2017 Social Media Blog

Articles on this page are written by Michigan music teachers and also featured on MMEA Facebook and Pinterest pages.  


FA 1:15

Channeling the Power of Music to Motivate Your Recorder Students of All Levels – Debra Navin

When I was new to teaching I encountered a young student who was being very difficult in my class. I took him aside for a private conversation and he told me he hated my class because “music makes me feel things.” I knew about his tough home life and we discussed how music does have that power both for happiness and sadness.

Years later I came across the Skye Boat Song which seemed like a perfect addition to my transportation themed concert. I liked the song and was pleasantly surprised by how much my students took to it. They loved the story of a prince escaping his country by disguising himself as a girl (a bonnie). They loved the melody and most of all, it made them feel things. This piece was harder to play on the recorder than anything we had done as a class and I had assumed that only a select few would play it by the concert. But because of the power of this particular piece, all my students wanted to learn it. I decided I needed a plan to make it playable for all levels of recorder players.

The first step to playing this song was to play along with only the first note of every other measure. I showed them these notes as letter names (see image for FIRST STEP) but also highlighted them in the printed music on the board. This enabled students who were pre-readers to play along right away. Then I would add the first beat of every measure (see SECOND STEP). Eventually we’d move to the full notation. This layering would allow all students to play along no matter where they were in the process. Students at level 1 could play along successfully with students who knew the whole song.

In the end we had a beautiful piece for our program where we sang and then played the recorders. Through the process of layering increasingly difficult steps to play this piece, my students pushed themselves to become better recorder players.

Debra Navin teaches General Music at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills Michigan. She has degrees from The Crane School of Music and Temple University. She is certified in Orff-Schulwerk and has one level of training in Music Learning Theory. She has taught General Music, Choir and Band in several of public and private schools in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Michigan

 FA2 1:15

FIRST STEP                                  SECOND STEP

A section                                        A section         

FA3 1:15                                  FA5 1:15                       

B section                                       B section

FA4 1:15                                  FA6 1:15



12 FA

Oh Where, Oh Where Have The Aural Skills Gone? – Greg Wells

In my career thus far, I’ve had the pleasure of working in two districts that have had amazing K-12 music educators. My teaching experience ranges from kindergarten music and movement to college students. More recently I’ve had the privilege of being a guest clinician and adjudicator for ensembles around the state. I have seen the benefits of having excellent music experiences for students, and how important it is to expose children to a strong music education as young as possible.  The two districts I’ve worked in have unique approaches and scopes, and both produce great results, communicate well with each other and have a great understanding of what a holistic musician should be. Because of these amazing colleagues, I’ve been spoiled with the many well-trained students that they send my way the majority of the time. I really am fortunate to be able to say that most of my incoming students already have a great foundation of skills, abilities and attitudes.  

Among the many skills and abilities that students should develop in preparation for a high school band program, aural awareness seems to be the weakest component.  The most frustrating thing for me as a director is when students blatantly play wrong notes and have no reaction to their mistake/s. I’m not talking rare E#’s or other unfamiliar musical anomalies. I am talking about familiar, comfortable notes, keys, and tonalities that they should not miss.  They are simply not listening to what’s coming out of their instrument. What they need is to increase their aural awareness so that they can improve their accuracy and be able to discriminate between what’s right and wrong. Oh, the amount of time that would save in a rehearsal!

From my experience, students seem to have a good grasp of rhythmic skills but tend to struggle with aural skills.  I think this is partly due to the “method” of teaching most band directors/programs use. Most beginning band books have almost no aural development components.  I can only think of one that truly focuses and fosters aural skills, which is Jump Right In! from GIA publications. However, I used that for many years, and I can tell you it’s not perfect either. It’s lacking in volume of content and needs to be supplemented, and the teacher must be well versed in the sequencing and methodology for it to be most successful. Besides this one method, I feel the rest of the beginning band books have essentially tried to ‘teacher proof’ their method; if a student simply goes through the book number by number, the students are going to turn out okay whether the teacher is good or not.  In these beginning method books, the singing and aural awareness component is virtually non-existent. In order for these methods to produce aurally competent students, teachers must supplement the aural awareness components themselves.  This requires teachers to step out of their comfort zones and sing in front of their students. That’s where many band directors draw the proverbial line.  I’ve had many conversations with other directors telling me they cannot sing, or hate singing, etc. Sadly, I’ve heard many of those same people causally sing, and they can sing just fine! Either they’re believing a lie about themselves, or they feel uncomfortable doing it, so they just place the label upon themselves. Either way, I hope they find a way to break through and start to sing!

Another reason aural skills don’t come as easily as rhythmic skills may be because their high school marching band gives them more opportunities to grow rhythmically.  I’ve seen students with lower rhythmic abilities make significant gains just from all the gross motor moving in marching band. As many know, rhythm is physical and needs to start with gross motor coordination before it can be fully utilized in fine motor skills on an instrument. I have students every year that show large improvement due to marching band which translates back to their time and rhythmic competency in ‘sit-down-band.’

