Playful Learning in Music Education: Unleashing Creativity with Unconventional Tools

Playful Learning in Music Education: Unleashing Creativity with Unconventional Tools
Playful Learning in Music Education: Unleashing Creativity with Unconventional Tools đŸŽ¶
In the world of music education, embracing a bit of playfulness can be the key to unlocking creativity and engagement. Step into my classroom, where the usual suspects of musical instruction take a back seat to some unexpected stars – googly eye rings, rubber chickens, and whirly toys. Let's dive into how these 3 unconventional tools infuse our lessons with excitement and bring out the best in our students:

1. Googly Eyes: The Improvisation Catalyst
When it comes to teaching improvisation, googly eye rings take center stage in my lessons and rehearsals. Improvisation can be intimidating, but these wiggly-eyed companions make it feel like a game. Students wear the googly eyes and take turns improvising, adding a lighthearted element to the process. It's amazing how a touch of whimsy can boost confidence and creativity in musical expression, allowing students to feel safe "behind" a puppet or guise of sorts as they try something more vulnerable like creating new tunes with their voice.
2. Rubber Chickens: Shaping Vowels for Beautiful Harmony
Creating a harmonious choral sound involves mastering vowel shapes. Enter the rubber chicken, our surprising ally in this endeavor. As students sing higher notes, we talk about vowel shapes and use our rubber chicken (affectionately named Drumstick by my middle schoolers!) as a visual reminder. Sometimes he participates in games as well... the sky is the limit!
3. Whirly Toys: Elevating Range and Tone Dynamics
Whirly helicopter toys take vocal exercises to a whole new level, literally! As students take turns during warm-ups making the whirly toy go high into the air, they follow it with their voice in a glissando. This helps students explore their vocal range and tone in a playful way so they aren't thinking about how high they are going, or shouting when they go higher. The visual element keeps them engaged!

Play in Learning: Where Hard Work is a Form of Play
Beyond the specific lessons, these unconventional tools contribute to an environment where play is embraced as a powerful learning tool. In our musical journey, hard work becomes play and play helps us achieve hard work. Each challenge transforms into an opportunity for discovery and growth. The unexpected elements brought by these tools encourage students to explore, take risks, and find joy in the process of making music.


What creative methods do you use to make music lessons engaging and fun for your students?


Navigating Concert Week Chaos: A Music Teacher's Survival Kit

Navigating Concert Week Chaos: A Music Teacher's Survival Kit
Navigating Concert Week Chaos: A Music Teacher's Survival Kit

Concert week—the grand finale that puts on display our and our students' hard work! Yet, the journey to that moment can be a bit tumultuous at times. Fear not! Here's your shortcut to concert week success without losing your cool (and all your sleep that week).

Embrace Early Planning: Start early, plan wisely. Craft a roadmap with rehearsals, sectionals, and practice goals. I use this notebook to keep myself organized! Share the plan with students and parents for smooth preparation. Try to have deadlines in place earlier than you actually need those things completed in case you experience delays.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Ditch the solo act and delegate tasks to students or parent volunteers (this can feel so hard but be so rewarding! Students thrive when given responsibility appropriately). Whether it's setting up the venue, managing costumes, or handling backstage logistics, there's strength in numbers. A shared load eases the burden.

Organizational Magic: Master the art of organization. Utilize tools like spreadsheets and calendars to tame rehearsals, attendance, and communication chaos. I love using Attractwell for contacts, keeping organized, and sending info to students' families since I am self-employed. And don't try to remember it all on your own! Timers and to-do lists are my best friend.

Spread Positivity: In the midst of tension, sprinkle positivity -- laughter helps so much. Celebrate small victories and reassure students that their hard work is paying off. One of my greatest mentors' motto was, "Cheerful and flexible. If you can't be cheerful, be flexible. If you can't be flexible, be cheerful! And if you can be both... GREAT! Do that."

Strategic Rehearsals: Conduct smart rehearsals. Identify and prioritize challenging sections early in the week for a smoother performance. Talk less and sing/play more.

Create a Supportive Environment:
Amidst chaos, cultivate a supportive atmosphere. Encourage, uplift, and acknowledge the ensemble's hard work.

Self-Care is Essential: Don't forget yourself! Get rest, stay hydrated (without the caffeine that can hurt your voice -- this is my favorite go-to for non-caffinated energy), and take short breaks. Your well-being is crucial.

Master Communication: Keep everyone informed about schedule changes and expectations through emails, newsletters, and social media.

