Saturday, October 19, 2019

Orff Arranging With An App

I love to use the Acapella app to help create Orff arrangements. You can record videos and hear multiple parts simultaneously. There is a free version and paid version available in the Apple Store and Google Play.

With the free version of the app, you can record up to one minute in length.  Since most of the Orff arrangements use repeated ostinatos, I have never needed a video longer than one minute. The paid upgrade offers longer videos and more options for formatting the video windows. 

I have used the Acapella app to create videos to share Orff arrangements with other teachers. I have also posted videos on my classroom webpage for students to watch and practice at home. A few examples can be found below. 

I have recently explored the social features of the app and would love to collaborate with other music teachers. If you download the app, you can click the “Discover” tab at the bottom of the screen and search for song titles, artists, tags, or people. I have added the tag #orff or #recorder to my videos.. If you would like to follow me, search for “mrsdennis” under people. If you follow me, I will follow you back. I look forward to building a community of music educators sharing Orff arrangements with each other!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Friday Reflection: Lost and Found

September set records for the hottest and driest month in over 80 years. But, fall has finally arrived and we are experiencing a cool down. With changing temps comes layers, and children love to shed layers while we are moving and dancing in music class. But, they don't always remember to take their jackets and hoodies with them when they leave. Last year, I came up with a solution.

I call this the Stuff Bucket. Anything the students bring to class that they don't need with them during the lesson goes into this plastic bin. Before I had the Stuff Bucket, I would often find random clothing, hair bows, books, and eye glasses that students would place on any nearby surface. They would sneak them on shelves, tables, my desk, or even the marker tray at the board. Often I would not notice these things until the end of the day, or even the following day, and with many classes visiting my room, it was difficult to track down owners of the lost items.

My Stuff Bucket sits right by the door so we can make sure it is empty before each class leaves. I have seen a significant reduction in unclaimed items and I rarely have to take items to the school's Lost and Found. If you have a problem with abandoned jackets and lost items, you should create try creating your own Stuff Bucket. Let me know if it helps or if you have any other suggests to prevent the accumulation of lost items.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday Reflection: Never Stop Learning

Three years ago, my student teacher sparked my interest in the ukulele and I began teaching myself how to play. During these years, I have fallen in love with this tiny instrument. Since then, I acquired a class set of ukuleles and began adjusting my curriculum. I even began teaching private lessons on the ukulele and now have a private studio which is growing steadily. Not only has the ukulele changed my teaching, it has also changed my life as a musician.

I have never been a confident singer, but last month I attended my first ukulele open mic night at a coffee shop. I've played for my students countless times with no problems, but I definitely felt nervous as I stepped on stage for an audience of strangers. It had been years since I had felt those performance jitters. It was a great experience to remind me of how my students may feel when I ask them to sing solo in class.

Last Friday, I went to the ukulele open mic for a second time. I felt more confident and my daughter even joined me on stage for one song. She was a little nervous but she is excited to go back next month and try a new song.

Three years ago, I would have never imagined that I would perform at an open mic. I am so grateful for this tiny instrument which has completely changed my life. The ukulele has reminded me of why I fell in love with music. It made me go through the process of learning again which has also made me a better teacher. Great teachers never stop learning. So, stretch beyond your comfort zone and become a beginner again. You're never too old to try something new.

I hope to post more tips on teaching ukulele in the classroom and learning ukulele as an adult.
Click this link to see more  Ukulele Posts.

Click this link if you would like to see videos of me performing on ukulele.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday Reflection: Orff Bar Storage

I am very fortunate to have a large collection of Orff instruments. I am also very fortunate to have a large space to allow most of the instruments to remain out at all times and still have open space for movement. Here is a glance of my Orff set-up. You can view a full tour of my room on this post.

I feel like I have a pretty good system for my instruments ... except for my accidentals. For years, I have kept the accidentals separated in Ziploc bags in a basket on the shelf. When we needed F# or Bb I would have to pass the bags out. Matching the correct bag to the correct instrument was very time consuming. I knew I needed a new system and kept trying to brainstorm solutions. 

