Here is a quick, no-prep improv to do with students. All of mine enjoyed it.
The student can use any key on the keyboard. They’ll be using their imagination to play something that sounds appropriate, as you talk them through a thunderstorm. If possible, they should be playing continuously.
The teacher will talk through these steps:
- First, the rain is far away and not very loud.
- Gradually, it comes closer, so that the first raindrops actually fall on you.
- The rain grows steadily faster and louder until you are drenched in a downpour.
- Suddenly, there is a thunderclap! (But the rain continues.)
- And another thunderclap!
- There is a brief lull, as the rain lessens.
- With another thunderclap, the rain comes back in full force.
- The wind blows in fits and starts.
- Gradually, the rain moves off, getting softer and lighter as it fades into the distance.
- Until you are left with only a rainbow.
It’s quite interesting to see how many different effects different students come up with, following this same pattern.
Here’s a music game based loosely on Pictionary. I teach private lessons, so we never have enough people for the actual game of Pictionary. This is a non-competitive version for two people.
What you need:
- At least one set of cards with the letter names on them A through F.
- Optional: a set of cards with other musical concepts on them. I wrote these out by hand in a few minutes, but some examples would be: quarter note, whole note, soft, loud, crescendo, repeat sign, bar line, etc. It is important that you actual write these out; don’t use the symbol.
- A bag or bowl or something to draw the cards out of.
- Whiteboard (or paper) with a large staff on it. Click here for a paper version.
- Whiteboard markers (or other writing utensil)
- Put the cards in the bag or bowl.
- Determine how many points you are going for.
How to Play:
- The first player draws a card out of the bag and does not show it to the other player. If it’s a note name, she draws it, including the clef. If it’s a concept, she draws the symbol for it, such as “p” for soft, “f” for loud, etc.
- The second player guesses what was on the card. If he gets it right, a point has been earned. You can keep track of this with tally marks if you’re trying to be quick and simple. I did it with smiley faces, and most of my students enjoyed drawing those. You’re working together as a team, so there is only one set of points to keep track of.
- On the next turn, the second player draws and the first player guesses.
- The game ends when the points goal has been achieved.
- For pre-readers, use a printout of a keyboard, instead of a staff.
- For more advanced readers, specify an interval, such as a third. Draw the note a third above the note on the card, instead of the actual note on the card. The second player still guesses the note on the card, not the one drawn on the staff.
- To make the game move along if you’re running out of time, make the last one a double or nothing challenge, or a triple or nothing challenge.
- If the player draws a card and doesn’t know what it means, either set it aside and draw again, or show it to the teacher and have a discussion about it.
This week I played a game to practice the concept of intervals:
What you need:
- A set of cards with intervals
- Two keyboard sheets* printed out and laminated or put in a sheet protector
- Whiteboard markers, preferably in a variety of colors
- Shuffle the cards.
- Each player should label Middle C with a whiteboard marker.
How to Play:
- The first player draws a card and names the interval. Once you have named it, color in the entire interval (meaning the top note, the bottom note, and all notes in between) on your keyboard. This ends the turn.
- The second player follows the same process.
- If you have already colored in some or all of the notes contained in the interval on the card, you can color in an equivalent interval anywhere else on the keyboard. For example, if you draw a fourth from middle C to F, but you’ve already colored those notes, you can draw a fourth from G to B above it.
- If your keyboard is so full you cannot find an equivalent interval, color in the largest interval you can find and name it.
- The first person to completely fill their keyboard wins.
*My keyboard sheets are from Kristin’s site at http://www.myfunpianostudio.com/. I highly recommend her Piano Magic improv course.
In this week’s lessons, we are working on improv. I start out with asking the student to play something that sounds happy and bouncy. Then they play something sad and gloomy. If necessary, we talk about what these things mean in a musical sense. High or low? Staccato or legato? Major or minor? Forte or piano? Allegro or Adagio? A lot of my kids don’t really need that explanation. They get it naturally.
At that point, I bring out a short picture book. Theoretically, any book would work, but my absolute favorite is “My Many-Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss. It’s short, it’s got interesting artwork (not by Dr. Seuss), and it covers pretty much every emotion possible, which makes it easier to decide how to vary the music. I read the book while the student improvs the soundtrack. If I think they can improv it better, I make a suggestion based on the emotion we’re going for. This helps with those students who are liable to play pretty much the same thing every time.
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Here’s a rhythm game based on the idea of Phase Ten.
What you need:
- A set of cards with quarter notes, half notes, dotted half notes, etc.
- Remove any cards the student hasn’t learned yet, such as dotted quarter notes or eighth notes.
- Deal out five or six cards to each player. (Five will be harder; six will be easier. Neither are particularly hard since the point is to create and practice workable rhythms.)
- Place the rest of the cards in a stack and flip one card over.
- Make sure you know what the phases are. You can print these instructions out, but I just hold this list in my head. Not printing it out means you are free to make it harder or easier depending on how the student is doing.
- Two measures in 4/4 time
- Two measures in 3/4 time
- Three measures in 4/4 time
- Three measures in 3/4 time
- Four measures in 2/4 time
- One measure in 3/4 time followed by one measure in 4/4 time
How to play:
- The first player attempts to rearrange the six cards into the first phase (two measures in 4/4 time).
- Most of the time, it will be possible to complete the phase. The player counts and claps it. If the player can’t create the phase, she can pick up the flipped over card, or she can take the top card from the stack. She also discards one of the cards she doesn’t want. It becomes the new flipped over card. Her turn is now over.
- The second player attempts to rearrange his cards into the first phase, following the same rules.
- Once one player has successfully counted and clapped a rhythm, the other player has one turn to also complete the phase. Whether she does or not, the round ends. All cards are gathered up. New cards are dealt out.
- Anyone who has successfully counted and clapped a rhythm in that phase can move on to the next phase. Anyone who has not yet completed the phase, must try that phase again on the next round. The person to complete the sixth phase first is the winner.
- To make it easier, change the phases. For example, you can require only one measure of 4/4 in the first round.
- To make it harder, remove the Wild Cards or add an additional rule. For example, only one measure can contain a rest or all rhythms must include an eighth note.
- To make it shorter, say that whoever is further ahead when the lesson ends is the winner, even if not all phases are complete.
- To make it longer, imagine new phases. You may need to deal out more cards if you go for more measures.
- To make it more likely the student will win, deal fewer cards to the teacher on each round. Or, tell the student you might make a mistake in your counting and clapping. If she catches you and can point to the place you clapped wrong, you have to repeat that phase on the next round.