Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ideas on how to grow your Middle School Choral Program

Middle school years are unique.  They have to want to sing.   It is our job to inspire them to do so.
Here are several quick thoughts to guide you as you develop your teaching style:
1)  Use your personality to engage them. 
2)  Laugh every single day.
3)  Only sing songs and genres that YOU are passionate about.  They sense your passion and respond to it likewise...regardless of the type of music.  If you love it, they are more likely to share that love.
4)  Don't solely focus on technique 24/7.  Music is spiritual.  Connect to the spirit of the songs in your discussions.  It changes how they sing.
5)  Move.  We cannot expect them to sit still all the time...especially boys.  If you want to attract males, you will definitely need to learn to incorporate movement into rehearsals in various ways.
6)  Discover Music K-8 magazine.  It contains awesome pieces for this age group in every issue and the composers share great ideas about how to bring the songs to life for this age group.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Creating Balance as Teachers

I wrote this in response to a teacher who is facing a classroom set up next year that could cause burnout:

Your classroom is your oasis.  You get to decide how difficult you make your job each and every day.  You get to decide how many outside festivals/solo ensembles/Allstate chorus/Honor's chorus groups and how many extra overnight field trips that you and your children participate in.  You get to decide the volume of the music you teach.  You can lighten your load without diminishing the impact of the education your children are receiving, and it is important to do so.  You can choose quality over quantity.  You can choose "working hard" over "over-working" regardless of your set up.  It's really up to you.

I know this because I've had to do it.

I run a middle school program of over 300 children.  When I began, there were 80 children in the program.  Easy-schmeasy.  

Over a very short time, my program grew exponentially.  I tried to make the class fun and the word spread.  I did musical revues they loved being a part of. and that I loved creating. I participated in Six Flags competitions.  I did our GMEA adjudicated festivals with all of my choirs.  I participated in Allstate Chorus. Quickly, as the program grew, my life was completely overwhelmed and out of balance, and I knew it wasn't healthy.  I also knew that the circumstances weren't going to change.  Occasionally, our district supplied money for an assistant for my classes that included more than 84 children in one class period, but that money came and went each year unexpectedly along with the assistant.  Since I realized I couldn't depend on the same funding each year for an assistant, I made a few difficult decisions to which I've stuck:  I stopped the Six Flags trips, and I rarely, if ever, sponsor children for some of the extra Honor's/Allstate events.  I didn't make a huge announcement about it.  I just did it.  When we make a big announcement ("This is the last time I am ever doing this"), the kids and parents get disappointed and they bad energy begins to creep in.  I continued to prepare the children for those events in class daily.  All of my students have the tools they need to make Allstate when they leave my classroom for high school, for example, if they decided to start doing that in high school and many of them do so.  All of my children still get an adjudicated festival experience through our GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation.

I've kept doing the musical revue and participating in the GMEA large group performance evaluations and much more in my classroom.  The excitement and the learning continue for my students and my life is more in balance.

I am in my 22nd year teaching.  Making these important decisions has kept me sane, has kept me from becoming bitter, has kept my life in balance and has allowed me the opportunity to stay in this school at this job where I continue to teach over 300 children in chorus.  The chorus could be even larger.  It isn't necessary.  It isn't healthy.  My check doesn't rise if I teach 80 children in chorus or 380 children in chorus.  

As teachers, we forget that we are the CEO's of our classroom in so many ways.  So often, we get stuck on the approach of "My administrators say I have to do this".  Well, we all know there are many people telling us we have to do certain things.  As the leaders of our classrooms, there are many decisions that WE get to make ourselves.  Find them and make the decisions that will work  best for you.  If you are happy while you teach, your children will respond to that happiness.  If you are miserable, they respond to that too.  

If we run a strong program and serve the children, we will soon see that we don't have to do every single thing under the sun.  We can do a few of those things and do them really well.  The quality of the work is what will pay off for us.  

If we work hard to build relationships with our adminstrators and talk reasonably without defensive language, we can create the program that we want and the one that we need to educate out children to a high level, be proud of our work, yet take care of ourselves too.  We aren't good to anyone if we are sick all the time from overwork or, God forbid, if we are dead!

So, continue to work to find a solution.  There is one.

There is an Arts school in my district in which the entire school (grades 8-12) has the fewer students in the entire school than I teach in my chorus classroom each day by myself and most of the students at that Arts School are not even in chorus!  If I had that particular set up, I might decide to do more of the other activities I mentioned above, but in this setting that I currently have, I've decided to create balance that works for me and still educates my students at a level I'm very proud of! 

More teachers should do it.  Find solutions that educate and create balance at the same time.  

Teachers!  Remember!  On May 1st, I will offer Bundles for my Sight Singing program!  If you still need to buy individual lessons, please do so now!  On May 1st, the prices will rise on the individual lessons for future customers.  You will still be able to buy bundles at the $3 per lesson rate, but the individual lessons will be $5 per lesson!  I will definitely sell the bundles in "fives" with the final bundle being a seven lesson bundles, and each bundle will be at the $3 per lesson rate.  Thanks for your support!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Bundles are Coming! S-Cubed Sight Singing for Middle School Children!

