Monday, December 19, 2016

Blue Danube Arrangement


Blue Danube sheet music arrangement beginning orchestra


Here's another arrangement I've written for this year's String Fest.  I've included two sections plus a DC al Fine to end up with an ABA form for "Blue Danube Waltz."  The intermediate parts give the melody to violas and cellos in the A section and to violins in the B section, while the basses get a more traditional bass part.  Harmony parts are either "boom" or "chick-chick," intentionally simple so we can spend more time working on the melody parts in small groups.  Violas and cellos have to play C# on the G string, while violins go up to F# on the E string.  All intermediate parts (except basses) include slurs.  I've also written parts for a beginning orchestra.  The A section is a simplified melody with notes on the D and A strings, and the B section is mostly open strings.  While the intermediate arrangement can stand alone, the beginning orchestra arrangement needs the addition of the intermediate arrangement to fill it out (and to provide a melody for the B section).

I introduced this piece to my sixth graders by listening to a recording of this famous Strauss waltz.  Many students had heard it before and were excited to be learning this piece in orchestra.  Students also learned how to dance a waltz--"forward-side-together, back-side-together" starting on left foot for the leader or "back-side-together, forward-side-together" starting on right foot for the follower.  A few kids partnered up and tried the dance together, while everyone else was content to just try the steps themselves.

Sheet music (all PDFs):



Audio (WAV files) to preview or for students to play along with to practice:



Intermediate melody (first 4 lines only), which I used when introducing the piece:



Again, I like to use clip art instead of labeling parts "beginning" and "intermediate," so you'll see matching images within the beginning and intermediate parts and scores.


Blue Danube sheet music arrangement beginning orchestra

Monday, December 5, 2016

Les Toreadors Arrangement


Les Toreadors sheet music arrangement for beginning orchestra

My district has an annual String Fest, where all the orchestra students in the district get together for a day of rehearsing and listening with a big concert that evening in the field house.  Each grade level orchestra is featured for a piece or two, and then everyone plays a combined piece as the grand finale.  This grand finale piece has to be playable for first-year string players but still interesting to high school musicians.  My solution this year has been to arrange sections of "Les Toreadors" from Carmen by Georges Bizet in a multi-level format.  I did transpose it to D Major from its original A Major to make it friendlier for the beginners, and I shortened the movement to a simple ABA form.

Overview of parts:

  • The beginning students get a simplified unison version with limited range--mostly D string notes plus a section with  hopping 2nd finger notes (B on the G string and C# on the A string) and open G.  
  • The elementary (second-year) parts have the same simplified rhythms but an expanded range--mostly notes from the D Major scale plus the bass part gets some 2nd finger notes and a fun chromatic passage.  I also included "challenge" intermediate parts which include more finger work, more eighth notes, and a slightly wider range to sound more like the original melody.  The "B" section is the same between the regular and challenge parts.  The different voices would be regular parts (vln/vla/cello basically in unison), challenge parts (vln/vla/cello basically in unison), bass part.
  • And then the advanced parts come from Bizet's original, just transposed to D Major.


Here are the openings for the different violin parts for comparison...

Beginning orchestra:

Les Toreadors sheet music arrangement for beginning orchestra

 Intermediate orchestra (regular part)
Les Toreadors sheet music arrangement for intermediate orchestra

Intermediate orchestra (challenge part)
Les Toreadors sheet music arrangement for intermediate orchestra

Advanced orchestra (Violin I)
Les Toreadors sheet music arrangement for intermediate orchestra

Advanced orchestra (Violin II)
Les Toreadors sheet music arrangement for intermediate orchestra


Sheet music (all PDFs):

Audio (WAV files) to preview or for students to play along with to practice:


Intermediate melody (first 4 lines only) and challenge part (first 4 lines only), which I used when introducing the piece:

With all the different versions, you can mix and match to differentiate for individual students.  I like to use clip art instead of labeling parts "beginning" and "intermediate" etc., so you'll see matching images within the beginning and intermediate parts and scores.

Feel free to try out with your orchestras!


