Tuesday, December 27, 2022

To Whom It May Concern: An Open Letter to All


The ending of a year is a contemplative time for me.  Thinking about the past year leads to thoughts of what I want to change and improve upon in the coming year. This is a letter I have wanted to write for a while and one which I wish someone would have shared with my first year teacher self and continue to share with other music educators. I hope it encourages you.

To Whom It May Concern:

I don't teach music. I teach children music. There is a big difference in what and who is centered in those two sentences.

Teaching music begins not with the teaching of music concepts and skills, but with focusing on WHO we teach. Children first. That means that for most of us who teach elementary music, there is a steep learning curve in understanding the wide range of developmental ages and stages we teach. In a single classroom, we have at least five, and often MANY more various stages of typical childhood development.  Add to that neurodivergence, medical and cognitive differences, social and emotional variances, and cultural and personality differences and there is much to be learned.  

We have a responsibility as music teachers who teach a high quality music curriculum; a responsibility that allows all students to experience music from people around the world without bias. High quality music should not include music that is problematic, questionable, or racist. Do your research and don't rely on others to do it for you. Google is free and available for all.  Music history, musicians, and music created by various identities, religions, and genders will be used in our classrooms.  Identity formation is a critical aspect of social development in children as they develop sense of self, understanding, belonging, and acceptance.  The idea that classroom curriculum should serve as "windows and mirrors" for children has been around for over 30 years - first coined by educator Emily Styles in 1988. Approaching children's music and music education through the lens of windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors prioritizes diversity, honors cultural experiences, and promotes empathy and understanding.  It also helps all children to feel included and a part OF, not apart from, as they see themselves in the music and musical experiences.

Our greatest responsibility is not in data collection, meetings, trainings, and PD's that are unnecessary, irrelevant, or do not promote the advancement of our craft and art. Our greatest responsibility is to help each child become the best version of themselves which means everything we do should be steeped in doing what is best for children, not adults.  Children are at their best when they feel seen and loved. It isn't always easy to love and even like every child and the "prickly pears" and "frequent fliers" can be downright difficult.  It isn't always easy to connect and be relational with every child. The reality is we sometimes struggle to find just one way to connect with a child. But to that child who finally feels seen it means the world.  Find the one thing.

There are many outside forces demanding teachers time, talents, and energy.  Music teachers don't stop being musicians or music teachers at 3:45 when they are "off the clock."  Music teachers often teach private lessons or have secondary jobs directing ensembles or playing or singing in adult music ensembles.  We often listen to music passively while wondering how to create a lesson to go with it. We have families and lives outside of school.  Boundaries are necessary - hold to them and live your life.  Stop comparing yourself to others and start advocating for yourself. Period.  Do the next best thing for you. 

Finally, be kind. To yourself, your fellow teachers, to your students, and to strangers.  A kind word or gesture goes a long way in this filtered world where "likes" and "followers" dominate. 

With much affection, 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Jingle Bells (INSTRUMENT, Not Song)

 I love the distinctive sound of jingle bells.  

I no longer use the song, Jingle Bells, in my classroom as it is rooted in Blackface Minstrelsy and has some sexual innuendo in the song.  Read more about that here, here, and here.
Nino Sleigh Bells with Wooden Ergo Grip & 4 Bells Red
So here are my top 5 ways to use jingle bells in the music classroom - note, these are all WINTER songs and activities about sleighing or wintertime, not specific to Christmas. 

1.  Five Little Jingle Bells from Lynn Kleiner. 
This song is the PERFECT replacement for Jingle Bells and my kids LOVE it! You can also see the video here from one of my Facebook posts. 

2. Make Jingle Bell bracelets!  
Use jingle bells (Dollar Tree often carries them in the craft or holiday section this time of year) and pipe cleaners.  Each student gets 4-6 jingle bells to thread onto the pipe cleaner. Twist the ends and trim for size. The Kindergarten and First Graders are often over the moon with their special bracelets.  This is also great fine motor control work and counting (I let them make two, one for each arm, so they have to get 10 bells, then cut them in half; 5 bells for each bracelet).

3. Jingle Bell Parade from Music K8.  Each student with jingle bells line up behind you and you lead them on a parade throughout the room. This works well for a concert entry or exit with littles, too.  

4.   Bucket Drumming with Jingle Bell Rock - the version of the song I use is from Music Connection from Silver Burdett Ginn, Grade 5, CD 10, track 10.  You can use other versions and adjust accordingly (most do not have the interlude which is easily omitted).
Jingle Bell Rock Bucket Drum Routine  Click for the full post including score and directions.

