Music With Mrs. Tanenblatt

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Why I Teach Music

I am so happy to be posting about such an important subject this week. This is something that has actually been on my mind a lot this school year and I’m excited to be able to share my personal experiences along with some fabulous other bloggers. I’ve chosen to share some photos from my personal Instagram account to illustrate this post. Make sure to read all the way through to the end to find out the details about the giveaway!

I am currently in my fifth year of teaching, which means I am still a relatively new teacher. In college, they told us that most of us would not last longer than five years teaching in the public schools. As I approach that deadline, I can understand why some people would feel that way.

Teaching music is a hard and often thankless job. Many of us balance our regular teaching responsibilities with the added stress of preparing concert programs and special events in the school. We spend our planning time working individually with students and going to meetings to learn how to better meet their needs. We teach hundreds of children every week and have to figure out how to share the joy of music with them. Hopefully we do so in a way that will motivate them to continue listening to, performing and creating music for the rest of their lives.
"But what is it that makes us keep coming back? For me, it is the same reason I started in the first place: I love making music!"
However, despite all of the stressful and challenging factors I just mentioned, we keep going. We return to the trenches day after day. But what is it that makes us keep coming back? For me, it is the same reason I started in the first place: I love making music! To me there is no greater joy than learning a new piece and performing it in front of an audience.

When I first moved to the Baltimore area and started teaching, my school responsibilities overwhelmed my life. As a brand new teacher, I spent every spare minute after work and on weekends planning lessons and searching for the best ways to reach my students. Now that I have at least a few years under my belt, I feel more confident in my daily teaching responsibilities. I am able to spend my time outside of school taking care of myself and doing something that I truly love.

I have started a new professional venture this year that has reminded me why I wanted to be a music teacher... I joined the Baltimore Choral Arts Society!

It’s by far the best decision I’ve made to improve my personal outlook and improve my teaching. I am going to rehearsals every week and performing regularly with ensembles like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I am learning new, challenging repertoire as well as singing choral standards like Orff’s Carmina Burana and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Every rehearsal and performance is a reminder of why I do what I do: because music is a powerful emotional and communicative force.

The more time I spend perfecting my craft outside of school, the more confident I feel in teaching music to my students. I feel renewed and refreshed. I love being able to tell my students about my rehearsals and performances because it shows them that teachers are lifelong learners. I also love being able to invite my friends and family to come hear my concerts and share my artistic endeavors with them.

A photo posted by rachel t on

Singing with Choral Arts has also motivated me to do some self-care by staying conscious of how I use my voice during the school day. Since I am singing semi-professionally I need to take good care of my instrument and practice good vocal hygiene. I am paying much more attention to how I conserve my speaking and singing voice and I use amplification while teaching. Most importantly, I am trying my best to stay properly hydrated! This is so important for people who use their voice constantly.

For me, singing with Choral Arts has been exactly the reminder I needed of why I teach music. I’d love to hear about why you, my dear readers, are in the music education field! Share your story on social media with this hashtag:


Don't forget to include this link back to my blog so that others can enter, too!

If you comment on my post here or share it on social media, you will be entered into a giveaway to win the following prize:

  • A water bottle to help you make sure you stay hydrated while you’re teaching
  • Some Mozart chocolates because every teacher needs a little pick-me-up. 
Good luck!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Spooky Books and MORE for Halloween