Monday, November 21, 2016

Transposition


Transposing: Transposition card for elementary orchestra



During sixth grade orchestra, students study the keys of D, G, and C Major.  Students play scales, write compositions, and perform pieces in each of those keys throughout the school year.  At the end of the year, we make connections between the three keys by transposing melodies from one key to another.  We talk through a worksheet together (I usually don't take the time to have students write out all the transpositions on the worksheet, though at least they have the sheet if they'd like a reference or to fill it out on their own later), and we use the solfege Velcro scales as a visual to move from one key to another.  The opening to "Frere Jacques" is the melody we work through together.

Next, I bring out the laminated transposition cards.  These are color-coded by clef, which makes for easy sorting.  Each student gets a different card, and they follow the directions, playing the melody as given and then transposing it to the two other keys starting on the given pitch.  Once completed, students can trade their card in for a different one.

There is a bit of range between "easier" and more challenging melodies as well as between very familiar melodies and not-so-familiar ones, so I take that into consideration when I'm passing out the initial transposition cards.

If I were to adjust these transposition cards, I'd write in the starting solfege syllable for clarity.  While the instructions do say which pitch to start on, students don't always realize that a piece doesn't necessarily start on "Do" and try to start a piece that begins on "Mi" on a G in G Major, for example, instead of a B.  Still, most students have success working through these cards either on their own or with my support.

There are options about which octave to start in, and some students make the connection quickly that many of these can be played with the same fingering but up or down a string.  Once they have caught on to that, I'll have students play up or down an octave so that the fingering will have to change (which usually means that the low second finger will be needed).

While we don't spend very much time on this unit, I like how it ties the whole year together and students can see how they can move between keys.  Students enjoy looking through the different cards and choosing their favorite melodies to transpose--and they enjoy the satisfaction of successfully playing their melody in the various keys.

Transposition handout:

Transposition cards with melodies and directions:

Melodies included (in no particular order):
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Largo from the New World Symphony
  • America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)
  • Ode to Joy
  • Yankee Doodle
  • Long Long Ago
  • French Folk Song
  • Mattachins (Sword Dance)
  • The Alphabet Song
  • Yankee Doodle

Others that I have since typed up, but aren't included here are:
  • Happy Birthday
  • Spring
  • Jingle Bells

Enjoy!


Transposing: Transposition card for elementary orchestra


Transposition worksheet with major scales for elementary orchestra



Transposing: Transposition card for elementary orchestra


Transposing: Velcro Solfege Scales


Transposing: Transposition card for elementary orchestra

Monday, November 7, 2016

Playing Checkups



Elementary orchestra playing checkup assessment sheet


From time to time, we have checkup days in small groups, where each student plays for me individually and then I can give some one-on-one feedback to each student.  I prefer to emphasize the value of the individualized feedback, talking about what's going well and where there is room for improvement, rather than calling it a playing test and emphasizing the grade part of it.  I do enter grades from these checkups, but I don't think that's as useful to students as the one-on-one mini-lesson part of it.  I try to keep the atmosphere relaxed, low-key, and positive to keep students from feeling too anxious or nervous.

I usually pair checkup days with compositions--I get everyone started on their compositions and then I ask who would like to play first while the others begin work on their compositions.

I've created a generic checkup sheet that can be easily modified.  I like to put the grade level and name of piece on the top.  I also add a 4/3/2/1 for each characteristic listed; it's quick to circle numbers for each bullet point.  I write in the student name and instrument ahead of time, and I have the sheets already in the order I'll be seeing students that day so I don't have to take any time writing names or digging for the right slip.

While students are playing, I will circle numbers, underline phrases, and write specific comments.  Afterwards, we have a quick conference, talking through the comments I wrote and trying out the comments I had.  It really is like a mini-lesson.  I keep the slip long enough to make a copy of everyone's for myself (to record grades into my grade book later), and then I return the originals to students hopefully by the end of the same day so they can be a reference during home practice.

My district uses achievement based grading, so I enter 4s, 3s, 2s, or 1s into whichever categories are being recorded.

Checkup sheet (generic)


Feel free to modify and use with your students!

