Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Christmas!

As musicians, December can be the busiest time of the year.  It's easy to get caught up in the stress of concerts, parties, and other commitments, and lose the fun that they are intended to be.  So take a moment to stop and remember why you started  doing this in the first place.  For me, it's JOY.  Music brings joy to my heart, and sharing it with others multiplies it exponentially.  Let go of your inner critic, and let yourself enjoy the spirit of the season and the heart behind the harmonies.   I hope you enjoy a restful, rejuvenating break with your family and friends.  Have a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Beiber Flip

Today my first graders and I learned the orginal "Twelve Days of Christmas" song.  After singing it, I asked them if they thought they would like to receive those gifts...yeah, NO!  So we wrote our own version, with gifts they wanted to get for Christmas. After putting our list together, we created movements for them and performed the finished song for their teacher when she came to pick them up.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, dear Santa gave to me:

12 toy swords
11 iPods
10 Monster High dolls
9 blue flutes
8 PS3s
7 Skylanders
6 new computers
5 ballerina dolls!
4 3DS
3 chihuahuas
2 toy cats
and 1 Justin Bieber doll!

The best part was when we got to the Justin Bieber doll.  I asked what we should do when we sing that, and a little boy (with total Bieber hair) said, "I know!  The hair flip!"  Then he did it.  Perfectly.  So we ended our performance with 27 first graders doing the Bieber flip and singing into imaginary microphones.  It was awesome.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Nutcracker Ballet!

This is one of my FAVORITE units to teach.  The story, the music, the activities are all so exciting for the kids...and me, too!  I have traditionally taught this unit in second grade, but it is easily adapted to other grade levels as well.

First, we learn about ballet.  What is it? A story told through movement, without words.  Then we learn some basic terms and a few simple steps.  We plie, passe, pirouette, and chasse around the music room! 

After the introduction to ballet, I introduce Peter Tchaikovsky, and how he did not like The Nutcracker Suite when he completed it.  The kids are always surprised to learn that famous composers were regular people with regular quirks (see Lives of the Musicians: Good times, Bad times, and what the neighbors thought). 

Finally, we get to learn the story.  I read the story of The Nutcracker Ballet, right up to the point when the Nutcracker turns into a live prince and invites Clara to visit his kingdom....."Do you think she'll go?" I ask the class.  They don't all agree on their answer.  But darn, we're out of time! We'll have to find out next week!  (Hee hee!  I love leaving them with a cliffhanger!)

Next week, we'll act out the party scene as we identify the form of the Overture: ABAB with coda.  They're gonna LOVE it!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Note Values with Tennis Balls

This week, I stole borrowed an idea from Kristin Lukow (Musical Musings with Mrs. Lukow) that uses tennis balls to practice note values.  Basically, there is a different action for each note: whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes.  Choose a song with a comfortable tempo, and call out the note for kids to demonstrate.  Change every 16 beats or so.  It's much easier to understand when you see it, so I'll let Kristin's kids show you how it's done:

 Isn't that fun? My 3rd and 4th graders are loving it--you should have seen their faces when I said we would all be using tennis balls in class.  Immediate, 100% student engagement! Awesome!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Fun!

Last week was Red Ribbon Week, full of fun dress-up days, a DEA Helicopter landing, and a K-9 Unit demonstration.  SO exciting for little people!  Plus, it's almost Halloween!  Aaaaaah!  The excitement is reaching a feverish height! 

When life gives you excited little kiddies, you have to figure out how to go with it.  These are some fun things we did this week to work out those wiggles and keep them focused.

1.  Copycat to special songs - This is just a movement activity to keep the beat in your body.  I move the beat to a different movement every 8 beats, so they have to keep watching or they'll get left behind!  When they are good at following quickly, try letting students lead.  I go around the circle, with each student leading a movement for 8 beats.  When I say "switch!", the next student leads with their movment.  This weeks fun songs were: 
  • Monster Mash
  • Purple People Eater
  • Witch Doctor
  • Scooby Doo Theme Song (kinders go nuts for this one!)
  • I Want Candy
2.  "Witch Doctor" is fun to sing!  I taught the kids to sing the chorus ("ooh-ee-ooh-ah-ah, ting-tang, wadda wadda bing bang!")  It's great for phonemic awareness with younger students, and good articulation practice for older kids.

