Category: Choral

If you think you can or you think you can’t, either way, you will be right.”- Henry Ford

Another session I attended at PMEA 2011 was entitled “IEP’S and What Do They Mean to Music Teachers” presented by Carol Burgman of Pace School. As most educators would agree IEP’s can be a daunting document to have to sift through and follow. This is especially true for music educators as we often think there is not much valuable information for us in a student’s IEP. Through this session I learned what exactly an IEP contains, what parts of an IEP are most useful for music educators, and how can music teachers best include special education students in their classrooms. Hopefully this blog post will help music educators (especially newer teachers) know which parts of a students IEP is the most important and give ideas for how to help these students succeed in the music classroom.

What is an IEP? 

  • IEP= Individualized Educational Plan
  • An IEP starts by the student being identified by a teacher, administrator, or principal
  • It is a document that specifies a year-long comprehensive educational program designed for an individual student to help them succeed
  • The IEP drives the educational process and the IEP mandates must be done in the time frame allotted and described in the document
  • An IEP is a legally binding document between the educational system, teachers, school therapists, and the parent or guardian
  • The document can be challenged through a legal procedure known as due process
  • It is usually written by the special education teacher, but the regular classroom teacher bears primary responsibility
  • Must be re-written yearly by a specific team
  • Rarely mentions music class except indirectly as an opportunity for inclusion
  • Includes academic or behavioral goals. Some of which may apply to the student’s entire program (including music class)
  • An IEP contains specifically designed modifications that are useful for all the students teachers. Modifications listed as “throughout the school day”, or “at all times during student attendance” apply to the music classroom.

What Matters to the Music Educator

  • Communication Plan– describes the students communication needs. This sections specifies the challenges and interventions for the student. It will state if the student has an alternative reading plan
  • Positive Behavioral Support Plan– an accompanying document that supports the IEP if the student has specific behavioral issues. It specifies triggers, the student’s process when in crisis, methods to intervene, and recovery information
  • Present Levels of Achievement and Function– gives specifics of the student’s academic abilities, strength, weaknesses, and overall function of the student.
  • Goals and Objectives– Review this section to determine your role in assisting with objectives implementation
  • SDI (Specially Designed Instruction)- Special methods or modifications to help the child. Modifications indicated as constant or cross-curricular are your responsibility
  • It is important to read the IEP because there is a lot that we can learn about the student that may help us better serve them even though it doesn’t specifically mention music
  • The special education classroom teacher or resource room should be your contact for specific information on adapting activities

Tips for Successful Inclusion

  • Treat all students with utmost respect no matter of their disability or ability level
  • Keep your focus on the objective- functional inclusion
  • Modifications should be simple and transferable
  • Present your lessons in a structured, well-organized, appropriately paced manner. Allow enough time for students to respond
  • Remember to consider your sub-skills and prerequisite skills when students struggle. Back up and then move forward
  • Make sure your classroom expectations, rules and consequences are clear and concise
  • Keep expectations high and allow students to rise to the occasion. NEVER settle and use the excuse that they have an IEP so they can’t do it
  • Think outside the box, be creative, and think quickly on your feet
  •  Remain positive!!

Where is Music Education Highlights Heading?

Unfortunately due to job searching, starting to substitute teach and a recent death in my family I have been unable to post as much as I would like. Hopefully over the next few weeks I will be able to post more regularly again. After I finish a few more PMEA recap posts I will begin a new series on Music Education Highlights. I am planning on starting a series of posts covering the job search process, application process, interview process, common interview questions, applying for substitute teaching, and tips to succeed as a substitute.

If you have any suggestions for posts that you would like to see at Music Education Highlights please let me know. Also if you would like to write a guest post please contact me. I am always looking for post suggestions and new voices!



Unfortunately due to job searching, interviews, and some family circumstances over the past few weeks I have been unable to write any posts lately. I am hoping to get back to posting again on a more regular basis. I will continue with writing recaps of sessions from PMEA 2011 and then am hoping to start a series of posts on job searching, applications, and interviews. One of the sessions I attended was a choral reading session. While this session does not offer many tips or suggestions for teaching, we sight-read many choral pieces that work great in many choral ensembles. Below are the pieces and basic information about each piece.

