Monday, December 28, 2015

Question of the Week




Question of the week orchestra



The last thing that we do in full orchestra each week is the "Question of the Week."  I read the old question, share the answer, and then draw a correct response out of the bucket.  Then I read and post the new question.  Students have until the beginning of the next week's full orchestra to submit their response.  This is totally optional for students, but it gets them thinking about lots of different aspects of music and how to use their resources to find the answers.  It also provides structure to our full orchestra rehearsals; students know that we do question of the week at the end and that it's time to start quietly packing up so they can still hear the answer.

Students know that good times to enter responses are before/after school when they are dropping off or picking up their instruments or before/after class--not in the middle of orchestra.  They also know that I do not say if their answer was correct or not--my lips are sealed until the end of the next full orchestra.

Slips are color coded by grade so everyone can all use the same bucket to drop their response into.

The prize?  I write the winner(s) a composition that they can play on their instrument, and I have it waiting on their stand at the next full orchestra.  It doesn't cost any money on my end, it's personalized for each student, and it shows that I am a composer too, just as they are.  Some weeks lend themselves to having more than one winner, but I usually keep it at one winner.  If a question has two parts (a bonus point) and the winner gets both parts, I'll write them a duet to play with a friend.

I try to include a variety of questions throughout the year--parts of the instrument, composer trivia, music theory, vocab words, a connection with one of their pieces, etc.  I use the same question for both grades each week, so it has to be something that works for both.  The answer may be something that students should already know or in their book or on the walls of the orchestra room or they may need to look up online.  I try not to repeat questions within a two-year cycle so that students are exposed to as many as possible (though there are a few questions that tend to be used each year).

When I draw the winning slip, I don't read incorrect responses (or the name of that student) out loud; I just keep drawing until I find a correct answer and congratulate that student.  I don't want to encourage silly answers or embarrass anyone for putting in the wrong answer.  Students may win more than once each year (I don't want them to stop participating once they've won), though I may draw a second winner that week just to get someone new too.



Question of the week orchestra question and response bucket



Question of the week orchestra question




Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Look at These STAR Musicians!




Star musicians bulletin board orchestra



At each of my schools, I have a place in the classroom showcasing orchestra members.  I post pictures of all my students playing their instrument (either from their small groups or during full orchestra), which I update a couple times a year.  I also post their most recent compositions and the winning responses to the question of the week.  The mascot for one of my schools is "Stars," hence the "STAR Musicians" title.

I want the word "musician" to be a part of each of my students' self-image, and I like to think that seeing these images every time they walk out the door of the orchestra room helps my students with their own musical identity.



Star musicians bulletin board orchestra



Star musicians bulletin board orchestra



Sunday, December 20, 2015

Concert Reflection Bulletin Board



Winter concert reflection bulletin board



After the winter concert, I typed up student concert reflection responses and posted them for all to see :)  It's so neat to read through what students are proud of with their work in orchestra and which pieces held the most meaning to them and why.  When reading through their responses, it is clear that music is making a positive impact on my students and that they hope they're having a positive impact on their audience members too!  Enjoy!




Winter concert reflection bulletin board



Winter concert reflection bulletin board



Winter concert reflection bulletin board



Winter concert reflection bulletin board



Winter concert reflection bulletin board



Winter concert reflection bulletin board



Monday, December 14, 2015

Winter Concert Reflection



Winter concert reflection



After our first concert of the year, I have students share their thoughts about their experience through a concert reflection sheet (which I based off of what was already being used by our elementary band teacher).  During the first full orchestra after the concert, I have these reflection sheets plus pencils already on everyone's stand, and then after our warm-up, I turn on some background music while everyone is writing.  Depending on how long it takes for students to finish and the class atmosphere at the moment, I may have a couple of students verbally share some thoughts; otherwise musicians just turn these in when they're finished and start practicing the next piece while others are still working.


These are so much fun to read though.  While we may talk a little bit after the concert or during small groups or when a student is dropping off his or her instrument in the morning, I learn so much more about what really made an impression on my students and how they view their learning in orchestra and how they see themselves as musicians by reading through their responses.

Then, since we music teachers are also advocates for music and music education and our students, I share these first-hand accounts of music making an impact on our students with as many people as I can think of :)

I type up many of the responses as a bulleted list after selected reflection questions and include that in the weekly email to orchestra families.  I also email the list of responses to the entire school staff and post it on a bulletin board for the whole school to see.

