Music Room Ramblings

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"That Little Boy Is Smarter than Me"

Lessons Learned from Little Ones

We were riding in the car with our grand children, going to a holiday event, when I heard our 4-year-old say, "Jonathan is smarter than me." His 7-year-old sister quickly responded that he certainly was not!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"From Homeless to Carnegie Hall"

The Power of Music

It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted and I've got lots to share but that can wait for the next post.

I just saw this segment on the "Today Show" and I really feel that we need a little something to help us feel good about what we do. I see way too many posts, especially at this time of year, from teachers who are discouraged, tired, disheartened, and ready to call it quits.

Please don't!! Hang in there! 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Yikes! It's almost November and I still don't have a plan!

Are you still struggling with what to do and how to do it?

You are not alone!! First-year teachers, especially, need help with juggling all of the elements necessary to building a great program. Everyone works hard in July and August, off the clock, of course, preparing their rooms—putting up posters, arranging chairs, tables, creating fun bulletin boards and doors—all to welcome students back to school. And to ensure that the learning experiences are fun and meaningful.

And then, the students arrive! Wow! What a shocker for first-year teachers.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Great Talking Pumpkin

I love Halloween! Simple as that.

My dad used to put a microphone inside a huge pumpkin on our front porch. Then he would hide behind a curtain in a nearby window where he could see the trick-or-treaters but they could not see him. When children came up the steps on our porch, he would say,

Friday, October 6, 2017

Do You Teach Standing or Sitting?

Not a Question for Me!

I was taught that being on eye level with children was less intimidating, so I sat in a chair unless I was moving with the children. I avoided "standing over" them. So when I was teaching a song or telling a story or

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Elephant in the Room

What to do when disaster strikes your school community?

I am certainly not a psychologist but I do know children. And 67 years here on earth have hopefully given me a little wisdom. It has definitely given me a wealth of experiences, both good and challenging. 

There have been so many posts on Facebook about what are teachers to do when they return to their classrooms after the devastation of the hurricanes. Schools have been physically torn apart. The newsfeed coming

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Noteheads vs Sticks!

Developing Music Reading Skills Using Iconic Notation

“Music must not be approached from its intellectual, rational side, nor should it be conveyed to the child as a system of algebraic symbols, or as a secret writing of a language with which he has no connection. 
The way should be paved for direct intuition.” 
—Kodaly website, OAKE

Melody vs Rhythm

This blog post gives a brief description of the method I used and developed over my 30 years in the classroom. Most is Kodaly-based.

Iconic notation has long been accepted as a great way to introduce children to music reading. Stick notation to represent rhythms gives children a visual of sound—one icon for each sound.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Awards long before Recorder Karate . . . Yep, I'm THAT old!

Question: How do you keep your 3rd-4th graders interested in playing recorders?

I had a great reward system for my 3rd-4th graders. They were on a points system, meaning they got points for bringing their recorder to class, points for playing the assigned songs, extra points for tutoring other students, points for assessments, projects, compositions, etc.

They earned cords similar to Recorder Karate except I started my system way before they did (darn it!) and the cords were longer and worn like neck straps—a loop around the mouthpiece and then tied in the back around their neck. I purchased the cording at a fabric store by the

Thursday, August 24, 2017

What do I do with 4th - 6th grade students who refuse to pay attention?

Engaging Older Students at the Beginning of the Year

Obviously, you cannot teach if you don't have your students' attention. Do not fight for it, do not beg for it. Expect it and reward it. You are in charge. Be firm, loving and consistent. 

Your students, no matter what age, need boundaries, desperately. If you don't set them immediately, they will push until they defeat you, And, believe it or not, that's not really what they want. 

At the beginning of the year, students don't know everyone and they are vying for the attention from their peers, and for their position in their class.  Take a deep breath. You are older, more experienced, and smarter than they are! You can do it!


Here are a few ideas that worked for me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Absolutely Blown Away!!

Over 50 items! 

When an item is sold on TpT, the seller is notified via email. Monday, August 21, Eclipse Day, I thought it was a mistake of the galaxy when my phone started making a weird sound. So I checked my email and was convinced there was a mistake because there were so many emails from TpT. I just knew something was wrong.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

You Did the Same Thing to Begin Every Class?

Wasn't that boring?

Nope! Not at all.

I know there's a big push for "bell ringers" and "starter" activities. But children love consistency, knowing what to expect, and being successful. They also love to show off their skills. Working together as a group is a great way for them to experience that feeling of ensemble performing.

Repetition and Reinforcement

How do you start each class? I never changed my plan for over 30 years. And . . . it worked. Following is the method I used.


I began with echo-clapping when kindergartners came in the first day. After a very brief greeting, I told them to be my echo when I pointed at them. I would say and point to myself, "My turn," and clap four

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Assessments in Music—Are You Kidding?

