Instrumental Music
5th Grade Band & Orchestra
with Mrs. Ashford

Music Notes - What's going on in Instrumental Music this week?

September 26 - 30, 2022

Dear Music Families,

Time has flown by quickly over the last few weeks. I hope your child is having fun while learning a lot! This newsletter will hopefully answer all of your questions and wonderments. I apologize, it isn't translated into other languages automatically. Here we go!

Queridas familias de la música,

El tiempo ha pasado rápido en las últimas semanas. ¡Espero que su hijo se divierta mientras aprende mucho! Esperamos que este boletín responda a todas sus preguntas y asombro. Pido disculpas, no se traduce a otros idiomas automáticamente. ¡Aquí vamos!

Every music student should now have an instrument.

  • If you asked to borrow an instrument from the school and have not received a loan agreement yet, please ASK your child for it. It may be stuffed at the bottom of a backpack. I can not send an instrument home without that form being signed by an adult and returned.

  • If you are renting an instrument from a music store, THANK YOU! If you haven't done so, please do it this week! If the music store needs time to receive it and set it up, just have your child tell me so.

  • If you own an instrument, that's AWESOME! Please ask your child if it needs any maintenance. Musicians usually have their instrument checked-over once a year. Little changes happen over time, but they add up to make a big difference!

This is a great age to practice responsibility! Teach your child how to set a reminder on their phone or tablet, or mark their calendar to remember to bring the instrument to school on music day. I find it's best to put the instrument next to the backpack or shoes the night before. Also, please refrain from bringing a forgotten instrument to school. If you catch your child forgetting the instrument on music day, they owe you a hug and a chore!

About music books and folders:

  • 2nd year (Advanced) students should all have an Essential Elements book. This book is to be returned at the end of the school year. Students have been reminded to write lightly in pencil, never in ink.

  • 1st year (Beginning) students will receive their books in a couple of weeks. They are still being printed. We have plenty to work on while we wait!

  • Books and other music papers will be kept together in a music envelope or folder. Please be sure this does not get recycled or thrown away! Feel free to reinforce it with your choice of tape (as needed), and your child may decorate it! This will be used for the school year.

About practicing at home:

  • Please make sure there is a good place and time each day for your child to practice at home. Practice at home is essential for success. I will talk more about music stands in a future newsletter.

  • Advanced students should be practicing the equivalent of 50+ minutes each week, if possible 10-15 minutes each day. This number will increase a little over the next few weeks.

  • Beginning students are asked to practice just 5 or so minutes at a time. We start with this smaller number to build all of the right muscles to sit properly, hold the instrument properly, and make a good sound. Practicing for long periods of time at the start can cause bad habits, so please remind your child not to over-do it. We will add more minutes over the next few weeks, and then your child can do 15-minute sessions or longer, if they wish!

What should I be hearing at home this week?

  • Advanced Band and Advanced Orchestra students are reviewing pages 4 & 5 in their Essential Elements book. They should be trying pages 6 & 7 after this week's lesson. They are encouraged to peek ahead in the book if they wish.

  • Beginning Band students are making sounds on their mouthpieces. The Mouthpiece Challenge includes: a gentle nice tone (remember to smile!), long tones (belly breath!), and rhythms (strawberry seed tongue). After that becomes easier, try moving the mouthpiece off and on again between sounds, to practice making a clear pitch on the first try.

      • Trumpet and trombone students are also asked to make high and low sounds, siren sounds, and try songs of their choice on the mouthpiece only. Please find a cloth to keep in the instrument case. An old washcloth or rag is perfect. This will be used to empty our "spit valve", so the condensation doesn't go directly onto the music room floor. (Ew!)

      • Flute students may blow with the right end covered for a low sound, uncovered for a high sound. When the Mouthpiece Challenge is more comfortable, try a song with just the mouthpiece by moving the right first finger into the open end.

      • Clarinet students are putting their mouthpiece on the barrel, then put the reed on with the "ligature". They will have the added challenge of learning how to handle the reed without breaking that delicate, thin tip!

  • Beginning string students (violin, cello) should be able to name several parts of the instrument, and have learned two songs by rote in guitar position: The Ant Chant and Hoe Down. These are open string songs, plucked with the right hand while the left hand holds the neck of the instrument. Some classes have tried using left hand fingers on the fingerboard. Violinists may have time to try shoulder position this week or next week. We are not using the bow or rosin yet, so please resist the temptation to use it.

If you are interested in more music opportunities outside of school hours, see the Blue Devils C-Corps flyer below. This program is for brass, percussion, and dance. If you have never heard of the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, look for news or videos about this World Class organization--they are right here in our own backyard!

Please email me if you need more information, or if you have any questions or concerns.

Musically Yours,

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
El Monte, Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace STEM Magnet, Westwood, and Wren Avenue School of the Arts
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

P.S. Missing 4th grade instrumental music? If you wish to send our district Board Members and Superintendent a gentle reminder that families want 4th grade instrumental music reinstated, there are two ways to do it. You can address the board in person in a Public Comment, or you can send a Public Comment message. Both ways are viewable online by the public. This web page has instructions: MDUSD Board Meeting Information. MDUSD has been supportive of the elementary instrumental music program for many decades, and I, personally and professionally, am appreciative of that.
(This message will be repeated.)


September 12 - 16, 2022

Dear Music Families,

The registration period is winding down. We are test-driving the schedule to be sure it is the best possible match for students and classroom teachers.

If you are renting an instrument, this is the time to do it if you haven't done it yet. The closest music stores are C&L Music on Monument Blvd near Costco, and Rockin' Robbies on Colfax near Todos Santos Plaza.

If you own an instrument, be sure it works! If you have doubts, bring it to a music instrument repair shop and ask for an estimate or a tune-up.

Most families who need to borrow a district-owned instrument are receiving the Instrument Loan Agreement Form this week. These instruments will be handed out to students as the completed forms are returned. We will begin playing instruments even though some students don't have their instrument yet. They will learn what to do when they DO finally have the instrument!

A few students might not get an Instrument Loan Agreement Form yet. Either they registered later, or I need to find an instrument from another school. I will try my best to get an instrument for every family who needs one!

Our routine is just now getting started. I ask families to refrain from bringing forgotten instruments to school. It is my hope that one lesson without an instrument will help the child remember to bring it after that. You might write a note in your family calendar or set an alarm on a cell phone or tablet the night before, or a few minutes before you usually leave the house on music day.

This is an exciting part of the year for musicians, especially first-timers! I encourage students to practice 5-10 minutes each night. No more than that, because tired muscles cause bad habits. Later on, we will increase the amount to 10-15 minutes each night. If a student has a night or two that is very busy, they can add more minutes to other nights (or weekends!), and skip practice on those busy nights.

At first, practice at home is mainly to build muscles and get used to the posture and correct instrument hold. Soon we will be moving on to more skills, like learning new notes, rhythms, and songs.

For Fun - If you are interested in attending a free event, Concord High School is hosting their 2nd Annual Battle of the Bands on Saturday from 5pm to 8 pm. This is a free concert!

As always, feel free to send me your questions! Email is the best way to contact me, but you can also send a note with your child on music day.

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
El Monte, Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace STEM Magnet, Westwood, and Wren Avenue School of the Arts
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

P.S. Missing 4th grade instrumental music? If you wish to send our district Board Members and Superintendent a gentle reminder that families want 4th grade instrumental music reinstated, there are two ways to do it. You can address the board in person in a Public Comment, or you can send a Public Comment message. Both ways are viewable by the public. This web page has instructions: MDUSD Board Meeting Information. MDUSD has been supportive of the elementary instrumental music program for many decades, and I, personally and professionally, am appreciative of that. I had my first lessons as a 4th grader in MDUSD. Share YOUR story! (This message will be repeated.)

September 5-9, 2022

Dear Music Families,

I'll miss seeing Wren Avenue students on Labor Day! And hopefully I won't be called in for jury duty, otherwise my Thursday and Friday students might miss a lesson, too. We shall see. When I am absent or if there is a holiday, band and orchestra classes are cancelled for that day.

This week:

  • We will begin using a schedule. I am working with the classroom teachers to make it as good as possible. They will know what time to send students on music day.

  • I will be preparing Instrument Loan Agreement forms, for those who requested to use a district-owned instrument. Some forms will go out later than others, because I may need to borrow instruments from other schools. These forms are to be signed and returned before I hand out the instrument.

  • We might not be making sounds on instruments until next week or so. If you're renting, or repairing an instrument you've had in storage, now is a good time to do it!

  • In the meantime, we will be reviewing some music basics:

    • New beginners will get instrument-specific information that will give them a good foundation. The beginners books are not printed yet, so we will learn our first few notes by rote.

    • Experienced players will review their old books (find them!) while we jump into a new book.

Speaking of instruments, if your child forgets the instrument at home, please do not bring it to school for them. I will give your child a way to participate without the instrument, and hopefully this experience will help them remember to bring the instrument next time. Don't be taken-in by the big, sad eyes and the pouty lip!

As always, feel free to send me your questions! Email is the best way to contact me, but you can also send a note with your child on music day.

