Assessment and Planning Solutions for Music Teachers

Elementary music classes are a vital part of the American public school system, and a testament to our belief in teaching the “whole child.” Unfortunately, due to testing pressures, budget constraints, and other competing priorities, music teachers often feel overwhelmed in teaching performance skills, aesthetic expression and understanding, and a written, symbolic, and mathematical language in the limited time available.

One important, yet time-intensive task, is student assessment. Since music is a performance art, authentic assessments require demonstrating musical skills. If a teacher takes just 3 minutes for each student in a 500-student elementary school to assess a rhythmic or melodic skill, that is 1500 minutes or 25 hours of instructional time spent on one round of testing.


Unison.School was designed to help. Technology cannot and should not replace a skilled, creative music teacher, but it can lessen the assessment load. With Unison.School’s assessments, teachers can assign students to log into a device and take a short rhythmic or melodic test at their own pace. Grades are automatically saved to a digital gradebook, with no further effort.

This allows the teacher to test an entire class in a short period of time (10-15 minutes) given 1-1 or a cart full of devices. In situations with fewer devices, students can take turns doing the test in one part of the music room while the teacher continues instruction to the rest of the class. Either way, a great deal of time is saved.


Unison.School also includes a complete gradebook with customizable rubrics for teacher-designed assessments, and a lesson planner that helps teachers organize their creative ideas. As with the assessments, our goal is to make the teaching process more streamlined and efficient.


Finally, students get excited about the tools on Unison.School as well! The digital xylophone, piano, music staff, and rhythm builder all provide self-directed practice opportunities from any device, at school or even at home.

For more information, contact Tim at or visit


Cedar River Tech strives to be the professional technology support company for elementary music teachers. Our web app, Unison.School, is an affordable, multi-faceted tool for teachers and their students, including lesson planning, scheduling, grading, and digital assessments. The driving force behind CRT is to make teaching easier, and give creative teachers more time to engage their students in active, creative music-making activities. We do not believe that technology can replace human interaction, but recognize that time and institutional constraints placed on classes leave too many teachers and students frustrated and unengaged. By offloading specific planning, testing, and simple concept-learning to technology, we hope to give students and teachers more in-class time for creative work. Our motto is “With planning and testing out of the way, there’s more time to sing and play!”



Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 11/16/2017 1:04:15 PM

Melodic Assessments Now in Beta

Melodic Assessment

If you have enjoyed exploring and testing with the Unison.School rhythm assessments, you will also love the new melodic assessments! By incorporating simple melodic staff patterns with our online xylophone, we can now test student's understanding of staff notation, transfer to barred percussion, and incorporation of rhythm!

As of tonight, we have three assessments, using so-mi, la-so-mi, and mi-re-do patterns. You may also assign these rubrics in multiple keys to up to five classes in the teacher gradebook. Unlimited access will be coming along with more levels of assessment as a subscription option in the near future, so stay tuned!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 11/8/2017 3:00:08 AM

Children's Abilities, Musical Community, and Technology

你好 from Shanghai and Taipei! I just returned from a trip to these vast cities on the other side of the planet, where I met with teachers and staff from the Motif Music Company to help them design curriculum for their teachers and the schools they work with. Motif offers marching band and musical theater classes to public schools. I had never seen a model like this before, where the company offers enrichment classes to the schools, but the classes were during the school day!

Young Children are Amazing

I also got to visit an after-school program in Taipei that included marching band instruction from the age of four! My initial assumption was that such training must be boring and/or too structured to allow students to learn creatively, but when I observed a pre-school class, I found it engaging, student-focused, and varied, including movement games, singing, and playing glockenspiels. When I saw a performance of slightly older children on mallet percussion, I was very impressed with the level of skill.

Seeing education outside of the American model allowed me to rethink many things that I normally take for granted. For example, I think many American school music teachers make assumptions on what and when students can learn that are based on the lack of musical experience before the age of five. When you think about all the research about how important early childhood music is, the concept of a child having little or no musical experience before age five is tragic and criminal. Yet, because our system of schooling starts at this age, and our culture has been moving further and further away from music made in the home, this has become the norm.

This isn't new information for me. My wife is a Suzuki teacher, and my son started cello instruction at the age of 3. I have many friends in the Early Childhood Music and Movement Association, Music Learning Theory, and Dalcroze worlds who have done wonderful work with preschool children. But unfortunately, no one has created a society-wide system to address the gap.

Private and Public Partnerships

Another new perspective for me was the joint private/public partnership that Motif's music classes represented. I am a second-generation public school teacher and strong supporter of our teachers' unions. I served as a building representative and on the negotiations team of the Waterloo Education Association for several years. So the concept of non-district teachers coming into my school and teaching enrichment classes is troubling for several reasons. First, as private company employees, these teachers don't have the same protections that unionized teachers typically enjoy. Second, this can be seen as a form of "outsourcing", and is potentially taking away from the positions of traditional teachers. The history of privatized education in America is full of low-paid staff, poor-to-average student outcomes, and for-profit companies making money at the expense of children's education.

