Wednesday, August 30, 2017

September S-Cubed Giveaway!

I'm giving away S-Cubed Sight Singing Level One. You can enter from right now until Friday afternoon, September 22 at 4 PM. Winner will be announced Friday afternoon at 4 PM accompanied by a special one-day 31-hour quick steep markdown of some bundles. I'll notify the entrants via email Friday afternoon with all of the details. The markdown will be 31 hours only. Please SHARE this post with your music colleagues and tag everyone you can think of who might need it!

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

How should I teach literature? Moving away from "rote" teaching...

I often get questions like the ones listed below from teachers who are using S-Cubed, the program I created to help teachers learn to teach sight singing to their beginners:

*When do you start teaching literature to your students?  
*When do you actually "make them read"?   
*How do you introduce a song?  
*What do you do with your students in terms of teaching literature until their sight singing skills match their abilities to learn songs? Do you just teach them from rote?

I've written and spoken about it before and that is why I included the links to the videos above (just click them!), but I realized that I haven't actually written about it yet!  So, here we go!

Let's start by answering the questions right up front and then I'll do some explaining.  The answers are in blue:

When do you start teaching literature to your students?  
My students begin holding folders in their hands sometime during the first two weeks of school.  When I give them the music for the first time, I use my Smartboard to project the music they are holding, and I teach them about staffs, systems and measure numbers so they can properly follow along.  I also teach them how to follow "part 1" and "part 2" because beginners struggle with this. If they get lost while holding the music, mass hysteria can break out!  So, we must take time to help them unravel the mystery of staffs/systems/measures so we can cross over and begin to teach literature.  

How do I introduce a song? 
During the first two weeks of school, I teach rounds from rote as a part of their daily lessons.  This gives me the chance to focus on proper vowel production, breath support, tall mouth position, and singing posture, and it also helps them learn how to watch me.

I use solfege when I introduce the melodies to their first songs.  It helps reinforce the use of the hand signs and it gives them the outline to the main melody of the song they are learning.

I use "form" to teach songs later on as well.  I have shared some creative ways to do that in this link.

I combine these techniques and many more as time passes so I get to vary my daily approaches as they begin to assemble the tools they need for their toolbox in order to learn songs more quickly and more independently.  

Until their sight singing skills catch up to their ability to sing difficult songs, do I just teach them by rote?   When do you actually "make them read"?

This is where we all have to really be careful.  If we push too fast with how we teach repertoire, our beginners will get frustrated and disengage.  

We must remember that becoming musically literate is a process that takes years and years just like learning language.  During my first years of teaching, I was completely insensitive to this important fact.  I took piano lessons at age five.  I sang in boys choir at age 10.  I would get so frustrated with my beginners.  Why wasn't it innate for my students to be able to follow the music and successfully interpret the hundreds of various dots, curves, and symbols in a single song?!

Over time, I learned!

With 8 months of work on S-Cubed, my students are able to sight sing an 8 measure two-part melody with skips as wide as an octave and rhythms that include dotted quarter eighth note combos a capella within in five minutes.  

...But I don't expect that sort of work in an actual 10 page piece of literature until much later.  First, I have to build the skill sets required for them to do so and that takes time, tenacity and patience.

I think of it like this: When we were first able to speak a full sentence, we had no idea what a noun and verb were. 

We just did it. 

In S-Cubed, I purposefully don't introduce many of the details of music theory until Level TWO because it would be like trying to teach a 6 year old how to diagram a sentence.  Teaching noun/verb/predicate is the easy part because by the time they are ready to learn it, they are experienced enough to really understand it. 

So, here are some thoughts to consider:

When teaching literature, you apply what you can from the sight singing technique of your choice...whatever that is.  When your teaching of that method intersects with the literature you are teaching that day, use it. 

Do some rote teaching for sure...especially in the early days of the teaching the program.   Don't beat yourself up over it or feel guilty about it!  As I mentioned above, when teaching by rote, you are also teaching some valuable skills: Listening, connection between conductor/student and much more.  ...Just don't plan to teach by rote forever!  Doing so would be the same as reading a book to an 8th grader rather than teaching him to read it himself over time from K-7th!

Until the sight singing skills catch up to their ability to sing songs, we must constantly brainstorm about ways to teach literature that are engaging including:

*Using solfege to teach melodies
*Teach them to listen for FORM...melodic/rhythmic/thematic. I let them draw pictures of the form of the song when they are working to learn a new song. ABA can look like "duck/dog/duck". It doesn't matter what they draw as long as they are listening and hearing differences in patterns both rhythmic and melodic. 

