Category Archives: Pedagogy

Slowing Down/Speeding Up YouTube Videos on iPhone or iPad

On our podcast Paul Shimmons and I were discussing the ability to speed up or slow down videos, protecting pitch while doing so. Paul let me know that this was not possible on mobile YouTube. So what is an iPhone or iPad user supposed to do?

The answer comes from another of my "key" apps, iCab Mobile, which is a $2 browser. I don't want to talk about this on the open web (e-mail me) but there is a single feature that iCab Mobile is instantly worth $2 for. The ability to adjust speed is a bonus.

While watching a video in YouTube IN iCab Mobile (you may need to delete the official YouTube app), touch the "puzzle" icon (modules). Go to the Video Playback Rate module. Choose your video rate. It works perfectly in YouTube, but does not work when a video is embedded in a website (Open the video in YouTube). And if a video is downloaded in iCab Mobile, the Video Playback Rate feature also works.

I have not been able to get the module to work with other services, such as Vimeo.

Considering that YouTube does not allow for this feature on mobile devices, this is a wonderful tool, and a way to get desktop functionality on your mobile device.


Slowing Down/Speeding Up YouTube Videos

I am starting to work on a wickedly hard ukulele play along (I'm not saying what it is yet), and I realize that even the best players are going to need to stop and take a look at some of the chord before being successful. Most elementary programs will not be able to tackle this song (on ukulele), but that's okay…their teacher can play it, or a few of the ukulele superstars can work on it at home.

But here's the question: how can you slow down a YouTube video and maintain the pitch? Or, how can you speed up a YouTube video and maintain the pitch?

You can save a video, open it in iMovie, and alter the speed, saving the pitch.

But if you don't want to do all that…YouTube has speed controls with "preserve pitch" built in. Perhaps you knew that already. I did not. I figure that if I don't know something, there is a chance that others do not as well.

As a warning, this would mean that you would need to open the video in YouTube, having internet access, and you may want to prepare ahead of time with a service such as that does not show all of the other YouTube "clutter." (And yes, your class will react if they see something on a video sidebar that isn't appropriate). In fact, it might be smart to share ALL YouTube links as links in school settings (regardless of the age of the student).

How do you slow down or speed up a video (this also works on

Step 1: Click the "gear" in the lower right hand corner of the screen.

Step 2: Choose the "Speed Option"

Step 3: Choose the speed of your choice

Step 4: Restart the video (movie the Play head back to the beginning…don't reload the website)

Can you believe how easy that is? A few of the music teachers that have been making these videos have been doing so with multiple speed formats, which may be helpful if they are trying to download the files locally to use in a presentation (See note below). However…every person watching a YouTube video can take advantage of this feature for any reason. I can see a number of musical reasons to use this feature–ukulele just brought it to my attention.

Note: I always encourage presenters, such as at music conventions, to make sure that all of their media is on their device and embedded in a presentation. Never rely on wi-fi at a convention–you have been warned!

This post will also be available on

S-Cubed: A New Approach to Sight Singing

Raise your hand if you have figured out how to teach your students to sight sing. If you are a band or orchestra teacher, don't consider yourself out of this discussion. My high school band teacher was also a singer, and his philosophy was, “If you can sing it, you can play it.” In a perfect world, band and orchestra kids would learn how to sight sing, too, as a part of total musicianship (this is why you had to take sight singing and ear training in college).

But here's the problem with sight singing: there is a disconnect between how we sight sing, and then how we actually learn music. Teachers that “teach” sight singing do so as a disconnected exercise from any other part of the rehearsal. I have been guilty of this, too. Over my years as a teacher, I had mixed commitments to teaching sight singing until a professor on my doctoral committee asked, “What are you doing to teach music literacy in the form of sight singing, dictation, and composition.” At the time, I wasn't doing very much, and my committment changed. Since that time, sight singing has been a part of what I focus on.

I have tried a number of approaches, including reading off the board (my preferred method, as all eyes are up and you can see who isn't participating), using exercises from Melodia, Bruce Phelps Sight Reading Method, and 90 Days to Better Sight Reading, using SmartMusic as a class, and even teaching complete songs via solfége. At best, kids tolerated my efforts, at worst they hated them.

This past fall, I had the chance to work with a Minnesota school district that had adopted a 1:1 Chromebook initative and wanted an outsider's perspective on how those devices could be used and what other resources could be used. In that process, the middle school choir director talked about S-Cubed, a sight singing method devised by Dale Duncan, and how that methodology was not only working with her students, but also helped with discipline in her classes.

Knowing my situation (see my last two posts), I figured it was worth a try. Dale offers the S-Cubed series on “Teachers Pay Teachers” and occasionally offers sale prices. I bought his entire series, and waited for a time in the year to begin working with it. I need to let you know that I am not receiving any financial compensation for mentioning S-Cubed. I am mentioning it because it works.

