Recorders: How Not to Lose Your Mind

Teaching beginning recorder can be a joy when the students do most of the work!


It is that time of year when many elementary music teachers bring out that old favorite: the soprano recorder. It’s a great instrument for teaching elements of music such as rhythm and melody as well as beginning instrument techniques such as posture, airflow, and hand position. But as we all know, those messy little squeakers can really get on your nerves! With low-effort cleaning, student helpers, and self-grading, you can keep recorders fun for students and you!

Low-Effort Cleaning

If students borrow recorders from you, you must clean them after they are used. This can be a very time-consuming process. Here are some ideas for a cleaning process that won’t keep you at school until 10:00pm every night.

Idea 1: Keep a (covered) bin of bleach water in your classroom. Take the recorders apart and put them in the bleach water to soak. Let them air dry on towels. Change out the bleach water every seven days or less.

One of these could easily hold enough bleach water to sanitize multiple classes’ recorders.

Idea 2: Have students place their used recorders on a recorder rack. Spray all the mouthpieces with Sani-Mist and let air dry.

A stand-up recorder rack makes it easy to quickly spray and sanitize the mouthpieces.

Idea 3: Run the recorders through the school’s lunchroom dishwasher. (Make sure to turn off the detergent supply; it leaves a residue.) The water temperature alone is enough to sanitize the instruments.

A crate of used recorders waiting to be run through the school dishwasher

Student Helpers

One of the best ways to save time in your classroom is to have student helpers. You could have kids in charge of spraying used recorders, bringing the dirty crate to the dish room, putting clean recorders back together, etc. Here are some ideas for jobs that students could do:

  1. Count and sort clean recorders into piles or buckets with the right number for each classroom.
  2. Put clean recorders back together.
  3. Carry the crate of recorders to and from the dish room.
  4. Spray the mouthpieces with sanitizing spray (teach them how to get every angle, of course!)


Assessment can be dreadful and time-consuming, or it can be a joy and a useful communication tool that helps leads students along the path of improvement and lifelong musicianship. Which would you choose?!? ūüôā I have chosen the latter by having students grade themselves. After filling out the rubric, they bring the rubric to me, I listen to them play, and I either confirm or disagree with what they chose. The grading process is so much faster, students are happier because they know exactly what they need to do to get better, and I am happy because the rubric is clear, easy to understand, and grades students on the exact things I want them to be graded on.

With low-effort cleaning, student helpers, and self-grading, your recorder unit can bring you the same joy it once did when you were in elementary school!

What do you think? Do you agree with these ideas? Which one(s) would you like to try? Any other ideas you’d like to suggest?

Hello 2016

Commitments for the new year and a sale!


Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a serial New Year’s failure. Every year, I get really excited about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and the potential and renewal it represents. I make all these lofty, ambitious resolutions and I am 100% serious that THIS YEAR they will work. I am gung-ho about my new resolutions for about a week, then I am lukewarm about them for a week. By the third week of January, those once precious resolutions¬†are cast off like the chunks of frozen road slush you kick off the bottom of your car. (For my friends¬†in warmer climates, I really recommend driving in Minnesota in the winter. It’s quite cathartic to kick those suckers off in the parking lot after a rough day.)


So, this year, I resolve NOT to make far-reaching¬†resolutions. I’ve finally been alive long enough to know that that won’t work for me. This year, my resolutions are going to be a reaffirmation of goals I’m already working on. I know they’re going to continue to be a part of my life after the shiny newness of 2016 has worn off.

Personal Commitment: Not to use my phone while I am with my children.

I realized this summer that I was missing precious moments with my children by looking down at my phone when I should have been playing with them. I made a commitment not to use the phone while I was in their presence. I noticed an immediate improvement in their behavior and my mood. I’ve been slacking a little on this lately and I want to re-dedicate myself to this commitment. Plus, I want my children to know that they are more important to me than my phone.


These little stinkers = way more important than a silly phone.

Health Commitment: To drink water throughout the day.

