Middle School Teacher and Music Teacher Linky Party!

Check out my blog!

From my Kitty....Merry Christmas!

And, here is my kitty.  ...and of course, it has nothing to do with teaching sight singing or middle school, but I thought it might bring a smile to some faces!  My mother always said, "You don't own a cat".  So true.  ...and if we remembered that in our daily lives in so very many ways, we would save ourselves a lot of stress!  Merry Christmas!  

Check out my blog!

MILESTONE! Last lesson for 2013!

Happy to have followed through with my plan this year!  This is the finally lesson of 2013!  Starting with Lesson 1 and ending with Lesson 18...well, if you do it, I think your young beginners are going to be great sight singers who enjoy the process!

...and January is a wonderful time to start the program!

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Link to the final Sight Singing product of 2013! Get started on the program! January is a great time to start! Check out my blog!

Lesson 17-SKIPS! Part 2 is Released!

My latest Sight Singing Lesson is released! January is the time to start!
It's a three day lesson that is the final step we take before we launch into the MILESTONE of Lesson 18!

It's progressive!  My little ones are doing great.  January is a great time to start the program.
Let's help them become literate musicians!

Happy Holidays!

Check out my blog!

The bullseye!

Another visual to use with your students when doing Sight Singing and Ear Training!

Check out my blog!

Solfege Ladder

  Those half steps between MI/FA and TI/DO can trick them up!  A little visual always helps their ears!

Check out my blog!

Are we Robert Shaw?

"I would never use an accompaniment track with my students".

 Oh, the purists. I've heard and read this for years.

 People who criticize the use of accompaniment tracks in choral concerts and talk about how it is terrible for kids because they don't learn to follow us...it isn't LIVE...and on and on...

 Well, I absolutely disagree. Haven't we all had a horrible accompanist? One who rushed or dragged your beat? Nothing puts a drag on a great performance faster than that. We have to TEACH them to follow us. They are in middle school! They don't know who to follow unless we TEACH them HOW...whether it is an accompaniment track or live accompaniment, there is no getting around the importance of teaching our kids. In fact, I think that using a combination of tracks and real accompanists provides us with many teachable moments about the differences between the two and how important it is to follow us no matter what! The conductor is the glue.

 I have taught middle school for 22 years, and I have always used a mix of tracks and real accompaniment in concert settings. I have 300 young lovelies in my choir, most of whom have very limited background in singing choral music when they come to me, and they all follow me just fine. In fact, we just did our winter concert in a GYM of all places.........no risers for some of the students because of the large size of the chorus...and they did beautifully well!

 The only time I make sure never to use a track is in an adjudicated festival.

 When we say "I would never use a track anytime, anywhere", we are limiting ourselves a bit, I think.
 A track can create quite the dramatic effect for some songs, and our students love some drama...especially in middle school...and that drama can attract students to our programs. The predictability of the track actually increases the chances of a successful performance for our young students. They do better when they know what is coming.

With a purist attitude ("no tracks ever...they are horrible!"), we are also reducing the number of great teachers who might choose to be chorus teachers because their piano skills are limited. "I can't teach chorus because I can't play...". We have to remain open.

 We need to be careful about being purists about this and other issues related to choral music, and keep our minds open as technology continues to present us with so many new ways to give our students an awesome choral experience and make them excited about singing.

 We are not Robert Shaw conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We are middle school teachers who are trying to attract new members of society to the art of choral singing. Throw them a bone with some well-made tracks to songs they enjoy singing and then have them sing the Brahm's Requiem once they have fallen in love with making music in the choral setting! That is our job.

 Here is my product designed to help our beginning choral students learn to follow us no matter what in all circumstances!

Click link for "Keep Your Eyes on Me"! A product designed for middle school teachers and early elementary teachers of choirs

Check out my blog!

Twas the day before the holiday concert....

Tomorrow, they sing.  ...All 300 of my little middle school students singing at once in this unbelievable venue!  Um...no, it isn't the one you see in the picture.

I took that screenshot of the Laguardia High School Choir because that is the type of venue I'd LIKE to have for my students one day, but tomorrow's event will be in our gym.

I am very excited.  They are singing a few new songs this year as well as the traditional pieces we've done for years.  Alumni get to come up and sing the final number "Light the Candles All Around the World" by Teresa Jennings!  Yep...we actually light the candles!  ....very, very carefully!  :)

It's been insane as always in the days preceding the concert.  On Friday, Monday and tomorrow (day of the concert), I was/am missing a portion of the 7th graders due to field trips.  Today was our only "real" full day of rehearsal filled with plans for lots of musical corrections and critical last minute instructions.

