Nov 2, 2016

How to Use Chromebooks to Record Playing Tests

Many schools now have a one-to-one Chromebook program which provides an excellent opportunity for students to perform and record their playing assessments. For directors looking for an alternative to traditional assessment methods, video assessments provide a viable option. Rather than using precious rehearsal time for individual assessments, directors can watch, listen and critique videos of their students playing tests at their convenience. It is an effective tool to assess playing skills like rhythmic accuracy, note accuracy, articulation quality, and dynamics. I have used it extensively as a way for my students to perform excerpts from their band music and for scale tests.

"My students often share how much time they spend recording their playing tests in order to record it perfectly."

In order to record a video on the Chromebook, your students will need to download a Chrome browser extension called Screencastify.  It’s free and can be accessed in the Chrome Web Store. Once installed and set-up, students can select the cam option to record using the front or rear-facing camera on the Chromebook. Mic level settings can be adjusted for optimum recording levels and videos can be saved to Google Drive or uploaded to YouTube.  It is important to instruct your students to save their video as “unlisted” for privacy purposes.

Your students will find it easy to record and submit their performance videos. So much can be learned from viewing and listening to your students individually perform. My students often share how much time they spend recording their playing tests in order to record it perfectly. Below are a few more helpful suggestions and advantages to ensure you and your students have a positive experience with video assessments.

Example of a student playing test as recorded with Screencastify and his Chromebook. (Yes he's playing the trombone correctly - video is mirrored.)


  • Students can record their performance as many times as necessary in order to submit their best work.
  • Some students feel less pressure recording a playing test by themselves, as opposed to in front of an entire ensemble.
  • Rehearsal time is not lost to in-class individual assessments.
  • Screencastify works seamlessly with Google Drive and saves all videos to one folder.  This allows students to record multiple “takes” of the same playing test while keeping the videos organized.
  • Video allows the director to assess posture and instrument hold in addition to music skills.
  • Videos can be shared with parents and students at anytime, as well as at parent-teacher conferences.

  • Take your time when teaching your students to install and set-up the Screencastify extension. Review again when assigning a playing assessment.
  • Practice recording a sample video in class and submitting or emailing the video link.
  • If your school does not have Google Classroom, students can email you a link to their video.
  • Provide written instructions to your students for recording with Screencastify. Here's mine!
  • Create a rubric to grade the assessments.  Quality feedback is essential to growth.
  • Brass players should focus the bell of their instrument away from the microphone for better audio quality.

Sep 4, 2016

Building a Positive Rapport with your Middle School Music Students

One of the cornerstones of any effective classroom management plan is the rapport the teacher has with their students. Michael Linsin, author of the blog Smart Classroom Management, states “Rapport is nothing more than a connection you make with your students based on their positive feelings for you.” Successful teachers know that creating a positive relationship with their music students can lead to an elevated classroom culture of high student engagement, motivation, and trust. These key factors will ultimately lead to a rehearsal environment of fantastic learning and music-making.

Here are 6 six actions you can do to develop a positive rapport with your students.

  1. Smile and show the students you love what you do. If they see the enjoyment and passion you have, your class will be a place they want to be. Your enthusiasm will be contagious.
  2. Get to know your students. I don’t mean how well they play or sing or how much musical knowledge they have. All that stuff is important, but take a little time as students are entering the room or putting their instruments together to check-in with them and see how their day is going. Ask about activities they in or what sports they play. All you need is a few minutes each day to make this happen. At the end of the rehearsal, don’t be the first one to head out of the room. Stick around the last few minutes to chat with a few more students as they are packing up and getting ready to leave.
  3. Bring a positive attitude to the classroom and the podium every day. Even if your day is not going as planned, leave the negativity at your desk.
  4. Set high expectations. Kids don’t want to feel like their time is wasted. By setting high expectations, you are setting the tone for learning and music-making. Help them set goals and help them reach their goals.
  5. Reinforce that we work together as an ensemble. Playing together requires teamwork and your students need to buy-in to this idea for the group to be successful. Set the expectation and discuss it often with your kids. In rehearsal, recognize the students or sections that have do something positive and you will start to build momentum for others to improve. Kids want to be praised and noticed for their contributions.
  6. Finally, show students you care. Your actions will speak louder than your words. Barbara Harrell Carson reminds us, “Students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them . . .” Your decisions and actions should always be about what is best for kids.

Building a positive rapport with your students is one of the most importants actions you should focus on at the beginning of the year. The most successful teachers are able to maintain positive relationships with their students. It’s not easy, but the benefits are huge and the sky's the limit.

Dec 15, 2015

Boost Your Technology Chops

Apps, Tools & Online Resources for the Music Educator

Session handout available by visiting the Midwest Clinic page above
Please email me with any questions

Jan 18, 2015

New Middle School Concert Band Camp for 2016

Music Education Friends: 

I want you to be among the first people to hear about an exciting new summer music camp offering for middle school band students. For many years, the Music for All Summer Symposium has made it’s mark by creating positively life-changing experiences for high school students. Greg Scapillato and I are excited to announce a new addition to the Summer Symposium camp offerings that will take place next summer.
Beginning summer 2016, the MFA Summer Symposium will gain a Middle School Concert Band track, expanding this nationally-renowned camp to benefit the middle school band student.
Stay tuned for more information as the date draws closer. You can follow Music for All on Facebook, or watch for updates. And please…spread the word about this exciting new opportunity for middle school band students!

Jan 17, 2015

Rehearsal Activity: Giving Students a Voice in Choosing What They Want to Play

Over the years, I have often allowed my students choose a piece of music to perform. It really has never been anything formal, a simple hand vote is all that has determined the outcome.  I chose 2-3 pieces that the group could pick from, we briefly played through and rehearsed each piece, and a couple of days later they voted.  VOILA!  We have our piece!

Recently I began to think that this could be made into a much more engaging and thoughtful process. I wanted the students to be able to explain why they chose a particular piece.  What was their reasoning?  I enlisted the help from the Band Directors Group on Facebook to pose possible questions the students could answer in their quest to pick their favorite piece.  Those questions can be viewed on this Padlet.

Before I go any further, the two band pieces the students could choose are Prairie Songs or In the Forest of the King.  Both are composed by Pierre LaPlante, one of my favorite band composers.

What process would we use to pick the music?  A Google Form of course.  And here's why. This would allow the students time to think and share their reasoning.  Plus, everything would be documented.  The final question of the form was to vote for one of the LaPlante pieces.  I was happy with whatever the majority of the students chose and clearly communicated that to them.  I would honor their voice.  Both pieces were excellent choices and would allow us to work on key concepts in our curriculum and ensemble skills.

Complete page can be viewed here
What was most surprising?
How much these kids wanted a challenge!  Their answers clearly showed this.  Plus, I was impressed that some chose the piece they would learn the most from. If you look at the Wordle below, the words 'challenging','6/8 rhythm' and 'learn' are larger because they were used more frequently in the students answers.  
This class activity all took place on January 6th.  We have just now completed a full week of rehearsal on Movement I - In the Forest of the King.  The student's progress has been amazing in just 4 days.  The focus and effort have probably been the highest all year.  This is saying a lot since it is mid January in suburban Chicago and the winter blues tend to set-in.  I attribute this success to the student buy-in and the quality of the music. I have also tried something new in order to keep rehearsals organized and students involved with the work that is expected.  They each received a rehearsal outline, including all playing assessments for the next 6 weeks leading up to our concert in March. 

Feel free to use any of these ideas and resources and try this activity with your own group.