Behavior in the Music Classroom

I’m seeing a lot of FaceBook posts recently, asking for help with behavior issues in music classes, especially in Gr. 4-5, although younger classes can be really challenging too.  You can’t teach music when behaviors are out of control.  The music room is a different classroom than the students are used to, with more movement, lots of instruments and activity. I want my students to look forward to music class and to be excited about coming to class. 

Reward systems can work (and in a future newsletter I’ll include suggestions for one that’s worked for me) but ultimately, we want students to manage their own behaviors because they want to learn the skills that we’re teaching.  I’m not a believer in popcorn parties that reward students for doing what they should be doing all along.  If it’s popcorn parties this year, next year they’ll want pizza.   There is a need for consequences for poor behavior, but I want to depend less on students behaving because they don’t want a phone call home, and have students who behave well because they want to learn music.

14 Ways to Address Behavior Issues in your Music Classroom

1. Seating Plan:  Where do you expect students to sit?  If you don’t have a seating plan, make one.  Keeping problem students apart is one of the easiest ways to manage behaviors.  I make my seating plan girl-girl boy-boy girl-girl boy-boy.  If there are any problems, then that part of the class sits boy girl boy girl instead.  The app Idoceo is a useful tool for creating seating plans and organizing your classes.

2. Line-ups:  How do you expect students to come in and leave class?  If you expect that they wait quietly outside your room before they come in, don’t let them into your room until they can demonstrate that behavior.  In your school do classroom teachers walk students to the music room?  If so, that helps. If you have to go pick them up, then you need to practice how you want them walking through hallways until they do it well.  I have spent 1/2 of a music class practice entering/exiting the classroom because the class was so noisy.

3. Routines:  Do you take attendance each class?  A seating plan helps to take attendance more quickly.   Use your attendance as a quick assessment of pitch matching.  Sing hello to a student and have them sing hello back.  I like to do what I call Flashcard attendance.  I use either rhythm or melody flashcards.  I call or sing a student’s name, then they read the flashcard.  You can also use this as exit tickets.  My set of rhythm flashcards is color coded, so I can find the set that a grade is working on quickly.   Link to Rhythm Flashcards:  USA   Canada
Flashcard attendance has another benefit in that it sets a tone.  Students know that these are skills that they will learn.

4. Classroom Rules: Develop rules with students so they set their own climate of respect and responsibility, and reinforce the rules by making expectations clear and keeping requests simple, direct and specific.  I love my Music Room Rules Posters that lay out the expectations clearly, in a musical way, and that make such a great body percussion composition lesson and bulletin board.  If you have school wide rules, use them and make a musical activity out of them.  A Blog post on the Music rules is here:

Make good choices, always be responsible.
Use good manners, be nice and be kind.
Speak when you're called on, always put your hand up.
In the music room, always try your best.
Care for the instruments and all of the equipment.
The Music rules are part of the publication Music Rules Poster Pack, published T&V.  To order color posters:
Canada :     
USA :  
(The publication also addresses audience behavior and instrument care)

5. Be Consistent:  Barbara Coloroso says it so well:  “Our children are counting on us to provide two things: consistency and structure.  Children need parents who say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they say they are going to do.”  So - if you say you’ll take instruments away if children play when you’re talking, then do it - take them away.  One of my favorite sayings:  “If you play before I say I’ll take your instrument away.”  (Danece Workman - thanks for this!)

6. Praise the Positive:  A pat on the back goes a lot further than a kick in the pants. 
Catch someone in the class doing something right and make a positive comment.  It will often encourage the rest of the students to behave more responsibly.  This is particularly effective in younger grades.  I have a Good Behavior note that you can send home with students.  I’ll have copies of this posted at in the Back to School Unit.  I’ll also post copies of these in the Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook.

7. Don’t Reward Bad Behavior:  I visited a Gr. 2 classroom that had an extremely difficult student.  In a 30 minute class I saw this child push another student, refuse to participate, and refuse to do what the teacher asked.  But when the teacher chose a conductor for an activity, she chose this same child because he’d been behaving for a few minutes.  If I was a child in that class, the message I’d get was that if you want to get picked, you have to have to behave really badly.

8.  Get Close to the Problem Student
If I play Stella Ella Olla with a class and child is hitting too hard, I put him right next to me, so that if the behavior continues, I know it and that child can sit out. 

9.  A Quiet Teacher has a Quiet Class
Lois Choksy said this when I took my Kodaly Levels with her, and it’s stuck with me for 30 years.  If you want your students to listen, speak more quietly.  If there are students talking and they shouldn’t be, don’t try to speak over them.  Wait it out.  Wait until the class is quiet until you begin instruction. Non-verbal signals are an excellent tool to use. “Simon Says” is a fun game to use with younger grades.  “Simon Says - put your finger on your nose.  Simon says - do the twist.  Put your hands on your knees - gotcha!  I didn’t say Simon Says.”  In some schools a raised hand indicates that silence is expected.  Flashing lights is sometimes used.  Develop your own signals, and use them.  It will also help you use your voice less.

If you have a very challenging class waiting for silence might not be effective, but if an entire class is disruptive, I’d suggest you line them up, take them back to their classroom early, and then have all of them do a pencil/paper reflection.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a reflection copied and ready to go.  Just give them a piece of paper and have them write it out.   Sometimes these challenging classes need to be kept in their own classrooms for a week or two until they can demonstrate that they are ready to learn in the music room.