So here’s my advice for upper level music teachers:  First and foremost, talk to your music department colleagues to find out what the students already know! Often, in the upper grades, you can simply continue some of the amazing work that they’ve started! Don’t just ignore what skills they already have. Elementary music teachers should communicate with upper level colleagues to find out if they have noticed particular strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t fall into the habit of only teaching for the next performance.  

For the middle and high school instrumental teachers, here are practical things you can do with your band students to start this process. Start with simple and short things, gradually increasing complexity and duration as you get more comfortable with this component of teaching. For example, start with the entire band singing the tuning note before they play it. The next step would be to have one student play the tuning note and another student tell you if that note is sharp or flat.  Or have the student critique his/her own tuning note. Another idea is to have them sing the melody to the song you are working on. See if you can get them to sing it with articulations and dynamics. I found if I sing it first or at least sing along with them it helps tremendously. I always make a point to tell students that I’m not looking for the next best singer, just try what I’m asking;  just listen to me sing and you’ll get the idea! Have them sing the scales they play as they finger/slide along. Make sure to point out or stop on the 3rd, 4th, and 7th notes. These are the ones they most often miss. (3 and 7 of ‘sharp’ keys, and 4th on ‘flat’ keys). Lastly, make sure you do your part to support the musical roots of your program! Get to know your elementary music teachers. Get to know what and how they teach, and do everything you can to expand the lower elementary music programs at your school! They make the rest of our jobs that much easier!

As for the elementary music teachers, many are doing it right.  Keep fighting the good fight for your programs!  I’m probably preaching to the choir, but make sure that you’re teaching the aural and rhythmic skills.  Make sure you’re sequentially assessing your students in tonal and rhythmic comprehension through students demonstrating mastery of each skill. If you have not used any Music Learning Theory sequencing you should check it out. There are countless ways of making these sequence assessments super fun!  I’ve found that the elementary music teachers are some of the most creative and musically skilled educators out there! Do what you do best and make these fundamental skills come to life! I’m fully aware that the teacher is what makes a great program, not the method. However, check out the research on the Music Learning Theory. It will pay huge musical dividends for your students for the rest of their lives!  I’m a proud supporter of the early childhood and elementary music programs! This is where all of this starts. Getting young students to match pitch, sing in tune, and be beat competent is crucial. Singing with others and alone is such an important part of their musical development.

Don’t let aural skills be the weakest link in your music program.  Even as I write this I am reminded again of how much more I can be investing in my students in this area.  It’s easy to forget about this component in the midst of so many other pressing demands.  Obviously there are many factors that go into shaping a music student, but I hope I have reminded you of the importance of aural skills for a well-rounded musician.

Greg Wells is a creative music teacher and band director who plays trumpet in the Truth in Jazz Orchestra.  In addition to TIJO, Greg often freelances with other area bands including River City Big Band, Beltline Big Band, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Grand River Jazz Band, Horns of Power, and Hark-Up Horns, among others. After graduating from Northview High School in Grand Rapids, Greg earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from Western Michigan University and his Master’s Degree in music education from Michigan State University.

For eight years Greg was the middle school and high school band director at DeWitt Public Schools (north of Lansing). He enjoyed pioneering the new music learning theory (developed by Ed Gordon) and became a sought after conference speaker sharing his experiences with this method.  


11 FA

Teaching Beginners to Transpose – Chris Pike, DeWitt Public Schools

If you’re anything like me, your school music education was missing a few useful and pragmatic skills.  Like transposing.  Boy, I wish I had understood that concept better before I sat down in the orchestra for Sibelius’ second symphony with my trumpet part in F.  Trumpet in F?  I asked if I could have the B-flat part instead, that I had mistakenly received some sort of F trumpet part.  The orchestra librarian shrugged her shoulders.  To my chagrin, I proceeded to my seat and to this day, I swear I saw the maestro smirking at me as if he knew what I was in for…

Since then I’ve gotten a heck of a lot more comfortable with transposing and reading my parts in orchestra isn’t an issue anymore, but transposing is certainly on my “teach the kids this better than I was taught” list.

Using solfege syllables in beginning band is a tremendous way to get kids understanding harmony and transposition even as early as first year band class.  A simple way to get started, even if you don’t frequently use solfege with your students, is to use a super simple tune like Hot Cross Buns, Mary Had a Little Lamb, etc.  The kids will need fingering charts that have solfege syllables marked on them in a couple couple of different keys (or however many as you want to take on).  The Jump Right In! instrumental method series includes fingering charts like this, but you could make your own really easily or have the kids mark it in the chart they already have.  

So if you’re starting in the key of Bb major, have the kids pencil in Mi, Re, and Do for concert D, C, and Bb respectively and tell them you’re giving those notes nicknames for now.  Never fear, skeptics!  We are not planning on permanently identifying these pitches as Mi, Re, and Do.  Of course you can expand this however would be appropriate for you and/or the tunes you’re working with (A is Ti, Eb is Fa, etc.).

