Career, music, Research, Uncategorized


Today’s assignment was to create a piece of music using a MIDI file, and I probably did everything the most difficult way it could possibly be done. Maybe I was excited. Maybe I thought things would snap together and shape itself into something beautiful, like a shiny magnetic sculpture.

Turns out it was quite messy, like an old Magna-Doodle.

I’m going to walk you through the process (at least the steps I remember), so you might perhaps not make the same mistakes I did. My goal was to try and create MIDI files to then import into something cohesive in Soundtrap.

I was so, so excited to try Groove Pizza. This is a super cool web app, where you can manipulate drum beats. I loved the “Bembe” pattern.

This pattern is divided into 12 subdivisions, so I thought perhaps a 12/8 feel?

All the drum sounds used were empty, conga-like sounds. I liked the idea of something soft since all of the drum kits I’ve explored in Soundtrap so far feel splashy to me.

Above is the Bembe pattern from the app. I figured that could serve as a fine foundation. Next, I thought, I’ll create a different pattern for a “B” section.

Here I had one sound subdivide in 3, one in 4, and one in 6.

And, since I was making beats, I thought I’d create a 2-measure fill to punctuate different sections.

Left is measure 1, and right is measure 2 with more notes that would lead to the next section.

I downloaded all 3 patterns as MIDI files. Next I went into the Song Maker app in Chrome Music Lab to create a melody. I thought I’d make something simple, so I stuck with something fairly pentatonic and slow.

I started with the lower line, downloaded that on its own, then added a higher harmony part.

I downloaded that as a MIDI. Yay, this is easy! Now just to import into Soundtrap…

Wait, my work laptop doesn’t support MIDI files??? Okay, how about my desktop.

Hmm….Something doesn’t look quite right…

I was fairly certain, when I downloaded the MIDI files, that they were either the same length or maybe one was twice as long. Like, even. Those don’t look even.

It took me a long time to figure out how to make the beatmaker conducive to triplet-feel patterns. I still don’t think I really did it. I figured out how to get it into 3/4, but the drum pattern really didn’t end up the way it sounded in Groove Pizza. I’m not sure putting it in 3/4 really did anything except adjust the length of the other loops I added.

Nevertheless, I just had to finish something. So in honor of Groove Pizza and my apparent affinity for the marimba sound, I give you Mozzarimba.

Maybe things not fitting together sounds good sometimes?
Career, health, shoulder

Grieving the Loss of My Old Normal

Hey friends!

WOW, it has been a long time since I was last on here. At least I’m posting now!

Today I’m going to write about something I had not seen addressed when I was looking into life after shoulder surgery. But first, I will update you on my life.

Going Back to Work…Kinda

On March 26th, I returned to work. My principals seemed surprised to see me even though I had e-mailed them. I learned later that HR had not distributed my return note…whoops.

It was a bizarre and intense experience to be back. I prepared all of the ukuleles for the third graders who would be meeting me for the first time (I would have started their lessons in January). I was so happy to deliver that first lesson to each group and excited to teach them the ukulele. All of my lessons went smoothly and wonderfully.

Band was a different story. At one of my schools, some very sweet children who weren’t even my students came in and asked if I needed any help setting up my classroom, so I directed them as they moved the chairs and stands into place for me. It was wonderful. At the other school, I had no help. I had to lift the cafeteria benches to move them into place, and they were HEAVY.

It was a shock to see how many students were still in my bands…not many at all. I’d left in December with over 140 total band students, and I think I only saw about 40 or 50 that week. It was the week before spring break, and maybe the kids didn’t know I was back, but it wasn’t something I expected. It happens over time, and I was seeing three months of attrition all at once.

There were a lot of things about work that I found physically overwhelming. The fact that I had to lug my laptop around to do any kind of digital work was hard. I went to my partner teacher’s classroom to work, carrying my laptop bag. Because I knew I would be there awhile, I also brought my lunch, water bottle, purse, and books. Because the school is gated and I had to walk through the office to get to the room, I walked about a quarter mile with all that heavy stuff.

Every school was like that. Every place I went, I had to carry a million things. Plus, there was stuff in front of my stuff that I had to move. NOT ideal for a shoulder healing from surgery. I was tired, very sore, and hungry because I kept forgetting to buy food to prepare lunch at home.

Mental Health Is Important Too

The straw that broke the camel’s back was on Wednesday, the 28th of March. I was originally going to help my friend lead the district honor jazz band, but here’s the thing…I was out late on Monday going with my other colleague’s band to festival, I was out late on Tuesday for regular band practice. On Wednesday, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and heartbroken that only three students had shown up to my last class of the day.