10. Engage the students – When students are engaged, they aren’t causing problems. When are students engaged?  When they are “doing!”   The teacher needs to remember to talk less and do more!   Keep verbal instructions concise and clear and spend most of your class time making music.   I’ve written a Blog Post (I'll edit and rewrite it in a future newsletter) on some of the most engaging activities I’ve used with Gr. 4-5-6:

11. Pacing – Keep your lessons fast paced.  When students have very little down time, there are far fewer behavior issues.  Public speakers watch for indicators that an audience is restless - if you notice folks checking cell phones chances are, you’ve lost their interest.  Kids will also give you indicators - they’ll talk to a neighbor, they’ll  pick tape off the floor, fidget, or daydream.  This is a cue to you as the teacher that students aren’t engaged, and you need to pick up the pace, take a brain break, or change activities.  (More on brain breaks in a future newsletter)

12.  Make students accountable for their learning  Start the new year with a rhythm reading or writing pretest.  (You can find these in Rhythm Practice section, assessments).  I had a tough grade 3 class, and it was when doing the reading assessments they realized they had to pay attention because there were skills I was going to test them on.  Do it as a pre-test - then spend lots of time on rhythm activities and give them a post-test.  If they see improvement, they’ll realize that they can learn.

13. Behavior Reflections
We all make mistakes.  And often, if we reflect on our behavior we can identify ways we could have done better.
Create a time out space in your room. 
The Time to Pause sign will be posted as a PDF in the Back to School Unit at Musicplayonline (Monday) and in the Musicplay Teachers Group on FaceBook.
Time to Pause - For minor disruptions, a child may just need a short time out. 
For a more serious disruption, have them fill out a behavior reflection while seated in the time out area.

Post your Music Room Rules in your time out space, and have children read the rules while they are in time out.

As the teacher, you should have a binder or folder where you document instances of behavior that are disruptive enough to need a time out.  Have the student fill out a reflection, take a photo of it for your folder, and send a copy home.  Call or email the parents with a copy of it, and ask them to sign and have the child return it.   I’ll have copies of these reflections posted at in the Back to School Unit.  I’ll also post copies of these in the Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook.
If you’re willing to share your behavior reflections or other strategies that you use, please email or post in the Musicplay Teachers Group on FaceBook.  If you allow me to, I’ll post yours at

14.  Reward Systems
This will be a newsletter topic all on it’s own, but I’m wary of using them.  Studies have shown that long term rewards aren’t very effective.  Studies have also shown that using any extrinsic reward may not be effective in the long term.  Ultimately, we want kids to behave well because they are engaged and they WANT to learn!  Keep a log of each class's favorite songs and singing games.  If you have a great class, give them 5 minutes at the end of class to play a favorite game.  Yes, this is a reward, but it's a reward intrinsic to the subject area - not something you need to go buy at a dollar store.

We love to know how you're using our materials!!!  Share how you've used our resources in the Musicplay Teachers group on Facebook! If you don't do Facebook, share in the forum at Musicplayonline.  And of course, if you send us kids demos that we can use of your students using any section of Musicplayonline, you'll receive a month free. Follow #musicplayonline on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest!

Dance Unit

The newest unit at is a dance unit.  (Resources are also available as print/disk or download!)
Start by logging into your MusicplayOnline account and head over to the Units section. When you click on the button you’ll see Festivals & Holidays is the default unit. 

At the top of the page you’ll see four large buttons: Dance, Festivals & Holidays, Instruments, and Theory. Click on Dance to go to the dance section. 

 This section is organized by grades. At the top you’ll see four tabs: PreK- Kindergarten, Grade 1-2, Grade 3-4, and Grade 5-6. Each section has three different types of activities: Choreographed dances, movement activities, and creative movement activities.

 We’ve organized all the choreographed dances from the
Musicplay program into these two boxes. You’ll see Grade 3 Dances in the left box and Grade 4 Dances in the right box.  Don't hesitate to try a dance in a higher or lower grade!
Click on a dance title and the link will bring you right to the song so that you can view the kids demo and the teacher instructions.

Choose Notation or Lyrics to teach the students to sing the song.

The Kids demo is valuable to help you teach the movements.
Dance Directions are in the song activities:  
Form a single circle, boy-girl, boy-girl or with pairs of students. All the students join hands and perform the first two verses as the words suggest---circle right, then circle left......
The Dance Unit includes a few selections from other Themes publications. You’ll find Hunt the Cows, Danish Dance of Greeting, Kinderpolka, and La Raspa from our popular Primary Dances and Singing Games collection. If you like these, you can find 20 more dances in Primary Dances and Singing Games!
Hunt the Cows
Danish Dance of Greeting
The Unit also includes three selections from our new Super Fun Folk Dance collection: Seven Jumps, Sasha, and Chimes of Dunkirk.  The recordings for these dances was done with authentic instruments and are wonderful!  You can find eight more dances in the book Super Fun Folk Dance





Kids demos make the dances easy to teach!


Projectable directions with embedded audio are really helpful when you're teaching the dances.

Download a PDF with the directions.


You can find these dances and eight more  in the book Super Fun Folk Dance! 
For all of these dances, you’ll see the kids demo, a teaching slide with audio, a teacher’s guide PDF, and a link to the product to use offline. You can order the product as a printed book/disk or a download.
If you scroll down a little farther you will see Movement activities and Creative Movement Activities. Movement activities are primarily singing games with movement options.  In Grade 4, we’ve included Pizza Pizza (street game), J’entends le moulin (French singing game) and Happy is the Miller (singing game).  These all involve movement but are not what I’d describe as choreographed dances.
Creative Movement Activities are instrumental selections or songs that would be great to have kids (maybe with teacher assistance) choreograph.
All of the songs are organized according to grade but don’t be afraid to try a selection with upper or lower grades.  We hope you’re having a great start to the school year and that you’re moving through it joyfully! 
Super Fun Folk Dances
- live recording with authentic instruments
- videos of every dance
- projectable PowerPoint/PDF with information/worksheets about countries
- FUN dances your students will love!
Order print/disk or download

Primary Dances and Singing Games
- 27 fun singing games and dances
- seasonal games and dances 
- order print/disk or download



We love to know how you're using our materials!!!  Share how you've used the Dance Unit in the Musicplay Teachers group on Facebook!  If you don't do Facebook, share in the forum at Musicplayonline.  And of course, if you send us kids demos that we can use of your students using the Boomwhacker section - or any section of Musicplayonline, you'll receive a month free.