3.  Listening Lesson:  J.S. Bach, "Toccata and Fugue in d minor" - Did you know that many kids have never seen or heard of a pipe organ these days?  I made a slideshow with pics of the pipe organ from our church a few years ago.  We talk about how the organ works, how kids used to pump the air into the organ for Bach and other greats, and how MANY pipes there are.  Then we listen to the music.  I tell them that Bach was writing for why does it sound scary?  Great discussions in 3rd and 4th grade!

4.  Spooky Walk - a LONG time ago, I had a record (yes, vinyl record!) with this speech activity on it.  It's like the "Bear Hunt" we've all done, but instead they hear spooky sounds along the way.  At the end, we go into a cave with dripping water in the background and echoing sounds.  They LOVE it!  (I have since managed to record the album with an mp3 recorder so I can use it again. It's not the greatest quality, but that makes it even spookier!)

5.  "Grickler Grackle" - I can't remember which book I got this one from, but it's a speech piece that I use in 2nd grade.  We learn the rhyme, then match the rhythms with the correct line.  Then I divide them into small groups, where they write their own answer to the final question.
  •  Listen!  Listen!  Listen to the witch!
  • Grickle, grackle, chip, chop, crunch!
  • Grickle, grackle, gooble, gooble, munch, munch, munch!
  • Whatever in the world is she having for lunch?
She's had everything from chips and crackers to bones, eyes, and spider stew!  You can also let the groups use instruments to add sounds to their final performance of the piece (including their original ending). 

So that's what we've been doing at my school!  If you like these and would like more info, or a copy of a ppt., leave your email in a comment below and I'll be happy to share!  Now, what are your favorite October activities?  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Music Word Wall

Our school is really focusing on improving writing skills in our students this year.  As a music teacher, I don't do a lot of writing, but I did think of a way to encourage the thinking skills needed to write well.  Enter the Listening Board: 

When we listen to music, there are so many things to listen to, and comment on, it can be hard to put into words.  Heck, when you only come to music once a week, it's hard to remember the words to use!  So I made this display, dividing the descriptors into six categories:  Tempo, Dynamics, Articulation, Melody, Mood, and Timbre.  For elementary school, that's quite a bit!  In each section I put up different words to describe that aspect of the music.  My plan is to refer to it every time we listen to a new piece, and ask students to tell me -- in complete sentences -- what they hear.  I'm sure they will come up with new words to add, too.  That will make it even better! 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Those who do the work, do the learning

That's a truth I totally believe, but I'm not always good at living it.  I mean, it's just so much easier to do things myself, rather than try to explain to someone one else how to do them.  I am really working on giving my students more responsibility for their learning, starting with the little(ish) things. 

I am kinda funny about organization.  Everything has a place, and a correct way to fit into that place.  Trusting 8-year-olds to get out and put away instruments safely and neatly is REALLY hard for me.  Enter the colored dots:

Sticker Dots sold in office supply stores.

These marvelous little dots have made my life so much easier!  Here's how it works:  each mallet instrument has a colored dot on the side. (Soprano=blue, Alto=yellow, Bass=red, Glocks and specialty mallets=green) There is a dot of the same color on the mallets for those instruments.  There is another dot on the shelf where that instrument is stored.  The mallet cans are also color coded in the same way.  Students know which mallets go with their instrument, which can to put them in, and where to put away the instrument at the end of class.  I can see at a glance what is missing or misplaced and make adjustments as needed.  I'm still tweaking the system for weaknesses, but so far I'm excited!  No more setting up and taking down by myself!  And yes, this is a great lesson for kids.  They feel more responsible, and it shows in their class participation as well.

UPDATE:  Love it!  Everything has ended up back in the right place, and I didn't have to put everything away myself.  This is HUGE, especially since my schedule this year does not allow time in between classes to rearrange everything.  The older kids have to set up/take down during class time, and now I can relax and let them do it. Why didn't I do this sooner?

