Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Difficulty Writing and Reading

Last Saturday I had an event which put me in the hospital.

I struggle to write. Notice the one line at a time.

I struggle to talk at times. I listened to last week podcast and then this week. Definite slower talker.

I struggle to play music. I am realizing that being 98% there is a challenge when playing music.

I had a brain scan today. I have an EEG next week. Hopefully we will get to the bottom of this.

Friday, December 10, 2010

iPads in Music Class

A few things I am noticing with our iPads:
  • The kids grab them all the time. There is some minor game playing at wrong times, but that is generally by kids who need a bit of a kick anyway. The accessibility to the device is a huge shift.
  • We love the mobility. Kids carry them all around the room, into the practice rooms, sit wherever they want, etc... I love that when a student is working on a tune they are constantly looking up youtube videos or google ideas.
  • They hold the charge a long time. I'm plugging the cart in less than once per week.
  • I need some support time to update apps and switch to the new iOS. It takes about 15-20 minutes to do each iPad. I was told I might have to wait until the summer. So I am always doing it myself.
  • At this point it would be hard to run our program without them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Sometimes you are in the middle of something. You know it is just horribly, horribly inefficient. You know there are still six more meetings where you will get nothing accomplished. Its all about filling in boxes on sheets.

I'm in the middle of that right now. When do you decide to bail?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have been playing around with options for streaming video and audio. I am trying out Livestream right now. I don't like it yet.

This morning we broadcast our choir. You can go to our page to see the archive. Now it worked pretty well, we did it using the webcam on the macBook and it went right onto the air. The kids were really focussed and I think having an audience is a great thing for them.

But, I don't like the commercials. And I need some more equipment. There is something unique about live performance that I would like to keep. But I'd also like to drastically improve the quality of the broadcast (we need to sing better too!).

If you have ideas on how to do this easily, cheaply, and well please send them my way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Thanks for another great year. I always feel so very tired right about now. But its crunch time and things have to get done.

I am thankful for:
1. Family. Two daughters who are happy and can sing and have fun.
2. My students. Each day we get better.
3. This network. Getting larger and more fun each day.
4. My colleagues. Bringing me back from the edge of insanity at times. This job is not a walk in the park and I'm glad we can do it together.

Have a great holiday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Being Challenged

This is insanely difficult. Nobody taught him this. He just stepped up and learned it. I see some of my kids starting to learn on their own, but it is a long, long road ahead. If I can just get one kid to really commit it can pull so many other kids along.

We are three weeks from our HS concert and I think there will be some really nice moments. The elementary schools are way, way ahead of where we were last year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Teacher Work

A video that has made the rounds for awhile that I thought I should repost. Long days.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More iPad Apps

Some more iPad apps I have discovered:

Aweditorium: Really kind of cool. Displays a huge panorama of pictures. Click on the picture and it goes to music and information about the artist. Great way to show the enormity of the music business and to find some cool new stuff.

Air Hockey: My daughter loves this. Great way to kill some time AND work on small motor control.

NPR: They did a revamp of their app. Pretty easy to scroll and find latest news. Love that they feature music so prominently. Nobody else does that. Check out the Nick Lowe tiny desk concert. Great songs!

Pulse: A way to scroll through a lot of news feeds. This is a very popular app and I have to figure out how to use it better. Right now its just too much information.

Puppet Pals: This is a really cool way to do story time and animation. Everyone loves doing this. You can create really cool movies just by talking and dragging your finger. Would be better if you could export the movies.

Handyman: A complete digital copy of the magazine. Pretty neat, but not interactive.

Livestream: Watch Livestream events right on the iPad. Been working on this.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Time to move on?

When do you move on? When do you cut some kids loose?

I have tried every technique I have. Yet, I still have kids that won't do the work. And I am sick and tired of it. Sorry, I'm done holding your hand.

I truly believe that you build a program one kid at a time. I had in my three schools probably 10 kids who really committed last year out of 80. That was my first year.

I have at least double or triple that now with over 140 kids. Our fifth grade band level is playing up a full grade level from last year. Choir and Chorale are singing great. I feel real good about that. The core group is developing.

But lord, if I have to hear one more time that "why dont we play the music we played two years ago" I might blow a gasket. We are improving fast. My standard is simple-- do your best. Get on the bus!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Too many initiatives

Here are the initiatives I am working on right now:

1. iPad deployment. Maintain, sync, research apps, charge, lesson plans, budget. Its a lot of work.
2. Recording studio. Have everything set-up--except a network connection. Can't do anything without IT.....
3. SmartMusic started in three schools.
4. Started Music Theory class.
5. Livestreaming sports and events.

Thats enough. I need more help.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Music Theory 2nd Marking Period Project

Harmonization, Developing Melody, and Composing/Arranging

This project must demonstrate all of the musical stanards:

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.
4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
5. Reading and notating music.
6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
7. Evaluating music and music performances.
8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

1. Complete all assigned worksheets on harmonization, dominant 7ths, and scales.
2. Do all assigned readings.
3. Listen to something every day.
4. Complete 2nd marking period exam.
5. Sing anything while you play piano (Jingle Bells, Jolly Tune, etc...). Post video to grouply.
6. Learn Bonse Aba.
7. Attend, perform at, and evaluate performance at December 16 concert.
8. Practice improvising bass lines and melodies using iPad, instrument and voice.