Choral Repertoire

2 Part

  1. Prepare Thyself Zion by Michael Burkhardt– For unison voices and optional C instrument part. Can be performed in either English or German.
  2. Clap Your Hands, Rejoice by Andy Beck-includes hand claps and choreography great for young voices.
  3. Ezekiel and David by Sally Albrecht– A traditional spiritual for young voices. Independent parts make it easy for young students to learn and perform. Also available in 3 part mixed.
  4. Shooting Star by Andy Beck– A lyrical piece for elementary students. Also has easy triangle and mark tree parts included.
  5. Ton The by Susan Brumfield– A very catchy and humorous piece that is easy to teach. For two-part treble and is also available in SATB. Includes optional xylophone and percussion parts.
  6. Ask the Moon by Thomas Ahlburn– A more intricate piece for 2-part treble voices. Includes optional percussion and string bass parts.
  7. Think On Me by James Mulholland– A more complex, beautiful lyrical piece for treble voices.
  8. Hot Chocolate by Andy Beck– A kid favorite piece that is great for the winter and holiday season.

3 Part

  1. The Snow Begins To Fall by Andy Beck– A lyrical winter piece for 3- part mixed voices. Also available in 2-Part, SSA, and SATB. A good piece for upper middle school choirs.
  2. Nutcracker Jingles by Chuck Bridwell– A holiday favorite that even high school students will enjoy. Also available for SATB.
  3. Furaha (Joy!) by Sally Albrecht– An energetic piece in Swahili, also available in 2 part and SATB.
  4. For the Trumpet Shall Sound by Sally Albrecht– A biblical inspired piece also available in SATB and SSA. A great piece to feature one of your outstanding trumpet players.
  5. Festival Sanctus by John Leavitt– A very complex piece with frequent changing meters. Also available in SSA, TTB, and SATB.
  6. Ring the Bells by Libby Larsen– An upbeat holiday piece for women’s voices. Very accessible for younger voices.
  7. The Pink Panther by Jay Althouse– a fun piece also available in SATB and is a great piece for teaching rhythms and scat singing.
  8. The Cuckoo by Robert Hugh– A fun and rhythmic piece that includes optional percussion parts and choreography. A great piece for advanced middle school choirs.


  1. Esto Les Digo by Kinley Lange– Based off of Matthew 18:19-20. A lyrical a cappella piece in Spanish.
  2. Make A Joyful Noise by Raymond Wise– An easy to learn piece that makes a great concert opener or closer.
  3. Steal Away by Howard Helvey– A religious piece with complex harmonies. Includes a Soprano Sax/Clarinet part and Violin or other C instrument part.
  4. I Carry Your Heart With Me by Randall Stroope– A musical setting of a poem by E.E. Cummings. Includes a violin solo part and is for a more advanced high school ensemble.
  5. Al Shlosha D’varim by Allan Naplan– A lyrical setting of the popular Jewish morality laws. Written in the form of a partner song with counter melodies.
  6. The Epitaph by Joseph Martin– Another lyrical piece that is good for working on teaching expression and dynamics. Includes and optional violin part.
  7. Ritmo by Dan Davison– A very challenging and rhythmic piece for SATB choir and 4 hand piano. This piece works best for an advanced/mature large choir.
  8. Vieni Nel Mio Cuore by Jonny Priano– An A Capella piece for very advanced choirs.A very challenging piece harmonically.

As I said, while this session didn’t really cover tips for teaching choral music it was extremely beneficial especially for me as an instrumentalist who is not extremely familiar with the choral literature. While there are hundreds of choral pieces out there to choose from these are just a few that experienced choral directors have found to be successful with their students. I hope you find the above list helpful whether you are a choral specialist, choral director, or undergraduate who isn’t as familiar with good choral repertoire. Happy singing!!

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, the children are now working as if I did not exist.”- Maria Montessori

During student teaching especially at the high school level, one of the most frustrating things I encountered was students not transferring knowledge. For example I would teach the students about a sforzando or forte piano at a certain spot in the music and the students would perform it with no problem. The next time we would come to this in a different spot in the music or most of the students ignored it and did nothing. Sound familiar? I believe that dealing with this transfer of knowledge is an issue most music teachers deal with at some point. How can we get our students to transfer their learning from one situation to the next? While at the PMEA State Conference one of the sessions I attended was entitled “Getting Your Students to Perform the Sforzando Every Time.” This session was presented by Dr. Scott Meier, Associate Professor of Music Education at Mercyhurst College Pennsylvania. During his session Dr. Meier presented some great tips and resources for getting our students to transfer their knowledge and learning.

