Preparing for a New Year in Choir

I’ve been laid up for the last 3 months since I had surgery on my ankle in early May.  I missed the last month of school, and was very restricted in movement.  So, when you’re sitting with nothing to do but ice and elevate your ankle, it’ a great time to start preparing for the new year!!

There are many things that need to be done to get ready for your extra-curricular elementary choir.  Here’s my To Do list of things you can plan and prepare for before the very first day of school.

I.  Plan your dates

It’s time to put your concerts on the calendar, contact community event coordinatorsMark-your-calendar-clipart-image-4 for performance opportunities, plan the days you will have rehearsals, and the days you will have auditions.

When you do this, make sure to send emails to administrators and other school personnel.  

Also, make sure your dates are put on your website so parents can see them anytime they check your website.


2.  Write (or Update) your Choir Handbook

Things that should be in your choir handbook:    

*   Mission Statement

*   Choir Uniform (including the cost, deadline for turning in the money)

*  Method of communication with parents.  Will it be  by email, phone calls, a newsletter or Remind?  Include how you want parents to communicate with you, for instance, your email address.

          *  Attendance Policy, including days of rehearsals.  In my choir, students who have missed 3 rehearsals without a medical excuse (email, note or phone call from parent) are removed from choir.

             *  Performance Policy.

          *  Late Pick-Up Policy.  If you have an after school choir, you don’t want to be hanging around for 30 – 90 minutes after the end of your rehearsal waiting for someone to pick up the child.  And yes, I have stayed over 90 minutes waiting on a parent.  I have a very strict policy that makes the students responsible for their pick up being on time.  If you are firm, it will reduce the days you have to stay very late.    I have removed students for being picked up late.

          *  Behavior Expectations and Consequences

Here is my Choir Handbook for 2016 – 2017:

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3.  Prepare/Print your Audition Forms

Here is the audition form I use:

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Google document

Also, plan how you will conduct your audition and how you will organize the auditions.  I have students sign up on a sign-up sheet in the hallway outside my classroom door.  They have several dates to choose from.

4.  Prepare Enrollment Forms

I require that all students have an enrollment form filled out by their parent before they can join.  Firstly, this insures that the parent knows the child is involved in the choir and approves.  It gives me phone numbers to call when the student hasn’t been picked up on time.  And it gives me email addresses for communication.  This year, instead of using a paper form, I decided to use a Google Form for parents to fill out online.

5.  T-shirt Order Form

If you haven’t chosen a uniform for your choir, now is the time to decide.  You will need to design the shirt and find a company that can produce it inexpensively for your students’ budgets.  If you don’t have a company, contact other choir teachers in your district for a recommendation.  

River Gate t shirtYou will also need to decide if you want years put on the t-shirt and if you want student names put on the t-shirt.  I decided not to put years or names on the shirt so the t-shirt can be worn year after year.  I change the design and color every 5 years.  I hope to make it economical to students to wear the 2 years they are in choir and then even hand it down to a younger sibling/cousin.

6.  Select Repertoire

What is your criterion for your concert program?  What is the level of difficulty that your students need to be singing?  What kinds of songs should be included?

Consider the following when choosing your repertoire:  

  • Do you have songs from other cultures?
  • Do you have any Art songs?
  • Do you have songs in other languages?
  • Do you have some upbeat/fun songs?
  • Is there a way to use a soloist in any of the songs?
  • Are there any A ‘Capella songs?
  • Are the songs well-composed?
  • Do you have any Folk Songs?
  • How many songs do you need for the program?
  • Can you learn these songs in the amount of time you have?

