Category: PMEA Recaps

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.

“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.

“Jazz does not belong to one race or culture, but is a gift that America has given the world.”- Ahmad Alaadeen

Jazz music is such an important genre and art form in today’s society. It is very important that our students are exposed to and given the opportunity to both play and listen to jazz music. It is our job as music educators to bring jazz to our students. While at PMEA 2011 one of my favorite sessions that I attended was entitled Basic Jazz Tips for Music Educators. This was an extremely beneficial workshop where the presenters gave basic tips for successfully teaching and exposing our students to jazz music. Many music teachers are thrown to the wolves when it comes to teaching jazz because they aren’t exposed to it during their undergraduate careers or do not immerse themselves in the jazz literature. It is our responsibility as music teachers to become familiar and comfortable with teaching jazz music. Below are some basic tips on teaching jazz that all music educators should know before teaching jazz.

Where to Begin: 

One of the hardest parts of teaching jazz, according to the presenters at the workshop, is knowing where and how to begin. Below are some suggestions for beginning to teach students jazz. 

  • We must start by teaching and providing the students with the necessary jazz vocabulary first in order for them to succeed. This can happen in either the general music class or ensemble setting.
  • After teaching the vocabulary we must show students how to apply the vocabulary. They need to know how to apply what they know not just have a head knowledge about jazz.
  • In order to get the students to understand this new language we must we need to immerse them in jazz music. We can do this by having them both play and listen to jazz music.
  • Playing jazz music is all about responding to what the other musicians are doing. We must teach our students to quickly notice and respond to what others around them are doing. This is even more important in jazz than in the traditional ensemble setting.
  • A good technique to introduce students to playing jazz is to have them take an etude they can play and have them play it in a certain jazz style. For example for trumpet players have them play a Clarke study in a certain key and jazz style. This gets them playing in a jazz style, but makes it easier for them because the study is already familiar.

Dealing With the Rhythm Section:

  • The rhythm section is a band within itself so we need to treat it in that way.
  • All music educators should have the opportunity to play in the rhythm section of a jazz band so that we can better teach them. Playing in the rhythm section of a jazz ensemble is completely different from playing in one of the other sections.
  • A universal function of the rhythm section is to play the correct style. The entire rhythm section must be in a tight groove and playing in the same style. It is important for all music educators to be familiar with the different styles so we can help the rhythm section find the correct style for each piece of music.
  • Each player in the rhythm section has a different role so as the educator we need to know those roles so we can help the students fulfill the duties of each role.
  • Each role in the rhythm section changes depending on the style of the piece.


Improvisation is one of the most challenging aspects of change both to do and teach successfully, but is also one of the most important aspects of jazz music. Below are some tips for how to successfully teach jazz improvisation.

  • When teaching students improvisation, especially younger students, we want to make sue that we approach it in a way that we are setting them up for success not failure.
  • Improvisation is NOT making things up as you go along. Instead, it is using existing vocabulary that you already know and applying it very quickly on the spot.
  • If you are teaching someone to improvise who never has before start with simple rhythms and only a few notes of a scale.
  • Get the students to take a melody they love and have them try to play it on their instrument. This gets the students used to using their ear in a fun way. Students have to know how and be able to use their ear to improvise successfully.
  • Do a call and response with your ensemble which will help them to build confidence. Base the call and response from a scale and encourage the students to play something, even if it is only a few notes and then pass it down the ensemble.
  • A good way to teach improvisation is to include it in your ensemble’s warm-up routine. This makes improvisation much less threatening for the students.
  • Teaching jazz and improvisation makes the students more musically aware in all areas. It doesn’t just make them better at jazz.
  • Improvising may be difficult at first, but with practice everyone can improvise to some extent.
  • Worse piece of advice that you can give to a young jazz musician when improvising is, “just stand up and blow.”

Other Tips for Teaching Jazz:

  • Any instrument can play jazz music. You don’t always have to have the traditional jazz ensemble and instrumentation. Make it work for your students and community.
  • There is some published jazz literature for limited instrumentation, but many times you need to arrange your own pieces to best fit your needs and students.
  • There are charts available just in different keys so that any instrument and any instrumentation can play.
  • Many music educators have problems with beginning jazz trumpet students. The number one problem is range and endurance. Always address these issues first and a lot of your problems will probably be solved.

All music educators need to get comfortable with jazz because chances are at some point in our careers we will end up teaching either a jazz history course or jazz ensemble. For me jazz is an area where I have had some experience, but definitely is not an area of expertise for me. I found the above tips to be very informative and I hope you also find some valuable tips for teaching jazz music. Feel free to comment and leave more basic tips that all music educators should know when teaching jazz music.