First, the kids need to be able to sing and hear the song WITHOUT trying to finger along, read the music, or what have you.  Model and teach the song (with solfege) to them aurally using whatever rote song procedure you prefer.  Once they’ve really got it under control and can sing it with great confidence, add fingerings.  Kids can look at and point to the fingerings as necessary as you sing, but odds are they’ll already feel pretty good about D, C, and B-flat (heck, even Eb and F, too), so that part should be pretty easy to add.  Ideally, now you’ve got kids singing the tune with solfege and fingering along.  The next step is to have them play that tune using the fingering chart as necessary.  

Now consider how many notes the kids already have under their fingers beyond this activity.  Based on that, how many keys could your kids play that simple tune in?  I bet they could play it in at least two more keys without learning more than a new fingering or two.  Have them pencil in the new key’s solfege syllables in their fingering charts or turn to the new key if you are using pre-made solfege fingering charts.  So if you’re moving to Eb major, now have them write in the new solfege (G is Mi, F is Re, Eb is Do, etc). Use the same rote song procedure you used before and voila!  Your kids are transposing.  With my kids it really helps when they point to the fingerings/solfege as they sing and transpose the tunes, especially early on.  It’s also really helpful to tonicize whatever key you’re using and/or comp an accompaniment on the piano if possible.

Take it another step further if you want by introducing the notation to that tune in the new key(s).  Or maybe you could have the kids number the scale degrees of the solfege syllables in major tonality and show them a minor tonality chart with the same scale degree numbers:

Eb    F     G   

Do   Re   Mi  

1      2     3   

La    Ti    Do

C     D     Eb   

Now you can do the same tunes in minor!  Just have the kids point along to the new notes that share the scale degrees of the tunes you’ve done and follow the same procedure.  

By working through these types of activities with your beginning band kids, you can start to illustrate relationships among melodic patterns, intervals, and harmony, reinforcing a more comprehensive/big picture type of music learning in band class rather than just focusing on the one line of music in front of us.

Chris Pike teaches music at DeWitt Junior High School and Herbison Woods School in DeWitt, MI.  He holds a Bachelor of Music Education from Michigan State University as well as a Master of Music in music performance from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.  His wife Katie is also a music teacher and they live with their three children and dog in East Lansing.


6 FA

Tuning your Beginners (Yes, Really!) – Tavia Zerman

Band Director for Grand Ledge Hayes Middle School and Wacousta Elementary

I know a lot of people who wait a long time to start tuning their beginners.  I am not one of those people.  We usually start doing daily tuning about a month or so into instruction.  I have three different exercises I use to help teach tuning to beginning and intermediate students, and will detail how I use each and why.

The first part of the process is simply tuning them with a tuner (this is the stage we are in right now, in December).  I do this exercise with one section per day, almost every day of class.  I have them play a tuning note and tell them how many cents sharp or flat they are.  I then ask them what they need to do to fix it.  I keep coming back until they are in tune.  At the end of this, I have them all play together and listen for waves or pure tone (I do a demonstration of what interference beats sound like vs. in-tune sounds before doing any of this, so they have an idea what to listen for).

The benefits of doing this are many.  One might think that the students would tire of sitting through this.  On the contrary, I find my students are excited about tuning and can’t wait until it is their tuning day…they will even call me out on it if I forget!  What they don’t realize is that this “tuning time” is actually also time for me to help individuals fix their tone.  In this small part of class, I am able to make regular embouchure, air and posture adjustments for students and help develop their sound immensely.  Some of them have difficulty keeping the tone steady enough to tune when we first start, but that improves rapidly with individual instruction!  They also start to gain an idea of how much of adjustment they need to make to the instrument based on how far out of tune they are to begin with.  At first “30 cents sharp” means nothing to them…after a few weeks, most kids can move the slide, barrel, head joint, etc. to the correct place after one or two instructions.

I incorporate the other two exercises soon after the winter break.  The next one, visual tuning, is exactly what it appears.  I hold up the device with the tuning app (I use Tonal Energy…it does cost a small amount of money, but the kids LOVE that it shows a smiley face when they are in tune) so the student can see it while playing.  I give them instructions on how to interpret what they see, and then I encourage them to bend the pitch until they get the smiley face.  I then ask them what they need to do to the instrument to make that same change.  This helps them learn what muscles are used in making intonation adjustments.

The third stage I call the Tuning Game, and this engages the whole class.  There are three steps for the Tuning Game.  During the first step, I have my device generate the tuning note we use for the section playing the game that day.  I have the student try to match that pitch and I will help them bend the pitch the correct direction by pointing which way they need to move it.  The student then makes a corresponding adjustment to the instrument (except for double reeds, who need to make adjustments with embouchure and air only) while I go down the line to the rest of the students.  On their next turn, students are on their own to bend the pitch and figure out how to fine-tune it.  The third time around we call “Ask the Audience.”  The student being tuned matches the given pitch, then ALL students in the class indicate what they heard…thumb pointing up for sharp, sideways for in tune or down for flat.  I then ask the student being tuned what they think it was and then tell the class the answer.  Students keep track of how many they get correct and are amazed at how much they see their accuracy grow throughout the year!