Here are some harmonic categories that you can use in the elementary choir:

  • Unison
    • A Cuckoo Flew Out of the Woods by Wayne Bisbee
    • All the Pretty Little Horses by Brian Finley
    • Ani Ma’amin by Paul Caldwell/Sean Ivory
    • Art Thou Troubled by Handel/Jean Ashworth Bartle
    • Bist Du Bei Mir by Bach/Jean Ashworth Barlte
    • Dormi, Dormi by Mary Goetze
    • Ferry Me Across the Water by Lyn Williams
    • Fidelia Omnia Mandata Ejus by Pergolesi/Tom Shelton
    • Hine Ma Tov by Betty Bertaux
    • I Know Where I’m Going by Earlene Rentz-Turner
    • I Never Ate A Cloud by Wayne Bisbee
    • Kyrie Eleison by Sonja Poorman
    • Little Birch Tree by Mary Goetze
    • Lullaby by Nancy Telfer
    • Path to the Moon by Eric Thiman
    • Pie Jesu by Tom Shelton
    • Song of the River by Mark Patterson
    • The Mending Song by Dan Kallman/Arnold Lobel
    • The Wind by Wayne Bisbee
    • This Little Light of Mine by Ken Berg
    • Two Grieg Children’s Songs Vol. 2 by Edvard Grieg/Darcy Morrisssey
  • Echo songs
    • Every Night When the Sun Goes In
    • Oh, Won’t You Sit Down 
    • Up Above My Head   
    • The Water is Wide 
    • This Old Hammer   
  • Call/Response
    • Goin’ Down to Cairo 
    • Sail Away, Ladies
    • Way Down Yonder in the Brickyard
    • Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  • Songs with Ostinatos or Descants
  • Partner Songs
    • Alabama Gal/All Around the Brickyard
    • Cindy/Liza Jane
    • Josey/Hurry Up Liza Jane
    • This Train/When the Saints Go Marching In
    • All Night All Day/Swing Low Sweet Chariot
    • Dixie/Yankee Doodle
    • Skip to My Lou/Rock-a-My-Soul
  • Rounds
    • A Ram Sam Sam
    • Ah, Poor Bird
    • Let’s Put the Rooster in the Stew
    • Now All the Woods are Waking
    • We’re on the Homeward Trail
    • Vine & Fig Tree
  • Two Part Songs  (Some songs on this list have a variety of harmonic compositions such as: echo songs, call/response, ostinatos, partner songs and rounds).
    • A Hope Carol by Tom Shelton
    • A La Nanita Nana by Ruth Elaine Schram
    • African Noel by Victor Johnson
    • Born, Born in Bethlehem by Donald Moore
    • Child of Tomorrow by Mark Patterson
    • Cuckoo by Benjamin Britten/Jane Taylor
    • Hold Fast Your Dreams by Louise Driscoll/David L. Brunne
    • Holy, Holy Night by Jean Anne Shafferman
    • Light the Menorah by Marti Lunn Lantz & Lois Brownsey
    • Manger Carols  by Gary Parks
    • On a Cold Christmas Day by Mary Donnelly & George L.O. Strid
    • Sahayta by Ben Allaway
    • Salangadou by Susan Brumfield/Henry Leck
    • Sarasponda by Ruth Boshkoff
    • Sleep, Little One by Mary Donnelly & George L.O. Strid
    • The Star by Mozart/Paul Carey
    • Yonder Come Day  by Judith Cook Tucker








An Approach to Ukuleles in the Elementary Classroom

I teach ukulele to my fifth grade students starting in January.  I only see my students once a week for 40 minutes, and I allot 15 minutes for ukulele in each lesson.  I purchased James Hill’s Ukulele in the Classroom Book1_cover(C6)my first year of teaching ukulele, but for the time I had with the students, it didn’t seem to give a big return on the investment.  I wanted the students to be able to play songs immediately.   The approach was to pick melodies on the ukulele.

After attending several workshops, including demonstrations by student groups, I decided to approach the ukulele by using chords.  Several books were suggested, not necessarily for the classroom but for improving personal playing. The Daily Ukulele and the companion book The Daily Ukulele Leap Year Edition.  These were great books to get me started developing my own personal ukulele skills.










Another tool for improving my skills was to join a Meetup.  I joined a local group of various skilled players and we meet once a month playing songs from the 2 Daily Ukulele books.

The next thing I decided to do was teach one chord at a time, starting with one chord songs.  This chart guided me in my decisions about adding each chord.

