Saturday, December 20, 2014

In Memory of Doc T

In Memory of

Dr. Michael Tunnell


I am deeply saddened to hear that my former trumpet professor, Dr. Michael Tunnell, lost his battle with cancer yesterday morning. He was always full of kindness and compassion and had the most gentle heart. Doc T actually played a major role in shaping my career and future.

In March 2001, I was a country girl from a small town with no history of private music lessons. I sat in his studio with my tarnished trumpet scared to death. I felt so out of place. I have no idea what he saw or heard that day, but I am forever thankful that he offered me a music scholarship. Combined with an academic scholarship for good grades, I was able to graduate with my bachelors in music education completely debt free.

Attending the University of Louisville opened many doors which shaped who I am as a musician, who I am as an educator, and who I am as a person. I cannot imagine what my life would be like today if Doc T had not decided to invest his time (and the school's money) on this small town girl. Doc T, thank you for making me a Louisville Cardinal. I hope I bring honor to you and to the university as I continue my career as a music educator.

Rest in peace, Doc. May God be with the Tunnell Family.

Follow this link for his full obituary.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Arts Integration: Line and Melody

In addition to music, I also teach visual art. My student teacher for the fall, Ms. Reed, had a very short placement (only 8 weeks). I didn't want the time in the art room to impede her learning and experience teaching music. So, we decided to integrate art and music for those lessons. 
We compared the art element LINE to the contour of a MELODY. Fourth and fifth grade students got to choose their favorite song and draw the shape of the main melody. They practiced drawing the lines with small chalkboards. Ms. Reed and I walked around the room and asked each student to sing their song while tracing their finger along the line. We offered suggestions to change the melody, if needed, to make it more accurate. The students chose a piece of construction paper from an assortment of pastels. The students drew their melody line and then added additional lines in the background in attempt to hide their melody. The chalk lines should be very thick to prevent paint colors from mixing.
After drawing the lines, the students used watercolors to paint each section. Some chose to create color patterns while others preferred a random method. It took two 50 minute classes to begin and finish this project. We began painting in lesson 1. At first, the students were disappointed in the darkness of the watercolors. At the beginning of lesson 2, they were able to see how the colors are more vibrant when they dry. They also enjoyed comparing how colors looked different on different colors of construction paper. (Yellow paint on green paper looks different than yellow paint on pink paper) The original plan was to wipe the chalk away and reveal the background color of the paper. But, most students liked the chalk and didn't want to wipe it away.
If you are fortunate enough to have an art teacher at your school, this would be a great opportunity to collaborate! Students could draw their melody lines in music class and complete the chalk and painting in the art room. I really fell in love with this project because each student created a beautiful work of art that was truly unique. I try to plan lessons that give the students freedom of creativity to influence the outcome of their art. The response papers allowed students to comment on something they loved about their art and something they wish they could do better. One student commented that she loved "how we could make it our own". This was great reassurance. For that moment, I could pretend that I was a real art teacher and not just a music teacher pretending to be an art teacher. ;)

This post was featured on Fermata Fridays
on September 18, 2015.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recorder Playing Tests

Several people have asked on music teacher Facebook groups how others handle playing tests for recorders. Here is an overview of how I assess recorders . . .


I teach recorder in 4th grade. For each unit, I provide at least 3 songs with varying difficulty. (Buzzword: DIFFERENTIATION!) I don't follow any particular recorder method book. I have gathered songs from several books, from my Orff levels courses, and from various workshops and conferences over the years. Lessons in the unit may also involve games, dancing, or playing accompaniments to the songs on barred instruments.

At the end of the unit, I hear each student perform one of the songs for a playing test. On test day, the students rotate in centers. My classes are 50 minutes long. I try to allow 10 minutes at each station. That leaves 10 minutes for instructions at the beginning of class and maybe a couple minutes of clean-up before they line up to leave.

One center is the playing test where I am stationed. I hear each student in the group perform a song and then I tie their strings before they rotate to the next center. I used to hear students one at a time and it took a long time for students to come back to me and then go back to their seat. Many times, students would be very nervous playing for me it would take forever to get them to even begin their song. In small groups, it seems less formal and the students are also very supportive of each other. While I'm formally assessing them on the rubric, they are watching their peers and offering suggestions like--"Your thumb hole wasn't covered all the way." and "You didn't have your right thumb kickstand."

Before they play for me, there is a center with an exit slip or short quiz assessing any new vocabulary or concepts we learned in the unit. These students have finished their written assessment and are working in small groups preparing for their playing test.

Two other stations are games or activities which reinforce music skills taught in the unit. This was the first recorder playing test and we are still learning the lines and spaces of the staff. The students chose either relay races or Twister with the giant floor staff. The next station was Treble Toss where students draw a popsicle stick and then aim their beanbag at a specific line or space on the staff. If you would like to learn more about my music centers, follow this link to previous blog posts.


