Often when a student is struggling with a phrase or measure, I’ll suggest that we play it slower. My students nod and say okay. Then they play it again at exactly the same speed. They often really don’t seem capable of changing whatever their default speed is. So this week we are working on tempo changes.
Stand up in front of the piano. Have the student pick four of the body percussion cards and lay them out in any order on the music stand. I put a ruler afterwards to represent a repeat sign.
Each card gets one beat, so we now have a measure of quarter notes in 4/4 time with a repeat sign. For example, the layout might be: Clap, Stamp, Stamp, Cluck. Practice the rhythm a few times.
The metronome app on my phone allows me to tap a beat and have it give me the metronome marking, so I tell the kids we are going to find out what their default preferred tempo is. They count, I tap, and the metronome gives us our start speed.
Working together, try to do the body percussion measures at that speed.
Draw a random tempo strip. Try it at that speed. Is it faster or slower than the student’s default speed? (If they get Presto and can’t manage it, that’s okay. It can be a good lesson in how important it is to learn things at a slower tempo before we try to take it fast.)
Continue drawing tempo strips until all are done. Which tempos are easiest? Which are hardest? How does it feel to switch between them?
If there is still time, try different tempos or working your way back up to presto. Many times a student who can’t do presto when they first draw that strip, will be able to do it if you work your way up slowly.
To make it easier, don’t use the rest cards. Also, you can require each card to come in a group of two identical cards, so that you end up with something like: Clap, Clap, Stomp, Stomp. It is easier than having four separate actions in the measure.
To make it harder, create two different measures. Also, gradually increase the speed beyond presto.
This is my spin on a traditional educational game listed on many places on the Internet. I use it for rhythm, but the principal can be used for anything. My version is a little different. It’s for two players only (teacher vs. student). The kids love beating me, and they have yet to point out that they always win. It takes a bit of prep work to create the game in the first place, but absolutely no setup during or right before each lesson.
What You Need:
Popsicle or craft sticks with rhythms (or whatever you’re drilling) written on one end
You can buy different colors or sizes to make different levels of rhythms.
All the rhythms are two measures long. I have mixed time signatures.
A few sticks with “Zap It!” written on one end
(Optional) A few sticks with “Instrument” written on one end, plus a selection of percussion instruments
An opaque container to hold your sticks
How to Play:
The student draws a stick. She identifies the time signature and then counts and claps that rhythm. If she gets it right, she keeps the stick.
In reality, I have the kids do it again until they get it right, so they always keep the stick.
As teacher, I draw a stick. I identify the time signature and then count and clap the rhythm. If I get it right, I keep the stick. If the student catches me getting it wrong, the student gets a chance to do it right. If the student gets it right, she can keep the stick instead of me.
I do this strategically, not only to make sure they are paying attention during my turn, but also to ensure they always win the game.
Alternate turns until someone draws a Zap It! stick. At that point, everyone counts their sticks. Whoever has the most sticks is the winner.
If someone draws an Instrument stick, they draw another stick to get a rhythm and can choose a percussion instrument to use instead of clapping. They keep both sticks at the end of the turn.
It’s rhythm week here, and this activity evolved with the week. In it’s final incarnation, here’s how it worked.
What You Need:
A set of one measure rhythm cards
percussion instruments (optional)
Lay out six to twelve cards, face up
How to Play:
This game is a series of challenges. Each step is a little harder than the one before. The goal is to get through as many challenges as you can before the lesson ends.
The student chooses a card, but does not remove it, point to it, or indicate it in any way. He should count a preparatory measure out loud to establish the beat. Then he should clap the measure (not counting out loud). Hopefully, the teacher will be able to identify which measure the student chose.
Repeat challenge one using a percussion instrument instead of clapping. If you’re not using percussion instruments, just clap.
Switch parts and percussion instruments.
Return to clapping. This time choose two measures. Again, count a preparatory measure. Then clap the two measures in succession. Hopefully, the teacher can identify both measures.
Switch parts. Many of my students found one measure easy to identify, but two measures very difficult. Repeat the clapping as many times as necessary to ensure success.
Add in the percussion instrument.
Switch parts and percussion instruments.
Return to clapping. This time choose three measures.
To make it easier:
Limit the rhythms to quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes.
Put out fewer cards to choose from.
To make it harder:
Include eighths, sixteenths, triplets, etc.
Put out more cards to choose from.
Start with two or three measures to begin with. Or go on up to six or seven measures.
Put out mixed time signatures so they may have to switch in the middle.
Among my students, Valentine’s Day is controversial. Their reaction ranges from love to hate, with most hovering around total indifference. Fortunately, there is a way to make a Valentine’s activity that appeals to all of the above because the poems range from the traditionally sweet, through the silly surprising, down to the frankly insulting. I used this activity with all my students of all levels. The only difference was that the more advanced students could do it faster and with less help.
Show the student all the Valentine poems so they can pick their favorite.
Determine the time signature.
I do this by telling them I’m going to clap and say the first measure (“Roses are”). Once they figure out that it’s in 3/4 time, they can write that before the first word of the poem.
Draw the first bar line.
Since I’ve already told them that the first measure ends after the word “are,” they need a bar line there.
Draw the first three notes above the first three syllables.
Repeat counting and saying the first measure. Some students may need a few hints to realize that each of those syllables gets a quarter note.
Finish the first line.
Count and say the entire first line. I made the final word a dotted half note. Obviously, alternate rhythms are possible, but the main point is not what the rhythm is, but whether the student can identify and write whatever rhythm you do.
Dictate the second line.
I did it as a whole line now that they have the idea of what to do.
Point out that the rhythm between first and second lines are exactly the same. That is normal and expected in this type of poetry. In music, it would be called a rhythmic motif.
Repeat the process for the third and fourth lines. The rhythms here will not be the same.
Have the student say and clap the whole poem in rhythm.
If there is still time, move to the piano and compose a song. The notes can be any note in C major (all the white keys). The rhythm should be the rhythm they wrote down.
To make it easier, you can put in all the bar lines and time signature first, and do only one measure at a time.
To make it harder, don’t use the natural speaking rhythm. Syncopation or other unexpected rhythms usually go over well.
To make it longer, have the student change the rhythm after having written down yours.
To review the rhythms again afterwards, use percussion instruments to play it.
If you don’t have a remote controlled thing of some kind already, this activity is not worth the effort. If you do, this is easy and thrilling for many of the kids
What you need:
A remote controlled vehicle of any kind
A selection of note values written out separately. I have a set I use on a giant staff, but even quickly written notes on scrap paper would work.
Scatter the notes around the floor.
How to Play:
The student gets 45 seconds to drive the vehicle over as many notes as she can. The teacher picks them up as the student gets over them.
The student chooses a time signature. I offered 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, and 6/4. Many students liked choosing an unfamiliar time signature.
The student organizes the notes into measures. If the beats don’t come out right, they can have one free note per measure, as long as they can identify what kind of note they need.
Once the measures were organized, the student have three tasks:
Count and clap their rhythm.
Pick their favorite note and play their rhythm on the piano.
Pick several notes and play a melody using their rhythm.
To make it easier, limit the type of notes you scatter.
To make it harder, include a variety of note values, such as triplets.
To make it very hard, have the student play the rhythm with one hand while simultaneously playing a different rhythm with the other hand.
To make it more exciting, use different instruments to play the rhythms.
To make it longer, have them choose and write down notes to go with their rhythm. They can also repeat their rhythm several times, putting it together to make a composition, with or without accompaniment.