Category: General Music


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!

“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.

“Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.”- Plato

Our students hear and are exposed to music all the time, but rarely are they actually listening to the music. One of our jobs as music educators is to get our students to not just hear music, but to begin to actively listen music. As I found during my student teaching experience it can be a challenge to get students to actively listen to music, but including listening journals into your curriculum can be one way to start. While at PMEA I attended a very informative session entitled Incorporating Listening Journals into the Middle School General Music Classroom. The session was presented by Rosemary Buetikofer and Sean Kennedy. Their presentation included different types of listening journals, what to include in a listening journal, and how to successfully incorporate them into the classroom.  Below are some of the highlights from the presentation that I found were very helpful.

What to Include in a Listening Journal:

Below are some of the categories that are important to include in a listening journal. With each section are questions you could have the students answer while listening.

  1. Timbre: Refers to the “what” or “who” in music making
    1. What kind of instruments do you hear?
    2. What types of voices are there?
    3. What other sounds are in the music?
    4. What type of group or ensemble is playing?
  2. Dynamics: The intensity of the volume
    1. What is the intensity of the volume?
    2. Does the intensity ever change?
    3. Does it change often or infrequently?
  3. Meter: How many beats per measure. For this category you may have to come up with creative movement activities to get students to feel the beat.
    1. How is the beat divided throughout the piece?
    2. Is it duple or compound? (Divided by 2’s or 4’s or 3’s, 6’s, 9’s etc.)
    3. Does it stay the same for the entire piece?
  4. Tempo: The pace of the music
    1. How fast is the music moving?
    2. Give students choices that have the musical term and then a simple explanation of the term.
  5. Style: Make the students be as specific as possible
    1. What category does this piece best fit into? (Give the students a list with possible options).
  6. Time Period: This category is not for younger students.
    1. When do you think it was composed?
    2. What in the music makes you think this? (for more advanced students)
  7. Intertextuality: Have the students make personal connections with the music. Don’t allow the students to say nothing for this category!!
    1. What does the music make you feel?
    2. What does the music remind you of?

How to Successfully Incorporate Listening Journals:

  1. Start with what the students are familiar with and can connect with easily. Don’t start your first listening journal or activity with Bach or Mozart.
  2. For instrumental students or vocalists play examples of famous musicians who play the instrument that they do.
  3. Start with the basics. Start by introducing musical terms at a basic level and then move to the details once the students are ready.
  4. Relate musical concepts and terms to terms and subjects that the students are familiar with and interested in. For example when discussing dynamics relate them to sports announcing.
  5. Allow students to draw pictures when doing listening journals. Don’t require them to only use words or full sentences. This will help to reach your visual learners.
  6. Put the music that you are having them listen to into context for them. It is our job as music educators to try and help tie everything together.
  7. Play songs that the students may have heard before, but probably never listened to the whole thing or listened to it with a different context in mind.
  8. Make it clear from the beginning that we have to be open to all music and be willing to listening to all styles. Also make it clear that doesn’t mean that everyone has to like every style and piece that they listen to.
  9. As the teacher we have to find ways to get students to buy into having an open mind about all styles of music. One way to do this may be through movies, commercials, television shows etc. that the students are familiar with.
  10. Have 2 rules for listening: Be Still and Be Quiet!

Why Use Listening Journals:

  1. Listening journals help to tie music into all aspects of school. Students need to be shown how music is related to other subjects.
  2. Shows student that music can and will affect many aspects of their lives.
  3. Listening journals get everyone involved in music no matter what their musical background is.
  4. Listening journals can help lead to discussion on other important musical topics.
  5. Listening journals help to create better listeners all around. Show students that being a good listener is important no matter what path in life you take.
  6. Listening journals help students to create a better appreciation for music so they are not just hearing music anymore, but are actively listening!
Students to actively listen to music can be a challenge, I believe that most music educators would agree that it is extremely important. One important tip to remember when doing listening journals is: some listening examples will be failures, but you don’t know what will work until you try it. Please share other ideas and tips of how to incorporate listening and listening journals into the music classroom. Also feel free to visit the presenter’s website  for more information on listening journals and for sample listening journals to use in your classroom.

 As music educators or future music educators we all know the importance of making music visible in schools and making music cross-curricular. A great way we can do both of these things is by using children’s literature. At the PMEA state conference one of the sessions I attended was entitled Beyond the Book: Making Music Visible using Children’s Literature. The workshop was presented by Marjorie Troeh. Marjorie gave some great ideas for how to use children’s literature to teach music and tie music into the regular curriculum. While this session was definitely full of great ideas that music teachers could incorporate into their general music classroom, I also believe that a majority of the ideas presented could be incorporated into the regular elementary classroom. Below are four books that Marjorie presented and some ideas for how to tie music and literature together into the classroom and ideas for teaching musical concepts such as vocalization, dynamics, etc.

