September Surprise Group Piano Class – by Candlelight!

The September Surprise! has become a much-anticipated tradition in our studio, but I think I can safely say that this year’s will go down in history as one of the most memorable. The students and their families arrived in the midst of an intense thunderstorm, and near the end of one of the performances a transformer blew and we concluded the evening by candlelight!

My objectives for the evening were: have fun, get to know one another better, play music for each other, and introduce this year’s practice incentive theme.

The evening began with a simple ice-breaker game. I gave each person a slip of paper and had them write one interesting (and not obvious!) thing about themselves. Then I collected all the slips and re-distributed them, and everyone was tasked with finding the person who belonged to the slip of paper they had received. Once everyone found their person, we went around the room and each person introduced the one who went with their paper and then shared the interesting thing about them.


With everyone feeling significantly more relaxed, it was time to start the surprise performances! I put each student who indicated that they had something prepared back into a basket and then let my new beginning student draw the names out to determine the order of performances. I was thoroughly impressed with the music the students prepared and played! Instead of preparing an advanced piece to play for them, I opted to play a fun assortment of Wendy’s compositions that incorporate elements of audience participation. They were quite the hit, and my boys loved accompanying me on the cajon and leading the rest of the audience in the rhythm patterns! (Btw, I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are fighting over who gets to learn Drastic Measures first. :-))


We took a short intermission to play Composer Trading – a card game I patterned after the boisterous crowd-pleasing game of Pit. The students loved it, and were begging to play another round, so I’m sure we’ll be pulling this out a lot during the year! (I had fun designing some composer MiniCards from Moo.com to correlate with the theme!)


After all the performances, it was time for the big reveal! Vanishing Voices: a musical race against time, this year’s practice incentive theme, will have students collecting miles and flying around the world as we traverse history learning about composers from every era. They are already beginning to strategize to make sure that they can collect enough composers to be part of our big end-of-the-year excursion, and I’m excited to watch them progress as musicians throughout the course of this experience.


Right in the middle of our performance of Mob Bop, the house was suddenly engulfed in darkness! Thankfully, everyone kept right on tapping and clapping their part and I improv-ed on the theme until someone grabbed their phone and provided enough light for me to finish the piece as written. While I explained the theme, my husband quickly set to work collecting oil lamps and all the candles in the house to prepare for the reception of goodies upstairs. The ambience was perfect for a time of mingling and made for a fun evening that we won’t soon forget!

The Interval Dice Game

Last week Claire made it to the Game Hut for her final stop in Jungle Expedition (our practice incentive theme this year). She had such a fun time that on her Year-End Evaluation today she suggested that we include a game at the end of each lesson to review a concept learned. This prompted me to pull out the interval dice game that has been a favorite in my studio for years (but for some reason I neglected all year long!). It’s such a simple game, but everyone loves it, and it’s a great way to reinforce any kind of intervallic movement on the piano keys (half steps, whole steps, interval distances, interval qualities, etc.).

We each selected a marker and placed it on the same starting key on the piano, then used a game spinner to signify the finish line two octaves up on the keyboard. Each turn consisted of rolling two dice (one with either “up” or “down” on each side, the other with interval distances from 2nd-7th). We moved our marker accordingly and the first one to the finish line was the winner. Claire was thrilled that she won! It’s so rewarding to watch students have a good time at the piano (and often not even realize the learning that is taking place in the process!).

One of the things I’m planning to do this summer is get back into incorporating more of the games from the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson in each lesson again as a way of introducing or reinforcing concepts and providing some light-hearted fun in the process!

Music Note Memory Game

For this year’s Jungle Expedition studio practice incentive theme, one of the huts students can travel to is the “Game Hut.” Stephanie used her last 30 tickets to go to that hut and had fun looking through the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson to make her choice. She opted for the Music Note Memory game, and we had a great time playing it!

   

We lined up a column of flashcards with notes on the staff and another column with marked keys on a piano keyboard.

 

We each took a turn flipping over one card from each column to try to find a match. Whoever found a match got to go again, and then whoever had the most matches at the end won! This was a great quick game to reinforce note identification skills!

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.