After seeing the work that Motif was doing, however, I see that there is something positive about the ability to design, implement, and experiment outside the structures of a typical school-teacher's day. Specifically, Motif takes the time to train their teachers on a method and curriculum, and keeps track of their progress. I can't think of a single administrator in public schools that I've worked with that really ever understood my curriculum, and I know of too many teachers who basically stop pursuing professional growth when they graduate with their bachelor's degree. What if we had a system where music teachers across multiple districts were supervised and trained by a music person? The quality of teachers might actually improve.

Private or public, I think the goal needs to be on quality education for all children, which means highly-trained teachers teaching with clear goals and creative, student-centered lessons.

Musical Community and Technology

Before I left for Asia, I attended the joint First Iowa Orff and Augustana Orff workshop with Doug Goodkin in Iowa City. I’ve been fortunate to see Doug teach many times, including during my Orff Schulwerk teacher apprenticeship at the San Francisco Orff Course. He has decades of experience in creative music making and teaching around the world, and is also a very insightful philosopher with much to say about the human experience. If you ever have the chance to see Doug speak/present, do it. If not, buy one of his fabulous books.

One thing that Doug spoke about was the negative effect that ubiquitous technology was having on our society and children. He proposed that drumming, dancing, and other forms of music-making were an antidote to the underdeveloped motor and social skills that came from staring at a screen too long. He reminded us that in cultures such as the villages of Ghana that he has visited, children learn music as part of everyday life, and are constantly active and involved. Asking a Ghanaian if they drum or dance is like asking someone if they walk or speak.

Of course, I completely agree with the dangers behind modern technology. Even before the smartphone boom, I saw how recorded music technology over the past century has largely moved our society from music makers to music consumers, and the myth of "talent" has grown with the increasingly popular view of music as a specialized profession, rather than a form of human communication available to all. (This is also connected to the lack of experience young children have to music as mentioned above).

Yet I also know that technology can be a tool to enhance learning. It can take something boring, such as memorizing facts, and turn it into an interactive game. My vision for Unison.School and other music education technologies is to offload some basic learning and assessments to digital tools, thus freeing the music teacher to have more time to be creative with students. Like it or not, the future will be full of technology, and we need to discover ways to harness its advantages, while avoiding the pitfalls.


Whether it's the structure of schools, the influence of society, the abilities of students, or the influx of technology, being a music teacher in the 21st century is going to be all about change. I'm proud to be a lifelong learner, and hope that I can continue to help other teachers tackle the issues that arise!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 10/27/2017 7:03:15 PM

Install Unison.School as an iOS App

If you thought Unison.School was only useful from a computer, you need to try it from your iPhone or iPad! In Safari, navigate to, and then click on the "share" button (a square with an upward-pointing arrow). You will see, in the bottom row of options, the choice to "Add to Home Screen".

Double-check the title here, and click the "Add" button. You will now see an icon on your home screen, just like any app!

When you open Unison.School from the home page, it will open in full-screen, without the Safari toolbars!

Enjoy your newly installed lesson planner, gradebook, pocket instrument, and assessment tool! And don't forget to register to unlock your free 5 lessons and 5 classes for assessments!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/28/2017 2:19:19 AM

Gradebook with Custom Rubrics

The most useful tool is the one that does what you want. Unison.School's gradebook program is fully customizable with a built-in rubric designer. While a subscription to the Rhythm Assessment unlocks a quick and useful tool for digitally checking student reading and rhythm skills, it also allows teachers to create unlimited classes and original rubrics.

Unison.School is the single-stop app that offers lesson planning, grading, and digital assessments to make your teaching more efficient. Register today to receive a free trial of five classes, five lesson plans, and first grade rhythm assessments!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/22/2017 1:27:52 AM

Import Class Lists from Any Program

We're all about making it easier. Most schools today provide teachers with a digital gradebook in a School Management System such as PowerSchool or Infinite Campus.

Now, instead of retyping all those names, you can simply export a CSV (Comma Separated Values) file, and import it into Unison.School!

Setting up your classes shouldn't be eating up your important plan time. With Unison.School, you can save hours at typing, grading, and lesson planning!

(NOTE: Since importing can contain a large number of classes, this feature is limited to teachers with an active subscription, either for rhythm assessments or for lesson planning.)

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/19/2017 2:44:37 AM

Classroom Management for the Creative Music Room

One of the most challenging aspect of teaching music to children is handling disruptive and off-task behavior. A perfectly planned lesson with engaging material, exciting activities, and meaningful learning objectives can turn into a moment of questioning one's career or sanity with just a few children disrupting a class.

When I was an undergrad, we learned classroom management in the Ed department, from a former social studies teacher. While he was an excellent teacher, many of his suggested techniques were difficult to apply to an elementary music classroom.


Seating is the first place where norms of most other classrooms cannot apply to a creative elementary music room. Desks and tables do not allow room for movement activities, instrument ensembles, and collaborative work.

