Clever Music Teacher Hacks that Will Make Your Year Amazing
Getting ahead of the Time Crunch
By NAfME Member Wendy Higdon
One of the universal truths about teaching, regardless of the grade level, content area or type of school, is that there are never, EVER enough hours in the day to get everything completed.
Because I’m always feeling crunched for time, there isn’t much that makes me happier than when I discover something that saves minutes (or even hours) and allows me to focus more of my attention on the kids in my classroom.
While some of the ideas here are quick and easy, others take a little investment of time on the front end. But I promise, they will pay off in hours saved in the long run.
I hope you find some great ideas here that make your year a little easier!
Quick and Easy Hacks
- Use rubber pencil grips as inexpensive thumb rest cushions on clarinets by cutting them in thirds. (see photo)
- Pink erasers work well as emergency rock stops for your cello and bass players
- Purchase golf pencils on the cheap to keep in the classroom so that forgetting a pencil never becomes an excuse. Kids won’t love using these short, little pencils, so they are less likely to walk away at the end of class.
- Three ring binders with sheet protectors help students keep organized and also cut down on lost music. If you want to be super-organized, add a pencil pouch and tab dividers in the binder.
- Strips of velcro on the carpeting work well as guides to where chairs should go and allow your students to quickly and easily straighten up the rows. (see photo)
- Print a sign with important information that your students frequently need (music store phone number, website addresses, etc.) and have them take a picture with their phone so they won’t have to ask you in the future. Do the same for important dates, locker combinations or anything else that is easily forgotten.
- Locker mirrors can be purchased cheaply during school supply sales. Buy a class set and use them to check embouchure and more!
- Did a clarinet or sax player forget their ligature? Or worse. . . it got stepped on and now it is as flat as a pancake! Use a rubber band to hold the reed on the mouthpiece until the student can get a new one.
- Does your baton get buried under all your conductor scores? Use a binder clip on the side of your music stand, and it will always be handy! (see photo)
- Do your beginning flute players have trouble remembering which keys the fingers of their left hand go on? Use “Avery Dot” stickers to mark the keys. You can do the same with clarinet pinky keys. Color code the keys on the right and left hand to assist students in learning their alternate fingerings. (see photo)
Super Seating Chart
- You’ll have to download the free Open Office software to make this one work, but it’s totally worth it! Here are just a few of the things you can do with this seating chart.
- Each circle is a text box! Type the student’s name in the circle. Then click and drag the circle any time you want to rearrange the seats. When the students come to class, project the seating chart on the screen (or print it out and hang it up) and the students can go right to their new spots.
- You can select the color you want for any item. Color-code the circles by instrument, grade level or anything else that helps you stay organized.
- Replace the “X” shapes (which designate music stands) with a number and students can quickly and easily see their folder assignments.
- Use the various shapes available in the software to designate the placement of percussion instruments or other features of the room.
- Export your chart as a pdf file to send to contest hosts or others who need your set-up.
Want to get started? Download my starter template here.
Music Folder Hacks
- Collecting music after a performance is a chore, especially when you are trying to track who has (and who has not) turned in their part. Use a number system to keep it all straight. Each student is assigned to a music folder with a number. When you distribute music, write the folder number in pencil on the upper right hand corner of each part. When kids turn in the music, you can easily see if a part is missing and which folder/ student it was assigned to. This is also great when a piece of music gets left on the stand after rehearsal. The number immediately tells you who left it out, and where it goes!
- Instead of taking class time to distribute new music, prepare ahead of time by writing the folder number on each part and then sliding the music into the folio cabinet slot of the corresponding folder. The entire process takes no more than a couple minutes.
Instrument Locker Hacks
This one takes a little time to set up, but once you’ve done it, you can use the template every year. Instrument lockers come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate the different instruments. In Microsoft Excel, create a layout of your instrument lockers by “merging cells” and color coding. On the template you can quickly see which lockers are big enough for trombones and which are small enough for flutes. You can also tell which lockers are on the top row and need to be assigned to older/ taller students. To assign lockers, simply type the student’s name in the box. You can also use Excel’s “find” feature to search the document quickly when you need to look up a student’s locker assignment.
