Brittany's Adventures in Musicland

The Adventure Relocates…and Continues August 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 5:52 AM

It’s been a while, but here I am: 2 weeks into my first year of teaching elementary general music. Let’s back track a little bit. How did I get here?!

I began student teaching during the spring semester of my senior year. It was a great feeling to be able to put so many of the things I’ve been studying into practice in a classroom/school setting. Spring semester was also a great transition time between college life and “real life.” I learned a great deal about myself, my philosophy of music in education, and what I want my classroom to look like. Socially, it was a good transition as well. Going from being completely immersed in friends and late night socializing to a steady job and household tasks was easier with that last semester of being more structured with student teaching.

Most of my time outside of school hours was spend writing lesson plans and updating my portfolio and resume to begin the job hunting process. Oh boy. *big sigh* This was a very daunting task: so much paperwork, organizing, more paperwork, and waiting. I went to a job fair, and signed up for several interviews there. Looking back, that was the first big step in the process, I guess. One of the school I interviewed with was a school district in the Phoenix, Arizona area looking for music teachers. (My music  ed. major friends and I were rejoicing and feeling encouraged that some schools listed that they were interested in music teachers-there’s hope for our future!)

After the job fair, I was in high gear filling out paper and online applications out the wazoo (I should look up where that phrase came from because I don’t even know what a wazoo is. All I know is that in this case wazoo means at least 25 applications). After some time of silence from any school district, I finally started getting emails or calls for interviews from schools! *happy dance* One of the tough questions (not regarding teaching content or philosophy) was “why do you want to teach in this district/this area?” Honestly, I just wanted a job. I was hoping it was somewhere warm, preferably near a beach. “Wherever music takes me.” Seemed like a better response though. As close as I am with my family, it would be hard to move away, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

The last week of my student teaching, I was offered a job in Glendale. It was a crazy week full of a lot of praying and seeking counsel about whether or not moving 2400 miles from home for an elementary music teaching job is a good idea fresh out of high school. I decided it was a great opportunity and the school/music program looked good and supported. It was very comforting to  have a job offer in the works so I was able to enjoy the last couple of weeks with my friends leading into graduation.

My mind was all over the place for the next month while I was working my usual summer job at the local pharmacy. It was a great month and a half visiting with family and friends  preparing to move. The sorting and packing process was less than desirable, but I survived (and so did a full carload worth of clothes, books, and supplies). July quickly came, and so did my departure date. One Saturday morning, my dad and I jumped in my car (literally packed to the roof…or ceiling. can you say cars have a ceiling? Is that the term for the interior of the room in a car as well as a house? No bother).

Then I said goodbye to Pennsylvania and hello to a quick drive across the country to Arizona. It was strange and really exciting to get the keys to my new home. I had a few days to get set up before I started 2 weeks of intensive training and orientation. The orientation was very informative and and helpful. It was comforting to see so many new teachers (I wasn’t the lone newbie in a sea of experienced teachers: what a relief). We got specialized training for our subject area, support from other teachers in the district, and general training for the district’s programs.

Setting up my classroom took some time. Figuring out what bulletin boards or room setup I wanted was a challenge at times. Once I got started, it got easier. Some things I’ve learned so far:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher.
There are always ways to improve and things to learn.
Every student is capable of success. No exceptions.
Our job as teachers is to find the treasures in each student.
Be confident in yourself.


PMEA 2012 in Review August 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 2:53 AM

So…This post has been sitting my drafts since the conference in April. I’m ashamed that it’s taken me so long to hit the publish button, but the ideas and reflections are still relevant and wonderful. So, better late than never.


The sate conference for Pennsylvania has come and gone, and I am even more energized and full of ideas about what I’d like to incorporate in my own classroom in the future. I’m looking forward to trying some of these new ideas in the last couple weeks of my student teaching. Here’s an overview of my notes from the conference. Some of these bulleted-type list of ideas and concepts are directly from my notes during the session. Enjoy, and I hope you get as much out of this as I have.

Session 1: Active Listening

This active workshop was a great way to kick off the conference. We started out by getting right up and dancing to Hoe Down by Aaron Copland. This helped to visualize the recurring themes and the form and narrative of the piece.

Keys to Active Listening:




Vienese Music Clock:

Stand to indicate ABCD or have groups create movement in high, medium, or low space

Play powerpoint to indicate form

DO THIS AT A PERFORMANCE! How cool would that be to show off listening and movement?