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
El Monte, Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace STEM Magnet, Westwood, and Wren Avenue School of the Arts
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

P.S. Missing 4th grade instrumental music? If you wish to send our district Board Members and Superintendent a gentle reminder that families want 4th grade instrumental music reinstated, there are two ways to do it. You can address the board in person in a Public Comment, or you can send a Public Comment message. Both ways are viewable by the public. This web page has instructions: MDUSD Board Meeting Information. MDUSD has been supportive of the elementary instrumental music program for many decades, and I, personally and professionally, am appreciative of that. I had my first lessons as a 4th grader in MDUSD. Share YOUR story! (This message will be repeated.)

August 22 - September 2, 2022

Dear Music Families,

Thank you for registering your child in Instrumental Music this year!

If needed, please copy and paste this newsletter into Google Translate or another translation application. I apologize for the inconvenience! Si es necesario, copie y pegue este boletín en Google Translate u otra aplicación de traducción. ¡Pido disculpas por las molestias!

Now that you have already signed-up for instrumental music, you might be wondering, what now? Be patient for just a little longer! I am gathering all digital and paper signups for each of my sites. I will form groups and create a schedule using information the classroom teachers have given me. We will begin music lessons soon (see below), but students will not need an instrument for the first week or so. I'll keep your classroom teacher updated with the list of sign-ups and the times I would like to meet with students.

Here are start dates and the music day for each each location:

  • Wren Avenue students will have lessons on Mondays starting on August 29th.

  • Sun Terrace students will have lessons on Tuesdays starting on August 30th.

  • Westwood students will have lessons on Wednesdays starting on August 31st.

  • Monte Gardens students will have lessons on Thursdays starting on September 1st.

  • El Monte students will have lessons on Fridays starting on September 2nd.

I will provide music books and materials, and I will also provide supplies for those who receive a district-owned instrument. Please remind your child to be responsible with these supplies, because our budget is limited.

If you requested a district-owned instrument, you will receive a Loan Agreement form to complete and return within the next week or two. I try to offer everyone their first choice instrument, but on occasion I may need to offer the second choice instrument. On very rare occasions, I offer a third-choice instrument. District-owned instruments are free to use for the school year! But if the instrument is lost, stolen, or damaged beyond repair, you will need to pay the replacement value which is listed at the bottom of the form. Damage due to neglect or abuse will also need to be compensated.

If you are renting an instrument, the two closest music stores are C&L Music (2395 B Monument Blvd, across from Concord Costco) and Rockin' Robbies (1835 Colfax St near Todos Santos Plaza). They carry all of the necessary supplies, and some fun gift ideas, too. They also have instrument repair technicians. If you plan to use an instrument that has been in storage for a while, it will probably need a check-up. That's a great thing to do this week!

I do NOT recommend you buy an instrument for a first-year student. If you are determined to purchase an instrument, please-please-please have it checked by a music store first, to be sure it won't cause your child frustration and heartbreak. Some instruments, affectionately called ISOs (instrument-shaped objects), can not be repaired because of inferior materials or workmanship. They are often very shiny, and are sometimes offered in exciting colors. Please note - if the instrument costs less than $200, it's probably an ISO. A good carrying case alone can cost $100 or more! A good, used instrument can be a much wiser investment than a cheap, new one. Again, be sure it has been checked by an instrument repair technician before buying--you don't want to buy someone's old, broken ISO!

A few myths to dispel:

  • There is no such thing as a left-handed band or orchestra instrument. Each instrument has an important job for both hands and arms.

  • Also, there is no such thing as a girl's instrument or boy's instrument.

  • You can't "grow into" a string instrument - a poor-fitting violin or cello will cause a lot of frustration.

Will there be concerts? The short answer is yes! Here's the long answer:

  • In just a few months, Advanced/2nd year students will go 'caroling' for their peers, younger students, teachers, and school staff during the school day.

  • In March, students will attend an Area Music Festival at Concord High School for families in the evening. Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, and Trombone students will play in the CHS Band Festival on March 15. Violin and Cello students will play in the CHS Orchestra Festival on March 16. This is the biggest event of the year for our musicians, as it will feature several elementary schools combined, plus 2 or 3 middle schools, and our awesome Concord High School musicians!

  • In May (probably), band and orchestra students will play a small concert for families at their school. I plan to send you a survey to learn what time of day works best for families.

  • All concerts are free, and you are welcome to bring guests if you wish.

Missing 4th grade instrumental music? If you wish to send our district Board Members and Superintendent a letter to request they bring back 4th grade instrumental music, there are two ways to do it. You can address the board in person in a Public Comment, or you can send a Public Comment message. Board meetings are recorded and available for the public to view. The email public comments are also viewable by the public. This web page has instructions: MDUSD Board Meeting Information. MDUSD has been supportive of the elementary instrumental music program for many decades, and I, personally and professionally, am appreciative of that. WHY should they reinstate 4th grade and keep 5th grade Band & Orchestra as an optional pull-out program? Share YOUR story--how learning to play an instrument has made a positive impact--to show the MDUSD Board and Superintendent that our community wants it, too. (This message will be repeated.)

If you have any questions or comments, please email me. I may include the information in my next newsletter to inform other parents as well.

Thank you so much for reading. Have a great week!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
El Monte, Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace STEM Magnet, Westwood, and Wren Avenue School of the Arts
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

Band & Orchestra Notes - What's New This Week?

August 11 - 19, 2022

Dear Families,

Welcome to the 2022-2023 school year! I hope you've had a restful and rejuvenating summer.

I'm sure you have a lot of questions about instrumental music. If this newsletter doesn't give you the answers you need, feel free to email me with additional questions. If others can benefit, I may share that information in my next newsletter!

About me - I have taught in MDUSD for 25+ years (please, don't do the math!), teaching mostly at the elementary school level. This year I am scheduled to be at five sites: El Monte, Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Wren Avenue Elementary. I have taught at each of these sites in the past, so I can honestly say I am looking forward to this school year! My main instrument is the oboe, which is much sought-after at the middle school and high school level.

About the program - Instrumental music is an optional program offered in MDUSD to 5th graders who wish to sign-up. Sadly, the 4th grade instrumental music program was cut indefinitely. Therefore, I will only be teaching 5th grade students this year. Students will attend one music class per week, for approximately 30-45 minutes. The instruction is FREE!

There are two levels of instruction:
Beginning (first-year, or new instrument) - Beginning classes start with the basics, no experience necessary! We learn how to sit, how to open the instrument case, how to breathe (really!). Beginning students might have never played an instrument before, or they may be switching to a new instrument from last year. If a second-year student wishes to repeat the beginning class (for whatever reason), the parent may request this. Likewise, first-year students who progress quickly may be invited to join the advanced class.

Advanced (second-year on the same instrument) - Advanced classes will begin with a quick review of the basics, then move forward at a quicker rate and with a different book from last year. If your child switched schools, s/he can still be considered advanced with one year of prior experience on the same instrument.

When are the classes taught? - Classes are offered during the school day, although I avoid pulling students out of math class. The classroom time missed needs to be made-up according to the classroom teacher's wishes, however, I recommend music students ask a buddy to take notes and collect handouts while they are out of the classroom.

Instrumental music has been a pull-out program for 50+ years, so I can say with confidence that thousands of MDUSD students have handled the additional responsibility with success!

I will meet with students only once a week, so practice at home is essential for success. At first we will meet without instruments, to give everyone time to get what they need. Beginners will receive instruction about reading music notation, while advanced students will review and move forward.

What day of the week will your child have lessons? Here are my sites/days:

Mondays at Wren Avenue
Tuesdays at Sun Terrace
Wednesdays at Westwood
Thursdays at Monte Gardens
Fridays at El Monte

How do we get in the class?

  • I will meet with 5th grade classes during the school day this week (August 15 - 19).

      • We will talk about the instruments offered and how to register.

      • I will have a half-sheet for students to bring home with some general information, including my email address and the EIM website address.

  • Our Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM) website has information, videos, and a link to register for the class online.

  • I will have a paper copy of the registration form, for those who request one.

  • Registration ends August 26, 2022.

About instruments -

  • Instruction is offered for: violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone. Advanced students might have additional choices.

  • Families who wish to use their own (or rented) instrument are welcome and encouraged to do so! The closest music stores to our area are C&L Music on Monument Blvd. across from Concord Costco, and Rockin' Robbies on Colfax near Todos Santos Plaza. There are other good local music stores, too!

  • Please, please, please - be very CAUTIOUS about purchasing an instrument from a store (online or in-person) that does not specialize in music instruments. Don't be tempted by the extra shiny or colorful choices, because they can be the WORST quality!!! It isn't worth the frustration. Most families have found it's better to borrow or rent for a year or two before buying an instrument.

  • If you wish, you may request to borrow a district-owned instrument on the sign-up form. District-owned instruments are free to use, as long as the instrument is taken care of and returned by the end of the school year. We try our best to assign instruments according to the student's 1st or 2nd choice. District-owned instruments are not handed-out until a responsibility form has been signed by an adult and returned.

If you have any questions, big or small, simple or complex - please e-mail me!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
El Monte, Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and
Wren Avenue Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

May 16 - 20, 2022

Dear Music Families,

It's concert season! Enjoy the last few days of practice if you have a school instrument. All borrowed equipment will be turned in after the concert!

