Saturday, August 27, 2011

PowerPoint Picture Books

This is related to my previous post. I happened upon a site of picture books in PowerPoint format. Most range in price from $1-2. I'm not really sure how this is legal, but there are some good books on the site.

Update: I just received email from the company that offers these powerpoints. They have permission to create/sell a certain number of powerpoints for each title. That's why some books are listed as unavailable. They have to request permission to make more copies. I'm relieved to hear that they are going through the proper channels to do this.

Picture Books on the iPad

I had a brilliant idea the other day (at least I thought so at the time). I could be using the iPad to show picture books to my classes. Why didn't I think of this before? I have an iPad 2, so I can hook it to the projector and kids will be able to see it big on the SMARTboard. And what kid wouldn't be super excited to be the iPad page turner? Hooray this sounds great! Except...

I immediately went to Amazon to find a picture book. I was pretty disappointed in the limited selection, but there were a few titles I might be able to use in the music room. I downloaded a sample of one and my idea went out the window. It was in black and white! There's no way I am paying money for a picture book I can get in vivid color to show it in black and white. I couldn't figure out why it would be in black and white until I remembered that the Kindle is black and white.That's probably also why the selection is so limited.

And then I had another thought. The Barnes and Noble Nook Color. I raced over the B&N website and saw several titles that might fit the bill. I downloaded the free Nook Kids app. There were a couple of sample books within the app including The Elephant's Child: How the Elephant Got his Trunk by Rudyard Kipling. There is an option to Read by Myself or Read to Me. It looks fabulous. Nice colors. The page doesn't actually look like it's turning like it does in the Kindle, but I can live with that. This might really work. The drawback I see is that the cost of the books are basically the same as the hardcover versions of the books. That means I won't do this for every book I want to use, but I might do it once or twice over the course of the year.

Here are some titles I found that seem like they might be appropriate for the elementary music classroom:

Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree
There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves
The Composer is Dead
The Snowy Day - Lynn Kleiner has a nice lesson for this book in Kids Can Listen, Kids Can Move
The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker
Otto Goes to the Beach - There is a lesson for this book in GamePlan Grade 1.
Hush Little Baby
Caps for Sale - There is a lesson for this book in Artie Almeida's Mallet Madness book.
Puff the Magic Dragon

I haven't hooked the iPad up to the projector to try it out yet since my projector bulb burned out yesterday. Boo hoo. I plan to try it out soon though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Planning ahead with Music Express

I've mentioned Music K-8 Magazine before which is really my favorite elementary education periodical. However, I also get John Jacobson's Music Express Magazine. I like this magazine for different reasons than I like Music K-8. My favorite parts of this magazine are the listening maps and the pop songs. The kids love the pop songs, so it's nice to have someone else figure out which ones are kid-appropriate. Last year I discovered that the Music Express website lists the songs and activities that will be in the future issues. You can access this year's sneak peek here. I love that feature. It really helps me with planning, especially if I think I might want to program one of the pop songs for our spring concert. This year I subscribed to the electronic version of the student magazine which will save me from having to scan the listening map to be able to project it. I also like that it won't take as much room to store. We'll see if I like it as well. The drawback to this magazine is that it is so expensive and that makes it not accessible to some schools. I'm very fortunate that our music booster organization, Friends of Music, makes this purchase for me each year.

A listing of iPad Apps

My friend, Martha, on the MK8 list recently acquired a new iPad. I'm always excited to hear of other music teachers getting new technology. She is looking for some instrument apps, so I've decided to make a quick list some of my favorite music and non-music apps here. All apps are free unless otherwise noted. This is definitely not an exhaustive list. I'd love input about additional apps from others, so leave a comment if you have some to recommend.

Virtuoso - piano keyboard
Shaker - iPhone app with lots of unpitched percussion. Hit the 2X button in the lower right to make it iPad sized.
BaDaBing - Drum set and bongos
Percussive - Xylophone. The lite version is xylo only, the $1.99 paid version has glockenspiel, kalimba, xylo, marimba, and vibraphone.
iCanBass - Bass guitar
iVibraSlap - iPhone app for vibraslap
Train Whistle - iPhone app for a train whistle
Rain Stick - iPhone app for a rain stick. You actually turn the iPad to play it.
Cowbell - obviously, a cow bell.
Zampona - pan flute

There are a LOT more instrument apps. These are the only ones I have explored at this point.