Once all three of these have been introduced, I cycle through them (regular tuning each day until all sections have had a turn, then visual tuning each day, then tuning game, then back around to the beginning).  Now that we have learned what goes into matching a tuning pitch, we play a group pitch prior to working with an individual section on the tuning goal for the day.  This way all students are getting to practice matching the pitch each day, but know that it will only be a few days in between turns getting some individual help as well.

When all of these things are in place…the mechanics of getting the instrument physically tuned, the knowledge of how to adjust the pitch WHILE playing, and the engagement of the ears for individual pitch placement and eliminating interference beats, I find that students are better able to play in tune and in tone.  Regular reminders make it so the students know that tuning is an ongoing process and something they must always attend to in order to sound their best.  With this sort of guidance, even young players are capable of understanding that an in-tune sound is a better sound and can recognize ways to improve that aspect of their playing!


Tavia Zerman is the band director at Hayes Middle School in Grand Ledge Public Schools.  She also teaches beginning sixth grade band at Wacousta Elementary School.

Music for Everyone: Reaching ALL Students Where They Are – Zachery VanderGraaff

If you ask someone what they imagine when they envision a Kodaly classroom, they might picture a group of children singing with solfege or rhythm syllables, students reading from notation while playing on instruments, or a class folk dancing together in a joyful way. All of these things are true, and they point to the heart of the Kodaly Method emphasized by this simple phrase and slogan of the Organization of American Kodaly Educators: “Music for Everyone”.

“Music for Everyone” is a slogan with many different layers. It means starting by choosing high quality folk and classical music of your students’ cultural history. Then breaking down the musical concepts into their simplest elements and arranging them in a sequence designed to help all students achieve music literacy and independence. Finally, the teacher uses a variety of instructional tools to ensure every student learns in the manner best for them.

        A Kodaly teacher will use every tool at his or her disposal to reach every student and engage in learning in the most comprehensive ways. For me, this goal spoke right to the heart of what it means to be an effective teacher: to reach every learning style, to engage the entire classroom, and inspire all to love and appreciate music whether or not they go on to study it professionally. The Kodaly approach is a great and practical toolbox for accomplishing these goals.

        In the Kodaly classroom, a teacher will constantly cater to students’ different learning styles by cycling through kinesthetic, aural, visual, and creative teaching strategies. For example, let’s take the great folk song, Paw Paw Patch (visit the Holy Names Folk Song Collection at https://kodaly.hnu.edu for notation and games). After teaching and playing the game, the Kodaly teacher will comprehensively reinforce the rhythm concept of four sixteenth notes over several classes using a variety of techniques. Here are a couple of examples of the different learning activities the teacher may use to help students develop their understanding of this concept:

  1. Kiesthetic:
  • Students will clap the quarter and eight notes of the song while patting the sixteenth notes on their lap.
  • Students echo patterns containing sixteenth notes while clapping as a B section to the song.
  • Students step the rhythm from the song (large steps for quarter notes, small steps for eighth notes, and quick or tiptoe steps for sixteenth notes).
  • Students create their own way of showing the rhythm on their body.
  • Students play the rhythms on instruments.


2. Aural:

  • Teacher plays rhythms containing sixteenth notes and students decode (turn into syllables).
  • Students replace certain phrases of the song with rhythm syllables.
  • Students are split into groups and given a specific rhythm note. The class echoes teacher patterns only saying their group’s rhythm note.
  • Rhythm Telephone: Students pass a rhythm around by tapping it on their shoulders to see if it stays the same. At the end, the class decodes the rhythm.

3. Visual:

  • Students read from pictures of paw paw fruit grouped in different sizes to represent the different rhythms of the song.
  • Students group themselves in the rhythms and become the rhythm to read. (i.e. If the rhythm is titi tikatika titi ta, there will a group of two, four, two, and one to visually show the rhythm in a different way).
  • Students read the notation of the song using syllables. Then for a challenge they read it backwards, in canon, etc.
  • Notation for the song is shown with some of the rhythms missing and students must fill in the missing rhythms.
  • Students are asked to read, in a game-like fashion, several different rhythm flashcards. Several of the rhythms become layered ostinati to perform with the song on various instruments.

4. Creative:

  • Students create new rhythms using bodies or pictures.
  • Students create a B section for the piece using notation.
  • Using individual rhythm writing tools, students create and perform their own rhythms.
  • Rhythm Train: Students improvise one at a time a four or eight beat pattern that must contain one group sixteenth notes. The goal being to the train connecting by staying with a beat the teacher or another student plays on a drum.
  • As a B section for the song, students are asked to improvise on a non-pitched percussion instrument.