Use Anna Harwell Celenza/JoAnn K. books as illustrative stories w/ music (Pictures at an Exposition is one example)

Ballet of Unhatched Chicks

Have students create a plotline/images after listening to program music?

Kindergarten free movement exploration?

Have a powerpoint story/pictures to go w/ it

Iconic representation of parts (same pictures for repeated sections)

Have students draw picture of center section

Have older students create a listening map to use w/ younger students

Have letters on the floor as a path or set up like a DDR mat and step on letter for form

Lives of musicians-Good, Bad, and What the Neighbors Thought. Good book to get

Put listening map on board like theirs and give them their own. So you’re not running around, and it focuses them and give them independence.

Take the “A” Train by Duke Ellington

More sophisticated listening map talking about improvisation

Rhythm improvisation interaction

Write an arrangement of a tune as a class first

Listen to piece, speak rhythms over music.

Bobby McFerrin’s vocal arrangement-only voice…arranged differently


Session 2: Assessment in General Music

Lesson planning:

30 minutes of music to spend wisely

Appetizer, entrée, dessert

Comfort food!

Never junk food!

Plan for leftovers and second helpings!

Activity #1:

Bow Wow Wow for Kindergarten, but you have to know when is good to do it, but you can do it at any grade level. Walking around in a circle doing motions, and coordinating a partner change in the song.

Do not give up when something doesn’t happen right away. If they’re still engaged, keep going when they’re having fun, moving, and singing.

What is it you’re assessing?

Important deeds and quality work

Always taste-testing

Are they:

Disciplined or engaged?

Imitating or audiating?

Creative or improvisatory?

Activity #2-Down in That Valley-Phrygian mode

Attend to process & product

Provide individual and group check-ups

Plan assessments w/ key instructional steps

Solo: playing recorder

Group: singing (words/pitch); playing recorders (listening to solos, alternating leader and follower)

You have to sing a song, put it away, and bring it back. Otherwise, our kids have short, small, musical experiences

Vocally improvise as a group, and then have solos

There was no verbalization after each solo. Just a good job at the end. This will help students feel not criticized if one student has a high level performance, and another student is lower level. You don’t want to lie to them, but don’t want them to get discouraged and give up because they don’t feel they are as good as another student.

Congratulations certificate for doing solos-advocacy and PR for music class

If they aren’t getting it, why not? That’s part of assessment!

Quality Ingredients:

Quality = authentic, beloved, creative

Remember to bring your musicianship up, so your kids can get to better quality musicianship. They can only get as good as you are!

Use quality assessments:

Assess objectively and accurately:

Appropriate, reliable tools and procedures


Rating scales (if yes or no is not appropriate)

Emerging, developing, consistent; novice, basic, proficient, expert; beg, fundamental, etc.


Describes what you’re expecting-so they know what you’re expecting

                   Expect then inspect

Anecdotal records


Likert Scale: get feedback from kids (working in groups 1-5; I liked my solo ( 😦 – :-I – 🙂 )

Activity #3

If the partner switch is too hard, go back to bow wow wow to make a comparison

Activity #4

Variety of meters and tonalities

Variety in activities

Representational of musical heritage

Resource of enjoyment

Memorable experience

Select varied and representative assessment

Think photo album v. snapshot

Provide opportunities for assessing the development of all musical skills

Keep in mind national standards

Performing, creating, responding

After saying poem, ask then to self assess…did you use inflection?

Letting it simmer

Develop activity through series of lessons

Consider steps to learn it confidently

Not individual activities

You can’t focus on everything all the time, choose 1-2 musical elements to work with

Academic validity:

National/state standards

Cognitive, and academic achievement

You need to look at your kids to know which direction to go!

Session 3: Choral Gesture and Stance

The conductor should look like a singer

It’s a subconscious thing that singers will mirror you

Run the piece and let them solve the problem before conductor says something.

Don’t talk more than 9 words when you stop

You get to sing more the less you talk

What about jr. high? They haven’t learned to not follow you yet

On the first day, let them know you hear…what are you going to do about it? If you let intonation problems go, you tell them you don’t hear, you don’t care, you don’t know how to solve it.