The Elementary Instrumental Music program is going to look different next year, since 4th grade instrumental music has been cut. Music teachers will probably be moved around, and our schedules will look very different. Please remember that as parents, you can write the Superintendent and School Board to remind them you want to have 4th grade instrumental music available to your younger children (nieces, nephews...) when they are old enough. They need to know if families want the full program to be reinstated.

Meanwhile, 5th grade students are hopefully looking forward to having music as an elective next year, which will bring many more hours of instruction at school during the week, several new challenging skills, and a higher degree of musicianship!

All of this brings wonder and perhaps a little bit of apprehension. Who will my next music teacher be? What will they be like? I want my students (and their families) to know that every music teacher brings a different strength and new perspective to rehearsals. Between 4th and 12th grade, I had 5 different music teachers. Every teacher was completely unique--especially their personality!--and I learned so much from each of them. It was a huge benefit to me, and I hope your child can approach each new music teacher with an open mind and a little patience like I did.

Good luck to all of us as the end of this school year approaches!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

May 9 - 13, 2022

Dear Music Families,

Soon, it will be time for our last music class of the school year, and students will be bringing their instrument to school for the last time. Now is the time to get the last bit of practicing done at home, so take advantage!

There have been many topics covered in these newsletters that might interest you as summer break approaches. Ways to keep young musicians motivated, tips about buying a good and reliable music instrument, and more. Feel free to scroll down! But one thing that always works well with summer no matter the weather, is looking for and listening to various types of music played by professionals on the instrument your child plays. Knowing what "great" sounds like, and striving for that sound as you progress; realizing any instrument can play any kind of music (imagine my surprise when I first heard jazz oboe!); and raising a student's personal expectations beyond the first book - these are all the benefits from having a great listening library.

I wish you a great week, and I hope to see you at our upcoming Spring Concert!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

April 25 - May 6

Dear Music Families,

The end of the school year approaches--just 29 school days left! I have decided to get the most mileage out of these weeks by choosing selections directly from our music books for the spring concert program. They are shorter than regular sheet music, but they exemplify the concepts students are learning to master. At home, students should be reviewing their old goals, working on their current goals, and peeking ahead at future goals while they practice. This is what we are doing in class rehearsals, as well!

I have seen some amazing progress over the last month or so. There are students who are earning two belts in one week, or finally moving from a very stagnant white belt up to higher belts. There are some students who have been diligently working all year to produce a great tone or achieve better coordination, and are finally getting it! These ah-ha moments are inspiring and energizing.

There are also a few students who are losing steam. They conveniently forget their instrument on music day, or they participate as little as possible in class. I encourage them as much as I can, because it takes a school year (or longer) to get good enough to know whether the instrument is right for you. I will often suggest, "just keep trying until the end of this school year", especially if the student shows they have the ability. I remind them that I have never heard a person say they regretted staying in music--I have only heard people say they regret quitting.

On rare occasions, I may agree with a student if music is not for them. In those instances, I will certainly contact home so parents can make the final decision. Perhaps there is something else that this student will excel at, or maybe they just need to try a different instrument next year. It is my hope that all students find something they are good at, something that makes school (and beyond school) a more joyful place to be.

I wish you a joyful week! Drop me a line if you read this newsletter. Thanks!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

April 18 - 22

Dear Music Families,

Your child should be working hard to finish music goals over the next few weeks!

We have allergies, colds, testing, and beautiful spring weather all rolled up into one. It's so difficult to stay the course, so I appreciate all of the effort my students and their families are putting forth to make that happen.

Topics for moving forward are:

  • Spring Concerts

  • Plans for next year

  • Thoughts about buying an instrument (if you don't already own one)

  • How to keep a young musician challenged, but not too challenged

I am scheduling a Spring Concert for each school. This concert will be quite different than the festival. It will be smaller, and at your school. Band students, string students, advanced and beginners will all take turns playing music from the book to show the goals they have achieved this year. A letter will be sent to you with more specifics.

Next year: I am hoping all students will choose to play the same instrument again next year! Even though our district plans to have band and orchestra only for 5th graders, we can still have advanced and beginning classes. So if your child knows already they want to try a different instrument, let's make that happen!

All school-owned instruments will be turned in for summer maintenance. I will collect them after our spring concert. As you know, we try to make sure every student who needs an instrument gets one, even though it might not be their first choice. If you want to be guaranteed your child gets their first choice instrument next year (and in all future years), I highly recommend visiting local music stores for instrument sales. Some sell new AND used instruments,, which is a great way to save money while buying a good quality instrument. I do not recommend buying an instrument online unless from a reputable music source.

If your child has an instrument to play over the summer break, please know there are many selections in our book that we did not cover in class, so there are songs there for your child to play. Plus, playing old favorites is a great way to keep those music muscles in shape! There are books of music for beginners available at local music stores and online - even some of those are too difficult for 1st-year players, so you might also look online for resources. Some families have had fun learning music with YouTube tutorials. Parents - try searching online by typing the instrument name and then "sheet music". Method books (I suggest starting with book 1) often have a play-along accompaniment with a CD or online link.

Another way to keep children interested in music is to collect recordings and see live concerts. There are many kinds of music played on every instrument, both recorded and live. You might hear musicians playing in parks, coffee shops, at restaurants, and especially in parades and festivals. Some students enjoy composing, too! There are a few links on my Bonus/Extra page.


If you read this, let me know!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

March 28 - April 15

Dear Music Families,

Spring break is coming SOON, and it's a great time for students to rest, play, catch up with music goals, get ahead, or forget most of what they've learned over the last few months! Which of these will your child do? I hope not the last one! ;)

April is the last big push to move forward in the music book and learn as much as we can before the spring concert in May.

As March comes to a close, let's end National Music In Our Schools Month with a student perspective of our Area Festivals. The reflections listed below are for both Concord High Area and Ygnacio Valley Area. I did not omit any student comments.


Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

Student Reflections - Area Music Festivals 2022
MS = Middle School, HS = High School

Band Festival Reflections

The elementary schools sounded good when we all played the music together.

I liked seeing and hearing instruments in the MS and HS group that I haven’t seen before.

I liked how the middle school played their music.

I liked how fast the middle school music was, and hearing new instruments, especially the chimes. I liked how fast and unexpected it was.

The older students sounded good because they added more to it.

I liked the first song the MS played because it was interesting.

I felt successful playing America the Beautiful because I improved.

I liked playing Ode to Joy and I loved hearing the HS play Jupiter because it was calm and quiet.

I loved everything, I wish I had a time machine. I want to hear the MS and HS songs again, esp Jupiter.

My mom told me about when she went to YVHS, playing sports and even remembered her locker number!

I liked the MS music because it was intense, and their playing was really good. I liked the relaxing music by the HS group. It was a good experience! I want to go back.

I enjoyed everything, most of all MS and HS performances. Jupiter was awesome. I like that we did our best.

I liked having the concert at night and close to where I live.

I really liked having MS and HS there, to hear how much they have developed over the years.

I needed to improve by practicing more, writing more helpers in my music

Kids at the top of the bleachers throwing a ball while Jazz Band played

I needed to practice more, especially Beethoven’s Ninth and Let’s Go Band!

I was surprised about Star Wars light saber fight between the conductors

Enjoyed the light saber fight

Liked Star Wars best, battle made it fun

Liked Marching Band because it’s so cool

Marching Band Uptown Funk

Star Wars reenactment was fun

Liked Uptown Funk from Marching Band and the Star Wars battle

Liked other people there from other elementary schools playing music together

Star Wars reenactment

Marching Band was cool because they played popular songs

Liked the Jazz Band

Everyone did well and played their notes

We did well and remembered the songs

A lot of parents were there to see their kids

HS and MS schools played well

Favorite song was HS last song and MS Star Wars

Liked all of the music, especially MS and HS, played really well

Speech was crazy - melted my brain - inspiring

Listening to everyone play was great

MS HS were great to hear, favorite song was Uptown Funk

I played Power Rock well

It was loud and not everyone in the ES was playing together.

HS it was amazing how they remembered their music and moved while they played the marching band music.

My parents thought it was great!

I liked the cookie I ate after the concert (concert fundraiser)

I liked how the MS students played Star Wars and hearing songs that are popular

I enjoyed playing with everybody there.

I liked “Abram’s Pursuit” played by the CHS Symphonic Band.

I thought it was dope when the middle school continued to play Star Wars while their conductor was doing the light saber fight away from them.

I loved when the Concord High played Uptown Funk and all the marching band songs.

I loved hearing Star Wars from the MS with the light saber fight.

I loved it when we (ES) played, hearing different instruments together.

I liked the light saber fight, especially when Mr. Lejano fell.

Playing the music was fun.

I really liked the light saber fight - my favorite part of the concert.

When advanced ES played Let’s Go Band and at the end everyone shouted “Let’s Go Band!”

I liked that everyone contributed in playing America The Beautiful.

Power Rock was fun to play.

I really liked the star wars fight and the HS symphonic band.

We liked shouting Let’s Go Band!

I liked America the Beautiful because everyone was doing it together.

I liked that my mom and brother were there.

I liked that my sister was performing there too, playing in the MS group. She’s why I joined band!

I liked hearing the MS and HS play the Star Wars music.

Our group (ES) played well and followed the conductors well.

