Saturday, October 22, 2016

Finding Inspiration Part 2

"Can we hear it again?" Those are the enchanting words every music teacher longs to hear their students ask. This week, I had the joy of hearing that question in EVERY fourth grade class after listening to "We All Need Peace" by Karl Hitzemann (see link below). When I heard that question, I knew I was going to have success this week.

Let me back up a little bit. As I said in my last blog, last week was tough. It was tough enough that I sat back and reconsidered my whole teaching strategy and came to the conclusion that my kids were losing their inspiration in music, that they weren't just inspired by games and learning...they needed the actual music. The kids loved it Monday and Tuesday. Before I played it, I talked about how music is meant to inspire others, comparing this piece to the inspiration I knew my kids had felt after performing the "Star-Spangled Banner" earlier in the year. The calm yet driving piano beat hooked them immediately, and the crescendo to the chorus is truly touching. If you are having a problem inspiring your students, look this up; it might do the trick for you.

Then, Tuesday night I had a dream. In the dream, I was visiting another school and saw a group of kids perform in such an inspiring way that, when I woke up, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I truly believe God gave me this idea. I can't tell you what it is right now, because teachers at my school might read this, and the kids want to keep it a secret. Just trust me...when I told my 4th graders about it, their eyes lit up, and when I played the song for them, a few of them were genuinely moved to tears (YES!). After the performance, I'll let you know what we did and if it was as effective as we hope it will be. I'll just say that between the great song and the dream I shared with them, they are inspired, at least for the moment.

Now for the recorder part of my lesson. You know that first day you hand out recorders, and you wish you had remembered your noise cancelling headphones? That was me this week. But honestly, I enjoy that first time giving them their recorders and letting them play without rules for a minute (I warn the nearby teachers what is happening ahead of time!). I give them time to blow their instrument as hard as they want. Then we have fun seeing if we can play our instruments without our lips touching the mouthpiece. I let them experiment with the different ways to play it, so they don't get in trouble for playing at the wrong time once instruction starts. Then I teach them "chin position," putting the mouthpiece hole on the chin to prevent accidental playing.

My theory that I'm trying out this year is this: If I start recorder on G (T123 all left hand), and E (T12345) they will have their hands in the right spot all year. Their left hand will stay on top closer to the mouth, and their right hand will have a place to go besides at the bell, eliminating the bad habit of right hand jumping between the bell and the tone holes.

This week was my first time to try out my theory. Everyone put a sticker on their left hand for reference before we started playing rhythms using G. With my first two classes, I had them read a rhythm on the board and then play it. With my last two classes, we had less time, so I played a 4- or 8-beat phrase and they echoed. I think for the first day of recorders in the future, I'll just echo play because it spurred their enthusiasm more than reading the rhythms. There will be plenty of time for that later.

The exciting thing is...the G didn't sound bad after a couple minutes! Yes, a few kids squeaked the whole time, and some forgot left hand on top. But for the most part, it was surprising that after just playing G (no B or A) for a short time, they were getting it. It was so good that I showed them how to play E after about two minutes of playing! With introducing the E, I accidentally created one of those ever-desired, principal-pleasing moments of differentiated instruction. I told them, "I'm going to play a pattern on G, but if you want a bigger challenge, try it on E." I showed them what the two pitches sounded like on the piano, and they went for it. Without any extra coaching, I had several kids playing a perfect E in the first class. Some of the students who understood started helping their classmates without my prompting, which then encouraged others to help. If only the principal had walked in...

Plan for next week: After a week of successful lessons, I plan on doing a similar lesson next week with them. We are going to start getting the "Peace" song performance-ready a little bit at a time, starting with the chorus. We're going to echo-play some more on recorders and start reading some rhythms. If it's going well, I'll get some students to improvise patterns for the class to play (good for reaching the "Creating" level on Bloom's).

They won't last long echo-playing on recorder, so I found a free piece with accompaniment called "G's a Crowd" (see link below) that my kids in the past have enjoyed. It gets them playing "real music" quickly. After this week, I'll see if they are keeping left hand on top and playing G pretty easily. If they are, I'll add B and A.

I hope you find inspiration in all this. I hear teachers talking about how they don't feel like they are inspiring their students the way their favorite teachers had done. Here's my message to teachers who may be feeling that way: Be nice to yourself. Do your best every day knowing that as long as you keep trying, you'll keep getting better. You do way more good than you think. Show them God's love every day; that's the most important thing.


P.S. If any of my 4th grade parents or teachers read this, sorry about the recorder sirens. I had to teach them something they'd love to do! I'll teach them a real song soon. :)

Recorder Karate Link:

My favorite recorder link:

Here are the links I was talking about:
"We All Need Peace"

"G's a Crowd"

Here's my TpT store, in case you're looking for something fun! I make lots of games, and for Arkansas teachers, I have made lesson plan templates with the new standards already assigned to each unit. Just plug in your instruction plan, name, date, and songs/materials, and you're ready to go!

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