What does work in the music room?

  • Rows - Some teachers use staff lines created out of vinyl tape (for hard surfaces) or Velcro strips (for carpet). Rows are nice for giving assigned seats and making a seating chart. This can certainly help with management issues, by separating groups that talk too much.
  • Circle - If you ever have the chance to design a new music room, ask for a large circle in the carpet! Circles allow all students to see and hear each other, and create a natural flow into activities such as circle games, rotations, or taking turns in the center. Plus, with a visible circle on the floor, you can teach your Kindergarten classes to simply "follow the leader" to find a seat!
  • Semi-circle - The semi-circle combines many attributes of the circle with the ability to all see to the front of the room. This is an excellent setup if you choose to use chairs or stools instead of having students sit on the floor, as the chairs can remain against the outside while leaving space in the middle.
  • Scattered - Many activities call for students to have plenty of personal space. You can achieve this with little vinyl circles (there are several commercial options available) or by training the class on how to find their own space (stretch out arms without touching). Be sure to establish boundaries, so students don't make choices like sitting behind instruments!


At the beginning of the year, it is important to establish a routine for your students.

  • Greet at the Door - Regardless of how busy your schedule is, there is nothing more important for setting a positive tone than welcoming students to the class. This gives you a chance to greet them, give seating or opening activity instructions, and show them you are happy to have them there.
  • Opening Activity - Many teachers establish an opening song, warmup stretch routine, or even silent meditation as the students enter. Experiment with different routines for different age levels, but give your routine several months to see if it is helpful. The goal is to clear away baggage (frustrations, fears, anger) that the students bring with them from other classes or their home life, and have everyone ready to make music and learn.
  • Transitions - Children are naturally excited by much of the music classroom environment. They are not naturally careful. Anytime you are changing positions, especially when moving to instruments, it is important to not only discuss but practice the transition. The time spent up front to do this will save time later.


One thing that can ruin a class morale is when some students refuse to participate. Yet musical activities, especially singing and dancing, can feel very intimidating to students who are new to it.

  • Inspire - Often you can achieve full participation by simply launching into an engaging activity, and starting with the most enthusiastic students. The first reaction to those refusing to participate can be to ignore, and focus on those having fun. See how many you can snag with an excellent lesson.
  • One-on-One - Take aside those students who won't participate and quietly explain your expectations, while acknowledging their feelings and concerns. Assure them that you won't single them out or embarrass them if they are participating quietly with the class. A little heads up can really help them be prepared to be fully involved next period.
  • Set the Class Expectation - Despite student hesitations or attitudes, the bottom line is that your class is an expected part of their education, and they have an obligation to do their job. A good strategy is to begin the year by doing a "My Job, Your Job" review of expectations. Let the enthusiastic students set the tone that everyone is expected to participate, and then hold them all to that expectation.


Respect is a very vague term, that is rightly criticized by many as being meaningless to our students. However, we can teach students exactly what we mean by respect, and use it along with participation as the foundation of our class expectations.

  • Respect the Space - Teach students how to handle instruments carefully, practicing specific tasks such as removing xylophone bars.
  • Listen to Each Other - Describe the different types of activities in the music class. For example, if one person is talking to the group, others should not interrupt, and raised hands should be used. On the other hand, if students are asked to collaborate in small groups, it is expected that they only avoid talking over their own group. Role-playing these situations can help students understand when it is appropriate to speak.
  • Only Give Positive and Encouraging Comments - Teach students how to give each other feedback and suggestions without using hurtful phrases such as "I don't like it."


Children thrive on structure, and want to know what will happen when they don't follow the expectations. If we don't explain and follow-through with consequences, the students will understand that there is no authority.

  • Keep it Simple - Consequences do not need to be draconian or cruel. Often, the best consequence is simply a "time out" or break away from the class activity. For the majority of students, this will be effective, as they will want to rejoin the class and the exciting activities you have planned. Also, whether it's time out, writing a reflection, or something else, make sure the consequences you choose are easy to implement. If you make it difficult for yourself (such as finding students during recess to bring back in, or calling parents for minor issues), you may try to give more warnings and put off applying the consequence because you don't have time to enforce it.
  • Follow Up - Ask a student to stay after class, or visit with them during a time out, to discuss the behavior seen and better choices. Ask to hear their point of view, so they understand that you are listening. When appropriate (say, after 2-3 time outs for the same student), call the family and let the parents know what is going on. Discuss ongoing issues with your administrators, and ask for strategies that might work for that student.
  • Be Consistent - It's fine to give warnings/reminders, as long as you limit it to one. Being consistent can mean having many discussions and phone calls early in the year, but this will save you 10x the amount of teaching time later in the year. Also, be aware that students will quickly pick up on any variation in how you treat different students. While certain students may require specialized plans, be sure not to excuse minor misbehavior based on your own preferences of "good" students.


The creative music classroom is filled with intrinsic rewards in the form of exciting games, instruments, and challenges. However, it is always better to praise positive behavior than have to discipline poor behavior.