Big Part:

Option 1:
Arrange Jingle Bells for our band. 2 Clarinet, trumpet, trombone. Create a score and parts for each instrument. Use Finale to create parts or do it by hand. Will be performed at Winter Concert.

Option 2:
Create a beginner piano book of three songs. Use both hands. Each song should be between 8-16 measures long. Use noteflight or Finale. Create cover art for book. Distribute book to class. Will be performed at Winter Concert.

Option 3:
Create an arrangement of any Nick Lowe song, Little Boxes, or Bach Passacaglia. Write out lead sheet. Will be performed at Winter Concert.

Option 4:
Create an arrangement of any song that has I-vi-IV-V harmonic movement. Write out lead sheet. Perform at Winter Concert.

Its go time. Get to work.

Monday, November 8, 2010

iPad Music Composition Contest

The iPad Composition Contest is live. Please contact me if there are any questions.

I'm hoping this attracts interest from a diverse group of ages, regions, cultures and experience. Do I think iPads are the future of music performance? Well, no. But I think they could be a great tool for composers, especially young ones.

Also notice that almost all the apps used on the iPad can be used on the iPhone or iTouch. However, the music will be performed and judged on iPads.

I had trouble figuring out how to phrase "alternative notation". Many apps on the iPad do not use standard notation. We will require some sort of notation for the contest, so be creative.

Thanks to Soundtree,, Dr. Joseph Pisano, and the Katherine Matthies Foundation for their support.

iPad Composition Contest: Sponsors

We will go live with the iPad Composition Contest on Wednesday. We need two more sponsors. Any interested please send me a message (email or twitter).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

How to Sing and Enjoy Life

As I work on curriculum (an ongoing process) I have tried to include performance standards that all students should meet when they graduate. They include:
  • Sing Happy Birthday in tune.
  • Be able to choose songs for your wedding.
  • Have a musical conversation at a symphony concert.
Now I should include "Be able to sing Handel in a mall". Notice how much fun that is. So many of the kids in my school are standing on the sidelines of life. I need to find ways like this to pull them in.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


iPads got loaned out for first time today. I have to figure out a procedure so I'm not managing this all the time. Any ideas?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3 performance expectations


  1. Memorize Latin Songs. Ensure accurate notes, rhythm, diction (use iPads, piano, partner singing)
  2. Know all pitches bass and treble clef (, piano practice, choir music, worksheets).
  3. Perform one Italian song (use iPads, partner singing, Smartmusic). All the accompaniments are in the iPad.
  4. Sing/record Major scale (iPads, partner). Email a perfect version to me. Put your name and date as the name of the file (ginarscaleNov3).
  5. Sight read basic melody using solfeg (worksheets, partner practice)
  6. Play/Sing Jolly Tune on Piano/iPad (iPads, piano). Advanced play/sing Jingle Bells. Record, playback, improve.
  7. Learn solo to Tango (listen to recording, piano).

Choir Extra:

  1. Adapt Bonse Aba dance for our arrangement (ending is different). Should we adapt song or the dance?
  2. Sing ANY song in smartmusic and play back for class
  3. Create a 60 second video-tv spot about choir or the iPads.


  1. Learn Banner, Sweet Dreams, One Fine, Lollipop, SentJourney for Tuesday.


  1. Play Jingle Bells melody in key of C and key of F on piano.
  2. Play correct arrangement (both hands) of Jingle Bells
  3. Complete and understand all worksheets/vocabulary. Review, listen, watch. Confused? Google something, watch a youtube video, ask a partner.
  4. Be able to harmonize I-vi-ii-V7-I harmonic movement. (pencil, piano, iPads, noteflight). Play on piano. Sing parts. Practice, practice, practice.
  5. Recognize chords, major scales and all pitches (
  6. Listen to Bach Inventions. Choose one to listen to on iPad and then download parts to read in forscore app. Why did Bach write these?
  7. Play Jingle Bells melody on guitar. Guitar players play/arrange/sing Jingle Bells in key of A, E or D (which works best for your voice?).


  1. Continue testing in Smartmusic
  2. Be able to play all assigned Pep Band songs.
  3. Know the concert Bb and concert F major scale exercises in Red book (p42). Percussion know both snare and mallet sides.
  4. Play p45 rhythm studies.
  5. Learn Beethoven Ninth and GForce5
A few notes:
Band: almost all 2nd year players.
Choir: 1/2 are freshman. Most are 2nd-3rd year singers. Almost all could not read when they entered in September.
Theory: these are all non-ensemble students who have limited, or no theory background. We started at ground zero (this is the treble clef)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Power of the iPad

The ending of the video reminds me about the power of choice, freedom and Halloween. Don't take anything for granted.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Things I am Working On

1. I got smartmusic installed on one computer this week (3 to go...). I have been trying to get everything set up. I wish there was a way to enter students names into gradebook faster. This is taking forever. I know I should have the kids do it, but these are fourth graders.
2. I'm going to try to get Skype on to all of the iPads today. I hope that goes well.
3. I have a teacher workshop on November 2. Two sessions on iPads.
4. We got new outlets installed yesterday and hopefully we can get the TV and stereo installed shortly.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Smartmusic and Progress

I got Smartmusic installed today!

