Snapshots From This Week’s Group Class

In addition to performing for each other this week we practiced sharing definitions and descriptions of the musical elements of our pieces.

Composing with the fun new game Compose Yourself!

A game of notating Major and minor scales accurately by following the correct pattern. 

Major and minor scale-building game at the piano keyboard!  

We rotated pairs for each round to give everyone a chance to work with someone else and put their skills to the test!

Spin the wheel and draw a scale block, then see how quickly you can arrange the scale blocks to form the specific Major or minor scale!

 

Compose Yourself – Giveaway #1!

Imagine the look on your students’ faces as they listen to a simple melody transformed into a gorgeous orchestral sound. That is exactly the awe factor that Maestro, Cellist, and Composer Philip Sheppard has in mind with his ingenious new creation, Compose Yourself. Distributed by the award-winning educational game company, Think Fun, Compose Yourself will appeal to experienced musicians, creative teachers, eager students, and even those with no musical background at all! You can’t help but love the simplicity of arranging a selection of transparent cards with unique note patterns to form a melody.

But the real fun is when you enter your personal pattern into the accompanying website and get to hear the results as performed by The English Session Orchestra and/or acclaimed percussionist Evelyn Glynnie. So cool!

Composer Yourself is a perfect addition to any piano lesson, composition lesson, or group class. Think Fun has generously offered to giveaway one free Compose Yourself game to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. One winner will be selected at noon (CST) on Friday, December 11, 2015 using a random number generator. Enter for your chance to win and then come back tomorrow for another sweet giveaway!

 

 

A Fun Memorization Game for Piano Students

Have you ever had students completely blow the performance of a piece that they’ve played numerous times without a glitch? Or have you ever been that performer? I raise my hand. Learning how to memorize cognitively has made all the difference for me, and I’ve used it over and over again to help students (even those who thought they didn’t need it!) prepare for an effective memorized performance. One way we approach this is by determining the form of the piece and creating little cards with labels for each section.

Here, Robert is in the final stages of preparation for a performance of “Lights in the Water” by Robert Vandall (this has become his all-time favorite piece!). We quickly created cards with labels for each section and began by placing them in order on the music rack. I had him play through it once by memory, taking mental note of each section as he got to it in his performance.

After one run-through, we scrambled the cards and placed them on the music rack for a second performance. He got lucky starting again with A-B! After that, though, the order was mixed up, so he had to see if he could recall how each section started and ended in order to play them in the arranged order.

This is a very helpful tool for creating a mental road map that can guide the student during a performance. Plus, even if they do get stuck in one section, they can easily move on to the next section without panicking! Anything that engages the brain to aid in a memorized performance is a step in the right direction toward cognitive memory and not solely muscle memory.

A Fun Group Piano Class Rhythm Game

The last week of each month I hold a 1-hour group class in addition to the regular lessons for that week. This gives the students an opportunity to perform for each other, participate in ensembles, and play a variety of games to help reinforce musical concepts.

Since one of our primary focuses this year is on developing more proficient rhythm skills, my plan is to begin each group class with a fun rhythm game. This week we played, “Pass the Rhythm” – a variation on the old “telephone” game and adapted from the Rhythm Squeeze game on Teach Piano Today.

I split the students into two teams – boys v. girls in this case! They lined up front to back and the first and third player of each team was given a white board, marker, and eraser.

I began by tapping a 2-measure 4/4 rhythm pattern on the shoulder of the student at the back of each line. They had to notate the rhythm that they thought I tapped and then pass the board to the next player in line.

The next player looked at the rhythm pattern and then tapped it on the shoulder of the first person in line.

Finally, the one at the front of the line notated the rhythm pattern that they felt. After the rhythm was passed all the way to the front of the line, I had each team hold up their board and compare it with the rhythm I had written on my board for that round. Each team received one point for each correct beat. The students then switched places and we did the same thing for Round 2. We did several rounds and then tallied the points so that the team with the most points was the winner!

Everyone seemed to enjoy this engaging game, and it’s a great tool for determining where they are at in identifying and tapping rhythms!

