Sunday, April 17, 2016

Broken Fan Tutorial

Props can be a great way to peak student interest in a classroom activity or add a polished touch for a performance. If you are purchasing props for an entire class or grade level, it can become expensive. It is sometimes difficult to find an inexpensive prop that is also durable and can withstand the nervous hands of a student awaiting show time.

Recently, my Orff Ensemble performed the Korean folk song "Arirang",  which included a fan dance. These fans were only $1 each from the Dollar Store. They are made of plastic and fabric and come in a variety of colors. I purchased them from the store in December, but they are currently out of season for their brick and mortar stores.  They are still available online but you must purchase a minimum of 24. Follow this link to the Dollar Tree online store.

During rehearsals, we had no trouble with these fans. While waiting to perform, two students accidently broke their fans. I'm so glad I had extra! After the performance, I tried to find a way to repair the broken fans instead of throwing them away. I am very pleased with the results. Actually, I think the repaired fans are going to be more durable than the originals. Follow this simple tutorial to save your broken fans!

Broken Fan Tutorial

To repair your fan, you will need a large paperclip and some needle nose pliers.

Step 1: Straighten the inside of your paperclip, pulling it open to form a 90 degree angle.
Step 2: Insert the straightened clip through the end of the fan.
Step 3: Using needle nose pliers, form two more 90 degree angles so that your paperclip forms a box around the end of the fan.
Step 4: With pliers, coil one end of the paperclip around the other.
Step 5: With pliers, continue coiling and then snap off any excess paperclip by bending the piece back and forth repeatedly.
Step 6: With pliers, bend the coil down and make sure there are no sharp ends that would scratch your hand while holding the fan.

I hope you find this post helpful! I originally purchased 12 fans, I will definitely be ordering some more to have a complete class set. If you have any lesson ideas that use fans, please add them in the comments below!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mallet Wrapping

Do you have fraying mallets and a very small budget? This was my problem. But, it is not a problem anymore! I was brave and patient and learned how to rewrap my own mallets. The photo above shows blue mallets that were very frayed. The red mallets have been rewrapped by me! With a little patience and practice, you can learn how to wrap mallets too and free up some money in your classroom budget for other resources.

Before gaining the courage to make that first cut and unwrap a mallet, I watched at least 2 hours of video tutorials. There are several different techniques and videos out there in cyberspace, but I found that Episode 198 from Drummer Talk provides the most comprehensive and clear demonstration.

I suggest you watch this entire video BEFORE attempting to wrap your own mallets. These are the supplies Dave Kropf suggests before beginning your project:

  1. Scissors
  2. Darning Needles (Size 18)
  3. Yarn (Size 3)
As you wrap and cross the yarn over the top of the mallet, it should be placed off-center. This creates a nice crown which will be stitched to keep the yarn in place. When first attempting to wrap, I found it easiest to keep the yarn off-center on mallets that have more of a flattened core on top. If you have one, begin with this style core rather than a spherical core.

After wrapping about 4 mallets, I found a groove and my wrapping and rotating technique became more automatic. During several evenings, I would sit on the couch and wrap mallets while watching television. Below, you can see many of the mallets I have rewrapped. The mallets with the white shafts were crowned with the technique Dave uses in the video because that is how they were crowned from the factory. Most of the mallets with black shafts were crowned with a back-stitch because I tried to imitate how they came from the factory.

I encourage you to find some confidence and attempt to learn something new! After wrapping several pairs, I looked back at the first pair I wrapped and decided to cut them off and rewrap them again! My technique had improved so quickly, that I was not happy with my first pair anymore. I even got a little wild and crazy and made RAINBOW MALLETS!!! These are a great incentive. I reward a student who is doing a great job and allow them to play with the rainbow mallets like a ROCK STAR!

Go forth! Be brave! Happy wrapping!

Update: This post has been featured on the March 2016 Music Education Blog Carnival. Check out the rest of the carnival by clicking this link.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Turning a Gym Into a Concert Hall

Our school was renovated about 6 years ago. Unfortunately, they demolished the stage in order to make the kitchen and cafeteria larger. All my performances must be in the gym. Not much can be done to improve the acoustics, but I have worked hard over the years to improve the aesthetics.

Here is a picture of the concert set-up before our performance this afternoon. 

Last year, the PTO raised funds to purchase 12 Wenger Flip Forms to be used as a portable stage and also as risers. I think the students feel more professional and are more focused when they sit on the stage instead of the gym floor. I have a few instruments on rolling carts which remained on the gym floor behind the stage, along with two basses which use chairs to sit. 

The black curtain backdrop is actually 4 king size flat sheets sewn together. A parent volunteer created these and sewed button holes in the top. We used individual binder rings to loop them into an industrial steel wire which was installed by our maintenance department.  The curtain can easily be pushed over to a corner when not in use. It does collect dust very easily, but I simply take a lint roller to spot clean before any performance. 

For this performance, I used safety pins to hang snowflakes as a decoration. I borrowed from the PTO. They have lots of decorations which are used to make our lunchroom festive for the Sweets With Santa event each year. 