 Nope, not at all!


Assessments, Accountability, and Integrity in Teaching Music

When I first began teaching music, it was because music was not offered in the elementary schools in Nashville, "Music City USA," and I wanted my daughter to have a good foundation in music education. So I volunteered to teach, for FREE!

I quickly realized that teaching just her class was not going to work because the following year she would not be with the same students. Other students from other classes would be mixed in. I would then be teaching students who had had a year of music and others who were brand new.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Back-to-Back Classes Driving You Crazy?

Have a Consistent Learning Activity at the Beginning of Every Class

A little background . . . 

When I first began teaching, I made a set of rhythm cards and a set of melody cards both of which were levels K-4th grade. I would frantically pull cards out and/or put them back in as a new grade level entered the room. 

Finally, it occurred to me that I needed a separate set for each grade level. Duh!! 

And then I had the even more brilliant idea to color-code these cards using a different color for each grade. Bingo!! The students instantly recognized their colors, I used the same colors for their vocabulary words and Word Walls. I cannot stress enough how

Monday, August 7, 2017

And This Is Why I Am Directionally Challenged!

When speaking to an audience or teaching a classroom full of children, do you gesture left to right OR right to left? 

A long time ago, I learned from a child psychologist that any time you stand in front of a group of students, you should "mirror" all of your hand motions. And even though that's difficult, I learned how, and the results are amazing.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Be Careful! Don't Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water!

Textbooks & CDs—Keep or Toss?

Many new teachers walk into their first music classroom and are confronted with a collection of textbooks and CDs (maybe even LPs and cassette tapes). The dilemma is—what to do with these?

Warning! I'm old school. Well, let's just say, I'm old. And retired. But I used the books and CDs long before iPods, and actually long before CDs.

Yep, I used records. For those of you who are not familiar, those are the black circuluar vinyl disks that are put on another circular contraption that goes 'round and 'round when turned on called a turntable and you pull an arm thing over that has a needle on it so it will play. Imagine that?!! 


I moved right along with progress and was the first in our school to have and use a computer. A little Apple Plus, I think. After that, I was thrilled when the iPod came out, purchased one, and immediately loaded all the CDs into iTunes and used a very nice Bose speaker doc and remote (most of which I paid for myself). I had a SmartBoard, projector, and all the bells and whistles. 


But, I always used the books. I feel it's very important for children to have their very own book in

Monday, July 31, 2017

YIKES! Got a New Job . . . First Day!! Now What Do I Do?

Yep! You gotta write those lesson plans.

After 30 years, I never went into the classroom, "winging it." NEVER!! Teaching without plans? Recipe for disaster!

Ah, but the ones I wrote for that darn methods class are not very practical for the classroom. You know, Really? Four pages, explaining why I'm doing what I'm doing. And I can't even quickly find WHAT I'm supposed to be doing! 

So, how do you do it? And make it look so easy?

Great question!

Where to start?

Friday, July 28, 2017

First-Year Teachers—Check it out!!

If you are a first-year teacher, you'll be overwhelmed with all of the non-classroom things you have to do before school starts and then when school starts you won't believe the amount of lesson planning and classroom management that will hit you HARD!

These Lesson Plan Bundles were created with new teachers in mind. I have received lots of positive comments about the Elementary Music Lesson Plans for a Year Bundle, K-5.

The comments below are 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.

Here are just a few comments from 2015 and 2016. 

Comments from 2016
I love the lay-out, and have used many of the lessons in my curriculum. The curriculum meshes easily with mine.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

To Teach Recorders or Not? That is the question!

But never a question for me! Even though it was not optional, I loved teaching recorder. In our district, actually in the state of Tennessee, recorder is a required part of the elementary music curriculum beginning in 3rd grade.

Teaching Music Reading Skills Method Book


I always began recorder in 3rd grade around October after review and being sure new students were caught up. Because of the sequential curriculum (Teaching Music Reading Skills), my students were introduced to the names of the treble clef lines and spaces at the end of 2nd grade. So they were ready and excited to begin their first instrument in 3rd grade. A video of one of my introductory class to 3rd graders is included in the eBook.

 Lesson Planning

My First Recorder Book, Teacher Guide
In my once a week, one-hour class, I used 20 minutes for the first 4-6 weeks to introduce and reinforce with the 3rd graders. After that, 10-15 minutes were sufficient. By the end of 3rd grade, students were reading and playing 5 notes—BAG-CD— very solidly.

I based My First Recorder Book, Student Book and Teacher's Guide, on my method of teaching recorder. The teacher's guide gives permission to the buyer to make copies of the songs so students can compile their own repertoire. The student book is an eBook and available as a PDF download from Teachers Pay Teachers as well as Amazon Kindle. Students are allowed to download to 3 devices—desktop, tablet, and phone. No more books to remember to take home and bring back!! Use the song pages on the screen in class.