Except there are like -ZERO- chances to use the bathroom! That’s my struggle. I like water and I like how I feel when I’m hydrated. But we teachers have very few opportunities to use the bathroom. One year, I told my students to remind me to drink. It worked! Every 20-30 minutes they would blurt out “Drink your water!” I got my hydration and they loved bossing me around. And it helped them see another side of me as a person, not just me the teacher.

Classroom Commitment: To organize my curriculum.

I write brand-new lesson plans every year. Every. Single. Year. It’s exhausting and I’m ready to have some consistency in my lessons. Having an organized, age-appropriate curriculum will give my teaching focus and direction. I’ve started by creating a spreadsheet of curricular goals for each grade level. Kind of like a scope and sequence but a little more detailed. I hope to have that finished by June so I can spend the summer organizing my conceptual and skill goals into sequential units. I would like my 5th graders to know what they’ve learned and why they’ve learned it when they leave me!

Blog/TpT Commitment: To publish some of those products from my long list of ideas!

I have SO many ideas. But getting them out of my head and into reality is where I get stuck. Mostly it’s because I have two kids and a full time job and I just don’t have a lot of time to sit at the computer and create products. My M.O. has always been to publish products that I¬†already use in my classroom. It’s a win-win because my users know I am providing effective, valuable classroom-tested products and I spend my time creating something I’ll actually use. If there is something you’d love to see, email me! I’m definitely interested to know¬†what people want. Custom requests don’t cost you a penny!

Thanks for reading. If you are wondering what you’re going to teach when school goes back in session on Monday, enjoy 20% off my TpT store today and tomorrow. No special codes needed! #TpTMusicNewYearsBash


Happy 2016!

Organizational Tips for Traveling Teachers

Here are some ideas and encouragement for traveling teachers.

Untitled design

If you are a traveling teacher, you understand stress and pressure like no one else. Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there, and teaching in more than one location just heightens the difficulty of the job. It may not be an ideal situation, but there are tricks and tools you can use to make it a little easier.


Tip 1: Pick a “Home Base”

Humans naturally need a place that feels their own. When you are a traveling teacher, you must choose somewhere to keep your things and treat as your home base. This place should be somewhere you don’t have to share, even if it’s only a shelf in a closet. Even better if you get a whole desk or classroom all to yourself. Your home base is where you will keep your main teaching materials, make and receive phone calls, keep that extra sweater or pair of shoes, and attend staff meetings. It’s important that you feel included as a staff member in one of your buildings. Include yourself by assuming that staff messages, meetings, and initiatives at your home base all apply to you. Ask for your own phone. Or, ask the other teacher in the room if you can have that extension for receiving voice mails and placing calls. You need to have one phone number where people can leave a message and know you will receive it.


Tip 2: Know Your Rights

I am extremely grateful to live in a district with a strong teacher’s union. They promise traveling teachers a minimum of 30 minutes travel time. There have been occasions where a teacher was only given 25 minutes of travel time, and the local union reps worked with that teacher and the administrators to fix the problem. I also get reimbursed for the mileage I am required to drive between buildings. It is important that we know and defend our rights, because over-working and over-stressing yourself on an already¬†stressful job helps no one.

Tip 3: Have a Travel Bag

When I asked other teachers for their advice for this article, the most frequent suggestion I heard was to have a dedicated travel bag. This bag carries all the things you have to have with you at all times, such as your laptop, charging cables, seating charts, mileage reimbursement forms, etc.

pouch with cables

Cable carrier

Pamela B. from Minnesota suggested using a sturdy backpack with padded straps to ease the pressure on your back and shoulders. She also showed me a great idea: wrap all those little cables and cords in twist ties, cable wraps, or ponytail elastics, and store them all in one little pouch (photo above). Your charging cables, earbuds, and adapters stay organized and you always know where they are. Extra benefit: you always have an extra ponytail elastic in case of a bad hair day. ūüôā

Thirty One Bag

Top: “Fold-n-File” by Thirty-One. Bottom: “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” by Thirty-One (with Fold-n-File inside)

Kelly K. from Wisconsin said she can’t live without her organizational bag from Thirty-One. She uses the “Fold-n-File” insert to hold all of her hanging files and file folders. It has sturdy walls and handles. It even has pockets on the outside for her markers and calculator. That fits inside her “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” which can zip closed to protect files from rain and snow, has shoulder straps, and has extra pockets around the outside for pencil pouches, tuning forks, and spare recorder.

