieve their fullest potential.  Their performance touched all who were in attendance because it proved that anything is possible.  The words of Thomas Edison which adorn one wall in my classroom proved true: “If we did everything we were capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
Discover resources, teaching tips, and game ideas on my blog:
Follow me on Twitter: @teachorchestra
Angela Harman will be presenting a session on this topic at the 2016 National In-Service Conference.
About the author:
Angela Harman teaches orchestra at Spanish Fork Junior High in Spanish Fork, UT. Since starting in 2012, she has facilitated a 440% growth in the orchestra program at the school.  In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Angela oversees the elementary orchestra program for her district where she trains and helps other strings instructors.  She frequently seeks out special performing opportunities for her students and has been privileged to be selected for “The World We All Deserve Through Music” program in 2015.  She was awarded a Music In Our Schools grant and ‘Ardy’ by Radio Disney and the Give A Note foundation in 2016. 
Angela is passionate about music education and is the founder of, where she posts ideas and methods that she uses in her classroom. Her recent books, Be an Amazing Note-Reader and The True Beginning: Before the Method Book have sold many copies worldwide through her website.  Her ideas have also been featured in professional development publications.  She just completed a workbook called Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra to help students become more comfortable and confident with shifting skills.  Angela enjoys presenting at conferences and has presented sessions at the National NAfME conference.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in K-12 Instrumental Education from Brigham Young University and completed Suzuki teacher training. Angela enjoys baking, eating sweets, and caring for her husband and five children.

Angela will be presenting on her topic “Orchestra Gives You Wings!  How to propel student learning for a flying start.” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today! 
music education
Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Another Fun Find for String Teachers - BOW CRITTERS

GUESS WHAT I FOUND!!??  I was browsing the other day and found these cute little 'Wine Watchers Wine Charms'...

They reminded me of little bow markers that some Suzuki teachers put on student bows to get them to play in a certain section of the bow.  Little bow markers are great for teaching bow distribution and they make bow games more fun when students can watch a little critter on their bow.  I ordered them and they came in the mail today.  They are so cute!

I put them on my bow and they work perfectly.  They are super easy to put on the bow and they stay put.

 As I pulled my bow, the little critter stopped my stroke so I had to stay in the parameters I set.  Also, they were fun to watch as I bowed, so I think students would love to have them on their bows.  These little critters are perfect for helping students keep their eyes on their bows for straight bowing.  Also they will help students become aware of how the bow is traveling.  Amazon also sells a sloth version of these and I just ordered them.  I just wish they were less expensive so I could buy a bunch for all of my beginners!  Guess we'll have to share.  

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra - ready for purchase!

It's finally finished - my book for teaching shifting in string orchestra!  I started working on this last year because I HATED teaching shifting in my orchestra class.  The method books I used had shifting exercises for my 2nd year players, but I found that my students would get frustrated trying to play those pages because they weren't ready.  Students need time to internalize the motions for shifting and they needed simple exercises to help them learn to read notes in a new position. 

I haven't been able to depend on standard method books for teaching shifting because the exercises in those books move too quickly.  They contain tricky rhythms which draw student focus away from the task at hand...shifting!  I found myself skipping sections about shifting and feeling guilty that my students were not proficient in that area.  

My frustrations with teaching shifting changed last year when I started using many of the exercises in this book with my 2nd year students.  I also switched method books...I now use String Explorer book 1 for my beginners because that book takes students further in technique than any other book.  For my 2nd year players, I use  String Basics book 2.  It's not very hard...we get through the book in about 1/2 a year.  Students get really good at playing flats and extensions - which is my goal for them during their 2nd year.  Then we have time to take a break from our method book and focus on shifting for a term.  I didn't spend tons of time each day....maybe 5-10 minutes.  It didn't take long for my students to play in 3rd position with great intonation.   My 3rd year students are using String Basics book 3 -which contains a lot of 3rd position.  After using the exercises in 'Exploring Shifting for String Orchestra,' I feel my students will now be well-prepared to easily master the shifting regimen in book 3.

Here's my favorite part about teaching shifting to my 2nd year helps the students stay super motivated!  I purchased a couple of pieces for them to play that had some shifting:  'American Princess' by Bob Phillips and 'Impact' by Bob Phillips.  Both pieces are gorgeous and I played the audio for my students so they would really want to learn the music.  My class fell in love with both pieces and they were willing to work hard to master them to sound amazing.  The great thing about those pieces is that every section of the orchestra gets to shift and the melodies and harmonies are fun to play in position!  I even got out a cello and learned the cello part myself because the music is so beautiful.  

Thanks to the shifting work we had done, my students excelled at learning our concert music.  It was a lot of work..don't get me wrong....but they were able to do it with great intonation and musical phrasing.  When we performed, I was in tears, the audience was in tears, and students felt such a sense of accomplishment. It is now one of my happiest performance memories and I'm so proud of my students....and it all started with a willingness to teach shifting in a way that all students could achieve success.

My book contains a 50 page teacher manual with tips for teaching shifting and 18 page student books for violin, viola, cello and bass (123 pages total).  I am not selling a hard printed copy of this book.  You can purchase a PDF downloadable version HERE or HERE.  The beauty of a printable book is that you can print as many as you need for your entire class at a very low price.  You can also pick and choose which pages to do if you don't want to use the entire book.  It is a lot cheaper to print your own shifting workbook than to buy a hard copy of a book for every student.  Also if you find any errors, feel free to email me and I will fix it and re-send the file.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a bass player.  Bass shifting can get pretty crazy.  I have some really smart bass students in my class who enjoyed figuring out higher positions.  For my bass players that are slower learners, I allowed them to change fingerings and play more in 1st position.  As a teacher, you can change/adjust fingerings as needed depending on student ability levels.  