  • Verbal Praise - A simple "Nice Job!" followed by some feedback on a project can really inspire students to keep working. Sometimes we can say "I like how ____ is sitting quietly" to indirectly remind others of the class expectations.
  • Tickets - Many schools or classes use a ticket or "buck" system, where students can be rewarded with a quick slip of paper, which they can collect to turn in later for a simple reward item.

Class-Wide Issues

Nothing is more disheartening than the feeling of a class completely out of control. Yet most teachers will experience this at some point in their career at least once, if not multiple times.

  • Stop and Take a Breath - It is pointless to continue on with content introduction when groups of students are being disruptive, disrespectful, or defiant. Often the simplest way to refocus the class is to stop, mid-sentence, and sit and wait. Many times the other students in the class will ask the disruptors to be quiet so that you can continue. This also gives you a new "starting point" for reminding of expectations, and a chance to identify individual culprits for using your consequence program. If a large group is arguing or talking, it can be hard to identify who should take a time out, but if you stop, get their attention, and remind them of the expectations, then you can immediately follow through with a time out for the first student that interrupts again. In order to truly have an impact on student behavior, it is essential to break it down into individual students, so that you can talk to them and their parents.
  • Switch Activities - Sometimes waiting doesn't work, and the class will continue to talk. Take this opportunity to find a highly-prized reward for students who are on-task. For example, send a small group of focused students to have free instrument playing time, or hand out tablets for music game time. When other students finally pay attention enough to realize what is happening, they will want to join in the positive activity. This is when you explain that these activities are rewards for focus and listening.
  • Ask for Help - When you are overwhelmed, no one benefits. Ask your administrators and colleagues for solutions to help you get back on track. Invite the principal to come sit in the room and observe. If you do this proactively, the principal will hopefully understand that you are making an attempt, and will try to support you.

What are your go-to strategies for classroom management?

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/15/2017 12:12:54 AM

Google Drive and Google Calendar Sync

Unison.School users can now save all of their lesson plans as PDF documents to Google Drive, and all class events to Google Calendar. This allows teachers to easily share lessons and plans with their administrators or colleagues, without asking everyone to register for Unison.School!

In addition, all class events can be saved to Google Calendar. With this feature, teachers can glance at their schedule and plans quickly from any device, including a smart watch, with no extra software.

We are constantly striving to be the most useful, most responsive music teacher tool available. What would you like to see next?

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/14/2017 3:55:47 PM

You're the Professional. Let Unison.School help.

You've dedicated your life to teaching. You love your students, and they love you. You spend hours every evening planning the perfect lesson for the next day, and half your summer searching for training to take your teaching to the next level.

The promise of technology has always been that it will make our lives easier. Yet too often, we find students becoming passive consumers of musical content, rather than active participants. Technology can be like candy: a little bit is a treat, but a lot is bad for you. And with limited time, do you really want your students watching videos instead of making music?

What if technology made you faster at planning, giving you back your evenings?

What if, with a five-minute brain break, you could assess the rhythmic skills of your entire class?

What if students would use technology to practice at home?

Unison.School gives teachers and students tools that actually save time and expand learning opportunities. We don't want to replace the music teacher. We want to help them be amazing.

Teachers, register now to receive an account with five Free Unit Lesson Plansfive Class Seating Charts, and Five Classrooms with Rhythm Assessments. You also get personalized email and phone support, and the chance to help make Unison.School even better!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/5/2017 9:36:21 PM

Student Photos for Seating Chart

In Unison.School classes, teachers can now upload photos of their students in order to identify them more easily. In the "Class" page, open up the class, and click on the placeholder image, then select or take a photo.

When you go to the Seating Chart page, you will see all your photos added automatically.

While seating chart photos are valuable, parents and districts often have concerns about privacy. Unison.School has a strict privacy policy which forbids sharing of any student or teacher data, but teachers should also be sure to compy with school district regulations. Photos are not required to use Unison.School.

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/4/2017 6:36:07 PM

Folk Song Database Accesible in Dropdown for Lesson Plans

Many elementary music teachers spend hundreds of hours collecting folk songs into a binder, so that they have access to repertoire for every curriculum objective. While the act of doing this research is itself a valuable learning experience, it is not always practical at every moment. 

What's more, we often have these songs written by hand, or in a database that is inaccessible to our lesson planning.

Thankfully, Unison.School now provides you with a dropdown list of over 100 folk song and original scores that you can use in your own lessons! Simply select from the list, click "Add Song", and it will appear in the first Repertoire field below.

Of course, you can still import your own scores by using the "Insert Image" button within the Repertoire field editor. But now you have an extra 100+ songs at the ready!

What would you like to see next from Unison.School? Signed in members can comment in the blog below, or leave us a message on FaceBook or Twitter!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/4/2017 6:04:39 PM

Grade Book for Rhythm Assessments

Unison.School teachers can now set up multiple rhythm assessments for each class, such as a pre and post test. When logged in, you will now find a Gradebook option in the Teacher menu. 