Follow #musicplayonline on instagram, twitter, Pinterest

Teach Notation and Chords with Boomwhackers

The first time I saw Boomwhackers was more than 20 years ago and I was instantly intrigued.  They are colorful plastic tubes that can play pitches of the C scale.  (and more if you purchase chromatic sets)  I bought them and then started to experiment with them, but wasn’t really sure what to do with them.
You can play melodies, rhythms or chords with Boomwhackers. 
In our new Boomwhacker section at Musicplayonline, we’ve created a resource that you can use to teach your students melodies with chords - what a great way to introduce the reading of pitches on the staff to your students.
The Boomwhacker Section is in the left menu - between recorder and xylophone.  
There is a menu across the top with tabs for each section:  


Word Highlights

The words of the song are colored using Boomwhacker colors.  This is a great literacy tool for K-1-2 for beginning readers.   The cover page tells the notes that will be used.  If you want to use 3 note songs and you have 24 students in your class, you’ll need to have 8 sets of diatonic Boomwhackers. (CDEFGABC sets)

3 note, 4 note, 5 note, 6 note, 7 note and scale songs: 

The menu for each song gives the chords used, the rhythm pattern, the pitches used and lists the options for projecting.

You can teach the song using video or use the slideshow option.
Video 1 is Kidsnotes - the letter name is embedded on the note. 
Video 2 is Colored Boomwhacker notation.
Video 3 is the Note Highlight movie - the pitches are highlighted as the students play them.
The slideshow also has the Kids notes, Colored notes option.
The slideshows 3rd option is regular notation.  (The note highlight is only possible in the video)
The PDF file can be downloaded and printed.  Use this as a center!

If you don’t have 8 sets of Boomwhackers, you may choose to use the 5-8 note songs so fewer sets are needed.
If you want each child to have a tube to play a 5 note song, and you have 30 students in the class, you’ll need 6 sets of Boomwhackers.
I’d suggest teaching your classes the staff lesson (in the Units section, Theory tab), and working with them on naming notes each class before you start playing the Boomwhackers.  They can practice naming notes on the cookie sheet staff, on their hand staff, and on the floor staff.  You can use note name flashcards or note name games to help them remember the letter names for the pitches on the staff.    Online, use the Pop Quiz or Note Name Memory to practice letter names.

Pop Quizzes are available from any grade level. I start teaching the letter names of pitches in Gr. 3 or 4.
Choose the level of the Treble Clef Pop Quiz.
Note Name Memory is one of the Music Games
It's really well designed and has two levels.  You can choose lines, spaces or staff.
The Interactive Boomwhacker is found in this section and is a useful way to show the students how chords are built, and how scales can be ascending or descending.

This is the chord demo in the Interactive Boomwhacker section - shows which tubes make a chord.

This is the illustration of the notes used to make a chord in the Boomwhacker Notation section.
This is the ascending scale in the Boomwhacker Notation section.
This is the descending scale in the Boomwhacker Notation section.
Stick Games are fun to play with Boomwhackers for your upper elementary students.  These are all games from Musicplay, and when you click on the link, you’ll be taken to the song.  You’ll have kids demo videos, and all the song videos to teach the song to the students. These are usually for students in gr. 3-6.  But you can also use Boomwhackers to play hand clap games with younger students.
Many teachers use Musication videos from YouTube with their students. We’ve given links to these videos, along with information on pitches and rhythms that are used.
These are fun, but since most of them use letter names rather than teaching children to read staff notation, save these for incentives or rewards.
There are 24 five note songs, sequenced with easier rhythms first.
There are 22 six note songs, sequenced by rhythm.

Our team has worked for months organizing, compiling and creating the materials for the Boomwhacker section and we hope you find it really helpful when you start teaching notation to your students!!!

We love to know how you're using our materials!!!  Share how you've used the Boomwhacker section in the Musicplay Teachers group on Facebook!  If you don't do Facebook, share in the forum at Musicplayonline.  And of course, if you send us kids demos that we can use of your students using the Boomwhacker section - or any section of Musicplayonline, you'll receive a month free.

Follow #musicplayonline on instagram, twitter, Pinterest

Name Games and Activities to start the school year

Some music teachers teach more than a thousand students each week and it can be very difficult to remember the names. Starting your first classes with a name game will help you to remember those names - at least for this music class!  If you go the Back to School Unit in Units at, there are many name games AND mixers to get your school year off to a great start.
Name Games:
K.149 Chickamy
K.8   Cookie Jar Chant
K.12 Hickety Tickty Bumblebee
1.36 Cuckoo
3.2 Number Concentration
4.9 Jolly Rhythm (another good one to do with the numbered paper plates)
5.2  Concentration

1.68 I LIke You
1.66  Rig a Jig Jig
2.73 Hot Cross Buns
4.5 Good Morning
5.33 Green Sally Up 


For your olders:

Number Concentration

Give every student in the class a number on a white paper plate or index card.  (You may want to organize a seating plan, and give them the number that they will have in the plan.)  The teacher sings a number, and that student sings back his/her name. As you sing, tap a beat with one finger. Each time that a student forgets to sing on his/her number, choose a new tempo.   When the students are familiar with the game, you can play this as an elimination game---if you don’t respond with your name after your number is sung, you go out.  Invite students to be leaders and sing the numbers.  The paper plate idea was suggested by a teacher from a district where she has really large classes.  The paper plates help her students to remember what number they’re given and has made the game really successful for her.
Number Concentration is a simple reading using just so-mi-do and ta, ti-ti, rest.  If your students can read the rhythms and pitches, have them learn the song by reading it.  If they aren’t there yet, just read the rhythms, and teach the melody by rote.
Because it’s a simple reading song, it’s an excellent opportunity to review beat and rhythm with your students using the interactive rhythm tools and/or the matching worksheets.  Use the interactive tool to model how to create an ostinato, B section, or introduction/ending for the song.  The game is fun, and can be extended in many ways!