With early planning, teamwork, positivity, and self-care, you're not just surviving concert week; you're thriving. Embrace the excitement, enjoy the music, and make this week a crescendo of success. Cheers to the magical symphony you're about to create! đŸŽ”


A Quick Tutorial on Teaching Sight Singing & Ear Training in as Little as 5 Minutes Per Day

A Quick Tutorial on Teaching Sight Singing & Ear Training in as Little as 5 Minutes Per Day
Sight Singing and Ear Training are fundamental skills in music education. Most colleges teach it over the course of a few different classes, and many people view it as skills you can't teach until middle school or later... but I love teaching these skills to students as young as 2nd grade (who are already tuneful, beatful, and artful!) in as little as 5 minutes per day. It can be done well and creatively so that students experience it in a joyful, fun way.

Sight singing is the ability to read and sing a piece of music at first sight without having heard it before. It involves translating the written musical notation into vocal sounds. This ideally is done AFTER having some foundational skills built first, namely ear training skills.

Skills Involved:
  1. Note Recognition: The ability to identify and sing the correct pitches indicated in the musical score.
  2. Rhythm Recognition: Being able to interpret and execute the rhythm of a piece accurately.
  3. Interval Recognition: Recognizing the distance between two pitches, which helps in accurately reproducing melodies.
  4. Key and Scale Recognition: Understanding the key signature and scale of a piece, which guides the performer on which notes to sing.
  5. Phrasing and Articulation: Interpreting the musical notation to convey musical expression, including dynamics, tempo, and articulation.

Ear training, also known as aural skills, involves developing the ability to identify and reproduce musical elements solely by hearing them. This includes melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. My goal is always to develop the musical ear before the musical eye.

Skills Involved:
  1. Pitch Recognition: Identifying individual pitches and intervals between them.
  2. Melodic Dictation: Hearing a melody and writing it down in musical notation.
  3. Harmonic Analysis: Recognizing and identifying chords and chord progressions in a musical piece.
  4. Rhythmic Dictation: Hearing a rhythm and notating it accurately.
  5. Chord Progression Recognition: Identifying the sequence of chords in a piece of music.
  6. Transcription: Listening to a piece of music and notating it in sheet music form.
Both ear training and sight singing are essential for any musician who wants to perform, compose, or arrange music. It enables musicians to effectively communicate and collaborate with others. Musicians with strong sight singing and ear training skills can adapt to various musical styles and genres. These skills empower musicians to improvise and create their own music. It hones the ability to critically analyze and appreciate music. Both sight singing and ear training are skills that can be developed and honed through consistent practice and training. They are vital components of a well-rounded musical education.

Conversational Solfege is a system of 12 steps that addresses these needs first by ear and then adding the eye and symbols to it to develop a person's musical mind and musical thinking in a playful, creative way!

To learn more about Conversational Solfege, check it out here. And here are the flash cards I use that go with the CS units. I'm happy to chat more about CS as well, it's a passion of mine to use this well-created resource to help develop young musicians.


3 Toys I Use to Teach Musical Concepts to Young Children

3 Toys I Use to Teach Musical Concepts to Young Children
As a music teacher, I love to use toys and props in my homeschool early childhood music classes and lessons to help children learn musical concepts. It is so much fun to see their creativity, and it's always an added bonus if they have that toy at home already that they can go home and use musically.


Here are my top 3 favorites! Let me know if you try these out in your home or classroom!



1) Pop-up Squirrels

These pop-up squirrels are so much fun! They're a great fidgety-type toy to give your hands something to do, but I love using them with my squirrel songs. I have multiple squirrel songs, but my favorite one to use with this toy is Peep Squirrel (here's a demonstration video in case you don't know the song). I find that having a prop or toy helps young children stay engaged in the song for many more repetitions of the song than if I just sang it alone, allowing their ears to hear the song more times and sing it way more accurately once they do! I usually pass this toy around the circle and sing it myself while they keep the beat. Then another day, I will have them sing the song while they pop the squirrel on the beat.

2) Hoberman Sphere

The hoberman sphere is often called a breathing ball, and I enjoy using it to teach young children what their lungs are doing when they breathe! It's a great way to start off a children's choir rehearsal, or to use with any class if children got a bit wild in the middle as a way to reset and regroup. I like having students take turns opening and closing it; I always pick students who are demonstrating a specific skill I would like to see (ie low diaphragmatic breathing or silent breaths).

3) Googly Eye Rings

I just love using these googly eye rings for vocal exploration or Arioso (if you're familiar with Feierabend's First Steps in Music)! You can get them in different sizes (like these big ones here) but I find this size to be the best for little fingers. I like to call mine hummers and have the children make humming sounds with them. They are SO willing to sing on their own if they have a fun toy/prop in hand to do it with! They'll even have musical conversations and make up tunes together with these little guys. I always buy the 100 pack because they're tiny and we lose them easily. :P



Well, there you have it! My top 3 favorites. Which one are you going to try or have you tried and really liked?