You will read below that I use digital seating charts. However, that doesn’t help when you have a substitute. I print off a full set of seating charts for all of my classes, from both schools, and have a copy at both schools. (Yes, I print seating charts for one school and keep them at the other school.) This way, there will always be an extra set available whether a substitute brings or doesn’t bring them when traveling between schools.

My final piece of advice for your travel bag is to update your mileage reimbursement form EVERY time you travel. I put it in the front of my travel folder, even in front of my seating charts, so I am guaranteed to see it. I make sure to fill it out before I go home for the day. It never fails: every time I try to remember mileage I didn’t write down, I remember it wrong. WRITE IT DOWN.

Tip 5: Digitize

Being¬†“transportable” is SO EASY with digital lessons. I unplug my laptop at one school, slide it in my bag, and open it up at the next school. My lesson plans, seating charts, behavior management, recordings, and lesson files are all there on the screen.

EXTENDED DISPLAY (1)I use what’s called “extended display” (a setting on my computer), so what the students see is different than what I see. I can have my lesson plan on the computer screen and¬†the visuals or behavior management system projected for the class (see photo above). The only things I carry with me, then, are the items that one school owns¬†and the other doesn’t.¬†So far this year, I’ve only had to carry a train whistle and some beanie babies. THAT’S IT.

Here’s my setup:
Computer: Apple MacBook Pro
Interactive White Board: SMART Board
Speakers: Ceiling-mounted
Recordings: iTunes
Lesson plans:
Seating charts: SMART Notebook file
Behavior management: “Scoreboard” SMART Notebook file
Visuals/Manipulatives: self-created SMART Notebook or Powerpoint files
Sheet music/notation:

I hope these tips have given you some ideas for ways to become more organized or just given you encouragement that you are on the right track. What is your best organizational strategy? Comment below!

Classroom Management for Music Teachers

Classroom management in the music room is based on building relationships, giving positive feedback, and seeing a student as a whole person. Read to the end for book recommendations.

How do you begin?

The most important thing is to establish good relationships with your students as well as establish consistent rules and procedures from the first day they see you. Decide what these will be ahead of time. Can’t narrow it down to 3-5 rules as recommended? See my blog post on music classroom rules.


You do not want this.

Prevent problems before they start.

Positive reinforcement means rewarding the behavior you want to see repeated. Rewards in my classroom come in the form of praise, helping the teacher, getting a turn, playing with “toys” (instruments, props, stuffed animals, etc.), and anything else I can think of that a student might like.¬†You have to be creative in your positive reinforcement so you can reach every child. They say¬†an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is really true. Prevention is 90% of my classroom management.

What happens if the rules are broken?

Honestly, not much.¬†I’m not saying I don’t enforce the rules…stay with me as I explain. The number one best most important method of getting kids to follow the rules is¬†getting them to like you. Not in the friendly, chummy, bribey way where they expect candy for remembering to raise their hand. But if a child genuinely likes you and respects you, he or she will want to please you. Ninety percent of the time, a raised eyebrow, eye contact, or close proximity to the child will bring him or her around. This is why developing relationships with students is so important: that relationship can save you a lot of work in behavior management later on.

Okay, but I still have problem behaviors…

For the behaviors that continue, I seek an alternative. Each behavior has a reason. Maybe the kid behind him is poking him. Maybe she didn’t get enough sleep last night. Maybe his thoughts are elsewhere because he is experiencing stress or trauma at home. I’ll think of something creative, such as letting the child sit somewhere else. I’ve offered to send students to the nurse to take a nap. I’ve let kids hide a pencil in the music room when they consistently forget to bring their own. If I know the child well and she isn’t distracting others, I may just let it go, knowing she just needs a supportive environment and she’ll come around another day. Another big one is giving the child a responsibility. I’ve never met a child that didn’t want to feel special in some way (no matter how much they pretend to resent it :).

