Monday, January 2, 2023

G Major Composition


In the spring, actually it tends to fall right around spring break, second-year orchestra students write their second composition of year, this time in the key of G Major.

G Major composition with toolbox:

sight read a number of pieces in the book in G Major and I ask a series of questions for each one: What is the first note of the piece?  (Ah, it's a note from the G Major arpeggio!)  What is the last note of the piece?  (Oh, a G, or Do?  I bet it will sound finished when we get to the end!)  Do you notice any arpeggios in this piece?  In the Orchestra Expressions book, p. 48, we play "El Charro", "El Tren", and "Happy Birthday."  Sometimes we have to play the piece a couple of times before someone spots the G, B, D or D, B, G, but students very quickly catch on that the last note will be G, Do, and can answer my question before I finish asking it by the time we get to "Happy Birthday" :)

On composing day, I'm also listening to students play their G Major scale playing checkup.

Most students don't finish during their small group that day, so I'll take a picture of compositions still in progress with my iPad (in case students forget to bring their folder the following week when it's due...then they don't have to start from scratch as they finish their composition in class).  If students do finish, I'll collect them to get a head start on typing them up/grading them.  

Students earn a grade (4/3/2/1--exceeds expectations/meets expectations/basic/does not meet expectations) on rhythm (variety of rhythms, correct number of beats per measure), music literacy (using notes from the G Major scale in a way that clearly shows that G = Do), and evaluating (including two or more of the musical tools).  I don't emphasize the graded aspect of this, but if students follow the checklist, they will be fine.

I will type these up so everyone can play their classmates' compositions and see theirs in print.  This year I am trying to save paper, so instead of printing a packet for everyone, I'll share the Google Doc link on our Canvas page for students.  Now that I have a screen/projector at both schools, I'll show the document on the screen in class, and we'll scroll through it and pick one or two to try in class.  It's a little tricky if I have students on different instruments in the same small group--I'll have two windows open, one on the top of the screen and one on the bottom and scroll through both.  Or, if it's one student on a different instrument, I might give that student my iPad and pull up their instrument's document there.  We will play one or two of these for the spring concert, so those I will print out and tape into folders (after checking with the composer to make sure it's okay with them we perform their piece).  I'll improvise a piano accompaniment too.

Template for G Major composition packet (Google Doc):

Happy composing!


Links to other composition worksheets: 

Scale Warm-up Sheet (D Major, G Major, C Major)


In about January of students' second year of string playing, I introduce this D Major scale sheet.  Before then, we often warm up in full orchestra with a D Major scale with different rhythm patterns or adding slurs or as a round.  In small groups, we go through each line and review technique.  The hooked bowing is pretty new for students at this point.  In full orchestra, at first we have to pause and regroup between each bowing, but I tell students our goal will be to play straight through the whole sheet.  Eventually a student leader will stand in front and give the breath to start (I'll call out the next bowing as we get close to the end of a line).  It seems pretty straightforward, but I'm always surprised by how much room for growth is evident the first week we attempt this as a full orchestra--and by how proud the students are when we are able to make it all the way through more-or-less together.  

Pretty soon we move into our unit on G Major, so we transfer this warmup to the new key.  Violins and cellos also learn the upper octave in G Major (starting the G above open G), so I usually have them play the warmup in the upper octave too.  In past years, I haven't made a new scale sheet for the new keys; students just have to play the same bowing patterns but in the new key.  They can look at the scale written out in quarter notes in the book if they want a visual.  This year I've made a new scale sheet for both G and C Major, and I anticipate students will appreciate being able to follow along on the page as they play.  Maybe they will be less likely to forget the line with the single eighth notes exists :)  It's funny how often students just stop playing after the repeated eighth notes scale and we have to restart "the fast one."  Anyway, with our focus on the upper octave scale, that's what I typed out for violin/cello, with the scale starting on open G only included in the first line, as half notes.

In the spring (usually around the time of spring break), we do a playing checkup on all the scale bowings in G Major.  We go through the rubric together the week before, and then during small groups the week of, students play individually for me while the other students in their small group are working on their G Major composition.

Our last key of the year is C Major, so we apply these bowing patterns to this key too.  Violas and cellos get the higher octave written out (starting an octave above open C), with the scale starting on open C only included in the first line, as half notes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Parts of a Note Beginning-of-the-Year Bulletin Board


For this year's beginning-of-the-year bulletin board, I wanted to label the different parts of notes and eventually came up with the title "Take note: We are all PART of what makes our school community shine!"  It's a little wordy, but I liked that it included both "note" and "part."  You could insert your school name in place of "our school community" too.  This bulletin board can also double as a year-round reference, simply titled "Parts of a Note."  

Parts labeled:

  • Note head (the internet is telling me it's really spelled "notehead" but I just can't do it...)
  • Stem
  • Beam
  • Flag
  • Dot

I used the pictures of the different rhythms from this blog post and rearranged them for each note part (see links to printouts below).  I did use a black Sharpie to round out a couple places that looked a little cut off.  For the large version, I printed as-is, then cut a half-inch off each side to be able to use an 8 1/2 by 11" background.  For the smaller version, I set the print settings to 2 pages per sheet and then cut each to 3 1/4 by 4 1/2".  The colored background was a half-sheet of paper, 4 1/4 by 5 1/2, with a bigger black background behind that, again cut to make a half-inch border.

For the large pair of eighth notes, I didn't trust my free-hand drawing skills, so I greatly enlarged an image of an outline of eighth notes, printed/cut/traced onto black paper and then cut/attached the pieces.  I used a Cricut for the text (Fontastic Fonts, DJ Smooth) and arrows, but created a Google doc with everything here to print out.

Feel free to use!

