Thursday, October 3, 2019

Veazie Middle School Band on News Center Maine

Check out our awesome Middle School Band students:

VCS Middle School Band

VCS Music Program featured on local Classic Rock radio station I-95!

Please check out the article about our music program from Classic Rock radio station I-95:

Veazie Community School Seeking Music Instrument Donations

Veazie Community School To Start Modern Band Program

I am thrilled to share the news that as part of our excellent Flex Friday program, we will be starting up a Rock Band flex. This Rock Band class will be based upon the Modern Band philosophy as promoted by Little Kids Rock, the largest nonprofit organization that promotes Modern Band in schools ( By offering this Modern Band program, VCS will be one of the first schools in Maine (one of only 25) and most likely the smallest school in the state to offer a Modern Band program.

The philosophy of Modern Band is that music can be learned as a child would learn a language. A child speaks a language long before they learn how to read and write it, but much music instruction has traditionally involved decoding notation, understanding note values, locations of pitches, etc before making a single sound. Through the use of iconic notation (pictures, shapes, and numbers), modern band allows students to begin playing with peers as soon as possible and thereby removes the potential barrier of traditional notation.

You can probably tell that I am excited to start this form of music instruction—it really contains all the elements that I love about music education—popular music, learner-centered instruction, inclusion, and equity.

Popular music- I have always had a love of many different styles of music. By studying popular styles (rock, pop, reggae, hip hop, rap, etc) from the last 60-70 years, students can learn only 3 or 4 chord shapes and be able to play thousands of songs. The styles of music selected are informed by student interest, and can relate to their life experiences.
Learner-centered instruction- Teachers College, where I did my graduate studies, is one of the leading institutions for student-centered or learner-centered instruction. It flips the traditional music instruction of teacher-directed instruction and puts more responsibility on the students. The end goal of Modern Band is that students begin as a larger group to learn the chord shapes and rhythm patterns, but then branch out into smaller, student-led “rock bands” of about 5-8 students, with the music teacher in the role of advisor. It sounds ironic, but the goal of the teacher is to no longer be needed. The variety of music that can be performed is wide, and can be student-selected (similar to how students are already involved in selecting band and chorus concert repertoire). We may find that we have one small group of students that wants to focus on punk rock, while another prefers funk/R&B, etc.

Inclusion- Our school already does a fabulous job of involving all interested students in music regardless of learning differences or ability to acquire an instrument. The Modern Band approach of learning rhythm by listening, learning chords by shape, and using pictures instead of traditional notation opens the opportunity to learn to students of diverse learning styles like visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. With enough community involvement, we plan to acquire enough instruments for every interested student to be able to play in the Modern Band program. See below for how you can help with this project!

Equity- The modern band philosophy levels the playing field for all students. Students with strong listening skills will be equally as successful in this program as students with strong reading skills. Music can be adapted and modified depending on students’ comfort levels and past experience. By offering the program as part of Flex Friday, no student has to make special transportation arrangements or meet certain academic requirements to join (beyond being in 3rd grade or above; the grade level requirement is simply because larger instruments would make it more difficult for students younger than 3rd grade).

Another wonderful aspect of Modern Band is that it will complement our already strong band and chorus programs. A student could play trumpet in regular band, sing in chorus, and then decide to try electric bass during rock band flex. What they learn in each of these programs will enhance their experience in the others. We also hope that students that have not tried band or chorus will be interested in participating in the rock band flex. There is no experience needed, and, as stated above, reading music is not a requirement.

It is our hope that a lot of students decide to try this flex option. Please spread the word that we are still accepting donations of additional guitars, electric basses, drums, keyboards, mixers, and amplifiers. Instruments and equipment can be dropped off at Veazie Community School, 1040 School Street during office hours, Monday-Friday 8AM-3PM. Donors should leave their name and address with the instrument in order to receive a thank you note.

Anyone that does not have an instrument to give, but would like to support the program can sponsor an interested student with a monetary donation. Sharing the gift of music is one way of continuing the passion for the arts that you may have experienced in your life.

Several local media outlets have been covering the development of this Flex option and I will share stories as they are published! It is an exciting time for the arts at Veazie Community School!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Using Google Classroom for Band and Chorus

I started using Google Classroom in my teaching about 5 years ago and I love it. It has several different uses: giving students a common starting point for in class activities that involve links, opening up activities for students to do at home, allowing space for organization and communication that can be accessed anywhere, allowing students to have discussions outside of class, and sharing files like recordings and videos of performances. Every student enrolled in 3-8 Band and 6-8 Chorus should have already received an invitation to join their respective class in their school Gmail account. Students in Middle School Band will have access to both 3-8 Band (for general instrument information) and Middle School Band (for more specific information). The nice thing about Google Classroom is that it is connected with all other Google apps like Gmail, Drive, Docs, etc. If your child is unable to access their class through Gmail, they can also go directly to and enter the Class Code when prompted.