From the gradebook, select your school session and class, then create a new assignment with a title, due date, and rhythmic rubric. 

You will see each student with a spot for scores. When a student logs in, they will see their own scores, and a link to take the assessment. 

There is also the option to alter scores in the gradebook. At the end of each row is an average score for the student. 

Coming soon, teachers with an active subscription will be able to create their own rhythmic assessments, as well as use the gradebook for recording other non-Unison.School grades. 

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/3/2017 2:19:40 AM

Sharing Lessons

Unison.School users can now share lessons with anyone else on the site! Choose per lesson whether to share with everyone or by district, building, or person.

To select sharing settings, scroll down to the bottom of the Edit Lesson page, and click on Sharing Settings.

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 9/1/2017 12:30:50 AM

Seating Charts for Classes

Starting today, all Unison.School classes include the ability to create free-flow seating charts! This includes the five free classes that come with registration as well as unlimited classes with any subscription.

Circle Seating Chart

To access seating charts, go to the Teacher->Classes page (log in first). Next to each class name, you should see a button for "Seating Chart".

Row Seating Chart

In the next few days, we will also add the ability to select images for each student.

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/25/2017 12:12:25 AM


Unison.School's lesson planner now includes the option to select your state standards from a dropdown menu! This is in addition to National Standards, musical elements, and media.

If you don't see your state below, or you think your state's standards are out of date or incomplete, email

Current States:

New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/22/2017 12:51:49 PM


Unison.School will keep getting better day by day. A new tool added this weekend is the Rhythm Builder. Students can drag and drop rhythm patterns into boxes, and then play back what they created. You can adjust tempo, meter, and number of measures.

In order to unlock other rhythms, please sign up for a free Teacher account!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/21/2017 3:21:46 PM


In my previous post, I talked about various resources for funding your music classroom. Once you have funds, it's important to know how to spend them. These are only my opinions, but they are backed up by years of experience and trial and error in several different schools.

Rule #1 - Buy What You Can Afford

Since our money often comes in small lumps each year, it's important to plan out what to buy now, and what to buy later. If you suddenly receive a large sum from a donor, think about one-time purchases (like a bass xylophone) that are too large for your regular budget. If you only have a small amount to spend, consider what you can still purchase of value (e.g., mallets, glockenspiel, small percussion, books).

Rule #2 - Purchase Instruments that Allow You to Teach a Full Class

I go to conferences and am always wowed by the unique, one-off, authentic musical instruments. However, one of anything, be it a piano or a digiridoo, is less useful than a class set of something. When you have one, you have 20+ students waiting for a turn to try it. There goes your class period, and the students sat and waited for most of it, not learning.

When I'm exploring rhythm with students, it's wonderful to have a set of hand drums, so everyone can learn the same technique and play together. Similarly, for melodic exploration, nothing beats a full set of barred percussion.

Of course it is possible to create rotations wherein each student takes turns but on different instruments. However, when looking to teach not only rhythm but technique, timbre, and dynamics, a homogeneous set is ideal.

Back to rule #1, remember that building a class set of instruments takes time. If you can buy 1-2 instruments every year, you are making progress. One idea I didn't mention in the previous post was to borrow instruments, use them in performance, and then ask for money to help purchase them!

Here is a suggested list of class sets, in the order I would purchase them:

  • Pretuned hand drums - Look for a set of stackable drums of various sizes. Make sure the larger ones aren't too heavy for your students.
  • Barred Percussion - Xylophones with rosewood bars are the gold standard. There are some high quality fiberglass bars that sound almost identical. Metallophones are beautiful in small numbers, but overwhelming if too many. Glockenspiels are excellent for a high end. Look for balance between voices.
  • Recorders - You need at least a full grade set, or find out if students can purchase their own. Make sure they don't buy the very cheapest!!! Also, there are baroque and renaissance models, with different strengths and weaknesses. I like the ease with which students can play low notes on a renaissance recorder.
  • Ukuleles - For older students, the ukulele is a very versatile chordal instrument that fits kids hands and sounds good with their voices.
  • Large drums, cajons, other percussion

Rule #3 - Buy Quality

The axiom "you get what you pay for" is very true for musical instruments. With limited budgets, we're always searching for a deal, but make sure you have the opportunity to play anything you plan to buy. Come to the AOSA conference or a state convention, and visit the exhibitors. Ask questions of veteran teachers, what they like and don't like. (If you want my personal brand preferences, message me).

Rule #4 - Buy Support Materials that Save You Time and Help You Teach

With all of the books and software I've written, the goal has always been to make my job as a music teacher easier, and to save time from boring tasks while making more time for playful, hands-on learning. Be wary of materials that do the opposite - entertain students passively while taking up class time. Our children are surrounded by digital entertainment every day, they need more from us. We need to maximize creative skill-based activities in the limited time we have.

