Fun Music Note Identification Review Game

In addition to providing a source of fun during lessons, incorporating hands-on games or activities are a great way to evaluate the student’s understanding of a particular musical concept. The 5 for Fun: games and activities for the private piano lesson booklet has a bunch of tried-and-true ideas that I’ve used with my students. But I’m also always trying to come up with new ideas to help reinforce or evaluate where my students are at. 

At our first lesson back after the first of the year I decided to do a quick evaluation of how my students were doing with quick note identification and placement. Ever since my embarrassing confession two years ago and the implementation of our NoteStars challenge, I try to be proactive in making sure that my students remain quick with their visual note recognition skills.

For this simple activity I placed little markers on random piano keys and then had the student place magnets on a music staff (I just printed staff lines on a sheet of transparency paper) to correlate with the markers on the keys. If necessary, they were to draw ledger lines to ensure accurate note placement. This proved to be a quick, fun, and effective way to launch each piano lesson!

Teaching Music Cambodian Style – A Guest Post by Andy Trowers

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Music has always been my passion, whether listening, playing or teaching. I’ve been inspired by a great many musicians and always want to help others explore their musical side too; especially those with limited access to music. So when I got the chance to teach music at a Cambodian school, I leapt at it.

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I had visited the beautiful riverside town of Kampot, Cambodia some years previously and quickly fell in love with its relaxed atmosphere and creative spirit. It’s a small place with a lot of character. The famously friendly Cambodian people are at their warmest in this town and there is a sizable expat community, which makes for an incredible cultural melting pot of music, art and food.

So when I finished a work contract back home and felt my itchy traveller feet start to tingle, thoughts turned to Kampot. I contacted a friend from my previous visit and secured a volunteer post at a local school. I was to teach guitar and basic music theory to classes of under-privileged Cambodian kids.

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I arrived at the school excited for my first day. The classrooms were basic and a little shabby around the edges, floors covered with the pervasive red dust of Cambodian dry season. A gaggle of kids gathered outside playing.

We entered the sweltering classroom and the children set about sweeping up and opening window shutters to let the breeze through. Then they lined up. Standing in front of me in rows, they intoned in heavily accented English

“Hello teacher, how are you today?”

“I’m doing very well thanks. How are you?” I replied.

“I’m fine thanks you. And you?” they chorused.

Realising that I could easily get caught in a ‘thank you’ loop if I replied again, I nodded sagely and they all sat down.

As we started, I soon realised that I would have to re-evaluate my lofty lesson plans. There were around fifty children in the class and when asked through a translator if any played a musical instrument, none put their hands up. I had brought a guitar with me but with only one instrument in the whole school, it was going to be tricky.

I changed tack and played a song and asked them to clap along in time. It soon became apparent that clapping in time was problematic. As is often the way with kids, they would get excited and speed up, or slow down when they got bored.

I had a metronome app on my phone so I got them to clap in time and learned how to say ‘keep in time’, ‘faster’, and ‘slower’ to try and keep their beat steady. This gets dry quickly, so I varied it by playing games like ‘match the rhythm.’ One child would make up a four beat rhythm and the others would go around the circle matching it. When one person changed the rhythm, the circle would reverse and go back the other way with the new beat.

The classes I had varied in age from 6 year olds to 16 but the things I taught didn’t vary too much between classes. As there is no formalized music tuition, the older kids still needed to learn the basics like staying in time. Out of around 200 children that passed through my classes, only one played an instrument and he was self-taught.

Over time, I got them to make their own shakers and drums out of tin cans and corn kernels, which was great. Well, great for us. Not so much for the neighbouring classrooms. I also taught some basic songs to give the idea of melody. Singing songs in a foreign language is challenging, though, so I tried to learn some Khmer songs to make it more familiar. We touched on harmonies, too, but with hindsight, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is not the best song to teach Cambodian kids. The ‘r’ sound is practically unheard of out here so the lyrics were very difficult for them to grasp.

Despite their unfamiliarity with playing music, the children were amazing. They would do whatever I asked of them and they seemed excited to be at school learning. Education is seen as a privilege in Cambodia, and they would show their appreciation at the end of every lesson, lining up to say “Thank you, teacher.” If lessons went particularly well, they would high-five me on the way out.

By the end of my time at the school, they had improved rhythmically and knew something about melody, but it was all still very basic. These were children of rural folk and their parents wanted them to work on the farms in their spare time, not learn music. The biggest change was probably in me. I ended up staying in Cambodia and setting up a charity that buys instruments and teaching materials which get donated to local schools. I want to help improve access to music in this country which is full of music lovers but short on opportunities.


