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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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:

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Middle School Sight Singing Article in Choral Director Magazine

As I continue to share my materials and work to spread the word about my Sight Singing materials to other teachers who can benefit, I am submitting articles to magazines read by choral music teachers.  Here is a link to the current issue of Choral Director magazine that features my latest article.

Sight Singing Article in Choral Director Magazine!

Please forward and spread the word!  Thanks!

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Building your Choral Program...Two ideas...

Below, you will find a response I gave to a young teacher who is in his first year teaching middle school choir.  They meet after school.  He has eight children in the program.  He is looking for ideas on how to grow his program.

Congratulations Chase!  

Here are a few approaches that I use that may give you some ideas.

For middle school children, especially those who are volunteering their time before or after school, we need to inject fun, and we need to share music with them about which we are passionate.  They will sense our passion and are more likely to respond to it.

For the fun:  I call it "throwing them a bone".  In addition to teaching songs that encourage the traditional choral art form, I like to pick something that is a novelty in some way.  For example, I use this song each Halloween.
Once I've taught the song, I tell them to bring in a flashlight.  I teach them very simple choreography.  I turn on a fog machine, turn out and lights and "voila", the kids are super excited.  That excitement spreads to their peers, and a few more children are more likely to join.

How many other ways can you inject "fun" into their daily experience in rehearsal?  I believe they need to smile and/or laugh at least once every rehearsal!

For the "passion":  I enjoy teaching them songs from musicals and helping them find their inner actor!  Each year, after we've participated in our state adjudicated festivals and have worked on sight singing all year, I turn the page for the final nine weeks and we produce a musical revue.  During that time, I help them learn to audition, find songs that are appropriate for their voices and "type", and we explore an entirely different way to make music.  I enjoy the process, and they respond to my passion.  The performances they are capable of creating when they have guidance can be truly spell-binding.  The technical approaches we all take (myself included) when teaching the choral music art form don't always click with middle school students.  Because I love to teach about musical theater to the students, I am able to get them to dig inside themselves.  There are many positive technical effects that result from this "inside/out" approach.  Two of them are that the students breathe more deeply and sing with more support.

It doesn't matter whether you teach musical theater, gospel, pop or some other genre when you veer away from the traditional choral art for a few weeks as long as you are passionate about it and are able to convey that passion to your students.   Middle School students respond well to structure, but they also need a bit of variety.

Hope that gets your brain cooking a little!  

I had trouble recruiting in the early years because I was all work/no play and way too technical with my daily teaching.  Once I tapped into some of the ideas above, my program grew exponentially.  I now teach over 300 students daily who volunteer to take my classes as part of their daily course load.  Middle School students are incredibly loyal when you treat them respectfully, and know you care about them and work hard for them.  I can't imagine teaching any other age group, and I am about to finish my 21st year doing it!

Dale Duncan

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It's complete! Let's celebrate with a SALE!

20% off the entire S-Cubed program March 16-17, 2014. It's time to stock up on the next several lessons! Pin it! Share it! Spread the word to your music colleagues. I really don't think there is anything else out there like this. It is complete with sight singing examples, of course, but it has so much more than that. I documented almost every lesson on film. I shared countless teaching tips and philosophies. I did everything I could do to help teachers who struggle to motivate their young beginners to "beat the page". I've worked hard to package my program in a 21st century user-friendly way that is part workshop and part lesson plan. There are 27 lessons, and it took me 27 weeks to teach them to my own beginners. They are reusable and you can copy everything over and over year after year for your beginners each year if you want to do that. I am already hearing from teachers from all over the country about how the program is helping them in their classrooms, and I am hoping that I hear from many more over the coming years. I struggled enormously to learn how to teach sight singing from a book. I had to figure out so many techniques on my own. None of the books did that for me. ...And that's what I've shared in S-Cubed. I am so happy to finally have found a way to share all of these ideas with other teachers, and I hope that teaching sight singing becomes fun for my peers and their students instead of daily drudgery! Check out my blog!

The final lesson is up and finished!!! S-Cubed! Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers is complete!

YEA!  I couldn't be more thrilled!  Last July, when I made the decision to share my materials, I truly had no idea the volume of work I was about to undertake.  Hours upon hours of videotaping, creating and editing power points, learning to use Finale, learning to use Activinspire, learning to use....well...everything technology related...because I am so weak in that area.

It took nine months, and while I cannot give birth in the traditional way, there are so many similarities that I've had fun giggling about as I have compared this process to actual pregnancy. 