Elementary orchestra playing checkup assessment sheet


Elementary orchestra playing checkup assessment sheet



Monday, October 31, 2016

Supplement: D String Notes

Beginning orchestra supplemental packet: D String Notes

Once we arrive to combining D string notes and the bow, some students are ready to take off with their note-reading and explore new music.  Others are quite content to stay in the book and on our concert pieces.  I give this packet to all the beginners but spend very little, if any, class time on it so students can really do what they like with it. 

I've included a reference of the D string notes on the staff labeled with finger numbers and letter names along with a box of practice tips for home practice.  Students are eager to try out their new skills on some familiar and not-so-familiar tunes--they're most excited to see the melodies to the pieces they've already played the harmony parts to such as Barcarolle, Jingle Bells, and Twinkle.

Pieces included:
  • Hot Cross Buns
  • Go Tell Aunt Rhody
  • Barcarolle
  • All Through the Night
  • The Huron Carol
  • Dreidel Dreidel
  • Jingle Bells

These pieces also use first finger B on the A string:
  • Twinkle Twinkle
  • Old MacDonald
  • Lavender's Blue
  • This Old Man
  • London Bridge


D String Notes Supplement

And here's a link to an earlier post that tells a little more about this packet as well as the Orchestra Expressions supplement for the beginning of the book: Supplements.

Enjoy!



Monday, October 17, 2016

Rhythm Magnets


Rhythm magnets for elementary orchestra classroom


Here are some magnets I made for different rhythms.  The length of each magnets corresponds to the number of beats (one beat = 6 inches).  I also color-coded the background of rhythm by the number of beats represented (which matches the rhythm bulletin board).  This will be a very visual way to see the relationships between different rhythmic values and to create measures with different note values.

The documents have the rhythms already spaced out--just cut on the line (or cut it slightly smaller than the lines to make room for a colored border).  The longer values (whole note, dotted-half note, etc.) will need extra white paper on either end to make them the corresponding length.  Then, after laminating, I just cut strips of adhesive magnetic sheets to finish them off.

I'm able to use these on the white board or on my teacher desk, as both are magnetic.


Rhythm magnets for elementary orchestra classroom

Rhythm magnets for elementary orchestra classroom

Rhythm magnets for elementary orchestra classroom


Rhythm magnets for elementary orchestra classroom





Monday, October 3, 2016

Rhythms Bulletin Board




Rhythms bulletin board for elementary orchestra music class

Here's a bulletin board of different rhythms, organized by number of beats, for my elementary orchestra classroom.  I wanted to include both up-stems and down-stems, notes and rests, and single eighth notes and beamed eighth notes.  I color-coded these by number of beats, which matches the rhythm magnets that I just made as well.


Rhythms include:
  • Whole note
  • Whole rest
  • Dotted half note
  • Half note
  • Half rest
  • Dotted quarter note
  • Quarter note
  • Quarter rest
  • 2 Eighth notes
  • 4 Sixteenth notes
  • Eighth note
  • Eighth rest
  • Sixteenth note

Rhythms bulletin board for elementary orchestra music class


Rhythms bulletin board for elementary orchestra music class



Monday, September 19, 2016

D Major Composition


Composition template in D Major for second year orchestra students


My second-year orchestra students write longer compositions (a minimum of eight measures instead of four), and with more of an emphasis on tonality and musical tools.  Sometimes these musical tools are drawn from the repertoire being studied, such as a specific rhythmic pattern, and change each year.

I use basically the same format as students were used to seeing their first year in orchestra, but I tailor it to the unit we are studying.  The "basic" checklist includes things like clef, key signature, time signature, proper number of beats in each measure, etc.  Then, the toolbox gives students options as to what they'd like to include in their composition.  This may include starting and ending the piece on "Do," adding slurs or the hooked bowing, beginning with an incomplete measure, or writing a rhythmic pattern drawn from a current full orchestra piece.

My sample composition is on the back side, with additional blank staff paper for those who choose to write longer pieces.  I also wrote a description of the musical tools I included in my composition as a sample for students to use when sharing their own compositions the following week in small groups.

As usual, I write comments on each student's sheet, and I type up all the compositions to make packets for everyone based on instrument.  In the packet, the list of musical tools is on the top of the first page to refer to so students can spot the different tools used in their classmates' pieces.