I am sending this out to followers of my TPT store tonight!  

Note to Followers for April 2014 

Thank you so much for following my TPT store!  This has been an exciting 9 month journey for me, and I am so grateful for your support!  I still find it hard to believe that after 6 years of wanting to share my individual sight singing lessons with other teachers, I have finally done it!

Now it is time to take it to the next step!

For followers of the S-Cubed Sight Singing System…Per your request…

The bundles are coming, the bundles are coming!  

As you are all aware from the power point slides in the lessons, my vision from the beginning of the creation of S-Cubed has been to encourage teachers to use the full program starting with Lesson 1 and finishing with Lesson 27.

To work toward that goal when I officially offer the bundles, I will implement an important price structure change that could impact those of who’ve begun using S-Cubed with your children if we don’t plan carefully.  So, if you are in the middle of the S-Cubed process and you are planning to purchase some more individual lessons, you should definitely do so before the change is implemented.  The last day to purchase individual lessons at the current price will be April 30th.  

The new bundle pricing model will become effective May 1st.

Here are the highlights of the price structure change:

*On May 1st, I will offer the full 27-lesson bundle for $81 which reflects the current $3 price point that all of my customers have enjoyed until now.  If you bought all of the individual lessons for S-Cubed between the August 1, 2013 and the end of April, that is what it would cost.
*Also on May 1st, I will also offer other smaller bundles at $4 per lesson for teachers who only want to use a portion of the program.  I will offer them in the following bundles:
-Lessons 1-5
-Lessons 6-10
-Lessons 11-15
-Lessons 16-20
-Lessons 21-27
*Also on May 1st, the cost of the individual lessons will change to $5 per lesson.  

While I am excited to finally offer the lessons in the various bundles because it will makes things easier for future customers, I definitely am more concerned that my current customers who are in the middle of the S-Cubed process right now.  I want those folks to have ample opportunity to purchase the individual lessons at the $3 rate.  That is the main reason for this letter today!   Some of you have purchased 3 lessons.  Some have purchased 7 lessons.  Some have purchased 12, and so on.  So, I wanted to make sure that everyone was informed with plenty of time to spare before the new pricing structure is implemented.

I am so thankful for those of you who’ve begun using the S-Cubed program over these past several months, and I appreciate your business enormously.  I am getting emails about how some of your are sharing the news about this program with your peers because you are excited about the results you are seeing and hearing in your classes, and I am grateful the word is spreading.  Keep it up!  I truly believe in this system, and I know it works because I use it every day with my own beginners.

Remember, my new store price structure will be implemented on May 1!  So, if you want to purchase more of the individual lessons at the current $3 price point to finish out the program before the new pricing structure occurs, you should do so before between today and April 30th to get the best price.  

Please continue to leave feedback on the TPT website!  And feel free to contact me via email at

Thanks for your support!

Music in the Middle with Mr D
Dale Duncan

S-Cubed Sight Singing System

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Teaching your beginning Middle School Singers to sing with overtones

Training my middle school singers to listen for and work to produce overtones as they sing changed the tone quality my singers produced in magnificent ways, but it also had an awesome and unexpected result.

Students who suffer from ADHD and other attention deficit issues suddenly pop to attention when they hear the overtone.  Once they've achieved it for the first time, all I have to do is to remind them to listen for them and work for them in future lessons.  It's truly amazing to watch.  Choral singing improves, but even better, behavior improves.  ...And we all know that, in the choral music classroom, we will take all of that sort of result that we can get!  

The overtones are difficult to accomplish with inexperienced singers, but here are three of the ways I help my singers achieve them:

a)  I use solfege for all sight singing.  The vowel work that you achieve with solfege is awesome.  You can correct so many things through it.
b)  I talk constantly about using the "tall mouth".  I say things like "North and south with your mouth.  East and West is not the best."  
c)  I use the vowel "oo" when I am trying to achieve overtones for the first time.  Once they know a particular melody really well, I ask them to sing the melody on "oo".  Make sure they are completely confident with the rhythms and the pitches before you try this with young singers.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Classroom Management

