One of the approaches that I encourage my students to use to help them become fluent in piano arpeggios is a hands together pattern that one of my teachers showed me years ago. I could never remember the name of them, so I finally tasked one of my creative students with determining a name and then demonstrating it via a short video presentation that I could share with other students in the future. Stephanie came up with the perfect name: Split End Arpeggios. Here’s her one-minute video explaining how to play them. Thanks, Stephanie!
In keeping with our Beat the Pirates! practice incentive theme this year, we are incorporating rhythm activities into each of our monthly group piano classes. This week’s group class turned out to be quite the hit! I set up three stations and placed the students in pairs, then they rotated through each station. Here’s a snapshot of each station:
The first station included a laptop and the educational game, Compose Yourself. The students could input and then listen to a playback of each card with various rhythmic and melodic patterns. Here’s a link to the “Speghetti Song” that Stephanie and Violet created. When we all gathered back in the studio, each pair played back their composition on the laptop for the rest of our listening pleasure.
The second station was a “Familiar Tunes” challenge. An envelope was filled with slips of paper containing the names of familiar tunes. Together, the students were to see how many tunes they could pick out by ear in the allotted time. When we gathered in between the rounds, they selected and shared one that they had learned with the other groups.
The third station included a basket of rhythm instruments and the game, “Tapping Telephones.” Using the Directory cards, the students started at Level A and worked through the cards to see how many levels they could get through playing the instruments together. They shared their rhythmic accomplishment with the rest of us when we reconvened in the studio!
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One of my favorite aspects of teaching is leading students to a discovery of knowledge. Renowned pedagogue Frances Clark reminded us, “Teaching is not telling.” As easy, and seemingly efficient, as it is to fall into the rut of telling students what I want them to know, the reality is that they will almost assuredly remember what they discover and experience for themselves far longer than they will retain the words that I speak. That is one of the primary reasons that I incorporate games into our piano lessons. Games are an opportunity to both evaluate a student’s knowledge and understanding of a particular concept and to lead them to new and exciting discoveries.
At Claire’s lesson, when she struggled to correctly identify the key signature flashcards while playing her favorite “Whack-It!” game (a selection from the book “5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson“), I knew we needed to do something to help her better understand key signatures. I pulled out a set of key signature flashcards and our jar of scale blocks and had her start by lining up the notes of a C-Major scale under the key signature flashcard for C-Major. Next, we set down the flashcard with 1 sharp (G-Major) and I slightly moved the last four blocks of the C-Major scale down under that flashcard, then asked her to finish lining up scale blocks for the notes of the G-Major scale. I did the same thing with the flashcard and scale blocks for the D-Major scale and then her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “I see the pattern!” She was able to effortlessly complete the [not so circular!] Circle of 5ths and see how every key related to the next and moved progressively. Like everything, this will require repetition, but it’s sure fun to see the proverbial light bulb going off in students’ minds, isn’t it?
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.
At our local music teachers association meeting this morning we watched a webinar by Dr. Barbara Fast and Dr. Andrea McAlister on Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias: Empowering Students Through Positive Engaging Language. From Dr. Fast’s segment, I especially appreciated the specific questions she suggested using during a piano lesson (some she gleaned from a masterclass with Leon Fleisher):
- What did you focus on this week?
- What did you practice the most?
- Can you tell me how you succeeded in what you were trying to achieve?
- To what extent did you achieve what you wanted?
- What questions remain for you?
- Any places that you wish were easier to play?
I love these open-ended questions and hope to employ some of them with my students this week!
Dr. McAlister shared many helpful definitions as she discussed the importance of language. These are the top three memorable points she made that I hope to keep in mind as I teach:
- Listen with the intent to praise, not criticize.
- View those sitting on our piano benches not just as students, but as musicians.
- Encourage curiosity (“the desire to know”).
I’m so grateful for the inspiration and fellowship of our local association meetings and teachers. If you’re not part of such a group, I encourage you to check out the MTNA website and get plugged in with an association in your area!
One of my studio go-to’s for an easy, educational game for group classes is Team Rhythm Dictation.
The students are split into two teams and are given a set of individual rhythmic note cards to use. (Click here to download a free set of individual note cards to use in your studio.) The barlines are made from some scraps of black foam board.
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!
(This is a variation on the “Tune Tappin'” game included in 5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson)
- Ask the student to name her top 10 favorite Christmas songs and then list them on a dry erase board.
- Close the piano fallboard and place the board so we can both see it.
- Take turns selecting and tapping the rhythm of one of the listed songs and see if the other person can identify which song it is.
- And that’s it! Have fun with this super simple game to encourage good listening and work on rhythm skills!
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. :-))
Here’s how it worked…Using the fabulous free downloadable rhythm flashcards from D’Net Layton, we laid eight of them out on the floor.
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!
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