I could not even show my face to the honor jazz rehearsal. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I could not make it through one week of teaching.

The truth is that teaching music, band, or any kind of program where you build something throughout the school year is contingent on consistency. Leaving it for three months and then coming back is DIFFICULT because March and April are the pinnacle months of the school year.

And the truth is that I overlooked that. Because I wanted to be back so badly. I wanted to be normal again so badly. But I’m not normal yet.

My therapist (counselor) insisted on Friday (March 30th) that I ask for more time. I called my doctor’s office the following week (spring break) and got two more weeks.

And then, faced with trying to figure out what the remainder of the school year will look like, and feeling completely hopeless that my program for this year has essentially been ruined, she suggested last Thursday (April 12th) that I don’t go back.

It’s Okay to Feel Feelings

The normal that I used to be is gone and I am sad because of that. My situation is different from other kinds of situations, my work is different from other kinds of work, and my surgery was different from other kinds of surgeries.

Things that I used to do, tools such as exercise that I was using to manage my emotions and process my thoughts, are not available to me the way they had previously been. Other things that I do to help myself, physically and emotionally, take more time right now. I have to respect that.

I am nervous about asking my doctor to extend my leave through June. My therapist said that if he doesn’t write a note to take me out, she will.

The important thing to consider is, who am I helping by being overwhelmed? Is it healthful for me to work in that state? Is it safe for my shoulder? If my work allows me to stay out, I can start again in August with every system in place to be my very best self in my teaching practice. That’s what the students deserve.

In the mean time, I’m doing everything I can to just breathe. And making some damn good videos.

To start from the beginning of the shoulder saga, click here.

Career, Lifestyle

Having the Courage to Start

This is fairly verbatim to a video I made today. Maybe with a few added points and fewer “and….” ‘s. But I’m pretty much going to just copy and paste my video script.

A few years ago one of my colleagues shared about a poster in her classroom. We are traveling music teachers, going between schools, and we all share spaces with other teachers.

The poster said, “It’s not the finish line that matters. It’s having the courage to start.”

And my coworkers had a field day with this. Because HOW could the finish line not matter?

Does this mean results don’t matter in the end?

Does this mean you can do a crappy and half-assed job and as long as you do something in the meantime, you’re good?

Does this mean if you start something and then you quit immediately, the fact that you started is the only thing matters?

I think this third idea is what grabbed the attention of my coworkers. Because we are band teachers. Kids get very excited about band. They get their instruments, their books, learn about music, and some kids find out that music is hard. And they quit.

For those kids, my teammates were probably thinking, that’s the finish line. And the poster becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way – “It’s not the finish line that matters.” The fact that the kids started band, and quit band, and didn’t see it through to the end – that’s a dissonance that makes them want to disagree with the poster. Because it seems ludicrous.

But I’ve been thinking about that poster lately, because it happens to also have been hanging in one of my classrooms for the past two years. And I’ve been in this weird phase of life – on disability leave, not sure when would be the most appropriate time to return to work, thinking about starting this YouTube channel and wondering how much time and money I really want to invest in this.

I was thinking about what I should discuss this week because I wasn’t sure if I had any perfectly-formed thoughts about ANYTHING and would that even be worth posting about? I’ve been watching so many videos of these great YouTubers and their amazingly formed opinions and thoughts, and wondering what would be the best way to deliver MY expertise and feeling like a fraud because I’m not even currently working in my field.

I thought about a song I wrote once. A song about songwriting, that might perhaps be one of the most poignant and relevant songs in my life. It’s a song about taking an idea that came from your brain, developing it, holding on to it, and being proud that that came from your brain even years later. Even if it turns out later to be crappy or weird.

I feel like this song will always be relevant to me. The last lines?

Because what if I couldn’t sing at all? Who cares if the world isn’t ready for me to sing at all?

Today is the day I realized that I agree with the poster. “It’s not the finish line that matters. It’s having the courage to start.”

Please hear me out about this. If you are like me, maybe you are someone who seeks to work hard and do great things and make the world better. Maybe you want every piece of work that comes out of your brain to come out as a shiny golden masterpiece. Maybe there are a lot of circumstances stacked up against you and you’re just trying to be better, or there’s something you want to change in your life and it’s very different from anything you’ve ever seen anyone else do.

Maybe you are considering a big life change or even a small one. Maybe what you are thinking about could put a strain on your relationships or a strain on your ego.

My point is, starting something is friggen scary. Doing anything new can be terrifying. Especially when you are changing something about yourself or making yourself vulnerable.

