You use REAL candles? Classroom Management

In 1996, I began teaching at South Orange Middle School in South Orange, New Jersey.  It was my 6th year teaching.  I knew that I needed to find a holiday song that was appropriate for the diverse community in which I was teaching.  

Enter "Light the Candles All Around the World" by Teresa Jennings from one of my favorite resources for great songs for this age group called Music K-8.

I love the resource for so many reasons.  The students love the songs.  The writers for the magazine give suggestions for ideas of what you can do with choreography and staging.  They provide tracks.  Everything is reproducible.  It is easy on the budget!

After performing it for the first time, I knew I'd found a keeper.  I've performed it with my students every single year since that first year, and my students still love this song!

Recently, I posted this picture on social media.

A parent took the photo during "Light the Candles" at our concert on December 11, 2018.

Several folks commented on the photo, but one comment in particular stuck out to me.

"Where do you get your fake candles?"

I wrote back...

"They are real!  I get them on Amazon."

I completely understand why some teachers would never feel comfortable using real candles with this age group, and I total get why administrators would never allow it. 

But for me, the real candles are critical to the magic of the moment, but more importantly, the magic for the KIDS in that moment. 

Middle school aged children are often met with distrust, so when they don't meet that lack of trust and are given the proper tools and information they need to succeed, in my experience, they step up to the plate.

I don't take the use of real candles lightly at all.  I prepare them.  I teach fire safety.  We review "Stop drop and roll".  We talk about how important it would be to speak up if they saw something happen during the concert.  I tell them about the importance of securing their hair.  I have three parents sitting close by with fire extinguishers ready for use if needed.  I share with them that if, at any moment, they feel like the wax is dripping onto their hands passed the protective shield and it makes them uncomfortable, they can blow the candle out.  ...And I don't tempt fate!  We only rehearse with the candles one time. 

I go on and on in the preparations...I work to dot every "i" and cross every "t" about how to handle the candles properly in order to create this special moment for themselves and for the audience. 

...And it is a moment they never forget.   Use this link and go to the 25 minute 33 second mark to experience it.

On the day I teach the candle safety lesson, I tell the kids about how many times people have said to me.... "You trust 300+ middle school children to light actual candles with real flames?!?"

I tell them that the answer is yes.  I trust them. 

My students always laugh and say things like, "They are right Mr. Duncan.  Not sure you should trust us."

But at the same time they tell me that I shouldn't trust them, amidst the uncomfortable laughter, there  are important moments of realization that are occurring.   They've been entrusted with a responsibility...the type of responsibility that middle school children long for..."OMG.  This adult person trusts us.  And because he trusts us, we have the chance to prove we are trustworthy, and we get to enjoy this amazing moment.  My parents and friends get to see me do this."

It's huge.

It's stuff like this that changes the dynamic between us and our students in all the right ways.

I would never recommend that a teacher use real candles if the teacher is struggling with classroom management or has a strained relationship with their middle school students. 

But if you feel ready and prepare them responsibly, it's powerful for everyone involved. 

And speaking about changing the dynamic in your classroom...

S-Cubed Bundle Special through Dec. 22!

January is a great time for a fresh start with sight singing, and I am offering specials on S-Cubed Bundles for one week starting today!  

Until Saturday, December 22nd at 6 PM Eastern, here are the specials:

Level TWO, normally $159, is $59.
Level ONE, normally $269, is $99.
The MEGA Bundle, normally $369, is $149.

If you already have the S-Cubed Bundles, tell a peer about the specials!  Also, if you post a video on social media of your students and you using S-Cubed, email me the link at, and I'll send you The Middle School New Chorus Teacher Starter Pack bundle for free!  It's normally $89.  In the subject line, put "S-Cubed Video Post".  Please use #sightsinging #scubed in your post.  The offer is also valid until Saturday, December 22 at 6 PM.

Happy Holidays!

'Getting Started Guide" for Music Prodigy with S-Cubed

Three years ago, someone from Music Prodigy contacted me to see if there was some way that we could collaborate together with my S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners.

At that time, I had never heard of the company.  After a quick google search and a conversation with a music colleague who is a technology guru, I had an idea!

I could create one-to-one homework examples.  So, I sat down and looked at every sight-singing example I created for my S-Cubed program, and I created a homework example that reinforced the skill sets we learned that day in class with the sight-singing example.  Having never used the program at that time, I had this dream that I would assign a daily homework assignment with Music Prodigy.
That isn't the way I've ended up using it most of the time, but I liked the idea, and I went with it.

The folks at Music Prodigy put the examples up on my homepage, and as I always do, I jumped into the deep end.

I am a person who learns by "doing'!

I loved the program from the first day I used it because the students get immediate feedback, a grade and most importantly, practice!

...But I had no idea how to use the program.  I must have sent 20 emails in the first few months asking questions at  The customer service was fast.  As music teachers, we always need it yesterday, and they were on top of it!

