Music Room Ramblings

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Saving Your Voice

My next few posts are going to come from questions that I have received over the past couple of weeks from teachers.

This question is a very important issue for all teachers but especially elementary music teachers who use their voices constantly, all day, every day.

How do I save my voice?

Because of the nature of what you do, you will strain your voice, especially at the beginning of every year and also, right after any lengthy breaks. Even though I usually lost my voice at least once every year, there were several things I did that kept the loss to a minimum.
  • Keep a large cup of water beside your chair all day. And drink it! Refill and drink some more!
  • Use recordings to help you teach, rehearse, and review songs. No matter what anyone says about how important it is for your students to sing along with you and to hear you sing (and it is), if you lose your voice because of over-use, that becomes irrelevant. Just be sure the recordings you use have top quality children's voices and your children will be just fine. They actually benefit from singing along with children who are using their voices correctly.
  • Use a recorder to give starting pitch. That's the next best thing to using your voice. It has the soft quality and flute-like sound that you want your students to have.
  • Pace yourself and your lessons by distributing movement, listening, small-group, and partner activities in-between the singing activities.
  • When (not "if") you lose your voice, gargle with apple cider vinegar. It's nasty, but it works better than anything I tried. Your voice comes back quicker.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why I Do What I Do

In the past two days, I have received lots of comments about the Elementary Music Lesson Plans for a Year Bundle, K-5.
This is exactly what I was hoping for—to help new teachers and provide resources for teachers who were not as blessed as I was through the years with pretty much everything a teacher could want. This is why I do what I do . . .


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How to include Gen Ed standards, writing prompts, etc. in music ed class

Our new principal is wanting us to reinforce the regular ed standards into our lessons (writing prompts included). Have you found it easy enough to find alternative songs and activities for your lesson plans that will tie into their standards and scope of work if the ones already on your lessons don't necessarily serve that purpose, as long as they're covering what we need to cover as music teachers?

We just got hit with this recently and it's extremely overwhelming, especially since it looks like I'll have to modify more things than I thought. I don't know how any one teacher can cope with all of this paperwork, and now we're expected to cover our standards AND theirs?! It's crazy.  
It's very common for principals to require that, so don't stress. It's fairly easy.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Glimpse into Retirement

Babysitting 101—Grandmama's Great Idea! 

This is long! But since I've been out of pocket for a while, I thought I would share a story from a day in my life as a grandmom and retired music teacher. This actually happened a couple of months ago and I realized I had not posted it. Oh, well . . . Here it is now—

Let's go to McDonald's after church! Yay, say the kids. Thanks, Siri, for finding one close. Two Happy Meals, please. What kind? Well, I don't know. The one with hamburger and fries. Who knew there were so many options? So far, so good. The toys were a hit. No repeats. Both kids ate great. The 2-yr-old dips everything in ketchup, yep, even apples. Yumm! Not real sure what I gulped down.

Back to the car. No, the 5-yr-old can't buckle herself in this time. OK. No problem. Ready to go. Siri, how do we get home. No answer. Phone is dead. Uh oh. This directionally-challenged granny has a problem. Lost in Chicago. Already off-route, we just turn, find a familiar street, and go until Siri gets charged. Get the directions, check on kids, yep, the 2-yr-old is asleep.

Get home, have to park around the corner, and tell the 5-yr-old to try to unbuckle and get out on the sidewalk side of the van. Not happenin'. Had to unbuckle her first and leave all their paraphernalia in the van. Picked up the 30-lb 2-yr-old to begin the trek home. Almost died several times but finally made it to the gate. Unlocked gate and then the door, one-handed, and the 5-yr-old tells me, Grandmama, you can't take our stuff home with you. I know, I tell her, we'll get it later. Now, it will take me a while to come up the stairs (at least 200 to get to 3rd floor) carrying your brother. Please go up and unlock the door and get everything you need out of his room so I can put him down for his nap. Sure, Grandmama.

Made it up the stairs, wishing I had bought him a salad instead of that 10 lb hamburger. Almost died 3 more times. Put 2-yr-old down for nap. Ready to crash on the sofa with the 5-yr-old to watch Rescue Bots, and she says, I'm hungry!

Moral to this story? HOORAY for all the wonderful MOMMIES AND DADDIES everywhere who do this every day!!!!! You are my super heroes!

Mrs. Aston, What have you been doing?

