Tuesday, August 18, 2020

2020 Mask Bulletin Board


My district is planning an in-person return in September.  I'm nervous about this decision, but one small thing I knew I had in my control was the message in my back-to-school bulletin board.  Here's hoping this is the only year I'll have to use this one!

I found a website that lets you resize a picture of a mask to a photo that you upload, so I tried to add a variety of string players and composers. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Name That Tune--Concert Prep

Name that Tune orchestra lesson plan--concert prep

For our last small group before a concert, we'll often play "Name that Tune."  First we rosin bows as I walk through the call time and concert details with the students.  Then, for "Name that Tune" I'll play a note or two or three of a part of one of their concert pieces.  Once someone correctly identifies the piece, I have students pull out their music to find the measure number(s) of the excerpt, and then we play the whole piece together and touch up whatever needs touching up.

A variation on this game is to make it rhythm only, and I'll clap a distinctive rhythmic pattern from each of their pieces.  Another variation (challenge) would be to include an excerpt or rhythm pattern that a different instrument plays--not a part that the specific kids in that small group play.

I'm often surprised by which students are quickly able to identify the concert piece--they're not always the strongest players--and the students like the game aspect of it (though we do not keep score in any way or recognize winners or anything).  It's also more of a fun way to review the different concert pieces than just playing through everything once more before the concert.

When we play through concert pieces on this day, I like to play a different instrument's part along with the students (like I'll play cello with a violin group or violin with a bass group etc.).  It helps to develop their chamber music skills and makes students more aware of what another instrument is doing while they're playing their part.  And there are always students surprised that I know how to play a different instrument than they're used to seeing me play :)  I also get students who look at the white board when they arrive and ask which song is "Name that Tune"...

At the end of this small group, we'll use a cloth to wipe the rosin dust off our strings and instruments so they're totally set to go for the concert, we'll get our music in concert order, and then I always ask which piece they're each most looking forward to performing at the concert.

What kind of lesson plans work well for you as you approach a concert?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Window Covering

music window covering for door

At my schools, we need to have a window covering handy in case of a lockdown.  I taped a few pieces of construction paper together, laminated them, added stickers, and then used Velcro to attach it to the door: voila!  During the school year, I'll tape student compositions or pictures of students or music quotes so the door is more interesting to look at.

music window covering for door

music window covering for door

music window covering for door

Monday, September 16, 2019

Hall Pass

band orchestra hall pass

I was cleaning out a cabinet the other day and came across these playing card hall passes I forgot I had made :)  These must have been from my first year or two of teaching.  Students come to full orchestra directly from lunch, so I would have made these for students to bring to lunch and show to the lunch supervisors as their hall pass to orchestra (and as a reminder for students not to head out for recess that day).  The playing cards are published by Alfred and feature a composer and bio on one side.  I added the hall pass info on the back side and laminated them.  Students would pick one up the morning they drop off their instrument in the band/orchestra room, and then return their card upon arriving to full band/orchestra.  Now I meet students in the cafeteria, so the cards are not really needed.

band orchestra hall pass

band orchestra hall pass

Since then, one of my schools has bought badge holders (something like this) to use for hall passes, so I color-printed this document double-sided (see below) and delivered a set to each classroom.  Students grab one out of their class basket as they leave for their small group for the week as their hall pass to walk to band or orchestra.

band orchestra hall pass

Monday, August 19, 2019

Concert Repertoire for Beginning Orchestras

winter concert program beginning orchestra

For winter and spring concerts at my schools, we have a combined orchestra, band, and choir concert that ideally lasts about an hour.  The orchestra portion tends to run about 25 minutes total, so a few pieces performed by the first-year orchestra, a few pieces by the second-year orchestra, and then one or two combined pieces rounds out the orchestra portion.  I meet with my students once a week for 30 minutes during recess for full orchestra and 30 minutes once a week during the school day for small group learning, so these pieces are representative of what students can comfortably have concert-ready.