By using some of the techniques to extend the high quality folk songs, games, and dances, the Kodaly teacher reaches every student and develops their learning and independent musicianship. Cycling between these different learning styles engages the different types of learners and activates more of the brain. Teachers can reinforce this concept further by using more great folk songs and dances with other similar learning activities. (Visit https://kodaly.hnu.edu for more songs analyzed and catalogued for your viewing pleasure).

When you make it a goal to accomplish “Music for Everyone”, your program will grow to engage and inspire each and every student. 100% of the kids. 100% of the time. To me, this is one of the most important and practical parts of what it means to be a Kodaly teacher.

Zachery VanderGraaff is in his sixth year of teaching elementary music. He is currently at Vowles Elementary teaching DK-4th grade music in Mount Pleasant, MI. Zachery is enrolled in the Masters of Music Education program at Central Michigan University where he also received his Bachelor’s in Music Education; General Music Education Minor and the Yda Lou Schultz Scholarship. He completed his Kodaly Level I and II certifications at CMU under Dr. Joy Nelson and Dr. Ashley Allen. Zachery is the current President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators.

10 FA

Holiday Program Ideas – Erika Novoselich

Every year my school does a large Holiday Program that involves grades K-5. The kids sing in groups based on their grade level: K/1st, 2nd/3rd, and 4th/5th. Though our repertoire changes each year, there are certain aspects that stay the same. First, we always make sure to have the 5th graders play at least one song with their ukuleles, and the 4th graders do one song on their recorders. It’s nice to show parents those components of our curriculum. Another thing I try to do (it can be challenging with common holiday songs) is choose repertoire in varied tonalities and meters. We also make it our priority to always sing with our best singing voices and make the music our focus. We don’t do a lot of costumes or acting during our show. One thing I’ve made a tradition of doing is to invite one of our 5th graders to play the piano to accompany the Kindergarteners/1st graders on a simple carol, which always features the whole group doing sign language while singing and 1st grade soloists on the second verse. If you would like to check out videos of just a couple of my previous programs, you can go to my website here: http://www.novoselichmusic.com/blog/2013christmasprogram

and here: http://www.novoselichmusic.com/blog/2014christmasprogram

 Bio: My name is Erika Novoselich. This is my seventh year of teaching. I teach PK-5 music at South Elementary of Hudsonville Public Schools. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Michigan State University. I have earned graduate credits in Music Education from the University of Michigan. I am also certified in Music Learning Theory for Level 1 Elementary General Music.


Practicing Sol/Mi – Melissa Stouffer

If you are familiar to the Kodaly method, you know there are three main parts to a child’s understanding of a concept:

Prepare – The stage where they experience the concept, understand it, and use it, and can even use hand signs and notate it with icons. Present – The stage where the learn the correct name and what it looks like.

Practice – Similar to Prepare, but the students know the correct terminology and visuals. They experience it, understand it and identify it in a variety of ways including writing, performing, and reading it.

For me, before I started taking my levels courses, practicing was the most difficult of the three. I understood the concept of icon notation, I understood using physical movement (hand signs) to help the students sing the correct pitches, and I understood not to tell my students WHAT something was until they seemed ready to move on.

For Sol/Mi, readiness to be presented the concepts should look like this:

  • Can discriminate high/low in context of minor 3rd.
  • Can show spatially (solfege ladder/hand signs).
  • Understand concepts “line”, “space”. (It’s pretty hard to show the notes on a 3 or 5 line staff if they don’t understand this, and it’s something that took me a while to figure out. Take the time to explain this beforehand.)

Practicing the concept is more than reading one or two songs on sol/mi and calling it good. Here’s some strategies for practicing sol/mi (or any other melodic concept!)


Play the recorder, piano, Orff instrument, or sing a 4 beat pattern using sol/mi. Have students sing/sign the pattern back to you. When you feel they are confident, make it a written element. Students will notate the pattern using a paper staff using a manipulative. One of the easiest manipulatives are figurine erasers. They can be bought at Target in the dollar spot. They offer 25 or 50 erasers in a bag for

$1. They often change out with the items seasonally, so you have to keep an eye out for them. Other options are Bingo chips, pennies, or even paper circles (but who wants to cut those out?) (Grab the printable staffs at the end of this file for this!)


Students split into two groups. One group plays an ostinato on Orff instruments and the other sings a song on solfege.

Memory Work:

Students can train their inner hearing and work from memory by signing back 4 beat patterns that the teacher sings/plays.


Students improvise 4 beat patterns. This can have many extensions. Students can sing patterns back, sign them back, play them back, or even write them.


Students will read an unknown song by looking at note heads on the staff.  It would look something like this:

1 FA

2 FA

3 FA

4 FA

In addition to these ideas, there is a lot on TpT you can get quite inexpensively to help out with all stages of the Kodaly process. Things like rhythm games, flashcards, and files to help with the three stages the Kodaly process for folk songs. These kind of files have a lot to offer for the multiple aspects of teaching a song. In mine, I present the song in icons for both rhythmic elements and melodic elements. They have pages for presenting concepts as well as pages for practicing that include note heads on lines and spaces, rhythmic practice, and tools for teaching such as manipulatives, and worksheets.

