An Impromptu Group Class

Since I’ll be taking off of teaching next week to attend the MTNA Conference, I planned to stick to my regular teaching schedule this week, even though it was spring break for most of my students. I had consented to giving a few lessons Monday morning for several students that would be going out of town. Sunday night, a group of six of my students who are good friends came up with the idea of me giving them a special group class Monday morning instead. It sounded like a fun alternative to me, so I agreed. They all showed up Monday morning at 10:00 and for an hour and a half we all had a blast!

We started out with a fast-paced game of Affirm-a-Term. On each card is a music-related word of some sort. The student whose turn it is has to describe the word so that the other students can guess what it is. I gave each student a one minute time limit to go through as many cards as they could. We went around the circle two times and each student kept track of how many cards they had gone through during their turn. They had a ton of fun with this and I’m sure they would have played it the whole time if I had let them. 🙂

I pulled a fun-looking piano trio of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” from my files Sunday night and assigned two students to each part. We started out by all counting out loud together and them tapping the assigned parts while I directed. After a couple times through, they worked in pairs on their assigned part. (Thankfully, since we’re getting ready for the Clavinova Festival right now, I have a Clavinova in my studio that we could use!)

Once the parts seemed to be coming together pretty well for all of them, we split into the trio at each piano and worked on playing the whole piece through. They did an amazing job! It worked really well to have two people playing each part (one at each piano), because if one of them messed up, the other one was doing fine and the other could pick back up with them. They learned to listen better to the other players in the ensemble, they were able to bring out the melody when it was in their part (this trio was perfect because each part had the melody at some point), and they were all willingly counting out loud in order to stay together!

MTNA Conference – It’s Almost Here!

The countdown is nearing its end – the MTNA Conference will begin in only a couple of days! I opted not to participate in either of the special Saturday sessions this year, but I plan to attend the opening keynote address by Van Cliburn on Saturday evening. I copied the Daily Schedule from the MTNA Conference page and have been scrutinizing the 30 pages on my computer screen, trying to determine which sessions I want to attend. 🙂 I’m glad that there are so many fabulous options, but it sure does make for some difficult decisions!

Here are some of the sessions that look especially interesting to me:

1. TCW Resources: How to Make Music Lessons the Highlight of Your Students’ Week
Come see innovative games and materials to liven up and organize your studio. Compete for prizes in this energetic workshop! You’ll be amazed at the fun you and your students are missing!

2. Recharge Your Studio: Fresh Ideas to Jump-Start Group Teaching

This session will present new ideas in a variety of group teaching formats including games, performance practice, music appreciation and music theory. Video clips and live demonstrations will be used to illustrate each segment.

3. FJH Music Company: Balancing Your Students’ Repertoire Portfolio for Success in the Studio

Helen Marlais and Kevin Olson will present the tools and the materials for selecting repertoire. The session will introduce Marlais’s new series The Festival Collection. Olson and Marlais will also present their new Sight Reading & Rhythm Every Day series.

4. What Students are Doing When You are Not Looking: Evaluation of Effectiveness in Student Practice
This session will explore what students do in their personal practice session. It will focus on how effectively students use the practice tools they’re given and how teachers might help students make better decisions.

5. A Conceptual Approach to Memorizing and Improvising
Transform a student’s memory by an engaging process that utilizes improvisation at each of four memorization steps. Patterns and analysis come alive! View student demos and try out the process that develops aural, analytic and motor memories.

6. Who’s in Charge Here: The Left Brain, the Right Brain and Making Music
Different aspects of musical skill reside in each brain hemisphere. Each of us has a dominant hemisphere. What does this mean for the study of music? How do we integrate the two hemispheres to become better musicians?

7. Podcasting: A New Way to Put Lessons, Performances and Lectures into the Ears of a Worldwide, Mobile Audience

Podcasting offers educators and students opportunities to be heard by their peers and by audiences around the world. Learn how to host your own podcast and give your students and their performances global exposure.

There are plenty more great looking sessions, so I know I won’t be able to attend everything that looks appealing…but I plan to post notes from each of the sessions I attend, so check back throughout the conference for more details and little nuggets of teaching wisdom!

Also, if any of you are attending the conference and would be interested in writing a review of the sessions you attend to be included here on Music Matters Blog, just send me an e-mail and let me know. I’m sure those who are unable to attend would enjoy reading some of the highlights from the conference.


Here’s a fun worksheet I used to start off this group class celebrating Mozart’s birthday:

Click here or on the above image to download the worksheet.

It’s a fun ice-breaker sort of activity, as it helps the students start working together as a team and share ideas with each other. Each team designates one writer and then the whole team contributes to come up with as many words as they can that fit the number of syllables indicated by the rhythm and the word example at the top of each column. I awarded 10 points for each column to the team that had the most words in that column.

Happy Birthday Mozart! Group Class Idea

In celebration of the 250th birthday of Mozart this year, I held a special birthday party at my February group class. The only catch was that I didn’t tell the students whose birthday we were celebrating. Throughout the course of the evening, they collected clues and at the end had to figure out whose birthday it was. You can view several pictures from the class here on my website. Here’s how it worked:

I split the group of 14 students into two teams. Throughout the class, we alternated between a variety of games and worksheets that the students had to complete. For each team that finished first or gave a correct answer (depending on the activity), they received a specified number of points. Once they had accumulated 25 points, they received a clue about the person whose birthday we were celebrating. Here’s where we kept track of the points:

I listed the specific games and worksheets that we used, but the same format could be followed with any games and worksheets of your choosing. I’ll be posting some of these specific games and worksheets in following posts.

Here are the clues that each team could collect as they accumulated the necessary points:

1. Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophillus were all part of this composer’s given name. All of these given names mean the same thing –“Beloved of God.”

2. He was born and died in the same country, located in Europe. He was 35 years old when he died.

3. Although he lived a rather short life, he composed over 600 works, including more than 50 symphonies, 25 piano concertos, 12 violin concertos, 27 concert arias, 26 string quartets, 15 Masses, and 21 opera works.

4. His father was an accomplished musician and composer and taught both his son and daughter how to play the pianoforte.

5. He composed his first minuet at the age of 5 and his first symphony at the age of 8.

6. Because of his constant travels as a renowned musician, he eventually learned to speak 15 different languages.

7. One of his compositions was a set of variations on the popular French folk tune, Ah, vous dirai-je, Mama – known today as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

8. He died while composing music especially requested for a Requiem (a kind of music that choirs perform at funerals). As he grew increasingly ill while composing, he eventually became convinced that he was composing the music for his own funeral.

9. When he was just a boy, he traveled to Rome during Holy Week. He heard the Pope’s choir sing, Miserere. It could not be heard anywhere else, because no other choir was allowed to sing it. It had never been printed, and nobody outside the choir had ever seen the music, which was kept carefully guarded. When he went to bed that night, the music kept playing over and over in his head so that he could not get to sleep. So, he got up, pulled out his paper and, by the light of the moon, wrote out every note of Miserere.

10. He loved the music from Turkey, and composed a special piece – a Rondo – to sound like the music played in that country.

At the end of the evening, each team had to use whatever clues they had received and the resources I provided (several general music encyclopedias and books on composers) to determine whose birthday we were celebrating. If the team turned in the correct answer, each person on the team got to enter their name in a drawing for a CD by that composer. Both teams had a lot of fun, worked together very well and even came up with the correct answer! This fun, non-stop activity format could be used to celebrate the birthday of any composer – provided you use different clues, of course! 🙂