Things that Inhibit Transfer:

  1. The creation of subject based “compartments”. As music educators we need to try and combined all subjects together instead of putting each subject into a compartment.
  2. The tendency of learning to be situated.
  3. Transfer is inhibited when the creation of systems based on social behaviors are disguised as learning.
  4. We inhibit transfer when we teach groups of facts without striving for learning that is founded on principles.
  5. Telling students exactly what they have to do to receive and A. Instead we need to emphasize learning for learning sake and learning because you love what you are doing.

Things to Avoid:

  1. Mentioning rather than teaching. Transfer is more likely to occur when learning has become conceptual knowledge. Teach more about less!
  2. Avoid presenting learning that is considered to be essential basic knowledge in just one experience or situation. It is best to create multiple visits to a key concept in a variety of situations.
  3. Try not to only teach to the next concert, but instead, teach to the future success of independent musicians and critical thinkers.
  4. Negative transfer of learning is also possible and something that all educators want to avoid.

Tips for Transferring Knowledge:

  1. We must teach our students about transfer of knowledge/learning and why it is important. Without this step transfer of learning is almost impossible to achieve. Students must know what it is and its importance before it will ever take place. In order to do this we must give the behavior an identity and purpose.
  2. There must be a role model present who values and practices transfer. This role model should be us, the educator. Just as like anything in music that we want our students to accomplish we need to model the behavior.
  3. The students must be immersed in an environment(the classroom) that fosters and supports the idea of transferring knowledge.
  4. It helps if students are exposed to the outstanding transfer thinkers who have already mastered transfer and its resulting creative output.
  5. Students need to practice transfer. The simple act of recognizing transfer when it occurs in class should be rewarded and in some cases celebrated. We need to celebrate and reward each transfer experience we see taking place in our classrooms. It is important to find an age appropriate way to reward a students transfer of knowledge. This shows that transfer is an important skill and that you as the teacher value that skill.
  6. One reason certain concepts transfer more easily than others is because it is almost identical to something else the student already knows.
  7. Allow students to explore and learn on their own. We shouldn’t always just tell the students exactly what to do.
  8. Getting transfer of knowledge is very possible, but as with most things there is not one sure fire fix or solution.
  9. Most importantly we need to get the students out of the “what do I need to do to get an A” way of thinking. When students are thinking in this manner transfer of knowledge is never going to take place.

Resources for More Information:

  1. Transfer of Learning: Cognition, Instruction, and Reasoning by Robert Haskell
  2. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

As I found during student teaching getting students to transfer knowledge can be a challenging process, but can save a lot of time and shows that students are truly grasping and understanding the concept. While the above tips deal with transfer of knowledge in general and not necessarily dealing with music, there are a lot of concepts that can still be used in the music classroom and ensemble. I hope you found the tips from Dr. Meier on how to successfully get your students to transfer knowledge helpful and also please share other ideas and resources of how you accomplish this in your classroom.

Over the next few weeks I will be doing a series of blog posts based off of the sessions I attended at the PMEA Sate Conference in April. My goal for these posts is to share the invaluable information I learned from these sessions for music educators who were unable to attend the conference or attended different sessions. I hope that from these posts you will learn something new or find some valuable resources to use in your classroom. The first session I attended was titled Selecting a Music Theory Textbook: A Guide for High School Teachers. This is an area where I do not have much experience so I found the information given in the presentation very useful. The presenter was Dr. Daniel Perttu, Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Compositions and Coordinator of the Music Theory Program at Westminster College Pennsylvania. For each textbook that he presented he shared the advantages and disadvantages that he has found focusing on what book is best suited for the high school level.

What to Consider When Selecting a High School Music Theory Textbook

There are many very good theory textbooks on the market that can work in the high school theory classroom. The challenge is to figure out which book will work best for your personal situation. Many of the theory books presented by Dr. Perttu are also good options for teaching theory in band, orchestra, and chorus as well as for music theory classes. The biggest thing to remember is that there is not one theory book that is perfect. You made need to choose one main textbook and then use other books to supplement, to cover the material that you need. When selecting a music theory textbook here are some of the most important items to consider:

  • How the material is presented
  • Quality of musical examples
  • Web resources
  • Does the book address different learning styles
  • Does it progress in a logical order from the basics to more advance concepts
  • Is the format of the book easy to follow
  • Pace of the book
  • Is all the information correct

Choices, Choices, Choices

As I said there are many options when beginning the search for a high school music theory textbook. Dr. Perttu presented 9 options for high school theory texts, Based off of his presentation I will share the advantages and disadvantages of each book and an overall summary about the books