5.  Everybody Sing Jingle Jangle from Charissa Duncanson. Check out her post about the song here.
Play and Sing Along

Song only


Friday, November 11, 2022

Great Big House in New Orleans

 I love this song at this time of year as there is SO much that can be done with it- add an ostinato with pie flavors, perform the dance, talk about dance styles, create a new dance, student created B Section, and a game from the wonderful Mrsmainsmusicians on insta! 

Grab the full google slides here. Please note this will force a copy. 

For the game, I glued my pies to paper plates.  This helps them to slide easier as most inexpensive paper plates have a wax coating on them.  This also makes them round and pie shaped! 

Here are a few slides from the set.


Saturday, October 15, 2022

The House Around the Corner

 I am always looking for songs that help my recorder students with specific areas - and often end up writing my own pieces to fit their needs. Since switching the starting pitches from BAG to GE I have been delighted that beginning with G and E opens up so much bitonic and tritonic (SM and SLM) songs and once we add low D we have access to some wonderful pentatonic material!  

We are working on some pre-improvisational ideas and so The House Around the Corner was born this week!  My students needed more practice with low E, and they were clamoring for something scary and spooky.  This song can go in various directions - spooky or with a more autumnal/wintry theme. 

I sang this song to them while playing the accompaniment.

Then I displayed these four 4-beat rhythm cards.

As we have been working on something we call the Wizard's Challenge using In the Hall of the Mountain King, I tell the students this rhythm might be familiar. Then I sing it using the word "dude" (which is what we "whisper" when playing recorder) and their little minds are blown that this is the rhythm of the melody repeated over and over.  Then we play the first card (top left) only using "E". Then play through each subsequent card using "E."  Play the top two cards, then the bottom two, then the full 16-beat phrase. 
I change the bordun to quarter notes  E B C B, which sounds very spooky, and we play the full phrase using E. 
Next, change the quarter notes to G. Play full phrase.
Finally, change the 3rd card (four 8th note pairs) to B and have students work on the transition from third card to final card (transitioning from B to E) and then we play the full phrase.
Perform as A (song), B (recorder melody), A again. Students could also play the melody as it is a simple La Do Re Mi song. If you have Carol King's Recorder Routes you could combine this with Who Has Seen the Wind, another LDRM song. 

The students loved it and felt so successful! The next time we will work on improvising beats 2 and 4 of   the third measure and will add zombie movement (as they requested), whistling tubes, flexatone, black scarves, and spring drums. They also want to add gongs, cymbals, and other things so it is sure to be a piece we will record to send home to families. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Pass the Pumpkin *Updated!

 Pass the Pumpkin is a fall favorite and I have remade the slides in google slides with some small tweaks to the visuals and the directions. 

Click this link for the google slides - please know this will force you to make a copy. 


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Jack O'Lantern Song

 I needed a new song for sixteenth notes for this season, so this morning I wrote one. Enjoy! The game is similar to others and will be a quick and easy way for my students to work on playing octaves and sixteenth notes!  Click this link for the google slide.


Monday, September 26, 2022

Repetition and PLAY in the Music Classroom

 Hi friends,

Hope you are doing well. 

Let's talk repetition in the music classroom today! 

True, right?  Why is that? When new things are introduced, there is often a sense of wonder as their brains make sense of the new information. 

Humans learn by experience, not by someone telling them ABOUT that thing. Why do we go on vacation to see something? Because seeing means something different - it means DOING, not really seeing. The act of seeing the Grand Canyon or the Giza Pyramids isn't the same as seeing it on TV. We can't smell the smells, taste the food, or feel the sun on our face or the wind in our hair. It isn't an authentic experience without action. Hearing about a good isn't the same as reading it ourselves. The experience is deeper. 

As students repeat an activity, they process again and again and move from experiencing to anticipating, from understanding basic musical concepts to exploring the activity to the fullest sense possible.  They discover their own musicality as they imitate and eventually create new songs. 

  • Helps language development.
  • Ensures emotional comfort (predictability).
  • Assists in concept attainment as they learn something new each time.
  • Feeling of mastery improves self-confidence.

Check out this post about the power of repetition.

Play is equally important for young children and as music teachers we know about its value in our classrooms. 