Now I have to figure out how to use it again. A lot has changed since I last used it (2005??). Tomorrow will be a day of watching smartmusic videos.

And the iPads are A LOT OF WORK. We keep testing things.

Progress Alert:
1. It took us one Chorale rehearsal to sight-sing Sweet Dreams. That would have taken us four rehearsals last year.
2. We sightread Beethovens Ninth in 5th grade band. That took us 3 months last year. Yippee!

Which iPad apps to Purchase?

I am nearing the time to make a decision on what iPad apps to purchase for the class.

1. Forscore: seems to be the most popular music reader in blog posts. However, there are several contenders. But....$4.99 each!!
2. GoodReader: I am not convinced I need this. I have been trying Smartnote, which is free. I don't know if we have enough need for a reader that we can mark up text with. Other disciplines might.
3. Percussive: $1.99 each. I need good electronic players. This one works real good and has good sound. But I'd like something that had more instruments in one package.

For each app I have to decide if I want it for all 15 iPads. Obviously this gets expensive real fast.

Any ideas to help me?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

more iPad apps

Twilight: The graphic novel looks pretty cool on the iPad.
Guitar Chords Lite: Handy reference for guitar chords.
Thum Drum: I can't really get this to function that great. Does not have very good response.
TED: I love TED, but this app is quite hard to use. Not searchable.
Smule Piano: First app I spent $ on. Cool, but I don't get the point.
Glee: This could be very useful. I could see a "Glee Club" happening with this app.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

4th grade band lesson

I get 30 minutes with the 4th grade beginning band per week. There are about 45 of them. Today was our second real rehearsal. Here is what I did:

1. We rehearse in the gym on the stage. I have the students come in and sit in front of the stage. They are coming from several different classes so they arrive 3-4 minutes apart.
2. I take attendance. This took about 6 minutes today. I take my time as I am trying to learn everyone's name. I also want them getting used to the procedure part of band.
3. I send the kids up by section to the stage and ask them to put their instrument together. This is the first day we have done that.
4. I reviewed stage and rehearsal technique. Silent and focused when I am on the podium, quiet and relaxed when I am off. Had to take sticks away from kid so he would stop playing while I was talking. It worked.
5. I taught them "parade rest" position, instruments up, and instruments down positions for each instrument.
6. We did 5-6 repetitions of me walking off the stage, coming back to the podium (parade rest), bring my hands up (instruments up), and us playing a whole note on any pitch. Got them to move at the same time.
7. I then added one layer of complexity as I asked the percussion to play quarter notes while the winds played whole notes.
8. I then asked all the winds to play a concert Bb in the exercise, and reviewed each note for them. Many eager faces. We discussed why this sounded better ("we matched sounds?").
9. Now I took out my trombone and we improvised a song. We have been doing this each week. I have them play Bb whole notes and I improvise a melody above it. Last week we did James Brown style song with mouthpieces ("Hit me!! Boom! Hit me two times!! Boom Boom !!) It works really well and they love it. I ask someone to name the song.
10. Time to go!

The lessons seems to be working pretty well. I should definitely record the songs next week. The kids love to hear the playback and it will be great to play it at the concert (in 12th grade!!!).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

iPads and Confidence

Frasier Speirs is way ahead of me. He has a whole school working on a 1-1 iPad deployment. That has to be cool. Working by myself its been hard to get everything working, installed, and deployed. Yes, I could use a few more hands.

Today Frasier wrote a very interesting post about how the iPad is changing learning in his school. Profound changes are obviously happening. For example, we are doing workshops right now about reading strategies and note taking. When I pull out the iPad many minds get blown. There is no question the adults in the building are having trouble with that and expect me to use a pencil and paper.

But the students? They seem to be growing in confidence. Especially in theory where the (in HTML5!!) has been a rather constant companion. Students are able to practice, get instant feedback, and design their own exercises. Yes, students are directing their learning.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Procedure Roadblocks

There are so many roadblocks in this job. Apathy is one. That's a big one.

But even worse is the procedure meeting. How will we do that? We need a procedure. So many procedures, and NOBODY believes in the procedure, they just know there is supposed to be a procedure.

Here is my procedure:
1. Ask "What can I do to help?"
2. Do it.

Just give me one day with that procedure and I would get so much done.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Only 3 percent of Cubans have been on the internet in the past year. Yes, I said year.

Question: are they missing anything?

I have to imagine that the guy with the internet connection is the most popular guy in town.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Music Theory Exam = Progress

We had our first theory exam. I have been writing about this class a fair amount. It is mostly seniors. Most are semi-musicians, but none have been in any HS ensembles, and few were in MS ensembles. This is the "iPad class".