It's done, and it's out there for others to use and share.  I am so glad I followed through and finished.  Believe me, there were times when I thought I couldn't!

I've heard from teachers since January who've begun the program about how much it has injected fun and success into their classrooms.  It is more than just a method!  It is an approach to teaching and a philosophy too!  I am hoping lots of teachers find it!  I think it can be an awesome resource for teachers who don't enjoy the process of teaching sight singing to this very special age group!

Here is the link and the cover to the final lesson!

I just wrote this response to a colleague on ChoralNet.  She had just watched one of my YouTube videos on how I teach the concept called "Chaos"-  The independent practice time that is one of the many techniques I teach other teachers to use when they teach their young middle school beginners how to sight sing.

Glad you liked it!  
Yes!  I always tell the kids that ulimately, I want them NOT to need me!  The "Chaos" technique in S-Cubed is one of the many important skills we teach in S-Cubed.
Yesterday, I uploaded the final lesson in the Sight Singing lesson series!  I am thrilled to be finished with it.  I am hoping lots of teachers find it and benefit from it.  I've documented every single step on video, shared every lesson plan, rhythm exercise, sight singing example and teaching tip as I took my beginners from step 1 (no ability to sight sing) to total independent work as they sight sing in two parts.  They went to LGPE this week.  Here they are as they worked through the examples:
My Sixth Graders-  (All just completed the 27 lesson S-Cubed Sight Singing program.  They started in August 2013.  Worked 10-15 minutes per day)
My 7th Grade Girls- (About 30% of these students are new to S-Cubed)
My 7th Grade Boys-  (About 30% of these students are new to S-Cubed also)
My 8th Grade Mixed Choir  (All have been learning S-Cubed for at least 2 years.  Some have been doing it for 3 years)
All of the lessons are available at:

I have tried to break down each important sight singing skill and technique clearly in the S-Cubed system so that teachers can thoroughly and successfully teach and reinforce the skills that help total beginners go from no ability to sight sing to what you see above.  
I struggled enormously as I tried to learn how to teach sight singing from a book (and there are so many books out there already), so I decided to use video, power points with direct links to all teaching tips and teaching examples so that teachers could learn the techniques as quickly as possible and translate it to their own style and use it in their classroom.
I am just glad it's over!  It's taken lots of time!  Now, I get to enjoy my weekends....Oh wait....Not yet...Time to turn the page to weekend musical rehearsals!  Yippee!  :)   Oh well, summer will be here before we know it!
Dale Duncan

Have a great weekend!  I know I will!

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My Five Favorite Pins This Month

I am joining Aileen Miracle's "My Five Favorite Pins This Month" linky party. Here are five of my favorite links with a focus on Middle School.

I teach all three middle grades.  There are HUGE differences between 6th and 8th grade children.
The Sixth Graders need major structure to help them be successful in the classroom.  Without it, the hands go up and you spend most of your time fielding questions rather than teaching.
Here is a link to give you more ideas on how to improve structure in your classroom using numbers:

Bright Idea link!

I don't know about you, but I didn't like losing an hour of sleep on Saturday night when the clocks mover forward.  Boo!  I think this is the perfect post for this week since we started Daylight Savings time this week:

Dumb ideas

Teachable moments!  We all know how important they are.  When we make learning relevant to daily life, children are more likely to truly learn.  Here is a timely blog post for this week for middle school math teachers regarding Pi Day.

Link to Pi Day post

I'm a music teacher, but it seems like this week I am stumbling across math posts!  Anyway....I also found this interesting idea for middle school math teachers on the blog called "Caught in the Middle".

Algebra Tiles link

Behavior management is one of the biggest issues for young middle school teachers.  I struggled for years and years to find the balance between being too stern and not stern enough...rewards vs. consequences. It takes time to establish our own style so that we can effectively teach our material to the children.  Here is a great link to a Behavior Management System for Middle School Teachers:

Behavior Management for Middle School Teachers

This week, I took 300 students to our adjudicated Choral music festival.  I divided them into 4 singing groups.  Each group sang two songs, and then they proceeded into the dreaded Sight Singing room to figure out a song they've never seen in 5 minutes and sing it for a judge.   Big task! went beautifully, and all four groups (beginning to advanced) sailed through and got Superior ratings.  They have no idea how difficult this task is because I work on it with them 10 minutes daily from the first day of school!  They are fluent in a language I didn't even begin learning until my freshman year in music school!