Go to Interactive Rhythm section, and select Word Rhythm Composition:

Model how to create a rhythm composition with the words "Number" and "Name".  Choose two kinds of body percussion and perform your new pattern. Try other ways of doing the body percussion and decide which you like the best.  Transfer the body percussion to unpitched instruments and decidewhich you like the best.  After modeling, give the students sets of "Number" and "Name" cards made up from the Printables in this section and have small groups of students create their own rhythm composition.
Students lay their pattern out on the floor.  They choose 2 kinds of instruments and play the pattern.  Use the song as the theme, and student compositions as B, C, D, E sections and create a rondo.  Do a group practice.  Ask them to refine their composition - maybe add some dynamics, or add some movement.  Perform.  Ask groups to think of what they "noticed" and "wondered" about their performances.  (reflect on performance)

Many additional extensions are possible for the game - there are 11 worksheets given, and matching interactive activities so you can teach or model how to label beat and rhythm, then practice and reinforce.
Here's a link to see how the Word Rhythm Composition might sound.

For your littles:

Hello Beat Chant 

Source: Rhythm Instrument Fun, and in Musicplay PreK
I’ve had this in other newsletters, but I can’t recommend it enough.  It just works and is awesome to learn names AND to experience/review all the basic concepts.  Using this beat chant establishes a routine, introduces the term “beat” and will help the teacher remember all of the names.
1. Say the chant, patting a steady beat as you speak. Say hello to the students using different kinds of voices:  high/low, loud/quiet, fast/slow, speak/sing/whisper/shout, singing voice using a variety of solfa patterns.  After you say the name, the class echoes, saying the name just like you did.
2. In the next lesson, instead of patting the steady beat, play the beat on a non-pitched instrument. Ask the students questions about the instrument
you’ve chosen to play.
* What is this instrument called?
* What is it made out of?
* How is the sound made on this instrument?
3. Demonstrate how to hold the instrument and how to play it before playing along with the chant. You may want to have the students play some instruments. If you have a tambourine or hand drum, you could hold it, but have the children tap it. This is an excellent way to introduce all of the non-pitched
instruments that you have in your classroom.


Looking for more ideas and icebreaker games for your classroom? MusciplayOnline has a plethora of songs you can use with your new and returning students! Search terms like “Name games”, “shakeups”, “brain teasers”, “openers”, “warmups”, “organizers”, and “cumulative”. 

We love to know how you're using our materials!!!  Share the name games that you're using in your classroom in the Musicplay Teachers group on Facebook!  If you don't do Facebook, share in the forum at Musicplayonline.

Follow #musicplayonline on instagram, twitter, Pinterest

Teaching Tip - Year Plans

It’s summer!  Finally!  So why is Denise sending newsletters in the summer???  The next newsletters will be on year plans, month outlines, weekly lesson plans and sub plans.  For my American friends who start school in early August, July might be the time that you’re getting your planning done.  And for my Canadian teachers who start later, (and for our Australians who are still mid-year) save this information for later.
Lesson planning begins with your curriculum.  You need to know the outcomes that you’re expected to achieve by the end of the school year.  For me, I’ve put the skills/concepts into a scope and sequence that shows which grade a particular concept or skill is introduced in.  In the Musicplay scope and sequence, ex stands for experience.    The Scope and Sequence for Rhythm is given below. 

(The full scope and sequence for Musicplay is found in the Musicplay Teacher’s guides, or can be downloaded from the Lesson Planning Section at
The Lesson Planning section is found on the left menu of your computer screen.  There is a wealth of material there to help you with your planning!
In kindergarten children will learn that music moves to a steady beat.  They'll experience the difference between beat and rhythm.  They'll experience that there are strong and weak beats, and they'll experience that beats can be grouped in 2s, 3s or 4s.  The stars in grade 1 indicate that the children will learn all of those concepts.
Your scope and sequence may differ from this, but this is a great starting point - download and print from (Lesson Planning Section) and then highlight the skills you have in your district or state document.

Denise has created a scope and sequence with songs that teach the concept that is available online in the lesson planning section.  This is just a small part of the Beat and Rhythm Sequence with songs to teach the concept.

When you are in a situation with older students who haven’t mastered concepts from earlier grades, you have to teach those basic concepts before moving on.
Musicplay is a spiralling curricuum, and there is review of basic concepts in every grade.  So, basic concepts such as beat/rhythm are reviewed/taught in every grade level.  Ta and Ti-ti (quarter and 8th note rhythms) are reviewed/taught in each grade - but with age appropriate games/activities.
Note:  There are ta and ti-ti songs in every grade to use to teach/review/assess beat and rhythm.


So, once you’ve decided on a realistic sequence of concepts/skills that you can do with your students, chart the months and decide when you can teach them, and use the song list to decide on the songs you’ll use to teach those concepts.  The Musicplay Grade 1 Year plan is shown below.  You can download these from the Lesson Planning section and  adapt this for your own use.