Great question! So glad you asked. I've been very busy and I haven't been busy writing on my blog. Sorry.

First, I am in charge of our family's Cousins' Camp, which is a fantastic time for all of the cousin kids (13) on my husband's side of our family. He is one of four children and he and his brothers and sister all have grandkids. We have one daughter who lives in Chicago and she has two kids. Our grands didn't know the other kids in the family very well at all. So I decided to start a Cousins' Camp last year. The grandparents are the camp leaders and the grands were all invited to a 2-day, 1 night camp experience with their grandparents. Last year only 6 kids were able to participate and 2 sets of grandparents. But it was so successful, that 13 came this year and was fantastic. Only one grand could not come. The parents have 2 days of alone, kid-free time, and the grandparents have a wonderful time with their grands and without supervising parents! Works out for everyone.

Elementary Music Lesson Plans

Unit 1 

I have also been writing every day trying to finish Unit 1 that will complete the set of Units for Elementary Music Teachers for a year. I am excited to say that it is complete!! Finally!!

And the great news is—until July 31st, I will send Unit 1 to anyone who has purchased Units 2, 3, and 4,  FREE!!

These units are close to 200 pages each of lesson plans, songs, teaching posters, activities, and have assessments built into each lesson. All based on the Standards.

Family News

Finally, my biggest news is that our daughter and her family are moving to Nashville! And they are going to be living with us for a while. Oh, my! So my husband and I have been working hard trying to make room in our small home for their family of four. We are so excited and as much as I have loved writing and creating for my products on Teachers Pay Teachers, it's been hard to focus when I needed to be cleaning! Never thought I would be so excited about going through stuff and cleaning out. Goodwill has become our best friend. We could have opened our own store!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sequential Learning Experiences or Random Activities?

Hopefully, today, many of you are ending your year and looking forward to some well-deserved rest. You have made a difference in the lives of children, even though you’ve faced the many challenges that go along with your job as elementary music teacher. No one knows how difficult it is and no one knows how rewarding, except those of us who have been there. I just have to say, You are appreciated for all of the hard work, extra time, and just plain giving of yourself to the children you teach.

Use your time this summer to rest and recharge. When you’re ready to start planning again, please visit my store at Teachers Pay Teachers. I have added many new items and everything is based on the successful experiences of 30 years in the classroom.

One thing I've noticed is that many teachers are asking for and buying activities on Teachers Pay Teachers because they are cute and fun. And I have seen some really great activities on TpT. My concern is that many teachers are trying to find enough fun activities to get through the day, the week, create a lesson plan, etc. and are not focused on the long-term sequential learning experiences that are necessary for children to develop a quality foundation in music education. It takes time to build a standards-based program that begins in kindergarten. Isolated, random activities that are plugged into a lesson plan just to fill time does not accomplish that goal.

The Unit Lesson Plans that I have made available will help you develop the kind of program that children need to be successful and lifelong learners of music education. I will be completing the bundle this summer. Currently Units 2, 3, and 4 are available. If you have already purchased these, email me and I will send you Unit 1 for no cost.

Send me your email so you will receive updates.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How do you teach music vocabulary?

For me, there is no simple answer. Music understanding and vocabulary begins in preschool/kindergarten or before. It is learned as a language.

Children experience, listen to, and feel before articulating, reading, and writing. There is an important sequence to developing these concepts. For example, children experience and demonstrate with their bodies an understanding of loud/soft, high/low, fast/slow through many activities, specifically movement, using large motor skills. Begin with words that students already know and guide them in discovering their association to what they hear in music. Students are then encouraged to discuss and verbalize using age-appropriate terminology. 

As students progress in their understanding and age, music terms are introduced such as piano/forte, etc. Older students learn to distinguish and discuss the finer differences and changes in what they hear. Every aspect of what is taught in any classroom has specific age-appropriate vocabulary to accompany the understandings. Keeping vocabulary words visible on Word Walls is a wonderful way to help children develop these skills.

If teachers present concepts in a natural progression, students will easily learn how to use the terms to describe listening selections and the finer nuances. Give students many sequential and fun activities to introduce and reinforce their experiential learning. Teachers use the age-appropriate vocabulary when talking with the children and describing music. Eventually, it becomes second-nature. 

Basically, a teacher must have a plan that begins on the first day of music class in kindergarten.

