FMEA Conference Wrap Up


Hello readers!

I got just gotten back from a wonderful professional development conference here in sunny Florida, and I wanted to report back to you some of the highlights from my trip.

First of all, FMEA is celebrating it’s 75thanniversary. Hooray! Here’s to 75 more. And now, buckle up, because it’s been a full conference and I have a lot to share with you!


All State Elementary Chorus Rehearsal with Dr. Kelly Miller

This is my very first year having a student in the All State Chorus. Whoohoo! And boy am I glad that 2019 was the year that it happened. This year’s clinician, Dr. Kelly Miller from the University of Central Florida was an amazing conductor, who not only is amazing at actually conducting, but also picked gloriously beautiful literature and knew how to connect with an elementary audience. That last one is not a given. I have seen many a clinician who is used to working with top-level ensembles, but really just has no touch for working with children, so I was glad for my student that she got to work with a conductor that she could really enjoy.

She started the kids off with a cool warm up. I thought it was great for getting the type of tone that you want for each vowel. She had them start singing SO-FA-MI-RE-DO on solfege, then switched it to the syllable “no”, then “oh”, then “oo”, then “ee”, and finally “ah.” As she progressed through each vowel, she would reference the vowel before. So for example, she said she wanted an “oo” with “oh” space, and when she got to “ee”, she said she wanted an “ee” with “oo” space.

Some other cool tricks she used included using movement to get students voices to do what she wanted. She would do things like have them “spin energy” in front of them, or punch down to make a note more accented, or jazz hands for that final note. At one point, she had the first and second rows face each other and same with the third and fourth rows. I thought it was a great way to get students to get students to listen across the ensemble.

Finally, I’d like to wrap up with some of my favorite quotes from the session:

“Vowels are the beauty. Consonants are the passion.”

“Out of the six songs that we are doing, there is a person here who needs to hear each one.”


Popped by the morning Chorus Rehearsal. The students are really beginning to put everything together. I can tell it’s going to be a great performance. Then off to …

1st General Session

Like I mentioned before, it’s FMEA’s 75th anniversary, so of course that was being celebrated. Here some fun stats for you: This conference had over 2800 teachers, 2000 performers and 250 vendors. Way to go, Florida! Then, after watching a performance by vocalist Timothy Jones, I had to sneak out early to set up for …

FEMEA Curriculum Fair

As a grant winner, I was honored to present a poster about my recorder program at my school (you can check out all the info from my presentation in my Recorders For All blog post). However, I was far from the only presenter there. Here’s a small assortment of some of the other poster presentations that had some ideas I hope to use in my classroom:

  • using visual supports in the classroom (signs, directions on board, etc) to help ALL learners
  • using similar activities over grade levels, to cut down on prep between class (ex, using a parachute in different ways for two classes that are one right after the other in your schedule)
  • getting out of the way and letting the kids to decision-making and creating, in the classroom and even for a performance
  • an excellent lesson on spirituals and slave songs for upper grade levels

Now, I have to admit that I didn’t get one of each handout, as I rushed out to make it to the All State Elementary Chorus Concert, so that list is far from comprehensive, but it gives you an idea of the caliber of stuff available. If you are a Floridian and you’ve never been to the Curriculum Fair, I highly recommend it because it’s like the speed-dating version of going to a workshop. You can glean so much in a short amount of time, and the presenters are SO HAPPY to answer any questions you have about their stuff.

All State Elementary Chorus Concert (Dr. Kelly Miller)


This concert was gorgeous! So many beautiful pieces! Some of my favorites included:

  • Let Me Fly by Pollo Dillworth (spiritual)
  • But a Flint Holds Fire by Andrea Ramsey: I thought about trying to video tape some of this for you, but I knew it would have been just no where near good enough to do it justice, and plus, I was too busy try not to ugly cry. This song is about the Flint water crisis. The song includes narrations and a forward that help contextualize it for listeners, and contains quote from children of the Flint area. What I think is most critical to know about this song is that the students who lent their voices to it wanted everyone to know that Flint is their home, and that they are proud of it and don’t want to be pitied or seen as a worthless, sad town. This song is POWERFUL.
  • Endless Song by David Brunner: a beautiful song, but I think this one is actually only available for SATB and Dr. Miller specially requested it for the All State Choir. So they may been the only SA group to ever perform it!

