Would you like your Elementary Feeder Programs to use S-Cubed?

Thousands of middle school teachers are using S-Cubed Sight Singing Program.  When I created it, I had middle school teachers and students in mind.


Apparently, 4th and 5th-grade teachers and even high school teachers are using it with their beginners.

Most elementary teachers don't see their students daily, so purchasing and using the entire program isn't a great use of resources.

....but wouldn't you love it if your elementary feeder programs exposed their children to S-Cubed?

Even if it takes them all year to cover the 5 lessons 10-15 minutes per day, the exposure would help their fluency and reading ability enormously by the time they reach you!  By Lesson 4, they are sight singing notes off the staff a capella and having a great time doing it!

I shared my program with my elementary feeders a few years back, and I LOVE it when those students come into my program with exposure to the S-Cubed principals.  The students who've been exposed to the first five lessons in S-Cubed during 4th and 5th-grade  have superior ear-training skills, excellent use of the hand signs, and they sing with much better control of pitch.

Share the program with your elementary feeders!

Learning music should definitely not be fun, right?

Since I started sharing my ideas for teaching middle school beginners in 2013, I've been clear that my approach to teaching beginners in the public school middle school choral music classroom was part philosophy and part method.

The bottom line:

The journey of learning and experiencing music should be a joyful one.   ...Whether you are teaching music literacy to beginners or perfecting dynamics, tone and blend.  Ultimately, if the process is not an engaging and pleasurable one, people stop singing in choirs.

I mean...who wants to sit through rehearsals of monotonous drudgery?  It kills programs.  

Fast forward to fall 2017.

I am on my own search for a choir to sing in.

I love to sing in the choral music setting but I am struggling to find the right fit.   My time is limited.  I want to learn from the conductor.  I want to enjoy the rehearsal process.   I want to get goosebumps during rehearsal.   I want to laugh together as a group once in a while.  I can read music with no problem, but I am terrible at memorizing it, and I am competent at holding the music and watching the conductor at the same time.  I just use the music as a reference point most of the time.  

Of course, I want the group to sound good and have solid technique, but the day to day process of music making, for me, needs to be an enjoyable one.  Plain and simple.  

So, in my quest to find a choir that would be the right fit for me, I posted this in a very large support group of choral directors on Facebook:

The responses were 99% supportive.  People from the area offered suggestions about groups they enjoy being a part of, and I am going to check them out.   They shared why they like the group they are in.  It was exactly as I had hoped it would be and gave me lots of ideas as I continue my search.

Then...I wake up the next morning, and I get this notification:

Ok...I hear you.  But I'm on a search.  ...and this is a support group!  I wanted to be clear about what I'm looking for.  I didn't name the group nor would I ever!  We have hundreds of groups in this area, so I wasn't trying to call anybody out.   And I also think it is important for people to see why a person would stop singing in a chorus.  It helps us do our own self-assessment.

And a little later that day, I got this one...and that's when I thought...Oh wow...the word fun really upsets some people who teach choral music!  What's that about?  I mean, he spent a LOT of time on this response:

Did I say it ALWAYS had to be fun?  I don't think I did.  And since when did "fun" lead to disaster?  But, I digress.  

So...wow.  Clearly, I hit a nerve trying to search for an enjoyable music-making experience!  Oops!

Then came this awesome response:

That made me chuckle!  

The two negative responses weren't "liked" by anyone other than myself (out of respect) and the two who posted the harsh rebuke of my desire for fun in the music-making process by the way.   That is encouraging.  

So, at the end of it all, my question was this:  Why does the word "fun" rile up such deep passions in people who teach choral music?   

Could that be why there are so many teachers who several high-level degrees and either leave the classroom or run small programs that don't attract children?

I've blogged about this before.  I mean...it isn't really something I haven't noticed.   I have built my entire career and my sight singing program on making sure there are elements of fun and laughter and joy in every rehearsal.  

Part of our mission as choral music educators is to attract people so they can learn more about this incredible choral art that we all love.  

If a program is small, there is a reason.  It is either small because you designed it as a selective choir or because the people you've taught don't want to be there because their daily experience under your direction isn't one for which they want to volunteer their time.  

End of story.  

If the word "fun" offends you, then don't call it that.  

But the rehearsal process has got to be a convivial one.   Otherwise, they stop coming.  

We have to self-assess, and then we need to make adjustments.