Parent Contact (Or, “How to Put on a Happy Face and Spin Even the Most Negative Incident into a Positive Communication”)

My building administration supports parent contact¬†through notes or phone calls. If I do send a note, I word it in a very positive way. For example, “Hi! Jill is working on sitting still during music class. Can you please¬†help her with¬†this? I love hearing her sing and look forward to seeing her again on Tuesday!” Phone calls are better because the parent can hear the tone of your voice. Conversations must be positive and collaborative, and you must always approach the parent as if he or she is already on your side and the two of you are working together as a team. Notes and phone calls are logistically difficult for music teachers because we have hundreds of students. But, we see the same students for five or more years, so there is time to develop those positive relationships with parents. A good piece of advice I received is, “Your first contact with a parent should be positive.” So, in the fall, when you begin to sense who those difficult students are, find something good to call the parent about. Make the call before the child has a chance to warrant a “bad” call. When you do end up having to call the parent about a more difficult situation, he or she will be more receptive to you because you already established a positive tone to your relationship.

When a Student Needs to Leave the Room

If a behavior¬†is extremely distracting, dangerous, or disrespectful, the child may need to leave the room. In these 3% or less instances, I may send a child¬†to the office. I may allow him or her¬†to take a break if there is a special ed room, resource room, or paraprofessional available for that child. If the child does not have¬†an IEP, a break can come in the form of getting a drink, going to the bathroom, or just sitting in the hallway. When asking the child to leave, I word it so the child understands I am on his or her side. For example, “Robert, I can see that you’re having a hard time right now. Would it be helpful for you to go take a walk to clear your mind? You can come back in when you are ready.” In these cases, I ALWAYS seek out the child later that day to discuss what happened. It is essential that the child gets to share his or her side of the story after calming down and to see that you care about them. This has the added benefit of allowing the child to “save face” by not having this conversation in front of their peers.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Developing your Tool Box (or “Bag of Tricks”)

The most important tool in your discipline tool box is relationships. Developing positive relationships with students and parents early on is essential and will prevent many problems in the future. The second most important tool is positive reinforcement. Acknowledge anything good that you see, and you’ll begin to see more of it. The third most important tool is an open mind. Instead of seeing a disruptive child as naughty, choose to see him or her as someone who¬†needs your help and compassion. Once you get to know your students, and they know that you care for them, classroom management will become much easier and smoother. But, even the most experienced teachers who look like they have their classes all together will still acknowledge that classroom management is 80% of what they do. ūüôā

Any favorite books or systems for classroom management? Leave a comment below with your favorites! Here are some of mine:
Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk
Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle
Winning Over Your Toughest Music Class by Ben Stiefel
Dealing With Difficult Parents and with Parents in Difficult Situations by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore

Meter Wall

The Meter Wall is an engaging, educational, fun, and easy way to learn and assess meter.

Today, I am participating in the “What’s on your Wall?” linkup with some other blogs. We are all going to write about something that’s on our wall at school. I chose to feature my Meter Wall because it is really cool and fun and I love it! I hope you get some good ideas and maybe even get inspired to start a Meter Wall of your own!


I love my Meter Wall! It is a place for students to contribute to the music classroom, connect music class with the outside world, and apply music skills. I sneak in a little formative assessment when they’re not looking. Some students even choose to make it a friendly competition!


Here’s how the Meter Wall works.

At the beginning of the year, the Meter Wall is a bulletin board with the word “Meter” and three large cards in different colors: “Meter of 2,” “Meter of 3,” and “Meter of 4.” (Note: I ended up having to add cards for meters in 5, 6, and 7 last year because we encountered songs with those meters!)

