Thursday, March 31, 2016

Musical Prep in Elementary Music: 1

I'm at a new school this year and for the first time ever I have another performing arts teacher on staff with me! Woo! The drama teacher is phenomenal - she and I are doing musicals with 4th & 5th grades this year. We did AristoCats with our 5th graders in February and are just starting 101 Dalmatians with our 4th graders.

There are many things that go into organizing a musical endeavor and I'm going to share a few of the things I've learned this year! This will be a series, so stay tuned for more posts! (Check out part 2 here!)

Before the auditions, there is a ton of work to do! I'm not intending this to be a comprehensive guide, but I do want to hit the highlights of each topic.

Picking a Musical

First, consider the amount of time you are willing to spend in class, plus the amount of time you are allowed to spend outside of class. I didn't want the 16 songs to be the *only* music my students interacted with for the year, so I limited the amount of time to seven weeks.

Because there are two performing arts teachers, we can divide and conquer! First we did several music-only rehearsals in which we combined classes. Then she took the character roles during class time to work on blocking, while I worked with the large group on chorus songs. This allowed us to progress further on the songs while not falling behind on blocking, and ultimately get more done in the seven weeks allotted.

We did not want kids to have to "sit and watch" any longer than absolutely necessary. We had our first "full grade level" rehearsal about ten days before our first performance. After about five weeks of working on songs/blocking separately, we were able to put them together.

Second, evaluate the ability level of your students. Do you have a strong lead? enough students to fill out the major roles? enough boys/girls to fill out gender specific roles?  do you have enough chorus members to do a dance number or would standing on the sides be a better fit?

Third, take the climate of the school into account. You don't want to do a super serious musical for their very first musical experience. In my current school, they have a tradition of performing musicals. We wanted to keep that tradition alive and push it forward by adding tech and incorporating more action for the chorus members.

We chose AristoCats and 101 Dalmatians based on what we thought our students could handle in the amount of time allotted.

Parent Communication

We sent home a large packet of information two months before the performances. In this packet, we included all kinds of information.

"The Packet"
   - Cover Letter with contact information
   - Calendar with every rehearsal & performance date
   - Glossary page (description of each rehearsal & who was required to attend)
   - Student/Parent Contract (including permission to stay after school & permission to publish pictures in the school publications)
   - Student Bio form - for the playbill
   - T-shirt order form
   - Personal Ads order form (Parents can purchase a small space in the program to cheer on their student)
   - Character descriptions & audition information
   - Makeup and costume requirements for chorus members
   - Parent check list* (a timeline of sorts for parents to keep them on track)

*We just added this for the latest program - great response!

Even though we sent home tons of information on paper, we also posted this packet on the drama blog and encouraged every parent to subscribe to our Remind Text.

Character Analysis

Before auditions, I did a quick analysis of the singing solos for each character, so that I had a general idea of the number and type of solos they would be required to do. The drama teacher did a quick tally of the number of lines for each character as well.

There are also character descriptions in the director's manual of our chosen shows, so we looked over the range and type of character that was suggested. (We got our shows from MTI.)

Workshop / Parent Meeting

Two days prior to auditions, we held a workshop in the evening. We invited parents of students that wanted to audition for a character role to meet with the drama teacher while I taught them the audition songs. This is a great time to solicit volunteers for things like backstage help during dress rehearsals & performances, help making costumes, donating makeup and other items for props, etc. After explaining the audition process and answering parent questions (and encouraging them to sign up for the Remind Text!) the parents joined the students in the music room.

After distributing the scenes to memorize, we had a brief question and answer session, followed by a "meet and greet" time. This was a great chance for us to meet some parents (it's both of our first years at our school) and answer tons of questions ahead of time.


The auditions themselves were pretty straightforward. I used the students' aural assessment scores from music class as a base line. They earn a score of 3 - match pitch, 2 - almost or 1 - not yet. This gives me a baseline to go back to, in case a student has a case of nerves during an audition, or if there is a tie.

The students had to memorize segments from two of the songs in the show, as well as memorize (and add character to!) one scene. We chose music clips from what was available for them to listen online, for at-home practice.

When they come in for auditions, they stand by themselves in front of the judge table to sing their song (with CD accompaniment track) & perform their scene. Then, we ask them to do a cold read for another character, using the script for a different scene.

And lastly, if we have any questions, we have them do a movement audition. We don't go over this at the workshop, because they have been working on movement and characterization all year in drama specials. We just say, "If you were an army cat, move across the floor like they would," or "Move across the floor like an old country dog." This gives us another level of information about the students' abilities.

Casting / Double Cast

After auditions, we go to a restaurant and spread out all the papers and try to fit all the puzzle pieces together!

We decided to double cast our show for several reasons. We have a large school with around 150 students in each grade level, so we wanted to have plenty of opportunities for students to be involved. We also know (from our specials teammates that have been here many years) that many of the students will be a "no-show" at the performance night. It also was very helpful to have a built-in understudy for each role, in case of illness or other mishap.

We had a few students sign up to perform in "all 4" shows, so those were the only roles that did not get double cast.

