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Shark Bait – The Musical

Well well well, if it isn’t the random blog I established 5 years ago. Here I am again.

My co-teacher introduced me to the miracle that is Soundtrap a few months ago, and I’ve been having fun exploring music composition in that way. My hope is that, with my new position teaching 7th grade general music in a possibly remote or hybrid situation, my students can forge an outlet to explore loops, creating bass lines and beats, and so much more.

I wanted to create something with a jazzy feel, so in the loop library I clicked “Jazz,” and the loop “Marimba Cheesy Dance” caught my eye. It very much had a I-iv-V-type chord progression, which made finding a fitting bass line a challenge. I altered the notes of the “Montuno 2” loop to make sure it fit the chords. I added “Organ – Kingston 6” for texture in the beginning and throughout.

The “Bedroom Chill Lofi Guitar” loop added both some beachy guitar licks and a hollow-sounding drum beat. I used the Beat Generator to create and tweak contrasting drum patterns throughout.

Even though, in theory, I’d imagine some teachers advise starting with just drums or bass, or a foundation of one thing and adding more things later, I enjoy working in a more linear fashion. I say this because I added the SFX layers in the beginning, not sure of where they’d lead or how they’d come back. I think that’s part of the fun. I ended up reversing some of the SFX loops to create tension and release into new sections.

“Is this a legitimate form of musical creativity?” Of course it is. What is music for, anyway? Looking at these blocks of sound, it reminds me of looking at a score.

Loops are a great way to get students started with composition. The fact that the composer can alter notes in existing loops helps. Everything is customizable, but like jazz or anything else creative, working within a given limit (in this case, a pre-made loop) can produce amazing results.

Oh yeah, why’s it called Shark Bait? Well, whose life is worry free? Even a day at the beach isn’t free of possible danger.

Stay out of treble,

Stephanie

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!

Stephy

 

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.

Comfort

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.

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It’s supposed to go all the way up!

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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.

Mindfulness

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.

-Stephy

Lifestyle

My SMART Goals for 2018

Hey friends! Get your ponchos because you are in the splash zone of one of my teaching tools and it’s about to get drippy in here.

In this seventh year of my teaching career, I’ve started structuring my units and content around the goals of the students. And while it’s easy as a 5th grade beginning band student to say your goal for two weeks from now (or one year from now) is to “be better at the trumpet,” you may feel overwhelmed about the process of creating an action plan unless your goal includes these criteria:

  • Is it Specific? What about your trumpet playing do you want to improve? Maybe range? Articulation? Breath support? Endurance? Tone (the answer to this one is always)?
  • Is it Measureable? How will you know if something is better? Can you put it up to a metronome and measure how fast you’re playing that passage? Can you play a note for 10 seconds longer than you could before?
  • Is it Achievable? No, young student, you will probably not be able to play the Haydn concerto two weeks from now. But you will probably be able to expand your range by two whole steps if you worked on it!
  • Is it Results-based? I visualize an improved version of myself doing the thing I’d like to achieve with my goal. It has to be something you can attach to an end result.
  • Is it Time-bound? This one, in my opinion, is the MOST important when you are first starting to set SMART goals. Even if you fail to achieve the first goal you set, at the end of your time frame you now have new information about what you need to change and how long it will take for you to try again next time. Couldn’t get that passage up to 120 BPM, but could get it to 90 from a starting place of 78? Okay, next goal will be 108. (A little more than what they achieved next time because they now know the route to get there.)

So that’s my format with goal-setting that I use with my students. I give them space to discuss as a group what their goals as a whole band will be, and then they have some time to journal about what their personal goals should be as well. And what if they don’t reach the goals they set? This is okay in my class. Failure to reach a SMART goal is not really failure. It’s just a way to inform what our next goal should be. This takes the bad, “I’m not good enough for this,” personal feeling out of it and focuses students on the tasks.

This year I have a few personal goals and a New Year’s Resolution to reduce the amount of waste I produce as a consumer. For this post, I will be sharing my personal goals for the year.

My Personal Goals for 2018

Physical Fitness

The context of this is that I went into this year having just had a major shoulder surgery. Before my shoulder became such an issue, I was exploring my limits as a runner. I had finished two half marathon races and seen improved results (and physical feelings after) between the two. I also was practicing yoga 2-3 times per week, strong practices, in a studio environment and was frequently exploring those limits as well.

Of course having to keep my shoulder immobile for 6 weeks is going to put a damper on my fitness regime. So here are my physical fitness goals for this year:

  • Run a half marathon race in the fall (October or November) with a time of 2 hours 30 minutes. A half marathon (13.1 miles) is a familiar distance for me and this is all about getting close to where I was. My first half marathon time was 2:26, and the second was 2:15, so I’m giving myself plenty of buffer room. I’m walking about 3-5 miles per day right now. Obviously I can’t run until my sling is off Jan. 25, but once that’s off I plan to start small. (1 mile at a time in the beginning…that seems like such a small distance but will probably feel much longer when I start back up.)
  • Resume a regular yoga practice of 2-3 times per week, gentle enough to protect my shoulder but strong enough to strengthen my other muscle groups, by June. The 6 month mark after my December 15th surgery is when, according to my PT plan, I should be able to “resume all activities.” So if I follow through with the plan and follow all protocol I should be okay.

It’s important to know that when you’re working with a time frame as long as a year, there might be a need to adjust your goals as you find yourself getting closer faster or slower than you expected. You go with what feels good to you. You will probably not stick to your goal if your routine feels like torture, or if you don’t find it challenging enough.

