Dreidel (Music Twist)

Yesterday was the first day of Hanukkah. None of my students are Jewish (nor am I), so I thought it was unlikely that any of them had ever played dreidel before (nor had I). My total knowledge of the game comes from My Jewish Learning. We used it to drill rhythms, but as always, it is easily modifiable to drill anything else.

What you need:

  • A dreidel.
    • These are not expensive. Think Oriental Trading Company, Amazon, etc.
  • Cards with whatever you want to drill. I used rhythm cards.
  • Game tokens of any kind.
    • Mine are from the game Reversi, but you could also use pennies, pencil erasers, small chocolates, whatever.
  • Paper and pencil (optional)

Setup:

  • Distribute tokens evenly between the players. I went with six each, but the actual amount doesn’t matter much. Add some to a center pile as well. I put four in.

How to Play:

  • The first player spins the dreidel. There are four possible outcomes:
    • ש – The player adds a token to the center pile, and count and clap a rhythm on from the stack of flashcards.
    • ח – The player gets half the tokens in the center pile and must invent a rhythm, write it out, and count and clap it.
    • ב – The player gets all the tokens in the center pile and must write out a rhythm that the other player claps.
    • נ – The player does nothing.
  • When the lesson time is over, the person with the most tokens wins.

 

If you thought through the statistics, you’ll have noticed that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of having an empty center pile. Plus it’s all random chance, and I always like to make sure my students win, so here are a few tips:

  • Sometimes I make a mistake in my counting and clapping. If the student can catch me and do it right, they get the tokens I was supposed to collect. If I was supposed to add a token to the pile, I have to add double. I used this strategically whenever I was supposed to get a fair number of tokens.
  • When the center pile has been empty for a couple of turns, it gets boring. A couple of times, I just told the student I was going to cheat and add a few more tokens to the center pile. I did not tell them that I only did that when it was their turn. That increases the likelihood that they end up with those tokens, not me.

 

 

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Drumming in Eight

The kids love drums. Any drumming activity always meets with approval from them, though I haven’t always been so pleased myself. This activity went better than many.

What You Need:

  • Two drums
  • Playing cards

Setup:

  • Sort through your playing cards. You need one ace plus one each of the numbers two through seven. The suit does not matter.

How to Play:

  • Explain how musicians usually count to four in each measure because most music is in 4/4 time. Dancers like to put two of those measures together and count to eight. For this activity, we’re counting to eight.
  • Give the student one of the drums. Keep the other for yourself.
  • To get the hang of how to play the drum, we always start with the easiest challenge: Both of us playing quarter notes as I count out loud to eight. (I always give them a preparatory measure or half measure first.)
  • After that we go through a series of challenges in more or less this order:
    • Pick a random card. Rest for every beat except the one drawn.
    • Pick a second card. Play on both of your cards.
    • Pick a third and fourth card. The teacher plays on those beats while the student continues to play on the first two cards drawn.
      • Note: I find that many kids struggled if the beats alternated. For example, if their numbers were 2 and 6 and my beats were 5 and 7, they had trouble. If we swapped cards so they had 2 and 5 and I had 6 and 7, it seemed easier.
  • It is also possible to go through the same series of challenges to practice eighth notes. For this version, there are no rests. Hit the drum on every beat, but on the beat that matches the card, double hit (play eighth notes) instead.
    • One of my students inadvertently did this when I wasn’t planning on it. He always hit twice on beat seven because there are two syllables in it. By the time we finished the lesson, I still hadn’t managed to train him out of that.

 

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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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Spin the Rhythm Bottle

Here’s a rhythm activity I used this week with all my students. The basic version here is okay, but bland. It’s enormously more interesting if you use one or more of the variants below.

What You Need:

  • A set of cards with note values on it
  • A bottle
  • Paper
  • Pencil

Setup:

  • Lay out your cards in a circle and place the bottle in the middle.
  • Pick a time signature and write it on your paper.

How to Play:

  • Have the student spin the bottle. When it stops spinning, they should draw that note after the time signature on the paper.
  • Ask the students how many beats they have left in the measure. If it’s not complete, they spin again until it is. If they get a note that is too big to fit in the rest of the measure, they should fill out the measure with one (and only one) note that will complete it.
  • When the measure is complete, have them count and clap it.
  • Build a second measure with the same method. When it’s complete, they should count and clap both measures in succession.
  • Repeat until you run out of time.

Variants

  • To make it easier, limit the types of notes you include, such as only quarter notes and half notes.
  • To make it harder, include harder notes such as sixteenths and triplets.
  • To drill on a new rhythm concept, such as eighth notes, put a lot of the same card out so they are more likely to get that rhythm.
  • To make it more exciting, include a Wild card. Wild means they can choose a percussion instrument from a selection you provide to play and count their rhythms.
  • To reinforce after you have several measures, clap (or play) it as a round. Take turns being the person who starts or the person who starts at the beginning when the first person has made it to the second measure.
  • To use as an improv technique, have them improv a melody on the piano based on the rhythms they created.

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Phase Six (Music Twist)

Here’s a rhythm game based on the idea of Phase Ten.

What you need:

  • A set of cards with quarter notes, half notes, dotted half notes, etc.

Setup:

  • Remove any cards the student hasn’t learned yet, such as dotted quarter notes or eighth notes.
  • Deal out five or six cards to each player. (Five will be harder; six will be easier. Neither are particularly hard since the point is to create and practice workable rhythms.)
  • Place the rest of the cards in a stack and flip one card over.
  • Make sure you know what the phases are. You can print these instructions out, but I just hold this list in my head. Not printing it out means you are free to make it harder or easier depending on how the student is doing.
    • Two measures in 4/4 time
    • Two measures in 3/4 time
    • Three measures in 4/4 time
    • Three measures in 3/4 time
    • Four measures in 2/4 time
    • One measure in 3/4 time followed by one measure in 4/4 time

How to play:

  • The first player attempts to rearrange the six cards into the first phase (two measures in 4/4 time).
  • Most of the time, it will be possible to complete the phase. The player counts and claps it. If the player can’t create the phase, she can pick up the flipped over card, or she can take the top card from the stack. She also discards one of the cards she doesn’t want. It becomes the new flipped over card. Her turn is now over.
  • The second player attempts to rearrange his cards into the first phase, following the same rules.
  • Once one player has successfully counted and clapped a rhythm, the other player has one turn to also complete the phase. Whether she does or not, the round ends. All cards are gathered up. New cards are dealt out.
  • Anyone who has successfully counted and clapped a rhythm in that phase can move on to the next phase. Anyone who has not yet completed the phase, must try that phase again on the next round. The person to complete the sixth phase first is the winner.

Variants:

  • To make it easier, change the phases. For example, you can require only one measure of 4/4 in the first round.
  • To make it harder, remove the Wild Cards or add an additional rule. For example, only one measure can contain a rest or all rhythms must include an eighth note.
  • To make it shorter, say that whoever is further ahead when the lesson ends is the winner, even if not all phases are complete.
  • To make it longer, imagine new phases. You may need to deal out more cards if you go for more measures.
  • To make it more likely the student will win, deal fewer cards to the teacher on each round. Or, tell the student you might make a mistake in your counting and clapping. If she catches you and can point to the place you clapped wrong, you have to repeat that phase on the next round.

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