I started with one chord songs using the C chord, a simple one finger chord.  I use Google Slides and project them with the LCD projector.  Color coding each chord assists the students in the chord changes.  I color coded the C chord to be orange.  Here is my first song for my students.  Students are only strumming the beat.


The second chord I added was the G 7 chord (V7).  Now students can play quite a few 2 chord songs.   I color coded the G7 chord to be blue.   We practiced moving back and forth between C and G7 quite a bit before we started playing the songs.

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We would strum the C chord for 16 beats then switch to G7 for 16 beats.  Then we would switch at 12 beats, 8 beats, 4 beats, etc.  For younger classes that are having difficulties with the chord changes, you can divide the class in half and one side ONLY plays the C chord and the other half ONLY plays the G7 chord.   You can do the same to differentiate instruction, by giving a struggling student the responsibility for only playing one chord at the appropriate time.

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Other 2 chord songs (C & G7):

  • Clementine
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Skip to My Lou
  • There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

The next chord I added was the F chord.  Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.11.52 PM

2 chord songs (C & F)

  • Polly Wolly Doodle
  • Hold My Mule
  • A Ram Sam Sam
  • Kookaburra

The strum patterns are only introduced after the students can change chords strumming only the beat.  For some students, this will be easy and many times they will experiment on their own a few strums.

After practicing moving from the C to F, it was time to try three chord songs  C, F, and G7.  (I, IV, V7)  This opens up so MANY songs to the students!!!

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.18.04 PM 3 chord songs (C, F, G7)

  • O Susanna
  • Jingle Bells
  • Oh When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Lavender’s Blue

I next added the G chord.

2 chord songs (C & G):  There Ain’t No Bugs on Me

3 chord songs (C, F & G): Down By the Riverside

There are so many songs that can be added to these lists – so get started!!!


Buying Ukuleles for the Classroom

So, you’re going to teach ukulele to your class.  The first step is to purchase the ukuleles.  It is best to get a class set, but sometimes that has to be done bit by bit.  It took me several years of financial finegling, using a combination of grants, PTA contributions and fundraising.    


If you haven’t used Donors Choose yet, here is an excellent project to get you started.  Once you set up your account, look at others music teacher projects, especially those seeking to fund ukuleles.  Then get started on writing your grant.  If you are a beginner at Donors Choose, here is a video to get you started.  (It is a little lengthy.)    Donors Choose Tutorial

The next question is:   What brand of ukulele?  

ukulele.pngThis is one brand that a lot of teachers purchase, and it is offered through Donors Choose.  

Rogue Ukulele Starter Pack – 10 Pack Standard

It isn’t my favorite because of the tuning pegs.  The tuning slips a lot and you will need to tighten the pegs with a screwdriver.  

Another brand that teachers use is the:         

Kala Makala Soprano Ukulele Standard     

I like this one because of the geared tuners.    Another brand I have in my classroom is the Diamond Head.

Now, as the teacher, you are going to want something a little larger than a soprano, for the comfort of your fingers.  My own personal ukulele is:

Kala KA-C Concert Satin Mahogany Ukulele w/10mm Padded Gig Bag and Tuner

I like the concert ukulele as it has a richer tone and has a larger fretboard/neck.

71leQlY05VL._SL1500_You will also need to purchase tuners for your ukuleles.  I have purchased about 5 – 10 tuners for the classroom.  The only students that I allow to tune the ukulele are a small group (my Ukulele Club) that comes in once a week before school.  They only tune the instrument they are using.  

Snark is a great brand for tuners. 


Where do I put it all? (Instrument Storage)

One of the best pieces of advice I got in a workshop by Tom Michalek concerning instruments was “out of sight, out of mind”.  Meaning, if you couldn’t see the instrument, it was unlikely to be used in the class.  I found that to be very true.  I took that as a challenge to make sure that I could see all of the instruments and that they were easily accessible to my students and me.

I found it was also important that students could access the instruments themselves and be able to pass them out and put them away.  For hanging instruments on the wall, I use Command 3M hooks.