For me, two and a half hours of lip trills once per week was not for me...nor was it good for about 30% of the rest of the people who departed that group under the leadership of that conductor who is an excellent musician.  He either didn't listen to the criticism or didn't care about what it did to the group.  Either way, the damage was done.  

I've seen improvements over recent years, but in general, as a community of choral music educators, we have got to continue to work to stop being so "exclusive"....so "high brow"...so "this is the only possible way to say this word or teach this technique"...so "you're doing this wrong"...so "I only teach 'high' music"...

It turns people off.  

I remember sitting in adjudications listening to a choir of all African American middle school students singing a spiritual.  The students were totally engaged and singing with heart...supporting their tone...great diction and dynamics...but their teacher had taught them to use authentic African choral tone quality (not the European version that scores 1's-Superior), and they walked out of there with 3's and 4's...totally deflated.  

This is the kind of stuff we need to keep working towards getting away from.  

I'm going to find the choir that is the right fit for me.  It might take me a while, but it'll happen.  My soul needs it!  I'm going to find one that is...yes...fun.  A choir that is led by an excellent choral conductor who helps us make beautiful music...one who opens our hearts and helps us experience and learn new things in a wide-range of new ways using varied techniques to help us achieve beautiful choral singing.  

I want the goosebumps when I sing, and I want the people who listen to us to get them too.

If you want to share your ideas about fun and effective ideas you are using in your middle school choral music classroom, request to join my group I teach middle school chorus! on Facebook.  Let's learn from each other and get more people singing in choirs!

And don't forget about the 10% discount you can get on your subscription of Sight Reading Factory!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

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Special Discount Code Available for Sight Reading Factory!

Announcing!  Special 10% discount Promo Code when you purchase a subscription to 
Sight Reading Factory as a new subscriber!

Teaching Sight Singing to the true beginner is challenging.

I've shared every secret I've learned during my public school teaching career in S-Cubed.

My students learn.

I'm grateful that teachers and music professionals around the globe have been able to take my program and translate it into their classrooms.

I see my students daily for 45 minutes.   Because I get so many new teachers in 7th grade, I teach Level ONE of S-Cubed during 6th and 7th grades.   In 8th grade, I have very few new students, so I teach Level TWO.    Following the 10-15 minute daily lesson plan, I usually complete the 15 weeks of lessons in Level TWO sometime in December before we get out for holiday break.

Then, I use Sight Reading Factory with my students!

It's an awesome, affordable program with lots of flexibility.

Each year, I buy an annual subscription for just over $30, and I am able to find and project unlimited sight singing and rhythm examples on my projector for the students.  I like it because I can set the criteria easily and create examples that fit my student's ability level.    Many teachers also enjoy the features in the photo below.

Now, Mr D and Sight Reading Factory have joined forces to offer you and your students a 10% discount off of your Sight Reading Factory subscriptions.  Use the promo code s-cubed when you purchase your new subscription with Sight Reading Factory, and you'll get the discount when you check out!   

Promo Code:  s-cubed!



Outstanding Sight Singers

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Getting out from behind the piano

It's such an amazing instrument.  

Children love to go to it and hit the keys because it gives them instant gratification.

The smiles....

It is so much fun for them.

To master it (and any musical instrument) takes hours upon hours of practice.  

But anything worth anything requires that....

And we have to get away from behind it when we teach.   


It's like a wall.  It separates.  It's comfortable back there for folks who play it well.  ...but it stands between us and the humans on the other side of it.  

...Especially for music-making. 

Kids need to experience our spirit...our passion.   When we get out from behind the piano, classroom management is better.  

That means that we have to figure out how to use it and not rely on it completely.  

We need the piano...for sure.

But the longer we are back there behind it, the less we connect to the humans who sit before us.

We have to help them come up with ways to solve the challenges they face in the music without it.  ...And the ultimate goal is for them only need one pitch.  

The rest should be in their brains...

It takes time and lots of effort, but it's possible.

We need them not to need us.  That's the aim of teaching.  

With beginners, it's about the manner in which we help them do it...It has to be fun for them.  Otherwise, it's drudgery.  

And while we do it, we teach them life lessons.  Really big ones...about failure...about getting back up again when they struggle.   About survival...

In my 26th year of teaching public school children in a Title 1 school, I feed off of the energy of the children who have landed before me, and I love watching them beat the page.

They want to beat the page.  All I have to do is to give them the tools to do it.