Older grades begin using the Meter Wall immediately in the fall when they review meter. I allow students to suggest any song in the history of the world. If the song is not something I’ve taught them, I write down the title and artist and look up the song later during my prep time. If the song passes my strict school-appropriateness check (and I am strict), I play it for the class during their next session. I will either play the free preview track on the iTunes store or find the full track on YouTube.

Now for the magic. While the song is playing, students have to discover the meter themselves so we can add the song to the Meter Wall.

First, they show the steady beat by patting it on their legs. Then, after the beat is solid, they try to find the strong beats. They pat their legs on the strong beats and clap on the weak beats. This pat-clap pattern makes it very obvious who has it (formative assessment), makes it easy for the students to count the number of beats in a group (kinesthetic learning), and helps students who have not quite figured it out (social learning).

Once most students are correctly pat-clapping the meter, I ask them to count out loud. They say “one” on every strong beat and continue counting until the next strong beat, when they start over at “one.” I wait until the whole class is counting out loud together. Then I ask what the meter is. Most students can get it right the first time when we follow this procedure. Many get upset if I stop the music too early, so I let it play out if there’s time. While the song finishes, I write the song title and the class’s name on a piece of paper to match the meter wall colors (white for meter of 2, blue for meter of 3, orange for meter of 4).


I take the piece of paper with the song name and staple it to the Meter Wall bulletin board underneath its meter category. As the lists grow, it’s really interesting to see which meter has the most songs and which meter has the fewest. For students with a competitive streak, I allow them to count how many songs were contributed by each class. This worked out just fine because the ones who cared the most tended to be in the lead because they were suggesting more songs. The classes with fewer songs on the Meter Wall tended to be less interested and therefore not hurt that they weren’t in the lead.

Even students as young as first grade have had success with this activity! It’s a fun way for kids to see themselves represented in music class by bringing in their music. It helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what is popular among my students. It keeps students interested in music class when I teach them a new song, because they always want to add it to the Meter Wall. Students can continue the practice of finding the meter of a song when they are listening to music outside of class, bringing what they are learning into the real world. And it’s an engaging method of reviewing and assessing an important musical skill.

Thanks for reading! So, which meters do you think are the most common? Post your answers in the comments section below. I’ll let you know what my students and I found in a later post!

Click below to visit some of the other posts in this linkup!

Meter Wall

More Love for Back to School!

There is a bonus¬†sale Wednesday on! The promo code is “MORE15”. This is your second chance to pick up those things on your wish list if you missed this month’s previous sale. Couple that with TpT credits you’ve stored up from leaving feedback, and you’ve got yourself a DISCOUNT!

300 √ó 250

Here are some products that would be great buys during the sale.

1. Orchestra Instrument clip art by Dancing Crayon Designs

I love Dancing Crayon’s clip art. The music collections are always very thorough, never leaving anything out. And all of the instrument images are “anatomically correct” so you never have to worry about accuracy or confusion between two similar instruments. The orchestra instrument clip art collection would be perfect for making instrument flash cards, instrument labels, games for an instrument unit, or illustrations for a digital or printed instrument unit. This one has been on my wish list for a while and I think it’s time to buy it!

2. Poke Sheet: Music Symbols by Mrs. Martin’s Music Room

I am SO excited to announce the newest addition to my Poke Sheet collection: music symbols! This worksheet is best used as a review of common music symbols for upper¬†elementary or middle school students. It includes music symbols that most students learn in first or second grade: treble clef, repeat sign, crescendo and decrescendo, quarter note, two eighth notes, quarter rest, half note, piano, forte, etc. The student views a row of music symbols and pokes holes through the ones that don’t belong. Then, on the back of the paper, they must add up the holes in columns to reveal a secret message. The complexity of the worksheet makes it a fun and engaging way for older students to review a somewhat simple topic. Or it can be used as a favorite sub activity! I have more Poke Sheets to come, so keep watching for them!

Now head back to Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room by Aileen Miracle or Music a la Abbott by Amy Abbott to read about more great products on the TpT sale, and see the bottom of their blogs for links to even MORE blogs doing the same!

More Love for Back to School

Concert Themes

Thinking of themes for concerts is so tough! Here are some ideas to help jump-start your concert planning.