Last May, I started saving empty containers of disinfectant wipes. I removed the labels and then used zip ties to attach them to the instruments. I have a few instruments on rolling stands.  These containers were attached to the legs of the stand and the weight rested on the bottom brace. I used 2 zip ties on the top and 2 zip ties on the bottom. 

Most of my instruments sit flat on the floor. I first measured the height of the instrument so the container could sit right below the edge of the top piece of wood. I cut the container easily with a box cutter. The instrument pictured below is Sonor Primary line. There are threaded holes already in these instruments to attach legs which are purchased separately.  I used these holes to feed the zip ties through. It took 3 zip ties to secure these containers through the holes.

The Sonor alto metallophones sit a little taller and didn't need as much trimming. 

I have a couple older Sonor instruments that have pressed wood boxes. These instruments were taller and the containers did not need trimmed at all. They also had metal threads for legs, but there was not a hole going through the wood box. I used a drill to create a small hole through the wood inside the threaded hole. 

I'm so pleased with this new system. I was afraid there may be rattling from the bars vibrating against each other, but we have been playing with them a few weeks and I haven't noticed any noises. My older students have done a great job switching the bars and returning the naturals back when they were finished. The students have also used the containers for extra mallet storage. Since I used zip ties, these containers can be easily removed and then replaced if needed.

The best thing about this system is that it was practically free! I bought some zip ties at a discount store for just $2. In May, I also asked the classroom teachers to send me their empty wipe containers. Since they were cleaning for summer, I quickly accumulated enough for my instruments. 

How do you store your accidentals? Share below if you have a great idea that others may want to copy.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday Reflection: Creating

Today's reflection focuses on "Creating" in the music room. Watch below to learn more about how I introduce composition to my students.

Here are some links to learn more about things referenced in this video:

Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Reflection: Isolating Your Senses

I hope to share ideas and tips on a more regular basis, so I am starting a series called Friday Reflections. Each Friday, I will reflect on my week and try to share a highlight which may be helpful to you.  It may be a resource which I use that I would like to recommend. It may be my favorite moment from the week. It may be a revelation I had to improve my own practices. These posts will be shorter than my usual posts and I hope they may be beneficial to someone.

Today's reflection is highlighting a 1st grade lesson which I have taught for many years. I tried something new and it really improved our musicianship. This lesson uses the rhyme "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" and is based on the lesson presented in the Mallet Madness books. All students use the Orff instruments and freely improvise with a given rhythm. There is a sequence which starts simple isolating the numbers or isolating the words. After a few turns clicking mallets, playing, and resting,  we discuss the difference between wooden bars and metal bars. I assign the numbers to the metals and the woods to the words. They have to learn to rest when it is not their turn.

We eventually play the rhythms without our voices. The students must internalize the words in order to stay together. This particular group was playing a little sloppily. I asked that they try one more time, but with their eyes closed. They performed again and it was much more clean. By closing their eyes, they could not watch my conducting cues. They were forced to use their ears listen for the groups talking back and forth. They ended up hitting the bars more in unison instead of sounding like popcorn. When we opened our eyes everyone was smiling ear to ear. These tiny first graders could tell that we made something magical happen.

I've taught this lesson many years. I don't know why I decided to ask them to close their eyes, but I am so glad I did. It will definitely one of my top memorable moments. I have tried something similar during other lessons where I taught a portion non-verbally. By communicating with gestures only, the students were less distracted and listened more carefully to the sounds they were playing.

Have you ever decided to eliminate sight or speech during a lesson? I would love to hear your thoughts on isolating your senses.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Another Use For Binder Clips

A teacher's plight-getting things to stick to the cinder block walls. Most of the time, I can use masking tape hot glue, sticky tack, Stikki Clips, or any combination of those. However, I have 4 large posters which were laminated with the cold laminator. It made them very heavy and NOTHING seems to stick to that cold laminating film. Here is a picture of the posters from my classroom tour in 2012.

After years of trial and error, here is my solution. I hope it can help you too. They are in a new location now where they are stacked vertical. I first taped them together. I left some sticky tack on the back to help it stay straight, but the tack was not going to be bearing the weight of the posters.

I punched 2 holes in the top corners of the poster. I attached binder clips to the metal trim for the drop ceiling. I opened a paperclip to form an S hook to attach the poster to the binder hook.