...And, of course, today, there was one interruption after another.

While I was teaching 84 girls, the following things happened within the first 10 minutes:

a)  a parent knocked at my door to return a piano they borrowed for an assembly.
b)  a security guard came to the door to find a student.
c)  the secretary "beeped" me on the intercom two different times looking for various students.
d)  The phone rang and no one was on the other end.
e)  ...and one of my students had a seizure.

This particular child is a special education student who spends the entire day in the resource room except when she is in chorus class with the 84 other girls.  She has been the most awesome student.

Middle school children can be so mean, but when someone like this child is in the room, it changes them.....and me.  Her presence brings out the best in all of us.

She's doing just fine, but we all were very concerned about her.

It pulled us together.  It helped us all snap out of our "it's rainy, early in the morning and I'm ready for Christmas break" mindset that we all had before she had the seizure.

We get so caught up in whatever the latest musical concert preparation is that we don't always stay in touch with what is important.

This day...that is what is important...and living it....and recognizing the very special gift that it is....and laughing during that day...and connecting with people eye to eye...and being grateful for how good we have it.

...And tomorrow they sing.

I am sure there will be at least 10 crazy unexpected things that happen during our final dress rehearsal in the gym at 2:20 PM tomorrow, but it will all be just fine.

...and hopefully, the people in the audience tomorrow will have at least one moment of goose bumps, laughter or tears...and hopefully, they will leave with just a little bit more holiday cheer in their hearts than when they rushed into the gym to see their children sing.

Happy Holidays!

My Sight Singing Program for Middle School Teachers...Click!

Check out my blog!

Why can't I get the words to this song right?!

I'm a chorus teacher, and I never get the words right to my student's songs.  They laugh at me when I screw them up.  Maybe it's a learning issue?!  Who knows...Anyway...I remember, as a child, singing the words to songs for years, and then, when I finally saw the words on paper, I thought to myself, "That is what they were singing?!"

Oh well....I miss the words, but I definitely don't miss the pitches and rhythms!  That's what I always tell my students!  I have no idea what the words this song are because I am so totally focused on singing the pitches and rhythms correctly!  I hardly look at the words!

That's probably part of the reason I've become a Sight Singing specialist!

Yesterday, I confirmed with the editor at Choral Director magazine that an article I submitted on Sight Singing for Middle School children will be published in their January issue!  YEA!  Very excited about that!  It's my first published article on the subject.

Also, remember...on January 23rd, I'll present the NAFME webinar on Sight Singing.

I am getting lots of good and helpful feedback on S-Cubed!  Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers and their Students.  I am super excited about the long-term potential.  I hope the unique offering will serve lots of people in their classrooms.   As I am over halfway done developing the 2-part version of it, I see it as a workshop-slash-progressive set of usable lesson plans for the teacher and her/his students.  I am working to make sure it is something that I would have love to have had when I started teaching in the chorus classroom....Lessons with teaching tips and teaching examples that I can learn from and use over and over without spending more and more money to replace books!

Lesson 17 is in progress and should be published next week.  Then, during the last week of school, I will be working on getting one to two more lessons out.  This way, folks who start the program in January with their students will have lots to work with between January and the end of the school year!

Click to see the latest offering in S-Cubed!
Have a great weekend!
  Check out my blog!

Middle School Classroom Management-Holiday Concert

This time of year is crazy.  Holiday shopping, parties, family get togethers...it's like we try to squeeze the whole year into 2 weeks.  Wouldn't it be simpler to just do some of these things all year and spread it out a bit?

It is what it is....and it really is wonderful...especially with some good planning.

Chorus teachers have to squeeze the execution of one of the biggest events of the year into this already crowded calendar:  the holiday concert.

My holiday concert is next week.  With over 300 children in my chorus, I have to do some very careful planning to pull it off.

The famous Julie Andrews line is "Let's start at the very beginning...."  Well, actually, for my big events, it's the opposite.  I start by visualizing the end.

How do I want it to go?  What will it look like?

I want it to be as seamless as possible.  Everyone is busy, so I want it to start on time.  I want it to be a well-planned and well-executed use of time for the parents and the students who are in attendance.   I want the audience to leave wanting more, not less.   I want to take them on a journey.  I want them to laugh a little and cry a little.  I want them to hear good choral singing.  I want the students to know what to do before the event and after the event.  I want everyone to leave happy.

I want to leave happy.