When you buy S-Cubed, you receive files of all the various PowerPoint lessons Dale has created to teach sight singing. Dale has created many (short) YouTube videos demonstrating how to teach concepts and sharing additional thoughts. He currently works in Georgia where sight singing is still a part of the adjudication of choral contests. His choirs “kick butt” in this process every year. After years of struggling with teaching sight singing, Dale observed other teachers and came up with a process that worked for him, and he is now offering his process to other teachers.

When you see Dale on his YouTube videos, you may be tempted to think, “I'm not Dale. This isn't going to work for me.” What I am sure that Dale would tell you is the same thing I have said to my student teachers–if you try to be me, you are going to fail. To succeed in this job, you have to know who YOU are and to be true to yourself, working through your strengths and learning how to cope with your weaknesses. If you buy S-Cubed, you have to present it AS YOURSELF, and not as Dale. If you do this, it will work for you.

At the core of Dale's process are two things: gameification and technology. He uses available technology (in his case, an Interactive White Board and PowerPoint), and we all know how students (heck, even adults) love playing games. Sight reading is turned into a game (at first), which leads to a systematic process that enables students to sight read without hating the process. In the process, classroom management also becomes easier.

I began using S-Cubed in March, as we have taken a period off mid-year to work on other non-singing projets (composition). Over the past 3 months, we have covered the first five lessons of S-Cubed, while there are 27 complete lessons. I have personally worked through Lesson 6, but even so, I have only used 1/3 of a year's worth of lessons with my class (remember, my classes are on an A/B format, whereas Dale's classes are open enrollment but meet daily).

I don't want to get into the specifics of what you do in each lesson, as Dale's process walks you through every step of the journey, and truthfully, the man deserves to be paid for what he has developed. What I can tell you is that S-Cubed is working, and I can't wait to start my 6th Grade students on Lesson 1, and to pick up with Lesson 6 with my 7th and 8th grade students next year.

Athough Dale includes PowerPoints (which also act as your manual) for each day (there are several days in each lesson), I have been re-creating content to use on my mirrored iPad screen with Keynote. I like to use Keynote's “laser pointer” as I walk students through the tasks which keeps me from signing (yes, signing) with them as many students used to watch me as I signed solfége instead of watching the projected screen. I also like to use APS Tuning Trainer to help my students develop sensitivity to pitch. And I like to use other resouces for quizzes, such as Google Forms (and perhaps Schoology in the future) for assessments (instant grading). I am placing a lot of hope in PracticeFirst next year (at $6 per student) to assess student sight singing as well. I might also have students record themselves on video (we shall see).

What you are going to see with S-Cubed is a systematic approach that exposes kids to solfége names and hand symbols, and then gradually puts those names and hand symbols INTO THE MUSIC. The hand symbols won't be “just” for elementary music teachers with a Kodály background any more. And if you do have elementary teachers that teach with the Kodály hand symbols, let them know you are continuing the work.

Here's the deal…this system is worth its weight in gold, and could be EASILY modified for elementary school or high school (if you choose this method, your high schools would be foolish not to continue using it), or for band/orchestra as well. The complete first method is currently selling for $150, but there are occasionally some sales, and there is no guarantee that prices won't go up, either. You can also buy individual lessons or smaller lesson packs if you don't want to commit to the entire series. Or you can download the free pack just to find out more about the method. Dale also blogs at, and is in the process of developing S-Cubed year 2.

In closing, one of my major tools during the second half of the year has been S-Cubed. Kids buy into it, even stoic 8th grade students that are “too cool.” if you start this at the beginning of the year, your kids will be sight reading before you know it, and you will have massively changed the climate in your program.

Using iPads and NotateMe for dictation

Many years ago, when I was completing my doctorate, one of the professors at my (first) oral examination asked me, “What are you doing with your choirs for sight-reading?”  I have always taught sight-reading in some form or another (currently, I use the iPad, as we do one exercise each day from “Sing at First Sight” via SmartMusic as a class), so it was very easy to answer that question.  Then the professor said, “Great.  Now how are you teaching dictation?”

I wasn’t.  I think very few of us do.

I liked the challenge of dictation at the college level, although it wasn’t a skill I (or seemingly any other student, other than the kid with perfect pitch) was good at.  But dictating melodies or harmonic progressions is not something I generally consider to be a “good time.”

With that question from the professor, I decided to start including dictation with my choirs, and I have continued to do so over the years at the high school level.  Sometimes as much as two times per week, students would take out staff paper (thank goodness for online PDF staff paper sources, such as this site) and I would write out the clef, key, and time signature as well as the first note of an exercise for my choirs to dictate.  Then I would play the exercise they were supposed to dictate.  Sometimes I would plan this well in advance with Finale, creating JPGs (and even playing the example they were dictating via Finale), and other times, I would just write the exercise on a lined staff board.

We certainly didn’t do dictation all the time, but I don’t think there has been a class since that first oral examination where my choirs haven’t been exposed to dictation (rhythmic or melodic).

Well, I’m teaching middle school now.  Can these kids learn dictation?

Yes.  And the iPad can help.

