Rhythm Impostor

I have been very happy to use Mr. Jay’s Music Room Rhythm Impostor resources over the past few weeks. It definitely is pop culture (though the popularity of Among Us is fading), but it has students decoding rhythm in a fun way.

While I am mostly happy about the resources, which are free, the rhythms seem to fade in at times and I even have a hard time discerning if a rhythm is correct.

Today I created my own (first) Rhythm Impostor game, figuring out what sounds to use, what fonts to use (I went for the same font through the entire video), and how to make things different. All of the video work is done with Luma Fusion (iPad App) and I had a very fulfilling time figuring out how to do things such as making the characters spin or having text emerge from the right hand side of the screen (Titles in Luma Fusion don’t work that way).

Once you have figured out how to create the video, making subsequent videos will take a fraction of the time.

If you want to use this, there is a link in the video that will take you to a PDF Checklist that students can use. This can be printed, but it is even better in a Classroom Management System such as Seesaw or Showbie (I’m not sure how Schoology handles writing on a PDF, as I haven’t used it for two years).

This resource is absolutely applicable for students in grades 3-12, provided that they have learned the “syncopa” rhythm (eighth-quarter-eighth).

There are some other great resources I have come across this year that I will share in future posts. They make music class incredibly fun, even in a year that we can’t really sing or make much music.


Week 1 of Elementary

Well, I’ve just finished week one of my role as an elementary music specialist. I’m already starting to get an idea of what is going to work for me and what I need to do to structure my lessons. I’m not sure if this is usual, but our district doesn’t have a specific curriculum–only a scope and sequence (itself based on a curriculum we no longer use), and the curriculum I have available is from 2000.

Additionally, I am attempting to weave in Feierabend’s “First Steps in Music,” primarily in Grades K-2 (no pun intended) and to start Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method (MUCH more slowly) with 4th and 5th grade.

What is working so far is just singing…the main song we’ve learned is a theme song shown my Stephanie Leavell (musicforkiddos.com) entitled, “Hey, Hey, It’s Time for Music.” We’ll sing this every day the whole year as an introduction to class–and this week I’ll be recording some classes and dropping the video of the song on SeeSaw, which is now used by our district in grades K-5 (grades 6-12 use Schoology). 4th and 5th grade are DEVOURING the “forbidden pattern game” (S-Cubed), and I’m trying to find my own balance as as teacher. I see twenty different classes twice a week for thirty minutes each class, and travel four days of the week to teach one class in another school. I have seven different preps…K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…and combined K/1 classes in the other school.

There have only been a couple of challenging students so far–and even those are no worse than what I’ve faced for six years at a tough middle school position. It is quite a joy to work with ALL the students (almost all of them are in band or orchestra by choice in 5th grade). The toughest aspects is planning–sorting out what I want and need to do between the dated curriculum that I have, the First Steps, and anything else.

As I use technology in music education, a lot of my prep time is spent preparing music for a projector screen (I don’t want to use books). I’m also using some videos as brain breaks, but I also need to find videos to allow students to settle down again in an enjoyable way. I also plan to use apps as appropriate. My other goal is to find lots and lots of songs for my K and 1 classes to sing.

My goal is to get 3rd grade going with recorder this year; start 4th grade on recorder; and to get 5th grade going on ukulele. We also have a keyboard lab, which I’ll probably use with grades 4 & 5…again, there’s no specific guideline about what needs to be taught on what instruments, other than a scope and sequence which is based on a curriculum we no longer use.

So…it’s a good start to the year, but very, very different for me. I hope you’re having a great start to your school year, too!

A Colleague’s Post on Midnight Music

One of the (excellent/strong/trustworthy) voices in the world of Technology in Music Education is Katie Wardrobe, an Australian who is an expert in the field.  Katie can teach just about any aspect of technology for music education at any level.  Katie’s website is http://midnightmusic.com.au and one of the recent things Katie has done is to open her blog up to other educators to submit articles.

One of my colleagues in my school district, Mallory Martin, recently had an article about “flipping the music classroom” published at Midnight Music.  Please visit and support Midnight Music, and also visit Mallory’s website: https://mrsmartinsmusicroom.wordpress.com.

Note Rush (Audio-Sensing Note Game)

I was recently contacted by the developer of a new app in the App Store (released in June) called Note Rush.  The app “gameifies” music reading by detecting the sound of an instrument versus the pitch showed on the screen.  It is a universal app on both iPhone and iPad.

Note Rush features three skins (ladybug, space, and soccer) and fifteen levels (five for treble clef, five for treble and bass clef, and five for bass clef).  The app first asks you to play middle c, which establishes middle c for the instrument.  In other words, if you have clarinet, it will SEE c, but play B-flat.  This allows the program to painlessly take care of transposing instruments.  Then notes come across the screen, and you play those notes.  Depending on your speed (the goal is displayed), you earn stars for your effort.

(The three skins of Note Rush)

The app will eventually allow you to set your own parameters for your own levels, and may possibly allow users to share self-created levels with other users.

I pulled out my ukulele, and was able to work successfully through levels 1-3 on the Treble Clef area.  I couldn’t go any further, as the 4th level required G below middle C.  The program worked perfectly with my ukulele.

Five levels with three settings, “custom” coming soon

The levels are geared towards pianists first, with the intent to move along rather quickly.  This may not work with your instrument or how you would want to teach instruments, so the coming ability to create your own levels or to customize the game will be much appreciated.  For example, I would want to make levels for ukulele using String 3 (C & D), then String 2 (E, F, an G), then Strings 2 & 3.  If you are teaching beginner band, you might want to make different tests for different instruments.