Download the Year outlines at
Remember that you are never expected to teach every song in Musicplay.  Musicplay is a menu that you choose from: 
1.  Choose the song/singing game for your lesson that best teaches the concept you want to teach.
2.  Choose the activity or activities that you want to do with that song.
3.  Choose extension songs or activities that your students will love!
It's our mission to make your job easier!
Please share your lesson planning documents as files that you can upload to the Musicplay Teachers Facebook Group!
Other teachers LOVE to see how you are using Musicplay.

This week, Denise walks you through the overview section of setting up your lesson plans for the year. This also inlcudes scopes and sequences for each grade, songs lists for grade PreK to 5, and more details for your Year Plans!

Sign up for today! New accounts get one month free!

Teaching Tip - Monthly Outlines and Weekly Lessons

This is the time of year when teachers are looking for new ideas and fun approaches to teaching music in the classroom. That’s why Denise wants to bring in her decades of experience to help you with planning out your yearly, monthly, and even weekly plans! In this video, she goes over where on MusicplayOnline to find these Lesson Plans, and how to best optimize them for your music classes!

Sign up for today! New accounts get one month free!

Summer Reading for Music Teachers

iBooks List

We have been creating iBooks versions of some of our favorite books.  You can project iBooks for your students from your iPad.  If students love the So-mi storybooks, they can get them at home.  The following is a list of the iBooks from Themes that are available.

Action Songs Children Love 1
Recorder Resource Student Book
1. So-me Goes Missing
2. So-me and the Spider
3. So-me Meets the Boss
4. So-me… Oh and Romeo
5. So-me at the Pole
6. So-me in Space
7. So-me and the Dance
8. So-me and his Secret
9. So-me Goes to the Party
10. So-me and the Monster
11. So-me Finds 'Dough'
12. So-me and the Princess

Summer Reading for Music Teachers

There's been a thread on the Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook about how to help a child who is profoundly deaf.  I think it would be inspiring and very probably give us good teaching ideas to read Evelyn Glennie's autobiography.  Evelyn Glennie is the British percussionist who has had an amazing career despite being profoundly deaf.  LINK to "GOOD VIBRATIONS" BY Evelyn Glennie.

Good Books for Teachers

I've borrowed this list from Reader's Digest - Inspiring Books for Teachers

‘1.  Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56’

If you’ve ever doubted the impact a single teacher can have on a group of children, you need to read this book. For more than 30 years, author Rafe Esquith was a fifth-grade teacher at Hobart Elementary in central Los Angeles, one of the most impoverished school districts in the country. In this book, Esquith shares his techniques for building trust, respect, and passion for education among his students—techniques that have not only earned him numerous awards and international recognition, but have helped droves of students succeed beyond expectation.

‘2.  The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them’

Published in 1999, this book is a collection of writings by the students of Erin Gruwell, a then 23-year-old new teacher at Long Beach High School in Long Beach, California, who was assigned a class of so-called “unteachable” students who were trapped by gang violence and racial tension. To reach them, she assigned literature they could relate to, brought in speakers who could engage them, and gave each of them a blank composition notebook where they could share, anonymously, their thoughts and experiences. Despite the odds against them, all 150 of her students graduated from high school, and some went onto college and established rewarding careers. The book also spawned a 2007 movie, Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank.

‘3. The First Days of School’

New and veteran teachers alike sing the praises of this book by education experts Harry K. and Rosemary T. Wong, now in its fourth edition. Revered by thousands of school districts and in hundreds of countries, this book walks teachers through proven strategies for classroom management and organization that can be applied to students in any grade, from preschool through college. As the title suggests, the book reinforces the idea that the methods teachers establish during the first days of school will define whether they fail or succeed, and can help teach even the most experienced educators a few new tricks.

‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’

Whether you’re dealing with five-year-old kids or 30-year-old adult learners, teaching is, at its core, a people profession. Considered one of the most influential self-help books ever published, this book is widely praised by teachers across the country. Published in 1936 by American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie, the book provides a series of simple yet effective strategies for improving one’s self-confidence, developing leadership skills, and reducing the cycle of stress.

‘The Hidden Lives of Learners’

This book, which is the result of four decades of research by New Zealand Emeritus Professor and author Graham Nuthall, investigates the three powerful aspects that dictate a student success: teacher-student interaction, peer influence, and a student’s personal home life. His research into how low-ability students can learn as well as high-ability students is nothing short of groundbreaking, and has major implications when it comes to the vexation of standardized testing and education reform.


‘Outliers: The Story of Success’

This best-selling book by esteemed journalist Malcolm Gladwell will resonate with anyone who wants to understand how people ultimately achieve greatness. In the book, Gladwell investigates numerous factors that contribute to extreme levels of success, such as that achieved by professional athletes, influential business people, and celebrities. The book explores how factors like birth month, practice, culture and hidden advantages can shape the lives of extraordinary individuals who excel beyond any reasonable understanding. \\

‘I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban’ 

In modernized counties, we sometimes forget that for many children around the world, education is not a right—it’s a privilege. Perhaps no one understands that more than Malala Yousafzai, who, at age 15, was shot point-blank in the head by the Taliban, simply because she wanted to attend school. Miraculously, she survived, and went on to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a powerful voice for girls’ education. This inspiring memoir, which she penned in 2013 with British journalist Christina Lamb, highlights the strength of a family’s love and reminds readers of the never-ceasing power of education.

‘What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World’ 

In 2002, former teacher Taylor Mali crafted a poem called “What Teachers Make.” He had written the poem in response to a condescending lawyer who had asked him, “Be honest. What do you make?” The poem went viral on social media, and is the basis for this witty and inspiring book of the same name. Through a series of anecdotes and poems, Mali shares his experiences as a classroom teacher and helps to remind teachers why their job is so important.