Walk in circle, all singing same note…point beat, lift the feet…the inexperienced singer will raise his pitch to match. Walk the rhythm-Dalcroze Eurythmics…hitting every note w/ foot…putting rhythm in the body

Do what I do w/ hands-circle cheeks to draw attention to space,  iron out vibrato. Hands circle or bring height to soft palette.

We give pitches far too often. Train the ears right off the bat. This will create better musicianship later on and more independence.

Gestural things are key to making painless changes

Up is our friend, down is not…let’s call it the first beat instead of the downbeat. It’s a psychological thing.

Say up and down and listen to the difference in the inflection

4 functions: down, away, out, in

If you’re only a fixer, you are losing being a creator

Give them ownership

Kinetically, visually, and orally are 3 ways we learn

If we can keep our choir out of autopilot, we’ve won.

Session 4: World Drumming PreK-2

The use of sound stories allow students to illustrate books with sounds, develop turn-taking skills, and work cross-curricularly. Repetition is a huge part of a child’s development. Use instruments like a bell tree, ocean drum, stir xylophone, wood blocks, log drum, didgeharp shaker, slide whistle, shakers, ratchet, glock,  and floor drums to have a variety of sounds available. A good cue for silence could be to have the teacher or a responsible student strike the triangle.

The use of modified ensemble music is a great idea. For example:

          Have students wave their arms on their rests to keep beat, and have another student or teacher keep steady beat with cowbell or rhythm sticks.

Lesson benefits: Tone color, names of non-traditional instruments and how to properly play them, following leader/conductor, improvisation, forward and reverse, different cultures, repetitive theme/form, pattern recognition, steady beat, paying attention for long periods of time, listening, and sequencing. Sometimes we get caught up defending our programs with non-musical outcomes to others that we forget the musical outcomes. We as the music teachers can’t forget that.

It can be a great idea to have a “box of sounds” for regular classroom teachers to borrow and use during their story times in class. Also allowing students to determine what instruments or rhythms to use for each action or sound word is a great way for them to use critical thinking and creativity toward composition. Found sounds are great as percussion; it supports recycling and critical thinking about timbre. You can guide them, and sometimes less is more as far as direction goes. It’s amazing what the kids come up with.

Suggested readings/resources:

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

World Music Drumming by Will Schmid

We’re Going on a Lion Hunt (African version of Going on a Bear Hunt)

A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson

4 John Feierabend sessions:

This review will be in another post. There’s so much I learned or was reminded of here, I don’t want to get too lengthy here at one time. Moral of the story here: I’m looking forward to getting these books and curriculum to teach with my “30 year plan” so my students are able to dance and sing when they grow up.


3 Months and Counting February 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 1:53 AM

Wow! Time sure does fly by quickly. I can’t believe I’ve come so far and am only 3 months away from graduating. I’m into my 4th week of student teaching, and I’m off and running. Last semester’s classes kept me busy for sure. I’m glad to have taken my last undergrad final though.

Student teaching has been full of ups and downs thus far. I love being able to put what I’ve spent years learning about and building up to. There are a lot of teaching that only come from experience. I didn’t realize how tiring it was to be with the students all day. I love them and the environment, but I’m ready for a nap after school.

Classroom management is another one of those learn from experience situations. There need to be consistent and immediate responses to misbehavior, but there is so much going on when you’re teaching that it can be overwhelming to catch the behavior problems and effectively teach and deal with the 25 other things happening in the room and your brain. I am an advocate of routine and consistency to help both the students and myself not get crazy.

The transition from college ensembles to elementary through high school ensembles is shocking at first. Peter Boonshaft talks about this shock by beginning teachers when he speaks at conferences and in his books. It is so true. One almost expects a high school group to get a piece and be able to sight-read it almost perfectly, but 90% of the time, they don’t. That’s fine. We have to figure out what these kids know and their abilities and not be too harsh on them when they aren’t performing at the college level we’ve grown accustomed to  hearing. Our job as music teachers is to teach them, encourage them to make music, and show them the power of music to express and communicate our culture.

I’m looking forward to continuing my experience. I’ve loved my kids and co-op (mentor) teachers. There are rough days where the kids are heading in a completely different direction than I am, and there are days when everything clicks. My goal is to keep pushing on, learning from every experience, and share my passion for music with my kids.