My rubric addresses posture, breathing, fingering, hand position, steady beat, rhythmic accuracy, and pitch accuracy. If you would like to download my Recorder Rubric, click here. If I need to save time before the rotation ends, I wait for class to finish to add up the scores.


For each note the students learn, they receive a different colored string tied on to their recorder. I use embroidery floss cut to 12 centimeters. I sometimes have students or parent volunteers cut the strings for me. After the strings are tied, the students love to fray the ends. Some units introduce two notes, so the students would get two colors. Some units introduce only one note, so the students would get one string. We start on red and follow the order of the color wheel. The last string is a black string. There is a bonus string in the last unit. The last note we learn is F#. If the students can play "Frere Jacques" (in the key of D) in a round with a partner, they get a gold metallic string tied on their recorders.

I store the strings in my organizer station. Each color has its own drawer. I also have drawers for office supplies like paperclips, sticky tack, rubber bands, pushpins, etc. This organizer sits on a bookshelf behind my desk and makes things so easily accessible. Follow this link for more information on how I organize my classroom, including printable labels for your own organizer.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Grab My New Button

My blog got a small facelift. I also got a new button. First of all, thank you to those bloggers who were already sharing my button! If you have the old button, please consider updating your blog and replacing my old button with my new button. If you are not already sharing my button, please consider adding it to your blog. Just copy the code under my button and paste it into a box on your sidebar. My button will appear on your page.  Thank you so much!
Music With Mrs. Dennis

If you have a button, please let me know and I will add it to my blog too! If you are interested in creating your own button, a very easy code generator can be found on this link:

All you have to do is insert your Blog Title, your Blog Link, and the URL Link for your desired image. It is suggested that blog buttons be 125 pixels by 125 pixels.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Masterpiece Bulletin Board

I've seen this bulletin board on many teacher blogs and my student teacher and I decided to tackle our own version. We both fell in love with the quote "Each Individual Is a Single Note--Together We Make A Masterpiece". Some of the displays we used as inspiration can be found at the bottom of this post.


The Notes

Each student cut out their note and wrote their name. (The kindergarteners wrote their initials.) Second grade and up got to also write either their favorite instrument, favorite song, or favorite singer. Each grade level was given a color from the color wheel--K-Red, 1st-Orange, 2nd-Yellow, 3rd-Green, 4th-Blue, 5th-Purple. I had about 4 different shades of each color.

The Staff

I first attempted to put electrical tape on the wall. Overnight, most of it had fallen. So, I cut poster boards in half and still used electrical tape to create the staff lines. I laminated them so they can be reused in the future. The notes were scotch taped onto the staff.

The Title

I traced the words onto small poster boards using my projector. Then, I hand painted them with black acrylic paint. For those of you who do not care to paint, I added a nice art gallery frame around the title. You can download the title and music notes from my Teachers-Pay-Teachers Store.



Other Bulletin Board Examples

Musical Musings and Creative Thoughts used a die cut to cut the notes. Unfortunately, my school does not have a music note die cut.


A Cricut could also help you cut the music notes very quickly.  This picture was found on Fantabulous Cricut Challenge Blog. The names of students and staff were handwritten on the notes.

Another teacher allowed students to draw their own music notes an symbols. They were assembled in more of a collage instead of on a staff.

Mrs. Mattson's Music Room created a very colorful board. If you don't have time to let students help create their own note, you can add the notes yourself.

Another example added the National Standards to the music notes.

Music Centers Assessing the Treble Clef Staff

I have previous posts on how I use centers in my music room. You may click this link to read those posts.  
I recently planned a lesson for 4th and 5th grade classes to review the pitches of the treble clef staff using centers. My class periods are 50 minutes. So, we planned for 10 minutes or so to explain the centers and then each group would have about 10 minutes to rotate at each of the four centers.

Giant Staff Twister

 In one center, students played Twister using the giant floor staff. I used gym tape to create the staff lines on my floor and used the existing 12 inch tiles to keep my lines perfectly parallel. I have one spinner with the letters of the lines of spaces and one spinner to determine which body part should touch the correct line or space. The spinners are available on my teacher pay teacher store. I introduced Giant Staff Twister last year and it has become a favorite for the students.

Treble Toss

Many people who have blogged about the giant floor staff have had students try to toss bean bags on a specific line or space. Here in Kentucky, cornhole has become a very popular backyard game and I knew my students would love the challenge of tossing a bean bag through a hole. So, I used 2 trifold display boards (like you would use to display science fair projects) and created a staff with holes on the lines and spaces. Students would draw a popsicle stick to randomly select a pitch letter. Then, they had 3 chances to toss their beanbag into the correct hole. After their turn tossing beanbags at the spaces board, they would get in the back of the line for the lines board.
This game was a hit! To set up the boards, I borrowed a couple spare student desks from our furniture storage room. One flap rested on the top of the desk and I set a heavy object (a chromatic glockenspiel) on top of the cardboard. You could use a few heavy books or whatever items you want. The bottom flap would rest against the legs of the desk and caused the board to be slightly tilted which helped stabilize the board when the beanbags were tossed. The boards fold flat and lay horizontal in my cabinets, so it will be easy to pull these out and use them again in the future.