Monday, August 15, 2022

Music for Life Bulletin Board


In an effort to help with retention in orchestra between elementary and middle school, I created this "Music for Life" bulletin board.  I was hearing from students saying that they wanted to become engineers or something else that wasn't directly music-related, so they weren't sure there was room for music classes in their middle school schedules.  I want students to be able to visualize themselves as musicians--no matter what they may end up studying in college or choosing as a career--and to understand that music classes are for everyone--not just those who are planning to become professional musicians.  This bulletin board showcases highly accomplished individuals who didn't necessarily go into music as a career but still had musical backgrounds (or sometimes musicians who also studied other disciplines).

The text on the bulletin board says: 

Music for life!  You don’t have to become a professional musician to enjoy playing music—music is part of a well-rounded education and is for everyone!  Music is something you can take with you for the rest of your life :) 

Check out these individuals who are well-known in their own fields and are also musicians—or are famous musicians who studied other disciplines too!

Here are the 15 individuals included (feel free to add your own):

  • Neil Armstrong: Astronaut/Pianist, Baritone Horn Player
  • Louis Braille: Educator, Inventor of braille/Cellist and Organist
  • Charles Dickens: Author/Accordion Player
  • Albert Einstein: Physicist/Pianist and Violinist
  • Mahatma Gandhi: Lawyer/Concertina Player
  • Art Garfunkel: Singer, Poet, and Actor/Studied architecture; degrees in Art History and Mathematics Education
  • Donald Glaser: Physicist/Violinist, Violist, and Pianist
  • Madeleine L'Engle: Author/Pianist, Choir Director
  • Steve Martin: Comedian, Actor, Writer, Producer, Musician/Banjo Player
  • Henri Matisse: Artist/Violinist
  • Brian May: Musician, Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist of Queen/Doctorate in Physics and Mathematics
  • Condoleezza Rice: Political Scientist, Diplomat/Pianist
  • Oscar Robertson: Basketball Player/Flutist
  • Fred Rogers: Television Host, Author, Producer, Minister/Pianist
  • Molly Yeh: Cookbook Author, Blogger/Percussionist
Who else should I add to the list?  One idea for an extension would be to keep in touch with a school's graduating seniors from music classes and showcase their involvement in music and their field of study/career.

Music for Life bulletin board:

You could print these out on white paper, single-sided, as-is, or I put the text about each person by itself at the bottom of the document in case you'd like to cut out the picture and text and paste onto a colored background as I did.

I also added information about and pictures of community bands and orchestras in the area to show what kind of musical opportunities exist for community members.


Monday, August 1, 2022

Sea Shanty Arrangement

Here is an arrangement of "Drunken Sailor" I wrote for combined first- and second-year orchestra students--renamed "Variations on a Sea Shanty."  The version for beginners is mostly just open D and first finger E (with a few open As and first finger Bs later on), all in unison.  It has a variation with dotted quarter/eighth notes, which I taught more by ear.  The intermediate version for second-year orchestra students is all D and A string notes including high E, so cellos get to do a little shifting.  (Looking back at the bass part now, I might rewrite m. 7, 8 and the first note of m. 9 and similar places down an octave to give basses the option not to shift up to high E).  This second-year intermediate version includes the hooked bowing, a few slurs for violin/viola, and double stops for all instruments but the basses.  The theme is the melody in unison, and then violins/violas and cellos/basses are each featured in two variations.

Students enjoyed this melody and recognizing similarities and differences between each of the variations.  They also learned the lyrics from Bonnie Greene's Blue Book:

What do you do with a bow and fiddle...early in the morning?

Saw, saw away I tell you...early in the morning!

Sheet music (all PDFs):

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

Again, I like to use clip art instead of labeling parts "beginning" and "intermediate" or by grade level, so you'll see matching images within the beginning and intermediate parts and on the score.

Enjoy!  I'd love to hear if you end up trying out this arrangement with your students!

Monday, July 11, 2022

Everybody Loves Saturday Night Arrangement

Here's a sort of mix-and-match arrangement of "Everybody Loves Saturday Night," from Nigeria.  There are two versions in this arrangement, one for beginners and one for second-year orchestra students.  Each version has its own melody and harmony.  The beginner version has an all open-string harmony with a simplified melody with just D string notes, and the advanced version is mostly D string notes with a few G string notes (including a C# on the G string).  Students did really well learning the syncopated bits after hearing the lyrics sung.  We also would stomp our feet on the eighth rest in practice.

My students studied this piece in the fall of 2020, when we couldn't have full orchestra or in-person concerts.  My colleague and I ended up recording ourselves individually playing the different parts using the Acapella App and then added pictures of our students to create an "Orchestra At-Home Winter Concert" play-along video, which we also used for our virtual version of String Fest that year.  That being said, this is a super flexible arrangement--you could play through the piece twice and assign or give choice to who plays which parts when. 

Here's a link to some history of the song from Art Podell and results of research about its origins from Deanna deCampos (which shares that the song is actually from Ghana from at least 1932 rather than from Nigeria in the 1950s), as well as a website with translations to more languages than I included (and even more languages here).

Sheet music (Alpha notation included at the end of each document):

Sheet music with links to audio files (WAV files) to preview or for students to play along with to practice:


Monday, February 28, 2022

Envelope for Collecting Papers


After handwriting a heading on a piece of paper and taping it on to a manila envelope for several years, I realized there were a limited number of types of things I would collect each year: sign-up sheets, permission slips, Solo/Ensemble registrations, composition assignments.  I decided to type up headings, laminate them, and attach Velcro dots to them and the envelope.  It looks a lot nicer than before, and the sheets can be reused each year.  Since they're laminated, I can also use a dry-erase marker to write a due date and then erase it afterwards.  The envelope is also Velcro-ed to the wall, so I can remove it when there aren't any papers needing to be turned in.

"Please turn in" signs