Yet there are certainly requirements in music education that technology can help with. Getting an accurate and documented assessment of student skills, for example. I can take time to pull out my gradebook and hear every single child clap a rhythm, or I can use a tool like Unison.School's rhythm assessment to test an entire class in 5 minutes, and be able to pull up their scores anytime.

Likewise, lesson planning can be an exhausting process. Whether you use a simple spreadsheet, document, or online planner, technology allows us to simplify this task.


Whatever you decide to purchase for your classroom, use it to inspire students to become lifelong musicians. Let me know what you find useful for your classroom! Reblogged from Tim Purdum's blog

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/19/2017 4:14:22 PM

Advocating for Appropriate Resources

One of the most amazing and frustrating things about U.S. schools is the wide variety of support for music education. While some children have music on a regular basis, others receive instruction every few weeks or not at all. Even when looking at schools that have reasonable schedules and full-time music teachers, there is a huge discrepancy in instruments, resource books, and other materials. What I have experienced over my career is that, regardless of where you start, it is possible to leave a school with better resources than when you came. Below are a list of resources for funds to support your program:

Class Budget

While music budgets range from $0 to hundreds (or on rare occasions thousands), the first rule is to always spend what you're given. Assuming you don't have the perfect classroom with barred percussion and drums for every child, there's always something to buy.

Building Budget

If you don't have a budget, or it is ridiculously small, you should still present your administration with your needs every year. Often, principals have a building budget that can be flexed to where needs are, and by politely making your case, you become part of that process. It's the old "squeaky wheel" cliche, but it's absolutely true. And of course, this speaks to why developing a positive relationship with your administrators is so important.

District Budget

Just as buildings ften have flexible money, so do districts. There is danger in being seen to go over the head of a principal, but if you are fortunate enough to have a district music or arts supervisor, or have a personal relationship in the central office, it never hurts to let them know your needs as well. In some districts, the majority of funds flow from the arts director instead of the principals.

Curriculum Budget

This is one area that is often overlooked. Districts normally have a curriculum/textbook budget that is separate from the building budgets, and is used in a rotation to supply new textbooks to various subject areas and grade levels. While some districts may reserve this for only "core" subjects (although according to the ESEA act music is a core subject), there is plenty of precedent for including the arts in this rotation. Even though this money is used traditionally for textbooks, our education system is slowly adapting to online resources. For music teachers, curriculum money would be useful for software services such as Unison.School, or even to provide the instruments needed to teach your curriculum!

Parent Organizations

When district budget options are exhausted, the next step is to talk to supportive parent groups. This can be the building PTO/PTA or a music booster group. These organizations can normally make only concrete supply purchases, but they are often very open to suggestions on how they can help the school. If their children love music, they will want to support you.

Local Grants

Many cities and regions have local non-profit organizations devoted to supporting the schools. Like PTOs, they are made up of local concerned citizens and parents, looking for opportunities to help out. Grant applications can seem daunting, but the trick is to dive in, and have a clear image in mind about how the resources will impact your students. They are also often looking for particular catch-phrases, such as STEM/STEAM. Since acoustics is a science that can be studied by the vibration of an instrument, there's always a way to tie things together!

National Grants

Large companies such as Target offer school grants, as well as professional organizations like the American Orff Schulwerk Association. Like local grants, you need to detail your project's goals. However, since these groups may not know you as well, it's also important to explain why your school is in need.


Finally, many teachers have had success with Donors Choose, the crowdsourcing of school funding. This allows you to specify materials you need, and go directly to social media and a national network to ask for support. Be sure to check with your district on their policies, as you may need permission first.

So what did I miss? How have you funded your music program?


Reposted from Tim Purdum's personal blog.

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/19/2017 10:46:32 AM

Unison.School now Live!

Unison.School is now live and available for teachers nationwide (US).

Just in time for the new school year, music teachers can now plan their classes digitally, with a unit lesson plan designer and rotating class calendar.

To save time and check on how your students are doing, teachers can also assess students' rhythm skills with the rhythm assessment, which gives you and your students immediate scores and feedback.

To get started, sign up for a free account, where you can try out all these features. Free accounts are limited to 5 unit lesson plans and 5 classes. Subscriptions are available for unlimited access monthly or yearly. Talk to your administrators about supporting you with this tool.

Directions for every part of Unison.School can be found in the ? menu. You can also ask questions and give feedback to or on our facebook page.

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/11/2017 1:15:25 PM

Assessment as a Percentage of Instructional Time

I've been blessed to have contact with teaching colleagues from many different states this summer, through my work as an Orff Schulwerk Pedagogy instructor. One topic that often comes up is the requirements of assessment in various districts around the country. First, let me assure you, there is no consensus. I have taught for many districts where the administrators are far too busy to worry about the music teacher and their assessments, and the teachers are free to plan assessments around their own teaching and their students' needs. Other districts require one or more district-wide common assessments, sometimes referred to as SLOs, SLAs, or CFAs. In some states, these standardized assessments are even used to evaluate teacher quality.