In summary, Note Rush is attractive and innovative in its approach to transposing instruments (you don’t have to choose an instrument).  It will truly show its value for music educators in the near future when you are able to design your own challenges.  There are other apps that share the ability to assess played pitch versus printed pitch for various instruments with customized settings, such as Staff Wars Live, another app I recommend.  However, Staff Wars Live only has one theme, whereas Note Rush has three skins, and Note Rush has the famous “three star” gameification which our students have been trained to crave through popular games such as Angry Birds.  The app is currently (September 2016) priced at $3.99, and when customized exercises are available, will be very much worth that price.  Just remember that the ability to customize levels is not yet available (again, as of September 2016).

Thank you to Note Rush for a promo code, and as a reminder, when you purchase an app from a referral link, a percentage of the purchase comes back to the author out of Apple’s 30% of the sale price–the developer continues to receive their full portion of the app purchase price.

Technology Resources for Ukulele

54 ukuleles hung on the wall, ready to be used

As my ukulele launch in my middle school choir program draws near (either February 5th or 8th), I have been preparing for that launch. I am choosing to create my own method of teaching ukulele rather than to follow existing methods (e.g. Hal Leonard and Alfred). That said, I do have an eye on those methods as I plan.

While I am preparing, I am finding a ton of digital resources for the ukulele. Here are just a few:

Tuner: Kala Brand Tuner (FREE-created for one of the major manufacturers of all levels of ukulele)

Kala Brand Tuner App on iPad

Creating Ukulele Music: Notion (The most developed music notation app for iOS. For ukulele, creates notes and tablature–does not offer the ability to include chord diagrams for ukulele)

Self-Made Chord Charts: Chord Tunes (Creates lyrics and chords, plus ukulele chord diagrams)

Chords/Fingerings/Tuner: Guitar Toolkit (Guitar Toolkit covers many string instruments)

Ukeoke: Basically the Four Chords app for ukulele (monthly fee)

Futulele: An iPad ukulele app, ideally to be used by students that need accessibility features–thanks to Beth Jahn for the suggestion)

iBooks: There is a lot of ukulele literature on the iBooks Store–for less than what you can buy it in print. Here are just a few titles that are available:

Assessment: I will test most skills in class, but realize that some students will be afraid to test in person. Therefore, we have a few ukuleles to check out overnight. Students can take them home and make a video of themselves (using the stock Camera app) playing the required testing material, and submit the video to me via Showbie. I also use Showbie to create rubrics–allowing me to assess each student–and Showbie's new grading feature allows me to quickly transfer grades from Showbie to our school's student information system.

Web Resources: While there are a TON of ukulele websites out there, I recommend the following sites:

And finally, Amazon. I love music stores–but there are times that the added overhead of a music store cannot be tolerated in the cost of a program. In our case, our entire set of 58 ukuleles (55 to be used in class, 3 to be sent home for practice/performance tests) were purchased from Amazon for under $2000–including setting up a ukulele hanging system with 2x4s and tool hooks. Unfortunately, if we had purchased these through a local vendor, the cost would have been well over $2000. Our ukuleles, Mahalo MK1s are throw-away models if anything serious happens (other than replacing strings). It would be a different situation if we had more expensive ukuleles that would warrant the need for repairs. As a side note, the MK1s do eventually settle into their tuning–and I go through and tune each of the instruments once each day. The instruments I purchased in Novemeber are nearly always in tune. That is a relief–58 continually out-of-tune ukuleles would be a nightmare.

We actually bought 68 ukuleles, as we gave parents the ability to send some extra money to buy their students a ukulele to keep. 10 families bought a ukulele for home. In total, the booster program purchased 28 of the instruments, and parents donated money for 30 of them. Not a cent of this program is on the common tax payer.

I have found out that Amazon's prices fluctuate wildly–the majority of our ukuleles were purchased around $25 each when they were backordered, but the instruments are now $37 each.

This morning, I purchased 2 additional instruments from Amazon: A Caramel (a Chinese brand) Concert and a Caramel Tenor for $75, shipped. I want to give these inexpensive larger instruments a try. It will be nice to have a concert and tenor on hand at school–and also for students that might struggle with the small soprano (thinking about some of the giant 8th grade boys) to try. If the Caramel instruments are any good–I'll certainly blog about them.

I also recently learned that D'Adarrio Ukuele strings are made by Aquilla (considered to be one of the best kinds of ukulele string), so it might be worth buying D'Addario for the savings over Aquilla.

The shift to ukulele is shocking to me–I grew up in the era of Tiny Tim, where the ukulele was a joke to our culture. My training in music education didn't spend one second talking about ukuleles–at any level of my education (K-12, college, or grad school). It appears that the ukulele is as common in many other countries as recorder and guitar are in the United States (although guitar programs are relatively few in number compared to Band, Choir, and Orchestra at the secondary level).

All I can say is this–I have fallen in love with the instrument, and I spend more than an hour each day playing and singing. It has resparked my love of music, and for that I am thankful. I now own two ukuleles (a Makala Concert, and a Kala Banjo Ukulele). There is a good chance that I will be adding a tenor ukulele (or two) to the stable in the near future. We also bought our boys a MK1 Mahalo, with the idea that they will leave my ukuleles alone (they are). When I tune my ukulele, my three year old runs up to me and asks me to tune his, too.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, our integration with the ukulele is right around the corner. I am excited to bring this experience to our students, and to get them singing and reading music in a sneaky way. The possibilities are endless–we'll see what happens!