Black Cat Strut (Improv)

The black cat strut is not my own activity. It comes from 88 Piano Keys. My students enjoyed it so much this year, I wanted to remember it, plus a few notes from my experience.

  • As she recommends, I didn’t show my students anything. It was entirely done by memory and ear.
  • For the youngest students, you can give them just three melody notes: C, D, E.
  • More advanced students can handle all the ones she mentions in the instructions.
  • If the student hasn’t learned dotted quarter note rhythms yet, just explain the left hand pattern as a dotted half note and a quarter note.
  • I don’t have iRealPro, so I didn’t use her recorded drum beat. It’s a great improv even without it.

 

Spider Web (How to Drill Anything)

The specific board I use for this game is created by Hatch Patch Creations. It is intended for a church lesson on honesty for kids, and I did originally use it for exactly that purpose. But I am all about repurposing, so here it is again in a different form.

What You Need:

  • A printable spider board game
    • Basically, it just needs a spider web and some numbers going around it. See the picture below.
  • Die
  • A few plastic spiders
    • Mine were rings in a previous life
  • Two small items to use as game markers
  • Flashcards for whatever you want to drill

Setup:

  • Place your game markers in the middle of the web. The goal is to escape it.

How to Play:

  • Have the student place the plastic spiders on any numbers they choose.
  • The student rolls the die. In order to advance, they need to correctly answer a flashcard. If they get it wrong, they stay where they are.
  • The teacher takes a turn. Repeat.
  • Whenever anyone lands on a number with a plastic spider, that is a wild space which could mean different things, such as:
    • Double or nothing: move forward twice
    • Teacher loses a turn
    • Go back to start
    • Write your own flashcard
      • I was drilling rhythms, so my spiders meant you had to write your own rhythm.
  • Whoever escapes the web first wins.

Variations:

  • To make it easier or harder, just vary your flashcards.
  • To make it shorter, declare whoever is ahead the winner.

 

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Primary Chord Drill

This hardly counts as a game in and of itself, but I made it up this week to use in conjunction with Skeleton, Human or Monster? Most of my students were drilling note names, but several are beyond needing that so we drilled this instead. You could use it with anything in my How to Drill Anything series.

What You Need:

  • Notecards that have the keys you want to practice
    • I always start with C major, G major, D major, and F major. If they’re doing well on those, then expand to A major, E major, B-flat major, and E-flat major.
    • You can use generic note name cards, or write it out on index cards. It won’t take more than 30 seconds to create.
  • Blank Die
    • These things cost 29 cents at my local teacher supply store and are invaluable.
    • On the die, use a sharpie marker to write on the six sides: I, IV, IV, V, V, and *

Setup:

  • None

How to Drill:

  • Student draws a card. That determines the key signature.
  • Student rolls the die. That determines which chord they need to name in that key signature.
    • For example: in the key of C major, the IV is F major, in D major, the V chord is A major.
    • The asterisk can change meaning depending on the student.
      • If the student’s doing well, use it to call out another chord, such as the vi chord or the iii chord.
      •  If the student’s struggling with the concept, use it to mean roll again.

Primary Chord Drill

Random Dynamics

I had a plan this week, but it required five minutes of preparation, and that was five minutes more than I had, so this is what we did instead.

What You Need:

  • Some way of choosing dynamics* randomly, such as:
    • Index cards with various dynamics on them (students draw a card)
    • Index cards with various dynamics on them and a bottle (lay them out on the floor and play spin the bottle)
    • A page assigning various dynamics to numbers 1-6 and one die.
    • A page with the dynamics written on it and a spinner in the middle
    • A blank die that you write the dynamics on

*I used pp, f, ff, crescendo, diminuendo, and wild-and-crazy.

Setup:

  • None

How to Play: 

  • Have the student choose a review song or even a section of a review song. Play through it first to make sure they still know the notes.
  • Select the first dynamic by spinning, drawing, rolling, or whatever.
  • Play the review song again with that dynamic.
    • Wild-and-crazy means they should change up the dynamics a lot throughout the piece.
  • Select a new dynamic and go again.

 

Random Dynamics

 

The Improv Duet Game

Most of the kids love improv, and this activity has the advantage of developing their sense of beat and musicality at the same time.

What You Need:

  • A spinner (or 2 dice if you prefer)
  • A blank piece of paper
  • Coin for tossing (optional)

Setup:

  • If you are using a spinner, place it in the center of your page and section off the paper (see the picture). In each section, write one way to change up an improv. For example, change dynamic, change accompaniment pattern, change articulation, change key signature, change tempo, teacher’s choice, student’s choice, spin again, etc.
  • If you are using dice, write down the numbers 2-12 and assign each number one of the ways to change up an improv.

How to Play:

  • Explain that this improv game is going to use a chord progression: I – IV – V  – I if the student’s had enough music theory to understand that or Cmaj – Fmaj – Gmaj – Cmaj if they haven’t. Each chord is going to get one full measure, so the improv will be a four measure improv. Play each of those block chords as whole notes for the student. That is how long they have to create an improvised melody and return to the home note (or tonic).
  • To start with the most basic improv, the teacher will play those four measures while the student improvises a melody. You can do this several times if the student needs help understanding when to wrap up the melody.
  • After that it is time to mix things up. Have the student spin the spinner or roll the dice. Whereever they land, they need to follow those instructions (change the dynamic, tempo, etc.). If they land on change the accompaniment, move out of block chords into some other pattern, like arpeggios, oom-pa, etc., but keep the chord progression the same.
  • Repeat as many times as you have time for.
    • Depending on the level of the student, you can either make each new spin a fresh improv or you can make the changes cumulative so that you end up playing, for example, in D major, presto, and fortissimo all at the same time.
    • Also depending on the level of the student, you can flip the coin each time to determine who is on melody and who is doing the accompaniment.

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