You’ll Be Popular (Christopher Burns)

Christopher presented some great pop tunes that you can use in your classroom such as Feel It Still, Somebody That I Used To Know, Don’t Stop Believin’ and more. You can use pop music as a way to move, to add boomwhacker melodies (check it a YouTube resource he mentioned, called musication, that animated boomwhacker melodies so you can play along with the video), or even to create a complete Orff arrangement. The possibilities are endless

Recorder Romps (Artie Almeida)

I make it a point to always attend Artie’s sessions. She is endlessly creative, and I adore her motto: Heavy Academics Delivered Joyfully. She has some new (at least to me) recorder resources available through Plank Road Publishing – “Easy Echoes and Excellent Ears” and “Fun Foundations For Recorder.” These are great resources for warmups and for focusing on individual skills. Some of my favorite activities included:

  • warming up fingers (finger taps) to Axel F
  • study buddies: one student plays their instrument’s mouthpiece, the other student puts their fingers on their partner’s recorder and plays the holes. Teamwork! For the ultimate challenge, stand in a circle and try this, so everyone is playing their fingers on the instrument of the person to their right in the circle.


Working With Functional Harmony (Roger Sams)

Dang, guys! I really enjoyed this workshop. He really processed out how to make chords easy in your classroom. Put simply, here are the steps:

  • teach the melody
  • teach the chord roots
  • sing them both together
  • stick it on an instrument

You can also, label the chords (I/V). And you can have students venture off the chord roots and into other notes of the chord. But to pardon my pun, chord roots are the “root” of it all. It made it feel so accessible to me.

2nd General Session

For the second session, we had a performance from the Melodica Men. The melodica, for those of you who – like me until Friday – were not super familiar with a melodica, it is basically a mix between a harmonica and a keyboard, with a tube on the end that you blow in to. They wanted to advocate the melodica for use in the classroom. They had some good points. They mentioned how melodicas immediately start out with a good tone, they are relatively inexpensive (comparable to ukuleles), and the skills are easily transferable to piano and other instruments.

Also during the general session, they mentioned that NafMe (the national association for music education) has something called the NafME Academy, which had 80+ hours of online webinars you can take, and the cost is only $20 a month. Can’t beat that price (my parking ALONE for this conference will exceed $20). Definitely sounds like something worth looking into.

Improvising With Orff (Josh Southard)

Josh did some really fun activity to show different ways to improvise in the music classroom. He used some standard contexts to help students with creation, such as using word rhythms or a call and response format. I LOVED a cute book that he used called Bedtime in the Swamp!

World of Musical Play (Jay Broeker)

I will definitely be printing this handout when I get home (all of our handouts are online – which is awesome for saving trees, but sad when I want it in my hand to jot notes on it during the conference). Every song (and there were like 10-12) was a fun dance or game from some part of the world. From classics like Al Citron to Akar Bakar – a fun song from India, or Hei Tama, Tu Tama – a Maori folksong. I loved how diverse this was and that there were some simple games as well as more complex ones. Will be using this stuff for many years to come for sure!

All State Orff Ensemble Concert (Cyndee Giebler, Michelle Fella Przybylowski)

This performance had some really cool ideas that I loved in terms of staging and presentation. The students started spread throughout the audience, and when cued, made their way to the stage, making different night time noises (owls, crickets, etc). Often we forget that there are a variety of ways to start you show. Think outside the box, or stage in this case.

There were also some neat movement ideas. I often think that when I am choreographing a song, it has to be actual dances moves. But for one of their songs about coming out to play, students were staged in groups at the front of the stage, and were simply doing a play motion – tossing a ball back and forth, spinning a hulu hoop on their arm, etc. Simple, effective, brilliant!