ConcertThemesWhy a theme?

The words “concert theme” strike fear into the hearts of many classically-trained music educators. They think, “If I have a theme, then I am not selecting educational¬†music for my students!” Or, “Themes breed fluff and novelty, not quality!” Having come from that school of thought in my undergraduate and graduate training, I would like to offer a different opinion: Themes can provide guidance, cohesiveness, and flow during concert planning and performances.

I am not theme-heavy in my concert programming. I prefer to think that quality music is quality music, whether there is a theme. However, I’ve found over the years that having a general theme guides my concert planning. It helps me find songs when I’m stuck, helps narrow down a long list of songs, informs my song order for the program, and can result in your concert being a powerful message. Think of this as… Theme Lite.

Here are some ideas for concert themes and some repertoire ideas to go along with each. Feel free to use any or all of them. I’d love to hear what you do with it! Do you have any repertoire suggestions to add? Leave a comment below with your ideas and favorite songs!

1. American Patchwork


Patchwork quilts are an important part of American history. Stitched together by the women who were the backbone of the family, quilts warmed toes on cold frontier nights, offered¬†soft comfort for broken hearts, told stories of happiness and struggle, and became treasured family heirlooms. Some quilts even contained coded messages during the days of the Underground Railroad. Drawing upon the concept of a patchwork quilt, this concert theme stitches together songs from America’s past and present, creating a tapestry of music.

Repertoire suggestions:
Corn Grinding Song – Traditional Native American

Silver the River РStephen Paulus. This lyrical song is one of those melodies that just flows out of your mouth. Paired with a soaring countermelody, your students will be thrilled with how mature they sound.

Hot Chocolate (from “Polar Express”) – arr. Roger Emerson. This fun song contains engaging rhythms and enough repetition to make it accessible. It lends itself well to riser choreography and can easily be choreographed by students.

The Cat Came Back – traditional. I created a simple ostinato accompaniment for Orff xylophones using la, so, fa, and mi on a descending pattern. The kids loved singing the song, and the accompaniment was low-pressure and easy to learn.

2. All Jazzed Up


Jazz is a distinctly American art form that has relationships to many other music genres. It’s an important style for kids to learn, and learning how to scat and improvise can build strong vocal skills in all areas of singing. Plus, it’s fun!

Repertoire suggestions:
Dancin’ on the Rooftop – Teresa Jennings (Score and choreography available in “Share the Music” Grade 6). It’s a great song to teach kids about form because it is a rondo. The C section has a scat echo, helping kids learn scat vocabulary in a non-threatening environment.

Sing (from “Sesame Street”) – Joe Raposo, arr. Steve Zegree. This unexpected arrangement takes the childhood classic “Sing” and sets it with some jazz rhythms and scat interludes. Students who are new to scat will need to go over the scat phrases slowly and with many repetitions, but they will be really happy with the results!

Mosquito Blues – Martha E. Burgess. Okay, so blues isn’t jazz, but they are related. This tongue-in-cheek ditty has your students lamenting the presence of those small birds we call mosquitoes. The song ends with a satisfying SWAT!

3. Through the Seasons


This concert represents the four seasons. I did three songs from each season, and 12 songs ended up being a really long concert. I would reduce it to 8-10 songs if I were to do it again.

Repertoire suggestions:
Spring: Singin’ in the Rain – Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 4)

Summer: Red Dragonfly (“Akatombo”) – traditional Japanese. The harmony part was collected by Julie Schramke at Concordia Language Villages Mori No Ike.

Fall: Skin and Bones – Traditional (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 1). It’s fun to see the audience jump when the singers shout, “Boo!”

Winter: Yuki – Japanese school song (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 3)

4. A Winter Spectacular


I have students who don’t celebrate Christmas, and I don’t want them to feel alienated in any way in my classroom or my concerts. It’s been a challenge coming up with winter concerts that will satisfy the Christmas parents while still respecting those who don’t celebrate Christmas. This concert theme¬†touches everyone by representing all winter holidays.