Using the app NotateMe (the full version), I created a “start” page, using the red pen tool to make notes about what the students would do:

NotateMe Now Dictation 1 Start

Students took out their iPads and went to NotateMe Now (free version).  Then I played the full example over and over again as kids worked through writing down what they heard.  I also asked some leading questions:

  • There are 88 keys on the piano, or 88 different pitches.  How many different pitches do you hear?
  • Not only are there different pitches, but there are a total number of notes I am playing for this exercise.  How many different notes am I playing over these two measures?
  • You can see that we are using a quarter note, and there are no rests.  What other kinds of rhythmic notes are present in this exercise?

Afterwards, I put the answer up on the screen.

NotateMe Now Dictation 1 Answer

Now, this is a REALLY easy dictation exercise, but most of us dress with our underwear before putting on our pants (unless you are Superman, and if that is the case, why are you wasting time with this blog?).  I strongly believe in giving students credit for TRYING to get the dictation right, rather than for being right or wrong.  If they are wrong, I encourage them to look at the answer and to ask themselves, “Why did I do this wrong?,” rather than to simply just say, “Oh well,” and move on.

Some common mistakes:

  • Students didn’t start on the right first pitch, even though it was given to them.
  • Students fail to draw the ledger line equidistant to the other lines of the staff.
  • Students draw noteheads that are too large, causing NotateMe Now to interpret individual notes as chords.
  • Students put all 8 beats in one measure.
  • Even though I reiterated that we were using stepwise or same pitch motion (like our sight reading), many students jumped more than a step on the penultimate note.

All in all, however, this went incredibly well.  A handful of students did not attempt the exercise and did not get credit (these are the same students who do nothing else in choir, which is only a forced elective for them), but otherwise kids bought in to the experience.  Middle school kids who normally freaked out every time we did something new actually just went along with the new thing without panicking.  Either they are getting used to me and the way I do things, or they are becoming numb to change due to our never-ending Minnesotan winter (seriously–three to six more inches of snow last night.  Two years ago, my son was born on March 15th when it was 80 degrees outside).

We’ll be doing dictation once every five days in our choirs, meaning once every two weeks.

NotateMe Now makes this process much easier…there is no paper to lose or tear, every kid has their iPad, and the app gives them some feedback if they do something wrong (such as too many beats in a measure).  As a teacher, you do need the full version of NotateMe (referral link) to be able to use the red pen.

One final thought: apps/programs (I particularly think of ScoreCloud) will make notation (even key/tempo/time signature) out of recorded audio…so in some ways technology will make the skill of dictation less critical than it was (and if so few of us teach dictation in our classes, is the skill that critical in the first place?).  Still, I think dictation is a great thing to do with students, provided that you make it a non-hostile (i.e. detrimental to their grade) and fun activity (change of pace).


NotateMe Lessons 3 & 4 and Additional Thoughts

I have wrapped up our NotateMe Now lessons with two more lessons.  This lesson series was used in our classes (6-8th grade) as a way to take these very basic concepts in music theory, and to have students use them using the app NotateMe Now, while also learning how to draw music notation.  NotateMe Now is the free, single staff version of NotateMe, an app that converts handwritten music notation to digital notation (with other features coming in the future).

Lesson 1 introduced the app, as well as quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes.  I blogged about it here.

Lesson 2 covered quarter rests, half rests, and whole rests.  I blogged about it here.

Lesson 3 covered ties, slurs, and dotted half notes (and dotted whole notes).  The video and PDF appear at the end of this post.

Lesson 4 covered eighth notes, eighth rests, and dotted quarter notes.  The video and PDF appear at the end of this post.

The quiz was to complete a task just like the “homework” assignments.  This appears below as an image.

Here are a few things I have learned:

  1. If kids are in choir because they have to be (they don’t play an instrument and have to take music), they aren’t going to apply themselves at a higher level if you go away from singing for a lesson series.
  2. Most kids made very little attempt at completing the exercises, but our school has a formative grading category that only accounts for 20% of their grade, so many students simply choose not to do any formative work.
  3. The kids who tried doing the work generally did very well, and a few pushed against the boundaries I had created for them.
  4. The lesson sequence assumes students know the names of the notes.  We had discussed these and had a quiz on these at the beginning of the year, and I review the note names every time we do a sight reading exercise.
  5. None of these concepts should be new for students; every concept, with the exception of actually DRAWING music, is something these students should have had in elementary school.
  6. I would have liked to have more time to go over student work in class; but with an every-other-day 43 minute choir class, we couldn’t lose that time.
  7. I will continue with this series next year (I plan on a GarageBand series at the end of the year after our last concert), building on the concepts with the students who have already learned these items–and going over these lessons with the new students.

At any rate, it is fun to try new things (and I’m not going to stop trying new things) with my students and to leverage some of this technology that is in their hands.

NotateMe Now Lesson #3 Assignment and Checklist (PDF)

NotateMe Now Lesson #4 Assignment and Checklist (PDF)


notatemenow quiz