1. Harmony and Voice Leading, 4th edition by Aldwell and Schachter (Schirmer/Cengage)

  • Advantages:
    • Incorporates rules of counterpoint early on
    • Has a good context of chords in context of music
    • Good musical examples
    • Includes web resources for teachers and students
  • Disadvantages:
    • Moves quickly through the basics
    • May have too many details for the average high school student
  • Overall Summary: A thorough text, but moves fairly quickly

2. Music in Theory and Practice, 8th edition by Benward and Saker (McGraw Hill)

  • Advantages:
    • Addresses multiple learning styles
    • Spends a lot of time on the basics of pitch
    • Introduces species counterpoint early
    • Good musical examples
    • Web resources
    • Introduces melodic organization and harmonic context early
    • Mentions the history of theory
  • Disadvantages:
    • Spends little time on the basics of rhythm
    • Doesn’t always follow a logical progression
  • Overall Summary: Good, but doesn’t spend enough time on basics of rhythm and sometime can be hard to follow

3. The Musician’s Guide to Music Theory and Analysis, 2nd Edition by Clendinning and Marvin (Norton)

  • Advantages:
    • Comprehensive introduction to both rhythm and pitch
    • Introduces counterpoint early and comprehensively
    • Balances discussion of melody and chords well
    • Requires student interaction with book
    • Good for multiple learning styles
    • Online learning center for students
  • Disadvantages:
    • Some of the workbook exercises are too challenging for high school students
  • Overall Summary: Good and very comprehensive. May need to skip some exercises due to difficulty.

4. Basic Materials in Music Theory, 12th edition by Harder and Steinke (Pearson/Prentice Hall)

  • Advantages:
    • Has good rudiments
    • Cut-out keyboard for students
    • Requires students to take an active role in learning
    • Lots of review questions
    • Good for multiple learning styles
    • Web resources
    • Talks about the physics of sound
  • Disadvantages:
    • Doesn’t introduce species counterpoint at all
    • Pace may be too slow
    • Requires a lot of teacher explanations-book explanations are vague
    • Format is very different
  • Overall Summary: Good book to cover the basic rudiments of theory.

5. Tonality and Design in Music Theory, Vol. 1, 1st edition by Henry and Rodgers (Pearson/Prentice Hall)

  • Advantages:
    • A good balance between harmonic and melodic discussions
    • Good basis in pitch fundamentals
    • Good musical examples
    • Web resources
  • Disadvantages:
    • Fast paced
    • Not much time spent on rhythm fundamentals
    • Introduces counterpoint very late in the text
    • Many chapters are very unfocused
    • Hard to follow
  • Overall Summary: Good approach to both melody and harmony, but has many disadvantages that can be hard to deal with.

6. Tonal Harmony, 6th edition by Kostka and Payne (McGraw Hill)

  • Advantages:
    • Comprehensive approach to using chords
    • Great musical examples
    • Web resources
  • Disadvantages:
    • Section on pitch not comprehensive enough
    • Chapter on rhythm is very confusing
    • Doesn’t cover enough about melody
    • Information is very compacted
    • Mis-leading information in certain chapters
  • Overall Summary: Good approach to chords and musical examples, but is limited in many ways.

7. The Complete Musician by Laitz (Oxford)

  • Overall Summary: Too difficult for high school students. May be a good recommendation for seniors who are going to major in music.

8. Harmony in Context, 2nd edition by Roig and Francoli (McGraw Hill)

  • Advantages: 
    • Harmony is placed in context
    • Counterpoint is covered in detail
    • Good musical examples
    • Web resources
  • Disadvantages:
    • Moves very quickly through the basics
    • Goes into a lot of detail for high school students
  • Overall Summary: Great discussion of harmony and counterpoint, but may be too advanced in other ways.

9. Theory for Today’s Musician by Turek (McGraw Hill)

  • Overall Summary: Probably too challenging for high school. Very good discussion of melodic writing, but moves very quickly through the basics and goes into too much detail for high school students.

Which One Should I Choose?

Below are Dr. Perttu’s recommendations for different situations.

  • For Incorporating Music Theory into a rehearsal setting
    • Basic Materials in Music Theory by Harder and Steinke
      • Good for covering the basics
  • For Regular High School Music Theory Classes
    • The Musicians Guide to Music Theory and Analysis by Clendinning and Marvin
        • Very well balanced
    • Music in Theory and Practice by Benward and Saker
      • Also very well-balanced and great if your students don’t need as much time on rhythm basics
  • For AP Music Theory 
    • Harmony in Context by Roig and Francoli
    • The Complete Musician by Laitz or Theory for Today’s Musician by Turek
      • For very advanced students considering majoring in music in college

As stated, there is no perfect book and you may have to use more than one book to achieve your goal. Dr. Perttu recommends having one main textbook and then have many different desk copies so you can pull other musical examples, theoretical examples, and supplement your curriculum.