Repertoire suggestions:
Winter Fantasy – Jill Gallina. This arrangement of¬†“Jingle Bells” adds a super fun, energetic countermelody!

Kitty for a Present – Teresa Jennings, from Music K-8, Vol. 23, No. 2. This hilarious song is appropriate for people of all backgrounds because virtually every winter holiday includes gift-giving of some sort: Eid, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Hmong New Year, etc.

S’vivon – Valerie Shields. This song is about the dreidl game. The text is repetitive enough for students to learn the Hebrew. It’s especially fun when sung with an accelerando!

5. O Colored Earth


For this concert, I wanted to bring together songs from around the world. I especially wanted to represent the students in my choir. I sent home a note asking students to interview their families about their heritages. I also included a section for parents to tell me about songs they know from their heritage. One girl’s mother is from China and was able to recall the text of a beautiful Chinese poem that turned out to be “Moh Lee Hwah.”

Repertoire suggestions:
O Colored Earth РSteve Heitzeg. This inspiring text is set to a mixed-meter melody that is surprisingly easy to learn and just makes your kids want to sing it. It is mostly unison with a few moments of 2-part harmony to help young singers on their journey to part singing. I emailed the composer to thank him for his understanding of the human voice and how to write music that is singable. The students were over the moon when he wrote back!

Ala Dalouna – Traditional Arabic. I created a simple accompaniment that students performed on drums, woodblocks, and finger cymbals, in imitation of traditional Arabic instruments. A small group sang the B section soli. The students helped me come up with simple choreography using scarves so the result was a stunning performance of a quite simple song.

Moh Lee Hwah – arr. Wayne Bisbee. This melody and counter-melody will take a little extra time to learn, but it is totally worth it. If you can get the boys hooked on this lyrical melody, they and your female singers will be thrilled with how they sound.

6. Peace on Earth


This is another solution to the Christmas concert dilemma. I included songs about peace, many of which have a holiday feel. I stuck in one Christmas song at the end with a peace countermelody.

Repertoire suggestions:
Peace Round – traditional (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 5). I had two students start singing¬†soli¬†alone on stage¬†and had the rest walk in in small groups and join singing in unison. When all were finally on the risers, we split into the round. It was a really powerful demonstration of how peace has to start with each individual before it can spread to the whole world.

Dona Nobis Pacem – traditional. This round was pretty difficult for my 4th and 5th graders to learn, so I’d definitely encourage lots of repetition and unison singing before attempting the round.

Peace, Peace – Rick and Sylvia Powell. This beautiful countermelody to Silent Night is only available in SATB. I just dropped the tenor and bass lines. I taught the whole choir how to sing “Stille Nacht” in German and we added a verse of that in the middle. At the end, I had them split into three groups, with one group singing Silent Night in English, one group singing the soprano countermelody, and one group singing the alto countermelody.

7. Words of Wisdom


All of the songs in this concert contain advice. Setting good advice to music is a great way for your students to remember it.

Repertoire Suggestions:
Mama Says (from “Footloose”) – Dean Pitchford. This hilarious song parodies the advice of a mama who’s “got marbles missin’.” It’s difficult to learn and the piano/vocal score is different than the original Broadway cast recording, but it is do-able. Best start learning this one early. “Mama says don’t use a toaster while standing in the shower. Now who can argue with that?…”

Won’t You Sing Along – Daniel Kallman. This song speaks to the child’s heart without being childish. It’s a sweet reminder of how important music is. And it contains my favorite: an audience sing-along! This is the song that teachers email me about, complaining that students are singing during class. Hee hee *devilish grin*

Good Fight – Unspoken. This is one of those cool songs that makes boys love being in choir. It’s a male group and has a really catchy beat. I couldn’t find a karaoke version, so I just played the iTunes version¬†with vocals and had the kids sing along. It was a hit for singers and audience alike.

This Little Light of Mine РTraditional. My accompanist and I composed-slash-improvised a driving gospel arrangement of this song. It definitely was not the Kindergarten version you learned in Sunday School. We ended with an acapella verse with hand claps and it was amazing.