Children’s Literature

  1. Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan
    • Teach the students some of the dances that the birds do throughout the book. Allow students to create their own dances to go with the book.
    • Create simple ostinato patterns that the students can perform while reading the book.
    • Show how dots, lines and squiggles can represent sounds. Draw some designs on the board and as a class sing their shapes
      •  Give each student paper bird cutout to decorate with black. For a quick assessment have the students sing the black designs on their birds. This could also make for a bulletin board idea.
    • Demonstrate “song dotting.” Sing a simple song such as Three Blind Mice. Make a dot for every note moving in a line from left to right. Let students practice song dotting using their favorite simple song.
      • Extend this activity by relating the dots and lines to standard notation. Show how the dots represent different notes.
      • Dot Singing
    • For older students put shapes and designs from the book onto a music staff.
  • Summary: This book can help teach musical concepts by starting with visualization and then move to relating the visualizations to musical notation.

2. Kokopelli, Drum in Belly by Gail Hailey: This book is divided into 3 worlds and something different takes place in each world. Kokopelli is the main character in the book. This is a great book to use to create a musical drama and get the whole school and other teachers involved, showing that music can be tied across the curriculum. You can add narration, props, instruments, and dancing to go along with the story and create a musical drama.

    • Divide your students into 3 groups; musicians, storytellers, and actors. The teacher or another adult can be Kokopelli.Some of the musicians represent “Mother Earth” and keep her heartbeat throughout the entire story.
    • The storytellers take turns reading the book while the actors improvise movements as described in the story.
    • Kokopelli plays a scale on either a recorder or Orff instrument to symbolize moving into the next world.
    • Colored scarves or ribbons work well to represent the three worlds
    • Have the students choose different instruments to represent the characters throughout the story.
    • At the end of the story everyone picks up instruments and ribbons or scarves for a celebration dance.
    • The students could make artwork and instruments to represent the different worlds.
    • For older students the students could write their own version of the story to perform.
  • Summary: This book is a great way to let your students be creative and have them think outside the box. Through this book they are learning about steady beat, high and low, dynamics and using music to tell a story.

3. Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo by Susan Roth:

    • Make sure the students know that this is a true story and tell them when Guido was born (900). Use this to discuss other events in history that took place during this time.
    • Listen to recordings of Gregorian Chant which is close to Guido’s time.
    • Discuss with the students how we learn songs today.
    • Show the students some of Guido’s notations and have the students compare and contrast that notation to today’s standard musical notation.
    • Demonstrate the hand staff and how it relates to musical notation.
    • Sing “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music to practice the scale and hand staff.
    • Choose some familiar songs to the students that move stepwise and sing it while showing the notes on the hand staff.
    • Place students on steps or risers to represent note patterns. Let them change position and then have the class sing or play the new pattern.
  • Summary: This book can help in discussing modern-day notation and solfeggio. It helps students relate what they hear to what they see and vice versa.

4. Hide and Snake by Keith Baker:

    • Every time the students spot the snake in the book have them vocalize on “oo” up and down to represent the snake.
    • After reading the book go back to the title page and sing “oo”, sliding the pitch up and down as you trace the shape of the snake. Sing the snake’s tail on the following page.
    • Draw other snakes on the board and sing them as a class.
    • Allow students to make their own snakes using pipe cleaners.
      • For assessment have them sing their snake and their neighbor’s snake
      • For older students have them put bead on the pipe cleaners to represent notes and then have them sing their snake.
    • Relate the shape of the snakes to notation. Put a simple melody on the board and draw the shape of the snake over it.
      • Play a game: Draw 3 snakes on the board, play or sing one of them and ask the students to guess which one you sang.
      • Use the Singing Snakes worksheet to test student understanding.
    • Relate the hiding snake from the book to melodic patterns “hiding” in pieces of music. A great example is Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor. Use the first 11 notes as the “snake”. Little Fugue
  • Summary: This a great book to help introduce patterns, both rhythmic and melodic. After finding patterns in the book go to notated music and find patterns written in the music.

Incorporating Children’s Literature in the Music Classroom

Using children’s books can be a great way to reach across the curriculum and is also a good way to reach all types of learners. To keep students active when reading a book have them listen for something such as a specific word, picture etc. and have the students play an instrument or perform a specific move when they hear that specific item. This keeps the students engaged and active and can help you introduce musical concepts such as dynamics. Books such as the ones above can help students focus on the finer aspects of music besides just notation and get them thinking about what else can be conveyed through music.

Endless Possibilities

Marjorie’s main idea throughout the entire session was to show that children’s literature has endless possibilities. Incorporating children’s literature in the music classroom can be a great opportunity for you as the music teacher to work with the regular classroom teachers, art teachers etc., and create a performance involving a whole grade level or the entire school. Feel free to share other ideas for incorporating children’s literature into the music classroom or how to make music more visible and tie it across the curriculum.

Many elementary general music teachers are faced with the daunting task of putting on a performance, singing at an assembly etc. without much notice. As we all know getting our students ready for a performance at any level is a challenge, but at the elementary level it is an extra challenge. Michelle Przybylowski elementary music teacher at School District of Cheltenham Township presented a wonderful workshop at PMEA entitled: Performance Practice in the Music Curriculum. The goal of this workshop was to give elementary music teachers tips and techniques to help produce a performance by the end of a class period. One thing Michelle emphasized throughout the workshop is that you can take almost any piece and turn it into a performance. The key is to let the students be a part of the process!! Michelle gave many general tips and shared a few specific pieces that work very well for performances.