My family said I played great, awesome, cool, and amazing.

I need to improve my speed

I think excellent students should be able to play solos, like Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

Wished I remembered to bring my music

I couldn’t hear the woodwind players well, we needed to have better balance

Liked the music (all groups)

Liked the sound of the instruments playing together

Liked the rap and the light saber fight between Mr. La and Mr. Lejano

Favorite song was Uptown Funk

Favorite part was the rap/marching band song

Favorite song was Uptown Funk

Good concert and I am so happy I could go

Favorite song was Star Wars and lightsaber fight

Liked Star Wars, Rap, and someone’s phone rang “CoCoMelon”

Was fun, liked the rap and lightsaber fight, CocoMelon kid (audience)

Liked listening to the Darth Vader song and the high school marching band

Liked the lost balloon that kept floating above during the rehearsal

Liked playing music with everyone (elementary) together

Liked HS marching band and playing Let’s Go Band! in elementary band

Liked playing America the Beautiful with everyone

Liked playing with other elementary schools, made me feel better in case I made a mistake

Liked playing with a lot of other people (combined elementary schools)

Liked the Cocomelon song from audience right before Beethoven’s Ninth

Loved hearing the big applause!

Family complimented me!

Abram’s Pursuit (HS) and Star Wars theme/light saber fight were great!

Star Wars light saber fight

Liked playing in the big group

Liked Star Wars theme song and my family complimented me

Favorite songs were Power Rock (ES) and Star Wars (HS)

My family said I played really great and saw improvement since I started

Liked seeing my friends play, my family said I did really well

I did really well reading the notes

I felt I did well

I liked the cookie I got after the concert, and I was complimented on how good I looked

Some people in concert dressed in same outfit as me

I liked the entire concert,

Parents want me to keep practicing and they think the HS students have all been playing since 4th grade

Favorite song was Uptown Funk

Favorite song was Star Wars and the light saber fight made it even better

Liked MS and HS playing and eating a cupcake

Loved the food, favorite song was Can’t Hold Us because the rapper was so good

Liked everything, loved the saxophone solo in Jazz Band

Liked the Marching Band because I want to do it in HS and college

Liked everything about the concert.

Liked the food and sitting with all the students in the ES group

Before the concert someone in the HS complimented my name

Liked playing with all of the ES together

Liked the light saber fight with the music

Was fun to see the HS and MS teachers fighting with light sabers

HS were the best of all

HS students came to talk to me and made me feel welcome, happy, less nervous

Was hard to hear the middle school play.

Orchestra Festival Reflections

It bothered me when other students were telling me what to do and where to sit.

It was annoyingly loud in that room (the gym).

I loved playing Sol Do Concerto with the MS and HS.

Students passing through the group were knocking over my stand when they tried to walk by me.

I liked how we played Evening Scenes.

I was glad to be there, I liked it, I loved the music, thumbs up!

I’m happy I went, I liked the music especially Sol Do Concerto

I liked the effect of all of us playing together at the end

I liked being in the elementary group playing with everyone at the same time from different schools

I liked the appreciation/applause from the audience

I loved SDC because it was simpler, only two notes

I liked playing music and getting flowers afterwards

I liked the MS and HS songs, the way they played them

I liked hearing my sister play in the HS group and getting pizza afterwards

I liked seeing and hearing the instruments in the MS and HS group

I liked Sol Do Concerto all together at the end

It was fun because it was my first ever concert

It was fun and I was nervous because my family was recording me, but when I was playing I was having a lot of fun. I started laughing and I couldn’t stop.

It was great, it was beautiful - the clothes, the way everyone played the songs.

I liked the HS song.

I was very nervous at first but after it started I was calm.

I was scared because my mom was taking videos of me playing.

I was nervous at first but then I got used to it.

I wished I played Evening Scenes better, I should have memorized the notes more because I got mixed up reading the notes on the paper.

Wish I could have had pizza, but I had to eat green beans when I got home.

Liked Star Wars the most, especially the light saber fight.

I liked playing Evening Scenes because I practiced it enough to feel prepared.

I liked Hoe Down because it was fun playing slurs.

It was fun, my parents were there and proud of me, enjoyed stamping feet and screaming for the other groups.

My favorite thing was the Led Zeppelin song (HS), especially the drums, and I liked stomping my feet for applause. I thought they were going to play jazz, and was surprised by the rock song.

Favorite was Star Wars and conductors fighting with light sabers.

Liked MS Firework song.

LIked all the songs that ES played, loved the MS and HS song selections.

Liked HS played Buttercup, Star Wars is engraved in my mind.

Liked light saber fight, enjoyed spinning cellos in Hoe Down (ES)

Favorite song was the Star Wars song played by HS

Surprised by CHS drum set and electric guitar.

Loved Star Wars fight, little brother liked it too.

Left with “Wow!” in my mind.

Liked everyone was stomping their feet,

Conductors for MS and HS made good music

I noticed little girl was touching the piano and was moved away from it

I liked having food for sale for people who were hungry

Almost wanted to cry because it was loud (fun, but so many people)

It’s a bad idea for the school board to decide 4th graders can’t play next year.

I don’t like cutting the 4th grade instrumental music for next year.

The boy next to me was playing during the rests and it annoyed me.

Girls behind me were talking the whole time, so annoying.

I needed a little more time to work on Evening Scenes, but the rehearsal at the concert helped.

Rest position needed to be more uniform, people weren’t together with rest position and statue position.

It was fun and very musical when everyone played together. Playing in a group sounds better than playing by yourself.

I liked the students all cheering for each other!

I liked Star Wars with the light saber fight.

All the MS and HS sounded good, they sound like they practice a lot.

The rock song was surprising and I liked it.

I liked the food!

I loved everything! My parents said I sounded amazing.

I liked when we all played Hoe Down because the spin was pretty good.

The stomping (for Hoe Down) sounded good in the gym.

I liked when we all played Sol-Do because we got to choose whether to bow or pluck.

I liked playing Spanish Dancer, it seemed easier than Evening Scenes.

I liked the MS playing Firework.

Older students came and talked to us, made us feel inspired, good, complemented, less nervous.

I loved playing in the same group as my friends!

I loved Hoe Down and all of the MS and HS songs. Spanish Dancer was my best song.

Star Wars surprised me, I was screaming during the light saber fight! It made it memorable!

I loved how well we played, the size of the crowd, and the applause.

Classmates cheered me on. My family said I did a great job and looked beautiful.

The songs sound way different when playing with the other schools in the CHS gym compared to in-class.

Acoustics were disorienting.

Enjoyed the light saber fight during Star Wars

Fun to listen to all the songs from every grade, even though I didn’t know any of the songs before

Liked going to the concert, listening to others, especially mixing rock with classical

Favorite song was Star Wars with the light sabers

I liked the violin solos at the microphone

Dad was surprised at how good we (ES) are already

Liked Star Wars, how it sounded and with the light saber

It was cool when they played Led Zeppelin, I had heard it before with only one violin but it was neat to hear a whole orchestra play it

At the end it was really good when we played Sol Do Concerto together, ES, MS & HS

Led Zeppelin was cool, parents played it for me at home and I realized, yes, I really know it!

Drums can play with violins, and strings can play any kind of music!

Cool to have everyone play together at the end

Potentially CHS will be my HS, it was neat to be there, see the gym

CHS students were really nice, made me look forward to it

I saw students from my old school

I was nervous until we started playing; it was great.

I really liked Spanish Dancer and was really nervous until we started playing

I had performed before (dance), but forgot what it was like to be on stage. It was nice to be back, and I had fun.

The whole experience was pretty good

I wished we all could play Spanish Dancer, not just advanced

The concert really helped me with math this year, reading the music. The concert was really fun and overall a really great experience. It helped me gain more confidence in myself.

I was really scared at first, but then I got there and we started rehearsing. I felt less scared, because I was focused on the music teacher, not the crowd, and I was playing with friends. I could tell math was getting easier the more I play music.

I liked Spanish Dancer a lot. We needed to improve on the Hoe Down turn.

I really liked the high school performance!

I liked the whole concert, especially the HS playing Star Wars.

I liked it, but almost started crying (laughing and upset) when we were turning in Hoe Down and I knocked over a music stand.

Was hard to organize music stands/stand sharing with other students at the start.

Liked it overall; I got a nice compliment from another elementary student.

It was nice - I liked the drums.

It took us 40 minutes to get out of the parking lot.

The food was great!

It was nice and also funny - the MS played songs I recognized. My friend and I were really nervous but we stuck together and we felt better after the concert started.

The MS and HS songs were really good.

I needed to work on Spanish Dancer more.

The applause was really loud!

I really liked that we played together, and enjoyed the HS playing the drums.

It was good. My cousin was performing with the MS, so my parents, Aunt, Uncle were all there! It made me feel more comfortable.


March 21 - 25, 2022

Dear Music Families,

National Music in Our Schools Month continues!

Monday, March 21 is the Ygnacio Valley High Area Band Festival at YVHS in the gym. This is for flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone students who attend schools in the YVHS area, including my students at Ygnacio Valley Elementary.

Tuesday, March 22 is the Ygnacio Valley High Area Orchestra Festival at YVHS in the gym. This is for string students (violin, cello) who attend schools in the YVHS area, including my students at Ygnacio Valley Elementary.