The next thing that needed storage were the small rhythm instruments.  I really searched different storage options, and my favorite was the Sterilite Modular Drawers.  They come in different sizes, so you can purchase the size you need.  I got these at Walmart.  They are stackable, so I can take an entire unit and move it around, or just pull the drawer out.


One instrument that I wanted to use more in the classroom was the autoharp.  I have four, but no way to store them.  I asked my husband to make a stand for the autoharps to sit on the counter.  It’s very similar to how one would store pot lids.  He used a wooden board and dowel rods.  I keep the autoharps covered up to keep little fingers and dust off of them.  I also tuck the felt picks behind the autoharps on the wood base, and they’re available whenever I pick up an autoharp.

Most of the students in my classes own their recorders and bring them to music class.  Occasionally a student will forget their recorder and need to borrow one for class.  I have a set of classroom recorders that don’t leave the classroom.  I spray painted the bottom half of those recorders with gold spray paint to identify them as classroom recorders.  This helps students to remember when they accidentally walk out with the recorder.  I soak them in my classroom sink with dish soap and hot water and then wash them with Lysol wipes and dry them on the rack my husband made for me.

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The next instrument I needed storage for was the class set of ukuleles.  I found it was easier to not store them in the cases, so they could easily be passed out.  My husband didn’t have time to make storage for me on this project, so I used materials that I could handle.

I purchased a drying rack (from Walmart), pipe insulation (from the hardware store), and fabric.  The pipe insulation is already cut lengthwise so that it will fit around the rods.  I only had to cut them the width of each rod.

Then I sewed pocket rods to make slings for the ukuleles.  It is important that the slings are taut.

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The ukulele cart is not sturdy enough to be moved around the room, so I ended up storing it in my closet.  A few students stand at the cart and hand the ukuleles to students as they come up to get them.

iDoceo Music Classroom

What do you do with your first snow day of the year?  BLOG!!!

Last year all of the teachers in my district were given an iPad.  Music teachers were some of the last teachers to get the iPads, so we were a little behind the other teachers who had more experience.  But we’re quickly catching up.  

So far, my experience has been using the iPad for classroom management.  There are iPad carts available to check out, but I have so much to cover in my curriculum that I haven’t found time to add the iPads.

I want to share one of my favorite apps.  I’ve tried several teacher apps before I found iDoceo (pronounced “I  doh key  oh).  Here are the ways I use iDoceo in the elementary general music classroom.

  1.  Schedule

So at the beginning of the year, this is what my schedule looked like.  I color code my grade levels.  Notice there is a red line halfway down the page.  That line shows you the actual time  – what class you should be teaching.  It’s helpful in letting me know when a class is supposed to start and end, as it is lined up on the schedule.  

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After the first nine weeks of school, another teacher was added to the special area rotation and everyone’s schedules got changed.  I simply swiped my finger over and created a new calendar. (Notice the name at the top says “new schedule”.) Another special thing about this calendar is that when I tap on any of those classes, it sends me over to that class.


2.  Gradebook

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 11.47.41 AMSo, once you tap the class name in the schedule, it sends you to that actual class gradebook.  We access our class lists through Power School Home Base.  It is very easy to import your class lists, so you aren’t sitting there typing in 600 + names.     Here is what my attendance page looks like.   I take pictures of my students  at the beginning of the year.  Those pictures are in both the gradebook and the seating chart.

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When you click on the students’ name, this screen comes up.  (I left it blank for this demo).  You can add in the information as time permits or it becomes important to have.  Depending on how you do your import, some of this information might be imported in without any modifications.   In the group name, you can actually divide your class into groups, and then that group name can be sorted.  When you have the students’ birthday in the info page, their name will pop up on your “reminder” page on their actual birthday.

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If you keep scrolling to the bottom of the info sheet, there are actually places to put in their accomodations, for IEPs, 504s and health needs.  

Because I teach so many students with varying issues, I use icons that are visible whether I’m looking at the Gradebook or the Seating Chart.  There are a large amount of icons that I can select and assign.  I use an eye icon for the student that needs to be close to the board, a medication icon for a student who is ADHD, a nose icon for a student with allergies, etc.