This sounds like a ton of work - and it is! But it is worth it in the end when the students put on a spectacular show!

Watch Facebook for the next in the series - rehearsals and Tech Day! <-- Click here for Part 2!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Pinterest Gem: Vocal Warmups for Boys

It's a gorgeous day outside here in Kentucky - and it's only Wednesday, which means I have just a few more days to get everything done. Eek! I'm spending this beautiful sunny day with my pup - she's going to get some well deserved exercise in a bit. But first, I want to share a tremendous find from Pinterest!!

I'm always on the lookout for new vocal warmups to try and I found a gem on Pinterest this morning. Ashley Delaney, a choir director in Denton, Texas, posted a fantastic video with some great vocal warmups. I've used several of these warmups before (and loved them!) but she takes it to another level with her men's choir videos, adapting them perfectly for the boys in choir.

Ashley has collected some great warmups, including belly button "pop-out," face mask on ice (NHL!) and using poison rhythm patterns (with simple body movements) for dynamic breath exercises. Love her!

Here are some of my favorites from her "Where the Wild Things Are" video:

Vocal Tidal Wave with Eyebrow pushups - love this!!

Movement with each warmup

"Down, Set, Hike" A fantastic boy-friendly phrase for working beginning and ending consonants!

Adding a little beat boxing to your warmup!

If you want more great ideas, check out her YouTube channel here.  If you find any more warmup gems, I'd love to hear from you in the comments! 

Have a great hump day! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Ostinatii and a Spring Break Deal!

Spring Break is flying by and I've been working hard to update more files! Today's Spring Break deal: The Birch Tree & Land of the Silver Birch.

This is a beautiful song for singing in canon! In addition to updating the format so that the file will load more easily, I've added writing and improvisation activities to round out the "practice" section of your lessons. 

Land of the Silver Birch is another great resource - this one I use for practicing syncopation. My students love the mood of this song. Just about every time we sing it, I have at least one student request to sing it again.

The easiest part-work to add to this song would be an ostinato. A rhythmic ostinato works well on drums or any instrument you can play with two hands. We take the last phrase "boom-diddc-boom-boom" and repeat it like this:
A melodic ostinato that works well is taking the same rhythm and adding a simple melodic pattern to it, like this:
My students add this to xylophones, bass bars or use their voices while playing unpitched percussion. This song has some great opportunities for partnering, too - the most obvious pairing would be to sing as a partner with Canoe Round. 

How do you use Land of the Silver Birch in your classroom? I'd love to hear from you in the comments, or over on Facebook!

You can save half off on these resources today & tomorrow only - but if you grab it today, you can score an extra 10% in savings! My whole store is on sale today (Tuesday) only!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tideo Makeover & Singing in Canon

Happy Spring Break! I've been working hard updating products and formatting my resources to make them easier to use in my classroom.

So What's New? 
First, I am using a new method for flattening my jpeg images so that when you go from page to page within the slide, the image loads in one piece, instead of layer after layer.

Second, I'm trying to streamline my "look" so that the products have a cohesive feel. *giggle* Really, I just like buying clipart! :-) Hello, my name is Lori and I am a clipart addict.

Check out Tideo's new look! 

My Tideo file was up first on the block. I use Tideo in my classroom for practicing do pentatonic, after teaching "re." I added new slides for spurring your improvisation practice; my students love coming up with new places and things to pass and new nonsense syllables to say at the end.

This is a great song to do in canon as well. You can do it in huge chunks (Group A start on the A section, Group B start on the B section) or do a true canon, starting after 1, 2 or 4 beats.

When I teach a canon, I always use a song that the students know independently. I have them sing by themselves while I sing in canon. After they identify that I'm singing the same thing as them, but at a different time, I have a small group (2-4 students) come stand by me and sing with me, in canon. After doing this successfully, I break the class into 2 groups and have one group sing the song independently, while the other group sings with me in canon.

Eventually you can have the two groups performing in canon without you while you add a third part to the canon, an ostinato or sing in harmony with them! The possibilities are endless.

I am in love with the new look! Thanks to Melonheadz for the super cute kid clipart. Get the Tideo file for 1/2 off on Saturday & Sunday only!

Three Things that Worked Well in the Music Room

Check out these three things that worked well for me this week!
Beach Ball Fun! Some of my primary students are learning about "la" this week. I love using the song Bounce High for "la" for the most obvious reason - the word "high" is on the highest pitch. My kids latch onto this song pretty quickly.

We start off by holding imaginary beach balls in our hands and moving them around as a vocal warmup. We transition into the song and move our imaginary beach balls to the melodic contour (middle-high-middle-low) as we sing the lyrics. Check out the process here.

It's GREAT having a ton of beach balls on hand, because you can use them for so many things! I use them for composition, brain breaks, even other songs like Plainsies, Clapsies.

During the presentation lesson (this week), we play Kings and Queens to individually assess who can say the words correctly, use the correct hand-signs and match pitch - all as a solo! Those students who "hit the bullseye" with their voices get their name written on the board in my fanciest handwriting.