For lock collection at the end of the year, print tags on card stock and use a hole punch so that the cards can be attached to the lock shank. Students fill in the combination in the spaces provided and turn in the lock. Next year’s student will have the combination at their fingertips at the start of the new school year.
Solo and Ensemble Hacks
Collecting entry forms and fees for solo and ensemble and keeping everything straight can be a nightmare! Keep organized by printing the entry form on an envelope. Students fill out the information and put the money inside. Voila! Everything stays together until you are ready to complete your entry and deposit the money. You can also use this idea for collecting fundraiser money, uniform fees. . . you name it!
Need to take attendance quickly?
A quick tip for taking attendance is to count kids rather than call names. If you know that there are 8 flute players in the class and but there are only 7 kids in the section, you can then go back and quickly figure out who is missing. Repeat for each section of your ensemble.
Variation: Have one student in each section responsible for counting who is present and then reporting out to you the names of anyone who is missing.
- If you have important forms that you are collecting, copy them on colored paper so they don’t get lost in the shuffle, and you can easily sort them at a glance. Color code by form, or color code by class – whatever works best for you!
- Use colored electrical tape to mark connecting cords to your computer, mixer or other electronic devices. At the start of a new year, plug yellow into yellow and red into red and you are ready to go without having to try to figure out which cord goes in which plug.
- Have multiple ensembles or more than one director? Use color coded baskets for kids to turn in their work.
Need to print personalized forms or letters? Maybe you want to make labels with your students’ names on them to put on method books or pep band shirts for easy distribution. I absolutely love Mail Merge for this sort of thing. As long as I have an Excel or CSV file with my students’ names, this literally takes seconds! Check out my video that shows how to use mail merge to make your own personalized documents or labels.
- Google Forms are a fantastic way to gather information online from kids or parents. Simply create your form questions in Google Drive and send the link via email or embed the form on your webpage. All the data that you gather is pulled into a Google Sheet for easy sorting and filtering. (Added bonus: Take your newly created Google Sheet and use it to Mail Merge to your heart’s content!)
- Organizing volunteers can be a time-consuming task for the music director. Use signupgenius.comto set up your shifts and email a link to your families. Volunteers can easily see what slots are still open and sign-up. The website even automatically emails them a reminder a few days before the shift. No more spending your prep period confirming volunteer times!
- Use the Remind app to send text message reminders to your students and parents. You can even schedule texts in advance to go out at whatever time and date you need.
Organizing Reeds and Other Supplies
I found this organizer online on one of the big office supply store websites. I love that the compartments are clear so I can see what is in them, and that they tilt out for easy retrieval of items. I made my own labels in Microsoft Word. Now my supply cabinet looks like a million bucks!
Kids Who Forget Instruments
What do you do with the student who forgets their instrument? You want to keep them engaged, but the class is waiting– you need something fast! Use my Rehearsal Detective sheet. By answering guided questions about what is happening during the class, the students stay involved in rehearsal. I copy this sheet on colored paper so it’s easy to spot as I work with the ensemble. Not only are students now writing in your content area, they quickly discover that it’s much more fun to play their instrument in class.
I just love discovering new teacher hacks that make my job easier and more organized! Do you have a hack that you can share? Let me know!
About the author:
NAfME Member Wendy Higdon is the Director of Bands and Unified Arts Department Chair at Creekside Middle School in Carmel, IN. She began her career as Director of Bands at Lebanon Middle School (IN) in 1991 and came to Carmel Clay Schools in 1999 where she taught band at Carmel Middle School until the opening of Creekside in 2004. Under her leadership, the performing arts programs at Creekside have grown from 400 students in 2004 to nearly 900 students this year.
To read more about Wendy, visit the About Me section on On and Off the Podium.
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