D Major composition with toolbox:


Happy composing!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Name Cards


Name card for elementary orchestra


To show students where to sit each week, I use name cards.  Each name card is a full sheet of paper folded in half so it can rest on top of the stand and can be viewed from both in front and behind.  These are color-coded by instrument.

At the beginning of the year with first-year students, I use these during small groups, both so students know where to sit and because I am still learning names.  At the beginning of the day, I have the cards stacked in the order I'll be seeing kids during the day and within easy reach (on the piano bench) so that I can quickly switch name cards at the transition time.  That is an incentive for me to learn names sooner rather than later, as it takes a few moments to get those organized at the beginning of the day (or end of the day the previous week if I'm on top of things).  I do make an effort to switch up seating each week, just for variety's sake.

I also use these every week for full orchestra.  The color-coding helps kids quickly locate their instrument's section and then their own name.  Again, I do make an effort to switch up the seating each week.  I want students to experience playing in the front, middle, and back of the section and with different stand partners too.

Except for a concert seating chart (which goes into effect about three full orchestras before the concert) where the students do stay in the same spot from one week to the next, I do not write out the seating chart each week.  I just do my best to keep scrambling up stand partners and who's sitting where.  When I'm really organized, in the folder where I store the name cards, I will jot down anyone without a stand partner due to having an odd number of students so that I can make sure someone else will be the singleton next week.

Students who have forgotten their instrument and need to borrow a spare will be seated together so they can share the spare without disrupting the students around them.  If students do have to share an instrument because I can see their spot on the instrument rack is empty, I write the two (or three...hopefully not more) names on a piece of scrap paper and tape it to the case of the spare so both students know who they'll be sharing with and it doesn't take any class time for me to explain.  I also pull out the names of students who are absent that day from the stack and set up accordingly so there aren't any empty chairs in full orchestra.

Every once in a while students will walk into the room for full orchestra with no name cards out and a "Seating is free choice today :)" note on the board.  That generally happens the week after a concert.

The front side (that I see) includes more information such as the student's full name and teacher's name in smaller font at the bottom.  If students try to switch name cards without me noticing, a hint is that they put the card on the wrong way and I see the side with just the first name :)

To actually create the name cards without having to type up everyone's name one by one, I use the "Step-by-Step Mail Merge Wizard" feature in Microsoft Word and pull the information directly from my roster, which is saved as an Excel sheet.  I double check the document before printing and add last initials for those students who have someone else with the same first name in the same orchestra.  The document is already organized by instrument (since that's how my roster is set up), which makes color-coding printing simple.

Name card template (Word document)

Enjoy!

Name card for elementary orchestra


Name card for elementary orchestra


Name card for elementary orchestra


Name card for elementary orchestra


Monday, August 29, 2016

Take Part In A Musical Year! Bulletin Board


Take Part In A Musical Year bulletin board for orchestra beginning of the year


For this fall, I played on the words "take part" as an opportunity to display instrument and bow parts.  I don't mind puns when I can use them as a learning opportunity :)  And a special thanks to my mom who came up with the phrase...I knew I wanted to do something with instrument parts, but couldn't think of a good back-to-school phrase.

My mom and I used the overhead projector to trace the instruments onto poster board, and then I outlined them in permanent marker and filled them in with water colors.  On the bulletin board itself, I stapled black yarn to connect each instrument part to its label.  I really like how this one turned out!  Now as students in all grade levels are walking to and from music class, they might pick up a few new vocabulary words and have a greater appreciation for all that orchestra students are learning about next door in orchestra.



Take Part In A Musical Year bulletin board for orchestra beginning of the year


Take Part In A Musical Year bulletin board for orchestra beginning of the year


Take Part In A Musical Year bulletin board for orchestra beginning of the year


Take Part In A Musical Year bulletin board for orchestra beginning of the year


Take Part In A Musical Year bulletin board for orchestra beginning of the year



Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Will YOU Create This Year? Bulletin Board


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


For this back-to-school bulletin board, I browsed through manuscripts on imslp.org, eventually ending up choosing works by Bach, Brahms, Paganini, and Sousa.  It's neat to see the handwriting from these different composers, and students are encouraged to imagine all that they will create and achieve (music-related and otherwise) in the coming school year.  Win-win!


