Monday, November 21, 2016


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


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