Hello all and happy October! I'm shocked to say that this is my first blog post of the 2016-17 school year. It's been a crazy busy year for me because this is my first year teaching chorus at one of my schools. Much to get organized and many things to be learned (by the students and me!) I'm also very busy after school and on weekends now because I have recently started singing with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. It's been a whirlwind of rehearsals and performances, but the thrill of making music at such a high level with some amazing musicians makes it all worthwhile.
All that being said, I couldn't let October slip by without sharing some of the fun new Halloween things I've been doing in my class this month! If you want to read about some of last year's Fall-O-Ween inspired lessons, check out this post
I'll start off with some great books that have gotten me through this Halloween season. (Please note that some of these are affiliate links to Amazon and I receive a small commission on purchases made through them.)
Last year one of the books I mentioned was The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. (The lesson on this one practically writes itself... each of the spooky objects can be assigned to a different instrument or body percussion for endless creative variations!) Check out my post from last year to see more.
My next new book, The Haunted Mansion, was something that I stumbled upon while on vacation with my family in Walt Disney World this summer. For those of you who don't know, I used to work for WDW as a part of the Disney College Program, so I go back and visit as often as I can! My niece, who is five years old, loved The Haunted Mansion attraction and I found this gem in the gift shop. It includes beautiful illustrations of each phrase of the song, along with a CD of the original ride soundtrack sung by Earl Ravenscroft (who, incidentally, is stuff of film/TV legend... voice of Tony the Tiger, singer of "You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch." Look him up!) I used this book to discuss high sounds and low sounds with Kindergarten. We talked about Ravenscroft's unique voice and compared it to some other voices we hear.
Last month when the Scholastic book fair rolled through town, I came across this Pete the Cat version of the Five Little Pumpkins. I've often used this song as a fingerplay with PreK, Kindergarten, and first grade. I was so excited to add the book to my lesson this year.
My last new addition this year is Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre. I often play a recording of this piece and have younger students dance or move with scarves and imagine the storyline. With older kids I will have them complete a listening guide while the music is playing. Now I'm excited to be able to read this book, which is based on the true story of how the composer came to write the piece of music. Did you know that Danse Macabre originally had lyrics? What a great way to discover more about the history of a piece! I'm planning to read this to second grade and up later this week.
 ... Check back later this week when I'll be sharing a few more of my favorite spooky activities!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July Small Goals

"July, July, July, it never seemed so strange..."


I can't believe we're in the month of July already! It feels like summer just started and already I'm making plans for the new school year. I'm once again linking up with The Yellow Brick Road Blog to share my small goals for the month.

  • Finish my online course
    I'm taking a reading course that's required for my certification this summer. The course is supposed to go until the second week of August, but I'm trying to finish it off a little bit early so that I can...

  • Prepare for my trip to Disney World!!!
    For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a HUGE Disney person. In fact, when I was in college I spent a semester working in Walt Disney World as part of the WDW College Program.

    I was an attractions cast member, which means that I worked on one of the rides. 10 points to anyone who can tell what attraction I worked on...

    Working in Disney World was such an amazing experience... if you know anyone college-aged who is looking to spend a semester doing something a little different, I would highly recommend he or she apply for the program.

    My oldest sister did the college program about ten years before I did and went on to work full time for the parks for the several years. So you could say that Disney is sort of in our blood. We're going on a family trip in a few weeks and taking my two nieces. To say that I'm excited would be an understatement!!!
Thanks for reading my July small goals. If you want to share yours, head on over to The Yellow Brick Road and link up.

Friday, June 17, 2016

End of School Random Song Generator

Well, we made it! Summer vacation is upon us here in Maryland! For those of you who still have a week or more remaining, don't despair: now is the time for fun review activities. Time to celebrate all of the great learning that has taken place in your classroom over the course of this past school year.

I wanted to share a review activity that was very successful in my music room for the past two weeks: the random song generator!

I used the Smart technology random name generator and plugged in the names of the most popular songs, games, and listening activities for each grade level.

In class, I had a student (this can be a good behavior incentive for unruly classes during the last week) come up and press the "select" button. It will then randomly pick a song for you to sing.

I did this with PreK up through 2nd grade and I'm so happy with how it turned out! I'm happy to share this SmartNotebook file with you; to put in your own songs, simply double-click each song title.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

June Small Goals

Happy June everyone! I can't believe it's that time of year already. It feels like this school year has flown by! In my county, we have just 10 more precious days with students before summer vacation... when did that happen???

I'm linking up with Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road to share some small goals for the month of June....

  1. Finish off the school year with a bang!
    I can't wait to implement my end-of-year review centers next week and enjoy seeing all the progress my students have made this year!
  2. Plan, plan, plan this summer
    As teachers, we are so busy during the school year that when summer vacation finally rolls around, I often feel like I need to maximize my time so that I can see all my friends, tackle home improvement projects, and get all of my other school work done. For this summer I bought a new Creative Year planner from Michaels so that I can write down all my plans and really make things happen.
  3. Hop in the pool :)
    We're opening the pool tomorrow afternoon, so naturally, this is a big priority for me!
I hope your school years are wrapping up smoothly and that you have some good things in store for the month of June, as well!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day 2016!

To all of my fellow teachers out there "in the trenches" as we finish up our school year: Happy Teacher Appreciation Day! We are in the home stretch now. Here in Maryland, we go until mid-June, so I haven't quite made it to the end-of-year-review stage yet, but I'm already starting to plan what activities I will be doing to help my students celebrate their learning.

