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Middle School Choral Madness (aka Herding squirrels and teaching them to sing on pitch)

Hi everyone, this is Amanda Isaac. Middle School is a tough and fantastic age group to work with. They challenge you daily and demand your best; the most successful teachers serve that expectation and energy right back to them. Middle schoolers want to be both kids and grown up. I know I try to feed both halves of that personality split. Let them be goofy when appropriate and insist on professionalism when it’s time to work and perform. I also do as much as I can to lead them to certain things subconsciously for two reasons: 1. It’s good pedagogy and 2. Their subconscious usually doesn’t argue with me.


During warm ups everyone vocalizes the fullest range of the voice (both girls and boys). We do at least one overall ascending exercise, one descending exercise, and either a range extender or a tongue twister. I teach them why we do certain vocalizes and what their instrument is as scientifically as possible; that knowledge gives them responsibility and accountability for their participation and performance in class and on stage. For instance my favorite warm up is what I call a lip bubble (aka motorboat sound). Ascending and descending the perfect fifth, either with a legato or glissando articulation, gives the students a limited range to manage or focus on. This exercise is wonderful for supporting and maintaining airflow as well as relaxation of many muscles. Occasionally adding the outstretched tongue, which can release some minor tongue tension, injects some purposeful silliness at the beginning of the rehearsal. I usually begin in E flat or E and ascend by half steps to D’. If the piano is used at this point, I try to only have the open fifth or adding the playing the do, re, and sol as a chord to get their ear active in tuning.

As for voicing here’s how it works in my classroom. I teach them a short song or fragment and we sing it in multiple keys. I then bring the students up to the piano in small groups, eight to ten at a time, always of the same gender, and we sing thorough them again. I call this a Voice Check (like a doctor’s check-up). No one ever sings by themselves (which reduces anxiety) and I move around the circle "casually" listening to the individuals sing. I then ask them to identify which key felt best for them. The students know that I always take their opinion into account when deciding their voice part and that they don’t always get what they want. Their voice part is determined by how many singers there are in the ensemble, their ability to match pitch, overall tone quality, range, and level of experience. Students sing the part that fits their voice the best.

Music a la Cart: Limited Resource Edition


       Hello everyone! My name is Bethany Bassler and I’m a PK-8th music teacher in North Carolina. I am in my second year at my school and at the beginning of August I got a call from my administrator saying that my room, which was being transferred to a trailer, would not be ready at the beginning of the school year. Eek!  The result would be music on a cart to start the year, with an undefined open date to a trailer room.




Let the Great Organization Begin!


All items in my classroom had to be organized into three categories: what I wanted on the cart, what I eventually wanted in my classroom, and what was going into long-term storage. My window of cart-teaching was anywhere from 3-5 weeks, but even that was questionable, so my selection of materials had to be varied and cover all grade levels for that time frame of teaching. I didn’t know this at the time, but I also had very limited access to any other materials that were eventually going into the trailer, so switching out materials was near impossible.
The majority of my students are on a modified sequence, so I also had to consider what materials I used most frequently and had the most versatile uses across grade levels.

Sequencing Start-Up

Hi everyone, this is Laura Beese, and I’m excited to be blogging for the first time here at Kodály Corner! I just started teaching at a new school this year, so sequencing for a new group of students has been consuming my thoughts. Hopefully some of my reflections will be helpful to you whether you’re in your first year of teaching or your fifteenth!

Building Community
Just as Jamie talked about in the previous post, kids will be open to whatever you bring to them if they love you and they love coming to music. I look for activities that are going to get kids moving, playing name games, mixing, and singing together. It’s important to me that kids have a blast in music and leave with big grins on their faces looking forward to the next class. (This is true of every lesson, but FUN is especially a focus of the first few weeks.) Though expectations are an important part of a first day lesson, I only spend five minutes on explicit teaching of the “rules,” and the rest of the lesson is spent actively practicing the expectations through the kinds of games, dances, and songs we’ll be doing the rest of the year. Below are some of the students’ favorite activities from this year’s fist few lessons:
  • K/1st: Page’s Train (fast/slow; names)
  • 2nd: Jump Josie (circle play party with cumulative partner choosing)
  • 2nd, 3rd: Julie Ann Johnson (closing song with guitar where students get to decide where Julie will travel, how she'll get there, and what she'll do. They loooove this one!)
  • 3rd, 4th: Sasha mixer (Energetic and easy-to-teach mixer)
  • 4th, 5th: Funga Alafia (I used as a chorus for a name game. Students would create 4-beat ostinato patterns for the class to copy during singing, then four individuals at a time would say "My name is _______" and the class would echo. Great synco-pa prep , and ripe with extensions for drumming and instruments! Amy Abbott has nice slides and notation for teaching Funga Alafia in her back to school set!)
  • 3rd, 4th: King Kong Kitchie (Closing song with call/response and verse/refrain that 3rd and 4th grade love. Also a great tika-tika prep.)

