Recorder Order

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I recently shared my process of introducing new pieces for the recorder in a blog post for The Music Crew.  Check it out by clicking here or the image above. Lots of awesome tips for recorder magic! 

TLDR?  Here are the steps in a nutshell:

  • Read the lyrics – just have the class read them any old way that sounds natural.
  • Clap the rhythm – display only the rhythm on the board, 1-line staff, no pitches, lyrics, etc.
  • Clap the rhythm while reading the lyrics – display rhythm and lyrics only, do this as many times as needed.
  • Play the rhythm on one note – for example, play the Hot Cross Buns rhythm only on “B.”
  • Review notes on the lines and space – only review notes that are in the piece.
  • Identify the note names in the piece and speak them in rhythm – display complete piece, write letters on notes at first and then take them away.
  • Sing the solfege – display the pitches and sing them.
  • Sing the song – it gets the melody into students’ heads and makes it easier for them to self-correct later.
  • Review fingerings needed for the piece.
  • Finger and play the piece while articulating a syllable like “doo” or “too” – no recorders in mouths at this time.
  • Play the piece on recorders – write letters on notes at first and then take them away.
  • Isolate and break down any problem measures if needed.

Happy teaching!


Focus & Engage Students with Musical 4 Corners

4 Corners in the Music Room

One of my classroom management tools is to have a set routine so that students can get into good habits. To break up the monotony of teaching the same routine throughout the week, I try to incorporate an exciting, whole-group game at the end of each lesson. Musical 4 Corners is one that is frequently requested and easy to create. Students are so engrossed in playing, they don’t realize they are reviewing objectives along the way.
I created this version of 4 Corners years ago after watching 2nd graders play 4 Corners week after week during indoor recess. I didn’t understand why they were so captivated by this simple game but I decided to harness some of this recess magic and make a musical version for the classroom. It was a hit and I love that it gives students the chance to get up and move around while reviewing musical concepts.  It can also be played for any length of time making it a perfect closure activity for the end of class.
The best part is that Musical 4 Corners is adaptable to any objective. Kindergartners beg for the 4 Voices version and easily picked up on the rules and how to play. The rhythm and solfege games were even a hit with middle schoolers! 



All you need to do is label 4 areas of the classroom (1-4) and show a card/slide of 4 different patterns. You can use rhythm, pitch, dynamic symbols, note names, or whatever else you’re working on.  One easy way to create the cards is to just write the 4 patterns on pieces of paper and project them. See the free download link below as an example). Create about 15 cards. You can also find a free set of cards to download below the video. 


  • The child who is “it” covers their eyes and counts to 10 while classmates tiptoe to a corner of their choice.
  • When time is up, you clap one of the rhythms on the card. Find a way to choose a corner at random (equity sticks, make a predetermined list, etc).
  • Everyone standing in the corner with the chosen pattern sits down.
  • Keep playing until there is 1 student left.
  • I let the winner choose a small prize from a prize box, but I’ve played without prizes and they love it just as well.

Players Are Automatically Out If They:

  • Run
  • Talk
  • Move before the countdown
  • Are not securely in a corner at the end of the countdown

If the directions are confusing, here’s a quick video of me talking through the game with a PowerPoint version I created for TeachersPayTeachers:


Download the rhythm cards I’ve used for free here —> Rhythm Rounds.

I hope you try the Musical 4 Corners out with your classes. It’s great for when things are a little hectic and you need an educational time-filler. If you have a tech-savvy sub, I highly recommend using one of my prepared PowerPoint games. The PowerPoints pretty much run themselves, and there are enough cards to play several rounds. The Instrument Families or Notes & Rests versions are great ones for a non-music sub to start with.

Happy teaching,9ec1b-sig2bsmall_name2bcopy

A nice tutorial on how to set up a Musical 4 Corners game for your elementary music classroom. You can take any concept and incorporate it into a game so middle school band, choir, and general music students love it too! A fun, active game to end your music lesson plans with!

4 People I’d Tell My First-Year Teacher Self to Run To or Run From

My first teaching job was an elementary general music position at 2 schools. One of the schools was toxic and chaotic, the other was friendly and supportive. Both taught me important lessons about the importance of choosing the right teacher friends.