Keep reading to get the link to download a new free end-of-year review activity that you can use with your students!

I love doing review centers during the final weeks. I usually set up one center for each of the major units we've studied during the school year: rhythm, melody, harmony, form, and timbre. If you follow my Teachers Pay Teachers store, then you already know that I love games that use clothespins. In a recent trip to the grocery store, I happened to find a pack of 24 multicolored plastic clothespins and I just knew that I had to create a game to put them to good use.

I created Instrument Families Clothespin Clip so that students can sort the families of the orchestra according to the colors of the clothespins. If you don't have multicolored clothespins already, you can use a marker to color regular wooden clothespins. Or if you'd like to purchase a set, this set on Amazon is similar to the one I found in my local grocery store. (Please be advised that this is an Amazon affiliate link and I will receive a small commission from purchases made through this link.)

Just like any other clothespin activity, the most important thing to remember when assembling it is that you want your paper to be on a sturdy backing. I'd recommend printing on a thicker paper like cardstock. If you don't have that available, you can do what I did and glue the game card onto a piece of cardboard. I just took the side off a cardboard box and trimmed it down to size. 

Once I bring it to school tomorrow morning, I will also run it through the laminator to help ensure that it lasts a long time. I'm looking forward to adding this resource to my arsenal of activities for the end of the school year and I hope you enjoy using it, as well!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Putting the A in STEAM through Composition

This past week I had the privilege of attending our school's STEM night for the first time. This is an annual event for our students and families. Classroom teachers present information to parents about math strategies and websites they can use at home. Our STEM teachers present about technology and creative problem-solving skills that they use in their classroom.

Arts and music teachers rarely ever attend this particular event, so I'm proud that the STEM teachers asked me if they could include the fun new game Compose Yourself that I've been using with my classes. I gladly volunteered to attend and man the station!

I first learned about this game when someone posted about it in the Music Teachers facebook group. I've been using it in different ways with different students. For younger kids, I've been using it as a whole group activity on the SmartBoard. With my older kids, I have them figure out how to play the patterns on xylophones and/or take them to the computer lab to create their compositions online. 

In order to play this online composition game, you need to purchase the cards ahead of time. I purchased mine from Amazon and have included a link if you would like to get it for yourself! (Note: this is an Amazon affiliate link and I receive a commission from purchases made through this link.)

 It comes with a deck of 60 cards, each with one measure of melody, that can be flipped upside down or turned over to create endless melodic combinations. Once you pick your cards, you can input them into the Compose Yourself website and hear your melody played back (with optional harmonization by a full orchestra) and then you can further edit it until it sounds the way you want it to.

At STEM night, I set up a table with some chromebooks and had my copy of the game cards ready to go. It was so great to see the kids' faces light up as they heard what their composition sounded like after it was played back. And it was also great for their parents and teachers to see how we integrate technology into music class!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Music Education Blog Carnival : March 2016

Hooray for March!!! March is my favorite month of the year for a few reasons: my birthday is this month, it's Music in Our Schools Month, and spring break often falls in this month, as well! And this month, I have something else to be excited about:

The Music Education Blog Carnival!

Yes, that's right, the blog carnival that you remember from past years is BACK and I am now running it from right here on my blog. Many thanks to the kind Justine Dolorfino for allowing me to take over as the new administrator. I decided to kick off the relaunch by hosting this month myself. If you want to host next month (or any upcoming month, for that matter) visit the Blog Carnival tab at the top of this page.

Here are a few of the best links I've rounded up for this month:

  • Classroom Organization by David Row at Make Moments Matter
    Every time I read David's blog, I feel like my organizational skills are grossly inadequate. Tape circle on the ceiling? Brilliant! And I am going to try his trick about moving the projector in my classroom TOMORROW!
  • Don't let "that kid" take the joy out of teaching by Lindsay's Kodaly Inspired Classroom
    Sometimes it seems like my classroom is full of "those kids." I have the type of personality to fixate on the things going wrong in my class instead of the things that are going right. Lindsay beautifully reminds us that we have the power to control how we react to that kid and how it can change our entire outlook.
  • Some Love Coffee by Jennifer at The Yellow Brick Road
    Full disclosure: My first reaction when reading this blog post was the awesome kitty in her mockup photo. But after moving on past the feline, I read a wonderfully thorough lesson plan using a song that I'd never heard before! I love how Jennifer includes printables, teaching strategies, and lesson plan templates every time she posts about a new song. It's got everything you need to teach the song right now.
  • Teddy Bear Time! by Christine at Elementary Etudes
    Can you say adorable? I have used beat buddies with my kinder kiddos before but I never thought about building a whole unit around teddy bears. She includes helpful tips for acquiring and storing the bears and then lists a whole host of activities that your students will absolutely love.
  • Mallet Wrapping by Music With Mrs. Dennis
    I consider myself pretty confident with crafts, but I'd never even considered wrapping my own mallets. This post makes it look so easy! And those rainbow mallets? What a superb incentive! 