Now that the Concord High Area Festivals are complete, I have been taking notes as I ask students how they felt it went. I will publish my notes in a later newsletter, after the YVHS Area Festivals are done.

What's next?
During the first rehearsal after a concert, students are asked to complete a Post Concert Reflection page and share out loud their lasting impressions of the concert. For students who were not able to attend, this gives them a little insight for future concerts, and may help reduce nervousness, too.

Then we go right back to the book! It's always a great goal to finish the book before the end of the school year, but it's possible some students won't, and that's okay. Everyone works at a different pace. For some students, it's more important to have short-term goals. Each student has a list of songs to master, and I recommend working on one or two of those at a time. These goals work towards earning the belts for our "karate" program - white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black. When a student has earned the black belt, all of the concepts in the book have been learned!

I plan to have a spring concert at each school sometime in May. We shall see how far we get by then! In the meantime, keep encouraging your child to practice daily. Thank you!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

March 14 - 18, 2022

Dear Music Families,

March is National Music in our Schools Month, all month long! You can celebrate by:

  • attending/participating in your child's Area Music Festival.

  • talk with your child about signing up for music classes again next year!

  • listen to recordings of music being played by professionals - and learn about different styles of music that can be played on your child's instrument, too! There is a small list you might start with, here under "Cool Sites/Links".

  • start saving up to buy an instrument, if you don't already have one. I will talk about purchasing your own instrument in future newsletters, because there are some tips that might help you save money and find the "right" instrument for your child. Sadly, there are a lot of "wrong" instruments out there, usually sold online for an unbelievably great price.

Sadly, the MDUSD Board has decided to eliminate 4th grade Instrumental Music for the 2022-2023 school year. Once a program has been cut, it is an uphill battle to bring it back. I believe our School Board and Superintendent support instrumental music, and they see not only how beneficial it is to young students, but also how beneficial it is to music programs in the secondary schools and our district's image, as well. But they need to hear this from families, too. So please remind our Board Members and Superintendent next year (and the next, and the next, and the next!) it is important to YOU, our MDUSD families, to have instrumental music classes available during the school day for 4th and 5th grade students!

The Concord HS Area Festivals were last week (March 9, 10). I am so impressed with the quality of performances by all levels of students. I am also impressed with the behavior and manners of the older students, and how wonderful they are with the elementary students. They truly make middle school and high school look inviting for young musicians!

I am looking forward to the Ygnacio Valley HS Area Festivals on March 21 (band) and 22 (orchestra). I hope to see my Ygnacio Valley Elementary students and families there!

I hope you have a wonderful week -

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

February 28 - March 11, 2022

Dear Music Families,

Where has the time gone?! The second trimester is over, and we're beginning the last trimester of the school year. It's National Music In Our Schools Month, and we're celebrating!!

  • The Concord High School Area Music Festivals will soon be here - March 9 for Band and March 10 for Orchestra. This is for Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, and Westwood students, among many other sites!

  • The Ygnacio Valley High School Area Music Festivals are on March 21 (Band) and March 22 (Orchestra). This is for Ygnacio Valley Elementary students, among several other sites!

    • Your child should have given you the letter, with a bottom part to sign and return. All of my students have my permission to attend and participate!

    • The Festivals are free to attend and there is no limit to how many family members you may bring.

    • These events are often extremely large - we usually fill up the basketball gym to maximum capacity.

    • Families attending the concert will be sitting on the bleachers.

    • Students wear traditional concert colors: black on bottom, and white on top. Navy blue and white will work, especially for students who have a school uniform.

    • Music classes continue until May!

The Concord HS Festivals will have treats and drinks for sale, and possibly raffle tickets too, so bring $$ if you want to. These are fundraisers for the Concord HS Music program.

It is my hope that students will already have something to wear for the concert. Concert clothes can be borrowed from a sibling, cousin, friend, and sometimes a parent! Don't forget about thrift stores for an inexpensive solution. It doesn't have to be fancy, but you can get as fancy as you want. I recommend having the student wear the outfit ahead of time to be sure s/he can breathe and move comfortably while playing the instrument. If a skirt is worn, be sure it reaches below the knees when sitting down. This is true for all concerts, any age.

So, why black on bottom and white on top?
Traditional concert dress for young musicians (elementary and middle school) is to wear black pants or skirt, white shirt or blouse. Older musicians traditionally wear all black, or tuxedos. This has been a tradition in Western music for probably hundreds of years, with many possible reasons. The most important reason we wear uniform black or black and white is to keep the focus on the music, not individual musicians. If a school or performing group has a uniform, then they would wear the uniform instead of black and white. This also makes things much simpler - there's no worry about matching colors or having the right clothes for the right occasion. Musicians can wear the same outfit whether they are playing for a wedding, a funeral, a concert, a church, a party...or any other occasion! If a guest is performing a solo, the guest would be honored by being allowed to wear any color they like.

Next week I'll explain a little more about what the MDUSD School Board decided for the 2022-2023 Elementary Instrumental Music program.

I look forward to seeing you at the Festival!

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

February 14 - 25, 2022

Dear Music Families,

The big question for many of you: What are Area Music Festivals?

The short answer: a big concert at the high school nearest your school, which is the most awesome school music event of the year.

The long answer:

It has been a decades-long tradition in MDUSD to have a spring showcase - a concert that lets parents and students see 9 years of music progress in about an hour. In 1975, March was recognized nationally as Music in Our Schools Month, so we choose to have these festival concerts in March to celebrate MDUSD's school music programs.

The Area Music Festivals in MDUSD are held by attendance area. Each traditional high school holds two festivals - one night for band, and one night for orchestra. The band festival features students who play woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. The orchestra festival features students who play violin, viola, 'cello, and double bass.

This concert is so large it has to be held in the largest building available, which is the high school gym. Students are seated on chairs on the floor of the gym. The audience sits in the bleachers. Often the last families who arrive have to stand, because there is no more space left in the bleachers. There is no fee to attend. Sometimes (depending on the host school) there are fundraisers with food or raffle tickets for sale.

The first group to perform is often the elementary band, which is a combination of beginning and advanced 4th and 5th graders from several schools in that high school's area. The next group (or groups) to perform is usually the middle school, which is also in that high school's area. The last group to perform is the high school, which is usually also the host school. The grand finale is one song that all of the musicians, grades 4 through 12, play together at the same time. We strive to keep this concert to an hour or less, but sometimes it goes on a little longer.

Traditional concert dress for young musicians (elementary and middle school) is to wear black pants or skirt, with a white shirt or blouse. Older musicians traditionally wear all black, or tuxedos. I will write more about that next week!

The Area Festivals are exciting, and they motivate students to practice harder and polish their skills. I performed in the MDUSD festivals between the 4th and 12 grade, so I understand what my students are feeling when they participate. There is wonder when walking into the gym for the first time, nervousness dissipating while playing the first few notes together, awe while listening to the older students play, and the joy of hearing thundering applause. I wish that for your child, too!

Keep an eye out for an email and/or a paper with the Festival details and RSVP. Please complete the bottom portion and have your child return it to me in class, so we will know how many chairs to set out for the students!


Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

February 7 - 11, 2022

Dear Music Families,

Students at several schools have been participating in a Kindness Challenge, and I have received some sweetly written notes of thanks and kind words. I am truly appreciative! The timing couldn't be better. I will be keeping these student notes close, reading and re-reading them.

Now is the time school districts look at their budget for upcoming years, and make difficult decisions about what programs to cut and how to stretch their dollars. Sadly, Instrumental Music programs in elementary schools are often in jeopardy when district funds are low. Our Superintendent and School Board will be considering whether the MDUSD Elementary Instrumental Music program is to be discontinued for the 2022-2023 school year, as well as years to follow.

The MDUSD Board Members and our Superintendent will be discussing and deciding the fate of the Elementary Instrumental Music program very soon. This is an opportunity for you to express how Instrumental Music in elementary school has been a positive experience for your child, yourself, and/or others you know.


Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

Cherise Khaund -

Debra Mason -

Keisha Nzewi -

Linda Mayo -

Erin McFerrin -

Dr. Adam Clark, Superintendent -

January 31 - February 4, 2022

Dear Music Families,

We're preparing for festivals which will be in March. A letter will be sent home in a week or two, so you can mark your calendar and RSVP with a yes or no. The letter is NOT a permission slip - all instrumental music students are invited to participate! If your child is comfortable playing at least one festival song, it's worth going! If your family is not comfortable going to large gatherings at this point, it is okay to decline - but if you change your mind, please do come! Please note, the "band" festival dates are different from "orchestra" festival dates. If you want dates now (before the letters have gone out), have your child write them down during music class.

Start planning for your child to have traditional elementary concert clothes - black on bottom, white on top! Most students have black or dark pants, and most students have a white or nearly white shirt. If not, ask a sibling, cousin, or close friend to loan the clothes for the evening. I have even had students borrow their parent's clothes! It's always nice to get new clothes, but do what you can, and don't forget about thrift shops. You can also get creative, like wearing a white sweater or sweatshirt over another shirt. It doesn't have to be fancy, unless you want it to be.