We have been basically setting up an AP Theory structure. September was about basic vocabulary ("This is a treble clef"), starting dictation, introducing the piano, singing and writing basic solfeg. All the basics of Chapter 1 and 2 AP Theory.

They did pretty well on their test. I had about half of the class score around a 90 which means they didn't really miss any of the components. Nobody got below a 59. Now, that 59 was a GREAT score as most of the students would have scored a zero on the test before the class started.

We have been using noteflight,, the iPads, and plenty of discussion to reinforce things. Now that they have some basic vocabulary we can finally start analyzing and building songs. I hope it works.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Whats on my iPad so far?

We are no way close to running at full steam, but I wanted to get some notes put up about iPad apps. Here is the list of what I am using so far. All of these are free (or have free versions).

  • Mail: The mail on iPad is very easy to use. I really prefer it for checking mail. For more intense function of searching or composing serious messages it is a little tough.
  • Safari: Works well. I like the Chrome like function that displays all the pages. This makes it very easy for classes to go to the right spot quickly.
  • Maps/Google Earth: Great to have and very intuitive on the touchscreen. When was the last time a kid opened a paper map?
  • Calendar: Haven't used it yet.
  • Google functions: Very easy to view google docs, reader, calendar. Can't edit google docs yet.
  • Dropbox: Stores folders and documents for class. I set up an individual account and a class account. This seems to be integrated into a lot of other apps.
  • USA Today: I don't love this. But the crossword puzzle on the iPad is pretty cool and very easy to use. Could be a great way to introduce puzzles to kids.
  • NY Times Editors Choice: This app only includes the top 5-6 stories as choosen by the editors. But it does include video segments that are often hidden on the main site. This is a great way to get kids reading about the Arts. "What is the top Arts story today"? You can access the full edition through Safari.
  • iBooks and Kindle: I haven't bought any books, but I did download several free books. Very easy to use. I could see how a class/library could build quite a collection.
  • Virtuoso Piano: Very easy to use. Great for practicing basic scales or for learning choir parts.
  • Beatwave: Very simple visual sequencer. You can create 4 layers and you simply press dots to create your music. I'm not sure of the point of a lot of these. This is the best of the ones I have seen.
  • Soundhound: Freaky amazing. This is the app that blows people's minds.
  • Twitter: By far my favorite way to read/check twitter. Not as useful during "power use" time like for musedchat. But so easy to see links, tweets, etc...Can easily switch back and forth between accounts. A must have.
  • NPR News and Music: Close to perfect. Great way to catch up on news or favorite programs. I think the NPR music app is the best way to find new artists to listen to. I think this app is essential for class.
  • Netflix and ABC player: I am trying real hard to get the filter to unblock Netflix. There is so much content on there. All of those old Miles Davis TV shows, Leonard Bernsteins young people concerts, and much more. To be able to walk around the room with a TV in your hand is amazing. Think of how you could hand the "TV" to a kid and say "sit over there and watch Miles for awhile".
  • AirGuitar: It works, but I dont get it.
  • This is really cool. Great thing to listen to news and music from around the country and globe. Works astonishingly well.
  • Evernote: Everyone seems to use this. I havent quite figured out the best way. The app is very easy to use.
  • Labyrinth and Angry Birds: Fun games. Check out the Angry Birds physics lesson.
  • JamPad: Piano with a bit of synth and loops. Have to check it out more.
  • Nike Team: Worth checking out. Really cool for soccer teams. Hoping other sports to follow. Or for band?? Connects videos to drills to assessment.
  • Toy Story: Awesome. Must have. Great example to show how literacy and writing has changed. Hold up a typed MSWord version and then the app. We need to teach this.
  • Yahoo Sportacular: Very easy to use when tracking multiple games. I use this a lot.
  • Dragon Dictation: This works great. I can see many uses for this in the classroom.
  • Metronome: Very simple and straightforward. I like that you can watch the arm swing.
  • Guardian Eyewitness: One amazing photograph per day. Great for warm-up activities. "What song goes with this picture"?
  • 3D Brain: Pretty cool. I could see how 3D is much better than 2D for this stuff.
  • Weatherbug: The best place to get your weather. No question.
  • Groovemaker: Works pretty good to develop some loops and grooves. Have to spend more time with this to figure out how to load more loops and sounds.
  • History Maps: What did Europe look like when Mozart was travelling as a prodigy? Cool app for that stuff.
  • Rj Voyager: Visual sequencer. I admit I cant figure this one out.
  • Epicurious: Easy to use recipe interface. Works great.
  • Smartnote: There is a lot of stuff on this. I wrote about it here.
I have a few more, but I'm tired of typing. I'll add more later.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Smartnotes in Music

So I'm trying to figure all this out. I've been reading blogs, checking twitter, asking around. I have realized that a lot of people have WAY more stuff than I do and have been using it A LOT. This grant is a huge step forward, but I had nothing before. Not even a sound system. So I am a bit overwhelmed with all of the boxes.

I see there are a lot of people who have a 10-15 step process for getting music on the iPad. I agree with many that it would be nice (essential?) for publishers to offer properly formatted files for the iDevices. This would cut out 8-9 steps.