Going to a yoga class for the first time? Scary – because most people in a yoga class have already experienced that. Starting a fitness regime, even in the comfort of your own home, is scary. Because what if you can’t do it? What if it hurts? What if you abandon it a week in?

Returning to something you’ve done before is also scary. Especially if it’s something you have been good at. You risk bruising your ego, and that sounds like the smallest thing in the big picture, but it’s a big deal and a big risk.

I’m freaking out about returning to teaching. Everything I’ve built in the beginning part of this year, everything I’ve trained my students to do, I just don’t know if they will still have that. I may have to start from scratch.

This is a big one – starting to be the change.

Having the courage to start to be the change.

I’m addressing this in light of the student walkout on Wednesday. I know my district was supportive of students who chose to walk out for their safety in schools. I know other districts may not have been so supportive. Students who chose to participate and speak out against gun violence in schools – They took a huge risk. That is scary. It takes courage.

It takes courage to model the change you want to see if it’s different from the norm. It would be much easier to just keep doing everything the same. But guess what? You have to take risks to grow. We, as a society, have to take risks to grow. There has been a lot of failure but that doesn’t mean it’s all over.

Because the truth is, there is no finish line. There’s no finish line until the sun engulfs the earth. Even after the last human dies, there is still a planet here. Even after we die, there will still be more humans whose lives are valuable and worth fighting for.

Even after my ego gets bruised from a day full of teaching mistakes, or from someone telling me my trumpet playing is full of clams or that I really need to check my privilege, there is my opportunity to START FIXING THINGS.

Have you recently been battling to find the courage to start something new or important? Have you recently taken a risk to change something in your life? Was it scary? I would love to hear about it. Please let me know in the comments!



Career, shoulder

Mental Muscles

Hey friends,

I wanted to write today about one of my favorite concepts. I strive to integrate this throughout working with my band students, who constantly are in a place where they have to learn something new all the time.

Learning an instrument is hard, in different ways to different students. Sometimes it’s about learning how to listen. Sometimes it’s about re-shaping what the face does. Sometimes a student has difficulty with reading notation. Sometimes everything is in place, but playing in front of a teacher is really scary.

There is ego involved with something so liquid as music. Success at something one time does not guarantee success a second time. Student musicians constantly experience potential embarrassment.

These difficulties are all normal and okay. We work through them.


What happens if we’re comfortable all the time? Maybe I’m sitting on the couch, mindlessly playing a game on my phone with the TV on cartoons (this may or may not be something I do every morning). My body is using minimal energy, just resting. There is no challenge to the muscles and no growth in strength. There is no progress.

The same thing happens with the mind, and this where my anecdote of the day comes in. Because I haven’t been working – I’ve been on disability leave for six weeks and still have six more weeks to go. And that’s a big deal to me.

Something you should know about me – I’m an introvert. That is a part of my personality that I am very aware of. (Introverts tend to be very aware that they’re introverts. Many of the most charismatic educators I’ve ever learned from have confided to me about their introversion.)

And I have a natural inclination to be shy. This is something I’ve worked on my whole life. My career (talking to students and adults) has lent itself very well as a stage to my explicit practice of social skills. I love talking to people. But I get nervous if there are problems – they are uncomfortable. It has taken me years of work to get to a place where I can talk to people as freely as I do about issues at work.

This takes work and maintenance. Just like anyone with a hot muscle-y bod, if I don’t do the work it takes to maintain those mental muscles, the skills deflate.

My Own Discomfort

I am approaching six weeks into recovery from a major shoulder surgery. Before the surgery, I was bendy-bendy-bendy. I could twist and contort both of my arms in all directions. I could bring my clasped hands over my head from the back to the front. I could lick my elbow.

So imagine my surprise today, in physical therapy, when I was asked to bring my arms forward and up, and then out and up, and I could only begrudgingly go about halfway.

It’s supposed to go all the way up!

One reluctant thumb up for this exercise…

I am embarrassed to say that this hurt my ego a little bit. I thought I was so great because I used to be able to do so much before. I thought, because I had worked so hard to stay strong before the surgery, that it wouldn’t take so long to regain my range of motion or strength as my protocol suggested.

I was so wrong and that was truly the uncomfortable part. It hurt like needles in my shoulder and like daggers in my mind. No way am I anywhere near ready to resume the activity level required to do my job at the present moment.

I was mean to my therapist. I questioned what he was having me do. He assured me that he was following the protocol outlined by my doctor. I am embarrassed that I didn’t trust him for a second and I plan on apologizing next time.