  • Improves children's abilities to plan and organize.
  • Assists in children's emotional regulation and helps them get along with others.
  • Helps with language, math and social skills.
  • Helps children cope with stress. 

Mister Rogers perhaps put it best:

Check out this post for more about the Power of Play.

Here is a video from me about Repetition and Play in the music classroom. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Agua de limón

 From September 15-October 15 Hispanic and Latinx/Latine Heritage Month is celebrated in the US.  The dates coincide with  national independence days in Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico.

I have a very sweet friend in Quito, Ecuador that I met through the pandemic. I say, "through" because I do not know if our paths would have crossed had it not been for the pandemic. During quarantine, my dear friend Thom Borden and I began the American version of International Sunday Sharing, already begun by our dear friends across the ocean in Finland, JaSeSoi, the Finnish Orff Association. We met on Sunday mornings via zoom and had hundreds of music teachers from around the world show up to sing, dance, and share. It was a beautiful thing, and I met and befriended such beautiful people, including MaCarmen from Quito.  Ecuador has always held a special place in my heart as our family had an exchange student during my freshman year of college. Anita became very special to us and she is my Ecuadorian sister, now living in Cincinnati. When I got married, she came from Ecuador with her sons to be at our wedding and she is a beloved member of our family. 

For more songs, books, and dances to celebrate Hispanic and Latinx/Latine Heritage Month check out this post.

Here is beautiful MaCarmen's song she shared, the song is from Colombia and is SO FUN! 

For the full slide deck, check out my Patreon.


Monday, September 5, 2022

Alien Q and A

Improvisation is essentially spontaneous composition. The art and act of creating an expressive musical statement in real time adhering to some kind of structure.

 Question and Answer is a common improvisation technique in music.  In the world of Orff Schulwerk we begin with imitation and exploration of an idea or concept. Then we add label and improvise using that idea and concept. 

When students are ready to improvise, where do we begin? 

I like to begin with this:

Teach song and step the beat in place.

Sing and walk the beat. 

While singing, walk to face a partner.

Show 8 fingers and do a "countdown" demonstrating rhythmic alien language. 

Something like this:

With partner, decide who is going first (rock, paper, scissors to determine "winner"). Show fingers again, first partner improvises over the 8 beats using alien language. Second partner answers them with their 8 beats. Don't worry if they are not truly performing question and answer yet - it will come. 

Repeat several times before defining question and answer technique. 

Repeat game with question and answer technique.

Repeat activity with body percussion. Consider transferring to non-pitched percussion.

Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Words of Experience

 Well, I had hoped to not get in the weeds of life and post almost every day since my last post but that didn't work out! 😂 Oh well.. best laid plans!  

Here is the rest of the advice I had hoped to post - see previous post for the first two. 

Happy new school year! 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

New School Year Words of Experience

 I was about to write, "words of wisdom" in the post title, but I don't feel that is correct as I am certainly not wise, simply experienced. 

So, for the next several days I will be offering some advice from 29 years of teaching. Hope you enjoy! 

Be sure to be looking on facebook as my "Live" broadcasts will be starting next Tuesday at 7:00 AM EST and every Tuesday thereafter. These are all recorded and available on the O For Tuna page so if you aren't awake or available at 7:00 EST, you can always go check them out - there are already SO many from the past couple years of videos where I share songs, books, activities, and teacher ideas. 

So, onward we go! Welcome to the 2022-2023 school year! 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Hike by Pete Oswald

 Hike by Pete Oswald (of The Good Egg and The Bad Seed fame) is a beautiful (almost) wordless picture book. 

Follow a Dad and son into the mountains as they witness the magic of the wilderness, overcome challenges, and plant a tree to give back to the forest. This beautiful book is full of possibilities for movement and vocal and barred instrument exploration (images that move down or up, small and large trees, mountain peaks, hills and of course those beautiful winding trails).  Or, have small groups create movement tableaus for different pages or create 2-beat building bricks about what the father and son are doing or seeing.  

Perfect for back to school talks about summer trips or for Earth Day.  

This would work well with Trees 'Round the Earth from my new book, Singing Waters, Dancing Flames published by Beatin Path Publications.

For a clearer image of the song, click here to download.

Another great tie in would be the beautiful canon, This Pretty Planet.

Or use Seeds of Love by Gemini

Another extension idea using the book Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert, post click here

To see a video of Planting a Rainbow and the Seeds song by Gemini, click here. 

What is your favorite song or activity about nature? Drop a comment below.