‘Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Their Students by Their Brains’

This book by teacher-turned-author LouAnne Johnson considered by some educators as one of the most influential strategy guides even written for teachers. In it, Johnson, who is best known for her book My Posse Don’t Do Homework (renamed Dangerous Minds after it spawned the movie in 1995), shares her honest and effective methods for improving classroom management, engaging students, and advancing critical thinking.

‘Today I Made a Difference: A Collection of Inspirational Stories from America’s Top Educators’

This collection of stories, compiled by editor Joseph Underwood, serves to answer two essential questions: why teachers teach, and why they decided to make teaching a career, despite the low pay and long hours. The book is based on the real-life stories of all 28 of Disney’s 2004 Teacher of the Year Nominees, and will inspire new and experienced teachers alike with its honest, inspiring and refreshing look at the obstacles teachers overcome on a daily basis.

Taming the Anthill 

This is one of my favorite books on teaching elementary music.  Here's an excerpt from "Taming the Anthill" by Jean Spanko to give you some fun reading to do this summer.
Taming the Anthill, by Jean Spanko
If you've never read this book, you should.  If you have read it, read it again. It's been around for a while, but the experiences of this teacher who got thrown into Junior High General Music will speak to you, whether you're a brand new teacher, or have been teaching 30 years.
Click to Link to Canadian Site               Download Book from US SITE


I Heard That Before
Beethoven was a musical genius whose music touches our very souls. Yet eight out of ten junior high/ middle-schoolers will tell you that his music is boring. Why? The answer is complex, but it probably is influenced
by all the stuff muddling around in kids’ heads.
“I’ll bet everyone notices my nose.”
“I’ll just die if dad makes me get my hair cut.”
“I wonder if we’ll beat Hillside today?”
“I’m starved. Oh yuk, this is pizza-dog day.”
Some texts suggest making the initial presentation of a listening lesson an uninterrupted playing of the music. I did. I also referred a jabbing match, confiscated enough cosmetics to start my own discount store, and watched helplessly as The Flying Dutchman Overture lost to the fidgets. Bad idea.
It’s unfair to yell at your students for not listening properly if you don’t help them learn how to listen. Test yourself first. Play a recording of an unfamiliar piece in a style you are not terribly fond of. See how long you can sit perfectly still and concentrate. How long before your mind drifts and your body needs to move? Divide that by five and you’ll be close to the attention span of your students.



On the first day you plan to present a listening lesson, have some music playing at a moderate volume as the class comes in. Anything middle-of-the-road will do. You’ll hear a few questions or remarks, but play deaf. Later in the period, when you’re ready to begin the listening lesson, ask a few questions about the music.
“Did it have a synthesizer bass or an electric guitar bass?”
“Can you hum the melody?”
“What instruments were featured?”
Let them sweat for a few seconds then announce that they were listening correctly; they were listening casually. The music was just a background for whatever they chose to do--visit, get out books or look out the
window. Ask the class to give examples of situations in which they listen casually. (Talk on the phone, do homework, ride in the car, shop at the mall.) Does it matter what song plays on the radio as you have your teeth worked on? Not really. Casual listening is barely listening at all. It is more a sound blanket to make us feel OK.


“Can you think of some situations where the music is designed to get us in a specifi c mood or feeling?”
Answers may come a bit slowly, but before long your list will include TV shows, movies, dancing, skating, maybe even church! We may not know it, but we are listening more carefully to this kind of “mood” music. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t get the variety of feelings we do from these activities.
Now it’s time to ask:
“What are some of the things music can do to give us different feelings as we watch TV, dance or attend a church or temple service?” Make a list of the answers for later use. Don’t announce it, but make your list in categories such as tone color, dynamics and tempo. Demonstrate mood
listening/feeling/responding by playing a march. Tell students to “let your
fingers do the marching--on your desk, not on your neighbor, thank you.” After a half minute of this tell them, “Let an arm and a foot join in.” Then, “Let’s see if your whole body can follow the beat.” Lead a spirited single fi le march around the room. (Be prepared to escort the fi rst few students out of their seats.) As the march nears the end lead students back to their seats. Follow with a discussion about why this was good march music.


We can also listen to music to enjoy it all by itself. Just listen. (This will come as a revelation to a few.)
Listen to what?
Start simply, no Beethoven yet. Name a Top 40 song and ask the kids to write as many of the lyrics as they can remember. (Offer a plus to any kid who brings in the complete lyrics the next day.) Next, play the fi rst verse
and chorus of the song and watch the concentration as they scribble away!
Here’s another approach. Play an excerpt from Tomorrow from the musical Annie. Ask the kids to count the number of times “tomorrow” is sung.
“That’s not very musical,” you say. True. We’re taking it in very small steps. But look what’s next.
Play Tomorrow again. Ask students to draw the melodic contour of each “tomorrow” they hear. (Show them how.) When the excerpt is over, ask them which “tomorrows” have the same shape and which ones are
different. Ask if the difference was caused by the pitch or the rhythm or both. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Here are a few follow-up projects to go with your introduction of casual, mood and concentrated listening.


Carry a note pad around with you for one day. Make a list of every casual listening event that happens. Note the approximate length of each event.


Choose two events that will have mood music. Give examples of how the music helped you to have the specific feelings or moods you had.


Listen to two radio stations you do not usually listen to--fifteen minutes each. List the names of the stations, the names of the pieces and the style of each (country, gospel, classical, rock, pop or jazz, for example).
Give three reasons you think the pieces are in the styles you say they are.