You can check out my store here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Mrs-Stouffers-Music-Room

5 FA

With the holidays coming up, I thought I’d give you a game to play in class as well to help your students practice reading Sol/Mi on a 5 line staff. It is called  The Ugly Christmas Sweater Game.

Students select a sweater, and click on it. They read the solfege pattern on the screen. If they are correct, they get a “present” – a point. If they are not, they lose a point (and get to “keep” the ugly sweater)! This game works on an Interactive Whiteboard, but if you are like me and have a TV with a computer hooked up, (or something similar like a projector), just view the PDF in full screen and the clickable links work the same way. I let the kids click on my computer for the same results. This freebie link is only for this MMEA letter.

Make sure you download now, it will expire January 1st, 2017.


A good indicator that you are practicing a concept is that the students are showing skills that you would expect from any musician. It helps to think of ideas you would do in your skill set. The students’ skill just happens to include only Sol/Mi at the this time. In addition to The Ugly Christmas Sweater Game, the next several pages include some printables to help you out with practicing Sol/Mi.

Pages 3-6 are slides from my Kodaly file for the song Starlight Star Bright.

Pages 7-11 are printable staffs to use to practice writing or taking dictation with bingo chips or little erasers.

I hope this helps you when you are practicing a concept using the Kodaly method! I’m always willing to help answer questions. MrsStouffersMusicRoom@gmail.com

I’d also like to invite all of you to participate in the Michigan Kodaly Educators.  Find our website here: http://www.mikodaly.org

Melissa Stouffer is a 7th year teacher for Brighton Area Schools. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University. She is Kodaly level one certified, and can’t wait to continue her training. She currently teachers 3 year olds to 8th grade general music, choir and band. She has started 3 ensembles from the ground up and considers herself lucky to do what she loves every day. She is current President-Elect of Michigan Kodaly Educators (MIKE). Melissa is an active blogger and designs educational materials found on Teachers Pay Teachers. She lives in New Hudson with her husband Sam, and their dog Cindy Lou Who.

 9 FA

Having a Big Hairy Audacious Year in the Middle School Choir Room – Deidra Ross

Deidra Ross is entering her 15th year of music education. She currently teaches Middle School Choir and Theatre Arts in the Reeths-Puffer School District in Muskegon, MI

The superintendent in my district is known for his visionary leadership and infectious drive to overcome the obstacles facing public education. Borrowing a term from the business world, he recently challenged us to make big picture goals for ourselves and our students in the coming year. “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” if you will. The “BHAGS” he reasoned, would drive our instruction and keep the embers of passion alive as we sought to educate our students.

As I pondered this inspiring speech, I wondered how this might look in my own work as a middle school choral director. As the classic “middle child” of the music department, it’s not always easy to have a vision. Students spend a lot of time in the elementary years, only to pass through the middle school briefly before moving into the “big leagues” of high school. I set to work thinking about how this might play out in my current position and what I hoped and dreamed for my students. It turns out, it was a great exercise in self-reflection that made a big impact on how I approached planning for the year, working with my colleagues and navigating the travails of middle school.

Developing my own professional goals has been an on-going process, full of begging, borrowing and stealing, but we all know that the best teachers steal the best ideas…right?! Here are a few of my personal BHAGs and how I’ve tried to implement them over the past few years. It’s my hope that you will be encouraged to see how setting big picture goals for your teaching and program can bring structure, sanity and purpose to your work in the middle school choir room and beyond.

BHAG #1: Connecting with Colleagues & Creating Vision

Do you and your K-12 colleagues have a clear and inspiring mission for your program? Is there a culture of singing in your district that starts in kindergarten and spans to graduation? What programs and opportunities are offered along the way to realize this mission? This might sound a little too Steven Covey for your personality, but I think we can agree that just like writing a good lesson objective, a shared vision gives us a target to aim for.

In my district, there is one teacher below me and one above in the K-12 spectrum. There aren’t many of us, which could be a recipe for disaster if we weren’t all friends. I am blessed to share a common vision with my colleagues and we work hard at making the program cohesive. Our struggle wasn’t that we didn’t get along or have common goals, our problem was that we weren’t articulating the mission of the program in an articulate way. What do we value? What programs do we offer and why? It was time to do some work!

Here is an example of a Middle-School focused Mission Statement from my district:

The mission of the RPMS Choir program is to serve as an important link between the elementary and high school years by providing a unique educational experience in which students gain group and individual skills in the areas of music literacy and vocal performance.

We believe that all students have the potential to be tuneful, beatful and artful
and that middle school is a time for young singers to “find their voice”. The RP Fine Arts Department strives to foster a life-long appreciation and engagement with the arts.

As we worked through the process of developing mission, the concept of implementing a “one-room schoolhouse” approach in the K-12 fine arts became part of our BHAG language. This means, that we value connecting students and events between buildings and also want our more experienced students to facilitate learning for their peers.