I used color-coded Word Walls in my room and it was so fun for the older students to look at the K-1st grade words such as soft/loud and be proud that they were using piano/forte and easily knew the meanings, spellings, etc. 
Because I came to realize the importance of this element in the elementary music classroom, I developed a system of vocabulary cards, picture cards and games. By 3rd grade, my students were easily able to discuss and write descriptions of musical selections using terms such as tempo, accelerando, crescendo, piano, forte, tone color, etc. 

I have made these items available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store include Elementary Music Vocabulary Cards, Loud/Soft, High/Low, and Fast/Slow. These items have games and activities that will help you with these learning experiences.

Friday, April 10, 2015


I have not posted a Freebie Friday item in a couple of weeks. I have been bogged down with life. The kind of things that keep me from creating and posting. Oh, well . . .

Use "Bow, Wow, Wow" to continue teaching melodic direction.
But today I have made an item available that is also part of Unit 4, the final unit in what will be my "Lesson Plans for an Entire Year" bundle. These will be posted in early August (maybe sooner) because I will be tweaking Unit 1 and combining the INDEXES from each unit so you will have a fantastic plan for your year.

These units are educationally sound, sequential, based on the standards, full of activities, songs, games, and dances with extensive instructions for everything. If you are a new teacher, these units will give you everything you need to establish a great foundation for your music education program.

Unit 4 uses small-group projects, 2nd-5th grades, to give students the opportunity to 3 lesson plans will be available for one more week before I bundle all 35 plans into Unit 4.

You and your students will have fun playing instruments, learning great songs on the recorder, and participating in many movement and dance activities. Students are encouraged to develop their higher level thinking skills as they analyze selections of music and discuss lyrics.

Many teachers become bogged down in providing a series of fun activities that have no connection to their sequential learning experiences. With these Units, you can be assured that your students will be learning while also having fun and will be prepared ultimately for middle and high school music activities.

demonstrate the skills they have been learning all year. Students are encouraged to create, improvise, and perform for each other. The first

Friday, March 20, 2015

FREEBIE FRIDAY! Rock-Paper-Scissors


Spring Fever settling in and wreaking havoc in your classroom? Try this game in a new way that kids can play anywhere—the hall, the cafeteria, the library. Because it's played in SILENCE! And it teaches respect. But it's a challenge because that's NOT the way American kids learned how to play it. Yes, It's FREEBIE FRIDAY!!

What customers are saying—

Flash Cards—Music Flash Card Bundle, Rhythm, Melody, Vocabulary, Symbols*
I just ordered these! I am super excited that they are going to be printed for me! I can not wait to get them in the mail and start using them! Thank you for all of the time that you put into TPT! I appreciate the help!
March 17, 2015
*NOTE: This item is on sale and there are only 8 bundles left! Fantastic bargain.

Music Class Lesson Plans for a Year, K-4th grades
Looks amazing! I can't wait to start implementing some of the ideas!
March 17, 2015

These lesson plans are so helpful. I am a homeschool mom who is trying to teach music for the first time. These lesson plans are exactly what I needed to get started. They are easy to follow and full of great ideas.
March 6, 2015

Elementary Music Lesson Plans, Unit 3
Exactly what I needed! Thank you! :)
March 17, 2015
Another great job! These lesson plans are very thorough and easy to follow. I can't wait for unit 4.
March 9, 2015

Elementary Music Lesson Plans, Unit 2
These are wonderful music lessons. They are organized and very easy to follow. I love how you took the time to adjust the lessons for each grade level.
Thank you so much. I am your newest follower and can not wait to see what else you create.

Listening Activity—"March Past of the Kitchen Utensils" for K, 1st
This is a great lesson for my students
March 3, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Freebie Friday!

What a great week. First a SALE, then Teachers Pay Teachers surprised everyone by extending the sale one extra day,

and now? It's . . . Freebie Friday!

Check out "Humpty Dumpty." This became a favorite in my classroom for kindergartners and first graders.

Children will become involved in using higher level thinking skills as they dissect the story, and re-create a happier ending.

They will enjoy acting out their story as they play the parts of the king, the queen, the horses, men, and whoever else they decide is part of the tale.

I have included a poster of Bloom's Taxonomy to show classroom teachers and admin how many thinking skills you are encouraging as you guide the children in this hilarious activity.

I am making different items available for FREE on Fridays to introduce you to the many items available at my store. All are of this same quality and have been used in my classroom successfully for many years.

Happy Friday to you!