Other Music Apps:
Melody Street - described in this blog post. 99 cents/
Singing Fingers - described in this blog post
BeatWave - create beats/loops
Finger Stomp - described in this blog post
Isle of Tune - not yet available. I'm very impatiently waiting for this one. The website is described here.
Monster Chorus - described in this blog post. 99 cents.
Young Music Genius - described in this blog post
Sound Drop - create chance music with balls and lines.
Blue FiRe - recording
ElectroBeats - beat making app
Tap Tempo - for determining tempo of a piece of music. iPhone app.
GarageBand - $4.99. The iPad app of the Mac software.

Teacher Helpers:
Teachers Pick - for randomly choosing students
SmartSeat - seating chart app. $3.99. Described in this blog post.
Planbook - not yet available, but this is an iPad app for I am beta testing it right now and will let you know as soon as it is available in the app store.

Other useful apps:
Diigo - Internet bookmarks
Dropbox - file storage/sharing
Friendly - for Facebook
Kindle - for reading books. Love this! You can use it even if the iPad is your school's and not your own. The books are stored in your Amazon Kindle account, not actually on your iPad.
AppShopper - for finding new apps
Freebies - for finding free apps

Friday, August 12, 2011


This isn't specifically music-related, but it sure has made my school life easier. There are a lot of times I am working on a large file at home and want to send it to myself at school. Sometimes email works for that purpose, but if it is a very large file, that isn't always a good option. The answer for me is Dropbox. I simply drag the file into my Dropbox and then I have access to it on all my devices. With the free account, you start out with 2 GB of space. If you refer other people, you get an additional 250 MB per referral up to 8 GB of space. Yes, if you sign up with the link above, you will be giving me referral credits. Sneaky, huh? :)  I have it installed on my home and school computers and also on the iPad. You can also access it at any computer through their website. No, you don't always have to be connected to the Internet to work on your files. One more thing that is really nice about Dropbox, once you put the file in dropbox any changes you make to the file are updated in your Dropbox as well so you are always working with the most current version of the file. It's super slick. Try it out.

Monday, August 8, 2011

SMARTboard Gallery Collections

I'm preparing to do some SMARTboard training at our teacher inservices in a couple of weeks. While I was looking for some links to include in my presentation, I found some Gallery Collections that were of interest to me for my music classes. Hopefully some of you will find them useful too. These Gallery Collections include some items that aren't in the Gallery Essentials that installed with your Notebook software.

Music Pages - This is a gallery Collection of pages that are helpful. This includes a blank staff on a page, as well as a grand staff on a page, and a fun Note name game featuring Ricci Addams note trainer. (description from the SMART Exchange site). This is only 3 pages and the Note Game looks fun, but I wonder if it is only useable on the 800-series boards the way it is in the file. You could 
just delete one of the sides if your board can only have one user at a time.

Notes, Clefs, and Staves - This is a gallery collection that includes blank staff, clefs, and notes for use. (description from the SMART Exchange site). There are a couple of items that I didn't already have. Some items are repeats, however.

There is also a Circle of Fourths (which I've always called the Circle of Fifths) collection. I didn't download it because it's not something I teach in my classes.

If you go to the SMART Exchange and do a search, you will also be able to find a Holidays Gallery,  a Celebrations Gallery, Friendship Gallery, Winter Images Gallery, Spring Images Gallery and possibly more that would be of interest to you.

Simply download the files and click on them to open them. They will automatically be added to your "My Content" file in the Gallery of SMART Notebook.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Updated information for Melody Street

Since posting yesterday about Melody Street, I've discovered some new information.

First of all, my friend Martha Stanley wrote to me:
"Beth, the original poster of the Melody Street site idea was Sarah (<sarah at urbanmusiceducation dot org> and she is also quite the tech-head with a good resource web site. I did some looking at Melodystreet and found it to be a fine site. I agree about some of the loading times, but I think that the site is very well done, colorful without being stupid, and a good resource for my classroom. Thanks for posting about it."
Thanks for that info, Martha!

Secondly, I discovered that a couple of chapters of The House on Melody Street book are on You Tube. They are animations as if they are being shown from an iPad. The content is the same as the iPad app (without the interactivity, of course). This would be a good option for those who do not have access to iPads.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

My accidental iPad discovery

This isn't music related, but it is technology related.

For a brief period of time, I've been fortunate enough to have TWO iPads. I know not everyone has this luxury. It has worked really well this summer since my twins have each had their own iPad to use and we have not had issues about sharing them (except when they have to share with Mommy!). Unfortunately I have to give the borrowed iPad back in about two weeks. I dread that day.