A Simple and Fun Rhythm Activity for the Piano Lesson

Since one of my main objectives this year is to help my students master rhythm skills, we are finding a variety of ways at each lesson to help students decipher, play, and notate rhythms accurately. Here’s a fun multi-sensory rhythm activity we tried this week that was very effective!
This is adapted from Have a Heart – Feel the Pulse, but instead of using a page of hearts I drew four hearts across the top of a dry erase board and then wrote the 4/4 time signature on the row below the hearts. I played a simple 4-beat pattern of quarter and eighth notes and had the student place small magnets inside each heart to show whether each beat contained one or two sounds/notes.

After placing the magnets, the student translated them into notes, drawing quarter notes where there was only one sound and a pair of eighth notes where there were two sounds. This was a huge help in reinforcing the importance of identifying and maintaining a steady pulse while playing various rhythm patterns!

Note Categories – A Music Note Identification Game

After getting a good start on our NoteStars challenge, I also assigned every student the Note Categories game.


This game is very simple, but definitely challenging for students. I use one of each letter name scale block and time the student as they go through the set of student music note flashcards, placing each one below the corresponding scale block.


Like the NoteStars challenge, I started by timing the students according to each level, but they all quickly moved into using the whole deck of cards. Unlike NoteStars, students only have to identify the name of the note, so that adds a nice variety while still building an essential understanding of the music staff.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

3. Apply it
What is the one thing you could do that would best give kids the internal drive to master music theory? Teach them the application.

When kids realize that music theory empowers them to create their own fun songs they’ll want to learn everything they can from you.

Far too often kids study the piano for years and years, but then can’t play a thing if they don’t have a piece of sheet music in front of them. What happens if they get asked to “play something” when they don’t have a piece worked up? They’re embarrassed and find themselves feeling that their lessons have failed them to some degree.

If a student really understands his instrument, he should be able to make music—even if he doesn’t have a sheet in front of him.

Music theory teaches us how music works, and if you can help your students realize that applying their theory will open a whole new world of enjoyment at the piano, they will thank you forever.

Kids can start applying their theory even as young beginners. When you introduce a new concept, ask kids to go home and create a song that uses this new principle. You’ll find that kids learn the concept faster, are thrilled to play their song for you and their confidence at the piano skyrockets.

For some fun exercises that get kids creating impressive songs using their theory knowledge, you can check out these piano improv activities. You definitely want to teach the “Snowflake Technique” to your students—it’s super easy and sounds awesome:

When your students know their theory well they’ll make faster progress in their lessons, learn new songs with less frustration and spend hours at the piano having fun creating their own music. Remember these three tips for getting kids excited about learning theory: make it fun, make it social and teach the application. Before you know it, your students will become music theory rockstars!

A huge thanks to Kristen Jensen for sharing her wonderful tips and resources with us in this series, 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

2. Make it social

Studying piano can be kind of lonely. Kids practice by themselves. Then they sit in a small room with an “old” teacher who for 30 minutes tells them everything they’re doing wrong. Then they go home and repeat.

One reason why so many kids end up choosing sports over piano is that their friends are there with them. And when friends are together, there’s laughter, camaraderie and the desire to succeed together.

There is a way to make piano a more social experience, and that is to offer group theory lessons. You could do a group theory class once a month, or maybe offer a special theory master class anytime there is a 5th Monday in a month. Maybe you could get even more creative with your scheduling. I provide a group theory class almost every week–my students love coming, have developed strong friendships and are learning a ton.

Plus some friendly competition goes a long way in motivating kids to nail down new concepts! When kids are playing a game with their friends they have much more incentive to master the principles because they want to be included in the fun and they want to do well in the game.

Here’s a favorite group activity that is as old as the hills and has a million variations, but is really effective. Knowing note names is a foundational skill that kids will build upon for virtually everything else we do in music theory, so it’s always my goal to help students learn the names of the notes on the staff as quickly as possible. We do this activity a lot! To play, place a printout of the grand staff in a page protector and give a copy to each student. Then give each student a mini marshmallow and call out a note name. All students who place their marshmallow on the correct line or space get to eat it. You’ll be able to play many rounds of this “note name drill” because your students will want more treats!