I hope you enjoyed this month's installment of the Music Education Blog Carnival!
Remember: if you want to host, please check out the details here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Valentine's Day Pencil Toppers: A 400 Facebook Follower Freebie!

I checked my facebook page yesterday and realized that I made it to 400 followers! I'm so grateful to have people following my facebook page, since that's where I announce the release of most of my new products and announce every time I've written a new blog post. Following me on facebook is the best way to keep in touch. Since I've made it to 400 followers, I decided to create a fun freebie for valentine's day!

All you need to do is buy a class set of cute valentine's day pencils and print enough pencil toppers for everyone (Each sheet has 16 toppers.)

When I made these at home, I had some kid-friendly pencils lying around already, but you can get a class set of pencils fairly cheap on Amazon.

When you cut out the toppers, make sure you carefully cut along the gray lines to make the slit where the pencil will go. I printed on regular paper, but if you can get these printed on cardstock they will be even more durable!

Ready to get started? Download the freebie file from my store here:

Thanks for following!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Weekly Planning Checklist

Whether I'm planning my music lessons on a weekly, monthly, or long-term basis, I always start the process by asking myself one question: what do I want my students to get out of this? 

I know that for some kids, their experience in general music may be their first and last opportunity to study "high quality" musical repertoire. That means it is my responsibility to make sure that they are leaving my class with a well-rounded knowledge of music and are having fun doing it. 

I've whittled down my core values of what makes up "high quality" music-making to include the following seven things: folk songs, foreign language songs, contemporary/pop music, classical masterworks, folk dances, improvisation and composition. So when I plan out my weekly lessons, I try to make sure that at least one of my grade levels is doing each of the things on this list each week.

For instance, this week my third graders learned a folk dance (Paw Paw Patch) while my fifth graders studied Mozart's Rondo a la Turka. My first graders sang several folk songs using the pitches so mi and la, while my kindergarteners improvised/composed rhythm patterns using ta and ti-ti. My fourth graders watched this super fun video of the Star Wars theme on Jimmy Fallon, and my second graders sang the African greeting song, Sorida. Next week, each grade will do something completely different from the checklist!

I use this checklist as a reminder of what's important to me and what I know my students will love. I helps me focus my planning on the micro level so that when I look back at the school year on the macro level, I can tell that my kids are getting a well-rounded musical experience in my classroom. 

I know that every teacher's values are different, and I'd be interested to hear what you would add or subtract to this list. Let me know in the comments!

Monday, January 11, 2016

6 New Activities Using Flashcards in the Elementary Music Room

Ah, flashcards. Some music teachers love 'em, others can't stand 'em. I happen to enjoy using flashcards to review rhythmic and melodic concepts with my students. However, when we use flashcards in my classroom, we are never just reading flashcards. I've put together a list of six ways that I use flashcards to inspire fun and creativity in my music class:

1. Fly Swatter
This activity is fun for kids and you can be a little bit competitive with it! Attach several flashcards to your chalk or dry erase board. Divide the class into two teams and have one volunteer from each team stand in front of the board. Give each volunteer a fly swatter. The teacher* then reads one of the flashcards out loud. Whichever volunteer swats the correct flashcard first wins a point for his/her team.

*To increase student engagement/participation, you can assign another student the task of reader.

2. Big Circle
Arrange your flashcards on the floor in a big circle. (You should either have one for each student or half as many if you would like your students to work in pairs.) Have each student or pair stand in front of a flashcard and read the notes. Ring a bell or chime to signal for every student to move clockwise to the next flashcard and read it.

Anchor yourself at one flashcard and this can be an easy way to take a subtle assessment.

3. Heads Up
For this game, the teacher holds a flashcard above his or her forehead so that all the students can read it. Instruct the students to clap or sing the notes on the card. If the students recite it clearly and accurately, the teacher should be able to identify exactly which notes were on the flashcard.