The projector and screen were installed with money from the renovation. I make a slide for each song and also a slide to introduce the Orff Ensemble and the Choir. If I use audio tracks to accompany the choir, I embed them into the Powerpoint so that they play immediately when the slide is advanced. Since I can't dim the lights, I choose contrasting colors and a large font to make sure the words can be read well. I also test slides in the gym a few days before and make adjustments if needed. 

If you also have to perform in a gym, I would love to see how you transform your space into a performance hall. You may follow this link to Facebook to add your pictures.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DIY Flameless Candles

At the last minute, I decided I would like to have a prop for one of the choir songs. I wanted the students to hold a candle during "One Little Candle". I ran to the Dollar Tree and picked up some LED flickering tea lights. They came 2 in each pack for $1. During dress rehearsal, I realized the candles were too short and the audience would not be able to see the candles in the middle and back risers. I used some cardstock to form a cylinder to elongate the candles. The flame still seems small, but it worked for a last minute prop. Follow my simple instructions below to create your own. 

Step 1: Gather materials--tape, pencil, scissors, LED tealight, and heavy construction paper or cardstock. 

Step 2: Roll the paper to form a cylinder   The same size diameter as the tealight. 

Step 3: Secure the paper with tape. This will be the back of the candle. 

Step 4: Mark a line about an inch long on the tape just below the base of the tealight. 

Step 5: Cut two vertical slits down to meet the edges of the pencil line. Fold along the pencil line to make a tab that leans into the center of the cylinder. 

Step 6: Turn the tealight on and place it in the top of the cylinder. The tab should prevent it from slipping too far down the center of the cylinder and also make it easy to access the tealight to turn it on or off. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Recorder String Epiphany!!!

For over 10 years, I have used embroidery floss for my recorder reward system. I cut strings 13 centimeters long to allow enough length to tie around the bottom of a recorder.

Yesterday, I forgot to prepare and cut the strings!!! So, with only 5 minutes until the fourth grade class time, I had an epiphany! The embroidery floss already comes packaged and folded in loops approximately 16 centimeters long. I made 2 quick cuts through the ends of the loops and then instantly had 50 recorder strings ready for the fourth grade playing tests!

By cutting them at this length instead of the 13 cm., I am losing approximately 16 strings per package of embroidery thread. But, it is definitely worth it! At first, I was so excited I had discovered something that would save me time!!! Then, I was mad at myself for not having this epiphany TEN YEARS AGO!!!  Learn from my mistake and save yourself some time when you cut your recorder strings! 
For more of my posts about recorder, click this link.
This past was featured on Formats Fridays on October 2, 2015. Click the link to view the party.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Glockenspiel Storage

I use baskets to store my glockenspiels and the basket becomes a table to raise the instruments to a more comfortable playing position. At first, it was difficult to find a cheap basket that would be flat when flipped upside down. I found these baskets at the Dollar General for about $2 each and have used them for over 7 years.
I recently acquired some extra glockenspiels from another school, so I needed to purchase some new baskets. I could not find baskets identical to the these, so I needed to replace the entire set.  I found these baskets at the Dollar Tree for only $1 each! I also took this opportunity to color code my altos and sopranos.

They are not as deep as my original red baskets, but they are wider and will provide more surface area when flipped upside down. 
I used to store my accidental bars in Ziploc bags in the baskets. But, they would often need replacing because they would get ripped easily. I recently found these plastic snap cases on clearance at Walgreens. The index card cases were only 67 cents each and are the perfect size for the soprano glockenspiel bars. The pencil cases were only 32 cents each and are the perfect size for the alto glockenspiel bars.

I love my new baskets and storage cases. Now, I'm on a hunt for the perfect shelf to store all these glockenspiels. My glocks runneth over!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Classroom Management During Game Songs

Do you ever have discipline problems with game songs? Children quickly lose patience while waiting for everyone to have a turn. It is especially difficult in elimination games when kids get eliminated early and have a longer time to wait. Over the years, I've developed some tricks to help these activities go much more smoothly.

First of all, I think it is important for your students to understand that sometimes we don't all get a turn. Class time is short and sometimes we must move on to another activity. Children need to learn how to deal with disappointment. But, most of the time, I try to allow everyone to have a turn without the activity taking up too much lesson time or encountering too many discipline problems. Here are some tips avoid chaos while still allowing everyone to have a turn.


How Will I Know When Everyone Has Had a Turn?

In most games, I rely on the students' honesty. They know they cannot have a second turn being "It". If they get tapped as "It" and have already had a turn, they just shake their head "no" so the tagger can move on to someone else. If the taggers are having a hard time remembering who has had a turn, the students who still need a turn raise their hand.

It is easier to tell who still needs a turn in an elimination game. In games like "Bounce High, Bounce Low" students do not have to leave the circle to be eliminated. Those who have had a turn simply sit in their place; those who have not had a turn remain standing. In passing games, like "Acka Backa", students must be removed from the circle as they are eliminated. This can create some discipline issues if you do not have a plan for those students. I will give you some ideas for those situations below.