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music


What Will YOU Create This Year--beginning of the year bulletin board orchestra/band/music



Monday, August 22, 2016

Small Group Learning--Creating a Rotating Schedule


Elementary orchestra sample small group instruction rotation schedule


My elementary orchestra students have their small group learning ("small groups") once a week for 30 minutes on a rotating basis.  Notice that this is called "small group learning" rather than "lessons."  The term "lessons" suggests one-on-one time with a private teacher, performance-based, outside the school day, and generally paid for by the student's family.  What I teach is a comprehensive musical education where students are composing, learning about history and culture, listening, writing, etc. as well as technique and musical literature.  The careful choice of "small groups" and not "lessons" helps to reflect what students are actually doing in orchestra and helps to validate orchestra as part of a well-rounded education.

Anyway, during my first year of teaching, I created a semester-long small group rotation and posted it outside the orchestra room and inside each classroom.  However, I quickly realized that field trips, school assemblies, standardized tests as well as simply getting to know the students better and changing enrollment meant that ongoing adjustments would need to be made.  I have since switched to posting a monthly schedule, which allows me more flexibility with scheduling around conflicts and modifying small group personnel as needed.

Students know to check the schedule each week to know when their small group time is that week, and at the end of the month, I simply post the new schedule.  Sometimes there are still last-minute changes such as when an assembly is scheduled after the monthly orchestra schedule has been posted or I find out about a field trip a few days before, but then I just pencil in the corrections.  I make sure that every student has a small group time each week, which means that some weeks have "combined small groups" to fit everyone in when a block of time is not open for orchestra that week.  Students get a kick out of the few times they have "giant small groups" with perhaps up to three groups scheduled at once.

These schedules can be tricky to visually decipher by students, so I intentionally label each group with a letter, spell out the month (instead of using numbers), include the day of the week, and then finally the time.  Otherwise, numbering the groups and referring to the month by its number results in a lot of numbers on the page and a bit of confusion on the part of the students.  At the beginning of the year, I coach students to check their small group letter first, then find the date, then read down to locate their small group letter and finally over to see what time they have orchestra.  My goal, of course, is for students to independently check the schedule each week and come at their scheduled time with the other students in their group.  I also cross out the day's column at the end of the day so it's easier to quickly find the current day next week.

When I figure out the rotations, instead of just moving each small group down to the next slot for the next week, I like to skip a couple of spots, usually three, so I can avoid having a student miss the same subject multiple weeks in a row.  Otherwise they may miss the first part of, say, math one week and the second part of math the next week.  Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable due to limitations of scheduling combined groups when standardized testing wipes out a few slots and then there's an assembly at the end of the day, but I do my best to keep the schedule rotating evenly.  Skipping a couple of spots also creates more variety for the students with regard to having morning or afternoon small groups rather than staying stuck on morning times for an entire month.


Things to include:
  • School/Grade level (name of ensemble)
  • Month
  • Upcoming concert dates and other important events
  • The table itself
  • Small group assignments (by letter and instrument)--list students' first names and homeroom teacher
  • Disclaimer that the schedule is subject to change and that students and teachers will be notified

I've also started including a picture of a composer whose birthday falls during the given month just as a way to visually differentiate between the old- and new-month's schedules and as another exposure for my students to composers.  I had been using clip art for each month, but I like the composer pictures for now.

I also color code each orchestra's schedule for easy identification by students and myself.  I teach two grade levels at two schools, and all my schedules, attendance sheets, and grade sheets are all color-coded by ensemble.  They are posted outside the orchestra room and at a designated location in each of the classrooms, which just takes a few minutes to change at the end of each month.  These are also posted on my school website as PDFs so families can access them from home, if desired.

Here is a totally generic sample small-group schedule that can be modified to match your teaching schedule:


Enjoy!


Elementary orchestra sample small group instruction rotation schedule


Elementary orchestra sample small group instruction rotation schedule