I realize a lot of students have missed music class due to being absent. That's no problem, and I do review often for that reason. But lately a lot of students have been forgetting to bring their instrument to school on music day, and that makes it really difficult for the student to progress. Please be sure your child practices at home between lessons, and brings the instrument and book to school on music day. Thank you!!!

There are just four weeks until the end of the second trimester. Ask your child, "have you passed at least 3 songs in music since November 8?". A check-off list is in their music folder. Beginning students have their list in the front of their book. Advanced students have a separate sheet in their folder for the new book, and the other one is in the back of their old book. Students who have passed 6 or more songs will have earned an E (the highest grade I can assign) for their instrumental music grade.

Thank you for all you do - and thank you for the "kind" notes I have been receiving from students!


Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

January 24-28, 2022

Dear Music Families,

We're coming up on a magic time of the year! 1st year students have had enough introductory lessons that they can work more independently now. In class, I'm hearing excellent questions. When I ask students to show me which goal they're working on, they are able to find the place in their book right away. This is great! Soon, most students will be earning belt colors quickly - about one every other week.

Sadly, some students have not been practicing much at home. They get tired quickly, they don't know what to look for on the page, and they are shy about asking for help. Please remind your child to practice, use a pencil to mark anything in the book they don't understand, and ask me questions in class!

It's okay that some students progress quickly and some students need more time. This is normal. But if your child is not moving forward at all, that is a sign more help is needed. Let me know if you have any concerns.

I will be handing out new music for all students to work on. This is in anticipation of the Area Festival concert coming up in March. I will be sending home a letter about it, but please know that this concert is optional. The Area Festivals are a tradition in MDUSD. They are very inspiring--you get to hear musicians from every level perform in the span of about one hour. The grand finale is all students, grades 4 through 12, playing together. I remember playing in the MDUSD Area Festival when I was in elementary school, and I can tell you that it is just as exciting now as it was then!


Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

January 18-21, 2022

Dear Music Families,

Here are a few topics that might be on your mind during this short 4-day week:

Motivation - Sometimes the difficulty is just getting the instrument out to practice! Some motivators might be to hold-off on playing a video game or watching a fun tv show until practice is done (10-15 minutes!). Have a mini celebration when practice is over (eg: fill-in a smiley face at the top of the page or do a victory dance). If the problem seems deeper, the student may have reached a plateau.

Plateau - On occasion, a student will feel like they aren't progressing. Despite practicing as much as, or more than requested, sometimes new concepts take more time than others. This is fairly common. The best advice I can give is to keep working, but change things up a little. Spend some extra time reviewing old accomplishments and pat yourself on the back for them! Tackle the new challenge but try it in smaller chunks. Give yourself extra time to work on them. Maybe look ahead to see if something farther along is easier, then work backwards. And as always, end practice sessions with something fun! If something seems impossible, ask the music teacher (at any grade level) for suggestions.

Cleaning - Cleaning wind instruments is a must, which also keeps that mouthpiece from getting stinky. String students don't need to worry about that, but they DO need to clean, too! Here are some suggestions, but more specific information is on my Helpful Reminders page.

  • String Students: I encourage violin and cello students to find a piece of cloth from home (doesn't have to be fancy!) to wipe the strings and body of the instrument, as well as the bow stick. This might be an old washcloth, a remnant of fabric, a handkerchief, a bandanna, microfiber cloth, or even a lone sock. Some families have a spare microfiber cloth. As long as it is clean and can wipe the strings without disintegrating, it's good. When rosin dust collects on the instrument, it can almost become part of the instrument, and removing it can get more difficult. So it's good to give the instrument a gentle wipe with a dry cloth after each practice session!

  • Wind Students: Depending on your situation, there is a different level of cleaning you might do:

    • Daily cleaning for flutes and clarinets is to swab the inside of the instrument after each practice session. Swabs should be washed and dried on occasion. Trumpets and trombones have a "water key" that can be emptied. Simply pull the lever and blow air through the mouthpiece. You might want to aim for a garbage can or sink, or do this outside.

    • Weekly or monthly cleaning would be to wash the mouthpiece (clarinet, trumpet, or trombone). Flute players don't wash their mouthpieces, although there are some sprays you can get at music stores. Never get moisture near the keys of a flute or clarinet!

    • Annual cleaning can be done by a music instrument repair technician, especially for flutes and clarinets. They often need an annual maintenance to have springs and rods checked, as well. Brass instruments can be bathed, but be sure to find detailed instructions before trying that. A brass instrument bathing kit can be purchased at music stores, as well. Never use metal polish on a wind instrument.

    • If a clarinet student has been ill, you can either clean the reed (and reed case) or throw it away and start a new one.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned 8 years old, popular tunes were Pennies From Heaven by Bing Crosby, It’s De-Lovely by Eddy Duchin, and Goodnight, My Love by Benny Goodman. When he married Coretta Scott on June 18, 1953, some of the top hits were Vaya con Dios by Les Paul & Mary Ford, (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window? by Patti Page, You, You, You by the Ames Brothers, and Pretend by Nat King Cole. This blog (which I would not describe as "blather") has examples of the music Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. found inspirational. I hope you have music that inspires you, too!

I hope the 3-day weekend provides extra rest as well as meaningful reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day.


Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

January 10 - 14, 2022

Welcome 2022!

This week I am highlighting two topics - these are both great questions that I have recently received!


We have been taking extra precautions at school (I'm sure you have been at home and work, too) for pandemic concerns. Sadly, given the current circumstances, it is possible we might not have any concerts until spring. If all is going well in spring, we will have our annual Area Festival concert in March and a Spring Concert after that. Watch your inbox for emails from me with more details as the year progresses. Thank you for understanding!

Practicing when a student is not feeling well:

Whether students have a cold, the flu, an ear ache, or even recent dental/orthodontia work, students can continue to practice! In general, it's good to find a way to go over material so nothing gets forgotten. If a student is missing school, it's also a good idea to look at the next few examples to see what is to come.

The following tips may be helpful. If your child needs rest, then definitely take time off from practicing. When s/he is ready to start again, try using these strategies to ease back into a routine:

For violin and 'cello students: break the tasks down to just one or two things at a time.

    • clap the rhythm while saying the counting

    • say the note names while plucking the strings (violins can use guitar position)

    • shadow bow (shadow bowing is when you practice the rhythm with just the bow, no instrument)

For flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone students: practice without blowing.

  • clap the rhythm while saying the counting

  • read note names out loud (it's ok to write a helper once in a while, but don't write every note name!)

  • say the note names as you press the keys, using the correct rhythms

  • mouthpieces and reeds can be cleaned/sterilized - there is information online, or I can help if needed

  • the music mask can be hand washed (not machine), but the bell covers can not be washed (sorry!)

Several of these techniques can also work for students who have fingers, a wrist, or an arm in a brace or cast.

That being said, I wish you and your family a healthy, happy, and musical new year! Feel free to scroll down to read past newsletters.

Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Sun Terrace, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

December 13, 2021 to January 7, 2022

Dear Music Families,

There are about 8 weeks of school before I will be sending music grades to your child's classroom teacher for the Trimester 2 report card. Now is a GREAT time to encourage your child to work towards that Excellent grade. Here's how!

1st year students (beginning band and beginning orchestra) have a karate goals check-off list on the first page of their music "karate" book. The list shows several songs to perform (as well as some Theory Worksheets and Rhythm pages). 2nd year students have that list in the back of their old book from last year, and a separate sheet with goals for their new book, Essential Elements.

Look at the goals list, and see how many songs have been checked off with my "scribblature". Mastering three to five goal songs (since November 5, 2021) earns a Satisfactory grade for the trimester. Mastering six or more goal songs earns an Excellent grade. I'll listen to students play these goals in class. I either sign them off or give advice for improvement...or both!

You will notice students can earn Excellent grades without finishing the book. I'll leave that up to pure student motivation! This way, your child can work at a pace that is comfortable while still making progress. If a student wants to work ahead in the book, that's great! If they finish the book, I will offer more challenging music to work on.

Don't forget about those winter break ideas in last week's newsletter!

I wish you a winter break filled with health, happiness, and lots of music.

I'll see you "next year"! ;)
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

December 6 - 10, 2021

Dear Music Families,

There is a lot of gift-giving and sharing happening in December! We all know how much music adds to our lives. Just think about how your favorite movie, a big sporting event, or even a long car ride feels without music! Music is a gift that can be shared, any time of year, for any reason - or no reason at all!

As we get closer to winter break, think about these music ideas:

  • There are many free and affordable opportunities to hear festive music being played by orchestras, bands, jazz combos, and more! Point it out when you notice music in an unusual "I Spy" for the ears!

  • The weather might be a bit chilly for playing outdoors, but it is awesome for practicing an instrument indoors!

  • Students are encouraged to look ahead in the book. Curiosity and confidence are amazing gifts.

  • Try a special project over the break - arrange for a "solo" concert for family and/or friends by your child!

      • Give your child advance notice, so s/he can prepare.

      • Plan on giving lots of applause. Concerts are rarely perfect, even for professionals. Continuing after a mistake is a big accomplishment!

      • Consider whether your child wants to dress-up, make a printed program, or have a "reception" snack or dessert served afterwards. Or make up a new concert tradition - I would love to hear about it!