Ear training is also great in a group. Ear training is something can easily be neglected, but it makes a world of difference in students’ musicianship. When your students are just getting started, use simple ear training games like playing two notes and asking students to call out if the notes are the same pitch or two different pitches. Gradually work your way into more advanced exercises (using fun activities, of course), and before long, your students will have a well-trained ear that helps them quickly learn their favorite songs.

Come back tomorrow for Part Four in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

Now that you know the three steps, let’s dive a little deeper into each one and learn some specific action steps you can take to implement these practices in your studio.

  1. Make it fun

When I was a student, learning theory meant doing written assignments out of a workbook at home. I always completed my assignments, but I usually put it off and had to race to quickly fill in my answers right before my lesson started. Theory was boring and I didn’t put a lot of thought into it.

I’ve learned that theory doesn’t have to be boring. And when we make it fun, kids eat it up!

My students who are working on key signatures have a blast with this Paper Airplane Review Game that is super simple to pull off in a group lesson. We first do a worksheet to review the key signatures, and then I give each student a blank grand staff and a plain white sheet of paper. Students write the name of a key signature on their plain paper and then fold it into a paper airplane. On the count of three everyone throws their airplane into the air and then races to catch another plane. Students then go to their grand staff and draw the sharps or flats needed to complete their key signature.

Here’s a game that my little students enjoy when they are first being introduced to the names of the piano keys. I call it Twist and Play. The student stands with her back to the piano. I call out the name of a piano key and she quickly turns around and plays the key. We’ll repeat the fun, silly twisting until we’ve reviewed all the keys, and it’s so fun to see these little ones giggling during a “drill.”

I love to issue challenges and tie those challenges in to our unit’s theme. For example, if we’re doing a cowboy theme and I have a bunch of students working on interval recognition, I might issue the “Bucking Bronco” challenge: everyone who can identify 5 intervals from our flashcards in 30 seconds *without counting lines and spaces* at next week’s lesson gets a prize.

I also like to use fun worksheets with my students. The key word there is “fun.” Kids decide whether or not they’re going to like something within milliseconds after first seeing it. So if a worksheet looks boring, kids immediately decide they won’t like the exercise.

But if a worksheet looks fun, kids will be excited to complete it. I’ve created tons and tons of fun, colorful, kid-friendly music theory worksheets and you are more than welcome to use them with your students.

Don’t forget to capitalize on kids’ excitement for the holidays! Reviewing the same old concept again can suddenly become interesting if it’s tied into a holiday theme. I have lots of printables and game ideas for Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day that you are welcome to incorporate into your lessons.

As you can see, it really isn’t all that hard to make learning music theory fun. Five minutes away from the bench during a lesson for a game or a kid-friendly worksheet can work wonders, making your students much more excited for their lessons and setting them on their way to becoming music theory rockstars.

Come back tomorrow for Part Three in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.

3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars – Guest Series by Kristin Jensen

It was a special day when my first two 4 year old students aced the first grade level theory exam. Kids have proven to me time and again that they are capable of doing so much more than we realize.

Those two four year-olds really stretched my creativity as a teacher as I realized that they could go far, but needed to be taught with an approach that capitalized on their fun-loving nature. Now all my students are benefiting from this new approach and learning at an accelerated rate. I’d like to share three tips I’ve learned along the way that help kids become music theory rockstars.

  1. Make it fun

Theory really can be fun, and kids learn so much more when they’re enjoying the experience. Continue reading for ideas and games you can easily fit into your lessons.

  1. Make it social

Consider teaching theory in a group setting. Kids love learning alongside friends and a group of peers can motivate each other to excel.

  1. Apply it

Help kids understand why theory is important. The best and most fun way to accomplish this is to teach them how to create their own songs.

Now that you know the three steps, let’s dive a little deeper into each one and learn some specific action steps you can take to implement these practices in your studio…

Come back tomorrow for Part Two in the series 3 Tips to Turn Students into Music Theory Rockstars by Kristin Jensen. Kristin Jensen is a piano teacher who specializes in teaching children to create their own music. Kristin is supported by a wonderful husband and two darling boys (ages 3 and 1) who keep her on her toes, but make life lots of fun. Check out her website at EarTrainingAndImprov.com for lots of free resources and downloadable worksheets.