So, recently, when they reached out to me and asked me to proofread their "Getting Started Guide" for S-Cubed/Music Prodigy, I was thrilled.

I wish I'd had this document when I started!  I still have lots to learn, so I know it will be helpful going forward as I continue to use Music Prodigy with my singers.

Here is your "Getting Started Guide" for using Music Prodigy with S-Cubed!

It's a free download, so grab it!  This document will help those who are already using Music Prodigy with S-Cubed and those who are considering adding Music Prodigy.

If you've already purchased S-Cubed from Teachers Pay TeachersJW Pepper or from any other outlet where the program is available, you can "Add-on" Music Prodigy for $149 without having to purchase the entire program.

For more information on Music Prodigy and S-Cubed, click here!

Accountability: Grades Matter in Middle School Chorus-Classroom Management

It's early November.  School has been in full swing for months now.  Habits have been formed in our middle school choral music classrooms.   We are reaping what we've sewn in terms of classroom management:  the good, the bad and the ugly.

I often hear adults complain about the ills of modern technology and the effects we think it will have on our young students, but we can choose to do the opposite.

We can choose to attempt to view the world through their lens.

How can we use technology and how our middle school singers receive it to meet them where they are and get positive results?

For example, I am using Google Classroom with my students, and I absolutely love it.  I am slowly working toward using less paper.  I can use google forms for surveys.  I can have them record themselves and upload the recordings into the classroom.  I can record parts for challenging songs and allow them to listen to them and work on them outside of class.  I use Music Prodigy with my students to help them practice and improve their sight singing abilities in combination with S-Cubed Sight Singing Program.  I use Remind to send texts to the students.

All of these new ways of reaching the students in the phone in their pocket, their chrome book, their i-pads or whatever devices they use are completely different than they were 10 years ago, and they allow us to give instant feedback to our students.

This is the key:  instant feedback.

Middle School students expect it now.  They post on social media and then refresh over and over again to see what the response is.   Even adults have begun to expect instant information.  We see a tease on a news show before a commercial, and we mute the television and go to "google" and find the information before they return from the commercial break. 

As electronic grade books exploded, I noticed that more and more of my students set notifications on their phones so they see every single grade a teacher enters.

Back in the day, that wasn't possible.

So, I decided to rely more and more on this form of communication to give information on their daily performance in my class.

When I enter their weekly participation grade, I am speaking directly to the student.  I have an opportunity to give feedback that I didn't have before using electronic grade books. 

So I use it...a lot. 

And they notice.

If I enter a grade of less than 100, and I place a note in the "notes" section about why the student earned that grade, I often see a change in the behavior the following week.  Likewise, I use feedback and grades to encourage students who are quietly showing awesome leadership.  Here are some examples from this past week:

I have classes as large as 84 students, so using the electronic grade book to communicate about their work has been very helpful.  The number in the grade book speaks, and you also have the opportunity to share specifics about why you gave that number.   I simply follow the rubric in my syllabus.   The feedback can be extra important at this time of year when we want to help our middle school singers stay on the right track.

Now, if we could just find a way to use Fortnite to teach them to sing...

Have a great week!

October S-Cubed Giveaway!

S-Cubed Sight Singing Program is now offered on JW Pepper and Music Prodigy, and I am super excited about both.  I love the assessment and practice features of Music Prodigy, and to have the program offered through the iconic JW Pepper is an amazing part of this journey.

The only place you'll be able to get discounts, giveaways of the full program and free lesson offerings, however, is by staying in touch with me through my blog, FacebookTwitter, and by following my TpT store.

It's time for me to give away Level ONE of S-Cubed again to someone who has been eyeing it!

And after the giveaway winner is announced, I'll email everyone who entered the giveaway and offer an outstanding deep discount on the program with all of the details on how to get the discount.

So, if you are using the program already, share this news with them so they can purchase at a discount!

Here is what I'm giving away...for free.  It's the full program valued at $269.

All you do is enter on the rafflecopter below.  You can do ALL of the entries or just one.  It's up to you.

You can enter from now (October 20) until Tuesday night, October 23 at midnight.  

I will email everyone Wednesday morning to tell you about how you can get the special deal in case you don't win.  The deal will be available for 3 days. 

S-Cubed Now Also Available at JW Pepper!

My journey with S-Cubed Sight Singing Program began in 2009. 

My husband's job took us to Switzerland, and for one year, I didn't teach school.  
So, I started writing my sight singing "book".
My friend Dave and my sister, Teresa, both of whom are classically trained musicians, proofed my daily chapters.   They were so helpful and encouraging...
I remember some friends of ours saying..."What are you doing with your time?"
"I'm writing a book", I answered.
"About what?"
"Sight Singing."
They were horrified and asked us never to asked them to read that book.
We haven't talked to them in a while...  :-)
We need friends who support us, right?
The bottom line was that the S-Cubed System didn't translate to a "book".  
I knew it.  They knew it.  But alas, I proceeded.
I went ahead and submitted my transcripts to folks in the major music education publishing houses.  
It was a different time.  In my mind, music publishing houses were required in order to gain traction for your music program or for your work in music education.
I got some return emails, but it was super slow.  Alas, after about 2 years of waiting, I got a few rejections in 2012.
That same year, my husband, Joe, read an article in a business magazine about a teacher who had made a million dollars on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) with her lesson plans.
He said, "I think this might be your platform."
I answered, "My market is super small, but I'll give it a look."