Scenario:  You have an alto in your chorus class who talks too much and doesn't stop.
Here are a couple of ideas on how to handle it:
Overall most important factor:  Mutual respect that starts with you.  You are the adult.  If they sense you don't respect them or that you simply expect respect because you are an adult, you will lose them.  We have to be the leaders in the mututal respect circle.  It is KEY to our success as classroom managers.  If we don't model respect for the students, then none of the solutions I've written below will help.
1)  When they are talking, simply stand in front of them and wait.  Watch the talkers.  ...Careful not to use the evil eye...Just watch and wait.  Don't complain.  Don't call their names.  Don't humiliate or embarrass....simply watch.  Usually, other students will "shush" them as you wait.  The positive peer pressure is helpful.
2)  As you watch them, you should be documenting in your head exactly what is occurring.  Who is talking?  Where are the real issues?  When class is over, write down exactly what you saw.  "Jenny was turned around in her seat talking to Elizabeth while I was teaching.  When I stopped to wait for her to stop talking, it took 30 seconds"...for example.  Unemotional documenting...Just the facts.  Avoid things like "She is disrespectful and rude."  Be specific.
3)  Once you've gathered two or three specific non-emotional descriptions, pull Jenny aside.  When you pull her aside, do not make it a big deal about the fact that you are going to talk to Jenny by saying in front of the whole class "Jenny, I need to see you after class".  This will not set you up for success.  Instead, it will pit you against Jenny AND the class as a whole.  You should discreetly ask her to stay after.  Then, read the unemotional, clear descriptions to her.  "Jenny, these are some behaviors I've observed from you...."  Tell her it's not ok and that we need to find a solution together.  Tell her that her class participation grade has been lowered, and tell her that you are hopeful to be able to solve the issue with her so that you don't have to contact her parents, so it is important that we find the right solution.  "Would you like me to move your seat?", for example?  Get her invested in the solution.  Then, take the action you've decided upon.
4)  If the behavior continues, follow through by contacting the parents.  Again, be unemotionally specific when you speak to the parents. 
Parents are key.  So many teachers skip this step and jump to administrators.  This is a bad idea.  We must establish relationships first with the student and then with the parent.
Overall, what I've described above is a negative approach, but it is sometimes necessary.  More often, I use positive, public recognition in my classroom. For example, when I see a child sitting up straight, listening to every word, I throw a Starburst at the child and thank him publicly for his great posture or his attention.  Everyone around him jumps to attention.  
Establishing good, positive relationships with your students makes your classroom a much better place for learning.
These are just a few ideas.  Over the last year, I have written many more ideas on my blog and recorded classroom management videos on my YouTube Channel.  In them, I've tried to relay my philosophies to help other teachers who struggle with classroom management.
Also, my YouTube Channel with Sight Singing tips and Classroom Management ideas:
It takes a while to find our own personal classroom management style, but you can absolutely do it!   Be patient and don't beat yourself up when you don't get it right!  Just grow from it and move forward!
Dale Duncan
Find my step by step Sight Singing lessons for choirs with direct links to actual teaching examples and teaching tips:
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Organizing and protecting your technology

Recently, I dropped my laptop that is less than a year old.  I held my breath, reached down and took a look.  The side corner of it was cracked.

This laptop contains all of my files for my entire Middle School Sight Singing program.  I have been working on documenting all of these materials for other teachers to use in their classrooms for 9 months!
Link to my Sight Singing program for Upper Elementary and Middle School Choral Teachers

I tried to open the laptop.

...a very loud crack...but it opened.  I took a breath as I lifted it fully enough to see if the screen was cracked, and it was fine.

Then, I checked to see if the mouse worked.


I continued to check everything out thoroughly, and the computer was functioning, but the screen was hanging on by a thread.

Three weeks and $850 later, it was fixed!  Before I could take it in to the computer store to be fixed, I knew that I needed to get all of the materials backed up.  In the old days, I used a large, cumbersome object that I had to connect my computer.  Very 2002....   It took hours, and the laptop was immobile during that time.

Not anymore!
...and good riddance!

After some research, I found Backblaze.  For $5 per month, they constantly back up every single one of my files.  If I drop my computer again (heaven forbid), I can buy a new computer and have every single item backed up with no problem.   All I do is click "Restore"!

The original backup took about 4 days, but I couldn't even tell the backup was occurring other than the fact that there is a tiny little flame at the top right part of my screen.  Look for it in this picture:

Once I purchased Backblaze, I got an email confirming my purchase, and the backup began.  Once per week, I get an email that tells me the latest about my backup.  I click the email and it takes me to the screen above with the details.

I hope I don't drop this laptop again, but if I do, I can rest assured that all of my sight singing products, 250 videos for teachers and blog posts are all protected!

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest Conducting Middle School Children


Here is a response I gave to a Choral Music Educator who is leading a weekend Honor's Chorus type event as a guest conductor.  He has limited experience working with middle school children:

My biggest words of advice:

Talk less.  Do more.

Following those guidelines will help you tremendously.

For future reference...When I plan my work for festivals like the one you described, I also make sure I pick at least one piece of music that fun.  For example, I like incorporating a song that has some movement in it.  Picking at least one pice that is a bit crazy and non-traditional helps the rehearsal process with this age group in this setting.  For example, I chose "Coffee Break" from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  They loved it.  I also like to make sure the rehearsal periods aren't overly long and are planned with sufficient breaks, and if I feel that I'm losing them, I am not afraid to break early.  Continuing a rehearsal that has lost energy sucks the life force out of this age group.  Feel the energy and don't be afraid to respond to it.

Good luck!

Dale Duncan
My blog for middle school teachers:
My Middle School Sight Singing Program:
My YouTube Channel with Teaching Tips:

Check out my blog!

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