Sing a Story, Play a Poem (Jay Broeker)

This session shows some great ways to take speak and turn it into music. Everything from spoken ostinatos to adding instrumental parts to a story and more. My personal favorite was an activity that he did with the book Fortunately by Remy Charlip and recorders. If you are unfamiliar with this cute little book, the premise is that there is this guy and he had some good and not so good things happen to him throughout the course of the story. This would be a good song for beginning recorders and only uses the notes A and B. But by adding a cool piano accompaniment, he changes the mood each time to fit what is happening in the story. I lack his stellar piano skills, but would like to use the same idea, but with simple cadences in major (fortunately) and minor (unfortunately). Depending on where my students are with things, I may even discuss major vs minor with them as we play.

And that’s it folks! I will not be able to attend the Saturday sessions for this conference, so I will not have a summary of any of those presentations although they do look amazing and I look forward to hearing which songs Dr. Miller picks to explore during the elementary choral reading session, since she did so well picking ones for All State this year. Thanks for sticking around for this extra long post – those of you who are still reading!

Next week, stayed tuned for a great tool to keep you organized and help you make the most of your New Beginnings this January. Not yet following the blog? You can click the follow button or like my page on Facebook and get immediate updates on when I have posted new material.



New Beginnings

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Hello readers! I am super excited to be starting 2019. This year, I have made it a goal to plan more of my blogs posts as part of a larger ideas. Parts in a series, if you will. Don’t get me wrong. Not every post will be part of a series, but the good majority of them will be.

My first series is called New Beginnings. As I write this, I am sitting outside the convention center in Tampa, right at the beginning of the annual music education conference here in Florida. And what better time to think about new beginnings?

Our professional development conference, here in Florida (and up in Michigan back in the day) was always a chance to grow and be inspired and be refreshed in the reasons that we went into this profession and why we continue.

I already have one post available in my New Beginnings Series. Recorders For All is my post that accompanies my poster presentation that I am doing here in Tampa. I like to think of this post fits into the theme on new beginnings, not just because I am presenting it at the FMEA conference, but because it speaks to a new riff on an old idea. I’ve always used recorders in my classroom. And I’ve always made sure that each student had access to a recorder for instruction. But this year, I’ve begun a new way of implementing that, which has really freshened up my recorder teaching, both for me and for my students. So this post serves as a reminder that “new beginnings” don’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. It may be just changing something small to breathe new life into something you’ve done for many years. Maybe even just changing your perspective on something you do will help you find a “new beginning.”

Here’s to New Beginnings!

Teach on.

10 Best Blog Posts of 2018


The year is coming to a close, and it’s time to take a look back at some of the greatest blog posts this year. If you’ve enjoyed any of these posts, or would like to see more like them in the new year, make sure to follow my blog or like it on Facebook to stay up-to-date on each weekly post.

And now – countdown to 2019 …

#10 – All Star Behavior Chart

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Want a simple way to incentivize good behavior? I love using this system with my class. Students earn rewards as a class and most of them are free rewards that I don’t have to purchase, which keeps the cost down.

#9 – Lapbooks for Learning

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Lapbooks (also known as interactive notebooks) are a great way to store information learned throughout the year. These cool foldable, graphic organizers are a great way to have students record and store information about instrument families, vocabulary, notes of the staff and basically any musical facts that you might be teaching throughout the year. You can create your own, or checkout the kit available on my store!

#8 – Inspirational Wednesdays


This series that I did back in 2015 is still very popular. It includes quotes and inspirational messages from a variety of settings. Because every teacher needs a couple inspirational words from time to time to keep us going!

#7 – Learning to Uke: Amazing Grace


I’ve been slowly learning some basic ukulele chords. This post shows some of my ukulele skills and a simple song that you can use with your students.

#6 – Rockin’ Rhythms with Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb


This is one of my first blog posts, and its still in the top ten! And it makes sense. This book just begs to be used in a music class room. With it’s rhythm phrasing and repetition, Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins is a great book to pull out when you want to use the hand drums and tubanos!