To differentiate this activity, have stronger students play the teacher role and try to identify the notes. This makes a great center or small group game.

4. Project on an IWB
There are limitless options when it comes to electronic flashboards on your interactive whiteboard. You can find great videos on YouTube that have rhythmic playalongs to familiar songs. You can also get a ton of review games on Teachers Pay Teachers that make reading flashcards fun and interactive.

Assign students to be the "pointer" and the "mouse clicker" to incorporate more jobs in the classroom.

5. Memory Game
Display several flashcards. The teacher randomly picks two or more flashcards and recites them one after another. Students try to identify the patterns and arrange them in the correct order.

This can also be a fun hands-on activity if you have index card sized flashcards. You can give a stack to each student or group so that students can arrange them on their own.

6. Composition Inspiration
Coming up with a composition from scratch can be intimidating for young musicians. Try displaying rhythmic flashcards and asking students to assign a pitch for each beat for an easy melodic composition.

You could also display a number of flashcards and give students the option of which ones they would like to use and arrange them in whatever order they like.

I hope some of these ideas have inspired you or refreshed your memory with some great ways to use flashcards in the music room. If you need flashcards to get you started, I have a huge bundle of winter-themed flashcards available in my store right now. You can also see my entire Flash Cards collection to check out more options for the rest of the school year!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Plan for Success At Home

For tonight's Plan With Me Sunday, I'd like to share a few ways I plan for success outside of the school day. 

I am the kind of person who craves structure. Whenever I go away on a vacation, I have to clean the whole house first because if I come home and the house is messy, I will be SO stressed out. The same rule applies during the work week. If I have a long, tiring day at school, I feel so much better to come home to a place with order and structure. It helps me feel refreshed and able to do my best.

I'd like to share two ideas today of ways that I plan at home:

1. Meal Planning
I like to cook, but I'm not always keen on cooking dinner every single night. I have to admit that I've gotten into a horrible rut with my husband: we both come home from work exhausted and neither one of us has the mental energy to plan and cook a nutritious meal. We talk halfheartedly about food we could eat at home and then often we end up ordering in or going out to eat. It's a huge strain on our budget and super unhealthy. 

Therefore, I'm going to work very hard this year to keep up with my meal planning. The idea is to plan your entire week's worth of dinners on Sunday. What I usually do is start by scouring Pinterest and watching a dozen Tasty recipes to decide what I want to try that week. Then I go grocery shopping and write out my meal plan. It really helps keep me accountable when I have my meals already written out for me. When possible, I will pre-cook certain meals on the weekend, too. That makes my life so much easier on those crazy weeknights.

I wanted to share this freebie with you to help you plan your meals this week! To make my meal planner, I printed this template and put it in a regular 8x10 picture frame. Then I can just write on it with dry erase marker every week. 

2. Workout Planning
If you read my New Years goals blog post from a few days ago, you'll remember that one of my goals was to organize the bonus room in my basement. I'm proud to say that my husband and I have made some good headway in here! The room used to be packed wall-to-wall with boxes of things to unpack and sort. Now I'd estimate that we cleared about 70% of the stuff out of that room! And we donated a LOT of it- the local thrift store must love us! 

You can see in the photo above that we still need to find a good way to store my husband's guitar and vintage computer collection... but I've made some progress in unpacking and organizing my workout gear and I am really excited to be able to use this space as my little home gym. 

I decorated my corner with some motivational signs and I hung up all of my race bibs and medals. The thing that I'm most excited about is my new dry-erase calendar that I'm going to use to keep track of my workouts for each month.

When I was training for my first half marathon, I was following an online workout plan that laid out exactly which days to run which distances, which days to cross train, strength train, and rest. Now that I've run a couple half marathons I'm not following a pre-set plan but instead I am going to start planning out my months on my own. 

I've pre-selected the days that I want to attend cardio classes at the gym, which days are for strength training, treadmill runs, etc. I'm hoping this will help me just like my meal planner: because I've already written down what I'm supposed to do that day, I have no excuse not to do it! It will keep me accountable. I'm going to put a little check mark on each day that I accomplish my goal. 

I hope that these two ideas help you with planning at home. I truly feel that when I'm more organized in my life at home, I feel better. It sets my mind at ease and I am free to do a better job teaching during the school day. 

Don't forget to check out Plan With Me Sundays and see some other awesome planning ideas!