Skeleton, Human or Monster? (How to Drill Anything)

This is one of my student’s favorite Halloween activities. We use it every year, which is the only reason I was willing to do all this cutting and laminating. This year I used it to drill rhythms, but it can be used for anything.

What You Need:

  • A giant skeleton, like this printable one here.
    • It will last longer if you laminate the pieces.
  • Flashcards for whatever you want to drill.

How to Play:

  • Ask the first flashcard. If the student gets it right, with or without coaching, they have earned one bone. The bones can be laid out on the floor as they earn them.
  • Some of my students want to create a human skeleton, so they need to go in the right arrangement. (The link above provides a helpful diagram.)
  • Most of my students prefer to get creative with a monster skeleton, in which case they place that bone wherever they feel like it.
  • Repeat.

Variations:

  • To make it go faster, award two or three or four bones per flashcard.
  • To make it go slower, award one bone for every second or third correct flashcard.
  • If you’re using rhythm cards, you can place two or three in a row for a multi-measure challenge.
  • If you’re using note cards, you can place two or three on the piano for a multi-note sight reading challenge.

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Remote Control (How to Drill Anything)

If I found this activity on someone else’s blog, I’d probably roll my eyes and move on. I would never, ever, ever go out and actually buy the equipment to make this work. But maybe you already have a remote controlled car or other such device. Or have a neighbor or friend with kids who’ve outgrown those toys. Or, like me, you could have an absolutely wonderful public library that let’s you check out a LEGO EV3 robot for free for two weeks. If those apply to you, some of your kids will love this activity. If not, just roll your eyes and move on.

What You Need:

  • A remote controlled car, truck, robot, or whatever
  • Painter’s tape
  • Sharpie
  • Flashcards or a list of whatever it is you want to drill
    • Flashcards could have rhythms to clap, notes on the staff to name, alphabetic notes to play on the keyboard, key signatures to identify, etc.
    • If you’re using this to drill sections of a song, the list is optional, depending on how sneaky you are. See below.

Setup:

  • Use the painter’s tape to create a track on the floor. Put in as many turns and intersections as you like.
  • Use the sharpie to write on numbers at turns, intersections, or really wherever you want. I used numbers one through twelve.
  • Test your device to make sure the batteries are working and you know how to use it. When you’re done, replace your device at the starting point.

How to Play:

  • The student gets five seconds (as counted by me) to drive the device to one of the numbers on the track. They do not have to go in order. Theoretically, they should stay on the track and not take off cross country, but if they do, it’s okay.
  • When the five seconds are up, choose the number they’re closest to. For example, let’s say they got to number four.
    • If you’re using flashcards, choose the fourth card in your stack. (Or the fifth, if they’re on number 5, etc.)
    • If you’re trying to drill sections of a song, choose the fourth measure, line, phrase, trouble spot, or section to work on for several minutes or play three times in a row, depending on what makes sense for the age and ability of your student.
      • If the song only has four phrases, but the car is at number six, just keep counting through the song again, so that 1 and 5 are the same phrase, 2 and 6 are the same phrase, etc.
      • If you want, you can assign some numbers to be brain breaks, such as an improv or play by ear activity. You can also skip over phrases the student already knows really well. This is where sneakiness comes in. You can either write all this out in advance so you’re consulting a list at each point, or you can write out nothing and just pretend to consult a list. Meanwhile, you really manipulate the activity so that they work on what you need them to work on and get a brain break when they need one, regardless of where the robot goes. None of my students figured it out.

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Cup Tower (How to Drill Anything)

So much of music comes down to drill, and I’ve never yet had a student who didn’t enjoy this method of doing it.

 

What You Need:

  • A set of plastic cups (any number you want).
    • With a permanent marker, write a challenge on each one. For example, you could say Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4, Trouble Spot, Improv, Play by Ear, Review Song, Curved Fingers, Name that Note, Rhythm Flashcard, etc. It’s good if the majority of them are drill that need to be done, with just a sprinkling of more fun ones like improv or review song. My set has duplicates of the four section numbers so we can get to those sections more than once.

Setup:

  • Determine which part of the student’s current piece should be Section 1, which part should be Section 2.

How to Play:

  • The student builds a cup tower. Whichever cup makes the tower fall is the next challenge. The student then has to do whatever is written on the cup, whether it’s play that section of the piece, clap a rhythm, name the notes on a predetermined number of flashcards, play a section with perfectly curved fingers, etc. Depending on the length of your sections, you may want to say they have to play it three times or just once, or that they have to play it until you are satisfied with the quality.
  • Then build another cup tower and accept the next challenge.

Variants:

While students of all ages enjoy this, the danger is that the older ones with better fine motor skills will spend a long time making a very good cup tower that doesn’t fall, and not get to the actual music. Here are some additional rules to make it harder. I usually start out without any of these rules, until I see how good they are at the cup tower and whether I need to do this.

  • No more than three (or even two) cups can touch the ground.
  • The teacher is allowed to randomly be a hurricane and attempt to blow things down.
  • The student must jump on the ground next to the tower after every third cup to see if an earthquake can dislodge it.

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Relay Race Playing

Here’s a technique my students love. We use this when:
(1) we need to drill a repeated section in a song
(2) they haven’t learned the whole song yet, but they really need the completion sense of playing a whole song
(3) we need to keep practicing a song but they’ve run out of the power of concentration they need to make it through the whole song
(4) we’re practicing sight reading, but they feel overwhelmed by the length of the song.

First we talk about what a relay race is. A relay race is one where you run as a team. First one person goes, and when that person finishes, the next person goes, with everyone taking turns until the race is finished. We can play a song that way too as long as we divide it up into sensible sections. (You can get into a discussion about musical form or phrases here, but that isn’t necessary.) The student may play the first line, I play the second line, the student plays the third line, and I finish off the fourth line. Then we may do it again with the parts switched.

This works especially well for songs in an ABAB form. For example, it’s very easy to teach even a beginning student to play the first phrase of Jingle Bells. It falls into a nice five-finger pattern in either C major or G major, and the third phrase is an exact duplicate. They’re usually very excited to finish the song, but they have more trouble remembering (or reading) well enough to finish it off. With relay playing we can have all the satisfaction of finishing a song they know, even though they’ve only learned one phrase!

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**This post originally appeared on my other website here.