If you are reading this on November 11, 2017, several of my S-Cubed Sight Singing Bundles are well over 50% off until Saturday night at midnight!  And if you missed this offer, and you need a price cut,  don't be afraid to ask.  Just email me at inthemiddlewithmrd@gmail.com.  


They won't stop talking! What do I do?

I recently saw a post from a frustrated teacher with the following information:

*Very talented kids
*Won't stop talking
*Leave their seats
*Distract each other
*Off Topic
*Ignore procedures like raising your hand
*Don't come in quietly
*Takes forever to get things done
*They are sensitive

The teacher was thinking about having a "procedure day" to practice the things she'd like to happen but was worried they'd be resentful.

She is searching for a way to make it fun for them but was concerned that perhaps it shouldn't be fun.

The students are 11 (6th grade).

Here are some thoughts...

First of all, we have all been there!  I remember feeling this way vividly early in my career.  I was so frustrated by it.

Then, over time, I realized three things:

1)  6th graders, specifically, need an incredible amount of daily structure that is impeccably planned and executed.
2)  Yes.  It needs to be fun as much as possible.  
2)  And finally...people change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.

...And that doesn't just apply to students!

So, with those things in mind, I'm going to share what I would advise this teacher to do.


Here we go...


Practicing procedures is important....but just once...maybe twice if you have the softest of hearts.

If they don't hear it, then you must, as says the navigation programs we all have access to today on our smartphones.... "proceed to the highlighted route".

That's code for "follow through".

Do what you said you would do when they don't do what you asked them to do.

With a smile of course.

Warnings are warnings.  They should get one.  Maybe two at this age...but don't be too generous.

Take action.

When a child stands up to walk over to get tissue to blow their nose while you are teaching measures 17-35, stop.  Tell the child in front of the other students.... "If you anticipate that your nose is running, then get the tissue when you walk in the door at the beginning of class.  I don't like the walking while I teach."

And then... keep teaching.

Otherwise, five more of them will do it while you are teaching.

Middle School children follow the leader...and their peers are the leaders to them.  One gets up...five get up.

So, don't let it be a "thing" in your classroom.

If it is, you are letting it happen.

And you don't have to be mean when you handle it.  In fact, you must not be...They are doing what you've allowed....So, you should just state your desire clearly while looking into the eyes of the children, and then go to measure 12 to handle the "FI" that they think is "FA" and help them sing it in tune.

That's all.

"They won't stop talking".

Ok...that's because you are letting them talk.

So stop.

Yes.   Really stop.

Just look at them.  Stand still.  Be quiet.

Stare at the talkers.

And then, watch...As the kids who would never disrespect you that way take over and start saying "sh".

Then, teach.

Postive peer pressure.

Use it.

And remember...if they are talking, it could be because your teaching isn't really that good in that moment.



It happens to the best of us.  We are all human.

Maybe the method we used to teach that section of music really wasn't effective for your beginners.

So, accept it.  Go home that night and self-assess.

And don't disrespect the children.  When you do, you lose them, and they talk more because they don't like your energy.

They ignore procedures because you allow them to do so...and sometimes because we encourage them not to like how we treat them.

Things I do to get them quiet:  Use echo clapping....use "follow the hand" from S-Cubed Sight Singing Program.

Both are magical...if you've built a culture of mutual respect in your classroom.

Otherwise, they'll ignore you.

And this is big...

People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.

So...what are the consequences for not following your procedures?

There have got to be some.

Work with the child first.  Give them a chance to fix it themselves.  If they don't, go to their parents.  For me, it works almost every time.   I almost never have to write up a child.   It should be rare that we turn it over to a principal or assistant principal.

Do you have your email parent contact list ready?  Is it easy for you to access?

Do you write digital notes in the grade book?  It's the 21st century.  Parents and children can keep up with what is happening if they want to do so.  They appreciate info that is given in time for corrective actions to be taken.

...And this is so important....

We must praise publicly and criticize privately.

If a child is doing what you want him to do, honor him quickly in public...and then go to measure 17 and keep on rollin'.

So, if a child isn't doing what you expect, handle it in private.


Should it be fun?


These are children.

It must be fun as often as you can make it so.

If you find that you can't or don't want to try to figure out a way to make it fun for your middle school students, it's time to consider moving.

These children need us to self-access and come up with ideas to help them succeed in a way that brings them...and YOU...joy.

Enter the S-Cubed Sight Singing Giveaway November 6-9, 2017! Click here!