• Make your first listening session thirty seconds long. Have students time it.
• Keep the focus on musical sounds. A little historical perspective goes a long way in junior high.
• Make the “pleasure connection.” Connect listening sessions to a recall of pleasant and familiar feelings
whenever possible:
“I heard one of those on MTV last night.”
“That bass line goes just like the one in . . . .”
“They play that on the TV-5 weather. What is it?”
“It sounds like Star Wars but not quite. What’s different?”
• Do a few selections in depth. A big attraction of pop music is its familiarity. If Sam listened to Mozart as often as he does Van Halen, Mozart wouldn’t sound a bit strange. Choose a few quality pieces and use them several times each, with differing focus. By the end of the term these selections will be settled in.
• Beware of overload. When the papers start rattling, the desks begin to squeak and the noise level crescendos, stop! Don’t preach your favorite sermon, just stop. Switch to some other activity and resolve to make the next listening lesson shorter and clearer.
• Avoid the rock versus classical debate like the plague. You’ll lose. When they’re ready, the debate is one of preference for and comparison between rock and classical (or gospel or country or anything).
• Troubleshoot your disasters. Be honest. Had it been a rotten day anyway? Were you fully prepared or did the class have a chance to get distracted while you hunted for the record or sent Jane dashing to the office to run off worksheets? Junior high/middle-schoolers are little noted for their unmerited respect of the teaching profession. If you ask for trouble, they’ll give it to you! You can fool some of the people some of the time, but never an anthill full of seventh or eighth graders


The next three chapters feature examples of concentrated listening preparation and listening projects focused on tone color, form, and style.
Download Taming the Ant Hill in Canada           USA - Taming the Ant Hill
What are you reading this summer - share your favorite books for music teachers at Musicplay Teachers Facebook Group!

Review, Request and Song Logs

Review and Request

The last week of school, I really enjoy doing review and request.
I ask the students to brainstorm a list of their favorite songs, singing games and activities from the school year.   If they forget what songs they've done, scroll through the song list at to help them remember --- or if you've kept a song log (see below) use the song log to help them remember all the songs/activities learned.
We write them on the whiteboard.  If I have enough classes left in the school year to be able to do all the songs/activities we can work through the list. 
If time is limited, you might have to do a poll to see how many want to do each song/activity.   I suggest having students close their eyes when voting so they aren’t influenced by their peers.   Say - “Hands up if this is your very favorite song.”  And remind them that they’re only supposed to have one favorite. Work through the list and you’ll have a good indication of what their favorite songs/activities through the year were.   And they can’t argue about the results because their eyes were closed.
EVEN BETTER - As children propose their favorite songs/activities go to and type the choices in the list.  Spin the wheel and it randomly selects a song.  No arguments or votes needed!

I’ve discovered by doing this that kids don’t remember songs we did back in September very well.  So review and request time is a really great review of the year's work.  It's also a really good way for you as the teacher to learn what your students really enjoyed, and it's an informal way to assess some of what they've learned in the year.
Each year is different - and I always get some surprises, like the Kindergarten class who's favorite song of the year was "Germs."  Who would have thought?

Song Logs

A song log can be a useful tool, for keeping track of all the songs that your students have learned.   It can help the teacher remember which songs the Grade 2s have learned, and if one class gets ahead or behind, it can help remind you of the songs they’ve missed.  If you have space to post a chart for each of your classes, you could do this as part of a bulletin board.  If you don’t have space, you could keep the song log on your class computer, project it to show the students and have them help enter the new songs as they have learned them.
This is the information that I like to have on the song log: 
Song Title
Where from?   The second column could include the country or continent that a song comes from or the composer if it’s a composed song.   
Purpose or context - tell why or where this song was used. 
Date - or month when you learned it.

I’ll make the song log available as a fillable form in the Musicplay Teacher’s Group on Facebook.

Review and Request Classes are FUN - share your ideas, photos and videos  at Musicplay Teachers Facebook Group!
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Campfire Songs

Lots of your students will spend some time in the summer camping.As the weather warms up and you’re thinking about summer, campfire songs make a nice unit.  In my view, campfire songs are songs that are familiar, that you may have sung at summer camp, and that are easy for all ages to sing along with.  There are lots and lots of songs at to use as campfire songs. And don't hesitate to use Kumbaya in K, with a Grade 3 class.  These songs are timeless and ageless.  
There are many songs in Musicplay that you could use as part of a campfire songs unit.  And it’s even better, if your students can accompany their singing on ukulele or guitars.
ALL of the songs in Musicplay are arranged for Ukulele and Guitar, so youdon’t have to go hunting for arrangements.
If you don’t subscribe to the online site, the Musicplay Ukulele/Guitar arrangements are available in print as well!
Make a fake campfire to add even more fun to your unit!


Musicplay K

6. You’ve Got to Sing
42. Kumbayah
77 Sailor Song
99 If You’re Happy
113 Michael Finnigan
150 Old MacDonald
152 Peanut Butter
157 Listen to the Water
165 A Boy and A Girl
174 She’ll be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain


Musicplay 1

11 Apples and Bananas
18 Ten in the Bed 1 chord F
26 Today is Monday
38 Goin on a Bear Hunt
42 Down by the Bay
62 Miss Lucy
67 Aikendrum
106 Five More Days till Vacation

Musicplay 2

3 Ridin’ that New River Train
9. I’ve been Working on the Railroad
19 I am a Fine Musician
31 Peace Like a River
35 On Top of Spaghetti
50 Boom Boom
53 Haul on the Bowlin’
59 The More We Get Together
61 Ham and Eggs
62 Cat Came Back
63 I’se the B’y
70 Ain’t Gonna Rain no More
81 Oh My Aunt Came Back
87 Row Row Row Your Boat
93 Swimming
94 Goin’ on a Picnic
98 Christopher McCracken

