I have a confession. I don't like the last 2 weeks of school. Our concerts are over, the music has been collected and filed, and I need to entertain teenagers for 10 more days! My first temptation was to find a movie that I could somehow tie into my curriculum, but students see plenty of movies these days. I asked myself, "How do I want to end the school year? What do I want my students to feel and be inspired to do when they leave my classroom before summer break?" As I comtemplated these questions, I realized that I really want my students to be inspired. I want them to feel a passion for music and a desire to practice over the summer - just for fun. I want students to be excited to come back to my class next year.
So, instead of movies, I bought some new books: Fiddler's Philharmonic by Dabzinski, and Jazz Philharmonic by Randy Sabien. We had not explored any jazz music in my class, and I thought students would enjoy trying a new style.
Here's how I began the week. For my video of the week, I showed a YouTube clip from the group Simply Three. I wanted to students to see how a small ensemble can work together and play fun music.
For 3 days, I used the Jazz Philharmonic book as a class. We learned how to swing and practiced 3 different tunes from the book and performed them in different ways. Students were able to catch on to the swing rhythm very easily. I first had them play a D dorian scale with straight eighth notes...like marching. I then had them play the scale as if they were skipping instead of marching. The physical motion of skipping feels just like swing. For the first song we learned, I taught as the book suggested and did everything by rote. Students echoed exercises from the CD and we played the tunes and back-up parts. I do a lot of rote exercises in my class, but we had never learned a tune by rote. I feel my students really opened up and got into the new style. After that, I thought it would be easier for students to read the music, so I passed out the books. It actually took longer for students to learn the songs while reading the notes and I they didn't notice the overall ensemble as much. I would recommend using the book as directed.....do much of it by rote!
For another activity, I divided students into 8 groups and had them pick any piece from the book and work on it in their groups. Each group then performed in front of the class. I was hoping to show students that they can form their own small ensembles and play all kinds of different music.... and it's fun! I also did small ensemble work with the Fiddler's Philharmonic book in my advanced class. The nice thing about these books, is that students can be creative and every group can perform different variations using the same piece. I had some groups that added pizzicato, dancing, and even percussion by tapping on instruments.
I have learned that it is important to lay out your expectations before sending groups off to do their work. The first time I had students practice in small groups, I saw a lack of motivatoin, direction, vision, and focus. This time, I made sure that I communicated my expectations. I expect participation, leadership, respect, and hard work. Half of my class period was spent showing a YouTube video about leadership and having students complete a worksheet about the video. I believe this helped students stay on task when it was time to take on the responibility of learning a new piece on their own.