I had an iTunes card I wanted to apply to my account, so I went into settings to try to do that. I never did figure out how to do it through the iPad (maybe it's not possible?), but I did make a different discovery in the process. I went to Settings and then Store and found this screen:

This screen is either new with the newest iOS update or I've simply ignored it because I didn't have multiple iPads. I sure wish I'd discovered this at the beginning of the summer. If you move the switches to yes, any downloads you make to one device will automatically be made on to the other device(s). I don't use the iPad for music or books, so I just moved the app switch to yes. Then I downloaded Elmo Loves ABC's to one of the iPads (it's huge and took forever) and, lo and behold, it was on the other iPad when I checked later.

Why is this useful, you may ask? Well, if you are like me, you don't sync to your computer all that often. This saves me from having to hook both devices to my computer and syncing. You know, when one kid has an app, the other wants it too and I frequently end up going to the app store on both ipads to download the same app. If you are lucky enough to have multiple iPads in your classroom (that are connected to the same account) and you don't have one of those fancy carts that sync them all at the same time, this may be of use to you. If not, you may have a little more unnecessary information floating around your brain. Oh, well...

Music Files in the SMART Exchange

If you have a SMARTboard, have you explored the SMART Exchange? It's a collection of SMARTboard files that have been created by other teachers. You do need to create an account to explore the site, but the account is free. The files in the the SMART Exchange have been created by people all over the place. You will find that some of the files are good. Some are not. Some files I simply don't understand because there is no explanation with them. I look at it and think, "What on earth are you supposed to do with this?" But there are some real gems in there too. Often I can find something that I mostly like. With a few quite adaptions I can change it into something I really like. When I first got my SMARTboard, there were hardly any music-related files in the SMART Exchange. Not there are quite a lot. There are also quite a few general templates that can be adapted to work in music.

This morning I was looking in the SMART Exchange for one thing and found something completely different. I think that's how I find nearly everything...accidentally. Anyway, I happened to find a file called Neat SMARTboard Tips and Tricks for the Music Classroom. There were lots of things in the file I already knew, but there were a couple of things that triggered some new ideas for me. Some things are a little confusing because we don't have the option to see the actual presentation though. One of the things mentioned in the file is The Eraser Bomb. Anyone know what that is? I'm going to have to do a little more research on that one.

This post is really just an overview of what the SMART Exchange is. Someday I will make another post of some of the files I've found in the Exchange that I really like, but that will have to wait until another time.

Have fun exploring the SMART Exchange. If you find files you really like, feel free to post the link in the comments of this blog post.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

SmartMusic in the Elementary General Music Classroom

SmartMusic, in case you don't know, is an interactive music software that is primarily used by band students (although I understand that the newest update includes sight singing exercises too). The student plays the music on the screen and receives immediate feed back about correct pitches and rhythms because those notes turn green. The ones that turn red were either the incorrect pitch or rhythm. It's really a fascinating program and very motivating to students.

I used SmartMusic in my classroom several years ago and then I stopped for several years. The reason I stopped was that I was creating all my own assessments and I simply didn't have the time to be doing it. Now SmartMusic has added assessments for soprano recorder. The assessments available are from a good recorder method called Recorder Express by Artie Almeida.

I like to use the program as a whole group activity. I project it onto the whiteboard and turn off the assessment feature. There is a cursor that tracks each beat so the kids stay together in the music. Since I am not needing to point to the music, I am able to watch students and help with hand position, fingerings, etc.

If you haven't seen SmartMusic in action, there are quite a few videos on You Tube. Here is a brief video of what the students see when we are using it as a whole-group activity (the sound quality isn't that great because of the combination of the laptop speakers and the video capture).

If time permits, I will also allow a couple of students try it with the assessment portion turned on. In my previous post, I discussed recording options. This is a nice way to record individuals playing recorder.

SmartMusic is fairly expensive. However, I don't need the gradebook function that our band director needs, so I just use the practice room/student edition which costs $36 per year. Students can also subscribe at home so that they can practice and make their own recordings.

Melody Street Website and iPad App

I learned about the Melody Street website from someone on the MK8 List. Unfortunately, I can't remember who posted about it to give credit and I can't find the post in the archives.

Melody Street is an interactive website that is appropriate for the primary grades. You can navigate around the site and find different activities including games, music, stories, and short videos. The site is based around a book and CD that is for sale on the site. I haven't explored all areas of the site, but what I've seen looks good. There is one real annoyance for me though. It takes FOREVER for the different activities to load. If you plan to use this site with your classes on an interactive white board be prepared with short songs or finger plays to do while you are waiting for things to load.

