After an amazing preconference day from TI:ME, TMEA kicked off their annual conference with wonderful musicians and music educators. Here are some highlights from Day 1:

TMEA First General Session

I have been waiting weeks for this session that featured the keynote speakers of Steven Sharp Nelson and Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys, joined by NASA Astronaut Douglas Wheelock. The session began with The Piano Guys performing, which puts you in a happy mood, if you were not already in one.

Then, Jon spoke to the importance of music education and how we, music educators, have the amazing ability to teach hope. With more people talking about despair and less talking about hope, music educators are hope. They show it and teach it every day. He then listed and thanked, from memory, every music teacher that taught him. 

Steven spoke about how he began studying piano. His sister just started teaching him. He then practiced to get better. By middle school, that awkward age, he realized that playing piano made him the center of attention in a great way.

Once finished, both Jon and Steven stood up and gave the music educators in the room a standing ovation.

Astronaut Douglas Wheelock joined them on stage. I love that he incorporated the STEAM philosophy into his talk. However, he mostly focused around the profound effect his music teacher had on him when he was young. He reflected on how his music teacher, Christine West, encouraged him to do anything. To live his dreams. To never hold back. He reminded us to teach with passion. When you teach with passion, everyone will listen and take notice.

Doug, Jon, and Steven ended with a beautiful poem put to music. Doug read a poem that he wrote to honor his late father. He related one of his favorite memories of how he and his father planted a tree in their yard, how that tree had grown over the years, and the effect that had on his life.


Applying 21st Century Skills in the Music Room

I always enjoy watching 2014 TI:ME Teacher of the Year, Catie Dwinal, present, so I attended a portion of her session (I am always trying to attend multiple sessions at once). Catie presented on how you can use music and movement, creativity, composing, and improvising music as ways to apply 21st century skills in the music room. Catie, a former elementary music teacher, now works for Quaver Music and knows their program like the back of her hand. It was great to see Catie relate the program to these skills and to answer specific questions about the program.

Neuroscience and Education 

It was so wonderful to attend this session presented by my good friend and fellow NJ music educator, Dr. Missy Strong. Missy spoke to neuroscience and music education in the First Steps Certification Course that she taught last summer ((based on the First Steps programs written by Dr. John Feierabend, published by GIA). I loved going to this session to learn more about this topic.

Missy began with the buzz words of neuroscience and education. Many schools are focusing on Mind Brain Education (MBE) and other types of buzz words. This means to us as music educators, that by learning more about how the brain works, we understand the learning process better.

The Brain Myths

It is good for me to realize the following: There are myths about the brain.

  • Myth: “left-” and “right-brain”. Fact: We know that both hemispheres are firing at the same time and working together.
  • Myth: We only use 10% of our brain capacity. Fact: In healthy brain functioning, 100% of brain activity is used at all times.
  • Myth: Everyone has a favored “learning style”. Fact: These theories popularized in the 1970s have been extensively debunked because students do not only learn in one way.
  • Myth: Music increases reasoning ability, ie the “Mozart Effect”. Fact: This is an example of the widespread impact of wrong thinking.
  • How do we counteract these myths? Let the brain experts do the research and the statistics. We, as music educators, need to be the savvy consumer of research and know some brain basics.


Missy’s presentation focuses on a child’s brain development from the ages of 0-9. She explained the different parts of the brain and their purposes. She spoke about neurons and why we need to care about them. Neurons carry information and they never touch. Neurons are connected to other neurons by tiny gaps called synapses. A baby is born with every neuron that they will have for the rest of their lives. I believe that she said a billion neurons each with 2500 synaptic connections. By age three, it is 15,000 synaptic connections per neuron.

What this means in basic terms, is every time you communicate with a child, you are quite literally shaping their brain. You have a great impact on your students. 90% of a child’s brain development happens before age five. This does not mean that children and adults cannot learn. It means that the brain is developing and you can do so much good with your students. It also means that you can do so much bad as well.

The Clay

Both hemispheres possess neural networks for music processing. There are things that only light up for music and not for language. They overlap, but they are not intrinsically tied. There are physical and processing differences between the brains of musicians and non-musicians.

Each child is a mold of clay that you can shape musically. The best time to sculpt it is right away. This is why I have Mommy/Caregiver and Me Music Classes once a month at my school. Learning about the brain from Missy has made me aware of how I can musically shape these molds of clay in a positive way.

Once a child reaches the ages of seven to nine, the clay is now a vessel. It could be something as small as an ash tray to a large vase. The middle school music teachers are now filling this vessel that you have given them. If it is an ash tray, then all that the middle school music educators teach the child will overflow and be overwhelming. If it is a vase, then the child will hold and nurture all of that musical information.

Three-Part Approach to Formalized Elementary Music Education

If your children come to you in early elementary with no musical background, then it is your job to pick up the musical slack. We have to teach them to be tuneful (they are able to sing Happy Birthday in tune when they are adults), beatful (they can move to the beat and feel meter), and artful (they feel connected to their child when singing to them). Every lesson should have three-parts: notational literacy, something about music (like “this is Beethoven…”), and should be “doing music”. One of the challenges that music educators experience is that they fall into a lesson that the majority is “something about music.” For example, a unit on dynamics. Of course we should teach dynamics in music. However, to look at that unit and to incorporate it into more of “doing music” and teaching the dynamics within that part.

From middle school and beyond, assume your students are musical. If not, work towards age-appropriate “doing music” activities. If they are musical, fill their vessel and give them plenty of opportunities to create, perform, respond, and connect to music.

Bringing Your Classroom to Your Parents Mobile Devices

This session was to be given by my good friend Cherie Herring and me. However, Cherie could not make it, but I am so glad that she could share her experiences with Seesaw so that I could include her materials and she could present “in spirit”.

It was a packed session where I showcased students’ works and how they can be shared with their parents and caregivers. Seesaw has been a game changer in our classrooms. Parents now know our curriculum as well as our performances. They are seeing our students’ musical challenges, progress, and accomplishments. As a parent of two children using Seesaw, I have seen my girls learn to read at school. I am able to start conversations at home from what they did in school that day. Seesaw has also given my shiest students a voice. In addition, it has given my students who need more challenges, a way to feel challenged and to show me their individual accomplishments.

My handout and free webinars on how to integrate Seesaw into the elementary music classroom can be found on my website,

I am looking forward to Day 2 of TMEA!



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