#5 – Lesson Planning Made Easy

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Ready to plan next years lessons? What if planning was as easy as copy and paste? For me, it is! Don’t worry. I don’t exactly repeat everything from year to year, but I can copy and paste a sequence of activities I did with a specific song, simply by having my lesson plans in an Excel spreadsheet.

#4 – Plan Your Lessons in a Snap with This Simple Filing System


This idea from Head Over Heels Teaching has really helped me organize my resources. When coupled with my Excel grid (see #5 on this list), these two life hacks have made lesson planning so much smoother from year to year. I’m noticing that 2018 was the year of the lesson plan (2 out of 5 posts in the top ten were lesson planning).

#3 – All Ears: Creating Listening Maps for Your Classroom

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Want a great way to share classical music with your students without them getting lost in its complexity? Listening maps are a great way to guide your young listeners through any classical piece in a way that they can pick up important details and stay engaged. This blog post shows you a couple helpful steps to create your own listening maps for students in your classroom. Or press the “easy” button and just hop to my store, where individual listening maps sell for $1.00.

#2 – Carnival of the Animals Activities

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Carnival of the Animals is one of those iconic classical pieces for children. Each piece just such a good job bringing the animals sounds and movements to life. Check out this post if you want to move and play along with one of Saint-Saens’ most famous works.

#1 – Fight Song for Recorder

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And this years top prize goes to … Fight Song. I was just reading an article about how we should consider pop music the “native” music of our students, and try and use it to tap in to their interests while teaching them important musical concepts. Maybe that is why this blog post, about taking the song Fight Song by Rachel Platten and learning about things like recorder notes and verse and refrain has earned the number one spot this year.

What to Look Forward to in 2019

I can’t wait to share with you some of the new and exciting things that are coming in 2019. I’m starting to think more big picture with my blog, and I have several multi-part blog series in the works, as well as some plans for new products that will be coming your way on my TeachersPayTeachers store. And of course, I will have lots of fun lesson ideas to share with you. Which means now is the best time ever to subscribe to the blog and follow along! Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving Throwback: An Awesome Song to Learn Rhythm Syllables

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Howdy, Folks! I know what you are thinking. Why is this blog post about Thanksgiving? My Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed long ago and we just finished our Christmas concert season last week. Well, stay tuned my friends. I know that Thanksgiving has past, but I just had to share this fun and easy little activity that I was doing with my first graders – AND I even shared some ways to make this activity relevant in any season.

Link for turkey prop: click here


Music Learning Theory Hack – How I’ve Started Teaching the First Tonal Register Activity

Hey folks. So I know this post is going to only interest a niche market – those of you who use music learning theory and learning sequence activities in your classroom, but I just have to share a new idea I am really excited about. And even those of you who aren’t Music Learning Theory practitioners, you may still enjoy learning about this pedagogy, so take a peek and see what you think.

The Tonal Register

So the tonal register has all of these skills, from singing to adding solfege to even identifying major and minor tonality. It helps teach students about the building blocks of music from the inside out. As in, students understand concepts through audiation (internal understanding of what music sounds like), then they learn them externally (by seeing them).

The very first page has a rather challenging activity. The teacher sings a series of 2-3 notes. Then, the kid has to sing back JUST THE FIRST PITCH. The idea is that this will teach the students to beginning audiating (processing the pattern internally), rather than just echoing – where they really don’t have to think or engage.

The Challenge

So, as you can imagine, often it is a bit difficult to keep the students from just echoing back ALL the notes the teacher sang. My professor in college had a good recommendation of how to make this a little easier to do (shout out to Dr. Taggart!). She recommended that you use 3 stuffed animals, and have the kids remember and sing the note that the first animal sings.

So, for years, I used this approach to teach the first activity to the kids. Last year, I moved schools and didn’t get to take any stuffed animals with me to the new school. So I was starting from scratch and had to grab whatever I could find at the local dollar store. And that’s where I hit on my idea. There, among the toys I had grabbed, was a royal blue tang. What is a blue tang? Well, it’s a type of fish. Why do I know this type of fish? Because here’s what a blue tang looks like:

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That’s right. My new stuffed animal looks like Dory. And what does Dory struggle with? Her memory. PERFECT! So obviously, Dory became my first stuffed animal, and the students have to help Dory remember her note.