Musicplay 3

9 Rocky Mountain
25 Nothing But Peace
29 I’m an Acorn
51 Cindy
62 Austrian Went Yodelling
69 Old Blue
74 Alouette
77 I Love the Mountains
81 Waltzing Matilda
99 Feller From Fortune

Musicplay 4

2 Hey Lidee
3 This Little Light of Mine
6 Chester
30 Land of the Silver Birch
51 We’re on the Upward Trail
53 My Gal’s a Corker
59 Nobody Likes Me
60 Grandpa’s Whiskers
84 Flunky Jim
95 Camping Song

Musicplay 5

1 Mama Don’t Allow
26 He’s Got the Whole World
68 Click go the Shears
83 Drunken Sailor
84 Ship Titanic
87 Neath the Lilacs
91 Clementine
93 Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Musicplay 6

1 Barges
16 Fish and Chips
24 Oh My Darling
32 Hagdalena
39 Who Did
58 Hi Ho the Rattlin Bog
71 Gypsy Rover
78 She Waded in the Water
79 Corner Grocery Store
120 Home on the Range

Campfire Songs are FUN - share your ideas, photos and videos at Musicplay Teachers Facebook Group!
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Outside Games & Recorder Composition

Outside Music Classes

For those of you in the south, you've had nice weather for a while now.  But up north in Alberta, the last snowfall was May 5th.    After a long winter, when nice weather finally arrives everyone wants to be outside - students AND teachers.  
I really enjoy taking music class outside.  Singing games, especially chase games, are better played outside than inside.  Inside, you have to find ways of slowing down chase games, but outside you can let the kids run!

Singing Games - Chase Games in Musicplay

Lucy Locket
Mouse Mousie
Charlie Over the Ocean
Tisket a Tasket
Let Us Chase the Squirrel
Cut the Cake
Ickle Ockle
Our Old Sow
Hill Hill Come Over the Hill
Kye Kye Koolay
Turkey Lurkey
King’s Land
Frog in the Middle
I Like Turkey
Built My Lady
John the Rabbit

Frog in the Middle 

This is a seriously fun game!  And if your students are finding frogs outside, this is a great game for spring!

Game Directions: The children form a circle. Choose one child to be the frog in the middle. The “frog” stands with eyes shut and arms outstretched. While the children sing the song, the “frog” turns. At the end of the song, the two children closest to the frog’s hands step out of the circle and race in the same direction. The first one back to tag one of the frog’s hands, wins. 
Teaching Purpose/Suggestions: This song is great preparation for low la and low so.  Your students should be able to read the rhythms in the song. 


Ickle Ockle

Musicplay 5
Fun chase game - and so much more fun outside than inside.
Great reading song - ls m and ta, ti-ti
View the kids demo video at

Hill Hill

Musicplay 2
View the kids demo video at
We played the game outside because it's way more fun outside where you can run, than inside.
Teaching Purpose:  great reading song - so-mi, and introduces half notes.

Directions, music and kids demo movies for all the games are found at

All of these songs can be found in Musicplay and in the 

Singing Games Children Love Collection!


Volume 1 with lots of chase games

Volume 2 clap games, movement


Volume 3 games for K-3     


Volume 4 games for Gr. 3-6


Recorder Composition

30 recorder players composing at the same time could drive you crazy in the classroom. But outside, students can improvise and compose melodies in their own space and using the template in the Recorder Resource Kit, they will create compositions that are playable and musical.
Limit students to the rhythms ta, ti-ti, rest
Limit the notes the students can use to BAG or BAG E or BAG ED (depends on their playing ability) . If using BAG E they should end on G or E.  If BAG, end on G.
1.  Have students create a rhythm pattern under the hearts.  Check it.
2.  When rhythm is successful have them improvise melodies on that rhythm using the notes BAG or BAG ED.  When they have a melody they like, write the letters in.  They should then play their melody for you.  If it's successful, they should write the notes on the staff.
3.  Accompany melodies that end on G with a G-D bordun on a bass metallophone or xylophone.  Accompany melodies that end on E with an E-B bordun.

This is the template that I use for composition.  It's in the Recorder Resource Kit 1.  it's also in the files at Musicplay Teachers Group on Facebook.
This is an example of a 4th grade student composition - ends on E, so accompany with E-B bordun, sounds great!

Boomwhacker Composition

Divide your students into groups, give them pentatonic Boomwhackers and invite them to create a rhythmic composition with movement. (Melodic composition is possible, but takes longer) My students really enjoyed this and all groups were on-task, engaged, and successful. We did this for 2 periods, then groups performed for each other.  

Drumming or Bucket Drumming

I’ve been teaching bucket drumming in several elementary classes this month. It’s tons of fun, but would be fun to teach outside. You wouldn’t have the ability to project music to teach, so you’d have to plan to teach everything by rote.  More bucket drumming ideas will be coming to
Easy Bucket Drumming is an excellent resource.
order here

Playground Balls

Plainsies Clapsies

This is the best game ever with playground balls.  In the classroom, I use beanbags, but this game would be fun to try with playground balls.  Are you old enough to remember playing with playground balls in elementary school?
View the kids demo video at
This game is way easier to figure out from the kids demo than directions.
Great teaching piece:  ls m and ta, ti-ti
And kids LOVE it!!!



Skipping Rhymes in Singing Games Vol. 1

Had a Little Crate
On a Mountain
Miss Lucy
Oliver Twist
Skipping is another playground activity that might be lost unless music and PE teachers encourage it.  Miss Lucy and Oliver Twist are in Musicplay and are traditional skipping rhymes.


Outside Music Classes are FUN - share your ideas, photos and videos  at Musicplay Teachers Facebook Group!

Watch this week's teaching tip:

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