For more helpful music class ideas and freelance music teacher tips, join the community here!

How to Re-Inspire Your Choir to Finish the Year Strong

How to Re-Inspire Your Choir to Finish the Year Strong
Spring fever got your choir extra squirrely, lacking focus, or just struggling as we near the end of the year?

I can relate; we've had some antsy and not-our-best rehearsals in my groups lately too.

Thankfully I have some strategies for refocusing and recentering a group as we hit this point in the year to invigorate and inspire everyone to finish strong. I talked about them in this video here, and share them below as well:

1) Play a singing game, take a movement break, or try out a folk dance! These methods work really well for my younger choirs (3rd-7th ages) as they get more physically antsy in the spring as the weather gets nicer, and it really helps to refocus us in the middle of a rehearsal. I find that if I can teach them a few of these at the beginning of the year, they are great team building and connecting activities that help students get to know one another, and they are really easy to pull out this time of year as a 5-8 minute break in the middle of rehearsing concert repertoire because they already know how to play/what to do.

2) Keep something motivating or something they are looking forward to as top-of-mind. This could be a concert, event (like taking your students to a sports game to sing the national anthem like I am!), an outing, a tour, or even something like a party they are planning. Remind them that they are working towards that event and how much you are looking forward to seeing them succeed. Take moments during rehearsal to envision together what it will look/feel like to accomplish that, how you all will feel afterwards, and how you want to see it play out. This can really help remind an ensemble why they are here, their collective purpose, and help them look forward to how their hard work will pay off.

3) Re-visit our choirs commitment/values. I wrote about creating these here, and this point in the year is a great time to revisit these if part of your group is struggling to remember the ensemble's goals or why they are all there together.

I hope these tips were helpful. What other ways do you help your choir reset and be inspired this time of year?

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The Most Important Part of Choir Rehearsal

Just as I put my hands down and they stopped singing, they turned to one another and started chatting, distracted and some disruptive. Some were whispering or talking as I was talking to give them the next feedback I had for them.

I will not talk over them. My vocal health matters too much to do that.

I felt discouraged. We'd wasted at least 10 minutes of our 75-minute rehearsal on these interruptions to the flow of a rehearsal, and I was tired. There had also been some typical teenage drama coming out earlier in rehearsal too, and I don't like feeling like a drill sergeant. I would way rather they learn how to self-manage and work with people they don't prefer, as in real life sometimes we do need to interact with people we don't prefer. But that won't just happen by chance.

So I decided to implement one of my favorite choral management techniques: a Choir Commitment that they write, agree to, and are held to.

My 7th-10th grade students did not disappoint, in fact, their wording was much deeper than I could've imagined or chosen myself.


The discussion that I guided as they came up with these guiding principles by which we would function in rehearsal together was the most important part of this commitment. If they don't know what it looks and sounds like for these to play out in a rehearsal space, how can they follow it? Clarity is key.

The word change from Respect to Honor occurred as a girl raised her hand to say, "Respect is something earned. What if someone is acting in a way that doesn't earn our respect? I think we should change the word to Honor. The Bible calls all to 'honor your father and mother.' There are kids in the world who have parents who do things that are not earning of respect, but they are still called by God to honor them. I think we should all honor each other even if someone does or says something that doesn't deserve respect."

"Wow." I agreed as I wrote in the additional edit, others nodding their heads as they thought about what she said.

There was a perfect teaching moment during the writing process too. When I wrote 'mistakes ar OK' on the board, I accidentally left off the "e." One girl, who can sometimes respond in an immature way, raised her hand and politely said, "Umm, Mrs. Orem, I think you made a mistake when you were writing."

"You're right, I did!" as I went to correct it. "Thank you for correcting my mistake in a respectful, kind way. I don't mind you calling out my mistakes or each others' at all, as long as you do it in a way that is honoring to the person who made the mistake. We all can keep learning."

We even had a conversation about changing voices in this context too, since that is a reason some do not give Maximum Effort -- fear of teasing when their voice does something they didn't want. It was SO good, and really shifted the atmosphere of the room from a space where there are things to hide or be embarrassed by to a sense of safety or transparency.

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"Now that you have created this commitment, you can hold me to my word that I will follow it. Do I have your word?"

*Nods of heads, looking around at each other seriously.

"Good. I'm here to develop you musically, of course, but my calling is greater than that. I know I have a responsibility to develop your character and speak into your life spiritually as well. I will hold you to these principles you put up here today. I will do it with ultimate honor and kindness, but I care about each of you too much to allow you to break your commitment on my watch. I am here to help you develop the character to keep your word. Alright, take out 'Praise His Holy Name' from your folder. Let's do this!"

...

The most important part of choir rehearsal? It's the little things, the small moments where we get to shape minds and hearts and build character.

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