There is also a Melody Street app for iPad or iPhone. The cost is $0.99. The app is more like an interactive book. The first chapter has been released and it looks like three more chapters are in the works. The book would be a great introduction to instruments of the orchestra for your younger classes. There is a different family of instruments that lives on each floor of the house. The book is narrated and there are a few objects on each page that are animated if you touch them. The sound of the instrument plays as each instrument character is introduced in the book. I'm actually more excited about the iPad app than I am about the website. I think I may use the iPad app in the classroom and then give students the link to the website to explore at home.

8/7/11 - Please also see the updated blog post I wrote about Melody Street.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Recording in the Classroom

There are a lot of reasons you may want to record in your classroom: assessment, auditions, and student portfolios are just a few of the possibilities. When I record in the classroom, I'm not looking for super high quality, CD worthy recordings. I want to use inexpensive (free is better) equipment and software. I want the process to be as simple as possible. I have done some recording in my classroom in the past. I've recorded a whole class singing so that we could evaluate the performance and figure out areas of improvement. I've recorded individuals who were interested in solos or special parts. This year, I'm hoping to record each student individually at least once in the school year. For the younger students, it will be a recording of their singing. For the older students, it may be recorder playing. Here are two of the recording tools I use in my classroom.

Audacity - This is a free software program that is available for Mac or Windows. Be sure to download and install the LAME encoder as well so that you are able to export your recordings as .mp3 files. I don't use a fancy microphone for my recordings. I've actually used a microphone that is intended for the SmartMusic program. I'm sure you can get something fairly inexpensive at your local electronics store. If you really want to get technical, unidirectional mics are for recording individuals and omnidirection mics are for recording groups. I pay little attention to that for my recordings in the classroom. Besides using Audacity for recording in the classroom, it has a bunch of other uses. I've used it to slow the tempo of an accompaniment without changing the pitch. I've used it to remove the vocal track on a split-track recording. I've used it to record voice-over dance calls with dance music for use by a sub (or in the case that I lose my voice).

Blue FiRe - This is a free app for the iPad. This worked well when I was recording students who were auditioning for a solo. After recording, the app assigns a temporary URL you can access on your computer and download the files. I just used the built-in mic from the iPad. This app is very user-friendly.

I think it would be really fun to record students each year and then share the recordings with them as they are getting ready to leave elementary school. Whether or not I can be that organized remains to be seen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fake Facebook Pages

Nearly every student seems to have a Facebook page whether or not they meet the age requirement of 13. Students spend a lot of time looking at those pages so it seems like a good format to use to deliver information to students. I've thought that this would be a good way to introduce a composer to a class. Or if you have access to a computer lab, you could have students create Facebook pages for composers or musicians. It is against the terms of service of Facebook to create fake pages, but there are other ways to do this.

There are actually quite a few ways to create a fake facebook page. One site is a subscription service called There is another site called, but it requires you to login with a Facebook page. There is also a template in Google Docs. The template is of a Facebook profile page rather than a Facebook "wall." That one looks promising, but I wanted to try out for this post.

To use, you need to create a user name and password. It's a simple process. The site is very user friendly and easy to figure out. I created the start of a profile page for Mozart in just a matter of minutes. You can see it here. Unfortunately, there are ads on these pages. I didn't see any ads that were inappropriate for elementary aged students, but I didn't spend a very long time on the site either. I also wish there was a way to search for pages that were already created. It would be nice to know if someone had already created pages for composers.

My Most Valuable Resource: The Music K-8 Mailing List

If you already know about the Music K-8 mailing list, please skip* to the end of this post. If not, read on...

It is possible that a few of the readers of this blog are not aware of what is possibly my number one resource. I believe I made reference to it in a previous post, but I want to give you a bit more information. The resource I cannot live without is the Music K-8 Mailing List. Okay, I could probably live without it, but I would certainly not be as successful at teaching without it. "The List" as many of us call it, is sponsored by Plank Road Publishing, publisher of Music K-8 Magazine. Music Teachers (primarily elementary music teachers) use the mailing list to pose questions or post ideas of things that work well in their classrooms. I may also refer to it as the MK8 List. If you are not a subscriber to the MK8 list, I encourage you to check it out. I will warn you that it is an extremely active listserv. Some people are overwhelmed by the amount of email they receive after subscribing. There are a couple of different ways to alleviate this issue.