Last August, I decided to start posting my Sight Singing program for Middle School Choral Music teachers online to share.  This week, I will complete the process!  I am super-excited.  I have spent hours and hours on it, and I am hopeful that lots of teachers will benefit from the Sight Singing lessons I've placed on TPT and from the YouTube teaching examples and tips I've been posting all school year!

This weekend, I am going to celebrate!

Have a great week!

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Big Day for my Choirs! S-Cubed Sight Singing System works for Middle School!

Today, I took 150 children to the Georgia Music Educator's Association Large Group Performance Evaluation.  110 of them were my beginning 6th grade Chorus.  I've been documenting them via video all year since the very first day of school as they have learned the S-Cubed process and techniques.

On the first day of school, they couldn't sing a major scale in tune.  They sang sharp all the time.  They sang too loudly.  They had no clue how to listen.  They couldn't sing correct pitches or rhythms in 2-parts.  They couldn't keep a steady beat.

Today, they confidently walked into the sight singing room and perfectly sang an eight-measure sight singing example in 2-parts a capella, in tune with beautiful tone.

...As did the 7th grade Men's Choir.

The S-Cubed preparation system works like a charm.  I have shared every single detail this year.   ...Every secret that I've learned along the way about how to get your young beginning singers to Sight Sing with success and have lots of fun along the way.   I held nothing back.   I've shared the philosophies.  I've shared the carefully orchestrated competitive components that add the "fun" to the daily sight singing experience.  I've opened up my classroom by filming me teaching the lessons to my beginners so that if I didn't cover something in the "Teaching Tips" videos, you could go back and watch me teach the lesson.  Perhaps through seeing those, you would glean even more stuff than I ever planned to share that helps you in your classroom.

Honestly, today, walking into the sight singing room with my beginners, I got a little nervous because, as I've done all year, I was filming it...and I am not going to edit it...just like I've done all year.   Would they be successful?  It's the name of the program-  S-Cubed:  Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers and their Students.   ...But then, I took a deep breath and trusted myself because I've used it for years with my beginners.  I know that it works.

I've wanted everything documented clearly, and I wanted it to be easily accessible and easy to study.   I wanted the people who've been following the process and future people who decide to use the process to see if it actually worked under pressure.  It did...thank goodness!

And...honestly?  ....I thought the 6th Grade Sight Singing example was WAY easier than it usually is, but I'm not complaining.   :) The 7th Grade Men's Choir example made up the difference for sure!  It was TOUGH!

The ultimate idea is not simply for my students and yours to walk into the sight singing room at a festival and get a Superior on the Sight Singing.  This process, and any sight singing process that is carefully planned and taught, will have benefits so far and above the moment my students got to experience today in the Sight Singing room.

That moment was awesome, by the way!  They felt successful.  They were proud.  It was clear to them that dedication, hard-work and persistence pay off.  The judge praised their efforts over and over.  He was thrilled, as a music educator, to see that students are being taught to read in classrooms in Georgia.

I saw several colleagues and their students walk out of the sight singing room today beaten down and defeated.  That is never a good feeling.  I felt it for years when I first started teaching.  We work so hard, and we definitely don't work so diligently to have our students walk out of the room feel disappointed.  It is up to us to teach them and motivate them.  I've shared all of my own ideas about that in this method as well.

I've tried to share everything.  Every question is answered in the lessons or in the videos.  I tried to make sure it was offered in a 21st century examples...PDF files to use and re-use without having to re-purchase.....We've all used books.  For me, they didn't work...AND, we have to re-purchase them when they get tattered and torn.  So, the 21st century way of learning to teach something better was appealing to me, and I hope it helps lots of other teachers.  Posting my method for others to use has been a long-time goal of mine.  I wasn't sure how I'd do it.  I just knew that I had to figure it out, and I'm glad I did.

It's all there...documented and ready for use.  27 lessons.

Well...not totally true.   I still have to post the final lesson.  I plan to do that this weekend....but I've taught it all, and all I have to do is wrap the final package.  It's sort of like Christmas Eve!  :)

Lots of folks are using it already, and I am honored.  I am hoping lots more teachers find it on the web!

So...please share it....and let me know how it is working for you in your classroom!  I want to continue to refine it and make it better and better for teachers!

Tomorrow, I take the other 150 students for their GMEA LGPE!  Can't wait!  Good luck to my 7th grade girls and my 8th grade Mixed Choir!
Here is the link to my store:
Link to my store with all of my Sight Singing Lessons for Middle School Teachers

Here is a link to one most important lessons in the series (#23): 

Better get some rest!

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What to do when the 8th grade boys voices drop the octave and they want to live there!

I answered this question on the Choralnet forum.