How Do I Make The Game Go Faster?

Make Smaller Groups
Depending on the game and your space, it may be possible to create two small groups that play the game simultaneously. This will speed up the game and allow everyone to have a turn. For a chasing game, like "Charlie Over the Ocean" or "Cut the Cake", make sure the running paths would not collide with each other. 

Make More "Its"
Sometimes it is possible to increase the number of people that are "it". I do this often in games like "Bluebird, Bluebird, Through My Window". I have up to four or five students weaving in and out at once and tapping a new friend on the shoulder to trade places. If it is a passing game, you could have more than one item passed around the circle simultaneously. Either of these modifications would make the game go much quicker.


How Do I Keep Students From Getting Bored?

Instrumental Accompaniments
With fourth or fifth grade, sometimes I allow students to move to the xylophones to accompany our game after they have had a turn. I can trust that they would be using the instruments appropriately and wouldn't need too much supervision or conducting. If it is a simple accompaniment, like a broken Bordun, the students would not need any preparation except some verbal instructions. For more complicated parts, I have the entire class learn the parts on the barred instruments before returning to the carpet to begin the game or dance. 

Younger grades would need more supervision at the instruments, So, instead of using all my barred instruments, sometimes I use only one or two bass bars or just 2-4 barred instruments. I can supervise the small group much more easily. I've also had a small group reading notation on the board performing sol-mi songs on Boomwhackers. You could also have them perform a short rhythmic ostinato with unpitched percussion. This is a great opportunity for a performance assessment! After their turn playing they may return to the group but cannot be chosen as "it" anymore. If it is an elimination game, they sit to the side of the carpet and wait. 

Body Percussion
During elimination games, sometimes I have students create new body percussion patterns. Second and third grade love this the most! I have one student stand in front of the eliminated group. They create a four-beat body percussion ostinato and the rest of the students copy them.  

Interesting Props
A Slinky can be used to keep a steady beat.  Hold one end in each hand to make it look like rainbow. Transfer the weight back and forth to the beat. You can also open and close the Slinky with vertical, horizontal, or diagonal motions. An Original Slinky made of metal also creates a very pleasant sound!  I really want to get a class set of Slinkies, but they can be costly. Cheaper plastic springs just don't have the same weight or feel and wouldn't make as pleasant of a sound. I've even found the miniature ones by Slinky brand in the Target dollar section, but they just don't have enough weight to move to a slower tempo. Even if you only have a few Slinkies, students can take turns using them to keep a steady beat. 

Beanbags can also be transferred from hand to hand to make steady beat.  My beanbags are homemade. My mother helped me make them during my first year teaching. We used plastic pellets made for adding weight to stuffed animals. The make a pleasant sound, although it is much quieter than a Slinky. (The quietness may actually be a good thing!) I asked students to hold their hands with palms up and to flatten the beanbag like a pancake. They then flip the pancake from one hand to another trying to match the steady beat.  My daughter and I are demonstrating this activity in the short video below.

Both my second graders and kindergarteners used the beanbags this week to keep a steady beat when they were eliminate from a game. They all enjoyed using these props. We practiced the pancake flipping as a class and then I collected the bean bags in the bucket before the game started. As they got eliminated, they would get a beanbag from the bucket and sit on the edge of the carpet away from the game circle. Some students wanted to throw the bean bags, but I warned them that they would lose their bean bag if they were not using it properly. If you don't have a set of beanbags, I bet your gym teacher may have some you can borrow!
In my Level III Orff course, another teacher brought in tennis balls. She had made a small slit in the balls, filled them with a small amount of BB pellets, and used hot glue to seal the hole back. We used the balls similarly to the beanbag and passed it from hand to hand, around our backs, and under our legs. We also tossed them gently in the air and would catch them to the steady beat. This would be a great activity to challenge older students. The teacher said she had a connections with a local gym and got all her tennis balls donated! You never know what you may be able to get until you ask!
Repeating anything the same way over and over would make anyone bored. So, why not change it up? Vary the tempo or change up the voice. With kindergarten, we reinforced the types of voices while practicing a steady beat. The class stood in a circle and passed a ball while saying the "Acka Backa Soda Cracker" poem. As a student got eliminated, they would go to a music stand and draw a voice card (either speaking, whisper, calling, or singing). We would use that voice to perform the poem the next round. After they drew a card, they got a beanbag to do pancake flips. This activity was very successful with minimal behavior disruptions. The students loved changing their voices, drawing a card, and mixing up the cards for the next student.  My free printable voice cards are featured in a previous blog post. 
 Children learn best when they're engaged in play. Game songs are a great way to get all children actively making music whether by singing or playing an instrument. I hope some of these tips help reduce your frustration and eliminate some discipline issues which may occur during games. Now that you have some tricks and strategies for these activities, what are your favorite game songs? Comment below, or add a link to share your favorite game songs with others!
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