I have been looking at the free Smartnotes application and trying to figure out if this is the best use of my time. It seems like a game changer. So--what can we do? We import a .pdf using dropbox, the internet, or iTunes. The program allows us to highlight, annotate, copy right on the iPad. Thats pretty cool. It also allows us to create voice memos attached to the document. That is even cooler. You can attach video to the document (alternate fingerings attached to specific spots?? marching band drill?). Then you can upload the document or email it to the teacher.

So I think this might be useful. Students could keep their music folder in DropBox and download it whenever we were singing. It should keep the annotations and voice memos right on it. With headphones in students could be recording/listening to rehearsals from today or two weeks ago. I could see students singing into the iPad and rehearsing again at home that night just by opening their dropbox account.

The trick is to get that set-up where I am not at school dealing with scanning and accounts all Saturday (yes, I'd like a grad student intern) and its easy enough for the kids so they want to use it.

Crazy? Let me know.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Creating a Band

The program here has been in cycles of moving from 10-15 kids in an ensemble to 30, then back down again. This has been happening for decades. This is my second year here.

I have seven members of my high school pep band. Five of them were beginners last year in "Developmental Band". I'm happy they stuck with it.

Last night was our first pep band performance. Knowing we couldn't quite handle the music load I hired four students from Western Ct. State University to fill the band out and act as mentors for our students. That part went really well. All the kids played so much better and they were on their game. The positive vibe the WCSU student gave off was very evident.

In one year we have increased the 4th-5th grade band membership by almost 70%. We have almost 170 kids down in the elementary schools playing music (yes, I am still learning their names...) The wave is coming, I hope, and I need some leaders that will define what the Wildcat Band should be. I'm hoping we started created those leaders last night.

Friday, October 8, 2010

First Music Theory Exam

Theory seems to be going well. We have worked this month on basic vocabulary, techniques, and listening skills. The students seem to be picking it up really quick. We have started to use the iPads to reinforce all this.

Much of what I am trying to do this month is to set the basic framework for the AP test or college entrance exam. I still believe I want to get to January with a chance to push for it. So, I need to set up some of the structures (dictation, sight-singing, analysis) that are the basis of any music theory program. I have found that many of my students hope to go to school for music (they are seniors), yet they have no background knowledge of theory (nore have they been in ensembles). We have some work to do....

The technology driven projects we are doing have already been changing. For example, I noticed a student using BeatWave yesterday on the iPad. We had a good discussion about melodic structure, using Level 1 vocabulary, that would have been impossible four weeks ago. The students had no idea how to express their ideas verbally and to have a discussion about music. Vocabulary is so powerful The virtual pianos, youTube, and easy access to have been awesome on the iPad.

Here is the review sheet for the first music theory exam.

Theory Marking Period One Exam Review

Expectations --Written:

1. Identify pitches in treble, bass, alto, tenor clef.
2. Identify all major key signatures.
3. Do simple analysis of score (what key?, notes?, etc...).
4. Understand basic terms such as enharmonic, D.C., coda, repeat, time signature, clef, whole step, forte, etc....
5. Identify solfeg syllables.
6. Complete simple rhythmic and melodic dictation.

Expectations --Oral:
1. Sight-sing simple melody.

Expectations --Piano:
1. Sight-read very simple melody for piano.
2. Perform C, F, Bb, Eb, G, D major scales.

I will not try to trick you on any part of this exam. You will recognize every aspect of it. If you have made music theory a daily part of your schedule (even a small part) you will have no problems. Practice efficiently!

Tools to practice:
1. and
2. Use grouply to ask questions to the group.
3. Check your practice tests and worksheets.
4. Send me a question.
5. Find time on a piano! Have a partner quiz you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


They seemed engaged today. We used the iPads in both choir and theory. I am really taking myself out of the equation as much as possible. I have made clear expectations about what the assessment will be (test, performance exam, etc...) and asked them to use the tools to prepare. Tools include the teacher, classmates, worksheets, the macBook, and 15 iPads.

Now, some won't get it done. They are making progress but they are not working hard. They show up, they are pleasant, they breathe in and out. But they are not sweating. They are certainly not practicing. Yes, in the 5th week of working on it I expect you to know where a D is on the staff.

Everything is going well but there is definitely a fear of excelling, of working hard, of taking a risk. I need leaders to lead.

A few numbers:
1. I had 22 in the HS program last year. I'm over 40 this year.
2. I had 70 in the 4th/5th grade band last year. I think I will have over 100 this year.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Using the iPad in Music Class

I got the iPads yesterday. I am about to test them using the students. I hope it works.

Here is todays exploration:

iPad Checklist:

Put in your headphones.

