Alyssa and I have been focusing a lot the last several months on her note identification speed. We’ve been doing a modified version of our NoteStars Challenge and she has made great progress, so when I came across this NoteRush app recently I immediately thought of Alyssa.
The app is simple and intuitive, so in no time at all we set it up with the same “levels” as NoteStars and gave it a try. She loved it! The app calibrates to middle C on your instrument and then listens as you play in response to the notes shown on the staff. If you get it correct a new note quickly appears. If you are incorrect, the note remains and you can opt in the settings to have it offer you a prompt. A student could easily manage NoteRush on their own in a technology lab setting, or it’s a quick, hassle-free game to reinforce and evaluate a student’s note identification skills in a couple of minutes at the beginning of a piano lesson.
I indicate what the time signature is and then play a two-measure rhythm pattern on the piano. The students are encouraged to tap and count along, then see if they can place the correct note cards to replicate the rhythm that I played. Typically, I will play the rhythm 3-4 times, but after several patterns, the students were catching on quickly and often getting the dictation after only one or two plays!
In keeping with our rhythmic focus for this year’s practice incentive theme, Beat the Pirates!, I’m trying to come up with new ideas we can implement in the form of simple, fun activities incorporated into a few minutes at the beginning of each piano lesson. Our latest one proved to be a big hit!
A pair of super cool light-up rhythm sticks that my husband brought home from a work conference and a Rhythm Clock game idea from Janice Tuck, of the Fun Music Company, inspired this week’s rhythm activity: Rockin’ Around the Rhythm Clock!
I used the rhythm patterns emphasized in Piano Safari Level 1, notating a pattern to correspond with each number on the clock. After going over them with the student to make sure they felt comfortable with all the patterns, I turned on the perfect rhythm backing track provided by Janice and our challenge was to see if we could keep going around the clock for the duration of the track (just under 2 minutes). They loved it!
For a take-home worksheet, I put together a blank rhythm clock so that they can come up with their own rhythm patterns and then we can try them at next week’s lesson (feel free to download this free worksheet if you want to try it out with your students!):
It’s working! You might remember that the big objective with this year’s practice incentive theme, Beat the Pirates!, is to make rhythm “the cool part of the lesson.” I was thrilled when after today’s rhythm activity at the beginning of the lesson my daughter Claire exclaimed, “This is fun!” (This is especially encouraging since she was ready to quit taking piano lessons because of how much she hated rhythm. In fact, she wanted to switch over to violin lessons because she thought then she wouldn’t have to count. :-))
For the first round I gave the student a whacker while I assumed the drummer role. Setting a steady pulse, I counted in four beats, then played a pattern from one of the rhythm flashcards. At the completion of the pattern I gave four beats of rest during which the student had to see if they could whack the corresponding flashcard. If they got it correct, they kept the card. If they didn’t whack anything or whacked the incorrect one, it stayed there and I continued on to a new pattern while maintaining the beat. Once all the flashcards were claimed, we laid out a new set of rhythms. It was cool to see how even in a short time the students went from struggling to spot the rhythm patterns and keep up with the beat to being able to process and react more quickly!
For the second round, after having seen the process modeled, the student took on the drummer role. They found that it was difficult to maintain the pulse during the four beats of rest, but they loved watching me try to find the pattern they had played! This quick game only took a few minutes, but it was a great way for them to practice both listening to and identifying rhythm patterns and also playing various rhythm patterns themselves.
Matt, of Music For Little Learners, recently shared a link to their Treble Maker game with me and it looks fabulous! They have several sets of colorful cards you can download and print, depending on what you want to review with your student – note names, key signatures, symbols, tempi. The directions are simple to understand, and the play is quick and perfect for a few minutes of fun review at the beginning or end of a piano lesson – or any instrument! I can’t wait to try this out with my students and see how it goes!
Sabrina Peña Young, of MusicalU.com, has just posted a fun and inspirational collection of 10 Mini Song-Writing Challenges that would be super fun to use as composition starters with piano students as well! Check out her list for details on suggestions like: superhero songs, using art for inspiration, finding random lyrics, postcard songs, and more!
You should see students’ faces light up when I pull out our mini whackers and tell them that we are going to play Whack-It! at their lesson! This is by far one of the studio favorites! There are a lot of variations (several of which are included in 5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson), but Alyssa and I came up with a new version that we’ve been having a blast playing the last couple of weeks.
?Instead of me calling out the note name and her whacking the correct flashcard, I let her look over the cards and call out a note name, then I try to whack it before she does. We’ve done this several times now and she gets faster and faster at figuring out the note names. And of course she loves beating me to the flashcard!?
Even though I don’t do a lot of summer lessons, this is such a great time to have fun focusing on mastering note names and any other theory concepts without the same pressure we often have during the year of learning and preparing repertoire for performances.
As I mentioned last week, I love to incorporate a variety of games to reinforce and evaluate music theory concepts with my students. This week we tried a Speedy Scale game to help students develop visual-spatial skills (they weren’t allowed to look at the piano keyboard, but had to visualize it in their mind) and put their music scale theory knowledge into practice (they’ve all been memorizing scale patterns this year to earn Mental Miles as part of our Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme)!
Daniel caught on really quickly, so I talked him into doing a step-by-step video of how to play this game during a lesson:
A set of plain blocks with each one containing only one note name
A block with Major and Minor written on alternating sides
A block with a sharp, flat, and natural sign drawn on alternating sides
This is a quick, fun activity that is easily adaptable to students of all ages and levels. Since Alyssa just started lessons last fall she is just finishing up learning all of her Major pentascales. So in her case, I just had her select a block with a note name and then roll the sharp, flat, natural sign block, then arrange the scale blocks according to the pattern for the Major pentascale.
After students had drawn a note name block from my hand and rolled the other two blocks, I walked them through this process for figuring out the arrangement of the scale blocks:
Find the two scale blocks with the given key name (Stephanie’s was e-flat minor, so she found the two e-flats and placed them at the beginning and end).
Fill in the remaining note names in alphabetical order with no regard for which ones are sharps or flats.
Review the pattern for the given type of scale (we just used the Major and natural minor scales today) and write it out on the board if necessary.
Begin with the “tonic” and work your way through the whole and half steps, rotating the blocks as necessary to represent the scale (a couple of times when students were tempted to switch out a block for something else – especially those pesky white key flats and sharps – it was essential that they remember they could only use the block that was next alphabetically!).
Each of the students thoroughly enjoyed this activity, and it was neat to see how much they improved just in the short 5-10 minutes we used at the beginning of the lesson!
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!