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3.  Seating Chart

One of my favorite thing about iDoceo is the seating chart.  If you touch one of the students, you can drag them to a new spot easily.  You can make your own arrangement of rows or even a circle.  When it’s time to give a whole new seating, click at the top where it says “1 Seating” and you can make your next seating chart under “2 Seating”.  It gives you up to 6 seating options. You can also print off your seating chart for a sub, and she’ll also have the pictures of the student’s faces.

seating chart 2.pngColor can be used as the background for each student.  In this case, I chose blue for boys and pink for girls.  In my choir seating chart, I have my 4th grade students with a purple background and my fifth grade students with a blue background.  Usually my seating charts have a white background for each child and then I use color to alert me to something, like maybe a behavioral problem.

4.  Tabs on the Gradebook

So this is a feature I really started to use this year.  Think about anything you keep in a notebook or piece of paper – and now put it in iDoceo instead.  I kept a paper for each of my classes for their Recorder Karate belt testing – but now I keep in iDoceo.  Remember, color is easy to use in iDoceo.  On the side of the Gradebook are tabs.  The names in the Gradebook stay the same, but it’s like turning to a new page in the Gradebook.  You get to choose the color of the tab and you get to label each tab.  You can even set up the entire page and then copy the tab to another class, to alleviate having to do it over for each class. Here’s what my Recorder Karate Level One looks like.

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5.  Keeping notes on the Pinboard

Sometimes there are just little sticky notes you would put in your Gradebook.  At the far right of the top menu is a Pinboard.  I create sticky notes of things I need to remember.  For instance, a list of students who received a scholarship recorder, a list of students who still need to pay for their choir t-shirts, etc.  You can edit the sticky notes as needed and delete them when finished.

6.  Things I didn’t mention

I didn’t address keeping grade, which you would do using the tabs on the side.  I keep a tab for melodic grades, singing grades, rhythmic grades, etc.  At the bottom of each column you can set it to show you the average grade.  There is also a great feature called Random Chooser.  My students know that when choosing a student to do something, I will click random chooser.  You can also share an entire class with another teacher who also has iDoceo.  There are so many features I didn’t cover, but I hope I covered enough to get a music teacher started making their life paperless.

More Bulletin Boards

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but here are some of my newest bulletin boards.  Many of them are exact duplicates from those I’ve found on Pinterest, and some of them are inspired from other’s bulletin boards.

I have a very large bulletin board, so I have a lot of space to cover.

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I had a few students write why music was important to them.  They filled out small sections of colored sentence strips.




These last 2 photos are from my classroom neighbors, art teachers Jessica Weinlein and Anita McGee.  They were so beautiful that I wanted to share their bulletin boards.


Sharing Accomplishments with Parents

Bulletin boards (in the hallways) at my school are designated to highlight classroom work of the students.  Since music class is a performance oriented class, it’s difficult to share on a bulletin board.

yamaha pocketrak pr7I use my website as a means to share the progress my students are making in the classroom.  When students have done an exceptional job at singing artistically or with great care, I record them with the Yamaha Pocketrak  PR7 digital recorder.

Students sing a song over several weeks.  When I start to hear refinement in pitch matching, balance/blend, and artistry, I motivate the students by telling them we’re almost ready to record.  At this point, I explain the difference between a soprano recorder and a digital recorder.

Students get to hear other classes on the same grade level sing the same song they’re singing.  After they record, I plug the USB extension of the digital recorder directly into the computer so they can hear themselves sing.  Many times they comment on hearing a certain voice over the others.  This allows them the opportIMG_3108unity to critique their singing.

 As students exit the room, they are given a small slip of paper with my wiki address, to share with their parents at home.  I encourage them to share with other special family members, such as grandparents.  This lets parents stay in touch with some of the music we are singing in the classroom, and to hear some of the songs their children are singing in the home after learning in music class.  The address uses a URL shortener to make is easier for parents to