8. Here Comes the Sun


These songs are all about sun, daytime, or daylight. It’s a good reminder to stay positive because no matter what happens, a new day will dawn in the morning.

Repertoire Suggestions:
Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles. There is a karaoke track for kids on iTunes that is pitched slightly higher than the original, making it much better for children’s voices. I’d suggest having your singers practice with the original and the karaoke track because some of the entrance cues are misleading.

Day-O – Traditional (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 3)

Miss Mary Ann – Traditional (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 5)

Yonder Come Day – Georgia Sea Islands, arr. Judith Cook Tucker

9. My Planet, Your Planet


This is actually a revue from Plank Road Publishing. I came up with a storyline about aliens who came to Planet Earth because their planet is filled with garbage and they can’t live there anymore. The aliens teach the Earthlings how to “go green” before it is too late¬†and our planet fills up with garbage, as well. I added in a rap I wrote called “Recycle Rap.” The students created instruments out of household trash and accompanied themselves on a simple rap about how to recycle.

Repertoire Suggestions:
My Planet, Your Planet – Teresa Jennings

It’s Easy Bein’ Green – Teresa Jennings, arr. Paul Jennings

Agents of Change – Teresa Jennings

10. Lighten Up!


This is another revue from Plank Road Publishing. The nice thing about Plank Road is they give you permission to modify their revues as necessary. You can pick and choose which songs you want to use and supplement with your own. I used about half of the songs from the revue and added the following.

Repertoire Suggestions:
Zoo Illogical – Clare Grundman. These short Ogden Nash-style poems are lighthearted and witty. Great for older elementary singers because they are melodically challenging and will help you emphasize the importance of good diction. After all, if the audience can’t understand the words, they won’t get the joke!

I’ve Lost My Homework – Marta Keen. This hilarious song lists just about every excuse anyone could think of for not doing their homework. Great opportunities for choreography and props (think ripped up paper thrown into the air on the word “confetti”, followed by two students comically crossing the stage with push brooms).

The Thing – Charles R. Grean (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 5). The singer in this song finds a box¬†containing¬†a–well, you never find out what it is–and he just can’t get rid of it. The final verse is a little risque: “Get out of here with that¬†(knock knock knock) and take it down below!” The 5th graders were scandalized and thrilled that they got to sing about THAT.

11. Positive


Yes, another Plank Road revue. This concert reminds students to think positively. In a world full of dangers and evil, it’s easy for kids to get caught up in everything that’s wrong. They need a fun reminder that even when things are difficult, your attitude makes all the difference.

Repertoire suggestions:
What I Am – Will.I.Am. From “Sesame Street,” available on YouTube. For the concert, I just played the audio from the YouTube video and had the kids sing along with it. It’s a great song, fun to sing, with a great message.

Mumble, Grumble – Minnie O’Leary (Available in “Share the Music” Grade 2). Kids get to complain in this song! Though it’s not necessarily a happy happy joy joy song, it’s a good reminder that even when things are not fun, “you don’t have to like it, but it’s gotta be done.”

Think Good Thoughts РTeresa Jennings. Professional choreography available on My small group of dancers looked really talented performing the dance moves they taught themselves by watching the choreography video.

12. Americana


A patriotic theme is appropriate all year long! There’s always some national holiday coming around the corner and you can easily adapt this theme to fit your circumstances.

Repertoire Suggestions:
America (My Country, ’tis of Thee) – Words by Samuel Francis Smith, music attributed to Henry Carey

America the Beautiful – Words by Katharine Lee Bates, music by Samuel Ward

This Land is Your Land – Woody Guthrie

The Star-Spangled Banner – words by Francis Scott Key, music by John Stafford Smith

One Nation – Teresa Jennings

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier – Traditional. This lilting lament will probably not leave a dry eye in the house. Especially appropriate for Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day.

Thanks for reading! What themes or pieces have been your favorites? Leave your answer in the comments below!

Concert Themes