One of my favorite professional development talks I ever went to was a session called “Mindfulness, Discomfort, and Growth.” It was geared toward teaching GATE kids, but I firmly believe that students and humans of all needs can extract value from taking a mental inventory of any uncomfortable moment. (The presenter was Dave Mochel, by the way.)

I loved it when he said, “The best two times to practice mindfulness are when things are going really well, and when they aren’t.” When I got home from PT this morning, I immediately prepared my dog for a walk and prepared my brain to feel some feelings. Years ago, I would have felt hopeless about my situation and cried on the couch. (This is still a valid thing to do, but I’ve gone through this process so many times I’ve learned how to streamline it/save it for later.)

As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I immersed myself mentally into every aspect of how I felt. My arm already aches. It will hurt more tomorrow. I will plan on breathing through the physical pain that I know is in my future. I will probably do a drug.

There is also mental discomfort. I regret that I gave my therapist attitude. I retraced the steps that prompted that behavior. I realized that some of my mental/social muscles (usually exercised at work) have weakened. I will work on mending that important relationship.

Through mindfulness I can figure out the source of our discomfort, and create a plan to either fix it or work through it. And there is growth. It’s my most powerful tool.



Why Notes? Why Embellishments?


I already had this all set up from 2 years ago so I thought I would give it another go. I changed the title. The reason is easy enough.

“Notes” because I’m a musician and music teacher and I do like to track my thoughts.

“Embellishments” because I also like to…embellish my thoughts. And in certain performing situations it’s suitable for a musician to “embellish” the piece. That is, add a little more than what’s written on the page. As any person reads an event or series of events that affects them, their experience consists of much more than what actually physically happens.

And as a person who tends to take concepts from certain experiences and apply them to other wildly different experiences I liked the idea of two musical terms that mean something else taken outside the music context. Word nerd, what can I say.

So please enjoy!



Why do I have this?

Hello Internet,

I’ve been thinking of starting this blog for awhile now. I was originally planning to do start next August, but why, oh why wait if I have an idle hour and a half on a Friday afternoon?

My name is Stephanie and I teach music at a public school. I want to keep most of who and where I am private, but it’s probably important to know that I live in California, a huge state with a ton of diversity, many English learners, and a very long teacher credentialing/induction process. Usually it takes 3 years to obtain a clear teaching credential, but for me it has taken 5. I just turned in my final portfolio this past Monday.

The reason I’ve decided to start this is because of one of the prompts in my portfolio. It asked me to reflect on my progress toward goals I made that aligned with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTPs). The note was really what captured my attention:

Continuous professional learning and ongoing progress on CSTP developmental levels is not expected to conclude solely over the course of an inquiry cycle. All teachers should understand that certain areas may take years to develop into the more advanced levels, as aspired to and reflected upon throughout a career in education.

So there is that. Here is my personal challenge, though: I’m a music teacher. Even with a certificate from the state of California that says, “I’m a real teacher!” the reality is that I will not grow using the same avenues my core subject colleagues use. I need to reflect in my own space because there isn’t really a place for me to do it when the other teachers are working on testing strategies.

I have a few ideas of how I want to use this blog and how I want to continue my teaching growth past the “required” stages. One way is that I can look at one or two Teaching Standards and periodically reflect on them throughout the weeks and years. I want to keep track of strategies I’ve used with certain groups and what worked about them, and what didn’t. And finally, I want to use this blog as a place where I can compile some personal research ideas. I have an idea for a research project I would really like to look into–I want to collect videos of music lessons taught all throughout California, or maybe just locally, maybe all ages, maybe just the grades I teach, I don’t know–and keep track of what exactly they teach. And the language structures they use.

Because that feels like one of my biggest challenges right now, as someone who grew up speaking English and reading tons of books. What language structures reach my English learners without watering down the message? My most musical music teachers used metaphors and similes and phrases like, “Lean into this note.” How do you teach musicality when there is a language barrier?

I figure if I could acquire some videos of other teachers who teach groups similar in age and ethnic background to mine, and survey how they spend their time in class and what they focus on when they teach, maybe I could find a solution for myself.

So that’s one thing. I figure if I lay the plans out and publish them on the Internet, I will actually follow the plans. I think I must.

I want to keep track of all of my class components. That will be another use for this. It may not be the most interesting read, but I need a way to keep all ideas in one place. Maybe this is the solution.

I could spend a lot of time talking about a lot more, but I must get ready for a student performance tonight. It was nice to meet you, all 2 of you that might accidentally stumble on this.