So, during the summer of 2013, I sat down to see what TpT was all about.  
It was filled with adorable, attractive lesson plans for K-2.  
Not my forte...
But I kept looking at it, and I figured out that I could actually offer my program and succeed or fail based on its value to the consumers.  
I decided to build the program for my home state of Georgia to help choral music teachers in my state succeed at their Large Group Performance Evaluation in sight singing. 
So, in August 2013, I set up my I-phone in the corner of my room every single day for a full school year, and I came home and downloaded my videos to YouTube while creating the power points...which I was awful at doing...but I went forth knowing that my heart was in the right place.  I let the belief that my work and passion could be of value to other teachers guide me toward completion rather than becoming paralyzed by my fears and leaving me unable to take action.  
It's the same thing I preach to my students, so I followed my own advice.
I am so grateful for the TpT platform.  It has truly changed my life and helped me fulfill the life-long dream of sharing my ideas with teachers in real classrooms around the globe.
TpT is a newer platform for those of us who've taught for a hot minute.
I get emails often that read:
"My district doesn't allow us to purchase from TpT.  Do you sell it anywhere else?"

I answer, "Yes!  We offer it on Music Prodigy along with my supplemental homework assessment exercises.   It's the only place I offer those assessments."   
Too often, the reply is, "We don't approve that one either.  By the way....what is it?"
I reply about how amazing Music Prodigy is..... along with details based on my personal experience with my beginners in Atlanta area public schools, but it's hard to get people on board when they are required to follow district guidelines regarding purchasing.   Music Prodigy is a truly 21st century offering.  

Students sing into a device.
The notes turn green, yellow or red instantly to tell them how they've done.  It gives them a grade.
Doesn't matter..... district leaders (superintendents, principals, AP's....all of them) are notoriously slow with change.   In my experience, they are very busy following the protocol.  In my view, Music Prodigy and TpT should be vendors for every district in the USA and 5 years ago.
..Too many teachers are missing out on incredible resources.  
But sort of like a cell phone that is too far from the tower, technology and the world of education often have a hard time connecting as quickly as they should.    I'm so grateful that teachers around the globe bypass that obstacle, but the truth is, they shouldn't have to do so.
Enter JW Pepper...
...the largest distributor of sheet music to educators in the country...for many, many over 100.   Everyone who teaches music in the school setting knows them...including the 68-year-old accountant who approves your purchases.  

"That we can do" she says...."but district says no to TpT".

JW Pepper was "Amazon" for music teachers before Amazon was a thing.

So, when JW Pepper reached out to me and told me they were able to offer large digital resources like S-Cubed Sight Singing Program and that they would like me to take part with my program, I was beyond excited.  
...A little bitter they didn't answer that email 9 years ago, but I'll work through it with my therapist.  :-)
For me...a teacher who started teaching in the 1980's... JW Pepper is iconic.
But, I wanted to check with my TpT music colleagues...who are mostly in their 20's and 30's.  
My question was this:
"When you need music room resources, do you still go to JW Pepper?  I do, but I'm old.  Spill..."
They all said "YES!"

So, I am ecstatic about JW Pepper asking me to offer my program on their website!  :-)

The truth is, I am honored.  JW Pepper is epic.  They've been around for over 100 years.  I've used them for my entire career and will continue to do so.   I am so happy they've continued to morph with the market the best way they can and include types of offerings that the younger generation of music teachers have grown to expect.  
"I purchase it.  I download it now.  No waiting.  No delivery costs." 
The younger generation of teachers who've grown up on Instagram and Snapchat....they are not going to wait to get the resource.  3 days is long.  :-)

And JW Pepper...a company that is over 100 years old... has met them where they are.
I am grateful for the opportunity to offer S-Cubed on JW Pepper!  It was truly one of my dreams from the beginning when I started writing the program in Lausanne, Switzerland in the fall of 2009.

I continue to be thankful that I've been able to share S-Cubed on TpT.    I will continue to offer discounts and special giveaways from that store.  They give me the flexibility to do that, and I am excited to get to continue to do so.    I am thankful for the forward-thinking company, Music Prodigy for believing in my work early on and for offering me a platform to share an enhancement of S-Cubed that offers an amazing individual assessment opportunity for my students and me that is still only available through Music Prodigy.   We've been working together for 4 years now.  It's another bit of proof that some things never change...Relationships matter.  

Please share the news that S-Cubed is now offered on this iconic website for music teachers.   
...JW Pepper...the Original Amazon for music teachers!  

My shoulder hurts! How can I conduct?!

The first year I started teaching, I also decided to start competing in Aerobic Gymnastics.