The Class Code for Chorus is msu4e7t

The Class Code for 3-8 Band is 5gbhimg

The Class Code for Middle School Band is iz98k0

Your child should find the Google Classroom interface easy to navigate. The main page is called the Stream. It resembles the Facebook Newsfeed. Most recent posts appear at the top, with older posts further down the page. On the Stream, I will be sharing schedule reminders, tips and techniques, and links to listening and viewing examples. Through this page, students will also be able to access PDF copies of music that we are studying in class and sample recordings of these pieces. On the Stream, students can also send me questions, which is helpful if they are home practicing and get stuck with something.

The other important tab is called Classwork. This is where I could post a question for students to respond to.

Do not worry about the Grades tab. Google Classroom is designed so that it can interface with grading systems like Web2School, but anything called an “Assignment” on Google Classroom for Band or Chorus will not be graded; they will simply be an extra opportunity for students to learn. There will never be anything on Classroom that has to be completed by a certain date, it’s just default for “Assignments” to have a due date.

If you have specific Google Classroom questions, Google has a support page for it: Also, you can ask me whenever you have questions.

Your child should already be able to sign into Classroom and begin to check out the resources I have shared. I would recommend that students check into Classroom every couple of days to help stay organized. Have fun exploring it!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Guitars: Should I Start On Electric or Acoustic Guitar?

I have been getting a lot of great questions from students and families about guitars and more specifically which is better for a beginner: an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar. As a disclaimer, guitar is not my primary instrument. I learned the basics in undergrad and picked up a lot of tips from friends over the years. To help me with this blog post, I asked several guitar-playing friends for advice. Bob Papken mostly plays acoustic guitar, including 12 string, and he plays in venues around Western Maine. Mike Dean is versatile on both electric and acoustic, he has taught guitar lessons in the past and has played in several area bands. His specialty would be blues and jazz styles. Mike Tuell also plays both electric and acoustic. His specialty would be rock and he plays in several area bands. Josh Hunnewell teaches music at Mattanocook High School in Lincoln. I first met him when he was majoring in classical guitar at UMaine. I owe these players a big thank you for their help.

For this post, I’m going to try to start with big picture and then go into more fine details. Both types of guitars have more or less the same structure. 6 strings with the same letter names (traditionally tuned E-A-D-G-B-E from low to high). The larger part of the instrument is called the body with the long neck connected. On the neck are lines going across called frets. Both guitars are played the same way and the music would be written the same way (either tablature, traditional notation, or chord symbols) regardless of which type of guitar.

Now, for some overall differences. Acoustic guitars have a soundhole. Similar to violins or cellos, this soundhole allows the sound to resonate and be heard. Most electric guitars are solid body (meaning no holes; there are exceptions but we will stick with the simple answer). Because of the soundhole and resonating nature of the acoustic guitar, the body of the acoustic is larger and thicker than an electric. However, because the acoustic is mostly hollow, it weighs around 5 pounds compared to a solid electric guitar that would weigh around 8 pounds.

Another difference is that acoustic guitars usually have wider necks and fretboards and the strings are higher from the fretboard. Speaking about strings, some acoustic guitars use nylon strings (we would usually call these classical guitars) and some acoustic guitars use steel strings. CAUTION: a guitar meant for nylon strings should not have steel strings as the tension could break the neck off. Electric guitars use some type of steel strings as the sound is picked up by magnetic pickups. Electric guitar strings are lighter and take less force to push down. On average, acoustic strings tend to be a little more expensive to replace than electric strings. Because of the increased height and weight of the strings on an acoustic, it takes more force to push the strings down. My friends tell me that it makes the acoustic more revealing to sloppy technique than the electric.

One of the biggest sound differences between the two types of guitars is how the sound is amplified. Most acoustic guitars can only get so loud. Playing solo or for practice, an acoustic guitar can be heard fine without any amplification. In order to be heard well in a group of mixed instruments, an acoustic will need to be at a microphone or use a soundhole pickup (average cost about $40) which attaches to the soundhole under the strings and can connect to an amplifier. Some acoustic guitars are actually built for cables to plug in and have volume controls included. All electric guitars are designed to plug into an amp and have volume and tone controls. The ability to connect to an amp gives the player much more range of volume. A lot of families get scared when they think of how loud an electric guitar could play, but most amps have a headphone feature, so a student can practice silently, whereas an acoustic guitar will still be heard even when practicing quietly. My guitar-playing friends have said that amplifying an acoustic risks more feedback than when amplifying an electric.

