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.
One of the best things I ever did in my studio was implement monthly group classes that are open to all students in addition to their regular lesson for that week. These monthly gatherings have done wonders to build camaraderie in my studio and give students myriad experiences to help build their confidence as performers. Piano camps each summer have further contributed to these benefits, and I’ve tossed around the idea of offering more classes on a regular basis throughout the year. So I was thrilled when a former colleague contacted me to let me know about the launch of her Teach Preschool Music course!
Megan Desmarais has been teaching preschool music classes in her studio for many years and has done an awesome job putting together a comprehensive and professional course that walks other music teachers through the process of setting up a similar program in their own studios. She sent me a free course enrollment so that I could look over and review the course and I am SO impressed!
Seven modules plus a bonus material section include everything from helping you establish goals before you start the course, to how to handle logistics, to a whole year’s worth of lesson plans (wow!), to clear explanations of what the class should look like, to troubleshooting tips, to making a business plan, to many additional resources, and more. This course is well worth the regular $247 price tag, but from now until this Friday, October 6, you can sign up as a charter student for only $187! I am so excited to work my way through this course because I love teaching young beginning students anyway, and I can see how there would be so many benefits (both musically and financially) to being able to offer well-structured and planned preschool classes in addition to regular lessons. Thanks, Megan, for making this fabulous resource available to us!
After one week back to teaching in the studio, I am reminded of the value of trying new ideas and approaches to connect with each student and engage them in the learning process in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The end result is that I love teaching more and they love their piano lessons more. A win-win! Here are a couple of new ideas we’re trying in the studio this year:
Have you ever wondered what to do with those high school students who love music, but struggle to make the time to devote consistent practice to their instrument? Well, this year two such students happen to be my boys. So, after a bit of brainstorming I decided to try something new to keep them engaged in learning and playing, but without the pressure of daily practice and progress. I printed each of them a For the Love of Music workbook and we spend about an hour each week going through it together. They are enjoying watching the video clips featuring a couple of my former students and deepening their own understanding of music. The only stipulation in addition to attending our weekly session is that they have to have something prepared to play for the monthly group class. It can be something learned by ear or from printed music, as long as it’s on the piano and ready to perform. Less pressure on them and less expectation from me and we’re all loving piano lessons more than before!
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!
Years ago, I subscribed to the Piano Explorer magazine for my studio, letting students take home a copy if they were interested and archiving the rest in a notebook for future reference. Eventually, I let my subscription expire and its existence faded from my memory. Something recently reminded me of the Piano Explorer and I decided to re-subscribe and give each of my students a copy this year to see if they enjoy it. (If you purchase a group subscription of 5 or more copies, it is only $6/subscription!) I’m also planning to incorporate some of the activities into our practice incentive theme for the year, so that might provide some extra motivation to check them out!
As I’ve been perusing the latest issues that arrived in the mail this month, I am reminded of what a great little gem this magazine is! Written especially for piano students, each 15 page issue has interesting articles, fun facts, engaging activities, and more. And now, there is even a companion Piano Explorer website that students can visit to watch pre-selected video clips of music from the composer of the month or listen to clips of the featured instrument. There’s also an online Teacher’s Guide with additional notes, a schedule of composers to be highlighted for the year, and answers to the kids’ activities.
There are always a number of factors and considerations that go into developing a new practice incentive theme for our studio. This year, there were two primary inspirations. The first was a fervent request from one of my students (who also happens to be my daughter!) that we do a pirate theme of some sort. The second was a response by composer Wnne-Anne Rossi in the February/March 2017 issue of American Music Teacher. The question posed was, “How can you best assist a student who struggles with timing?” This paragraph from her response grabbed my attention:
“And yes, feeling rhythm is more important than thinking rhythm! The piano is a percussion instrument, and young pianists must act like drummers. Keep a drum on hand, and switch places at the piano. Assign sounds or words, like ‘boom-ditty-boom-yeah.’ Walk the beats. Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.”
That last sentence, in particular, sparked an epiphany for me. “Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.” This got my imagination spinning as I pondered the prospect of approaching rhythm in such a way as to make it the most fun part of the lesson. Rhythm has the potential to be so engaging and fun, and yet is so often relegated to the status of “necessary evil” in our effort to get our students to play a piece of music accurately. So…some of the details are still in development, but I’m super excited about how these inspirations are making their way into this year’s theme…
I’m planning to look into Wynn-Anne Rossi’s series, Latina Musica, and will be looking for lots of other resources and ideas to transform our studio into one where rhythm truly becomes the coolest part of every lesson!