Friday, October 7, 2011


Last week I got a message from a high school friend who is also an elementary music teacher.  He and his colleagues were looking for a classroom to visit during their inservice day, and asked if they could come see me.  My immediate answer to that question is always, "sure! come on!"  Until that day.  Then I am as nervous as a first year teacher.  I question my lesson plan.  I question my classroom management.  I question my sanity. 

In my defense, today was our first early release day, before a long weekend, and the weather changed. Oh, and it's Friday.  See what I mean?  Any veteran teacher will tell you, that is a recipe for craziness.  Brace yourself, and have a backup plan. 

So I'm teaching my lesson (Hispanic Heritage, music and dance) when my new friends come in. They sit down on the risers (away from the class) and immediately start whispering and pointing.  Great for the old self-esteem, ya'll.  And the kids..........were GREAT.  They loved the lesson, and after we finished dancing I heard several "that was fun!" comments during the transition back to their seats.  They sang well, they learned a new song and game, and we all had a fantastic time.  Whew!  I hope my visitors enjoyed it, but I am pleased no matter what.

Once again I am reminded of how much I enjoy my job.  Happy Friday!

Monday, September 26, 2011

HHM la segunda parte (Part 2)-- La Raspa

"La Raspa" is a traditional dance from Mexico, often taught to school children.  (It is sometimes referred to as the Mexican Hat Dance, but this is incorrect.  The Mexican Hat Dance is a more complicated, flirtatious dance performed by adult dancers.)  I like to show the students a video of children dancing, to give them an idea of the final product we are aiming towards.  They really enjoyed this one:

This is just a home video of someone's school program, but it shows the steps well, along with the traditional costumes and some pretty good little dancers. 

We discuss the form of the piece (rondo), then learn the steps for each section.  I list ABACA on the board, with steps for each, to help them remember.   We partner up, and dance! Sometimes I have kinder and first dance in a circle instead of with partners - it depends on the class. :)

La Raspa is great exercise!  Get extra PE minutes, learn Rondo form, and learn multicultural music all in one fun activity.  It's a great way to start class for a few weeks.   Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's Hispanic Heritage Month!

National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 - October 15. (I find it odd that it is not an actual calendar month, but whatever.)  I love HHM--we have so much fun in music!  Over the next three weeks I will be posting some of my favorite lessons and activities for this month. The first is a book that I read in Kinder and First Grade classes: The Best Mariachi in the World by J.D. Smith.

It's about a little boy who wants to be a mariachi, but he's too little.  Until one morning when the village hears him singing.  Awwwww! Happy endings, spanish words, and mariachi music.  :)

In Kinder, we learn the names of the instruments in the mariachi band and color a picture while listening to mariachi music (click here for coloring page).  In first grade, we study the differences between the instruments (guitarron vs. guitar, vihuela vs. violin) and enjoy the same music.  The kids love it! 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Timer is My Friend

Okay, so this is more of a mom post than a teacher post, but it made my morning so much better I had to share! 

My 10yo son is a dawdler.  Big time.  He can cram a 2 minute task into 15, easy peasy.  This makes mornings at our house a bit frustrating.  Since I drop him off at school on my way to work, he has to be ready to go on time, or mom will be late. Lately I have found myself stressing out every morning, hurrying him out the door, and still getting to his school just in time to get stuck in drop-off traffic. Not cool.  So this morning, I had a brainstorm.  The online stopwatch timer.

I used the Wii in our living room to go online and show the timer--full screen--as it counted down the seconds until time to go.  I didn't even say anything to him, just let it run.  Guess what?  He was ready 5 minutes early!  AWESOME!  I'm thinking Mr. Timer will be our new morning helper.

BTW, this is also a great tool to use in the classroom.  Give students a set amount of time for a task (centers, putting things away, share time, etc.) and let the timer be the bad guy.  There's also a Bomb Countdown that blows up when it gets to zero!