Andy Trowers is a freelance writer and regular contributor to www.for-sale.ie and is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. We are grateful for his support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

New Free Music Theory Worksheet Find!

If you haven’t been over to MusicTheoryLessons.net lately, check out this incredible collection of free worksheets that you can download and use with your students! Since I rarely use theory books with my students, I am always on the lookout for specific worksheets that I can use to reinforce various concepts. These are also a great tool for ascertaining a student’s actual understanding of a particular music theory concept.

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Dan Vrancic, the teacher behind the website, also has a blog with some helpful blog posts for teachers and students alike. I’m excited to have this resource available, and I know I’ll be back often looking for just the right free music theory worksheet to download!

 

A Teaching Recharge for the New Year

Do you ever feel like you just need a minute to catch your breath, let something beautiful sink into your soul, and recharge for another year (or even just another week!) of teaching?
Our local music teachers association meeting this morning provided just the recharge I needed! I was so thrilled that my friend and colleague, Wendy Stevens (of the renowned ComposeCreate.com website!), agreed to come and share some of her music with us. It’s a treat to have her in our area, and it was fun to hear a little more behind-the-scenes info about her wonderful compositions!


If you have a local music teachers association in your area, I highly recommend participating. It’s such a wonderful way to connect with other teachers, share teaching tips, and glean new ideas. And if you ever have the chance to have Wendy come and do a presentation, you will undoubtedly find yourself inspired and your teaching recharged!


Not to mention she gave us all these great little sticky note packs! 🙂

Super Awesome Sight Readers!

If you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to check out this excellent series of posts by Dr. Julie Knerr (one of the creators of the fabulous Piano Safari method!) on how to train students to be “Super Awesome Sight Readers.” This inspires me to remain dedicated to the process of guiding my students to become confident, excellent sight-readers!

Here’s a quick link to the posts along with my favorite quote from each one:

Part 1: It Takes A Long Time!

“It takes an average of three years of diligent work for children to become confident music readers. This means that as we work with students on their reading skill week after week, month after month, we should not become disheartened if a child who has been playing for a year or two still needs help to analyze and decode a piece or a sight reading card.”

Part 2: False Assumptions

“It is so important to lay the foundation correctly when developing a student’s relationship to the notated score!”

Part 3: The Four Ingredients for Confident Music Reading

“Reading music is a complex skill that requires not only knowledge of note names, but an incredible amount of spatial awareness on the page and in the hands, combined with rhythm in real time. “

Part 4: Ingredient #1 – Patterns and Theory

“Valuable insight into the student’s thought process can be gained by occasionally asking the student to be the teacher and explain to you how to play a piece.”

Part 5: Ingredient #2 – Contours and Intervals

“Repetition builds confidence and fluency.”

(Also, I love the idea of contour stories!)

Part 6: Ingredient #3 – Rhythm

“Not only can good readers intuitively read any rhythmic pattern immediately, but they have a great sense of the macro rhythm. When reading, they do not feel all the subdivisions. Instead, they are able to feel the large beat and fit all the subdivisions between the large beats almost automatically.”

Part 7: Ingredient #4 – Note Names

“The goal is for students to see a note and know it immediately, just as they see the letter “A” and know it is an “A” immediately.”

(Dr. Knerr uses an approach similar to the NoteStars Challenge that I use with my students.)

The Creative Juices are Flowing!

After seeing Alyssa’s creative composition a few weeks ago, Stephanie and Claire were inspired to create their own musical sketch for a fun duet they were working on. They polished up their performance of Jalapeno Hop by Melody Bober and Stephanie drew the artwork for the accompanying story about a couple of jalapeno museum robbers. Here’s what they came up with:

Best Composer Research Resources for Piano Students

Our Vanishing Voices studio practice incentive theme has been a huge hit so far this year! The students are enjoying collecting composers for their portfolios, and I’m enjoying learning tidbits of new information from the research that they do for each composer. In fact, I can see how my whole understanding of the timeline of history has been heavily influenced by my own study of music history over the years, so I’m excited to provide an opportunity for the students to increase their knowledge of history as well!

In light of that, I’ve been compiling some of my favorite composer research resources:


Informusic, the regularly updated and wonderfully handy app that has a world of information at your fingertips! Click here to read the full review.

By far, my all-time favorite book on music history, Bigwigs of Classical Music, was written and illustrated by cartoonist Ben Lansing. In fact, he even generously granted me permission to use his composer portraits as part of our theme! Witty and engaging, Ben’s writing style brings these musical masters to life in a way that even students find entertaining and enjoyable.

Classics for KidsClassics for Kids houses a large compendium of biographies, activity sheets, podcasts, and musical excerpts to introduce students to notable composers. I love that you can search alphabetically by composers last name, by country, by time period, or by utilizing the interactive timeline!