Not only is this a way for students to process their thoughts about what may have been their first experience performing on a stage in front of an audience, but it's also a way to use writing in a performance-based class and a fantastic advocacy too.  Concert reflections are definitely worth the few minutes it takes in class, and it can be nice to go through the questions each year change out a question or two for something that is more meaningful for this particular concert or group of students.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Winter Concert Bulletin Board



Winter concert bulletin board



The orchestra bulletin board was due for a change, and advertising the winter concert was the direction I ended up taking.  This bulletin board idea actually came from a picture I saw on Pinterest, with the "One Night Only" bit about an upcoming school concert.  The time and date of the concert is posted for everyone to see on their way to and from music class to build excitement (and awareness) for the winter band, orchestra, and choir concert.  There's a list of some of the pieces that will be performed along with some winter art.  I eventually filled up more of the empty space with pictures of the students playing their instruments on pajama day, a few flyers decorated by students, plus a batch of student compositions (not pictured).  This was a pretty quick and simple bulletin board to put together (and timely too)!



Winter concert bulletin board



Winter concert bulletin board



Winter concert bulletin board



Winter concert bulletin board



Monday, November 30, 2015

Winter Packets


Winter packet excerpt for beginning string players
Excerpt from winter packet for second-year string players

My schools each have a winter band/orchestra/choir concert in December.  The closest we get to performing Christmas music is my arrangement of "Jingle Bells." It has become an orchestra tradition at my schools to end their portion of the concert with combined 5th and 6th grade orchestras playing their different parts and student volunteers ringing bells.  Before my students leave for winter break, I pass out these winter packets for them to enjoy over their time off from school.  These packets are great for sight-reading and reinforcing skills from the fall semester.  I've tried to stay away from the more religious Christmas songs and to include some melodies that may be unfamiliar to my students.  The second-year winter packet includes many rounds and duets too.

Winter packet excerpt for beginning string players
Excerpt from winter packet for first-year string players

Winter packet (for first-year string players):

Winter packet (for second-year string players):

Enjoy!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jingle Bells!

Jingle Bells score elementary orchestra



One tradition at my elementary winter band/orchestra/choir concerts is that the orchestras always end their portion of the concert with "Jingle Bells."  I've written an arrangement that works well for where my students are by this point in the year.  Beginners have an open-string arco harmony part, while the 2nd-year players have a more exciting harmony part, with lots of shuffle bowing patterns.  The beginners' harmony part is in unision; while the 2nd-year harmony part has separate parts for upper strings, cellos, and basses.

Combined beginners and 2nd-year players play through this twice at the concert:

1st time:

  • Beginners--open-string harmony part
  • 2nd year players--melody


2nd time:

  • Beginners--melody (or open-string harmony--their choice) 
  • 2nd year players--harmony


At the school performance for students, one pre-chosen student from each class comes up and rings jingle bells while the orchestra plays.  I have students from the orchestra help with distributing and collecting the bells.  They're just little jingle bells from a craft store threaded through pipe cleaners with the ends tied together to form a bracelet.

For an introduction, I play the last two measures on the piano, and, as an interlude before the repeat, I play the last four measures again, showcasing the jingle bell players and giving the string players a moment to remember which part they're playing next.

I'm sure "Jingle Bells" is one of those pieces that every orchestra teacher has their own arrangement of, but here are the parts for mine; feel free to use!

Beginning parts (PDF) (melody/open-string harmony)

Advanced parts (PDF) (melody/harmony)

Score (PDF)



Monday, November 2, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Keyboard

Musical keyboard poster

I made this giant keyboard poster labeled with letter names to help make connections between the notes on the string instruments and the notes on the keyboard.  The white paper is cut from a large roll of paper, and the black is construction paper.

Musical keyboard poster

Musical keyboard poster

Monday, October 12, 2015

Music Literacy Word Wall



Music literacy word wall words for orchestra room


 
There are lots of new words for beginning band and orchestra students, so I made a music literacy word wall where students can see these words in a prominent spot in the room spelled correctly and with a picture.  They are roughly grouped together by topic and then get added to the wall once we cover them in class.  Here's a partial listing of the words, no pictures, sorry:


It's exciting to see students scan the word wall to try and find the answer to a question of the week or to use the wall as a reference when writing compositions and needing to check how to draw a certain musical symbol.  They know that the words are there as a handy visual reference for them.