So, to that end, with more than 300 children for whom I am responsible, I plan.  I plan every little detail as carefully as possible so that I can achieve the "end" I described above.  I plan the extra rehearsals that are needed.  I make sure every custodian knows well-ahead of time what I need them to help me do.  I reach out to parents for extra support with sign-in procedures and distribution of candles, flashlights, costumes, etc.

The planning is enormous, but it is so valuable.

...and in about 45 minutes, the concert is over.

...but I hope it is something they will all remember and take with them for a lifetime.  Positive, warm memories...that are the result of careful and methodical planning....that brings out the best in our middle school children.

That is our job.

...and right after it is over, I start planning for the adjudicated festivals!  My beginners are currently focused on skips and chromatics in their sight singing!  They are singing the skips very well in their sight singing examples, and, today, they sang the chromatic scale.  I did my exercise called "Score the Scale" with them using the Chromatic scale.  They scored over a 9 on the ascending scale.  They got in an 8.2 on the descending scale.  There is work to do!

I am including my latest sight singing lesson below!  January is coming!  It's a great time to get started on the program!

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/SKIPS-S-Cubed-Lesson-16-Successful-Sight-Singing-for-Middle-School-991184  Lesson 16! SKIPS!

As you work on your holiday concerts, take care of the details...and then, take a deep breath and enjoy the rewards of your planning!

Check out my blog!

Nafme Sight Singing Webinar coming in January!

Link to connect to my January 23rd Nafme Webinar Presentation on Sight Singing

Click the above link to learn more.  I'll present several of the main principles of S-Cubed! during the one-hour webinar.  I will save time for questions and interaction as well!  Continuing Education credits available.

Please share the info with your Middle School and Upper Elementary choral music teacher friends!

Check out my blog!

Understanding the Lyrics to Songs and SALE!

It's so true!  I remember singing songs as a child and having no idea what the words meant....Heck!  I didn't even realize what some of the words WERE!  I was just singing something that sounded like what the artist was saying!  Did any of you do that?!

Starting Sunday, December 1st through December 3rd, I am having a full store sale!  All of my Sight Singing program is on sale!  State adjudicated festivals are quickly approaching!  It's a great time to get started on your Sight Singing.  This program is basically a full workshop with teaching video's, lesson plans, Sight Singing examples, games and more!  Click to visit my store and see product descriptions!

Check out my blog!

State Adjudicated Festivals: Sight Singing Component

In October, I got some feedback from a teacher who'd tried Lesson 1 with her students.  She said "I wish I could start the year all over again."

Well, January is a great time to hit re-set!

Are your students ready for the state adjudicated festivals?  Are you tired of having your middle school students walk into the Sight Singing room nervous but excited and come out completely embarrassed and disillusioned?

Click here to learn why January is a great time to start S-Cubed!

If the event were today, how would your students do?  Would they sit there in the room in front of the judge scared to death and uncertain about how to proceed?  Have you given them the tools they need for their tool box?

S-Cubed! Successful Sight Singing for Middle School teachers and their students will do it.  It's proven! It's like no other offering out there.  It isn't a book.  It's a day by day guide with teaching tips that includes everything a book has plus games and numerous video links to help you and your students be successful.

I watched my own students sit there in the Sight Singing room uncertain one to many times, so I created S-Cubed.  We want our students to be ready and excited to "beat the page"!  This method does it!

I am having a full program sale at my store on 12/1, 12/2 and 12/3.  It is a great time to join the program and get it at a discount!

Click below to....

Go to my Store and Click "Follow" to be notified about new lessons.

...and take advantage of the sale!

Do you ever want to say this to your Choir students?

Check out my blog!

Teaching Preview of Lesson 16- SKIPS!

Click the preview link to see what you'll find in the latest lesson!  January is a great time to get started with S-Cubed!  By May, your students will be fluent 2-part readers!

S-Cubed! is like a 7 month long Sight Singing workshop for choral music teachers that includes lesson plans, teaching tips, teaching examples, rhythm exercises, games and, of course, PDF, reproducible files of everything including Sight Singing examples. It’s all about success and fun instead of dread, silence and moans. Developed by a real middle school teacher who is using the method successfully in his own classroom, S-Cubed! is not a Sight Singing book. There are tons of those on the market. It’s an all-inclusive 10/15 minutes-per-day system. It is tried and true and doesn’t skip any steps in the teaching process. The method meets the students where they are and gives them only the information they need to be successful and to stay excited about learning to sight sing. And at the end of the course, you have fluent, excited, literate sight singers who are reading difficult two part examples with success and ease! Stay connected with Mr D: Follow my blog: http://inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com/ Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/inthemiddlewith Like me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InTheMiddleWithMrDBlog?ref=hl Follow me on Teacher Pay Teachers: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Music-In-The-Middle-With-Mr-D Subscribe to my YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuSvE1y-FTytuFfndvTVUtQ Please rate my program and send feedback! Please Google+1 all of my items that you purchase! Contact me at dduncan158@gmail.com if you have any questions, concerns or need guidance in any way! Check out my blog!