Read the preface for more info about the book and a sample of the first couple pages below:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The idea that's ROCKING MY WORLD!

This idea isn't totally new..I've heard of teachers using a variety of tubular objects for students to practice straight bowing...such as toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, PVC pipe, and even pool noodles (cut into chunks and used with a wooden dowel).  Usually, these types of bowing exercises are done away from the instrument.  For example, young violin/viola students place a tube on their shoulder while bowing inside the tube....cello players sometimes put tubes on their knees and place bows inside.  The reason why I like this 'new' object for practicing bowing is that it can be placed directly on the string for bowing practice without making a bit of it's so soft, there's no way it would damage the instrument. It's the best thing I've ever seen for practicing straight bows!  It would be perfect for an orchestra/strings classroom because students can do this themselves as the teacher monitors...or a teacher could have students practice in pairs (one student holds the tube, the other bows).

Anyway, I'm sure you're getting curious...what is the object that is rocking my world???


They work perfectly for cello students.  The left hand can hold the roller in place as it sits softly on the string while the bow hand practices various rhythms.  You could even have students 'roll' the paint roller to specific strings to practice bow levels.  Why practice straight bows away from the instrument?  This way seems so much more practical.

Violin and viola students might need a person to hold the roller...but there is a way to make the roller stay in place on the string and still be flexible enough to allow students to roll the bow inside the roller to specific strings.  To do this, I used a large rubber band - many of you probably have these large sized rubber bands on hand for shoulder rests.  By putting the band around the violin length-wise, the roller easily slides underneath and will stay put even as students rock to different strings.

I found these rollers a Wal-Mart for $2.97 for a 3-pack.  I plan on buying quite a few of these for my beginners.  There are many ways to make silent bowing more fun.  You could teach simple rhythms and have students practice bowing rhythms...teach bow direction...have students bow silently to fun music/popular tunes for bow exercises.  You could even teach bow distribution using these babies...what a good visual to help students really see how much bow they are using.

So what do you think?  Does this rock your world, too?...or am I just an orchestra geek?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Stop Plucking!" - Reverse Rest Position!

I'm sure you've all said it before...."Stop Plucking!"  It's a common plague in the string orchestra classroom.  Some students don't even realize they're doing's so easy to sit in rest position and casually pluck your instrument.  Other students just can't wait to try the next new technique being taught, so they sneakily try to practice and pluck before it's time to play as a class.  It's not fun to teach over the noise of plucking out of turn...and it can be distracting for other students who are trying to listen and internalize the lesson.   Class time is so much more efficient if students stay with the teacher and only play/pluck when directed to do so.

Just before the end of the school year, I found myself saying the nagging phrase, "Stop plucking," over and over again.  Sometimes I have students place their instruments on the floor so that it is not possible for them to pluck, but it takes time to put instruments down and pick them up again and I like to keep a very fast paced rehearsal.  Every minute is important to me.  Finally the thought came to me - 'I should just have them put their instruments is reverse rest-position!'  That is how this strategy was born.  When it is time for students to listen and not pluck, we go into reverse rest-position and it's like magic!  Instant quiet, attentive students.  You're welcome. :)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Method Book - in the works!

I've been asked to co-write a method book for beginning strings and it has been fun creating pages and developing a plan for my 'dream' method book.  Last year, I spent a lot of time researching different books and many have great stuff...there is just not an ideal book for my classroom.  I would like a book with a quality, simple rote section where students can easily read the exercises while focusing on what is most important...perfect position and quality sound.  A book which incorporates multi-level parts to help reach all ability levels would be helpful.  I believe that an option with more difficult parts included with easier parts helps motivate and inspire students to keep practicing in order to become advanced.  It would be nice to have a book that allows students time to master new techniques, then apply those techniques with great sounding music.

One thing I want students to learn right from the start is how to create a quality sound.  I just finished pages which teach bow direction/placement,  bow weight and bow speed.  Students can then practice those techniques on an easy exercise while reading bowings.

The bowing is meant to have students travel a short distance while stopping the bow after each quarter note so that students have time to keep checking bow direction, etc.  They perform it like this:

What would you like to see in your dream method book?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Gifts for graduating seniors

The orchestra program at the high school where I taught this year is just beginning to grow.  For many years, the orchestra program was run by the band teacher and it was difficult to retain students coming in from the junior high.  I taught the high school orchestra this year to help retain students and to get the program back in shape.  The high school orchestra doubled in size this year, but I am sad to say that I can't teach there again next year because of my full schedule at the junior high.  My focus for the year has been to create a positive orchestra experience and help students transition to high school and stay in orchestra!  I believe one way to do this is to highlight the seniors.  At the end of the year, we had a concert which featured all of the seniors playing solos with orchestral accompaniment.  I also gave each of the seniors a gift.  I am hoping that other students in the program will want to stay in orchestra to get the same opportunities.

It was hard to choose a gift for my seniors.  I searched online and could not find many ideas for orchestra gifts.  I wanted to give them something meaningful.  I finally settled on the book 'Mole Music' by David McPhail and a music journal that has staff paper on one side of each page and regular lined paper on the other side.  At the concert, I had all of the seniors come up front and I talked to the audience about the importance of music education.  I told the students about how they can now move forward to bless and inspire others with their talents because music makes a difference.  I summarized the book for the audience - you should look it up on's a great story about a little mole to makes the world better as he practices his violin every day.  I like the idea of the journal as well because the seniors have such a bright future where they can accomplish anything and I talked to them about opportunities to use their musical talent throughout their lives.