(Who does that?...but I digress.)

And without any formal training...I read the rule book and went to a competition.

Three years later, I was fortunate enough to win the nationals of the event.

And then, I kept competing for five more years representing the USA at the World Championships in the male individual category...while teaching full time.

But my job is to teach choral music in public schools and to conduct them.

Jumping several feet into the air and landing in a pushup position on a hardwood floor can't be good for careers like the one I chose.


In 2008, I remember doing a "dip" during my workout and thinking..."I just ripped my rotator cuff."

But I kept on going.

Fast forward to 2018.

I've been in Physical Therapy for both shoulders at four different times since I competed in my beloved sport.

Four years ago, I was conducting my 8th-grade chorus when my right shoulder felt like it literally popped out of the socket.   One of my students said, "Mr. Duncan...are you ok?"

 I started PT and helped my right shoulder get into decent condition.

A little over a year ago, my left shoulder started talking to me.  It was a slow progression.  Sometime during the 2017-2018 school year, I recall a workout during which I knew something bad happened, but I kept on rolling.

It hurt.

I ignored it.

By March 2018, the pain in my left shoulder was almost unbearable.  When I lifted it to conduct my chorus one day for their GMEA adjudication, a bolt of pain shot through my body.  My face didn't show the pain this time, and I finished the work.

I called my doctor for a prescription to PT and started it all again.

My Physical Therapist is awesome.   He works out hard and loves the work that he does.   With someone like me, who apparently has a very high tolerance for pain, it must be hard to diagnose what is happening.

On the first day of this most recent round of PT, I knew my shoulder was broken.  I could barely do the simple exercises he was asking me to do even though I was still working out at the gym and doing unassisted pull-ups in the pike position.

I did PT through July 2018.  My pain had decreased from a 10 to about 3.

He was happy.

I was happy.


I told him I thought I needed an MRI.  He seemed shocked.  "You're so much better."

I said...I just want to see what is happening in there.

Three tears.

One complete and severe.

My therapist was shocked.  "You're symptoms don't match the MRI."    ...because I hid them and kept pounding out the daily work.

The doctor, who operates on football players for the Atlanta Falcons, said to me..."We have serious problems in your shoulder.  I'm not sure I can fix it, but I want to try because you are so active and fit.   If I can't fix it, I'll make you feel better than you currently do."

I was crushed.

It was almost the end of July and school started July 30.

I asked the doctor, "Can I wait until December after my concert?  I could also do November if you really think I need to do it."

He answered..."You've already waited.   The longer you wait, the less likely it is possible for me to fix it."

He brought future doctors in the room to learn from my case.  "I'm not sure how he still has that muscle mass.   It's not normal."

So, here I the mess of my own creation...

And my right shoulder is way worse than my left but it hasn't been screaming as loudly in recent years.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

So, I threw all of the information into the pot, and I decided to get the shoulder surgery on August 27th.  I will have had 3 weeks with my students.   My thinking was this:  I will have established routines and given them a good start.

The doctor says to take three weeks off work.

My current plan is to take one.  ...But I've given myself permission to take more.  I have to get on the other side of the surgery to determine if it's necessary.

If he can really fix it, I'll be recovering for 9 months minimum.  For 8 weeks, I will be immobilized in a sling.

If he can't fix it but is able to help me feel better, I'll be in the sling for 3 weeks and in PT for 3 months.

8 days from now, I will know what I face when I wake up from the surgery.

So this is where I am in this moment.

I am telling my students about the surgery tomorrow.

I know they will be super supportive of me and will do everything they can do to make sure I don't cause damage and get to recover properly.  I'm going to be honest with them.  I'm vulnerable, and I'm going to reveal that to them.

It's been my way for 27 years.

I'm going to tell them how much I want to still give them the experiences they deserve and that they expect but that my health has to be my guiding light.

I'm both horrified about what is on the other side of the surgery and exhilarated by it.

I'm looking forward to this new journey with my students in some ways.  I'll learn new ways to solve problems.  I'll learn new ways to teach that I've never explored.  I'll lean on them more and realize what they can do that I had not explored before because I could solve it on my own quickly.

I'm not really good at asking for support.

I have to change that...

I'm going to.

So, I plan to post on my blog, on Facebook and on YouTube about this journey.

I think some of the posts will be raw and not so cute.

I'm going to lay it out there and share.

It's always been my way.

No reason to change it now...and I hope that other teachers who experience what I'm experiencing will benefit and learn from my experience and from my mistakes.

Fingers crossed.

S-Cubed Multiple License Discount through August 31, 2018

It's August and students around the country are headed back to school!  I am finishing up week two here in Georgia, and my beginners will start ear-training with Lesson 3 of S-Cubed on Monday! 

More and more, I'm hearing from teachers who have spread the word about S-Cubed Sight Singing Program to their peers, and their peers want it too!

So, I'm offering a special Multiple License Deal on S-Cubed from now until August 31st at midnight on the MEGA Bundle and Level ONE.

