September 2017 Plans

Here’s what we did in September:

Week 1: We practiced identifying notes with Slash the Note.

Week 2: We practiced building rhythms with Spin the Rhythm Bottle.

Week 3: We worked on improving our improv melodies with Melody Shapes.

Week 4: We chose songs for our upcoming recital. Some of them are already excellent at their chosen song. Some of them are a little less than excellent, so we drilled trouble spots on it using the Remote Control drill method. Many thanks to the St. Louis County Library for providing the robot.




August 2017 Plans

Here’s what we did in August.

Week 1: We played Pictionary (Music Twist) to practice note reading.

  • Very successful as long as I removed the right cards from the stack based on the kids’ abilities.

Week 2: We did a drumming challenge, which mainly involved improvising rhythms and playing them back on drums.

  • I haven’t blogged about the details yet because I’m still pondering why it worked so well for some students and not so well for others.

Week 3: We did the Thunderstorm Improv.

  • Everyone enjoyed it, and it was really very interesting seeing how many completely different thunderstorms we got even though everyone had the same basic instructions.

Week 4: We did the Cup Tower drill to work on our current pieces.

  • A big hit with everyone.

July 2017 Plans

July is a wrap. Here’s what I did this month.

Week 1: We played Connect Four to practice note reading.

  • I gave most of them a choice between regular Connect Four, Gravity Connect Four, and the Reversi twist. Almost all of them chose regular Connect Four. All three versions are explained here.

Week 2: We played Phase Six to practice building and clapping rhythms.

  • I am continually amazed by how some kids pick this up immediately and others really struggle.

Week 3: We improvised melodies based on different emotions by making music to go along with a picture book.

  • This one was a hit with everyone. Even my most successful ideas don’t always meet with such universal enthusiasm.

Week 4: We practiced intervals by playing the Colorful Intervals Game.

  • Most of the kids loved this, especially the young ones and the girls. The older boys didn’t mind, though they weren’t as thrilled as the others.


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.