Here is what my students performed last year at these concerts:

Winter Concert
  • Bile 'em Cabbage Down (students plucked an open string harmony part while I played the melody on the violin)
  • Slavonic Folk Song (pizz. open string harmony, then pizz. melody, then arco melody/harmony together)
  • Serenata by Dale Brubaker (all open strings, arco)

2nd Year Students:
  • Skaters' Waltz by Émile Waldteufel, arr. Richard Meyer (in preparation for the next month's district-wide String Fest)
  • Sword Dance by Thoinot Arbeau, arr. Bob Phillips

Combined Orchestras:
  • Blueberry Jam by Bonnie Greene (in preparation for the next month's district-wide String Fest)
  • Jingle Bells by James Pierpont (my arrangement)

Spring Concert
  • Ode to Joy (my arrangement)
  • It's the Blues Man! (from their Orchestra Expressions book, complete with student soloists improvising the rhythms during their 4-measure solo)
  • Student compositions (one four-measure composition per instrument)
  • St. Lawrence Overture by Elliot Del Borgo (their first "real" full orchestra piece with independent parts)

2nd Year Students:
  • Spring by Antonio Vivaldi, arr. Richard Meyer
  • Student compositions (two eight-measure compositions--one for upper strings and one for lower strings)
  • Fiddles on Fire by Mark Williams

Combined Orchestras:
  • The Lion Sleeps Tonight (arr. Bob Cerulli)

This general format has been working well--in December, I like to start with something that's pizzicato open strings to show where the beginners started at the beginning of the year (and because students would be really comfortable performing that) and work up to something that's arco with D string notes.  And the 2nd year students tend to play fewer pieces (about two big pieces alone) because theirs are longer in length.  If we do only one combined piece at the end, 2nd year students may play three pieces alone; if we do two combined pieces, 2nd year students generally play two pieces alone.

Here are some of the pieces my students have performed for past winter and spring concerts listed in no particular order (student compositions are on every concert too):

Winter Concert
Pizzicato open strings (one piece)
Pizzicato open strings/pizzicato D string notes/arco open string harmony plus D string melody (one piece played three times)...Or play one of these pieces pizzicato only (open string harmony/D string notes melody/choose melody or harmony third time) and play a second piece with the melody arco only
Arco open strings (one piece)

Second Year Students:
A round or something pretty simple (one or two pieces--some years I don't do one of these on the concerts and choose two full orchestra pieces instead)
Full orchestra piece (one or two pieces--often one will be performed for String Fest the following month and the other one will not)
Combined Pieces:
We always end with Jingle Bells!  If we do a second combined piece on this concert, it would be a String Fest piece
  • Star of the County Down (melody for 2nd year students; harmony for beginners)
  • Variations on a Sea Shanty (my arrangement--post coming soon)
  • Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi (my arrangement that I got permission from the copyright holder to write--sorry, can't share)
  • Jingle Bells (my arrangement)
Spring Concert
Very simple full orchestra piece or a piece from the book

Piece from book with student soloists improvising their own rhythms (they play a 4-measure solo, deciding which quarter notes to change to pairs of eighth notes).  We play a total of four times--first and last times with everyone playing the melody, the second and third times with soloists to include 6 soloists total.

"Real" full orchestra piece

Second Year Orchestra:
Two or three full orchestra pieces, possibly one brought back from January's String Fest

Or something a little different

Combined Orchestras:

For a more in-depth look at my winter concerts including logistics and sample speaking parts, please see this post :)

Which pieces do you like to program for a beginning orchestra concert?  Which pieces should I consider for future concerts?

spring concert program beginning orchestra

Monday, August 12, 2019

Metronome Bulletin Board

Tick tock metronome beginning of the year bulletin board tempo

Happy fall!  For this beginning-of-the-year bulletin board, a huge shout-out goes to my mom for coming up with the rhyme and to my sister for drawing and painting the metronome!   I always like including something educational on bulletin boards, so I posted definitions of the different tempo markings, a brief history of the metronome, and an explanation of metronome markings.

Here is a PDF and Word document of the text boxes and a a Google doc of the rhyme.  Feel free to use!

Tick tock metronome beginning of the year bulletin board tempo

Tick tock metronome beginning of the year bulletin board tempo

Tick tock metronome beginning of the year bulletin board tempo

Tick tock metronome beginning of the year bulletin board tempo