A Monday reminder.... Have a great week!

Sometimes Monday's can overwhelm us!  Just a reminder for us all!  Have a great day.
Check out my blog!

Gender differences in the Chorus Classroom Boys vs. Girls

I teach over 300 middle school choral students who are in 6th, 7th and 8th grade.  In the sixth grade, I let anyone join the chorus, and the classes are mixed by gender. In 7th grade, I separate by gender. Doing so gives me a chance to help my 7th grade boys learn about and use their changing voices, and it
gives my girls a year to soar and extend what they've learned in sixth grade to improve their tone quality, etc.  In 8th grade, I place everyone back into the mixed chorus.

Boy was it eye opening the first year I tried this arrangement!

It quickly became clear to me that the atmosphere in the two 7th grade classrooms was going to be completely different...and at that time, I had already taught public school middle school students for more than 15 years.  I had very good classroom management skills and strategies in place that worked for years....but this was different!  The boys class was very difficult to manage.  I struggled to keep their attention.  I had to pull out every bag of tricks I had.  When they left, I was exhausted.

Over time, I got better at it, and I want to share some of my observations and strategies.  These observations are based on my real-life experience in a public school classroom.  Each child is an individual, we need to treat them as such, but it helps to be aware of some of the generalizations because they will help us be more effective as we teach our students.  I am not an academic, and you aren't going to see any jargon, percentages and academic lingo here.  Just real stuff based on real experience in my public school classroom.  :)

Here are the things I've experienced:

Boys have a harder time remaining still for the same duration as girls.  They need to move.  They are more physical.  I like to get them up during rehearsal and let them shake it out a bit.  They need to move.

In general, they like less mature humor, and they need the silliness to stay engaged.  They are less emotionally mature than the girls are.  So, I tend to roll with it, and giggle with them when it's appropriate.

They are more competitive.  Competition inspires them to reach for the highest heights.  I use competition in a solfege game that I play with my students.  I keep track of the score publicly in my classroom.  A day never goes by when they don't check the board to see if they are ahead of the girls class.  It creates awesome focus when they are trying to "win". They are never more focused than when the girls are beating them in the solfege game.  I also give points for successful sight singing examples.  Because they are aware that each sight singing example is assigned a set of points, both the boys and the girls are supremely focused on getting every rhythm and every pitch correctly when they sight sing....but the boys want it more.  They need to win.  Once the girls determine how much winning means to the boys, then, they too, get competitive.  It really helps in my Sight Singing teaching process, so I use it!

The boys need more structure and reward with their daily class rituals than the girls.  At the beginning of class, my daily classroom ritual for my students is for them to walk in, get their music folders, and to begin class with a quiet, 5 minute written warm up activity.   Occasionally, to encourage that behavior, I use stickers.  I place stickers on the paper of the quiet, working children.  When they get 3 stickers, they get a Starburst.   I do this with all of my classes, but I've noticed that the boys are more likely to enter the room in an out of control, rambunctious manner versus the girls, so I tend to get the stickers out more quickly and use them much more often for the boys than for the girls.  It's ironic because the 7th grade girls class that I currently teach has 84 girls in one class.  The boys only have 34, but the loudness they produce upon entry is much greater than the girls.  The boys respond to the stickers much better than the girls.  If I use the stickers with the boys two days in the row, by the third day, every single boy walks in quietly and starts the warm up without talking.  If I skip two days, they practically enter doing cartwheels.  The girls...not so much.  The girls like the stickers, but they generally will do the right thing either way.

During instructional time, boys are much more likely to talk across the room to each other than girls. They will talk about the song we are singing or some off pitch note that just occurred or the some part of the music they like or dislike, etc. They respond with each other to anything and everything.  It can sort of be like a little fraternity party over there.   ...And I don't think they are doing it to be rude.  I think it is just the nature of their beast.   If left unchecked, it can become a full fraternity part complete with the passing of gas at which the teacher is unnoticed.  That has never happened in one of my girls class.  .