Staff Wars

The third center involved the Activboard. I downloaded Staff Wars from The Music Interactive. This is a free download for your pc. They have a new app version which is only 99 cents. The object of the game is to click the correct letter name of each note as it scrolls across the staff. The game gradually gets faster and more difficult. You can select the clef of your choice and also adjust the range of the  notes it will give the students. The students LOVED this game! There are also several other free music games available on I look forward to downloading some more and trying them out.

Exit Slip and Flashcards

The fourth center involved an exit slip assessment which would be graded. The exit slip had students identifying letter names of some notes on the staff. The students were also asked to practice drawing a treble clef. The exit slips can be downloaded on my teachers-pay-teachers store

As the students finished, they got to quiz each other with flash cards until it was time for the next rotation. The flash cards were a free download from Making Music Fun! The cards are one sided, so I added the letter names on the back so the kids could quiz each other. I printed these on cardstock so they would be more durable.

 I know your students will enjoy these games as much as mine did! Enjoy!

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Favorite Musicians!

I LOVE my new shirt!!!

I got lots of compliments today!
If you would like to order one, follow this link:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Protecting Your Interactive White Board

I suppose I should've shared this information at the beginning of summer. I apologize. But, if you have an interactive white board, like a SMART board or ActivBoard, you may worry that it would get damaged over the summer with cleaning crews, painters, and other strangers working in the schools during break.

I protect my board during the summer with a full-size waterproof mattress cover. It eases my mind that someone cannot accidentally write on it with a marker. It is protected from paint and/or wax splatter. It is somewhat protected if there was a roof leak or if the sprinklers malfunction. The best part is that I bought it at Big Lots for only $5! Buy one new and stick it in a drawer so you have it ready for next summer!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Musical Toms


Today is my birthday and my husband just scored major brownie points. He gets all the credit (even though I shared a link to the Toms ordering site on my Facebook page. I also included a coupon code ... and tagged his name ... but he gets all the credit! ;)
I have several shoes that are made like Toms and they are so comfortable for teaching. I can't wait to show these off at school. Our first day of school is tomorrow!

If you would like to order your own pair, here is a link:
If you search RetailMeNot, you can also find a coupon code to get $10 off!
Also, the Toms website is currently offering free shipping for orders $25 or more.
Don't miss this great deal!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

8th Grade Throwback

All summer, I have been organizing and decluttering my house. My productivity was paused briefly by this lovely blast from the past. It is a project from 8th grade English class. We were given half a poster board and some rough guidelines. I'm not sure if it served much of a purpose other than to ease us into writing and let us learn a little about our classmates.

At first glance, I thought, "What a great pic for Throwback Thursday on Facebook!" But, as I kept reading the words I had written as a student nearly twenty years ago, I kept thinking about my current students and my role as an educator.


How My 8th Grade English Project Made Me A Better Teacher

1) Student Goals: The Difference Between Setting Goals and Achieving Goals

My proudest moment of the previous school year was the success of the quick recall team, making it to the state level competition for the first time in school history. Even though I wasn't a star on the team and only played for a few minutes in scrimmages, I was proud to be a part of the team.

I set my goal for the current school year "become very successful on the academic team". But, I never became the quick recall champion. I used the excuse that I was too shy and not fast enough on the buzzers. A teacher asked me to set a goal, but that goal meant nothing unless there was a plan to achieve it. My high school band director, Mr. Parker, asked us to write a few specific goals at the beginning of the marching season. He taped them on the wall in the back of the band room to remind us what we were working for. Most of those goals were achieved because they were short-term goals and we were reminded of them often.

I chose a quote by President John F. Kennedy--"Never settle for second when first is available." I find this very ironic considering how I abandoned my goal to become a quick recall star. I had the desire to be the best on the team but I had no plan to achieve that goal.

Do you ask your students to set goals? If you do, don't forget to ask them how they will reach that goal and offer support along the way!

2) Lesson Goals: Some Of the Most Important Lessons Will Not Have a Core-Content Number


I chose my grandmother as the most influential figure in my life. I further explained, "She taught me to do the right thing and to learn from my mistakes, not grieve over them." This seems like a simple lesson that everyone learns at home. But, teachers must assume the role of positive adult figure and often offer guidance and support beyond our job description. Sometimes we must abandon the learning objective written in our lesson plans and take the opportunity to guide students through a life lesson. 