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Beary Special Friend

I have a special friend who visits my kinder classes each year.  His name is Mr. Bear (creative, I know).  He loves to hear children sing, especially his favorite song......."Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear" of course!   He even directs the song, showing the kids the tempo he wants to use before we start.  Sometimes he gets mischevious and gives us really FAST tempos, or really S-L-O-W tempos.  You never know what he'll do next!  When we finish his favorite song, he likes to watch the class from the sidelines.  If he's really impressed with their work, he will give everyone a hug or handshake when they line up.  But noisy, rowdy classes make him nervous.  We have to be careful not to scare him!

I had one class this week who could not get enough of Mr. Bear.  They thought he was so funny!  His arms/paws move, and every time he started to conduct the music, they would bust out laughing!  They nearly died when he touched his toes!  LOL!  Gotta love kinder babies.

The Good, the Bad, and the Average

This week has been all about choir auditions.  I have a 3rd and 4th grade choir that meets after school on Tuesdays all year long.  Last year, I had 55 kids in the choir, and it was really too big.  At least for my school, with just me, it was too many kiddos.  So this year I vowed to stick as close to 40 as I could....<sigh>.  It's so hard to tell a 9-year-old that you didn't choose them.  I'm always worried that they will be scarred for life--but then, it's a life lesson that we don't always get everything we want, right?  Right.  Okay.  They get their results in a sealed envelope, right before they leave school on Friday.  By Monday, most of them will have gotten over not making it, and the ones who did make it will be so excited to "tell" me about it, I'm sure it will be a good day. (But I'll still worry about it until then. I can't help it.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Orff-Schulwerk Awesomeness

Eric Young, at The Orff-Schulwerk Classroom, is a teacher and presenter.  He shared this video on his blog about building marimbas at your school.  I can't even wrap my brain around all of the logistics of making this happen yet, but I know it's awesome!  I especially love the teaching tips after the photo section of the presentation.  For those of us who are Orff-challenged (okay, just less experienced), it helps to see it broken down into baby steps.  I see myself using this soon...I hope you enjoy it, too!

Monday, August 29, 2011

♩♩♫♩ Every Good Boy Does Fine - Mnemonics!

I was visiting Krisin Lukow's awesome blog, and found LOTS of great ideas, videos, links, and more.  She is obviously very tech-savvy, and is using it in her classroom.  Check out this awesome video to review/teach the names of the lines of the treble clef!
♩♩♫♩Musical Musings with Mrs. Lukow ♫♩♫♩: Every Good Boy Does Fine - Mnemonics!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pick Me! Pick Me!

Don't you just hate it when you have to choose a child to do something, and they're ALL sitting quietly, doing exactly what you asked? (Don't happens!)  It's SO hard to choose, and I for one do not have the memory capacity to know who got to have a turn last week, or even last hour!   When I first started teaching elementary music, a veteran teacher told me how she does it, and I have been making her system mine for 15 years now.  It totally works!

I call it the "Who's Next?" board.  I have an envelope for every class that comes to music each week. This year, I labeled them with grade/day of the week, hoping it will be helpful for subs and reusable next year.  I have also put teacher's names on the envelopes in the past.

The first or second week of school, I have each class make their cards.  I give them an index card and ask them to write their name VERY neatly, and their class code (helps in case a card gets separated from the stack).  The older kids also have to write a sentence.  This year I used, "I am good at..."  It's a great way for them to tell me what they love and are good at, plus forces them to focus on a positive trait.  AND, we are putting a huge emphasis on writing on our campus, so this is a way I can help toward that goal.

The cards go in the class envelope.  When I need to choose a child to do something, I always take the front card, then put it in the back.  The kids know that their card will not be chosen again until ALL of the other cards have been pulled.  Sometimes I will go through the whole stack in one class, other times I only need one or two.  Either way, we all know no one will be forgotten.  It is awesome!  They don't beg or argue, and when someone starts to, the other kids will say, "she's going to pick a card!" and everyone is cool.