The questioner is struggling with 8th grade boys whose voices have changed and who sing down the octave because it is comfortable.  These boys have been in his class since 6th grade, but when their voices change, they fall into this octave-dropping trap.  The writer of the question asked us to share some of the ways we deal with this issue.

Here is what I wrote:

I am in my 22nd year teaching middle school, and I had the same experience you described for years.  They never responded well when I would try to work with them in front of the girls during class, so I tried sectionals.   Sectionals helped a little, but finding a time was difficult.  I couldn't develop consistency due to scheduling issues.  I wasn't able to solve the problem for good until I started separating my classes by gender for the 7th grade year only.  

6th grade is mixed, and we sing only treble music.  8th grade is Mixed Choir SAB.  Doing the gender split in 7th grade makes 8th grade Mixed Choir much more successful!

Having a full year dedicated to teaching singing to the boys has given me the opportunity to address their vocal issues to the fullest.  We talk about it openly from day 1.  They are less embarrassed when they aren't with the girls and experimenting with their voices.  When they enter 7th grade in August, there aren't too many changed voices, but we still address the topic early in the year.  By January, more of their voices have dropped.  It's awesome to get to address this change as it occurs because I can help them understand what is happening "live", and, most importantly, I can help them avoid the muscle memory that comes when they drop and start singing down the octave all the time.  If we don't address that octave drop early and get them comfortable using falsetto and working to open up and support the upper range, it's very difficult to get them out of that dungeon.  I never have that issue now that I split them by gender in 7th grade, and it's awesome! 

Of course, you have to work carefully with your counselors and administrators to help make this happen, but we must always do that if we are to have a flourishing program regardless of way we would like to  split our classes.  It can be tricky if you have 85 girls and 30 boys (like I do), but for me, it is totally worth the lop-sided classes to get the opportunity to help these boys understand their voices and use them properly.  Your classroom management has to be awesome!  The truth is that I find 85 girls easier than 32 boys in terms of classroom management.  :)   ...But again....the benefits are amazing!

My 32 member 7th grade Men's Choir is going to the Large Group Performance Evaluation Adjudication next week, and they are singing beautiful T/B music really well.  They feel tremendous pride at being a Men's Ensemble.  They are a wonderful example to other boys.  As a result, the gender split has helped raise the number of boys who take choir exponentially.  Last year, I had too many boys in my 8th grade choir.  The balance was off because the girls couldn't keep up.  What a great problem to have in middle school!  That is not the norm, but I really believe that giving the boys a year with you in the classroom is critical and incredibly beneficial for a multitude of reasons...including the vocal issues you raised above as well as for recruiting.

Good luck!

Link to the first lesson in my Sight Singing program for Middle School

Get started today with S-Cubed and solve your Sight Singing issues while teaching your students so many things that will help them avoid lots of typical middle school singing traps...including boys who drop the octave!  It's more than just a sight singing program!  It is a teaching philosophy, choral method and it's FUN!

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Just posted the Penultimate Lesson in the S-Cubed Sight Singing Series!

I just posted the penultimate lesson in the S-Cubed Series!  I am so excited to be almost finished sharing my sight singing tools with middle school choral music teachers!  It's been eight months since I began posting these lessons!  Whew!  I'm ready to be done for sure!

Yesterday, I finished teaching my own students all of the lessons in the series, and I am thrilled with their progress!  On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, I will take my 300 students to the adjudicated festival where they will sing two prepared pieces and then head to the sight singing room.  I plan to film them in the room so you can hear how they do.  We will walk into the room with no idea what the example will be, and I am hoping that all of the hard work pays off in that moment!  :)

Regardless of whether they are able to perfectly solve the 2-part Sight Singing example, I know that my students have learned so many incredibly valuable lessons....many of which have little to do with music or sight singing.  Here is the list of a few of them:

a)  When you falter a little, find a way to get back up....that's what "Recovery-Lesson 26" is all about.
b)  Be independent and self-reliant.  Once the teacher has taught you some tools, decide which ones work best for you and use them.
c)  Compete only with yourself.  Part of the philosophy of S-Cubed is to go into your bubble world, practice at YOUR pace and don't worry about the person next to you who has flown through the example 6 times in 15 seconds.  This way, you improve at your pace.