Tips for a Successful Performance

Michelle gave a lot of tips on what she does to create performances in her classroom. Most of these tips are great for any elementary general music teacher, whether you are interested in creating a performance or not.

  1. Instrument Resources– As we all know classroom instruments can really enhance the general music classroom. The company Music Is Elementary is a great resource for elementary general music teachers and they work with you and your school if you don’t have much of a budget!
  2. Our Role in the Classroom– We need to see ourselves more as a facilitator than a teacher at times. This is especially important when getting ready for an elementary performance. We need to let the students explore and create and we facilitate the whole process.
  3. Speech Pieces– While not songs, speech pieces can create easy and fantastic performance pieces and are great teaching tools. With speech pieces you can add movement, un-pitched percussion instruments, movement etc.
  4. Recorders– Recorders whether alone or added to a speech piece can make for a great performance. One tip is starting with A and C is sometimes a good choice because students only have to move 1 finger.
  5. Assessment- It sometimes can be hard to assess student performance in general music. Get your students up and moving to music in some way or another. This is a great way to assess whether they are internalizing the beat and understanding the concept of steady beat.
  6. Jobs– Give your students jobs or small roles in everything you do. This will help the students rise to the occasion and help to create a performance with short notice.
  7. Involve Your Students– To help teach a song quicker and get a performance ready quickly make sure to give your students something to sing or a part of the song to do even the first time. Michelle called this a “catch line”. Give them something the students can sing on the first time through. This gets them involved and helps to make them performance ready.
  8. Movements– Allow your students the opportunity to create movements to the song. Again this gets the students involved, but it also introduces them to the concept of improvisation.
  9. Exploration– Give the students time to explore and use their creativity before just telling them what to do. Letting students explore will make them more interested which will lead to them putting forth more effort in learning the song.
  10. Organization-A great tip to help save time and even may help when dealing with classroom management is to number and label the bars on your Orff instruments. This way they won’t get mixed up or lost when you or the students remove them.
  11. Sing First– When teaching students a song always start with the singing before you add movement or instruments. I definitely learned this the hard way during student teaching. If you start with the movements or percussion the students won’t want to learn the song. This saves you as the teacher a lot of time and headaches!!
  12. Words/Lyrics– If you find a perfect song don’t let the words stop you from performing or using that song. You can always make up your own words or tweak the words a little to fit your students or the performance. Don’t let the words limit your creativity!
  13. Percussion Instruments– When adding percussion instruments to a song have the instruments laid out in the room and allow the students to go to the instruments and pick their own instruments. This allows students to show their creativity. Don’t stifle creativity by dictating everything that has to be done.
  14. Ownership– Let your students be the owners of the performance. It should be THEIR performance. This will only happen if you allow them to take ownership in the classroom first.
  15. Performance Practice– When you add a new step to a song learn that step and then perform as much as the students know. This helps them learn the song quicker and gets the students used to performing from the start.
  16. Chaos– Confusion and chaos is OKAY in the elementary general music classroom as long as it is controlled and the students know their limits and your expectations. These must be clearly established from the start.
  17. Planning a Lesson or Performance– Planning a lesson or performance can be compared to baking a wedding cake. You must start with the basics and the foundation and then you can begin to add-on all the decorations!

Songs That are Performance Ready

As sated above, almost any song can be made to work for a performance, but as with everything there are a few songs that seem to work really well. As part of the workshop Michelle shared a few songs that she has found over the years make great performances! Below are some of the songs Michelle shared and some of the concepts that you can teach through these songs. I also had the opportunity to talk with Michelle after the workshop and she gave me permission to put the songs and directions from her handout on my blog as a resource. Check out the PDF links for each song below. Feel free to try these songs in your classrooms and create a performance with your students!!

  1. Look The Sky is Full of Pretty Colors: A speech piece that focuses on rhythm. Also a great piece to discuss form with your students and show them how pieces can have many forms.
  2. Alabama Gal: A simple pentatonic folk song that can be used as a singing game. Use this piece to explore singing and dancing, plus add instruments for the accompaniment.
  3. Plant a Seed in My Garden: A simple diatonic melody that explores various stages of planting a seed. You can use un-pitched percussion instruments, movement, and singing to create a wonderful performance.
  4. Sleepy Bear and Chimes of Dunkirk: Sleepy Bear is a great piece to tie literature and music together. Chimes of Dunkirk is a folk dance that can help you explore movement in various ways with your students.
  5. Sleepy Bear Lesson Plan: A detailed lesson plan full of ideas of how to incorporate a children’s book into your music classroom.

If you have other pieces that work great for performances in the elementary general music classroom please share!! I hope many of the tips and resources from this session at PMEA will be helpful whether you are an undergraduate, beginning teacher, or experienced teacher. I tried the song Plant a Seed in My Garden while I was student teaching and the students loved it. We didn’t complete every step, but after we learned the song I let them explore with instruments to fit the words and I was amazed with what they came up with!! My next PMEA session blog post will be on using children’s world literature in the general music classroom.