Do you have any other favorite composer resources? I’d love to know about them!

Celebrating Thanksgiving by Giving Back (and with a $5 off Coupon Code!)

Perhaps one of the sweetest students I’ve ever taught, Luke is the one who would remark in awe at how much time I must have spent planning various activities or thank me enthusiastically for helping him with something. In his early years of piano lessons, as a 7-year old boy, I remember him looking up at me and innocently asking one day what I thought I would do when I grew up. I told him I thought I would like to be a piano teacher. He nodded in affirmation, seemingly unaware that I was already carrying out my “grown up” plans.

Luke is also the one who would sit at the piano with me for an hour improvising on pattern after pattern, but then the minute I pulled out a book with music to read, he would start glancing at the clock and commenting on the time. 🙂 Suffice it to say that his learning struggles made reading music a chore, but when given the tools and opportunity, his true musicality shined brilliantly! Here’s one of our improvs:

It’s been a few years since our days in the studio together, but I’ve kept in touch with Luke and his family, especially as Luke faces a degenerative disease that has relegated him to a wheelchair for the time being. In spite of all this, Luke maintains a spirit of gratitude, expressing that even though he doesn’t like what he’s going through he knows that God has a purpose for him in it. In honor of him, I’ve decided to run a special Thanksgiving sale in the Music Matters Blog store. From now through Thanksgiving use the code GIVETHANKS to get $5 off any purchase, and 50% of every purchase made will be given to Luke and his family to help cover some of his medical costs.

You might even want to think ahead to possible Christmas gifts for your students, like a beautiful Music Manuscript Book, The Pianist’s Book of Musical Scales and Keys, or a Mini Music Manual:

Piano Student Gifts

These have been some of my students’ best-loved and most-used personal music resources over the years! Just purchase and download once and then you can print as many copies as you need for your students (and yourself!).

Or perhaps you want to jump start your New Year with a motivating studio practice incentive theme! Or maybe you even want to take some time off this holiday season to curl up with an inspirational [non-music-or-teaching-related-oh-my!] book to refresh your soul. If so, Born to Deliver might be just the thing:

Whatever the case may be, I am thankful for each of you and for the incredible opportunity to be an independent music teacher and a part of the thriving and supportive music education community. This list of 30 Thanksgiving Blessings that I wrote for the Clavier Companion blog several years ago is every bit as true today as it was then!

A Creative Composition Project

In case anyone here didn’t already know how in love I am with the Piano Safari method, I thought I would share a highlight from the lesson this week with my new beginning student Alyssa. We learned the piece, Outer Space from the Level 1 book over the last couple of weeks. Outer Space is a perfect combination of rote learning, composition, and creativity.

The main theme is taught by rote, but then the student is asked to draw a picture representing a couple of objects from space and compose an ending to match each one. Alyssa chose Saturn and Jupiter for hers and we discussed what things the planets have in common and what different characteristics they have. We also listened to some excerpts from Holst’s suite The Planets for inspiration!

I told her that if she could draw full page images for each of the endings – Saturn, Jupiter, and the given shooting star for the final ending – that we could create a simple music video to go with them. We used my Nessie mic, the free Audacity recording software, and iMovie to put together this simple, but memorable creation.

How fun for students to begin experiencing the joys of music composition, creativity, and technology within the first several months of lessons. There is a whole world just waiting to be explored and discovered!

Music Education Apps – A Guest Post by Campbellsville University

Technology is an incredible tool in the classroom. It can give teachers new and exciting ways to engage students, improve the learning process and make tracking progress easier. So why can’t this same philosophy extend to music?

There are more than 80,000 education apps designed just for the iPad alone, and many are designed with music educators in mind, according to Apple. With mobile devices serving as invaluable tools to supplement lessons, music educators have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the massive library of education apps as well as many focused on music specifically.

The Impact of Music Education Apps

Mobile apps offer new methods to accomplish things in the classroom. In music classrooms, technology can spark motivation. While some students are more apt to participate in a music lesson, technology can help other students become engaged. Whether it’s a music-related game or just fun with a keyboard on a tablet, children will be more motivated to take part in learning.

Technology has made it easier to analyze and create music. In music classrooms, students can use apps to break down a piece of music, its rhythms, tempos, harmonies and more. Students can use apps to look at music from the point of view of different instruments.

For teachers, apps provide a chance to differentiate instruction. If music teachers need to work with certain students, they can use technology to ensure that others are engaged. Apps can help students work at their own pace. If students need more instruction on a particular topic, an app can give them the practice they need to ensure they understand.

>>Continue reading about Music Education Apps in the Classroom>>


Campbellsville University is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog, and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.