Then we move on to notation -  After reading on the tone ladder, we label the solfege "with the sticks," on rhythm stick notation:

After reading this with our hand-signs, I say, "That's tooooo easy! Close your eyes!" And add more so's, mi's and la's. Check it out below:



Rakes of Mallow! I love to do Irish songs in the month of March and Rakes of Mallow has been a favorite of mine for many years. It's a simple circle dance that is accessible to many grade levels. Some of my more advanced classes turn it into a double circle dance, just for fun!

Formation: Single Circle, holding hands
Phrase 1: Circle to the right, 16 beats
Phrase 2: Circle to the left, 16 beats
Phrase 3: Drop hands, jump 2x, clap 2x, 4 "baby steps" into the center, 4 "baby steps" back to your spot.
Phrase 4: Repeat phrase 3

After a week of dancing, it's fun to read the rhythms (section A has a simple takadimi pattern; section B has a simple tadimi pattern!) and listen to an arrangement by Leroy Anderson.

Rabbits and Turtles: Kindergarten is getting ready to find out about Fast Beat and Slow Beat, so we have been preparing kinesthetically by moving like rabbits and turtles around the music room.  I start by telling the story of the tortoise and the hare. Then I pull out my rabbit and turtle visuals and we bounce/step in place, depending on which one I hold up.

Next, I use my finger to draw a "laser line" around the movement area - don't go past the laser line or you'll get zapped and have to sit out!

Then we practice (just the boys or just the girls) moving around the room like rabbits while singing a song and I play a drum to keep them on the beat. I say, "Let's move like rabbits!" or "Turtle arms ready!" before we do each one. This solidifies the idea in their brains while they are moving fast or slow with their bodies.

The next week (this past week!) I tell them, "We're going to move like rabbits and turtles again. But this time, I'm not going to tell you which one we're doing, I'm going to play a secret code on my drum and you have to figure out which one we're doing." This helps me assess which ones have it and which ones don't, without too much embarrassment. If they have it incorrect, they quickly look around at their peers and switch.

Let's talk about documentation! While they are moving around the room, I am looking for the ones that "get it" and those who are following their friends. I keep a clipboard in my room with a stack of rosters. Each time we do an activity that I want to track, I give each child a score of 3 (got it!), 2 (almost!) or 1 (not yet!).

After that kinesthetic review, I move on to aural questioning (document this too!) - I go straight down my roster and let each kid answer "turtle" or "rabbit" while I play the drum. This should happen very quickly & can be done in one class.

Next week, we will move on to visual prep, where I will do the same thing (play the secret code on the drum) but they will have to hold up their rabbit or turtle card and show me which one they hear. It's a great time to be in Kindergarten music! :-)

Spring Break Plans 2016

It's Spring Break in my neck of the woods! What are you hoping to accomplish this Spring Break? If Spring Break has come and gone for you, what did you get done?

I love having time to reboot and get ready for the next part of the year. I have a few things on my to-do list and I thought I would share them here!

1. I plan to spend a few hours with my husband and my puppy dog, just relaxing! The first part of the semester was filled to the brim with activity, so a few peaceful moments are very appealing right now. I have a few books in my "to finish" pile (maybe more than a few!) so those will definitely find their place on my schedule.

2. I haven't had a chance to try out my new cookbooks that I got for Christmas! Dashing Dish & the new Pioneer Woman cookbook are on the top of my list for things to try this week! I'm also planning to make a trip to Trader Joe's - my new favorite store.

3. We have eight weeks left of school when we get back, which always seems like a race to the finish. What can we get done before we say goodbye in May? It sounds like a ton of time, but in reality, it's not! With a six day rotation, I see my classes about six to seven times every eight weeks (if I'm lucky!). 

With two rotations of dance curriculum in the mix, we'll have only three or four more classes until our big performance of the year! (eek! that's not a lot of time!!) And since I'm new to Kentucky, I haven't been through a testing cycle, so I'm not sure if I will see all of the classes or not during testing - eek!

In my last rotations of the year, I hope to include a mini version of my "Trip Around the World" with 2nd and 3rd graders, plus as much instrument time as we can! In my experience, all kids are "instrument junkies" - they just love anything to do with instruments. 

4. Make decisions regarding grad school! I am starting my Masters this summer and honestly, I am still undecided about which one to pursue. Online? In person? Music? General Ed? The possibilities are endless and I am still wide open to any of them. 

5. Blog and work on TpT resources! The school year keeps me exceedingly busy, so I'm hoping to use a little time to catch up with some needs in my classroom, plus share what I've been up to! 

Right now, I'm updating older products that need a fresh look, like Tideo
I'm also updating my format - trying to make current resources even better & easier to use for teachers. 

6. We signed a lease and will be moving closer to my school in June. Woohoo! No more huge commute - I could literally walk to school if I needed to. And the best news - it's super close to a Half Price Books. *drool* 

So, it's boxes and packing tape time once again. I need to sit down and organize a to-do list, get some supplies from Target and get going!

What do you have on the calendar for this week? I would love to hear from you in the comments.