Assessing—How to assess without sacrificing instructional time?

Because I did a lot of small-group, composing and creating activities, I was able to listen to individuals play while others were working on projects without sacrificing instructional time. Sightreading and Vocabulary pages are included in these books.


I used cords as an incentive LONG before Recorder Karate came out. Remember, I've been around for over 30 years! Students respond well to those types of challenges. Recorder Karate and many other plans are great! Mine worked for me and my students responded so well, I never felt the need to change. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Songs were assigned point value and students knew how many points it took to earn a cord, just 2 per year for my plan. I purchased cording (4 different colors) by the yard at a fabric store, cut it into approximately 24"-28" lengths, made a loop on one end to attach around the recorder's mouthpiece and then a knot on the other end. At the end of each 9-week grading period, I made a HUGE deal of awarding the students their cords. They wore them around their necks as a badge of honor! LOL I did this for many years and never had any problems.

Patriotic Song Bundle, Levels 2-3 

Advanced Recorders

By 4th grade, I was able to do lots of fun and challenging things with the recorders. Students were reading well and playing well by Christmas, for sure. Peer tutoring works well when you've done all you can do. Some students will listen to their peers more readily than me and I would give extra points to the tutors if their "pupil" could successfully play a song.

A great, all-school program can be built around these patriotic songs. Wonderful soundtracks, composed specifically for recorder, narration, and solid, standards-based lesson plans to incorporate into your curriculum. There are even suggestions for including your beginning recorder students on some of the songs. If you have a good, sequential plan, your 4th graders can easily play most of these songs by spring. And this is a fantastic way to showcase the music education that you are providing at your school.


The key to successfully teaching any skill is consistency and enthusiasm! I loved teaching recorder and the middle school band directors were thrilled to get my students.

So I evidently was doing something right. (BTW, I'm retired now and a Side-by-Side coach in our district.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Oh, No!! Mrs. Aston Moved the Meter!!

Behavior Meter

Classroom Rewards System and Behavior Meter

Several years ago, I implemented a plan using a simple "Behavior Meter" and classroom reward system. I couldn't believe I had gone so many years without it. It improved the learning environment in my room immensely.

The key to any plan is consistency and follow-through. I assembled and attached the "Meter" to the board where I had easy access, and when I found myself raising my voice, I would move the arrow up one level. One teacher who is using this in her classroom calls it the "Happy Dial." I love it!

Whenever I moved the arrow or even my arm toward the arrow, the students immediately calmed down and encouraged others to do so also. I could hear the whispers all over the room, "Hey, guys, be quiet. Mrs. Aston is going to move the meter!"

I rewarded classes who could consistently maintain a green level every 4 and a half weeks with a very quick cup of popcorn at the beginning of class. Called it a Popcorn Party and made a HUGE deal out of it. I did not require perfection. One bad day was allowed, 3 out of 4 classes would earn the class a "Party."

Even the classroom teachers would look at my chart posted on the door and tell their students they expected to see "Green" when they returned. Then they would praise them mightily if they had a green circle by the teacher's name! Because all classes were posted on the door, each teacher could quickly see how the other teachers' classes were doing. A little competition is good for the soul, I think!!

The students worked as a class to earn their reward. I did not allow one (or a few) student(s) to determine the "fate" of the entire class. There were consequences for them, too. For more details, the meter, and how to implement, check it out!

This plan works in any classroom all the way through middle school!

Classroom Management Plan and Behavior Meter

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rules, Expectations, Procedures

Classroom Management

It will not matter how great your lesson plans are, how many instruments you have, how much you spent on great technology and your sound system. If your students are not listening, are not engaged or paying attention, you
might as well send it all back!
Children respond positively to a well-organized classroom. One where the teacher is in charge, there are limits, rules, bouindaries, and consequences. They feel safe in a non-threatening environment. Today's child needs these things desperately and when those things are absent, they respond in ways that are unacceptable.

Rules, Expectations, and Procedures 

The last few years before I retired, my school implemented PBIS, Positive Behavior Intervention System. It was a schoolwide plan that was wonderful as long as everyone in the school followed the plan. It only falls apart when admin and/or teachers don't "buy in" and use it correctly. To find out more about this system, go to — Schoolwide Positive Behavior Intervention System.

Basically, you need 3-4 simple rules. Our school rules were

Be Respectful, Be Responsible, and Be Safe. 

The faculty came up with the expectations for those rules in all areas of the school—hallway, cafeteria, classroom, restroom, arrival, dismissal, etc. We spent the first week of school demonstrating and practicing what those expectations "looked like" in each of those areas. Yes, we actually used two days rotating the students through all areas, with teachers having fun demonstrating acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Everyone had a great time and the results were immeasurable!