1. Play a C Major scale on the virtual piano.
2. Play Mary Had a Little Lamb in the key of G.
3. Read the top story on the NY Times.
4. Play Angry Birds for 3 minutes.
5. Sing On My Own, Twinkle Twinkle, or Star Spangled Banner into Soundhound. See what happens.
6. Find your house in Google Earth.
7. Listen to Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. on youTube.
8. Draw a treble clef in Doodle Buddy. Make it pretty.
9. Check the weather in WeatherBug.
10. Look at the pictures of the day in Guardian Eyewitness.
11. Get the top score in Lets Do Math.
12. Get to Level 6 in Labyrinth.
13. Get a groove going with 2 layers in Beatwave.
14. Check out Groovemaker.
15. Read Toy Story

Monday, October 4, 2010

iPad deployment

I got the iPad cart today and the remaining 14 iPads. I have also received much of the sound system. Lots of installation to take care of.

I synced almost all the iPads today. I put all the apps I put on the test machine. We will spend some time over the next few days learning what works.

I need to figure out the following:
  • How to use DropBox or other app to distribute and collect assignments.
  • Best way to "personalize" the iPad for the kids. It seems cumbersome to log-in to each app.
  • Stickers to label the iPads.
  • Whether we need a case for the iPad. We need to be careful putting the iPads into the Spectrum cart.
  • How to use a portfolio to collect music written in some of the sequencing apps.
  • What, if any, apps I will spend $$ on.
  • How to loan out the iPads to other classes.
That seems like enough.

My mom skyped into my 4th grade percussion lesson. That lesson has entirely too many kids in it (ten). They seemed to respond pretty well to it. Mom will follow along with the lessons as she bought sticks and a book.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

UConn visit

Today I gave a lecture at the University of Connecticut to Dr. Young's technology class. This is a class of 3rd years (I think....) entering the school of music education's program. It was a class of about 15 kids.

I arrived late. The weather was nasty and I had no idea where to park. I have rarely been at UConn when it is in full session and it was humming.

We talked a lot about how mobile technology can restructure the power structure in a class. Band/choir has been a very traditional class structure where the director holds all the power. To be able to hand around an iPad for students to listen/research/record/create can be a very powerful technique. We explored ways to alter lessons for elementary, middle and high school classes.

I thought it went pretty well. I had hoped to have iPads in their hands but they haven't been released from our tech office (Day 17 if you are counting).

The best part may have been lunch. I stopped in Rocky Hill on the way back and ate at a Mexican restaurant. How it changes your day to be able to have a real lunch. I still finished in 25 minutes, but what a sanity break. I wish we could do that more. Sometimes we forget what the rest of the world looks like outside of our bell-driven institutionalized walls.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is change coming to Seymour?

I am in my 13th month as the music director here in Seymour.

I teach:
  • HS Music Theory (kind of AP, but non-experienced musicians)
  • HS Concert Band (I started seven beginners last year as freshman. Now they are 2nd years)
  • HS Choir (16 kids)
  • HS Chorale (more elite acapella group)
  • 4th and 5th grade band and lessons at two different elementary schools (about 110 kids, 4 bands, 10 lesson groups).
This is too much now. It was manageable last year, but we are getting better. More kids, more emails, more programs, etc... And we are nowhere close to full speed. I simply don't have enough time during the day.

Now, I coach as well, a choice I make for two reasons ($$ and I'm lucky enough to keep winning). I realize I could work from 2-5 for no pay to catch up. I still put an extra 90 minutes in during the morning and a good 1-2 hours in afternoon.

There are enormous financial, emotional, political, and social reasons NOT to improve the music program. There is no question that the economic incentives are against it. If not, I wouldn't be given that load and be expected to pull two shifts to catch up. You can see why the program has been in perpetual cycles of poverty and mediocrity.

How to fight it? I know I need the kids to step up. I need them to work harder in class, at home, and around the school. I know I need to step up and be more efficient. Now that I know the kids in front of me I need to get the system rolling. I need to push to get more staff and more hands in the room. No question.

I can feel the culture changing. I can't wait to blow the paradigm of mediocrity wide open. (is that a real sentence?)

Friday, September 24, 2010

iPad day 2

So here is what I have done so far:

1. I expect the iPad and macBook to be reconfigured next week. So I haven't done anything permanent, spent any $ on apps, etc...
2. I was able to migrate my home iTunes folder to the macbook and iPad by enabling Home Sharing. It took about 90 minutes to move about 10GB of songs over. I was very happy about this.
3. In choir I was able to use the iPad and the macBook as a playback device using iTunes as students practiced their Italian songs. This worked really well. Everyone was engaged.
4. In theory we used to practice our key signatures. It works really well on the iPad. Students also used the Virtuoso Piano to practice their major scales. They rotated from the digital to the real piano and guitar. I am excited to see what the 1-1 environment will look like.
5. My Mom Skyped into the classroom to test the connection. It worked really well. She is going to take my elementary percussion class via Skype. I hope to call her often and have her watch class. A student said "If I'm absent I could call in!!" Yes, you can!
6. Twitter and Netflix currently blocked on iPad. I will work on the filter issues.
7. Currently waiting on shipment from Soundtree (TV, Sound System, Computer, Mixer) and an iPad cart from Spectrum Furniture.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I've been allowed to take an iPad and the macBook to get started. I think they will be wiped clean next week but I am at least able to get started.