In my room, we learn about respect for peers, respect for authority figures, respect for property, and self-respect. Through teamwork and cooperation, we learn about community and compromise. We learn about acceptance, embracing differences in abilities, cultures, beliefs, and traditions. These are the lessons that can never be measured on a standardized test. But, these are also the lessons that students will remember for years to come, long after the learning objectives (and, perhaps, even my name and face) are forgotten. This poster reminded me that all teachers should share one common goal--"To help our students become better humans."

3) Long-Term Goal: Find Happiness

As an 8th grader, I was only 12 years old. I was asked to imagine my life ten years in the future. I thought I would be in Harvard getting a law degree, but that is far from reality. I don't even remember being interested in law. It was probably just an answer I thought others would want to hear. This vision was far from my actual path. In August 2005, I was not sitting in a Harvard classroom. I was sitting in an elementary classroom beginning my first year as a music teacher.

There is a trending buzz word in the education field to prepare students to be Career/College Ready. Elementary teachers are pressured to get students thinking about their future--a future they simply cannot grasp. When we ask children to envision their future, we need to make sure they aren't pressured to give us answers they think we want to hear. Encourage them to answer honestly so they will find happiness in their career path.

I can say, now, that I am certain I was put on this earth to teach elementary music. Music is my passion. In 1995, I was beginning my 3rd year in band. Music was more of a hobby instead of a passion. I was a mediocre trumpet player sitting comfortably in the middle of the section playing a 2nd trumpet part. But, there were other clues that music important in my life.

In my spare time, I enjoyed listening to music. My favorite album around that age was Mariah Carey's Music Box (Yes, that is a hand-drawn cassette tape!) My passion for music grew more each year and began challenging myself to improve my trumpet skills. By senior year, I knew I wanted to teach music. I was very fortunate to have the support to pursue a career in a field that gives me true happiness. I hope that all my students can be guided to find their own happiness in life.

Thank you for letting me reflect on the past. This was a great opportunity to reexamine my teaching philosophy and provide some perspective as I start fresh with a new school year. Our first day with kids is August 6th. Happy Back-To-School, everyone!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Anti-Pinterest Classroom Pictures

In August, bloggers usually post pictures of their classrooms prepped for the beginning of school.  Everything is clean and organized with true Pinterest perfection! This year thought I would post some anti-Pinterest pictures. What does your classroom look like when preparing for summer?

4 Classroom Pictures You WILL NOT See On Pinterest!!!

1) Dirt

You will not see piles of dirt on Pinterest. Does anyone else loathe the dirt that accumulates under a large area rug? Is it truly dirt or is it the bottom of the rug deteriorating? You should have seen the floor when the rugs were first rolled up. At least this dirt has been swept into a nice pile. I think my custodian is trying to convince my principal to buy me a new rug. My rugs are in rough shape.

2) Mismatched Boxes

In the world of Pinterest, all the boxes would be matching sizes and modpodged with cute wrapping paper.  The two diaper boxes do look out of place on top of all the matching Lowe's boxes. This is actually a spare room which will store my instruments for the summer so it will be temperature controlled. Our floors are getting ripped up and replaced this summer. My wall of wooden cabinets had to be emptied and boxed up. I'm so thankful for my old post on Organizing Instruments. I'm certain I will be using it as reference when unpacking boxes.

3) Stuff Covered In Plastic Table Cloths

If you type "plastic table cloth" in the search window on Pinterest, you will find many creative and beautiful uses for this cheap party supply. People use them for backdrops, chair covers, curtains, ceiling swags, pom pom flowers, and more. However, you WILL NOT see them draped over computers and printers. We are not certain what kind of dust and debris will be created when they replace the floors this summer, so everything must be protected. 

4) Unlabeled Boxes

This picture MOST DEFINITELY does not belong on Pinterest! As I began the packing process, all of my boxes were labeled neatly with all the contents, down to the last egg shaker. I even made matching pink labels reading "MUSIC ROOM 129, FRAGILE INSTRUMENTS!!!!". However, at the end of the packing process, I got tired of being neat and organized and started shoving things in boxes and throwing them on the purple table. You will also see more plastic table cloths covering textbooks that are not even boxed. That laziness would definitely not show up on Pinterest!!!

In order to offset the chaotic disarray of my classroom at the moment, I would like to declare one last thing . . .
Before I began the packing process, I attacked my filing cabinets with a trash can and a label maker!!! Lots of things got thrown away and minimized. I made new labels for the drawers.

The drawer I use most throughout the school year got new file folders with new printed labels. My handwriting is atrocious, so I will be able to locate things much quickly now. I can't wait to tackle the other drawers in the fall! I'm sure I will search Pinterest and find more projects to put my label maker to use around the house this summer!