      • Play online, or send a recording to a family member or friend who lives far away. Your child's concert can brighten a loved-one's day in ways that words can not express.

      • If your child isn't ready to do a solo performance this year, plan on one for next year!

  • Music stands and music-themed items are great gifts. Local music stores often have a good selection!

  • If you are considering buying an instrument, please ask a music repair technician what they would recommend. There are some great used instruments, some great new instruments, and unfortunately there are also inexpensive (but shiny!) "instrument-shaped-objects" that turn out to be a big disappointment. Be cautious!

I hope your week is fantastic!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

November 22 - December 3, 2021

Dear Music Families,

A week off from school can mean one of three things to a young musician:
1) Extra time to practice.
Fit-in a little bit of practice here and there.
3) F
orgetting everything we've learned so far. (Oh no!!!)

If a student wants to enjoy playing their favorite notes or songs every day, that is awesome! If you have a friend or relative who plans to offer some free lessons, practice fun, or even listen to a mini recital - by all means, take advantage! Some students make playdates with friends to practice together. (Please note - band and orchestra students learn different notes/songs for the first 4 years or so!) Students are welcome to work ahead in the book if they wish.

Over vacations, some families have guests, some travel, and some do both. It's important to keep the instrument safe, either by hiding it from little visitors, or by leaving it at home while traveling. My best advice to those who have an action-packed week ahead: practice before the excitement begins, and practice some more when all is done.

Please remind your child to wash hands before playing the instrument, and band students need to brush their teeth or rinse with water before blowing into the mouthpiece. This helps reduce damage to the instrument. When we return, expect a little bit of review and a push to move forward in the book!

I won't be receiving school emails during Thanksgiving break, but I will reply to your messages as soon as we return. I wish you all a restful week and a lot of new, good memories made!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

November 15 - 19, 2021

Dear Music Families,

Students are working on earning their new karate colors, so encourage them to keep practicing at home! If your child is getting frustrated and needs some extra help, please send me a note! The most challenged group right now are our flute players, because making a clear sound on the flute is one of the biggest challenges they will face.

Most students are able to increase their practice time now. Instead of 10 minutes each night, add 5 more minutes for a goal of 15 minutes each night. If your child is "busy" on certain nights (as I am often told by my students), then add a few minutes to the other nights, or practice double on weekends. Whatever works for your family!

Please do not bring a forgotten instrument to school for your child. Not having it for the day will help reinforce the need for more personal responsibility. I will give your child a way to participate even if s/he does not have the instrument in class, and attending that week's lesson will help keep your child up-to-date on what to practice at home. If you have brought a forgotten instrument to school this year, your child owes you a chore and a hug!

I hope you have a wonderful week!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

November 8 - 12, 2021

Dear Music Families,

The Second Trimester has begun, and with it comes some fantastic opportunities for growth. Students are working on mastering new tunes and examples, which use new concepts learned in class. Effort spent practicing at home PLUS participation in music class will prepare the student to learn these goals.

A great question was asked about practice at home. How does a student keep track of how much practice they have done? You could use a journal, or put a paper in the music folder with dates and times. It's really up to you! But there is a neat feature in the beginner book that can also help. At the top of each page there are seven smiley faces. Each time the student practices the page at home, a smiley face gets colored in.

The goals are listed for your child as "karate" goals, because we use a color system (like in martial arts) to show progress. Once your child has shown me in class a mastery of certain tunes, a new karate color has been earned. The karate color has no bearing on the grade, but it does allow students to see their progress with a different perspective. When your child has earned a black belt in music, all of the concepts in the book have been mastered.

Here are your child's goals for the 2nd trimester grade:
Excellent = mastered 6 or more karate tunes
Satisfactory = mastered 3 to 5 karate tunes
Needs Improvement = mastered fewer than 3 karate tunes
Not Observed = student was not in class, did not bring instrument, or did not participate

Concert Practice - I highly recommend students play mini concerts for their families. It could be as simple as playing a song for a parent while they're making dinner. Or it could be a dress-up occasion, complete with invitation, video recording, a printed or announced program, and refreshments afterwards. Share it online with relatives or close family friends to make their day brighter, or their holiday more cheerful! These mini concerts can be done at any time of year, and the program can be anything, including your child's own composition!

I hope you will encourage your child to play a mini home concert for you this trimester!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

November 1 - 5, 2021

Dear Music Families,

This is an exciting time of year for young musicians!

2nd year students are revisiting old songs as an ensemble, which we sorely missed last year while learning online. They are (or will be) identifying new goals to work on, so you should start hearing some new tunes and perhaps a few groans, tears, and complaints, too. Growing pains!

1st year students should be using their first 3 (band) or 4 (strings) notes to play a couple of songs, and will be moving on to more challenges now that they are receiving their books! Please read over the first few pages with your child.

While practicing, students should sit or stand with good posture. Chin up, back straight, shoulders relaxed. We try to avoid "pretzel position" by having our music propped up at about face level. Music stands can be purchased new or used, at music stores, thrift shops, and online. Someone you know might have one to offer you for free! Or, you can get creative by using a desk-top document holder, a chair with pillows or books propped up on it, or my favorite: a dresser with the drawer pulled out part way!

I thank all who have (or will have) completed the Music Family Survey #1. Your feedback is super helpful!

I will be sending home concert letters this month. Concert this fall/winter are small, brief, and optional. It is my hope that indoor concerts will bring a little slice of "normal" back, even though we will modify for everyone's comfort and safety. It's important to know, concert attendance is not part of the music grade at this point, and if you are not comfortable attending an indoor group event, you should feel free to decline. But do let me know whether you intend to attend - thanks!

So what are concerts like normally? Usually all students would perform in one block of time, creating one+ hour of music for all families gathered together. Usually it's crowded, stuffy, and "standing room only" for the audience. It's exhilarating for students - with overwhelming applause after each song's final note. Music teachers usually ask the audience to stay for the duration, so each group would have the same size audience and applause, and also so students can make a concert critique for other groups and themselves as well, to learn and make the next concert even better. Students would wear the traditional "concert dress", which is black on bottom and white on top. Older performers (high school and beyond), ladies wear long all-black outfits and men wear tuxedoes or suits.

While concerts will not be completely "normal" this year, we will do our best!

As usual, you are welcome to contact me with any music questions, comments, or concerns. That's what I'm here for!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

October 25 - 29, 2021

Dear Music Families,

We're in week two of minimum day/conference schedules. We'll be back to our normal days/times next week!

I'm sending out a survey to all families for whom I have an accurate e-mail address. I hope you have a few minutes to send me your thoughts! I always appreciate parent feedback. It's like a report card for the teacher!

Speaking of report cards, soon I will be assigning grades for orchestra and band participants. The grades are E, S, N, and N/O. For this trimester, 1st-year students are still getting comfortable with setting-up the instrument, holding the instrument correctly, and playing their first sounds and songs. 2nd-year students are still reviewing last year's lessons and will soon move on to more challenging goals.

  • Most students will be receiving an S (Satisfactory).

  • Some students signed-up late, or have missed several classes, so they will receive an N/O (Not Observed).

  • Rarely, students receive an N (Needs Improvement). If anyone is in danger of that, I contact parents ahead of time to give them a chance to improve before the grade is assigned. It is very difficult to earn an N from me.

  • A few students are meeting their goals and stretching beyond, so they will be earning an E (Excellent).

The Trimester 2 music grade will be based on how many new goals were met. For example, if a student passes 6 or more assigned examples (songs), the student will earn an E. If the student passes 3 to 5 assigned examples, they will earn an S. If the student has passed fewer than 3 assigned examples, the student will earn an N or an N/O, depending on the circumstances.

Does it sound like there are ghosts and ghouls in your instrument? Be a superhero, keep it clean! Sugar is your instrument's worst enemy. Sticky or dirty hands can result in needing the instrument to be professionally cleaned, and in many situations, repaired. After eating or drinking (anything other than water) breath being blown into a band instrument cause damage to keys, valves, and slides. Please keep instruments in good shape by washing hands before playing. For wind instruments, always brush teeth or rinse your mouth with water before blowing. This will also keep the instrument smelling nice, which will be more pleasant to use as time goes on.

We recently received news from the district that we can now offer indoor concerts. Keep your eyes and ears open for news of a concert in the next month or two. It will probably be small, short, and sweet!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

October 18 - 22, 2021

Dear Music Families,

MDUSD elementary schools have shortened days this week (and next week) for parent-teacher conferences. I have made an alternate schedule for all of my sites so students can still attend music lessons. I hope your conferences go well!

If you wish to meet with me, I'm happy to do so. Email, phone, in-person, and Google Meet are all options. Just send me an e-mail!

You will be receiving a survey from me soon. I want to hear how your child is doing from your perspective, because our time in class together is so brief.

Also expect an opportunity to hear your child perform with others soon! I'm still working out details, and I may ask you for your opinion, as well. This is not a normal year, so we may try some new ideas. They may be a flop, or they may become a new tradition!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

October 12 - 15, 2021

Dear Music Families,

I hope you are hearing a lot of musical sounds at home now! Students should be practicing 10 minutes (or so) each day. It's important to remember these things when practicing at home:

Find a good location and and the right time. Practice in a place free from distractions. Indoors is best, as poor weather and lighting can make practice difficult. Please help your child establish a routine, and suggest times that won't affect others in your household (nap or bed times for siblings, that sort of thing). Band students will do better to practice on an empty stomach, and should always rinse their mouths with water or brush teeth before playing.