The Final Steps Begin August 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 2:23 AM

I’m sitting in my room at home gazing at the mounds of stuff I have either packed or prepared to pack as I head back to school for my senior year of college. Wow. How did this happen? Where did my summer go with all of my big plans?! My 2 page to-do list is only about half done. I did take my Praxis II which was weighing heavy on me. I’m so glad that’s over (now I can read The Hobbit and some other things before I go back to school and have to study again). I’ve been working on a binder to pass down to the college’s MENC/PCMEA chapter president for next year, so that’s nice. Practicing has been mediocre this summer. I’ve done a lot more than previous summers, but not as much as I (or my teacher) would like, I’m sure. My senior recital is in December, so that’s nerve-racking. I’m excited but very nervous about it. I’ve been working at the pharmacy this summer again. It’s been pretty good down there. I like the job and my co-workers. I wouldn’t want to work in pharmacy forever, but it’s a great gig to have for a while. I’ve been working on campus helping around in the office of the music building preparing for this coming year. It’s exciting. The marching band and jazz ensemble are going to Disney over our fall break, and I’m soooo psyched about it. We were able to go my freshman year as well. 🙂  It’s been very eye-opening to see all of the behind the scenes coordination that goes into a trip like this. Transportation, housing, payment, rosters, seating/rooming assignments, uniforms, and the list goes on and on. I’m so glad I get to see this stuff before it gets thrown on me when I’m a teacher. Now, I’m finishing my last few days of work before going camping at the Venango County Fair. My family is there every year. We have/do show animals there and are in charge of the Barnyard Olympics. Sometimes, I like being from a small, country town. Other times, it’s just plain…interesting. haha. Only a few days after the fair before I move in. (2 weeks from today)

As I mentally prepare for this coming year, I’m thinking about all of the decisions I’m going to have to be making along the way. I’d like to teach, but I have been thinking about music therapy for the past year or so. I’m starting to look into schools either equivalency programs or grad school. If anyone has any suggestions or any further help regarding this, PLEASE let me know. I’ll keep you all posted about my progress this coming school year. Classes this fall, and student teaching in the spring.


I’m so Excited!! April 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 2:40 AM

We head out to Hershey for the PMEA Conference tomorrow (Wednesday)!!! I can’t believe the long-awaited event is here already!!! (Wow. Can I use any more exclamation points?) Please don’t forget about the live blog event that will be happening throughout the conference. Here’s the landing page:

Also, this just in: All conference attendees are invited to come a bit early on Friday morning to make a statement about the importance of music education! We will be singing The Awakening by Joseph Martin. We will be recording this and posting it online and making available for anyone to use as an advocacy tool to the community, legislators, and anyone else who will listen. Please, if you are going to be at the conference, come sing!

That’s all for now. I hope to hear from you throughout the PMEA conference this year. Safe travels to everyone!


What’s This New Fangled Contraption?! March 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 3:28 AM

We’ve announcing the live blog event of the season!

Drum roll, please! *drldrldrldrldrldrldrldrldrldrldrldt*

Here it is, everyone!!

Live Blog: PMEA 2011

*Cue the happy dance music*

A group of Grove City College students have put together a team to live-blog this annual conference for music educators across the state of Pennsylvania. The team was created by our fearless leader, Andrew Ritenour, and consists of Elizabeth Heist, Emily Farrell, Ryan Dore, and myself. We are all psyched to be a part of this event! Grove City College is making our internet access possible during the conference through the efforts of Dr. Joseph Pisano.

You may be talking to yourself and saying, “Brittany, what does this mean?! What is going on?” Have no fear! I am here to show you the way. Here’s the situation:

If you are anything like me, you want to do it all…and you forget everything unless it is written down. The Live blogging team is here to solve all of your problems…well, the two previously mentioned problems at least. We will each be attending different sessions and will be taking notes online that will be accessible via On this landing page, you will find the conference schedule as well as links to each individual blogger’s site. Here’s mine: Now you can read the notes from the many fantastic sessions that are pitted against each other. You no longer need to wish for the ability to be in multiple places at once!! Although that and teleportation would be great superpowers, in my opinion. This resource also allows you to re-read and review session you attended in case your mind was blown and you missed something.

Here’s the dream team:

Andy Ritenour: on twitter @andrewritenour or at

Elizabeth Heist: on twitter @heistes or at

Emily Farrell: on twitter @emilyfarrell or at

Ryan Dore: on twitter at @britishbuegler, on the (Dorerj15), or at

You can sign up for email reminders or just check back frequently so you don’t miss out on anything!! You can follow me on twitter @brittany_bell or follow the tweets of conference attendees. You can even contribute to the conversation at #pmea11! Get psyched, people. I know I am.