Two events that have been successful at bringing this sense of continuity in our district are our Fall Music Theatre Workshop and a one-week Music Theatre Summer Camp we hold each June called “Camp Break a Leg”.  These events are planned by our Fine Arts staff and facilitated by talented Juniors and Seniors. The benefits of this approach are countless and have created a true sense of family as students navigate each building and level.

I encourage you to instigate professional conversations and friendships in your district. Seek to understand their approaches and dream together where you want it to grow.

BHAG #2: Teaching Them To READ!

One of the most valuable things that I took away from teaching in the elementary music classroom is my experience designing and implementing a music literacy plan. There are many schools of thought regarding how children learn music. Regardless of what camp you find yourself in, we can all agree that giving students the tools to read and interpret music is a crucial part of their experience in the music classroom.

I have always considered myself an eclectic educator dabbling in any and all methodology workshops and classes that came my way. My literacy BHAG began to take more shape two summers ago when I attended a Level I Kodaly training session. Of the many methodologies I have studied, none has impacted my teaching craft as much as my study of this wonderful approach. Not only do I commiserate with Kodaly’s heart for children and music, but as someone who has used many of Kodaly’s approaches, I have seen them WORK for my singers. The idea of complex content delivered joyfully along with the emphasis on personal musicianship has revolutionized how I teach, how I plan, and even, who I am as a person.

What kind of learner are you? What approaches work for you? What type of reading program do the students receive in elementary? What systems are used in the high school program above you? Know yourself, know your colleagues, know your students and make a BHAG literacy plan.

There are several sequenced curriculums published online for you to steal away. Here are a few examples of ones that I have found helpful:


BHAG #3: Pick Amazing Music They Will Remember….and Get It Organized

One of my favorite comedians, Jim Gaffagin likes to joke about the fact that he and his wife have a large brood of children. So many children that people often ask him what it’s like juggling so many kids at home. His hilarious retort is “Imagine you’re drowning…..then someone hands you a baby”….

I can relate to Jim not only as the parent of three children, but also, as the director of over 120 eager middle school singers. There is nary a minute where I feel like I’m prepared, no matter how many summer days, evenings and weekend hours I spend planning.  Nonetheless, I keep coming back for more because…well…I kind of love it.

If I made a pie chart of what I spend most of my time doing as a middle school choir director, hunting for quality and SINGABLE repertoire would take up a big portion of that pie. Let’s face it, not only do we have to convince young students that there is worthwhile music on AND off the Top 40 charts, but we have to find pieces that they can actually sing, and sing well. The changing male voice anyone?

Over the last few years, I have attended as many workshops, conferences and reading sessions that I could possibly fit into my schedule. If you’re like me, I gather and gather and gather until my desk is a mess of scores, notes and reusable bags from publishing companies. Both my brain (and desk) were on information overload!

One of my BHAGS was to find a way to organize these great ideas into one place. My quest to get myself together started by keeping an excel spreadsheet of pieces I liked. A “personal” repertoire list if you will, of pieces that I loved along with notes on the composer, voicing and style/genre it might work for.

I recently noticed that JW Pepper started providing a new feature on their website called My Library. My Library, “Helps you to plan your next performance by creating custom folders, tags and notes so it’s easy to capture the vision for your program. Save time looking for that perfect piece with powerful research tools like custom playlists and score view. Integration with our site means the largest selection of sheet music in the world is at your fingertips.”

It’s pretty much amazing! Now, instead of keeping my notes in a notebook, or a separate excel spreadsheet, I can go directly to the JW Pepper website and access my list, along with the links to listen, view and order sheet music directly. My personal repertoire list is now accessible anytime and anywhere. You can also share your playlists with colleagues which makes collaboration even easier.

Finding tools to stay organized is an on-going process as technology changes rapidly, but I feel more confident now that I have my lists all in one place that is practical and easy to access. Now my brain can make space for other things…such as….how to get students to sign up for choir!

BHAG # 4: No Students? No Program: Recruitment for Middle School Choir

As September rolls on, we are already in the thick of launching our plans for the here and now…but what about next year? An on-going BHAG of mine is one that is always on every choir director’s mind: Finding Effective Recruitment Strategies.

Our school counselors begin this process in February and I’m often in panic mode as this falls right in the middle of festival season. Here in Michigan, it is also still right in the middle of winter. How can I possibly think about next fall NOW?!

The biggest impact I have found when planning for choir recruitment is to get the middle school kids in front of the upper elementary students early and often. It could be an assembly, a social event or classroom visit.  For the last few years, I’ve chosen 1-2 concerts where we actually invite the upper elementary students to join us for a few songs.

Last year, we held a coffeehouse concert event and over (50) 5/6th grade students joined the middle school choirs in a flashmob to kick off the show. I then showcased the 5/6 students again in a ukulele feature that they were working on in class. I have found that by highlighting and promoting what we are already doing in the classroom, the program sells itself. Excitement is contagious!

Another event I have found that connects well between the ages is our Spring Musical. In the past, we have created a 5/6 chorus or look for cast roles that can bring some of those younger students into the middle school fold sooner. The more they feel at home when they walk into your classroom in 7th grade, the better.