For the rest of August, when you purchase more than one license, the first unit is full price, and all subsequent units purchased will be 50% off the regular price.  

If you have already purchased a license, and you want more licenses, you TOO can take advantage of this offer by signing into TpT using the account with which you made the original purchase.  Just go to "My Purchases"  and locate the bundle you have already purchased.  Click "Buy Additional Licenses" to take advantage of the deal.  

Have a great school year!  

To Do's and NOT to Do's on the First Day of Chorus!

How is it possible that it’s already time for school to start in many districts around the country? I’ll be meeting my own students for the first time on August 6th…right in the middle of summer…in Atlanta…also known as HOTlanta…for a reason.

I hope the air-conditioning systems are working.

It is critical that all teachers start off strong at the beginning of the year, but I think it is even more important for chorus teachers because we often teach large numbers of students in our classes.
When I say “start off strong”, I often think of a quote that I heard so often when I was in college getting my music degree while I still looked 14 years old.
“Don’t smile before Christmas!”
Um no…that is not what I mean.  PLEASE smile before Christmas!  It sets you up so much better for a great year!
I teach middle school chorus, and if I didn’t smile before Christmas, those children would make my life so difficult!

So, what exactly do I mean by “start off strong”?
Here are some “Do’s and Do Not’s” for the first day of school that are especially important for my middle school colleagues but probably apply to all teachers:

1) DO sing on the first day
It doesn’t matter what you sing as long as they are having fun and feeling successful quickly. Whatever you teach them needs to be something that you are 100% comfortable teaching and that you are 100% sure you can get them sounding good. The first thing I do on the first day once everyone is settled is a game called Forbidden Pattern. They get exposure to the solfege hand signs, and we all get to have some fun. It is so important to smile, laugh and have fun on that first day. So, choose a singing activity that meets that criteria, and you’ll be off to a great start!

2) DO have assigned seats on the first day.

It’s so important that our middle school students walk into the room and feel quiet structure from the first moment. Think of how your room flows so you can make sure to create an opportunity for success as your students enter the room and attempt to do what you ask of them. Remember that middle school children, especially 6th graders, are like schools of fish. They follow the person who is in front of them unless you’ve been very clear with your signage.
…And remember that they are nervous.
The structure you create for your students will be so comforting on that first day, and it will set you up for calm rather than chaos at the start of your classes after the first day.
Here is a video of what my students see the moment they walk into my room. Note how my room flows and notice how and why I made the decisions I made about where to place the instructions and handouts. If my room were organized differently, I’d make different decisions. We have to think like a nervous 6th grader when we make those decisions.

3) Do NOT go over the rules on the first day.

Nothing sucks the excitement about new beginnings than a teacher who starts the first day of school by going over a list of the rules. Middle school children immediately “turn off”. Doing this makes them want to break the rules. They size us up quickly. We need them to leave the room thinking “I can’t WAIT to go to chorus tomorrow.”
You definitely can take the children through procedures on the first day, but keep it short and relevant to whatever you are doing. For example, when it appears that most of my students have finished their word find activity, I say the following:
“Everyone write your first and last name in the upper right-hand corner of your paper. Does anyone have a folder with pockets like this one? (I hold up an example.) Great! If you have one, please take the word find and place it on the right-hand side of your folder. That is where all of your handouts will go. The left-hand side of your folder will contain written warm-up questions and answers. If you don’t have a folder with pockets today, you have until Friday to get one. You’ll need to bring it to chorus class every day. I will collect them at random times throughout the year and grade them.”
When you are ready to go over the rules, here is a free syllabus for you.

4) DO give yourself a quiet “starting” activity of some kind.

I don’t know about your school, but at my school, the student rosters are about 80% correct on the first day of school because students enroll late and others don’t bother to withdraw when they have moved. Some students get lost trying to locate your room. Other students confuse “Music Class” with “Chorus Class”. The list goes on and on as to why the start of your class on that first day will be messy, but all you need to do is to plan for it. So, I always give my students a simple word find puzzle with music terms. It buys me time.

5) DO look each of your new students in the eye that first day and try to pronounce their names.

You are thinking…”How am I supposed to do that?!?”
Let me clarify!
I teach grades 6 through 8, and my 6th graders are all new to me. I get about 100 new 6th grade students each year. So, I take the time on that first day at the very beginning of class after everyone is quiet while they are working on their word find to go around the room “one-by-one-face-to-face” with my 6th graders and try to pronounce their names. I make notes on my seating chart. I do it quietly so they don’t feel embarrassed.
I’ve taught most of my 7th and 8th graders before, but I make sure to find the ones I didn’t teach and make that important connection.
Looking them directly in the eye and saying their names gives you a connection from day 1. It helps them feel valued.
With class sizes as large as ours can be, it is important to send that message from the start.

Dale Duncan-Creator of S-Cubed Sight Singing for Beginners.

How will YOU teach Sight Singing for 2018-2019?

In many places, choral assessment season for 2018 has come and gone.