Are you ever going to grow up?

Are you ever going to grow up? 

Suggestions for the Middle School Teacher

I was on the phone with one of my dearest friends from my college days at
UNC-Greensboro recently.  I don’t recall what we were talking about, but all of the sudden, she said to me while laughing, “Are you every going to grow up?”

Gosh, I hope not.

I’m 53 years old, and I suppose that technically, by now, I am a grown up.  J

….But I have never wanted to act like a grown up…especially while I am teaching my middle school children.

Growing up has always sounded so awful.

As a child, after vacation time was over, I remember hearing the dreaded words, “Back to reality.”

And I often heard “Wait until you get into the ‘real world’”. 

Sounds like a horrible place.

I was never really interested in that.

I’ve taught for 26 years, and I’ve heard many things yelled at children by teachers who should probably not be teaching this age group:

“Why do you ask stupid questions like that?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Shut your mouth.”
“Was I talking to you?”
“Why can’t you act like a decent human being?”

What makes anyone think that saying things like this to a child who is 11-14 years old is a good approach?  Does anyone really think that it is going to make them want to work hard for us? 

Should we hold our students accountable?  Absolutely.  100%.

Should we have moments of seriousness with them when we are making significant and important points about responsibility?  Yes!

…But we have to remember, we get more bees with honey than vinegar. 

Middle school children will make our lives hell on earth if we are unnecessarily mean to them. 

They must know that we care about them.

We absolutely have to laugh with our children every single day.  We mustn’t be afraid of silly humor.  They love it!

When we get too serious with students in this age group, they turn off, and they don’t want to sing.

So, I continue to act silly and laugh as often as I can with my students.  It keeps me excited about teaching them and keeps us all giggling while we are learning. 

It’s better that way.  It makes the journey a happy one. 

Keep reminding yourself what it was like when you were age 11-14.  We liked to move.  We liked to be silly.  We had crushes.  We didn’t understand what was happening to our bodies.  We were awkward.  Most of us didn’t know what we wanted, and for those of us who did, we didn’t know how to work toward it.  Some of us didn’t feel worthy.  Some of us were handed everything and didn’t know how to work for something of our own. 

The list goes on.

Have I grown up?  Absolutely!

But, I want to stay in touch with what it was like to be a child for the rest of my life, and I think that any person who chooses to be a teacher must stay in touch with that feeling and NOT allow ourselves to ever become so “grown up” that we do things and say things that squelch the little spirits who are longing to find the ways to work toward their dreams. 

When we are kind to our students….when we laugh with them….when they know we care about them, they know it.   And besides...people who grow up don't want to get into the pool anymore because it's too cold or too hot or they are worried about how they look or whatever...

I think we have to keep getting wet.  

Give it a try.  I dare you!

It will change the dynamic in your middle school classroom.

And watch this video.  It's one of my favorite songs from the musical Matilda called "When I grow up".

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Facebook "LIVE" this week with Mr D!

This Wednesday night, September 27th at 6:30 PM Eastern, I will host a Facebook “LIVE” session during which I will discuss some of the ways that I work to get my newest middle school singers to become invested in the work we do in our choral music classroom.  Let’s face it.   They don’t care about anything you’ve accomplished with your former students.   It’s all about them now. 
I’ll share everything I can think of that has worked for me.

And, of course, I will save time for you to ask questions about anything and everything on the subject or off of it!  Let’s learn from each other!  If it relates to teaching middle school chorus, let’s share/chat/ask questions about it. 

During the session, I will announce some limited time special large discounts on S-Cubed products from my TPT store that will last for 24 hours, so it’ll be a great time to get a deal. 

Hope to meet many of you there!

How should I teach literature? Moving away from "rote" teaching...

I often get questions like the ones listed below from teachers who are using S-Cubed, the program I created to help teachers learn to teach sight singing to their beginners:

*When do you start teaching literature to your students?  
*When do you actually "make them read"?   
*How do you introduce a song?  
*What do you do with your students in terms of teaching literature until their sight singing skills match their abilities to learn songs? Do you just teach them from rote?

I've written and spoken about it before and that is why I included the links to the videos above (just click them!), but I realized that I haven't actually written about it yet!  So, here we go!