Music literacy word wall words for orchestra room



Music literacy word wall words for orchestra room
Music literacy word wall words for orchestra room


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Composition #2--Pizzicato D-string Notes


Beginning orchestra composition check-list

My beginners' second composition of the school year is still pizzicato, but it includes the D-string notes, which they have just learned.  Again, I type these all up so that students can see their piece in print and try out their classmates' compositions.

Composition #2 (D-string notes, pizzicato)

Enjoy!

Link to Composition #1 (open strings, pizzicato)


Monday, October 5, 2015

Storage Bins

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

I keep my supplies clearly labeled so students can easily find what they're looking for and put it back where it belongs.  I have containers for:

  • Pencils
  • Rock stops
  • Rosin
  • Tubes (to help with beginning bow holds)
  • Cloths
  • Shoulder rests
  • Strings
  • Miscellaneous supplies


Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom


Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Labels of supply bins for orchestra classroom

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Composition #1--Pizzicato Open Strings

Composition Packet--pizzicato open strings

Composition is an important component of my students' experience in orchestra.  From the very beginning of the school year, students are composing music that they can play on their instruments and that their classmates can play too.  I use composition as a way for students to dive into music literacy and to reinforce what they are learning about reading music.  It is an opportunity for students to be creative and actually create music to play instead of just read what others have written.  They start identifying as composers as well as string players.  It's very gratifying to see how different all the compositions are from each other within the limitations I've placed for them (open strings, pizzicato, four measures, quarter notes/rests).  I do type up everyone's compositions and turn them into packets so students can see what their classmates have created, see their own piece in print (they are published composers by the end of September!), and have lots of pieces to practice at home.  We also feature a few student compositions at our winter concert.  In their end-of-the-year orchestra surveys, there are always students who write that what they are most proud of with their work in orchestra that year are their compositions.

My example composition plus check-list







Composition #1 (open strings, pizzicato):





Enjoy!

Supplements: Extra Music for Orchestra Expressions Method Book


Orchestra Expressions supplement sample


I really like the Orchestra Expressions method book for beginning orchestra.  It was designed with the National Standards for the Arts in Music in mind, includes music from many different parts of the world, includes pictures of children demonstrating proper playing position, begins with the fourth finger and works down to promote good LH position, and connects to other disciplines and history through timelines and art connections.  It encourages improvisation, conducting, listening, movement, composition, as well as proper technique from the start.  I especially like the authentic, varied recordings on the CD that accompany each piece in the book.  They are performed on real instruments, and there are so many different genres of music represented on the recordings.  I could go on and on about why I chose to use this method book with my beginning students.

But, as with any method book, there are a few weaknesses.  Instead of introducing all four open strings at once, the book begins with just the three that all the string instruments share (A, D, G) and leaves E and C until much later in the book.  The 3/4 time signature also isn't introduced until much later in the book.

To address these issues, I wrote a short supplement packet that corresponds to the beginning of the book but includes the C/E strings and the 3/4 time signature.  I also added some harmony parts to familiar tunes that students can sing along to while they're playing.  Feel free to use with your students!

Orchestra Expressions Supplement:

Once students have learned their D string notes, I give them a packet of familiar melodies they are ready to play, including a few with B on the A string.  Students enjoy playing these familiar tunes, and they are a bit more rhythmically varied than their books at this point.

D String Notes Supplement:

Enjoy!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Musical Timeline Wall

Music history timeline of composers

My classroom has a music timeline wall with the different musical time periods.  Composers of music that students are studying get added to the appropriate timeline so students have a visual of each composer and his or her place in history.  Each time period has a little collage of the architecture, art, fashion, and music of the time.  Composers studied in 5th grade are on top; 6th grade is on the bottom.  Each time period is color-coded, and each composer poster includes a pictures, dates, country, and title of piece the students are playing.  By the end of the year the cupboards are pretty full!  

I have more wall space at my other school, so here is the pdf of the larger composer posters and a Word document to add your own composers (scroll down to the bottom to see an example of the finished product).  If you're tight on space, here's a much smaller version with just composers from the Orchestra Expressions method book, book one.


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers


Music history timeline of composers