The Timesucker vs. The Reciprocator

RUN FROM: The Timesucker

Timesuckers will constantly ask you to help them with favors small and large. They may ask for time, talent, or skills without anything in return, insist on talking to you during planning or after school when you are trying to get things done, or they may treat elective teachers like teacher assistants. Most of the time, they don’t realize how busy a music teacher’s day is. Don’t be afraid to guard your time and say no to this person. A simple “no, I am not able to help with that right now” is all you need.

Traits: self-centered, oblivious, talkative (even when you are in a hurry), manipulative

RUN TO: The Reciprocator

Find the reciprocators at your school as soon as you can and then aspire to be a reciprocator yourself. They are often a major reason why a school has a positive, healthy climate. Reciprocators will ask you for favors but will also help you when you need it. The reciprocator respects your time, and when you ask for help, they are happy to lend a hand. Someone that allows you to send children to their room for a break is a tell-tale sign of a reciprocator. We all need a buddy classroom sometimes! Veteran teachers and mentor teachers are often reciprocators because they’ve been where you are, they are rooting for you, and they see your potential.
Traits: kind, giving, loyal, helpful, perceptive, respectful

The Gossip vs. The Out-of-the-Looper

RUN FROM: The Gossip

Gossips will hurt you by spreading rumors or negative stories about you and other teachers. People are drawn to them because they always seem to have the inside scoop. But be warned, hanging around gossips can create a toxic and negative school environment for you. The worst kind of gossip will befriend for the sheer purpose of getting dirt on you and won’t think twice about sharing info with admin. They’ll stretch the truth to make you look bad. Associate with them with them only when you have to. Stay clear of the teacher’s lounge at lunch if you find the gossips often congregate there.
Traits: jealous, selfish, cliquish, competitive, attention-seeking 

RUN TO: The Out-of-the-Looper

Out-of-the-loopers make great friends! They aren’t interested in other people’s drama and care more about your successes as a teacher. They will be your biggest cheerleader and you will be theirs. They often march to the beat of their own drum, and are sometimes judged by others for being different. Students are their main focus and they don’t care much about what others think. You will hear them gush about their students often, and they can be trusted to give you kind and constructive feedback. This person will have your back! At my first school, this person was the art teacher. She was close to retirement and I was a newbie, but we had a magical bond and still do. Out-of-the-loopers can be hard to come by, so treasure them!
Traits: humble, caring, giving, quiet in large groups/meetings

With all that being said, in the end, you may never know a person’s true colors. Don’t judge anyone right off the bat and remain professional with everyone, including support staff. The person that rubbed you the wrong way when you first met, may end up being your best friend. 
It can be lonely being the new kid on the block. Make sure you go to lots of professional developments to learn from and connect with other music teachers. Networking is so important as a teacher and you may even be able to ask a seasoned teacher to mentor you. I find that teachers who present at P.D.’s are usually the kind of people who want to help newbies. If you can find a great mentor, you’ve hit the jackpot!

Memorize Student Names in a Hurry with Your Cell

Record the Students Saying their Names

This seems so obvious, but it never occurred to me to record a 30 second video on my phone of the students saying their names. I recently began teaching part-time at a middle school and my phone helped me learn about 45 names in a few days.

What I Did

  • Created name tags and hung them on each students’ chairs. The backs of the name tags had a short questionnaire for them to fill-out while they settled into their first class with me.  
  • When students were lined-up for dismissal, I whipped out my cell phone and took a video. I started at the front of the line and had each child say their name. This also helped me learn nicknames and name pronounciations.
  • Everyday, I watched the video on my phone several times.  
  • I would mute the video or pause it to see if I could guess their names before they said them. 
  • I also read their questionnaires, and tried to mentally match their faces with the fun facts they shared about themselves on the survey. 


IOS Apps

You could also try apps that have been created to remember names, such as Name Shark or Namerick. 

  • Name Shark (free) allows you to create groups and share them with other teachers. This would be great if you become friends with someone like the P.E. teacher, who may have the same students.
  • Namerick ($0.99) can also create groups of names but is unique in that it will create a mnemonic device for each name. The video below uses the example of Fred. The app will populate a mnemonic such as “Fred Floats Felines.” The mnemonics could be fun to set to music or use as vocal warm-up!

Hope these quick and simple tips are helpful or inspire you to create a fun way to get to know your students! Have a wonderful year!

