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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Lucky Penny Game (Note Review)

Every St Patrick’s Day, I play the Lucky Penny game with my students. This is not my original idea, and you can find the original brief instructions at Sing a New Song.  It is a very simple game to review notes on the staff. I particularly like it because it isn’t just a drill of finding the note name. They also have to connect it through to the correct note on the piano. I always have some students who are great at naming the note, but still have no clue which octave they ought to be playing it in. This game helps.

What You Need:

  • Flashcards with the notes you want to review
  • As many pennies as you have flashcards. One (or more) should be marked on one side in some way as the lucky one.
    • I use Euro pennies. My American students are always delighted by how small they are and the fact that they really are Irish pennies. Of course, if you don’t have a source for Euro pennies, any other small coin works just fine.
    • My lucky penny has a sticker of a four leaf clover.

How to Play:

  • Since I am not the originator of the game, I will just direct you to Sing a New Song to get the instructions on how to play.
  • My modifications are as follows:
    • I only have one lucky penny, not 2-5. If they have to go through two full octaves to find the penny, I don’t consider that a bad thing. It’s just more practice.
    • I don’t give out candy, since I try to keep that at an absolute minimum. If they aren’t expecting candy, students are still interested in seeing how lucky they are (i.e., how quickly they find the lucky penny).

Variations:

  • To make it easier or shorter, limit the number of notes you ask.
  • To make it harder, don’t have them remove the penny on the note on the staff. Instead pick an interval and require them to remove the penny a third above or a fourth below the note on the staff. You can then ask them to name whether that interval is major, minor, diminished, etc.

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The Rakes of Mallow (Learn by Rote)

Occasionally, I discover that some of my students who should know their finger numbers backwards and forwards, do not actually know their finger numbers at all. This week, we got a head start on St. Patrick’s Day, learned an Irish song by rote, and reviewed those finger numbers with absolutely everyone.

The song we learned was the traditional Irish tune called “The Rakes of Mallow.” You can listen to a symphonic version by Leroy Anderson here.

The key to teaching a song by rote is to break it up into easily remembered sections. Here’s how I did it:

  • The first six notes. I played them and had the student tell me what finger numbers I used and then play it back.

step1

  • The next four notes. I slowed it down so they could call out the finger numbers as we went (4-3-2-1). We pointed out that this is just a scale, which all of them have done. Then they played it back.

step2

  • The main theme. I played steps 1 and 2 together in time. They played it back.

step3

  • The variation on the main theme. We have done motifs before, so we talked about how our ears like repetition. The next phrase is the same motif that we have already learned. We just need to slide our hand down one note and play it again. (This is not necessarily the fingering I would use if I were playing it myself, but it is the easiest to remember when you are learning by rote.) After learning this step, we played everything we knew so far. We are now half way through the song.

step4

  • The third phrase is another variation on the theme. We slide our hands back up to C position, so we think we’re going back to the beginning, but at the end there’s a surprise. Again, we played everything we knew.

step5

  • After the surprise, we get to have the same scale that we skipped at the end of the last phrase.

step2

  • Except we keep going past the C and then come back up to an E. Here I fingered it differently, depending on the student. For beginners, they brought up their left hand to play the B. The more advanced students did a 2nd finger cross over. This was the hardest step for everyone.

step7

  • The very easy grand finale.

step8

 

For some of my students, this took all the time we had. For others, we had time left over, so we:

  • Played it as a duet. I accompanied.
  • Played it with different dynamics.
  • Played it with different speeds.
  • Made it minor.
  • Transposed.

If you’d like to see the entire song together, check out Rakes of Mallow here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

 

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The Sight Reading Dragon

Sight reading is an important skill, but practicing it is inherently boring for most students. Anything to make it more interesting is a welcome relief. In Chinese culture, seeing a dragon is a sign of good luck, something that is definitely helpful when you are trying to sightread. So to celebrate Chinese New Year this week, we present the Sight Reading Dragon.

What You Need:

  • A paper Chinese dragon head.
  • Strips of different colored paper
  • Stapler
  • A selection of sight reading material.
    • I find that picking music that is two levels behind their current level usually works. For the students in the first level, I just use a different series, go back as far as I can in the book to the easier pieces and, if necessary, break it up into one measure at a time.

Setup:

  • Loop one strip of paper, staple it closed and staple, tape, or glue or glue it to the back of the dragon’s head. This is necessary to get the paper chain started.

How to Play:

  • This is a studio-wide game, it will not be complete until all students have had their lesson for the week.
  • For every measure or section the students correctly sight read, they earn one strip of paper to add to the paper chain.
  • The goal is to make our brightly colored dragon as long as possible. I’ll be leaving mine up for a week so that everyone can see how long it grew.

Variations

  • For some students, I made it more competitive. I told them what the highest number of strips earned was and challenged them to beat that number. I didn’t do this with everyone, for the obvious reason that as a competition it’s totally unfair. They didn’t all get the same amount of time, some of them are beginning readers, some of them had longer sight reading selections, etc. But for some kids, the desire to win kept them going.
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The Sight Reading Dragon for Chinese New Year