Monday, February 23, 2015

20% OFF SALE! One Day Only—Wednesday, February 23

WOW! What an icy week we have had in Nashville. Schools have been closed for over a week now. Everyone is actually ready to get back to normal. Whatever that means! LOL

Teachers Pay Teachers is celebrating teachers this week with a fantastic sitewide SALE, Wednesday, February 25.

All items in my store will be 20% OFF, one day only!

Now's your chance to download any of those items on your Wish List!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Freebie Friday"

"Freebie Friday" — Every Friday, I will post a different product at my Teachers Pay Teachers store for FREE! For one day only. So be sure to check it out!

Comments from Last Week's Freebie—Music Vocabulary Jeopardy!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Assessments? Yes!

I assessed in my music classroom long before it was required, over 30 years ago when I first began teaching. Authentic assessment is how a teacher can evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. I also was part of the team that developed the elementary music assessment for our district.

I used observation and performance assessments with all students and one written assessment per grading period with 2nd-5th grades. Because we were required to turn in grades (E, S, N), I felt they had to be based on something tangible. I refused to give all students an "S" or "E" with no data on which to base that.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Makes It All Worthwhile

Just received this message on Facebook from a former student—

Hello Ms.Aston,
I don't know if you remember me but I was in your music class for a few years at Brookmeade! Thank you for those wonderful years of learning! I am now a music major at UTC! Your class helped make that happen believe it or not! I just wanted to say thank you! Students
don't often get to thank the teachers who made a difference in their lives... But you really did I still remember a good bit of your class! Thank you so much!!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Unit Planning, Lesson Plans, and Those Infamous Standards

Units and Lesson Plans do not just materialize out of thin air. Nor should they be a list of random activities designed to fill up the allotted class time. That can be fun for the students but is not educationally sound in the long run.

Lesson plans should be sequential and age appropriate. And, yes, based on those infamous standards. The national standards are not an albatross, hanging around your neck. They were developed to help you and curriculum designers create a music program where students learn in a logical and sequential way based on sound methodology and child development.

The four units that I am writing are dependent on each other and can be used year after year. (See Lesson 3) They contain the activities, songs, games, dances, etc. that were successful in my classroom over my 30 years of teaching. After

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unit 3, Lessons 1-4 Ready to Go!

A word from Janis...

Do you feel like there are not enough hours in the day?

Do you feel like you're stretched to the max?

Faculty meetings, evaluations, committee meetings, parent conferences, etc. are eating up the day.

And planning time? Totally non-existent! It continues to be devoured by everything else.

And your stress level is out the roof!

Today's teacher is being bombarded with standards, evaluations, and so many things that don't even translate into quality instruction in the classroom. In fact, the opposite is happening at an alarming rate. And the best and brightest teachers are dropping like flies.

Even though I'm writing these plans especially for new teachers and for teachers who do not have access to a budget, resources, and materials, these plans would be a great resource for anyone. The plans are sequential but there are also many stand-alone activities that you can pull out and work into your own plans. They will save you time and relieve your mind because you can be assured that you will be teaching to the standards, be ready for any evaluations, and best of all, the students will be learning and loving it in the process!

I will complete Unit 3 with the final 3 lesson plan sets by the end of January. I just spent a marathon weekend completing the Lessons 1-4 bundle. I don't apologize for taking such a long time to develop these plans. I am trying to rewind my brain back to the days of when I had no budget, resources, no materials, no instruments, and no support. Finding just the right links and the best versions of songs continues to take much longer than I anticipated but the result will be wonderful for those of you who need a quality set of plans at your fingertips.

I will immediately begin working on Unit 4 so you will have it by the last part of your year! By next fall, I will have Lesson Plans for an Entire Year available! I am excited to provide these for you.

I also love feedback and welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and will gladly help you with anything struggles you may be having  in your classroom. I have been communicating with teachers in Indonesia, Queens, NY, Canada, England, Kuwait, and Australia. That is so much fun!!

I look forward to hearing from you, too.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

FREE!! Unit 3 for Jan-Mar, Lesson Plans 1-2

I actually can't believe I'm doing this again but I haven't finished Unit 3 to post on Teachers Pay Teachers. I posted Lesson 1, K-4, a couple of weeks ago and so have had so many positive comments that I have posted Lesson 2 simply because you need it for continuity. These 2 lessons will not be offered for FREE for much longer because I will be offering them as a complete unit. So today's your LUCKY DAY!! Download now. It's FREE!!