Bell ringers are no longer an option for music classrooms in many districts. New school policies require the use of bell ringers (sometimes called DO NOW activities) across the disciplines.
This article provides ideas for applying bell ringer activities in music classrooms without adding extra stress and preparation on the teacher’s part! If bell ringers are not required where you teach, don’t give up on this article. It It will give you ideas for starting an instrumental class effectively.
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Let’s start at the beginning:
What is a Bell Ringer?
Bell ringers are activities that the students do first thing as they walk into the classroom. The students are to complete the bell ringer activity while they are waiting for the second bell or for all students to be ready to start class. The idea behind bell ringers is to provide an activity to get students focused right away. Having an assignment from the moment students walk through the door helps them be engaged and minimizes the time wasted before class begins.
How Do Bell Ringers Apply in Music Classrooms?
As a music teacher, always remember that many of the things we do as music educators on a regular basis are already a perfect match for the national standards and new district expectations! You don’t have to change your whole practice! You just have to see which elements of your music teaching fits best with the school expectations.
I have talked to many of my music colleagues who feel frustrated and overwhelmed with the new school expectations. In most cases they are frustrated with the amount of work that piles up for them. Many of them are doing twice as much preparation in order to complete these new expectations. Instead, see if you can turn around the way you think. Instead of preparing more things to comply with expectations, observe which parts of your practice are already equivalent to what is expected of you.
Many of my colleagues do rhythm and theory sheets as bell ringers. These are wonderful! And we will touch base about these later in the post. However, half way through the school year creating new music sheets for bell ringers every class can get very tiring. This is especially true if you teach multiple levels. As the stress of final concerts and and music festivals hits, you would need something that is EASY but just as EFFECTIVE.
So here are some alternatives for bell ringer activities in music classes that you can do right away. They will take NO extra preparation time. Your students will benefit. Most important- your administrators will be happy with the way you are implementing the new public school policies. Win-win for all!
Easy Bell Ringers For The Music Classroom
Listening as a Bell Ringer
This is probably the easiest and most effective bell ringer for any music classroom. It works well for all ages from elementary to high school. My high school colleagues are using this bell ringer with great success. I myself use it for middle school groups as well as for one elementary ensemble I teach at a university lab school.
At the middle school where I teach, I mostly use listening bell ringers for my beginning classes. Students are expected to enter the room quietly, get their instruments and listen until everyone is ready to begin class. We practice this very systematically. First we play games of “timing” how quickly we can be in rest position listening. We practice until students get used to the procedure of walking in quietly and listening before class begins. Eventually if a student comes into the room talking or distracting others they are instructed to go back outside and enter quietly. When you start this at the beginning of the school year as the class is new, it sets up an expectation and it is very effective. Besides a good bell ringer this activity also becomes a great discipline builder. Very handy in a middle school!
In addition to the way I use positive feedback to build discipline during instruction, starting class this way has proven to be very effective for my beginning students. As they are still developing their technical skills, providing more listening is a great way to vary the instruction and have them listen to the sound they are striving for.
You can also extend the activity and have students write about what they hear in a musical piece: instrumentation, guessing the period it was composed during, etc. If you happen to have theory sheets for them to fill out as bell ringers, then play music in the background as they are completing the sheet. It will be effective.
Unsupportive administrators and how to deal:Some administrators are supportive of music and others fail to see how the musical concepts relate to the core subjects. Just some tips if you happen to work with the second administrator’s mindset.
Listening to music is highly relevant to all music instruction. In the event of an administrator asking why you listen instead of doing a sheet (or something else usually expected in a core class) you can explain that it connects to your curriculum directly as the students are listening to pieces they will play. The students are also using listening as a pre-reading activity. The same way a language arts teacher would do activities before introducing a new text, you are doing preliminary activities to introduce a musical text – listening and getting aquatinted with a new piece of music. Listening also provides direct modeling of the sound the students would be working on.
Practice Specific Measures As Bell Ringers
Before class begins, simply write the piece and the measure numbers you are planning to rehearse on the board. As the students are walking in, their expectation is to get their instruments ready and look over /practice these measures. You may also write a specific expectation (rhythm, intonation, articulation, etc.) Right after the second bell rings, the conductor would step into the podium, indicating that it is time to stop with the bell ringer and begin tuning.
This way of doing bell ringers is very effective for music classrooms. You would have the students practice the parts you would rehearse, thus aiding the effectiveness of the rehearsal. This will help the kids who may not have practiced at home. It will give them a direction on what will follow during the music rehearsal. It is also very easy on the teacher as it fits directly into your music rehearsal planning- no extra work or spreadsheets.
If you think about it, this is exactly what happens in a professional orchestra. So if the students are able to simulate this- here are your 21st century skills that your district may require! They are using the ability to practice in an authentic way, using examples from the real world.
I would not do this in certain (bigger and louder) elementary and middle school groups. In these classes I would do anything possible to have the kids start the class focused. Having them practice on their own may be distractive some classes where students want to get off task. It may take some experimenting to see how it works. However, for a high school or a more advanced class this would work perfectly.
Warm Up and Technical Concepts As Bell Ringers
I use warm ups as bell ringers often. For example, in one of my high school groups we are working on vibrato and certain bow strokes. I use the time right before large group rehearsal to go over their vibrato exercises. They are required to sit properly in their seat as soon as they enter the room, play one scale with the new stroke and then practice their vibrato exercises. They do it at their own time. As they play I walk around and provide students with individual feedback on what they need to improve. If a student is not doing well, I spend more time on that student as the rest keep practicing at their own pace.
Over time, and as the students are progressing to different techniques, I keep the bell ringer expectation the same, but start changing the warm ups they need to complete while doing the bell ringer.
This bell ringer activity only takes 5 min every day. And it has been quite effective.
Doing bell ringers or warm ups this way has been helpful in terms of starting the class. This particular class starts their orchestra rehearsal at 7:25am every morning. Some students are coming ready to learn. Others are tired and it takes quite a bit of effort to get them ready right away. So having them warm up at their own time is very helpful in getting all students working, and then starting the large group rehearsal when everyone is on track.
This way of warming up or doing a bell ringer is also an excellent opportunity to document differentiated instruction in the music classroom.
Differentiation is done by having the students progress at their own pace. The students are doing their warm up at their own pace. More advanced students move to more difficult exercises. Less advanced ones stay with the easier ones and they get extra feedback from the teacher. It also gives the teacher an extra opportunity to work individually with students. This provides an extra layer of differentiation. For your own practice, it creates that opportunity for individualized instruction and reaching every student in your program.
The lesson plan is created for orchestra however it could be easily modified for other subjects as the first day of school is similar for all music disciplines