I am amazed by how even this little amount ($1500 of equipment) will profoundly change my classroom. When all the equipment is deployed it will be truly exciting. Remember, we are starting from pretty much nothing (I mean even no sound system).

So, what next? I hope to blog about what is working and how we are doing it. I have decided after talking with my colleagues to just pass the macBook and iPad out tomorrow and see what happens. Its just a tool anyway, one the kids know how to use, lets see what they do with it.

Public thanks to Chris, Mike, Tom and Jim for getting me through this process!

Ideas? Please, please send them!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Still Waiting

iPads arrived in school last Monday. Told now I might get them by October 1. Oy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The start of the year

Well, the iPads aren't here yet but they should be here today. They have to be set-up and I hope to have them in class by the end of the week. What should I do first?

So far the beginning of the year has gone pretty well:

HS Band: 8 kids. Almost all my beginners last year came back. This is the core group we hope to build around. This is also the Pep Band. We will have to push to get that ready as the music is just a little beyond them.

HS Choir: There were a lot of scheduling issues with this group but I am stable at fifteen. One boy again. The group has been positive. We are working on our Italian songs and the basic theory vocabulary. Many students had no (zero--nada) correct on the first theory CFA. Lots of work to do.

AP Theory: Well, this isn't AP Theory but I'm doing it anyway. We are pretty much through with Chapter One where we establish basic vocabulary. There are some musicians in the group which is helpful, but none have ensemble experience. They have been positive.

Elementary Band: I have completed sign-ups (which are way, way up) and first rehearsal at one school. The returning players did very well in rehearsal. We are at roughly #45 in the red book. Last years 5th graders were at about #13 when I took over. So I am happy about that. I head to the other school today.

Other: I got up to 350 twitter followers. I got asked to be in the leadership committee for the site. I have a lecture on technology at UConn in two weeks.

Plenty to do....

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Don't Know What I Am Doing

cross posted on Thomas West blog

I sang in high school. When I got to college I sang in the big choir (Brahms Requiem, etc...). Same at Syracuse. But I am not a VOCALIST. I’m also a Teach for America alum. I never took a vocal methods class. I can’t really play piano.

To many (trust me!) I have no business teaching choir. I do not go to conferences and have discussions about soft palettes, resonators, or how important it is to use/avoid the head voice.

Yet, it is working. I have been doing it for a long time and I haven’t been kicked out yet. I thought it might be productive to share how my program is structured. Yes, my band program is structured almost exactly the same.

1. We break our year/month/week into thirds. Solo work, small group (one to part), and large ensemble get equal time. We spend the first month of each semester working on solo work. During this time we spend a lot of time working on vowels, phrasing, diction, and breathing. Right now we are working on the 24 Italian Songs. Our All-State auditions use them. We learn four every fall and add two in the spring.. By the end of their high school career they will know the whole book. In January we work on Broadway or American Songbook work.

2. My goal is for all choir seniors to be able to take and pass the AP Music Theory test. We spend at least 30-40% of our time on theory (solfeg, compositions, voice leading, sight-singing, etc..). It took me about six years in my previous school to get to this point.

3. We work hard on preparing for regional and All-State auditions. Very few of my students can take private lessons. I am their voice teacher. To prepare we use youTube to listen to versions of the song. We sing at least 2-3x per week for the class. We bring in judges (from serious vocalists to the custodial staff) to listen and critique. We videotape and evaluate growth. We work hard to instill the belief that everyone can make the attempt.

4. We don’t sing nearly as much choral repertoire as other choirs. We don’t have the time. I do try to sing three languages at each concert.

5. We use noteflight for our parts singing. I put the music in and students can select what accompaniment they want. I use for theory help. We use grouply for our class work. All students post videos of their singing to this site and make comments/evaluations here. It is a great way to share.

6. To obtain honors credit students must audition for All-State, take private lessons, and perform a 30 minute recital every Spring.. My students enter college knowing a lot of solo repertoire. We find the money for lessons when we need to. This takes A LOT of time but it much more like the college experience of some big choral work and a lot of solo work.

Every year I get a little better and twitter and the internet have been life savers. For example, there is no way I could have survived teaching “Dirait-On” last year without youtube.

I have a few samples of past groups on my blog. In my second year here in Seymour and I’m hoping (really hoping) that success continues.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I'm told the orders are being processed. Now we wait for all the T's to be crossed and hopefully something is on the way to Seymour soon.

Somethings I am struggling with:

1. How to set up the iPads for multiple users. Should I use dropBox and other services? Will the student be able to log-in and out easily? Or could we create some sort of over-all log-in?
2. Need to figure out basic configuration for initial app set-up.
3. My technology director insists on doing to initial configuration. I'm hoping this runs smoothly.

In many ways I just need to start. If I set them up wrong I start over. Not a big deal. I was so hoping to have them here when students arrive, but we will have to wait.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Money Arrives

I received the grant notification about one month ago and today I received the check. One of the challenging parts of this grant is that I have not been able to order anything until the check arrived and students will be here in a week. I so wanted to have things ready. Hopefully everything will process quickly downtown.