We have to meet them where they are. If we get too focused on connecting the dots directly from our sight singing method of choice to the literature, we limit ourselves and we frustrate the students who simply don't have the tools yet in their toolbox.

Final thought:  

If you move to France for one year, you may become quite well spoken in French by the time you return to your native country, but if we are totally honest, most of us wouldn't be able to call ourselves completely fluent. Fluency takes years and years of work and requires speaking, reading, writing and comprehension on a very high level.

Daddy-Candy pwease
Daddy-May I candy pwease
Daddy, may I have candy please?

And to have them write it brings an entirely different set of challenges:  

Learning to read music follows the same process. The idea is to make the process of the learning of the literature valuable and enjoyable for the students who are "early and mid-process" and that is what I strived to create with S-Cubed.  We want to keep them engaged and excited to come back to sing the next day!

That's what middle school chorus should be all about!

If you have ideas to share about ways that you introduce a song, "connect the dots" between S-Cubed and teaching literature or anything else related to helping your students on their journey toward becoming competent, fluent readers of music, please comment below!  Let's help each other!

Check out my blog!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How and when does one begin to incorporate sheet music to the methodology?

I received this question from an S-Cubed user:

How and when does one begin to incorporate sheet music to the methodology?


I start S-Cubed on day one of the school year.

I see my students daily for 50 minutes, and my students begin using sheet music at the end of week 2. 

When I begin teaching rep to the kids, I take time to teach them how to follow the system.  I usually teach staffs, systems, measures, and how to find the soprano line and alto line.  Expecting 6th graders to follow systems without our guidance is like expecting English speakers to understand something that is written in Japanese or Arabic.   I know because I learned the hard way!  

Here is a video I made a while ago that explains a bit more about what I do with repertoire while they are becoming proficient.    

I hope that helps you!

Check out my blog!

Announcing the S-Cubed Sight Singing School District Pilot Program

I began sharing the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners with teachers on TPT four years ago.

When I began sharing it, I was nervous.  I didn't know whether it would translate for other teachers, but I knew I had to try anyway because I had seen too many teachers and their beginning singers walk out of the sight singing room at adjudications completely disillusioned.  

Fast forward to the present...

It's been reviewed and tested by thousands of teachers all over the world, and I am so grateful that it has helped teachers who so desperately want the type of guidance offered in the program.

From the beginning, I wanted S-Cubed to be unique.  That's why I offer the specific lesson plans one expects to receive when purchasing a curriculum, but I also took it several steps further by showing teachers how I've taught it to my 340 non-auditioned middle school singers for over 10 years in the Title 1 school where I teach in Atlanta, GA.  I've heard from countless teachers that seeing the teaching examples and watching the teaching tips before they teach the lessons for the first time has made the difference for them.  

Text books can't offer that. 

And S-Cubed is more than just another sight singing program.  It has helped teachers with program growth, classroom management, vowel production, tone, pitch matching, and so much more.

I have always felt strongly that S-Cubed offers a great opportunity to school districts.  Because of how I have packaged S-Cubed, school districts can help all of the teachers in their districts to more closely align how they teach music literacy to their beginning singers.  And the best part?  The S-Cubed approach focuses on engaging interaction between the teacher and students as they learn the skills in the program.  

So, for the 2017-2018 school year, I am going to choose some school districts and give the program to each teacher in that district. This includes middle school, high school, elementary schools and even the general music, band, and orchestra teachers if they want it!  
How do you make it happen?

1)  Pick a liaison for your district who will fill out the application.
2)  Complete the application by midnight, July 14.  

Here is the link!  

The application itself will only take about 10 minutes to complete, but there will be a little organization for you to do ahead of time, so go ahead and read it now so you can begin gathering the information you need.  

I will review the applications during the week of July 17, and I will contact the districts that are chosen to be a part of the pilot program sometime that week.  

Thank you so much for your interest in being a part of the pilot program for the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program...It's the 21st Century way to learn how to teach sight singing better to your beginners!

Check out my blog!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wrapping the arms of structure around your Middle School Singers

Wrapping the Arms of Structure Around Your Middle School Singers

 I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or not, but I have been asked many times after a concert with my 300+ middle school choral music students, “What do you SAY to the students that keeps them so disciplined?”

When I hear that, I chuckle inside because it isn’t just one thing.  I wish it were.  It would be so much easier!

Middle school students thrive on structure.  How many times have your students walked into your class and said, “What are we doing today?” 