Integrating New Students into the Music Classroom



Hi everyone! This is Jamie Parker. Like many of you, I’m getting ready to head back to school soon. This year, I am facing a new challenge: due to population changes, my school is re-districting. About 1/3 of my students will be new to my school. In preparation for this change, I have started to brainstorm how to integrate these new students into my music classroom. Today, I’ll share my thoughts with you.


These ideas will work for first-year teachers, teachers new to a position, or experienced teachers who are getting new students.











  • Some of the students you will see this year will come with “a story” from their old school/teacher. Try to give each child a fresh start. Everyone deserves a second chance, especially children. Your students have had an entire summer to grow, and they will be entering a new environment. Greet every child positively and seek the good in each student to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fostering a student-centered environment in the music room

Hi everyone! This is Aileen from Mrs. Miracle's Music Room. Today, I'm blogging about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately as I've been planning lessons: how to foster a student-centered environment in the music room.

Fostering a student-centered environment: Great ideas for the music classroom!

There are so many things that I love about the Kodály-inspired classroom...but at times, it can feel somewhat teacher-centered if taught in a traditional way. Sometimes, students DO need a whole-class approach. They need to sing together as a community, they need to prepare and practice rhythms and solfa together, they need the teacher to share musical knowledge. However, at some point, in order for students to transfer their knowledge, the teacher does need to step away and become more of a facilitator. So how do we do that in a Kodály-inspired classroom? Here are my favorite strategies!

#1: Rotating Centers
Several years ago, I began experimenting with centers in my classroom. I had seen them done well in my daughter's Kindergarten classroom, and thought I would try it in my room. It has been a wonderful journey, and a great way to not only foster a more student-centered classroom, but to provide time to work with and assess students one-on-one while the other students are engaged in exciting activities! With rotating centers, I typically have four centers around the room that are focused on practicing the same concept in different ways. For example, for ta and ti-ti, I might have one center at the SMART board, where students are throwing a squishy ball at the board and then reading patterns, another center in which students play rhythm patterns on non-pitched percussion, a third center with worksheets for ta and ti-ti, and the last center with me, in which each student individually reads five patterns. Every five or so minutes, I have students rotate to the next center until they've been to all of the centers. It does have a much more student-centered feel to it, because instead of you teaching the students, students are often teaching each other! Whether they are explaining to each other how to play High D on the recorder, or reminding each other that la is a step above sol,  it's a really awesome thing to step away and let students process the information and teach each other! If you're looking for more information about centers, here are several blog posts with more details about using centers!

Using Socrative in the Music Classroom



Hi everyone! This is Jamie Parker. A week before school began this past year, I arrived in my classroom to find five iPads sitting on my desk. I was thrilled! BUT I had no idea how I was going to use them with my students. I wanted the iPads to be used in a meaningful way. I began digging for different tools where my students could prepare and practice different elements, could create something new, and could be assessed on known material.

One app I found for assessment is Socrative. This app allows teachers to create their own questions and tracks all answers from individual students. I began exploring how I could use this app with my students:


I. Getting Started
  • My first step in getting started with Socrative was to create a teacher account (completely free!) on the website: www.socrative.com.
  • Then, I downloaded the student app on each of my devices (also free).
  •  Once I was set up, I tried to think of ways I could create quizzes. I wanted my quizzes to directly reflect what the students were learning. I realized that I could not input musical notation into my question, but I could insert a picture (more on that below).

Student Teachers.....



"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."  Hi - this is Karla from CMajorLearning.  That statement is how I feel on the first day of having a student teacher!  I'm sure many can relate to this as I LOVE having a student teacher, "best of times", but not knowing what they are going to be like can be the "worst of times".  So, what are some things that I can do to set us both up for success?  Here are a few ideas that have worked for me!

Be Organized - There is so much information that needs to be shared between the cooperating teacher and student teacher!  I have found the way that works best for me is to put everything together in a student teacher handbook.  Check out my version, available on TeachersPayTeachers by clicking here.  

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