Financial Goals

I’m going to be candid about my financial context: 7 years after finishing schooling, I’m finally starting to feel like paying off my 8 outstanding student loans is achievable. All of my loans are currently less than $5,000, most are between $1-2k. I have paid off 2 of them completely (once when I got a substantial tax return, and again when I got overlapping paychecks from a change of employment). It feels GOOD.

Last year, I got married, we combined incomes into one bank account, we got a roommate whose rent check goes directly into savings, and we got a new car. So lots of financial activity going on in my life. Still, the thing that by far has the most interest to pay off and is the stupidest thing to have hanging over my head is that student loan debt. So with that in mind, here are my financial goals for this year:

  • Pay off at least one student loan. Okay, so it’s a specific debt, measurable because when it’s paid it will be gone, results-based because it’s about getting rid of it, time-bound because I will do it by the end of this year. But how will I achieve this? Maybe this next one will help –
  • Don’t buy any clothes. This should be the easiest one. It’s a goal achieved by NOT doing something. Same goes for sunglasses, jewelry, and probably shoes. I may make an exception for running shoes if my current pair wears out.
    I’d love to be a person who is so organized I could say “I’ll take the money I saved from not buying clothes and put it towards this other thing!” But I don’t buy clothes unless I’m in a place where I don’t need a clothing budget. Therefore, I have no idea how much I spent on clothes last year. I judge myself often for this quality of my character. I’m working on it.
  • Put money aside (specific amount I will keep private) for a big summer adventure. One of my best friends is getting married this summer, and I am the maid of honor! So I’m going to be traveling for awhile.
  • Start saving for a new clarinet this fall. My clarinet I’ve had since 2005 broke last summer. Like, the wood cracked and the repair cost is more than the value of the actual clarinet. I’m heartbroken as playing chamber music is a really big part of my life. But here is an opportunity to become a better musician with a better tool. And until then, I have my trumpet.

Professional Goals

I’m basically taking a gap year in the middle of the school year – I worked for 4 months, will be on disability for 3 months, and will be back at work for only 3 months. So my professional goals for the remainder of this school year?

  • Stay calm and take at least 2 weeks to assess the progress students have made in my absence. I will breathe. I will reinforce behavior expectations I set at the beginning of the year. I will remember that kids are only human and it’s easy to forget the small stuff in band. I will be candid about mistakes when I make them in front of the students.
  • Reduce clutter in the context of my unusual teaching situation. Actually organize the file box that lives in my trunk. Keep the original music parts in a folder in the file box and do not accidentally give them to students. Only bring materials I will absolutely need to my classroom situation.
  • Brainstorm and memorize at least 3 activities students can do in the inevitable situation that some kid’s valve gets stuck and I have to fix it right then and there.
  • Figure out a better classroom system for teaching clarinet players to play over the break. What will the other kids be doing at that time???

I know, my job is very specific.

Staying SMART

It would be irresponsible for me to say, “This is how you create a SMART goal and these are mine!” And then for me to leave the post without giving you any ideas or tools for staying accountable to your goals.

I have to admit that this part is very challenging for me as a person. I reach out in a thousand directions and don’t often follow through with every route I explore. Everyone has different methods of self-monitoring that work for them. Here are some things that work for me:

  • Google Calendar. (Or a paper calendar!!! Or a planner!) There are probably a thousand easier ways to keep track of your time-bound goals, but looking at a calendar helps me the most. I use the reminder feature constantly to remind myself to do my shoulder exercises, to help process how many days I did this or that or the other, keep track of what lesson I taught the third grade classes last week, and (VERY important since I am an itinerant teacher) where to be.
    I only went to the wrong school once so far this school year!
    A thing I do that helps me immensely: I color code my time commitments. Each school is its own color, doctor appointments are lavender, social plans are orange, music ensembles are dark purple, and I think volunteer things are yellow. When I start running again, I think they will be “Flamingo” colored.
  • Mint. I love this app. You can keep track of all your money-related accounts, your credit card, student loan debts, savings, etc. They inform you of your credit score (which for me has risen 250 points since using this tool). They have a tool you can use to help fund your financial goals – a specific “Goals” tool. They also categorize your expenses for you. (Maybe I could find out how much I spent on clothes last year after all…)
  • The 8,000 health tracker apps out there. Yeah, if you have a smart phone, there aren’t any excuses if you plan on achieving your goals. I use Runkeeper because they have good half marathon plans. I will take the workouts they schedule for me and jot them in my Google Calendar so I know when I’m done teaching that day, “Oh, I have to go home and run 4 miles.” Or if I have the foresight to look the day before, “Oh, I should bring my running clothes with me so I can run 4 miles before I get home.”
    I don’t feel a big need to track my food intake, but I’ve heard good things about Chron-o-meter if that’s a goal for you. Shop around for apps that will help you achieve your goals!
  • A journal or notebook. If one of your goals is to limit your screen time (which I’m having trouble with lately) you may consider using a notebook or journal to help keep track of your goal progress. There are a plethora of ways you can do this. Some ideas:
    • Give each goal its own page or group of pages.
    • Write down specific action steps for each goal.
    • When you’ve worked on one action step, record what you did to get there. And maybe, how did it feel? What did you learn? How might you approach this differently next time? What failed? What felt comfortable or uncomfortable? (Sorry, my teacher is showing.)
  • Friends. Share your goals with your friends. Do it. Do it! Share your progress. Share your failures. The more you talk about your goals to the people close to you, the more presence they will have in your everyday life. Your friends will be curious and ask about your progress. Your friends will hold you accountable. Your friends may even feel empowered to work with you toward their own, similar goals. A mutually beneficial friendship. What better thing is there?

I hope this post has been helpful for you in your journey. What did I miss? What have you done that’s worked for you? Please share in the comments! And have a lovely week.

Stephy