I usually make up a funny thing like “We are going to dissect cockroaches and sing songs about it” and then point them to the promethean board where the first activity of the day is ready for them.

From the first day of school, I make sure that when they walk into my room, they know that my classroom is a place where we have a plan.

Is it ok to let up on that structure once in a while?  Sure.  But only after you have established strong scaffolding and the daily routines are set in stone.

When I first started teaching public school middle school chorus, I didn’t understand how important structure is for them.  My verbal instructions were not clear.  I hadn’t thought through the sequencing with the brain of a sixth grader…which is different than the brain of an 8th grader…which I didn’t realize in those early years…and which caused me so much grief.  The kids wanted to do the right thing, but I was clueless about how to convey the information in an effective manner that yielded results.

We can’t just talk when we give directions. 

We have to demonstrate, and they must experience what we are teaching…not just hear it. 

We have to bring the learning objectives to life.

It all goes back to the three types of learners:  visual, auditory, kinesthetic.  In my experience, we have to hit all three when we are teaching this age group…whether we are teaching music or a process/procedure, and it helps if we can do it with humor.  Everyone likes to laugh. 

I created this video for my students, and we worked to make it as silly as possible.  I show it to my students at the beginning of the year, and they absolutely love it. 

 So, back to the question I get asked…”What do you say to the students that keeps them so disciplined”?

I have no idea.

…but I do know that I’ve learned to anticipate what they need.  I take time to teach processes.   I give them structure.  And we laugh. 

I think that all of those things combined encourage respect that is mutual and circular.   

Hope you are enjoying your summer rest!  I know that I am!

Check out my blog!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

District Purchases and Multiple license discounts!

When I started teaching 400 years ago, all we had were text books that someone else purchase that I rarely used, and a small budget to purchase sheet music and warm up books (that I DID use!)

Times are changing, and they are changing quickly.  

I received the email below last week.  

We are looking at sight singing methods for next year in our district. One thing that our district is having a question with is "Is there another way that this is published other than Teachers Pay Teachers?" I'm good either way, but if I can get the district to buy it, bonus!
Potential Buyer

Here is my response:


 I appreciate your support in getting your district on board with S-Cubed. S-Cubed is a 21st century textbook. Text books are part of the past. Young teachers realize that there are other ways to find resources. The text books that the district buys every few years will likely sit on the shelf while resourceful teachers focused on being the best they can be for their students are going to do some digital research and find the answers they need as they work toward creating paperless classrooms. It is the district's job to catch up and support those teachers for the good of the children, and it is our job to work them in that direction.

Here is some information for you to help you as you make your case to the people who will decide whether or not to purchase S-Cubed as a digital resource:

1) With the advent of Chrome books, Ipads, and Smartboards, classrooms that use digital resources are the future.
 2) Text books are far more expensive than purchasing digital resources because you have to purchase many text books, and you have to do it every few years. With digital resources, that is not the case. And on TPT, each teacher gets all product updates for free after they purchase.
3) Digital resources offer things that text books cannot. In S-Cubed, I offer specific lesson plans, video teaching tips to help teachers teach each lesson plan and video teaching examples of me teaching the actual lesson to my public school students...all by clicking a link. Text books can't do that.
 4) TPT offers a multi-license discount. A district can purchase a digital resource and then purchase the same resource for other teachers in the same district/school from 10%-50% off the original price.
he amount of the discount depends on the number of teachers for whom they are purchasing.    If they are considering purchasing S-Cubed for the district, have them contact me directly at, and we will work out the details.
5) These are resources that are created by real teachers in real classrooms. I hope that helps you as you work to convince your district to purchase the curriculum for your middle school choral music students.
6)  S-Cubed has been vetted, rating and reviewed for four years by teachers who are using it all over the world.  

Digital resources are the modern-day textbooks.

Thank you for reaching out, and please let me know if there is anything else I can do to facilitate the purchase.

And lastly, click this link or click the video below to watch a video I made about this district purchases and multiple license discounts.  

If you convince the district to purchase it for multiple teachers, and they need to use a purchase order, here is how!

Check out my blog!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meet me on Facebook LIVE on Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 PM!

On Thursday night at 7:30 PM Eastern, I'll be on Facebook LIVE for about 30 minutes.  During that time, I will discuss several things I've recently blogged about including:  recruiting boys, working with sharp female singers, accountability, and dealing with difficult parents who make excuses for their children.  These are all based on my recent experiences, so everything is fresh!  :-)

We will also have time for questions!

As always, during the session, I will offer a freebie and a ridiculously good deal from my TpT store on one of the S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners!

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