The next obstacle was to remember to put cards in for new students that move in throughout the year.  Ahem, yeah, I'm not exactly known for my excellent my defense, I've had two babies and I'm over 40, so brain cells are leaking out everywhere.  Anyway, I think I've found a solution:

I mounted a box to hold extra cards and a couple of pencils on the board.  Next to it are directions for making your card.  I told my kids that they can help new students when they come to music for the first time.  There are always little helpers that will remember that way better than I will!

I love that all my students know that everyone is important, and I am doing my best to make sure no one is left out in music class.  After all, everyone is expected to participate!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

About Mrs. H

Today was the third day of the new school year.  So far, I've done my "Welcome to Music" lesson 15 times...ten more to go!  Our schools have "common planning time" for all grade levels, so that means I have one section of each grade level each day.  The up side:  only 5 classes a day!  The down side:  the entire grade level has to be in co-curricular classes at the same time, so there are more kids in each section.  So far, my biggest group is 29, which is not too bad.  Here's hoping they stay under 30!

One of the things I added this year is an "About Mrs. H" slide show.  I thought it might be fun to share other things about my life besides music, especially for those kids who aren't as "into" music as other things.  I showed pictures of my family, the kids, the dog (a big hit!), and the show my boys were in this summer.  But the best part of all was the "Things I Like" page.  I found clip art for stuff I like to do, eat, make, or watch.  The kids got so excited!  They all wanted to share the "likes" I had in common with them or their parents.  It was so sweet!

The best moment of the day was when my 3rd graders were lining up to leave.  One little boy told me that he really likes making things out of paper too (I told them about my paper crafts obsession), and he asked if he could bring one of his projects to show me next time. :)  Of course I said yes!   

These little connections mean so much to kids.  It's hard to build relationships with 625 kids in one hour a week, so anything that can strengthen that bond is worth the time and effort.  Maybe you already do something like this in your room.  If not, then I highly recommend it.  It's easy, and takes only a few minutes of class time.  I know this will be a part of my first week from now on! 

Have a great day!

Monday, August 22, 2011

FREE Marimba Music!

This summer I taught a one-week music camp for elementary kiddos.  I wanted some music we could play on Orff instruments with younger kids, with minimal practice time.  As I was searching, I found this FREE piece on  It was really easy to teach, and the kids loved it!  It was great for familiarizing the kids with the instruments, teaching how to play a tremolo, and building confidence.  And did I mention that it's FUN?

You can see and print the whole song here

First, I taught the kids to sing the song, with me singing first and the kids clapping the instrument part.  We quickly moved to the instruments to play.  They were able to perform the piece (with me singing) almost immediately.  The next rehearsals we polished singing and playing at the same time, and traded instruments for variety.  The kids performed for their parents at the end of the week, and they all wanted to play this song.  Love it!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Prayer for Children Going Back to School

A new adventure awaits them as they prepare for school.

Excitement for new possibilities
and fear of the unknown
mingle in their hearts.

Thoughts of achievement
and thoughts of failure
slow their footsteps.

Bless all children
this day, O God.

Give them inquiring minds
and discerning hearts.
Give them courage
to persevere
in all they undertake.

Give them the gift
of joy and wonder
in all things.

Give them laughter
and love to share
with all.

Give them protection
and safety as they move
out of our embrace. And give them sure
and certain knowledge
of your unfailing love.


(borrowed from

May God bless every teacher and student as we begin a new year together. Ready for takeoff!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Let's Talk...SUB PLANS

I know, school hasn't even started yet, so why am I talking about sub plans?? Hey, you never know who's gonna end up sick the first day of school...and yes, it's happened to me before!  SO, here we go...

Sometimes it's just easier to go to school than write out sub plans, right?  That is especially hard in the music room.  First, it's hard to find a sub who will take a music job sometimes--they think if they are not musicians, they can't do it, or they are not comfortable singing, etc.  When you do find a sub, you never know what their musical skills will be.  After many years of teaching, I came up with a Sub Notebook that actually works great for me. 

First, there are the usual schedules, who to ask for help, copy codes, etc.  Then comes the special section.  I have a master list called an "Emergency Sub Plan".  For this page, I list games/activities that each grade level already knows how to play.  They are favorites that the kids ask for again and again, so positive participation is almost a guarantee!  I try to update the list at least once every six weeks, to keep current faves on the lists.