Have a way to hold the music up. Beginners will receive their books soon; right now they all have a paper with their first two songs on it. A music stand can be purchased at local music stores, online, or even at thrift shops and flea markets. You can find a place at home to prop music up - perhaps on a keyboard stand, piano, or simply prop the music up on a table, dresser, or bookcase. Some students use a chair to prop the music up on a stack of books or pillows. I had a student who used a hanger from their closet, which held the music with clothes pins. Be creative, and let me know if you come up with a unique idea!

Encourage good posture. All students can practice sitting down, with their feet on the floor and their bottom on the front half of the seat. Use muscles to sit straight and tall! Shoulders should be relaxed. Most students (sorry, not cello students) can play standing up, as well. For band: bring the instrument up to your face, don't bend down to the mouthpiece. For all: keep elbows away from your ribs, hips, and legs. Avoid using "pretzel" position! This is why we limit our practice sessions to 10 minutes. When students get too tired to use good posture, bad habits begin.

Practice making beautiful sounds. It's true, beginners don't sound like professionals. But if you are getting sounds that aren't quite right, experiment to find out how to make it beautiful. Practicing squeaks only leads to more squeaks, because it strengthens your squeaking muscles! For band: when your mouth is tired, or if you feel woozy, it's time to put the instrument away for a little while. For strings: when your plucking finger is getting tired or sore, move to guitar position, and vice versa. Or put the instrument away for a little while.

I look forward to hearing more beautiful sounds during our lessons at school, too!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

October 4 - 8, 2021

Dear Music Families,

Last week came and went in a flash! All music students received a music folder. These should be used to keep music papers and books together in one place, and should be brought every week to the music lesson. Students should always have their "Theory Notes - A Brief Overview" in their folder. Please do NOT throw away or recycle papers and books from our music class!!!

Also last week, music masks were handed out to wind players, as well as bell covers for clarinet, trumpet, and trombone players. The masks are washable, the bell covers are not. There is only enough for one per person, so please keep these items in the instrument case so they are accessible during music class. Sadly, music masks are one-size-fits-all, so if you want to modify your child's mask to make it fit better, please do! If you want to add their name on it somehow, that's fine too.

More students are bringing instruments to class, so this week we will continue making our first sounds. Orchestra students (violin and cello) may be learning or reviewing their first two simple songs (The Ant Chant and Hoe Down). Band students (flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone) will be playing on their mouthpieces and depending on what I hear, we may put instruments together. We will also continue taking notes on our Music Theory paper, which will set beginning students up for success when they find Theory Worksheets in the back of their music book (coming soon!). We get a lot done in one short class!

A quick note about practice at home...please do! I recommend 10 minutes each evening for beginners. It is important that students sit or stand with good posture when they practice at home. Playing longer than 10 minutes at first can encourage bad habits, so please keep the sessions short for now.

A "reminder" reminder...The evening before music day, please have your child place their instrument and music folder with their backpack, ready to take in the morning. Wind players should have their mask in the case. Everyone should have a pencil in their instrument case or music folder. If it helps, add a weekly reminder on your phone or calendar! If your child forgets the instrument on music day, please do not bring it to school for them.

What about performances? I am considering some unique options for concerts, so if you have any ideas to share, please email me! One of my main concerns is to make sure all family members have an opportunity to attend if they wish. Also, if you have a nifty trick for making the music masks fit better, I'd love to share your solution with other parents.

Thank you! Have a great week!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

Sept. 20-24, 2021

Dear Music Families,

Music classes are not yet in a regular rehearsal routine, but we'll be there soon!

Last week: We did a trial run of the music schedule. I gave students general care & safety tips, and made corrections to my roster & schedule. I asked students who already have instruments not to take them out of the case yet.

This week: No instruments at school yet!! Students will hear more instrument-specific care & safety lessons. I will give students a small assignment to do at home. We are doing our first music theory lesson this week, as well as handing out district-owned instruments to students who bring in their signed form. In my spare time, I'm getting my new school taken care of (things I would have done last spring and in the first two weeks of the school year), picking up our music PPE, and impatiently waiting for our beginners books to be printed and delivered. I will also be sending the schedule home in a lengthy email to families.

Beginning players - Bring a pencil to music class this week. Students should NOT put their instruments together yet. I will assign something to practice on just part of the instrument. It is especially important that string students do NOT touch the bow. This is a great time to establish a place and time to practice for 10 minutes at home each day.

Experienced players - Please find your book from last year and review as much of it as you can. Use your best posture while playing your instrument! Bring a pencil to music class this week. Do NOT bring instruments to school yet. This is a great time to establish a place and time to practice for 15 minutes at home each day.

Next week: We will have another theory lesson and do some playing in-class. Yes, if you have an instrument, you may bring it to class on your music day during the week of Sept 27. Woo hoo!!!

Have a great week!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and
Ygnacio Valley Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

Sept. 13-17, 2021

Dear Music Families,

Thank you so much for your patience! I have two school schedules worked out, and I am working on the third at the start of this week. If all goes well, I may get to see students before the end of this week!

Back to the salt mines...

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and (TBD) Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

August 30-Sept 3, 2021

Dear Music Families,

It's a crazy week! I'm working on creating my schedule while we eagerly await news whether any music teachers have been hired to fill open positions in the district. As with everything, this outcome may have a ripple effect on other music teacher's schedules, including mine.

I still plan to send home confirmation letters by Friday Sept 3. I hope to see students for their first "orientation" meeting sometime after Sept. 8. Please, NO instruments for the first couple of lessons - we have a lot of paperwork and discussing to do! After that, the real fun begins!

I look forward to seeing students soon!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and (TBD) Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

August 23-27, 2021

Dear Families,

We've held assemblies for students at school, teachers have (hopefully!) shared the Instrument Petting Zoo flyer with you, and I provided a yellow half-sheet with sign-up information and resources, as well!

If you want to sign your child up to be in band or orchestra this year (whether your child is new or returning to the music program), find the registration link on our website. There are videos and lots of information for you there, as well! If you don't see the answer to your question, you are welcome to come to the Instrument Petting Zoo, which will be on Meet (or perhaps Zoom), Monday 8/23 and Tuesday 8/24 at 6:30 p.m. The link will be posted on the website soon before the event begins.

If you don't have any questions, you can certainly sign-up for music classes without attending the virtual Instrument Petting Zoo.

Last week I shared some dates with you - here are the current details:

August 18 until August 27-ish: Online registration is open on the MDUSD Elementary Instrumental Music website.
August 27: District-owned instrument lottery at 3:00-ish. Results will be emailed.
August 30-ish until September 7-ish: Late sign-ups accepted, please email Mrs. Ashford directly for the form.
August 30 to September 3: Confirmation emails will be sent, including district instrument lottery results.
September 7 to September 10: Classes begin, no instruments yet. Schedule will be in the confirmation email.

I hope you found some helpful information here. I wish you a wonderful week!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and (TBD) Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District

August 16-20, 2021

Dear Families,

We are looking forward to learning in-person this year! Many students who played last year will return as 5th grade advanced musicians (don't worry, we will start with a lot of review!). A few returning students might try a new instrument. And I'm sure a large group of brand-new beginners will start this adventure and see how far they go!

This week and next week are all about getting students signed up for music classes. My colleagues and I will be visiting schools and talking to 4th and 5th grade students all over the district. We are setting up our informational Instrument Petting Zoos, to provide more details to parents in the evening, online, in their homes. And as I type this letter to you, our website is being updated with information and the sign-up form for the 2021-2022 school year.

Here is a general idea of how the beginning of the year will look - although some dates may change a little bit:

  • August 17-24: Assemblies for students during school hours, website updated with 2021-2022 info and forms.

  • Virtual Informational Meetings for families ("Instrument Petting Zoo"): Wed 8/18, Mon 8/23, Tues 8/24; see website for details.

  • August 17-September 2: Online Registration for Band & Orchestra available on our website:

  • August (date TBD): District-owned instrument recipients determined (by random lottery process). This is for those who requested to borrow an instrument on the Instrumental Music Sign-Up Form.

  • August 30-September 3: Confirmation emails sent to parents/guardians with information about instrument choice, date of first class, days/times for your child, size for string instruments, and lottery results (if applicable).

  • September 7(?): Classes begin! No instruments for the first week. This will give parents time to rent or complete paperwork for district-owned instruments. During this time, beginning students will learn about (or review) instrument care & safety, and music theory basics. Band students will also learn about music PPE.

  • September 20-ish: Students who do not have an instrument yet will remain with their regular classroom teacher instead of coming to music lessons. These students may resume music lessons as soon as they have an instrument.

We plan to safely hold student performances this year. I will offer some suggestions and ask for feedback in a parent/guardian survey, so keep a lookout for it!

As always, I am happy to answer your questions and hear your thoughts. Feel free to send me an email!

Musically Yours,
Mrs. Karen Ashford
Elementary Instrumental Music (EIM)
Monte Gardens, Westwood, and
(TBD) Elementary
Mt. Diablo Unified School District