When I finished creating and sharing Level 2 of the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program in December of 2015, I wasn't sure how the work would translate for other teachers and students because it is part curriculum and part philosophy.

Each time I receive an email, a tweet, a video, a tag or a Facebook message from teachers who want to share their success with me and with others, it becomes clear that the program has translated.   It took countless hours for me to create this program, but knowing that it is working for so many teachers and students definitely makes it worth the effort!

It takes me 2 and a half years to complete the program with my own beginners, so by this date (April 2018), the early adopters of S-Cubed have had ample time to finish the work and to receive the full benefits of the program.  Their colleagues have also had time to ask which program they are using, and that is the primary way that the word is spread about S-Cubed Sight Singing Program.

When I finished creating S-Cubed, I wanted it to survive or fail based on its merits.  It was sort of scary actually!  I am so grateful that people continue to learn about the program from teachers like you.

Thank you for continuing to share the word about this program.

Over the last few years, I have heard from the following types teachers who are using this program with success as they teach their beginners:
*Middle school teachers who've struggled teaching sight singing to beginners
*Band teachers and orchestra teachers who end up teaching a choir class
*First year teachers who didn't have any idea where to start
*4th and 5th grade teachers who want to lay the groundwork for sight singing with solfege
*High School teachers who have choirs with no background in music literacy
*Veteran teachers who want a new approach to re-energize their teaching
*General music teachers who want to get their students to sing

So, share this giveaway with any and all of them.

People can enter the giveaway until 5 PM Eastern on Thursday, April 12th.  I will announce the winner Thursday evening.  I'll email everyone who enters to let them know who won, and also to let them know of a super price cut on several of the best-selling bundles in my program.

I will include awesome deals on:
The Elementary Bundle which exposes the students to solfege, the hand signs, ear-training, eye-training, and reading notes from the staff.
Level ONE which take you up to two-part treble sight singing with skips as wide as an octave and dotted quarter/8th rhythm combos and much more.
The MEGA Bundle which includes everything in the program and takes your students through SAB sight singing and very difficult chromatics.

Go ahead and start planning for next year and get a super deal on S-Cubed!

...and one of you is going to win it!

Enter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Assessment season S-Cubed Sight Singing MEGA Bundle Giveaway!

Have you watched your peers walk into and out of the sight-singing room this year relaxed and pleased with the results?

Well, it's your turn.

The benefits of using S-Cubed Sight Singing Program far outweigh the rating our students get. 

Tone production, listening skills, pitch and rhythmic accuracy all improve with this program.

Originally, I designed this program for Middle School singers because those are the students that I teach.  It became apparent over time that this program is more than just another sight-singing program because of the benefits my own students have enjoyed as well as the students of the teachers who have purchased and used the program for years now. 

So, I decided to have a giveaway since lots of people see and hear about this program when they go to their assessments with their choirs.

If you've already got the program, tell your district supervisor and help your leader realize this would be good for the district and encourage him or her to take a look at the TpT for Schools program which has made it a lot easier for administrators and teachers to collaborate on curriculum purchases like S-Cubed Sight Singing Program. 

If you've told him/her, and he/she isn't listening, tell the leaders of your elementary school feeder programs.  They can use the first five lessons of the program, and it will last them all year since most elementary teachers don't see their students more than once or twice weekly.  And most importantly, exposing elementary singers to S-Cubed will help their students enter their middle school choral classroom using solfege with ease, and their ears will be significantly improved. 

If you have a high school teacher in your system who doesn't have a strong feeder program and who wants to get his/her beginners to learn to sight-sing and to enjoy the process, let them know about these testimonials about how it has worked with that age group.

The winner will be announced Wednesday, March 21st.  I'll email everyone who entered the giveaway and share the name of the person who one, and I'll offer each person who entered the giveaway 50% off the regular price of the MEGA Bundle and Level one of S-Cubed.  Normally, those two bundles are $349 and $249 each so it will be a great time to grab the program.  The winner will have 48 hours to contact me to get the MEGA Bundle, and the 50% special offer will last Wednesday and Thursday, March 21 and 22 until midnight. 

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2018 Choral Assessment Henderson Middle School S-Cubed Sight Singing

It's March 15, 2018, and I've just completed my annual choral assessment with my 4 choirs at Henderson Middle.

This is my 26th year teaching, but it doesn't matter.  I still get nervous and excited, and I still learn from every choir I watch at the events.

This year, I didn't participate in my home district's assessment event.  The dates bumped up against spring break at the very end of March, and at my school, there are about 10 field trips that occur during the last 10 days before the break.  I'm not sure why our district plans the assessment so late in the calendar, but it is what it is.  I knew that if my students went that late, our results would not be good ones.  My personal belief is that assessment should occur at the end of 3rd nine weeks so you can turn the corner for the fourth nine weeks and teach new ideas.

So, last summer, as soon as I learned about the dates of my home district's LGPE, I started sending emails to learn how to participate in a different event in a new district that would create the opportunity for my students to do their best.