For younger students that don’t participate in the musical, we always promote the show by either visiting or making promotional videos that the 5/6 teacher can show in class. Then we hand out free or discounted tickets to students and encourage them to come out and see it.

Besides performance opportunities, we began to think about creating personal more one-on-one connections for students between the buildings. Last year, I brought a small group of choir leadership to visit our 5/6th grade building.  The students talked about their experiences in choir and then facilitated some fun ice breaker/singing games with the younger students. When students see that singing is fun and worthwhile, they won’t have to just to your word for it.

Can’t physically get to your elementary buildings? Make a promotional video for the elementary music teacher or classroom teachers to show. Here is an example of one my students made a couple of year ago:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=718Hxr-rZSk . Not only will the elementary students love it, but your middle school choir students will enjoy the process as well.

BHAGS: If You Fail to Plan, You Plan To Fail

Being a music educator is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. There are days I am just sure I should quit and become a greeter at Walmart. But then I remember how much music means to me and how sharing lives with students is worth the journey.

My superintendent was right….dreaming big fuels our motivation and informs our teaching practices. What are your BHAGS? Let’s continue to beg, borrow, steal and inspire one another as we seek to educate the music-makers of our world.

About the Author: Deidra Ross is entering her 15th year of music education. She currently teaches Middle School Choir and Theatre Arts in the Reeths-Puffer School District in Muskegon, MI. She is an active member of MSVMA and serves as Treasurer of the MMEA Board.  

She is married to her college sweetheart and has 3 children who she loves to experiment her teaching ideas on. Deidra enjoys running, going to the beach, riding bikes with her family, attending cultural events, watching the Food Network/DIY Shows, eating popcorn and having family movie night.

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/RPMiddleSchoolChoirs/?fref=ts

8 FA

Welcome Back to School – Katie Burk

My students’ favorite back to school activity is the song Welcome Back to School – from GamePlan: Grade 1 Curriculum  .  First they learn the stamp and clap rhythms and put them into the song, and then they add in waving across the circle to someone they know during the third sentence of the song. Next, during the parts when they’re not stamping, clapping, or waving, they like to add in movements based on something they did during the summer. It’s a fun way to build relationships within a musical activity!  On the second and third days doing the song, the students sing with chord root harmony, audiate the whole song performing the movements but not the singing, and sing the song with ukulele accompaniment.

 Bio: Katie Burk is an elementary music teacher in the East Lansing Public Schools and is going into her fifth year teaching.  Before coming to East Lansing she taught elementary vocal music in the Troy School District and as Interim Director of the MSU Children’s Choir program.  A graduate of MSU in music education and psychology, Katie is a pianist and vocalist. She also loves playing ukulele and guitar.

 Song: Welcome Back To School http://www.westmusic.com/p/gameplan-grade-1-curriculum-550060

Also found in various Music Series Books

Other Hello Songs may also be used for this activity.


7 FA

Back To School Advice-Learning Student Names – Shirley Anne Ries

The best advice I have ever received:  “Your students won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  I think one of the best ways to show you care is to make the effort to learn the names of each and every student that enters your classroom.  I know that can be overwhelming:  I teach over 800 children in 3 buildings every week.  Find a system, a game, some sort of trick and learn your students’ names.  I’m a visual learner, so I beg my early elementary teachers to send their students with name tags for the first two lessons.  If your teachers won’t help with that, print them yourselves:  plug your class list into a Word document and print labels.  Stick the labels onto the students as they walk in the door, or hand the labels to the teacher to stick on the children–that will be even faster.  Find a strategic place to stand in the hallways at the beginning and end of the school day and practice the children’s names.  They’ll be delighted to see you making the effort.  


One easy and quick activity I’ve used to learn names, especially with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders: I ask the students to tell me something very important about themselves.  Take the time and look them in the eye as you greet them and repeat what they shared.  “Hi, Amy.  I will remember that you don’t like grapes.”  You can make it a step trickier and ask them to share a fact that incorporates the first letter of the child’s name.  Kevin likes kittens,  Ty plays tennis.  That trick works especially well for me.  When I’m meeting a class for the first time, I learn names in small groups:  learn four or five names, then review them.  Tag on another five names, review the whole group.  Yes, it takes time.  If you sell it as an important activity, where the students get to teach you something new, they will buy into the “game” and help you.

Shirley Anne Ries: Shirley holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Wartburg College in Waverly, IA.  She earned her Master’s degree from Marygrove College.  In her 20 years of teaching, Shirley has taught PreK-8th grade General Music, 5-12 Band, and 6-8 Choir.  Shirley currently teaches elementary music in St Johns, MI and directs a youth choir at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Haslett, MI.  The mother of 3 active girls, Shirley’s main hobby is watching her children sing, dance, swim and perform in band.


YOUTUBE Videos of Name Games

Up The Ladder


Jump In Jump Out


Name Warm Up Game


Rhythm Name Game