I Ate a Cicada Today 
 Wonderful Children's Book
by Jeff Crossan
Enjoy a review of this children's book and CD hot from the publishers as well as the guest posts from the author himself!
There’s a little blond-haired boy who appears several times in I Ate a Cicada Today.  I drew him to look like my son, Jon, when he was still small.  As a boy, Jon loved all animals.  His pets have included a Guinea pig, a chameleon, an octopus, a tarantula and a python, some of which share his room to this day.  That’s because he loves animals as much as ever.  But I’m sure he loves music just as much, if not more.  He plays guitar, bass, drums and piano.  He writes songs and sings in a rock band, The Elevaders, with friends who have played together in various groups since they were in middle school.  Jon graduated from college this year with a degree in environmental studies but he’s focused mostly on music right now. 
I understand.
 When I was invited to write an entry for Music Teaching and Parenting I thought it might be a good idea to interview Jon.  After all, he’s a character in my book and a musician.  I’m a musician, a former music journalist and Jon’s parent.  It just felt like the planets had lined up here.  Let’s see.
Tell me one or two of your earliest music-related memories, Jon.
Some of my first memories involving music are from when I was in elementary school. I remember going to piano lessons and being upset because they were at the same time as my favorite show, Dragon Ball Z. I also remember the day that my music teacher Ms. Bonner asked us all to sing for her. She walked around the room listening to all the other kids sing and when she got to me I remember thinking, “Uh oh, I better sing really well.”  She stood next to me for a lot longer than the other kids and I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time but I guess she thought I sounded good.

Your first music lessons were Suzuki piano lessons.
How do you think they helped you?

I’d say they helped train my ear and familiarize me with musical structure, which helped me later when I played French horn in the middle school band.

You were the student from Williamson County chosen to sing with the Nashville Symphony as a member of the Tennessee Treble Choir in fifth grade. I remember peeking through the door during your first rehearsal. When you spotted me you raised your index finger and thumb to your head like a gun to express your lack of enthusiasm, shall we say, with the tedium of the rehearsal. How did that whole experience turn out?

I hated the rehearsals at first because I was the only kid from my county so I didn’t know anyone or have any friends there with me. And the music sounded very strange without the entire orchestra there behind it. But once we got to rehearse with everything together I got really excited because it sounded awesome.

What did I do right or wrong as a parent in regard to music?

You were very supportive and encouraging when it came to my interests in music, which helped me grow as a musician. I remember riding in the car listening to oldies 96.3 and you asking me “Who’s this playing Jon?” and I would try to guess which artist it was. That type of game helped me develop a good ear because I learned to listen for certain sounds that identified certain artists. The only criticism I’d make would be to say it might have been better to change my piano lesson time to after my favorite shows were over so I would have been less resistant to going to them.

What does music mean to you today?
 That’s a pretty hard question to answer and I could probably go on and on trying.  But long story short -- music is my passion and what I believe I was put on this earth to do. It’s my way of expressing myself. And I’d definitely say it’s a form of therapy when I’m feeling down. Writing music has always made me feel better when I do it and I want to share those feelings with the rest of the world.

We don’t have the same tastes when it comes to some types of music but we do agree on The Beatles. Who’s your favorite Beatle?

That’s a hard choice to make but I’ve always admired Paul McCartney’s bass lines and writing prowess. He’s definitely one of my biggest idols when it comes to music. And listening to his and the rest of the Beatles’ music as a kid definitely helped shape me as a musician today.

Finally, do you have a favorite children’s picture book with accompanying CD?

Recipes on a Budget
Who doesn't need easy recipes that are also tasty and inexpensive? I know I do at the beginning of the school year. This is great idea for brunch or breakfast. It is also a very inexpensive meal you can quickly put together for guests or for potlucks. The whole recipe takes only three ingredient, all of them available in each household and very inexpensive.

1 onion
4 eggs
1tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs fresh thyme or parsley (optional)

2 portions. The recipe doubles easily. In that case I would use 8 eggs but the same amount of onion and potato.