But there is one other modification I made. My stuffed animals were super floppy and fell over and just din’t sit well. It was an awkward setup. So I made my stuffed animals digital. Check it out:


Now I have my whole Dory theme going! And no stuffed animals falling over. Such a simple solution to this challenging first activity in the tonal register. I can’t believe it took me upwards of ten years to think of it!

New Product! Star Wars Listening Map

Hey Readers!

I have a new product in my store that I’m pretty excited about. My listening maps have always been some of my most popular items and so I am happy to announce that I have added a new one for the Main Theme from Star Wars by John Williams. This song is such a modern day classic and I have found myself teaching it often in my classes, and then it dawned on me – why haven’t I made a listening map for Star Wars. So I did. And, for a limited time only, I have it on sale for you! 20% off (the max that TeachersPayTeachers allows).

Check it out here

And I’ve added a couple extra listening maps to the sale that I thought you might find useful going into the holiday season:

Nutcracker Listening Map bundle

Listening Map: Simple Gifts

Listening Map: Sleigh Ride

Trying a Close Read in Music Class

So our district has really been getting into the strategy of close reading, where you take a text and examine it multiple times to get deeper meaning. And I’ll be honest, when I first heard of close reading, I thought “well, there’s something I won’t be doing in my class.” But that was before I found out that a text doesn’t have to be written words. A song is considered a text. So, I decided to give a close read a try. Here’s what we did:

The Prep

Make sure to pick a good song. Something you can sink your teeth into with a decent amount of complexity. I recommend doing a classical work and shying away from simple folk songs as they might not have enough going on to warrant multiple close reads (typical close reads have at least 3 read throughs). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you can’t find ways to delve deep into a folk song, but you will need to really have that well planned in order for it to work.

Pick a benchmark that has a high depth of knowledge. By that I mean, something that is asking you to compare and contrast, or give evidence or create. Don’t pick one that is basic recall. That won’t be going far enough to warrant a close read.

Close Read #1

I had my students listen to Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I gave them each a blank paper and had them fold it into quarters. In the first box, they drew a picture of what they picture when they hear the song. About halfway through the song, we switch to filling out the second box. This was a long song. If it was shorter, you might have to replay for them to have time to answer the second box. The student have to write what tempo, dynamic and instrument family they heard during the song. Finally, students meet with a partner and share what they drew for their picture and what tempo, dynamic and instrument family they wrote down.

Close Read #2

I hand back out the papers, and now they use the info that they gathered the first time to answer this question. What was the mood of the song? How did the composer create the mood? Support your answer using evidence from the song. I also provide a sentence stem for them, to help guide them to how to correctly support their answer.

I thought the mood was ____________, because ________________.

We usually do an example as a class so they understand how to use things such as tempo, dynamic and instrument family as evidence.

Close Read #3

In this read through, I add a supplemental text. I want them to be able to compare and contrast, so we do the same steps that we did with the first song – collecting the tempo, dynamic and instrument family as well as the mood, but this time we do it to a contrasting song. I picked Trepak from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. Once they have this done, I give the a Venn diagram and they have to compare and contrast the two songs. I give them a little of things to consider (composer, mood, tempo, dynamic and instrument family). I play through both songs one last time and they have until both songs are complete to fill out the bubbles with a partner.

The Take Aways

After doing my first ever close read, here are my take aways:

  • Close reads totally can work in the music room.
  • Make sure to use a song that is worth investing this amount of time on. Doing a full close read cycle takes a long time (2 class periods for me), so it had better focus on stuff that you think is important.
  • You can pack SO MUCH into a close read! We discussed vocabulary, mood and composers. We compared and contrasted. I feel like the kids are really going to know their vocabulary and these songs really well after focusing in so closely.

All in all, I think they are totally doable. You just need to make sure if you are investing the time, that it is for something important (I think composers and vocab are areas where my students struggle so this activity really helped them).

Hope this activity helps you and maybe gives you some ideas of how you would use close reading in your own class.