I found Frasier Speirs and I have been following what he is doing. He is launching 115 iPads this fall. He is way ahead of us at this point but I am learning a lot from reading his triumphs and mistakes.

MiFi has intrigued me but I am wondering about cost and filtering issues. I think it would be helpful to be truly mobile.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dance: Where are the boys?

So I have been watching 50's sing-dance movies (7Brides, etc..). Like many of us I come from a family of musicians/performers. My grandmother taught dance in the 40's and 50's. EVERYONE took her dance class. Boys and girls. This was social/ballroom dance.

We don't do that anymore. Boys almost never take dance.

In fact, boys are maybe 30-40% at best of our music programs. 15-20% of our theater programs. There are obvious exceptions.

Is this something that needs to change? If so, it starts at ages 3-4 with those creative movement classes. It fits into so many areas (obesity, arts, school readiness, etc...).

Anyone have research, grants, ideas?

WCSU Meeting and Ordering

Today I went to Western CT State University to meet with an old friend, Dan Goble. We worked together a lot when I was at Derby High School. It was a productive early meeting and we threw around some ideas of how we could work together. We had these initial ideas:
  • Students will visit WCSU for a day and explore offerings.
  • Use SHS as a lab for iPad apps and discussions for grad students.
  • Use WCSU faculty and students as a sounding board for technology ideas.
I have also started the first round of ordering:
  • 15 iPads ordered. No discount for schools.... $20 discount for volume.
  • I ordered a storage/charging cart from Spectrum. By far the cheapest. Hope it works.
  • Sound system and TV display, probably from Soundtree. I definitely prefer them, but waiting to see how many quotes I need. I've gotten two quotes that didn't beat their price. I trust them.

Monday, August 2, 2010


I hope to order some things today.

I am over budget. Perhaps I am trying to do too much. I have been hoping for an iPad discount or additional district funds. Neither seem likely.

I think I may have to let go of the recording studio set-up for now. I'm fighting the $1450 for an iPad charging cart, but I don't really see any other option.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Week 2 of iPad grant

A few notes from the week:

1. I have gotten a lot of advice on the Music PLN. This will be very helpful, especially as we start loading applications.
2. I spoke with the Apple rep. There is only a $20 discount for schools if we buy 10 at a time. Not too impressed with that.
3. I head to WCSU on Wednesday to meet with them about our partnership and this grant.
4. I hope to get quotes finalized this week for a sound system, TV, and recording studio computer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

iPad in Music Class

I received a notice today that we received a grant from the Katherine Matthies Foundation. This grant will do the following:
  • Outfit a music theory class with iPads and applications. These are new music students.
  • Establish and promote a relationship with Western CT State University for mentoring, composition instruction, and other aspects.
I have no other equipment so we also use this grant to purchase sound and mixing equipment and display technology.

I am hoping to use the twitter and blogging world to collaborate with me. I have started a forum on the MPLN network. I hope to blog about the activity here. We will share video and we will tell you what works and what doesnt.

So, help me out:

1. Equipment? What do I need?
2. Data? What should I measure?
3. Apps? What works?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wendell Logan

Wendell Logan has died. I spent four years at Oberlin in the jazz ensemble. My first year Donald Byrd was there as Wendell was on leave. I spent three years with Wendell, the last two as his assistant and composition student.

It is possible that nobody has ever been more "real" than Wendell. He told it like it is.

He won a football scholarship to FAMU and wrote their marching shows each week. That still amazes me.

He would absolutely ravage me in our sessions. "What else you got?" was a phrase I heard often. Yet, he championed me at the same time. I was the only student who had their music played by the group while I was there. That made a huge impression on me.

He will be missed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I have been battling in my head about grades. It comes down to one essential question:

Is a grade an average of test scores or is it a measure of competence?

I was reading Alfie Kohn's essay on rubrics. Then I went on to his work on grades. He doesn't like either. I'm having a hard time disagreeing with anything he says. I've been discussing it with colleagues on twitter and here at school and I think I've come up with these basic rules:

1. Rubrics don't work. They stifle creativity and we end up teaching to the rubric.
2. Grades should not be a motivation device. Too often grades are used to measure behavior (attendance, discipline, penmanship, etc...).
3. Grades should measure growth. Yes, this means my A- might not mean the same as your A-.
4. Students and teachers shy from authentic, continuous assessment.

I have thought about two models from very successful groups I have been in:

1. Newtown High School band circa 1986 or so. We had two grades per year--the midterm and final exam. Your grade on the exam set your grade for the next two marking periods. This was definitely measuring competence. You could earn an additional point for making All-State. Now, Mr. Grasso had about 200 kids to grade so he decided to spend two full weeks per year 8am-5pm assessing individual progress. He gets points for efficiency. Effective--heck yeah--we worked our tails off.

But he assessed us constantly in rehearsal. We had to have our A game every single day. We were always getting feedback, just not as a grade.

2. Oberlin. You played bad you were out of the group. End of story. Nobody cared about their grade. Again, serious assessment every single day, but grades were largely irrelevant. Four years there and not one conversation about grades.

Does anyone have a grading model that works?