That is, after all, what is it ultimately about.

So, I took my 8th graders to a new event!   New building.  New choirs for them to hear.   And on and on.

It was the perfect situation in the end....even though I had to pay a lot of money for buses to get them there and back because our district isn't able to accommodate times for choirs after 2 PM.   But, then again, our home district surprised us with the same outcome last year.  They notified us one month before our event that some of us would have awkward timing that would impact bus timing that could cause our students to have to stay until 5:30 PM (even if they sang at 12:30 PM)  in order to get back to school.

Somehow, our district, who pays for our buses to go to LGPE assessment manages to accommodate athletics and cheerleaders after 2 PM, but not choirs, or science and math field trips...but that's another blog post.

I digress.

So, I got my students to the event early because I wanted them to get the opportunity to listen to other groups.

We were able to hear four groups...and the event was executed on time like clockwork.  Truly amazing.

Oh wow.

On the day before we went to the event, I was giving instructions to students about the field trip.  One of them asked a question...I don't remember what it was...but the contents were something like..."Normally, we are the group that people wait to hear.  Will we be that in this district?"

I answered honestly.

"First of all, I'm not sure where you got that impression.  Second of all,  just sing."

So, the private bus company we hired (same as last year to get us to our own home event) to help us arrive and depart with was amazing.  They arrived on time...early actually.  They called me to tell me they were there.  They even called the day before to make sure we were feeling comfortable.  I met them in the parking lot, and I told them that they would be waiting because of the National School Walkouts.  They totally accommodated us which made it so much easier for me, the parents and the students.

I am grateful to have the funding for my program to hire buses for my students.   It's taken years to build that, and I don't take it for granted.   It wouldn't be possible without years of relationship building with the parents, students and with the administration.

My students and I listened to four groups sing.  The singing my students and I heard during that time was truly inspirational.

I heard syllabic inflection.  ...Epically actually.

I heard stunning tone.

True choral singing.

My hands began to shake a little.  I saw my students looking back at me like...."Um...that was good."

I was thrilled to see it...and more importantly to see that they noticed!

We walked into the warm-up room, and I tore into the warm-up as focused as I'd been since you start with that, you should stop...but you get the point.

So, it was good to do something different!  I am so glad I ventured outside my comfort zone and tried something new.

They probably would have sung as well in their old location, but that zip-a-dee-doo-da of new energy for me was exactly the shot in the arm that I needed.

Here are some links to their performances:

Hitch a Ride (sorry I forgot to teach the Picardy 3rd, but it was my first time trying the piece!  Ball dropped...but all involved survived and thrived despite my singers included...thankfully.)

I am but a Small Voice    So proud of this 8th-grade group for singing SSATB with confidence.  It's not easy, but they rose to the challenge.  I wouldn't try this with most of my groups!

Here they are in the sight singing room preparing the example.

And here is the final product after the five minutes of work we'd trained for.

Change is good and hard work pays off wherever you are.  

That is the lesson I learned from this assessment. 

Make sure you go to my YouTube Channel to see my other groups and lots of other information including classroom teaching tips, sight singing examples, teaching examples, and so much more.

Does S-Cubed work with High School and Elementary singers?

On March 6, 2018, I received this message from a high school teacher who uses S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners.

I am so happy that I use this program! As a first-year teacher in a high school, one of the things I was most nervous about was effectively teaching sight-singing. I knew that many of my students had never done it before, and I didn’t want it to be a tedious part of the choral rehearsal that kids dread, especially since I wanted to sight-sing regularly. I also didn’t feel like a very confident sight-reader, either. I was able to modify S-cubed for high school kids, and set a great foundation for regular sight reading. My students enjoy the games and competition, and since we use the projector, they don’t hide in their books. Music in the Middle also helped me to set a really strong procedure for my class with a structured routine that flows seamlessly and makes the best use of my rehearsal. We work bell-to-bell, and the kids have grown consistently in their music literacy and tone! At our festival this year, we not only nailed the sight-singing with ample time to spare, we also added text, phrasing, breath marks, and balanced the sound across sections. We earned a score of 100 and used our spare time to show off some of our literature! I’m incredibly proud of the work my students have put in and grateful to have this resource. 🙂

Christa Fredrickson
Director of Choral Activities
Centennial High School
Las Cruces, NM

On the same day I received the letter above from the high school teacher, I received this message from a teacher who teaches 4th and 5th grade on my YouTube Channel:

When I created the program, I called it the "S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners" because I use the program in my classroom, and I teach middle school beginners.
I wanted to be honest about where I knew the program would work because of my own experience.

Since that time, I get the same questions over and over from both upper elementary teachers and high school teachers.

Will it work with my singers?

Here is my advice.

Read all of the product descriptions in my store on Teachers Pay Teachers. I've spent many hours preparing the descriptions so people know exactly what they will get when they purchase. Read all of the reviews, consider the evidence and make an informed decision so that you can spend your resources where they will be best used for your students in your setting.