Since 2006, I've wanted to write a book about Sight Singing to help middle school teachers, but what I've enjoyed the most about sharing S-Cubed in the way I've shared it is that it is the "anti-book".   It is the anti-20th century way to learn to teach something better.  The 21st century technology that is available now has given me the opportunity to share philosophical approaches to teaching and learning that I could never have shared in a book, and that might help teachers even more in other areas that have nothing to do with Sight Singing.   I've loved opening up my classroom via video.  It's been awesome.  I wish I'd had the opportunity to see the daily workings of someone else's classroom when I started teaching in 1989! It would have saved me a lot of difficult days!  

Only one more to go!

Woot woot!

Link Directly to Lesson 26-Recovery!

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Nothing that is worth anything is going to be easy...Sight Singing!

...but I promise I don't mean that in a depressing way at all...quite the opposite.

I'm talking about the fruits of dedicated, consistent hard work that pays off in ways we never imagined. It can be through gradual, permanent lifestyle changes when we combine a slight moderation in our diet and exercise that results in a weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds per week. It can be saving for retirement from the first day we start our professional work life until the day we retire that affords us the opportunity to enjoy the 3rd Act of our lives.

Planning and doing the work are big parts of my philosophy of life. I mean...I guess I could be wrong about that. I suppose I could plan on winning the lottery?!

I need to stop blogging and go buy a ticket. I think it's like $400 million right now!

Joking aside... 7 months ago, the 55 6th grade students that you hear on my YouTube channel walked into my classroom for the first time. They were excited and nervous about middle school. They were mostly musically illiterate. I mean...some could identify a quarter note or whole note, for example, but that was about it. Because of the excellent elementary feeder programs I have, they'd been exposed to the Kodaly Hand Signs, and that helps a lot. They sang as sharp as can be. They could not sing a major scale to save their lives without going at least a 1/2 sharp on the ascent and 1/2 flat on the descent. Some liked to yell when they sang. It is always like that each year.

 This week, they sight sang in tune a Two-Part, a capella, eight measure example that included dotted-quarter syncopated rhythms and difficult skips they had only seen a few minutes before for the first time nearly flawlessly.  Here it is:

Two-Part Sight Singing Success!!!

Last August, I started my own gradual labor of love when I started sharing my Sight Singing work online.  It's taken enormous amounts of time and energy.  Not being a technology superstar, I had to overcome numerous frustrating obstacles to figure out how to share my materials.  Hours upon hours of work preparing materials...learning how to promote them using technology...  I remember last October saying to a friend, "Why the heck am I doing this?  I want to do a show!"  I like to perform in theater in the Atlanta area, but between my teaching job and this endeavor, there was no time.  I'll get back to that, though!

Then, in November, one night, someone purchased every lesson I'd created all in one purchase.  I thought....ok...this could end up helping lots of music teachers and also create some extra income if I keep going!

Then, it January and February, it really began to pay off at a new level, and I am thrilled to be on this journey.

That is exactly how anything that is worth anything works!

I am sure that my students have felt frustrations along the way as I've helped them on their journey to becoming literate musicians, but boy were all of us thrilled when they succeeded at their Two-Part Sight Singing this week!  Woohoo!

Consistent, hard work pays off for sure!

I knew it would because I created and have taught S-Cubed to my students now for several years.  It is like training for a marathon.  It builds.  It's careful.  It's respectful.  It's fun.  It's frustrating....but when you cross that finish line after all of the work you've put in, the feeling is like no other!

....Not that winning the lottery wouldn't feel amazing too.....  :)

But, when you work for something really hard, there is nothing like the feeling you have when that work pays off!

I've laid it all out in S-Cubed as thoroughly as I know how to do and revealed every secret I've learned along the way so that other teachers can have that awesome feeling and enjoy the benefits of that work in all areas of their choral music programs!  I think the benefits of S-Cubed will benefit the programs of teachers far more than being able to read a 2-part 8 measure example flawlessly.  I hope lots of teachers find it and use it!  I wish I'd had it when I started teaching!  It would have saved me some seriously frustrating moments in the classroom!

I've just posted Lesson 25-TWO-PARTS!  Woohoo!

Link to Lesson 25 TWO-PARTS!

My own students go to their adjudicated festival on March 11th.  I'll keep you posted as to how it goes.  I'll be uploading the lessons I teach to finalize their preparation right up until that day.  After that, I will create some more two-part sight singing examples that will help keep their skills developing, but the lessons will least until I decide to create S-Cubed Series 2, and I can tell you know, that it won't be anytime soon!

Right now, I am just going to enjoy the feeling of having almost finished following through with my long-time wish to share my Sight Singing program for beginning middle school students with other teachers who may find the subject frustrating and well...irritating to teach....And I hope I've helped you add lots of success and fun into that process!

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