6 Ways to Retain Students in After-School Chorus

It is so frustrating to have students drop out of your after-school choral program mid-year. Reasons for dropping out range from students wanting to join other clubs, to parents taking away chorus as a punishment for poor grades. After loosing a chunk of my chorus to the soccer club during my first year at a new school, I knew I had to change some things.  EDIT: Anna Hanks has a great comment below about how she retained students by not having to compete with sports.  I totally agree. Kids, especially in elementary school, should be able to explore multiple interests!

1. Use concerts to recruit for next year.

My most dedicated group are always the 4th graders because they are so excited to be in chorus after watching the concerts when they were in 3rd grade. I chose at least one fun or memorable song for the winter concert and did a short musical in the spring with fun costumes, props, and choreography. One song I made memorable during a winter concert was “Santa Lucia.” I incorporated some Swedish traditions by turning off the lights in the auditorium and having the oldest girl enter with an electric candlelight wreath her head to an instrumental version of the song. The other singers followed her in line as the got into place. It really set the tone for the concert and the audience was silent! By the time the 4th graders were able to join chorus, they took it much more seriously than the group I had during my first year at the school.

2.  Give lots of solos and put kids in charge.

Even if it’s just a reading an introduction to a song, pulling the curtains, or holding a sign or prop, I tried to give each kid one special job or moment during the year. They take it seriously, and are so much better at remembering their tasks than I am. Even though something may feel like a chore to us, to a child, it makes them feel important. It’s also fun to see student leaders emerge in the group.

3.  Set aside time for games and play.  

Dramatic exercises that focus on movement, concentration, ensemble connection, and improvisation are great. If it’s a beautiful day, or near the end of the year, I take students to the playground for 10-15 minutes while waiting for others to trickle-in after school.

I found lots of great dramatic exercises to use from theater books for kids and sometimes a classroom teacher would pop-in and play with us! A fantastic book full of imaginative activities is  On Stage: Theater Games and Activities for Kids by Lisa Bany-Winters. Here are two exercises I used.

  • Mirror: kids mirror the actions of their partner. The point is for onlookers to be unable to figure out who the leader is. Students have to move VERY slowly until they are connected enough mentally with their partners to move faster. I add music to set the mood. This is an activity where no speaking is allowed.
  • Mystery Object: in this game students have a prop, such as a chalkboard eraser, and they have to use their improv skills to pretend that the object is something else, like a remote control. The other students have to guess what the “mystery object” is. After a few guesses, the mystery object is passed to a new student. This game was very popular with my chorus.

4.  Provide snacks (or allow them to bring snacks from home).

I always provided snacks, and the kids looked forward to them. It was another way to show that I cared. To save money, I bought them in bulk and split up the snacks in coffee filters because they were cheaper than paper plates. See my short blog post here. Snacks I’ve provided include pretzels, popcorn, chips, cookies, and Cheez-Its. I usually mixed it up, for example, 7 honey pretzel twists and 2 cookies. In late spring, I’d even cut up a watermelon or give freeze pops to the kids while they played on the playground for a few minutes. We also had pizza on concert days. I knew some students would not have a ride to the evening concert, so even though it made my day very long, I always offered to play a movie and provide pizza for students that couldn’t go home before the concert. Remember to save your receipts for tax deductions!

5.  Allow them to be creative: create movements/choreography, props, costumes, instrumental parts, attire.

Sometimes the best concert ideas would come from the students. I’ve had students go home and study The Temptations on their own, and create amazing choreography to some of the Motown songs we’ve sung for our Black History Month assemblies! The moves were so much better than what I would have come up with.  The school secretaries almost died when a group of boys performed a dance to Music K-8’s “My Pizza”, just for them, with the moves from the following YouTube video.

6. Maximize performance opportunities.

We had video announcements at our last school so it was fun to have chorus sing short songs for holidays. What was also great about that is that you can write out the lyrics and no one will see them if you hold them off-camera. 😉  Another idea is a school tour.  Take chorus students around to the primary classrooms and office staff to brighten their day! We also went to Six Flags every Spring to sing with other students in the county.  If students could not pay for their tickets, I would pay for them, or tell them to bring what they could. This was one of my BEST recruiting tools and students talked about it all year. I’ve also had a grant funded which helped defray costs for families.

I hope this post gave you a couple of useful ideas. Even though I take chorus very seriously, there were times when I really did have to lighten it up. Especially since it was after school and I did not want the kids to burn-out. Yes, this does require you to spend money (perhaps you could use school or PTA funds) but your chorus kids will become extremely loyal to you for going the extra mile.