..And you absolutely have to nip it.  I usually simply stand in front of them and watch for 30 seconds or so when that social activity begins.  Put the spotlight on them.  One of them will notice, and then slowly, they will all get quiet and wait.  Then, you can say something like, "That sort of behavior doesn't make us a better choir.  Let's not do it again."...or whatever works for you.   If you've set up a positive relationship with them, it will be just about all you need to do.

As with all of our students, we have to carefully guide and correct them while maintaining their dignity...remembering that they truly want to be successful.  It's our job to help them be just that.

Lastly, we have to be good at working with their changing voices.  If we can fix the problems in their voices, they are going to mentally check out.  So, it is critical that we know what we are doing with the vocal pedagogy of the changing voice.  They want to sound good.  We have to use our training to make sure that happens!

Recognizing the differences and learning to work with them instead of trying to make the boys something they aren't will serve you and your students well.

Hope that helps a bit!

Check out more classroom management ideas and Sight Singing tips on my YouTube. Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuSvE1y-FTytuFfndvTVUtQ

My Sight Singing Program for Middle and Upper Elementary Teachers and their students is available at the link below.  This link will take you directly to the freebie.  Check it out and get started on the program today!  I developed it for my inexperienced chorus students, and it truly works like a charm...and you'll have some fun while you teach it!

Check out my blog!

Lesson 15: The Secret Code REVEALED!


Latest lesson released!  Focuses on how to help our students notice and use key signatures to get information.

"My Middle School Children Won't Sing" and Lesson 15 is Released!

When I started teaching, I remember many days when my children simply wouldn't sing. They would just sit there and look at me. In hindsight, I realize that I had created this sort of "no fun" zone. It was rigid. I didn't listen to them. I hadn't taught them. They had no idea what those dots on the page meant because I was so bad at helping them understand. I was...well...mean...and not that good at teaching ...And who wants to sing when the teacher is mean?!? ....and inept? Kids were dropping out of chorus like flies. It was terrible. Now, I teach over 300 children who volunteer to be in chorus. It took me a long while to get there, though. I dug deep and realized that I needed to either figure it out or move on to a different career. First, we have to remember that our students WANT to do well. They really do. When they don't understand what we are teaching, this age group will either "act out" or "bail". It is our job to make sure we recognize when they don't understand what we are teaching, and then figure out ways to teach the material so that they understand...preferably in a FUN way. Be silly. They love it. They also love success. But, when we don't set them up for it, they...being middle school children, simply check out. We also have to remember that they want to be a part of something good. If we haven't figured out how to make them sound good, then forget it. This is a big one...Teach the type of music you are passionate about! Don't fall into the trap of thinking "I have to teach Level 5 music for festival" if you hate the music. Seriously...if YOU love it, you are more likely to infect them with your passion. It doesn't have to be pop music. If you love Broadway, then teach them Broadway. If you love gospel, then teach gospel. The passion starts with you. They feel it. They respond to it, and voila, your students start singing! Middle School Choirs are very special and unique places. These children aren't cute little people pleasers anymore. They make decisions on their own. Some of them are always going to do the right thing, but others, ....not so much. If they think you are incompetent, you lose them. If they think you are unfair..."check please". This age group is one of the toughest audiences out there! ...And the challenge of teaching them isn't for everyone. To be successful with this age group in choir, you have got to do a lot of difficult self-evaluation. Ask questions of yourself: Why did that lesson bomb? Which step did I skip in the teaching process? Am I setting them up for success? ...and so much more. Occasionally, we have to throw them a bone. For example, my students LOVE scary songs. So, I pull out my Teresa Jennings (K-8 Magazine) "Dweller of the Cave" every year. I add some choreography with flashlights and a fog machine and voila...they LOVE it. They can't wait for their parents to see them performing. I do a fun, novelty piece or two at every concert except the GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation. Even then, I make sure to pick music that I love so I can help them love it, too. It's up to us to inspire. It's our job....and a rewarding one it is. Check out my blog!

Newest Sight Singing Product is below!  Share it with your music teacher friends!


Failure..VLOG link. Classroom Management for Middle School Teachers

How do we help to wake them up?  
They change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.
Click the link to see the 4 minute video!  Have a great weekend!
Check out my blog!

Freebie Sight Singing Example!

This is from Lesson 15. My 6th grade beginners read this successfully today! Lesson 15 will be ready for use soon! Check out my blog!

Sight Singing Teaching Tips Lesson 15 Day 3


Click the above link to get some Sight Singing tips for Middle School Choral Music Teachers regarding key signatures!

Check out my blog!