When one of my districts decided to begin moving toward a common assessment, we discussed assessment as a percentage of instructional time. You would think this is a common discussion, but try Googling my title above. I can find no research directly on this topic.

Since my district was simultaneously adding common assessments to other subjects like Math and Reading, we were able to make the case that the assessments should be proportional to the amount of instructional time available. Let's say an elementary math class takes one common assessment per week (which seems like a lot to me, but is not unheard of). In Iowa, many students have math for 60 minutes per day. That's 60 x 5 or 300 minutes of instruction for each common assessment.

In this district, music classes are somewhere between 40 and 90 minutes per week. If we take a figure of 50 minutes per week (for easy math), then it would take 6 weeks to have the same amount of instructional time in music that students receive in math in one week. Add to this lost time in review, with memory retention hindered by the sporadic schedule. So, logically, common assessments should only be given once every six or more weeks, not once per week.

Thankfully, my district understood this logic, and based on various different schedules we settled on 2-3 total common assessments per year for each class. This was enough for us to get a snapshot of our students and how they were progressing, yet not too much to be achievable by an organized teacher. It did not interfere terribly with developmental skill-building, creative exploration, or concert preparation.

Unfortunately, I have met many colleagues who tell a different story about their districts. In some cases, districts will require teachers to assess every state or national music standard every grading period, and do multiple assessments for one standard (pre, mid, post). This can amount to 50+ assessments in a year, for each class. If we go back to our 50 minutes per week estimate, these teachers see their students 1800 minutes in a year (10/day x 180 days), and must test every 36 minutes, which would be every single music period!!!

No wonder some of these teachers are ready to quit. No wonder they don't want to do creative, in-depth, student-centered, engaging lessons that take months to develop, despite the fact that every evidence suggests this is what students crave and need from a music program. They are literally forced to turn music class into a boring drill and test class.

One reason I started Unison.School was to help teachers quickly assess their students. The rhythm assessment that I created there can be quickly taken by students with access to any device: tablet, laptop, or desktop. Teachers can rotate students back to a few devices while continuing instruction, or bring in a class set of devices and test everyone within a 5-10 minute window. Students enjoy the "game" of the test, and class continues on quickly. Teachers have access to all the scores without typing or writing down rapidly as the students work.

But even with digital solutions like mine, testing every day in music class is completely inappropriate and unwarranted. We must establish some sanity around the amount of time spent assessing compared to instructional time. Even the U.S. Department of Education recognizes this. According to their Testing Action Plan from 2015, they state that standardized testing should be no more than 2% of instructional time. Even though this refers to state-mandated standardized tests, the number 2% is the only guide I can find to refer to any assessments, and I think it's a good start. Obviously, informal formative assessment happens minute-by-minute in the music classroom and elsewhere. I am not suggesting this should stop. Rather, we should limit assessments that interrupt instruction to a reasonable percentage of class time, say 2-5%.

If you are in a district that is struggling with this issue, I would love to hear from you, and please feel free to share my thoughts with your administrators (I'd even be happy to contact them myself if you want). We must all fight for sanity and a quality music education in our school programs.

Re-posted from Tim Purdum's personal blog.

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 8/4/2017 1:44:12 PM

Electronic Resources for Teachers

While we are aiming to make Unison.School your ideal destination for music education games and tools, there are a lot of amazing free apps already available on the web. We encourage teachers to check out these tools below.


Chrome Music Lab

Google has created a suite of 12 interactive games that are accessible on any device, and can be played by children even in Kindergarten. Students can explore rhythmic patterns (ostinati), high and low pitch, chords, arpeggios, and even drawing their own sounds.


 Learning Activities:

  • Rhythmic Ostinato Creation
  • High-Low Exercises
  • Drawing Sounds
  • Visualizing Wave Forms


Incredibox is a drag and drop mixer of pre-recorded loop patterns (ostinati). Each pattern is represented by a cartoon man with a different outfit. While students cannot create their own patterns with this tool, they enjoy the different combinations possible, and the simplicity of starting. There is an "unlock" challenge that students can try for by finding specific combinations.




While less kid-friendly than the above tools, Noteflight has much to offer your class, especially as a teacher tool and for upper-grade students. There is a free version to buy, and several personal and educational versions available. One excellent application is to show on a projector or smart surface the concept of transposition by simply pressing the up or down cursor.




For a more studio mixing experience, less focused on notation, SoundTrap is an amazing online tool. This is free to try with a Google Account, and you can create up to five projects on a free account!


Classroom Orff Xylophone (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows)


Music Staff Player (iOS)


  • Allow students with disabilities to play along without gripping mallets.
  • Allow students to practice on their own, with headphones, or download and practice at home.
  • Gives teachers a tool to try out melodies and arrangements on the go.

GarageBand (iOS, Mac)

  • Explore multiple instrument sounds and loops.
  • Create multi-track recordings.
  • Compose original music. 