The next section contains detailed instructions for each game and activity.  I use a lot of the same favorites every year, so once I write out the directions once, it is done forever!  The songs/games are filed in alphabetical order for easy reference.  It's like an encyclopedia of music favorites, all there for the sub to find and read before class starts. 

I have gotten lots of positive feedback from subs about this plan.  It works great for me, and if I'm too sick to think about a sub plan, it's all good!  I hope this helps you prepare for those unexpected absences during the year, too.  If you would like a copy of my template, just shoot me an email at ckmusicmom(at)ymail(dot)com, and I'll be happy to share. 

UPDATE: I have made this sub folder template available on Google Docs.  Click this link to open and download for yourself:

What's your favorite sub plan?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

a little shameless self-promotion...

Here in Texas, funding for education has been a hot topic.  Schools are struggling to keep up, often cutting programs to save money.  Thankfully, our district values fine arts education, and so far we have managed to keep our programs (woohoo!).  BUT....extra-curricular programs are not included in the budget.  If I am going to have a choir this year, we're going to have to step into the wild world of fundraising.  <ugh.> 

No one needs any more cookie dough, wrapping paper, or candles, so what to do?  I'm so glad you asked!  I found a program that offers 60% profit (you heard right!) to participating groups.  It's called SAVING DINNER.  It's an online fundraiser offering healthy menus, recipes, shopping lists, and more...delivered electronically after purchase.  That's right!  NO deliveries, NO collecting money, NO door to door sales necessary!  AWESOMENESS!  And it encourages families to eat healthy dinners at home, which in the long run saves them money

So here's where I need a little help. :)  Please click on the link below and check out the program.  If you want to order something and support my 3rd/4th grade choir, I will be forever in your debt.  If you just want to see it to consider using it yourself, that's fine too.  Just let me know if the site makes sense and is easy for you to understand and use.  Please come back and comment!  LMK if there is anything I should include in our flyer to send out to parents to make it easy for them, too.  Thanks so much!

School starts in T-minus 12 days.....!!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Corner Monsters!

So, this isn't exactly a music post, but I found this project on another site and had to make some for myself!  They are the cutest bookmarks I've ever seen.  The ones I saw were the monsters, then I decided to create some variations on the theme...I'm thinking about some musical ones too, and maybe some with numbers on them to mark books that I am using for lessons during the year (1 for first grade, etc.).  If you want to make some for yourself, there is a great template and directions here.  And with all of the reading we are doing to get the school year started, I'm sure I'll find homes for all of my little friends!

Have a beautiful day!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bulletin Boredzzzzzz.......

Tired of the same old ideas?  Looking for some inspiration?  Try this website: .   Maybe you'll find something to excite you for the new year!

I'm thinking about using a cooking theme, with something like this:

We could be "Cooking up some fun in music",  with different utensils labeled as things we do in class.  Hmmm...I think this has much potential!  I'll let you know how it turns out!

Here I go....

It's almost here. August is four days away, and I can feel summer slipping through my fingers. Our campus has been home to summer school all summer, so my room will not be available to me until August 5....which is when we leave town for the weekend, so...August 8. Yikes! Even after 14 years of teaching the same subject, three at this school, I feel a sense of panic when August rolls around. What am I doing? How did I do this last year? What was it I wanted to remember for next time? That feeling never quite goes away. However, I took the time last year to make myself a checklist, in hopes of making August a little less frantic.

Here is a sample of my Back to School Checklist:

Classroom Preparation (instruments, desk, tables, etc.)
Bulletin Boards
Labels and Schedules
Calendars (campus, district, and my own)
Choir Auditions
Lesson Plans
Back to School shopping list

I know, it's kind of bare bones, but these are just categories.  Each one has a detailed list to go with it, which changes daily (or hourly!).   Right now I'm just trying to get my brain going in the general direction.  After all, summer's not over yet!

What do you do to get your brain ready for school to start?