10 min cooking time + 10-15 min chopping and boiling the potatoes beforehand


 Cut the potatoes into cubes. I like using russet gold potatoes so that I don't have to peal them but you could use any type. You can either soak them in water over night or spend 10 min, biolinig the potatoes beforehand. In this case, I was in a hurry so I put them in the microwave for 5min to get soft before adding to the egg bake.
Chop the onion. Grease a pan with the olive oil. Put the chopped onions in. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about 5min until the onion is soft.

Add the potatoes. Let cook for additional 3-5 minutes. 

Reduce the heat. In a bowl, break the eggs gently. and poor over the onions and potatoes. Leave for 1 min until the eggs get slightly firm. Make sure that the pan is not too hot when putting the eggs in. 

Garnish with fresh thyme or parsley by choice. 


Tell us what you did during the break...using only your instrument!

Suzuki Music Activity for the Beginning of the Year or After a Longer Break

Why this Game:
This game was born after one of my Suzuki classes teaching Suzuki Bk 3 students about improvisation. I do this game with my kids at the university's prep school at the beginning of each semester now. It is a great way to connect with students by asking them about their break and apply that to music at the same time. It helps students to think creatively. It gets them out of their comfort zone and it is a great deal of fun for them. At the same time it is a "lighter" activity that helps students get back on track after the holidays or a longer break. It helps me break down the intensity of a more technical lesson. Or it helps me ease students into the school year.

This activity can be done at any age Books 1-5. The younger students will have very simple instructions. The older ones will get more complicated tasks to engage them. Usually students and parents enjoy this activity quite a lot! The students love sharing about their time spent during the holidays. They also enjoy when the rest of the kids have to guess about it.

The students form a circle. They need to create a sound, sequence of sounds, or a short melody representing one activity they did during the summer break. The students get a few minutes to practice their melody. Every student plays from the class showing the rest of the students what they did during their break. The rest of the students try to guess what the performing student did during his break. After three wrong guesses the students tells them the activity.

The game can be very short or it could last almost the whole class. That would depend on the teacher's instructions, how many students get to perform as well as the size of the class. This could also be a good activity to break and do over a few classes if the students like it. This way you would provide a nice break or a game at the end of class.

Examples of the activity:
The youngest ones would pick only one sound to identify the activity they did during the break. For example a slide may mean that have been ice skating. One steady note only may mean that they were sick/ bored, etc. A higher pitched tone may mean a happy summer, etc. I would instruct young students to choose only one sound to start with to keep it simple.

Older students would be instructed to create a more complete story in music. They would be asked to come up with different sounds and melodies that can identify their activities during the break and present them as one musical composition. At the later parts of the Suzuki instruction the students get very experiences at reproducing sounds and melodies. You may hear them playing the tunes from video games, favorite movies, etc. They will have a lot of fun with that. If they find the experience fun but difficult to accomplish from the first time, then the teacher will give them the instruction and leave the activity as HW.

This can be a great start for a sequence. Every time the students' melodies will get more complicated. They would be assigned HW to practice their melodies at home.

This would be a Suzuki activity getting the students out of their comfort zone. It is important for the teacher to model first and give them examples, or choices of what they could do. I always start and model the activity for the students to ease students' anxiety. I also model different melodies that they may choose to include so that they have a starting point. If a student doesn't feel comfortable playing in front of class, then they get to watch and I ask them again at the end whether they have changed their minds. It is also important to respect of a students feels shy to do it. I have done this with students who feel uncomfortable playing, but have great fun listening and interacting with the other students.
Want to join a music program but not sure whether you should choose orchestra or band at your school? The following tips may make it easier to make that decision:

The instrument you want to play is most important. Yet there are other factors to determine the best fit for you. 

 See if you can talk to others about the programs and the teachers. Perhaps you know older sudents or even your siblings who have gone to the same school.  By talking to more experienced students, you may find out that one of these programs has a very good and supportive teacher, or that they do lots of trips and concerts. That will help you make a decision between the two. However, if you find out that both music programs are strong then:

The instrument you want to play is the most important factor. Simply join the music program that has the right instrument for you. School orchestras will offer violin, viola, cello, double bass. Band will offer wind and brass instruments as well as percussion. Keep in mind that some school programs are in need of students for a certain instrument. For example, your school orchestra may need an extra viola player. If that is the case, it will be a good opportunity for you to fill this spot. You will be given attention and important parts to play.