To Sleep or Not to Sleep? March 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brittany @ 11:44 PM

Another week come and gone. I can’t believe it! Last week went by so quickly, but was so packed. Let’s review and reflect, shall we? I took the Praxis I exam, went to a senior recital, and saw a couple of my friends perform at the Pittsburgh Pops concert on Saturday. Environmental Science exam on Tuesday, Advanced Choral Conducting Rehearsal on Thursday, working the Federation Festival and the debut performance of our Jazz Combo on Saturday, a Senior Recital on Sunday, Music History exam and Children’s Theater’s first tech rehearsal on Monday, and Choral rehearsal plan today.

I don’t really understand how it’s ok for the Praxis to cost so much money. I was sad about that. Being a music education major is not a cheap experience. All of the lesson and education fees are crazy. Do what I have to do I guess. I know this is what I am meant to do, and I haven’t regretted any part of this.

In Advanced Choral Conducting, we had to write a rehearsal plan and “rehearse” the class for 15 minutes on the piece of our choice. I chose David Mennicke’s Down in the River to Pray. Such a good spiritual, a capella SATB piece. I accomplished all that I meant to. I think it went decently well. I haven’t heard any professor feedback on it yet though. We’ll see. I like the practice that we’re getting as nerve-racking as it is. I get more nervous with my peers than I think I would with another group. That’s a good test though. I really enjoy my methods class as well. Writing lesson plans and doing all of these projects may weigh me down, but they are great preparation for student teaching and hopefully once I get a job.

The Federation Festival on Saturday went very well. It was great to see so many kids of all ages coming to play. There were hundreds of kids who came to campus to play and be judged/scored. Their private teachers receive the scores and comments. That night, our new Jazz Combo debuted. It went very well, I think. I’m playing electric bass for the group. My fingertips now are getting quite callused. I’m somewhat proud of that actually. Haha.

Amongst all of these fun and games, Music History still looms. Exam mostly on the Romantics (Beethoven through Wolf). So. Much. Information. I think I know the information. After reviewing my exam, I didn’t put enough details in my essays.

Thursday in Methods brought Travis Weller from Mercer High School to talk about music education. (You can follow him on twitter @travisjweller). Brief overview from my class notes on the 5 Areas of Study for Pre-Services Teachers:

1) Planning and Preparation-daily preparation is necessary. Don’t just wait until game time to try to be great. Put the work in 24/7 and don’t be afraid to do what you are asking your students to do. “Excellence is a way, not a destination.”

2) Professional Responsibility-students need to see both professional and human sides to you. Music educators have to take on all aspects of our job. W. Francis McBeth said, “Don’t forget why you became a musician. It was because of a love affair with sound. It was not a love affair with organization, techniques, or competition, no matter how commendable these efforts may be. A musical experience has no substitute; and when it is experienced by the band, the conductor, and the audience, it is desired above all else.” I think that is a fantastic quote that we need to remember.

3) Knowledge of Music Repertoire and Pedagogy-keep a repertoire list of pieces performed in the past and what you thought of them…it will help tremendously! Unlike other subjects, there is no set textbook curriculum for band or choir…the score is the textbook. Be sure to be out there listening to other groups and performers. Learn from those around you.

4) Music Advocacy-be consistent, but emphasize different parts of your program depending on who is listening. Don’t be afraid to be involved and take on all aspects of music leadership. Involve the community in your program, and they will also advocate for you by your side.

5) Building Program Success-Think not only about how kids get down, but think about how they get back up. Don’t give up on your students…encourage them always…don’t let them get discouraged out of music. Having every student in a chamber group of some kind is a great way to elevate their performance level. Smaller groups are easier to take into the community as well. You can’t teach an ensemble the same every year; things like instrumentation and level of playing change. Something good to tell students is, “Don’t do something detrimental to yourself or as a musician.”

It was a great guest lecture for class.

Tomorrow a small group of us is going to Bucknell University for a World Music/Dalcroze workshop. I’m really excited about it, and hope to have a full report next week!

In the mean time, let’s all hope I get some sleep this week (unlike the past couple of weeks) for the sanity of those around me. Working on the final draft of my Music History paper, and Children’s Theater is next weekend!