Let's start by answering the questions right up front and then I'll do some explaining.  The answers are in blue:

When do you start teaching literature to your students?  
My students begin holding folders in their hands sometime during the first two weeks of school.  When I give them the music for the first time, I use my Smartboard to project the music they are holding, and I teach them about staffs, systems and measure numbers so they can properly follow along.  I also teach them how to follow "part 1" and "part 2" because beginners struggle with this. If they get lost while holding the music, mass hysteria can break out!  So, we must take time to help them unravel the mystery of staffs/systems/measures so we can cross over and begin to teach literature.  

How do I introduce a song? 
During the first two weeks of school, I teach rounds from rote as a part of their daily lessons.  This gives me the chance to focus on proper vowel production, breath support, tall mouth position, and singing posture, and it also helps them learn how to watch me.

I use solfege when I introduce the melodies to their first songs.  It helps reinforce the use of the hand signs and it gives them the outline to the main melody of the song they are learning.

I use "form" to teach songs later on as well.  I have shared some creative ways to do that in this link.

I combine these techniques and many more as time passes so I get to vary my daily approaches as they begin to assemble the tools they need for their toolbox in order to learn songs more quickly and more independently.  

Until their sight singing skills catch up to their ability to sing difficult songs, do I just teach them by rote?   When do you actually "make them read"?

This is where we all have to really be careful.  If we push too fast with how we teach repertoire, our beginners will get frustrated and disengage.  

We must remember that becoming musically literate is a process that takes years and years just like learning language.  During my first years of teaching, I was completely insensitive to this important fact.  I took piano lessons at age five.  I sang in boys choir at age 10.  I would get so frustrated with my beginners.  Why wasn't it innate for my students to be able to follow the music and successfully interpret the hundreds of various dots, curves, and symbols in a single song?!

Over time, I learned!

With 8 months of work on S-Cubed, my students are able to sight sing an 8 measure two-part melody with skips as wide as an octave and rhythms that include dotted quarter eighth note combos a capella within in five minutes.  

...But I don't expect that sort of work in an actual 10 page piece of literature until much later.  First, I have to build the skill sets required for them to do so and that takes time, tenacity and patience.

I think of it like this: When we were first able to speak a full sentence, we had no idea what a noun and verb were. 

We just did it. 

In S-Cubed, I purposefully don't introduce many of the details of music theory until Level TWO because it would be like trying to teach a 6 year old how to diagram a sentence.  Teaching noun/verb/predicate is the easy part because by the time they are ready to learn it, they are experienced enough to really understand it. 

So, here are some thoughts to consider:

When teaching literature, you apply what you can from the sight singing technique of your choice...whatever that is.  When your teaching of that method intersects with the literature you are teaching that day, use it. 

Do some rote teaching for sure...especially in the early days of the teaching the program.   Don't beat yourself up over it or feel guilty about it!  As I mentioned above, when teaching by rote, you are also teaching some valuable skills: Listening, connection between conductor/student and much more.  ...Just don't plan to teach by rote forever!  Doing so would be the same as reading a book to an 8th grader rather than teaching him to read it himself over time from K-7th!

Until the sight singing skills catch up to their ability to sing songs, we must constantly brainstorm about ways to teach literature that are engaging including:

*Using solfege to teach melodies
*Teach them to listen for FORM...melodic/rhythmic/thematic. I let them draw pictures of the form of the song when they are working to learn a new song. ABA can look like "duck/dog/duck". It doesn't matter what they draw as long as they are listening and hearing differences in patterns both rhythmic and melodic. 

We have to meet them where they are. If we get too focused on connecting the dots directly from our sight singing method of choice to the literature, we limit ourselves and we frustrate the students who simply don't have the tools yet in their toolbox.

Final thought:  

If you move to France for one year, you may become quite well spoken in French by the time you return to your native country, but if we are totally honest, most of us wouldn't be able to call ourselves completely fluent. Fluency takes years and years of work and requires speaking, reading, writing and comprehension on a very high level.

Daddy-Candy pwease
Daddy-May I candy pwease
Daddy, may I have candy please?

And to have them write it brings an entirely different set of challenges:  

Learning to read music follows the same process. The idea is to make the process of the learning of the literature valuable and enjoyable for the students who are "early and mid-process" and that is what I strived to create with S-Cubed.  We want to keep them engaged and excited to come back to sing the next day!

That's what middle school chorus should be all about!

If you have ideas to share about ways that you introduce a song, "connect the dots" between S-Cubed and teaching literature or anything else related to helping your students on their journey toward becoming competent, fluent readers of music, please comment below!  Let's help each other!

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