Music Classroom Expectations

I wanted my students to feel safe and secure in my classroom while also being free to be creative, have fun, play instruments, and move, move, move to music. Maintaining a balance in this kind of environment requires preparation and being able to anticipate problems before they happen!

In my room, students were to enter quietly and sit in their assigned seats. They knew if they didn't do this correctly, we would go back to the hall and repeat until they did. I rarely had to "re-teach" this because they were ready to begin class, not learn how to walk in! 

Assigned Seats? Yikes! Really!?! Yes. I learned from Harry Wong that assigning seats is another way to help students feel secure. And when I changed to his method, it was amazing. No more fighting over who sits where. I used circle stickers to number the chairs in order from right to left (always reverse for their reading skills), and they were assigned alphabetically. I could easily and immediately see who was absent, I learned names more quickly, and if they forgot their number I could look at my roll book to tell them. 

Routine. I always, yes, always, began class with echo-clapping (patting, snapping) 4-beat rhythm patterns. The older the grade, the more complicated the patterns. Echos were followed with flashcards, color-coded by grade level, with the patterns on them. Next we would echo-sing and sign, then flashcards with these patterns. Those 5-7 minutes set the tone for the remainder of class, students knew what to expect as soon as they sat down. I rarely said a word, just began clapping. Their response was immediate. They were 100% engaged, yes, even 5th graders. It works. And then we continued with the lesson.

Movement. From the first time students participated in movement activities in kindergarten until they left the school, the rules never changed. "Find a place where you can move. Freeze when you are ready." Students were to move without touching other students. If that happened, they had to sit out the activity.

Directions. Keep your directions short and simple. Kinders can usually only follow 1-2 directions at a time. Even older students have trouble. When you say, "Find a partner," they immediately begin looking for someone, their hearts start racing because they think they might get left out, and you have raised the anxiety level in the entire class. For kinders, give one direction at a time—"Stand in front of your chair." I loved using a slide whistle for standing and sitting with Ks & 1st-graders. For partner activities with older students, try numbering the students or using the numbers of their chairs. 1-12 and they find their matching number. Anything to lower the anxiety of not being chosen. Remind them that if anyone complains, they will sit and watch until the next game/activity. When using partner activities, be sure to have students change partners every few minutes, allowing no refusals.

More Classroom Management TIPS tomorrow!!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Teachers Don't Live at School!


Yes, Really!! I do not eat dinner at school and I don't sleep here (unless you count doze-offs and space-outs due to exhaustion!).

Our students many times don't see us as "real" people with a life outside our classroom.

Funny Story

The related arts teachers were usually assigned breakfast duty, meaning I was to be in the cafeteria to assist students who ate breakfast. I thoroughly enjoyed this time when I could

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mrs. Aston, Where Have You Been?

Great question! So glad you asked!

Moves, Grands, Pickles, and Coaching


You may remember, our daughter and her family moved from Chicago two years ago. They lived with us for a little over a year and then we decided to sell them our house! Great idea, right? But we had trouble finding exactly what we were looking for until . . . the house across the street became available and we jumped right on it!

So we moved last October from our home of over 22 years to a much smaller and much more efficient for us house. And we love it. And we love having our family across the street.


I have just been overwhelmed and blessed to be able to spend so much time with my grandchildren. We have sleepovers and play dates. I know all about fairies, Star Wars, Cars, gymnastics, and my pantry has to be full of snacks. We love gardening and yardwork so we have been working with the kids, teaching them how to grow stuff. We built a small greenhouse in our backyard and the kids, their mom, and I planted lots of seeds in trays—flowers, veggies, herbs, etc.


Last summer I began a little "business" with the kids. Because of an over-abundance of cucumbers, I taught them how to make pickles. They named our business, JAGG's Pickle Pot (Jordan, Asher, Grandmama, and Grandpapa). We sold a few jars last year and they were anxious to continue their endeavors this year. So, I have been making and canning pickles with a 7- and 4-year-old! And we found a great little neighborhood place to sell our wares called Farmin' in the Hall. The kids are having fun while learning the ins and outs about a business—maintaining inventory, creating a product, a brand, using math skills, and they use their little play cash register at our booth. Too cute!


Last, but not least, is my continued involvement as an independent Side-by-Side Coach, helping elementary music teachers with everything from lesson plans, curriculum planning, assessments, evaluations, technology, and much more. Teachers, especially related arts teachers, are many times isolated and do not receive the feedback necessary for professional development. They also do not receive the positive feedback when they need to be told how well they are doing. And I get to do that! I love working with teachers, both new and experienced, listening to their ideas, giving advice based on my 30-plus years of experience. It's a win-win plan!

More to Come

All that to say, life has happened and distractions have pulled me away from my blog, website, and Teachers Pay Teachers work. After attending the TpT conference, I have a renewed energy and commitment toward Mrs. Aston's High Notes.

So . . . Look for More to Come!!