Performance Prep (Halloween Style)

Our fall recital is this weekend. On the last lesson before a performance, I always like to record the kids several times and watch it with them. It’s extra practice for them, but even more importantly, it gives them a good opportunity to analyze their own performance and talk about what went well and what still needs work. I find that students tend to fall into one of three categories:

  • Those who think their performance was perfect, when it definitely wasn’t.
  • Those who think their performance was terrible, when it was actually pretty good.
  • Those who stare at me blankly and have no idea what went well or what needs work.

When I listen to their analysis, I start to understand why their home practice isn’t always very effective. How can you make progress if you can’t tell what needs to improve? It’s definitely something we need to work on.

At any rate, we always need this to be a little fun, and here’s this year’s incarnation.

What You Need:

  • These Halloween numbers, printed on orange cardstock
  • Plenty of memory on your phone
  • A pen and/or Halloween stickers

Setup:

  • None

What to Do:

  • Talk about what Take One, Take Two, etc., means in movie-making. (Most of my kids didn’t know.)
  • Record Take One by starting the camera on the orange number One. The student can start playing at any point after that.
  • After Take One, ask for two things that went well and one thing they could improve. Many of them will need help with that.
  • Record Take Two and repeat the process. If there is time, record Take Three and Four. If not, stop with two.
  • Watch the recordings. When the student has determined the best take, allow them to draw or add a Halloween decoration to that Take Number.

By the end of the week, the kids are all playing well and my somewhat plain Halloween numbers had a lot of delightful additions. Most of my kids preferred to draw rather than using my googly monster eyes or Halloween stickers.

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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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Monster Eyeballs (Note Review)

Here is a Halloween-themed way to review the notes while creating a decoration for your studio.  It’s sure to thrill kids. Except for my own daughter, who said it was creepy and she didn’t want to touch the eyeballs. Other than her, everyone loved it.

What You Need:

  • A set of monster eyeballs. These are available at dollar stores around Halloween.
  • A bag big enough to hold your monster eyeballs.
  • A clear vase, bowl, or other container.
  • Flashcards or a sheet of piano music.

Setup:

  • Before the lesson, use a permanent marker to write note names on each of the eyeballs.
  • Put all the eyeballs in the bag.
  • If you’re using flashcards, lay them out face up, but not in order.

How to Play:

  • The student reaches in the bag and draws out an eyeball.
  • The student then looks through the flashcards or sheet music and finds a note that matches the letter on the eyeball.
  • If they correctly find the match, the student can add the eyeball to the vase to add to your Halloween decorations.

Variations:

  • For pre-readers, have them play the note on the piano instead of looking for it on the staff.
  • For readers who haven’t yet learned all the notes, limit the flashcards to the ones they have learned. You may also want to use treble clef notes separately from bass clef notes.
  • For more advanced readers, use flashcards or music with lots of ledger lines, or you can require them to find not the note on the eyeball, but a note that is a third above that note (or a fifth or whatever).

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2016 October Activities

I’m also always on the lookout for a good Halloween activity to keep our lessons interesting in October. Here is a roundup of the activities and games I’m using this year.

1. The Skeleton

This is a perennial favorite with me and the students. We do this every year. I printed, cut out, and laminated this almost life-size skeleton. Most of the time, I use it to drill notes. I show the student a note on the staff. If they name it correctly, they get a bone. Some students like to use the little human skeleton picture that comes with the set to arrange their human skeleton on the floor. Some students like to ignore the little picture and place their bones in some weird arrangement to build a monster. The point is, you can use this to drill anything: rhythms, key signatures, notes on the keyboard, whatever you need.

2. The Poison Rhythm

This is a classic rhythm game. Write out a rhythm in one or two measures. This is the poison rhythm. I like to give my students three spider rings to be their three lives in this game. Then I clap rhythms and they clap it back. If I clap the poison rhythm, they should stay silent. If they do clap the poison rhythm, one of their spiders dies. The object of the game is to still have at least one spider life left when we run out of time.

3. Ghost Notes

Print out a large staff on orange paper. Print out little ghosts for notes. Cut them out and laminate everything. Then you can use a whiteboard marker to draw either a bass clef or a treble clef on the staff and start composing, using the ghosts for notes.

4. Improv in A Minor

My early students mostly play in C major and G major, though they don’t necessarily know those terms. It’s easy enough to teach them to move their hands to A position, where both hands have their lowest finger on A. They are then playing in A minor, and they can improv their own spooky song.

5. Make It Scary

Pick a piece that the student has recently passed off. Make it scary by playing it in one of the following three ways, or use a combination.

  • Lightly write in the accidentals needed to make it minor instead of major. For most early repertoire, this means that Es become E flats or that Bs become B flats. It’s a good exercise to make the student find all of those notes in the piece.
  • Pick a note (without telling me which one) to add an accent, which is the musical equivalent of shouting “Boo!”
  • Play it very slowly, in a very low octave.


6. Are You Scared? (also known as Double or Nothing)

For this game I use a Halloween-themed board (see below) that I picked up as a free handout from a library in Germany. It would be pretty much impossible to get another copy, but you could use pretty much any game board or you could make your own Halloween-themed board with the help of free graphics on the Internet. As usual, the object of the game is to get your piece from Start to Finish quickest. On your turn, you roll the dice. If you answer a flashcard correctly, you can move that many spaces forward. As with the Skeleton activity, the flashcards can be anything you need to drill: notes, rhythms, major chords, etc. If you happen to be starting on a square with a number in it, you have the option of double or nothing. You still have to answer the regular question, but if you also answer a second flashcard correctly, you can move forward double the number of spaces. I usually make my second set of flashcards from a different category, like rhythm vs. notes. I also like to put that set of flashcards in a plastic jack-o-lantern. If you are using a different game board, you’ll need to find a different way to determine when double or nothing is an option. Or just make it an option all the time.


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Halloween Repertoire

Every year, I always spend a chunk of time looking for Halloween repertoire for my students. It’s a tricky business to find something that is exciting and challenging, but not too challenging, for each individual student. Ultimately, the goal is to find several pieces for each student to choose from. They’re usually excited about this music, and if we start in the first week of October and if they actually practice at home, we often do all of their choices throughout the month.

At any rate, the links for this year’s Halloween music are below, roughly in order of difficulty. My thanks to the other teachers out there who are posting their own music. The pieces that don’t have a composer listed below were written by me.