On average, considering the price of just the instrument, electric guitars are a little more than acoustic guitars. The biggest price difference is that to be heard, an electric guitar will require an amp, while an acoustic guitar does not require an amp to be heard for practice or solo performing in a smaller room. However, in a school band setting, when many instruments are playing together, even acoustic guitar players may want to explore amp options.

Another type of guitar that we have not yet discussed is bass guitar. At first look, it is very similar to electric guitar. However, it has a longer neck and only 4 strings. The nice thing is that the name of the 4 strings are E-A-D-G (just like the lowest 4 strings of a guitar). Basses have frets like guitars and the letter names of each pitch would be the same as a regular guitar. The difference in sound (one octave lower) has to do with the length of the instrument and thickness of the strings.

For ease of reading, I created a chart to compare the guitars.

I would recommend visiting a local music shop like Mark’s Music in Brewer, Northern Kingdom Music in Bangor, or Knapps Music in Bangor. Other options if you don’t mind traveling farther are Mainely Music in Ellsworth, Musician’s 1st Choice in Augusta, or Perkins Music House in Skowhegan. By going to a music store, a student can get to hold and feel what different guitars are like. There will also be experts in the store that play themselves and are very knowledgeable.

I will end this post with some listening suggestions to help get the sound idea of the differences among these instruments. Acoustic- Ed Sheeran (Perfect or Thinking Out Loud), Goo Goo Dolls (Iris or Name), Don McLean (American Pie). Electric guitar- Jimi Hendrix (Purple Haze), Eric Clapton (Layla), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). Electric Bass- Sheryl Crow (almost anything she does), Joe Osborn (you might not recognize his name. He was a session musician and played on hundreds and hundreds of recordings like California Dreamin' by The Mamas and the Papas and Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel), and Verdine White of Earth, Wind, and Fire (they have some really funky basslines like Let's Groove and September).

I hope this information is helpful for you! Please e-mail me at if you should have any questions!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

VCS Music Program featured on WABI

So exciting that our music program was featured on WABI:

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Exciting Music Updates for 2019-2020 School Year

I hope everyone had a great summer! I completed my Masters of Education degree at the beginning of July, so this was my first vacation without homework in years! I went to Portland with friends to see my favorite band, Chicago. I got to visit with family in Massachusetts. My cousins visited Maine for the first time. I even got to spend some time on Cape Cod.

When I wasn’t enjoying some down time, I was working in the music room at school. We have made some wonderful improvements to our already beautiful facility and great music program.

If you don’t recognize the music storage room in the pictures, that’s because it had accumulated so much equipment over the years that it was impossible to get from one end to the other. The school purchased a new bookcase to store all our music methods and references.  

I repurposed an empty file cabinet that was on the stage to store our sheet music library. Simple bookends now keep the choral music on the wall more secure. The keyboards are now stored on their sides, allowing more keyboards to fit on each shelf. By reorganizing everything, I was able to free up two complete shelves for band students to now store their instruments.  

On the wall opposite the student instrument shelves is the classroom set of ukuleles with padded cases and a tall rack on which to store them that the school purchased. 

Behind the school building, a storage garage is in the process of being built. Once finished, the smaller set pieces from our musicals, our chorus risers (which have been re-carpeted), and our acoustic piano will be able to fit in the garage until needed. This will free up a lot of space on the stage and in the music room. The school has purchased a new digital stage piano. It plays well, sounds great, and has a lot of features, but only weighs 25 pounds and can be moved wherever it is needed.

In the music classroom, you will notice that many of the tables that were around the edges of the room are now being used in the intermediate wing, where they will not need to move around as often. In the front corner near the flag, the school purchased a tall storage cabinet to store xylophones. Speaking of xylophones, the school purchased 7 new alto xylophones. We now have enough xylophones and metallophones for every student in a class to use one at the same time by doubling up. In the instrument corner of the room, we now have labelled storage containers to help students to select and return classroom instruments. Worn out classroom instruments have been replaced and a few additional instruments have been acquired. Our local Home Depot donated a classroom supply of 5-gallon buckets for bucket drumming units. The school purchased enough ear muff style hearing protection for an entire class.

There has been a lot of bragging in this post, but we have a wonderful school with a supportive administration and PTO. We have accomplished so much in just a few weeks of summer. I am proud of our students and our music program and I look forward to another incredible year of music making.

I can’t wait to see you at our open house on Tuesday, August 27th at 5:30PM. I will have handouts available for band, chorus, and general music classes. I will be happy to give you a tour of our music space and to answer any questions you may have.