If you purchase, start from the beginning and follow every step. ...Even if you believe you have some advanced singers... S-Cubed method needs to be followed step by step and cannot be rushed.

If you are a high school teacher who teaches beginners, then you still have to start from the beginning. You will likely move more quickly, so I recommend that you purchase the MEGA Bundle which includes the entire program.

If you are an elementary teacher who wants to explore S-Cubed and prepare your students for middle school choir, use this bundle. I call it the Elementary Bundle because it only includes the first five lessons of the program. Since most elementary music teachers don't see their students very often, this bundle will likely take the entire school year to present. It will lay a strong foundation in solfege for your singers, and they have fun as they learn how to use the hand signs.

I am so glad it appears to be working for teachers at many levels.

Keep sharing the news about this program with peers who teach all age groups!

Thank you for your support!

Sight Singing with Beginners: Audiation? Or Chaos? Or Both?

It's March, and it's contest season!

This is my 26th school year teaching middle school beginners.  I've taught in 3 states in the USA, and it is quite interesting to experience the differences in expectations at the various state sight singing adjudications.  Standards change over time, but here is my experience with sight singing in the three states in which I have taught:

1)  In North Carolina in the early 1990's, where I began my career, my students had to read unison
a capella music with stepwise motion.  Rhythms were quite simple.  As I recall, students were allowed to sing out loud as they prepared, but I had no clue how to teach the subject to beginners at the time.  I was just thankful the examples were easy so my students didn't walk out of the room deflated.

2)  In New Jersey in the late 1990's and early 2000's, there was no sight singing component at their state adjudication.

3)  In Georgia, where I have taught for 15 years, the sight singing requirement is incredibly challenging.  In fact, when I first read the requirements after moving here, I called a colleague and said, "Is this for real?  I couldn't have read this during my freshman year of college."
...And it's gotten harder and harder since my first year teaching here in 2002.   I have big concerns about the high level of difficulty because I think it frustrates new teachers, and most importantly, their young singers, but it is what it is.  Fortunately, singers in Georgia are allowed to use "Chaos" (practice out loud) for the five minutes they have to study the example.

The rules in the sight singing room vary by state.  Ever since I began sharing S-Cubed Sight Singing Program in 2014, I have heard from many teachers.  Some of those teachers have been from states where audiation is expected in the sight singing room.   The teachers who have reached out to me always asked me what they should do regarding the S-Cubed technique "chaos" in order to ensure that their students weren't caught off guard.  Each time, my recommendation has been to stop using "chaos" 2-4 weeks before adjudication and to help them develop techniques in audiation so they are able to be successful in the sight singing room while following the rules of that state. 

Having taught middle school choral music for so many years, my own personal experience with audiation has been that it isn't an effective tool for teaching beginners to sight sing.  When I have tried to use it with my students to teach sight singing, I have not been successful and neither are they. 

For me, teaching sight singing to beginners using audiation has always felt comparable to forcing a child, from birth through age 4 to imagine speaking rather than actually speaking and then expecting him to speak perfectly the moment he reaches his 4th birthday.

Is audiation a useful tool once they establish their skill sets in sight singing? 

Absolutely!  It is, in my view, an effective tool for continued musical growth and development for more advanced singers.

...But to force audiation on beginners, for me, has always seemed like an exercise in frustration.  I am grateful that, in Georgia, students are allowed to sing out loud as they prepare the example.    And the best part is that, after a year of sight singing training using chaos, I can give my students a pitch, send them to their corners and let them figure out how to sing literature. 

And that's the whole point of teaching sight singing in the first place.

Though recently, I have become more interested in the concept of audiation in young singers.  That is why I did this recent survey.   I find myself using the concept with my advanced middle school students more and more when they are finding pitches for their a capella work.  I plan to continue to explore the concept.  I enjoy the quiet of audiation!  :-)

After I posted this survey a few weeks ago, many teachers asked if they could see the results, so I decided to share what I learned.

*As of this moment (March 3, 2018), there have been 218 responses.

I posted the survey on several large Facebook groups for music teachers, my own Mr D Facebook pageon Twitter, and Pinterest

To read the results, click here.

There is such a wealth of information in this survey.

I still need to read it all!  

I hope it helps all of us think.

One of my primary goals, when I decided to share ideas with teachers on the internet, was to help teachers who teach beginners to stay in the classroom.  Students who can afford private lessons are important for sure, but most of the students who have ended up in my classroom over the years have not been those students.  I'm still waiting for my little Mozart!  So, it was up to me to figure out how to engage and excite the students who didn't come to me with experience or a private teacher.

Don't beat yourself up if you haven't figured out how to help your students succeed in the sight singing room in your state.  Hang in there.  Assess your teaching daily.  Watch others who have figured it out.  

Then, let go.

Your students need way more than a superior rating.  They need to know you are human, that you care about them, and that you are a passionate music educator who is willing to learn and grow so you can be the best you can be for your students.

Have a great week!