  • Exclusive Email Account - One possibility is creating an email address exclusively for the listserv. You can get a gmail or Yahoo account and use it to subscribe to The List. Then all your List messages are in one place. I suggest gmail because it has very nice sorting features.
  • Digest Version - You can subscribe to the digest version of The List which will give you several very large messages each day that are compilations of the postings of the list. Some people really like that option because it limits the amount of messages in their inbox. I don't like it because I find it to be too much information for me to absorb all in one place.
  • Regular Subscription - You can subscribe to The List and receive each posting as a separate email. This means there will be a lot of messages in your email, but I find it easy to see which messages interest me and which don't. I simply delete the ones I'm not interested in. Gmail also sorts messages with the same subject and groups (threads) them together. The delete key is your friend. Use it to keep yourself sane. :)
  • Archives - If you don't wish to subscribe to The List, but would still like to get valuable information from it, you can use the archives. Each message is archived and you can simply go and read to your heart's content. Simply click browse messages if you want to see all the posts. You can also search the archives if you are looking for something specific.
* I have to admit that most of my teaching ideas are not original. I have borrowed most of what I know and use from other music teachers. Most of these teachers are "cyber friends" that I've met online on the MK8 List or other sites. I'm guessing that most of my readers at this point are those very friends. If you are already a member of the MK8 List, you may see some things reposted here. I promise to give credit when credit is due. I also promise that not everything on this blog will be reposted information, however.

I also want to let you know that you can expect quite a few posts in the next couple of days. I have a list of things I've been hoping to add to the blog and right now I have time to do the research and the writing. That will not be the case when school starts. You all know how it goes. I plan to keep the blog going throughout the year, but the posts will not be so frequent. Don't be alarmed if you have a number of posts each day in your inbox (for those who subscribe by email). That won't always be the case.

Well, this was rather lengthy. I hadn't intended to be so wordy, but I guess I had a lot to say.

Young Music Genius and Musical Me HD

I may make several postings today. Never fear, I won't always be so verbose. Right now I have a bit of time for researching and writing. When school starts, that likely won't be the case and the number of posts will decrease. You know how things go.

Recently I've learned about a couple of iPad apps I'd like to share with you.

Young Music Genius: Classical Wiz - This is a free app which was shared with me by my school's ESL teacher. It introduces children to instruments, composers, and well-known pieces of music. There are several parts of the app.

  • Learning - Learn the sound of the instruments by touching the instrument picture. You can also touch a composer picture to hear one of the pieces he composed (Yes, they are all the "dead white guy" composers). For instance, if you touch Haydn, you hear the Surprise Symphony. Brahms plays Hungarian Dance No. 5.
  • Games -  The instrument quiz shows four pictures of instruments and plays the sound of one of them. You are to tap the instrument you hear. The same goes for the composer quiz. The app shows four composer pictures and plays a piece of music. You are to tap the correct composer. There is also a memory matching game. There are easy and hard levels of the games, but honestly, I can't tell the difference between the levels. 
  • Progress - This feature keeps track of the the player's achievements in the app: Master Learner - Played all sounds in the learning section, Instrument Desciple - Played all instrument sounds. I don't see any way of resetting this information and can't see how it would be all that useful if the app is being used by more than one user.
  • Kids' Music Store -  You can purchase and download albums or individual pieces of the composers highlighted in the app. Be sure to use a safe password and/or don't store your credit card number in the store if you don't want children to "accidentally" buy the music.

Musical Me HD - This app was developed by Duck Duck Moose. They have several other good apps for young children that are worth exploring. The app costs $1.99. There are several different areas of this app.

  • Dance - The first segment is some "monsters" that can be manipulated to dance with well-known children's songs: Skip to My Lou, Farmer in the Dell, etc. Not terribly educational, but sort of fun for kids.
  • Rhythm - This segment requires you to tap the birds as they fly by. Each will play a note of a children's song. If you don't start on the first bird, it does not work well though and you don't complete the song before running out of birds and the rhythm is off. The little ones like it though.
  • Memory - The screen is outer space with three planets. The planets are different solfege pitches which plays a melody. You are supposed to remember the melody and tap it back (sort of like the old Simon game). The problem with this portion is that the pitches are not played in relation to the scale. For instance, it may play Do, Mi, Mi. The pitches sound correct, but the Do planet looks higher than Mi planet on the screen. Additionally, Do is on the right side of the screen and Mi is on the left side of the screen.
  • Notes - Notes are shown on the treble staff and you can manipulate them to change the melody or you can tap the notes to play what is already on the staff. This looks to be the most useful portion of this app for use in the classroom.
  • Instruments - Children can tap on different instruments to make them play while children's songs play. There are egg shakers, maracas, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, and a squeaky rubber duck. You could use this to have kids demonstrate the beat of the song.
This isn't the most musically accurate app for teaching about music, but my three-year-old girls like to play around with it. I can see possibilities of using the Notes portion with primary students. I would probably avoid using the other areas of the app in the classroom for the reasons I listed above.