Walk Band (Android)

  • Explore multiple instrument sounds and loops.
  • Create multi-track recordings.
  • Compose original music.
Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 7/11/2017 1:23:34 AM

Teacher Portal in Live Beta

Unison.School now offers a free beta trial service to teachers for lesson planning, class scheduling, and student assessment.

Lesson Planning (limit 5 lessons in trial)

Edit Lesson  Print Lesson

Based on the popular Creative Sequence Music Teacher app by Tim Purdum.

  • Dropdown menus with standards, elements, and media
  • Rich text fields with font formatting and inserting scores and other images
  • Printable/pdf view for sharing. 

Class Event Calendar (limit 5 classes in trial)

Month Calendar

  • Set a teaching session (semester, year), mark days off (PD, holidays)
  • Create a class, and set days in a rotation, days of the week, etc.
  • The calendar will be auto-populated with class events.
  • Edit individual class events, adding links to lesson plans, lesson steps with a check-off for completion, and changing times/days as needed.

Student Rhythm Assessment (limit to 1st grade assessment in trial)

Rhythm Demo

  • Create students with the class creator mentioned above.
  • Students can log in by finding their school name, class name, and number. Students are only identified by numbers, unless you choose to add specific usernames.
  • Once logged in, students that visit the rhythm page of Unison.School will be given ten rhythms to perform.
  • After completing, the score will be saved back to the teacher portal.

Like all of Unison.School, these tools are accessible from any device. To get started, create a free account. And please share feedback, so that we can make Unison.School even more useful for you moving forward!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 7/7/2017 9:05:40 PM

Never Enough Time

One of the biggest challenges of being an elementary music teacher today is the lack of contact time with students. Schools vary anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes on average per week in music instruction. Since most of our American students come to Kindergarten with very little if any exposure to making music, we are playing catchup from day one. 


We must also deal with the reality that teaching 20-30 students at a time to be proficient musicians is not the ideal model for skill development. This is why families that can afford it pay for private lessons.

Veteran and well-trained teachers (say, those trained in Orff Schulwerk or Kodaly) know how to accomplish amazing things with their students despite these challenges. They have developed sophisticated play-based lessons that engage all students, and gradually introduce new skills in a nurturing, mistake-tolerant environment.

The best teachers understand that their focus must be on student-centered lessons, where the children are actively engaged at all times in music-making and learning. Yet keeping track of perhaps 500-1000 students' individual skill progress and needs can be daunting. It is very easy for quieter students to "skate by," hiding in the back of the group. Individual student assessment is necessary to make sure that every child comprehends and can perform.

Assessing every child in a class can be very time-consuming, often taking an entire class period to accomplish, while most students are not engaged. On top of this, many teachers would prefer to give direct feedback than record scores, which is helpful for immediate growth, but makes it hard to reflect later on students' performance.

Rhythm Demo

What if there was a quick, easy, accurate, and non-disruptive way to assess your students? Unison.School will be offering such assessments starting this fall. To get a sense of how one of these assessments might work, check out our Rhythm page. You can tap the rhythms on any touchscreen device, use a mouse/touchpad to click the drum, or even tap the space bar on a computer. You can tap at any speed you want, and the program will calculate what tempo you are using, then check the rhythm against what is written. If you tap the wrong number of notes, it will record that mistake. If you tap some notes in the wrong rhythm, it will record this as well.

Rhythm Error Message

In the school subscription version, student scores will be saved, and sent to the teacher. Teachers will be able to pull up class lists and see which students are struggling with the concepts/performance.

Rhythms will be geared toward different grade levels and concepts (the demo is for First or Second Grade students).

How does this help the time-crunched teacher? Imagine borrowing an iPad/laptop cart from your Media Center, and assessing an entire class in less than five minutes. Or, if you have 2-3 devices available in your class, set up a testing space in the back of the room, and send a few students at a time to take the assessment, while you continue to teach an engaging lesson.

Not only will this type of assessment serve you and your students, but it can be tailored to any district, state, or federal requirements. Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), for example, often require a pre-test and post-test. In this case, the app can be programmed to have students re-take the same assessment after you introduce/practice the concepts in class, and the data will show the student growth. Teachers will be able to export data to their principals, use it for report cards, or share with colleagues for professional development.

So that's what I'm working on this summer. How about you? What would you like to see as a tool to support your teaching? Please share comments and suggestions via Facebook.


Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 6/6/2017 7:18:38 PM

Welcome to Unison.School

Unison.School is the center for elementary music teachers to find digital tools to simplify, expand, and enhance their music classrooms.

Designed by Tim Purdum, a veteran music teacher, Orff Schulwerk Teacher Trainer, and curriculum-focused clinician and author, Unison.School is geared to making your job easier and your students more successful and creative.

The Studio is a free tool to start with, where students can practice xylophone, piano, and recorder songs from any device, at home or in school.

Also check out Rhythm, which will soon be available as a complete assessment tool for schools by early this school year.

What would help you be a more successful music teacher? Contact us at to share your ideas!

Posted by Tim@CRT
Posted on 6/4/2017 10:33:03 AM