Listen to youtube to different school groups play. You can find plenty of videos. See what speaks to you more.

Try talking to that teacher. Simply walk up to their office and ask about the program. You will get the best information straight from the music director. Most imporant. se if that person is approachable. If he is enthusiastic about having you in the music program, and if you feel you are getting a good information about the program, then this is the right place for you.

Opportunities Outside School
You may also want to check for extra opportunities in your city. If you have a strong string or youth symphony program, starting on a string instrument in orchestra will be a wonderful choice.
Thinking about a calmer day and meditating on a piece of mind...

How do you survive the teacher staff meetings at the beginning of the school year?

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Betty Fiddle and Freddy Bow

Let me introduce you to a cute music gem that will help your young child learn and remember the parts about the violin and the notes. This is a coloring activity book introducing the violin, its parts, and beginning music notation. The book is wonderful and could be used in a variety of ways to help young child's learning! The author, Kendra LAw has a series with all string instruments- you can get the same activity book designed for cello and viola as well.
Overview of the Book:
The book is generally separated into two parts. The first one introduces the violin's parts. The second one deals with beginning notes and rhythms.

Violin Part Section
The book starts with introducing the parts of he violin. It shows pictures with the parts and then asks a child to do coloring activities in order to learn these parts. It is all done in a fun and playful way. The violin parts are presented as arts of the human body and the bow and violin are given names -Freddy and Betty. Any child, whether they are in music lessons or not would enjoy learning through this music activity book. And myself as an adult...I had my share of fun with it!

Rhythm and Note Section
This is where the book is most helpful! It introduces the different rhythms to a child. Each rhythm is taught in a child-friendly way. There are many analogies with food to explain the rhythm ratios. For example a piece of cake vs the whole cake, etc. There is also a lot of repetition to ensure retention. Each new concept is followed by a coloring activity or counting activity, again to ensure learning and having hands on experience.

This second pat of the book is truly excellent! It could be used to teach children in any of these situations:

Parents who want to expose their preschooler to music:
The bok is a wonderful tool, giving parents lots of ideas about introducing their children to music. Even though the book is about violin specifically it goes to broader concepts and a child
The first part of the book has many ideas about introducing the violin in a child friendly way. Once this is done, it is easy for a parent or a teacher to apply the same information and introduce a different musical instrument in a similar way. The book can become a beginning of a home unit introducing music and the musical instruments.
The second portion of the book is invaluable explaining about the musical rhythms different note values, and providing ways to practice these.

Elementary Classrooms:
It provides wonderful hands on activities for students up to fisrts and event second grade. The students will learn the rhythms and have an opportunity to ractice these rhythms through the music activity book.
Certain parts of the book are appropriate to also use for upper elementary children. These would be the rhythm activities toward the second part of the book.

Young Suzuki Students:
Students who have already started music lessons through the Suzuki Approach and are still in the pre-Twinkle and early Bk1 stage will benefit greatly from this book. The first section of the book will be excellent right as the child is starting lessons, the second one will be helpful between the beginning and mid Bk one just before the child begins reading notes.

This is a wonderful bridge for a child to start exploring the notes but in a fun way and away from their instrument. So needed with some children, as they are eager to read notes, but they are not ready developmentaly to do that yet.

Wondering about activities you can do at the beginning of the school year in your music class? This time of the school year is quite tricky. Students are developing first impression and relationship with their teacher. At the same time they don't have that much to work with as they have not developed repertoire or a set of skills yet. Teachers have to be quite creative at engaging the students while they are getting into school year.
Here are some ideas for activities centered around:

  • Getting to know your students
  • Developing better relationships between the students
  • Setting the base for team work
  • Asserting classroom rules

Musical Story

Either Introducing the Teacher through Music or Exploring Students Musical Heritage Through Music

Making a musical story to introduce yourself or the rest of the students in class  is a GREAT idea to start a class at the beginning of the school year or to use as one of your activities at the beginning of the year!