These have been hanging with this method for several years and have never fallen down. I hope this could help someone with some stubborn posters. But, please check your fire code to make sure this would not violate any regulations. Do you have any tricks for hanging things? If you do, please share them below.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ukulele Cabinet Update

I have 40 Kala Waterman Ukuleles which I store in a plastic double-door cabinet. If you would like to learn more about how I created this custom storage, click on this link to a previous blog post.

All last year, I stared at this circular handle on my ukulele cabinet and I imagined a sound hole. I just KNEW this bland cabinet NEEDED a ukulele on the front doors. But, there is never enough time during the school year to tackle a project like this. This summer, I finally made my vision a reality.

I have several teacher friends with Cricut cutting machines who would have graciously helped me create my design with vinyl. But, the front of the cabinet is textured and also slightly bowed, so I knew the vinyl would not stick. I was going to have to paint it. 

I first sketched the ukulele with a crayon and used a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser when I had to adjust my lines and make it symmetrical. I used Painters brand opaque paint pens to paint inside the design. The most pain-staking part was shading the teal body. 

The music notes surrounding the ukulele were inspired by my classroom door. These were re-positional wall stickers and they have lasted 4 years now. They are not peeling or scratched at all. My door is on a corner and gets high traffic through that hallway. I'm very pleased with how long they have lasted. I love the whimsical combination of the music notes and swirls, so I used this design to inspire my ukulele mural.

I didn't update much in my music room this summer, but this cabinet is definitely eye-catching. All the students this week have been ooh-ing and aah-ing over the cabinet. It took about 3-4 hours to complete this project, but it was well-worth it to see all their smiling faces!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bubble Wrap Incentives

Since spring break, I've discovered a cheap and effective behavior incentive--BUBBLE WRAP!
It happened by accident. I had opened a box of supplies but didn't have time to put them all away before my first class came in. The 5th graders immediately spotted the bubble wrap and begged to pop it. I told them they would have to earn the deserved the bubble wrap. They were angels!!! So, I cut off some squares and let them pop! I tried this with the next class and they, too, were fascinated with the bubble wrap. So, here's my system:

I cut the bubble wrap into squares roughly measuring 3" by 3". I had a jar with a hinged lid that was a gift from a student from Christmas. I store the bubble wrap in the jar. I have a plastic basket in the closet with a bubble wrap stash ready to refill my jar.

At the end of class, I pick some "Pop Stars" who get to pop some bubble wrap. I wait until they are standing in line and pass some out. They must pop it in line and dispose of the spent bubble wrap in my trashcan on their way out the door. 

I have even offered therapeutic bubble wrap to teachers who looked extra stressed when they came to pick up their classes. No one has refused!

During the last 2 weeks of school, I got a package in the mail that included these giant pillow bubbles. I have now called them "Super Bubbles" and I have chosen one person in each class to stomp on a super bubble.

Students and teachers have learned of my bubble wrap rewards and have been bringing me their bubble wrap to replenish my stash. I'm sure between donations and my own habit of online shopping, I will not have to spend a dime on more bubble wrap.

The bubble wrap was such a hit, I'm sure it will return in the fall to start the school year. How are you surviving the end of the school year? Do you have any incentives to encourage good behavior? I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Instrument Repair: Recorder Block

In my 14 years teaching, I’ve always used Yamaha 3-piece recorder and I’ve never had a recorder sound block fall out... until now! This student tried to fix it himself and got the block misaligned and stuck. In the video below, I show how I attempted to remove the block safely so I could fix it properly.  

Have you ever had a sound block fall out of a recorder? This was my first and it certainly challenged me to think outside the box. If you do not already have an arsenal of tools in your classroom, you should consider getting a multi-tool and a quick change screwdriver like the ones I used in the video. I am often needing them to repair something quickly and I am glad I don't have to wait to borrow tools from the custodian. I bought these tools very cheap at Walmart during my first year teaching and they were a great investment. Links to similar products can be found below.


This is usually found in the sporting goods section with camping or fishing gear. You can get one similar to the one I have for about $10. Here is a link to purchase.

Quick Change Screwdriver

This can be found in the hardware section. You can get one similar for around $5 or $6. Here is a link to purchase.