I hope this information has been helpful when considering what music theory textbook to choose. Please feel free to comment and leave your suggestions on the books mentioned above or any other books that you have found useful from your experiences. My next blog post reviewing the sessions from PMEA 2011 will be on tips for creating a performance in the elementary general music classroom.

Every year in April I look forward to attending the PMEA State conference. This is my 5th year attending the conference either as a performer or future educator, and as always it did not disappoint. As usual the PMEA State conference which was held in Hersey PA from April 13th-16th was a success and provided attendees with countless amounts of invaluable information. I had an amazing time, learned a lot of information, and made a few connections with other music educators. Below is a review of some of the highlights from the event. Sorry that this review is coming so late, but with the end of student teaching everything got very hectic.

PMEA Live Blogs-

I was very honored to be a part of a five member team made up of Grove City College junior and senior education majors who live-blogged the conference. We live blogged a majority of the sessions that were offered at the conference and shared our experiences on Twitter. The live-blogs are currently in replay mode, so you can go back and read through our session notes for the sessions that interest you. You can find the live blogs on Overall, we felt the live-blogging was a great success and was a good way to help make the conference more web 2.0. It was a successful way to show how web 2.0 can be integrated into professional development. Again I want to thank Dr. Joseph Pisano and Grove City College for making this event possible!!

Informative Sessions-

As always there was a range of sessions offered at the conference. Everything from jazz, special education, band, orchestra, choir, general music, conducting, etc. was represented. As a future music teacher each year I try to attend as many sessions as  possible that cover a lot of areas so that I so that I receive a wealth of knowledge. My goal for PMEA every year is to be a sponge and soak up as much information as possible. Below are the sessions that I attend this year. Check out my live blog here to read about the sessions.

  • Selecting A Music Theory Textbook: A Guide for High School Teachers
  • Performance Practice in the Music Classroom
  • Beyond the Book: Making Music Visible
  • Jazz Workshop for Music Educators
  • Listening Journals in Middle School General Music
  • Orff Schulwerk: A Winning Way
  • Transfer of Learning: Students Can Perform the Sforzando Every Time
  • Quality Tried and Trued: Choral Repertoire for Singers of All Ages
  • Inclusion! Rethinking Success in the Music Classroom
  • Going Global: Google Earth as a Tool for Teaching World Music


There were also many impressive concerts for the attendees to listen to an learn from. Among them were jazz ensembles, saxophone quartets, wind ensembles etc. Unfortunately due to our rigorous live blogging schedule I was not able to attend many of the concerts, but I did attend the West Chester University Wind Ensemble directed by Andrew Yozviak, which was very impressive. Also Thursday evening of the conference I had the privilege to attend  a performance by “Pershing’s Own” US Army Band and the US Army Chorus. Excellent performers as well as entertainers these two service groups left the audience smiling the entire concert.


One of the overarching themes this year at PMEA was advocacy due to all the budget cuts that are taking place. As music educators advocacy is a term we hear often, but we often don’t do anything about it. Now more than ever we need to be proactive and begin advocating for our programs and to save music education in schools. It is not enough to just talk about advocacy with other music educators. We know the importance of music education. It is our job to advocate to the people in charge such as administration, school boards, and the government and let them know how important music is to our students. We have to fight for what we love and know is invaluable, and we have to do it now.
While at PMEA I got the opportunity to participate in an amazing music advocacy event. As past, present and future musicians, PMEA 2011 attendees gathered to sing “The Awakening” to advocate for music education in our schools, This was one of the most emotional musical experiences that I have been apart of. Now it is our job to spread this video and help to raise awareness of the job cuts that are happening and to help save the music!! Please share this video wherever you can and HELP MUSIC LIVE!!! 

Final Thoughts

Every year I leave PMEA refreshed and even more excited about music and teaching. Being surrounded by hundreds of music educators, who truly have a passion for music for two days is an absolutely amazing experience. If you have never had the opportunity to attend PMEA State Conference I urge you to attend next year. It will  be a life-changing experience!! Stay tuned for more updates and recaps based off of the sessions that I attended at PMEA 2011!!