Students are very excited to get to know their teacher. They want to know who the teacher is as a person. This activity will help you break the ice, develop a connection with the students, and connect the introductions to music. You can also use it to introduce yourself, and give the students an overview of the things they would be learning during the year. It will also take the boredom out of the first class when the teacher would naturally talk more.

What it is? The teacher will simply create a story about herself. They would follow up with music. Think about the most important things you want to teach this particular group of kids. That could be care about the instruments, singing, elementary instruments, different music genres, etc. Then think about your own path as a musician. Then, combine the two by creating a short introductory "story followed by music".

For example, I may talk about my home country followed by a short folk piece. Then I would talk about when I learned to read music, followed by giving them an example of musical notation, then I would make a joke about practicing one passage over and over, I would go into pieces I have played while their age, etc. The possibilities are limitless. 

This activity can become a favorite with elementary and middle school students. If done with a bit of humor and lightness, the students have a good time with it.

You could use this as a starting point for the students to also start sharing their personal story through music, making this a short unit, or feeding into your lesson plan for the next day. 

As I am an orchestra director, I use my violin for this introduction. In a more general music classroom you can use recordings as well. I wrote a bit more detail about this activity in this post.

Team building

Interest Sheet
As the students are walking into the clasrom they are given a sheet asking them about their favorite things (sport, spare time, pet, etc). Students are instructed to fill out the sheet but not to put their names on it. This is a great activity to fill out the "empty time" as the students are finding their way into the music classroom and waiting for the second bell.
The sheets are collected and then each student gets a sheet that belongs to someone else. They make a guess who that person may be. Then they have 2min. to go around the room, check to see if they got the right person and to find who the sheet belonged to if they were incorrect.
The firsrt students to find the right answer line up in front of te board. The first three win!
This is great activity fro students to get to know each other. They also have great fun with it because it gets them moving. The same activity may be used for teachers during the school year to brake the classroom pase, or for students to share their opinion after concerts.

Family Sheet
As the students are walking in the classroom I like to give them something to do as they are waiting for the class to begin. Often I use that time to give them sheets with questions about themselves. Examples:
 What do you family do together for fun? Do your parents support music?
These questions give me a great deal of information about the students in class and what situation they face at home. This activity is not shared with other students. It is more pesonal and it is just for me to get to know them better.

Student Questions
Students form teams of 3-5 and sit together with their teams. The teacher gives them a few questions (questions can be written on the board or typed). The students go around in a circle and each team membr needs to answer each question.  This is a great activity for the stdents to start getting to know each other. The same activity can be repeated on a diferent day as the teams members switch. This way students get to interact with diferent students in class.

Please, see post Team Building Resources for different team building bingo games and ideas.

Learning to give positive feedback
Students need to learn the correct way to interact with each other when working together. This needs to be taught from the very beginning. I like giving students a very simple activity to work on at the beg. Slowly, over time, when we start working on more difficult things they feel more comfortable.
Students for teams of three. One student acts as student and the other two act like teachers. They could teach about  bow hold, rhythms, parts of the instrument. etc. Students are given very specific instruction on how to lead the activity. The two "teachers" need to schedule the feedback as a "sandwitch". The students needs to receive positive feedback, then ideas from improvemnt, then another positive comment.
Insisting on the "sandwich" feedback model gives students the structure they can use during the year. It also build better community by teaching them the proper way to interact when the need to be critical to one another.

Games About Rules and procedures

Guess the rule
The teacher has a bag with small candy. Teacher asks students questions about students' responsibility in a classroom. Examples: Where do you get your instrument? What assesories do you need along with your instrument? How long do you need to practice daily?

True or False
Teachers asks a question. If correct, the students need to raise their hand or do something silly.

Line game
Put a piece of duck tape on the floor making a line. The teacher makes a statement. If the statement applies to them the students need to step into the line. If not, then they step back. The same activity could be done while students move to one part of the room if they agree and the other if they dissagree. The teacher asks a student to take over and make the statements.
The statements can be related to their school year and getting a feel for what the students want to do. I have also used it for new classroom to get a feel of what they have been doing the previous year. This activity is good for older students. It helps the teacher get a feel for the students in class.

Make Sure and See Also

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