As I mentioned in last Monday’s Mailbag post, I’m always looking for ways to turn the teaching or review of a concept into a fun activity or game. Here are shots from a couple of lessons last week where scale blocks became the perfect hands-on tool to help students grasp the concepts we were working on.
Naomi is working on understanding how to identify and construct major, minor, diminished, and augmented intervals. One of the things that I always want students to understand is the importance of determining the correct letter name of the interval distance first, then adding the appropriate sharps or flats to construct the designated quality of the interval. To help reinforce this, I gave her a starting note and had her place that scale block on the fallboard in front of her. Then I’d name the specific interval (dim. 5th, major 2nd, etc.). She had to first select the correct scale block and then either turn it to the corresponding sharp or flat side or just tell me what it should be (for instance, if it required a double flat or sharp since I don’t have a side on the block with double flats or sharps).
Holly is moving from pentascales into octave scales this year, so we started out by learning the complete pattern for Major scales. I had her write this out on the white board for easy reference. Then we used that pattern to figure out the correct notes for the first three Major scales that I teach: C, G, and D. She had to select and line up the scale blocks according to the whole step-half step pattern, and then we played the scales on the piano.
One of the things I’m trying to do better about is guiding my students to play things correctly the first time. This requires a great deal more explanation and preparation ahead of time, but it sets them up for success and more rapid progress. For example, when a student is learning the D-Major scale, I don’t want them to play it leaving out the C# the first time, running out of fingers the second time, with an inconsistent pulse the third time, etc. Instead, I want to prep them so that on their first playing of the scale they are able to play with correct fingering, accurate notes, and a steady pulse.
If they are trained to do it correctly from the very start, the likelihood of error-filled week-long practices greatly diminishes. Scale blocks are a useful tool toward this end. The brain is engaged, the concept understood, and then the technique well executed. I freely confess that this is an ideal that I often fall short of, but that’s what I’m working toward!