Search This Blog

Saturday, November 28, 2015

10 ways to RE-ENERGIZE your students

Classroom routines are a necessity, but sometimes these same routines can make class time start to feel mundane.  Occasionally, students need a change...something that will help them become excited about playing their instrument....something that will inspire them keep working to improve every day.
Here are 10 ways you can get your students FIRED UP!

1.  Begin class with a movement exercise using fun, upbeat music.  As students enter the classroom, their mood can be changed depending on the music they hear.  Crank up some music and have students follow your movements with a simple warm up.  Bow games work well (unless that's already part of the usual routine).  Any movement matching activity works well - where students move to the beat.  Sometimes, we put instruments down, and practice just moving to the beat.  Clapping, stomping, standing, sitting, rocking, bopping..etc.

2.  Perform for your students.  One time on a playing test day, I brought my instrument and performed a 'playing test' for my class.  I let students grade me using the same form/rubric that I use to grade their tests.

3.  Play tunes by ear.  Let students make song requests.  My students love to call out tunes to see if I can play them by ear.  When they hear me figuring out popular movie tunes, they want to try it, too.  Students love to show me pieces they have figured out how to play.

4.  Pass out new music.  After weeks of rehearsing the same few pieces, students need a change.  Find something light and fun for students to play.  Often students are inspired to practice once they have some new material!

5.  Play a game.  Just saying the word 'game' to students perks ears and they want to listen to be able to play the game.  There are many simple games that require no preparation which can inspire students to work hard during class.  Recently, I created a game called 'Epidemic.'  To play the game, send 3-4 students to the hallway - these will be the doctors.  While the doctors are in the hall, the class decides on one 'disease' that will plague the students.  For example, you can have the plague be pancake wrists, crooked bows, bad bow holds, crossed legs...there are plenty of possibilities!  Then choose 5 students to be infected with the disease.  The doctors come back in and the class plays part of a piece while the doctors try to diagnose the sickness.  They get one guess.  If they do not guess correctly, more students are chosen to be infected.  The game continues and the doctors must try to figure out the disease before the entire class becomes infected.

6.  Record the class performing.  Students love to hear themselves and they get very motivated to improve when hearing their own performance.  Let students figure out what needs to be fixed in a certain passage by recording and listening to small sections.

7.  Let students perform for another class.  Invite students into your classroom and perform a quick piece, or invite office staff.  You could send a few students to serenade the school secretary (as long as she's not on the phone.)

8.  Watch a video of a fabulous performance.  Students are inspired by watching great performances.  Piano Guys, Lindsey Stirling, 2 Cellos, Simply Three, Time for Three - these are all great options, but there are many videos featuring classical music also.  I really like showing part of the Maxim Vengerov master class.

9.  Re-arrange the seating.  Students get tired of always sitting in the same place.  I make new seating charts every 2 weeks so that students get to know each other.  Also, they can feel the difference between playing in the back and playing in the front of the group.  I don't think any student should be forced to always play in the back.  All students benefit when seats are frequently changed.

10.  Give them a challenge.  Have you noticed that rubix cubes have made a huge come-back?  Students love the challenge of figuring out that puzzle - I am amazed at how many students carry those puzzles around and can solve them in minutes.  Students also enjoy the challenge of difficult music and technique.  I have had students work extra hard to play "Devil's Dream" as fast as I play it.  You can challenge students to do things like...shifting, vibrato, fast playing/string crossings, 3 octave scales... anything they haven't yet learned.  My students are always anxious to learn things that help them become more advanced players.

Do you have more ideas?  Feel free to add comments!  :)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Yea for C natural! Tips for teaching C to beginning strings

Last week, I taught my beginners how to play C natural.  This is one of my favorite skills to teach because it is so fun!  After demonstrating where  and how to play the note, we play our first tune using C natural.  I tell the class that something terrible has happened to Mary's little lamb.  It was trying to cross the road and it got hit by a car.  Mary feels terribly sad, so we have to change her song.  We play 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' with the notes C natural, B, and A.  Students are amazed at how the song is transformed by only changing one note.  We then try some other easy rote tunes and make them sound sad.  My students like to call out tunes to see if I can play them 'sad' by using naturals.

The next day, students need to drill the new note, but also review C# to make sure it stays where it needs to go.  There are so many intonation issues that can be fixed if students can develop solid finger placement from naturals to sharps.  Stories work well to demonstrate this point.  One time, I needed to head to the grocery store and my 2 youngest children wanted to come.  Because I was in a hurry, I told them they couldn't come.  As I drove away,  noticed my children weeping and wailing at the end of my driveway because they wanted to come so badly.  I tell students that they must be firm with C# and even D.  Sometimes, when we play a C natural, the C# and D notes want to come down, too...but you can't let them!

I don't know if you've ever heard of a 'Yea/Boo story,' but my dad used to tell these stories when I was little and I thought they were great fun.  This is a story that requires audience participation as the plot unfolds.  The story teller develops a story one line at a time.  After each line, the audience says, "Yea!" if the story is happy, and "Boo!" if anything bad happens.  This is how I drilled A, B, C sharp, and A, B, C natural with my students.  I told a story - and if my story was happy - students played A, B, C#.  They played A, B, C natural when anything bad happened in the story.   Here's an example:

     "Guess what!?  I get to take my high school orchestra to Disneyland!"
    Class is happy and plays A, B, C sharp.

     "And we get to ride on a fancy bus with built in TV's!"

     Class plays A, B, C sharp.

     "But the bus gets a flat tire and we have to stop."

     Class plays A, B, C natural

     "And we get stuck in the middle of nowhere!"

    Class plays A, B, C natural

Etc. etc.  --

I just made this up as I went.  I ended up telling my students about a tour experience they could have at a Disney studio once they reach High School.  After the story, many students said, "Wow!  I'm staying in orchestra for sure!"  What a great little retention strategy - and we drilled our new note.

At this stage, students really enjoy trying to play double stops.  Another fun drill is to have them play the A string notes with open D - fiddle style.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Leadership: Preparing students for the next level.

This year I was asked to teach at my local high school, in addition to the junior high.  It has been a bit of an adjustment to add another prep and to be so busy.  Yet, it has been a good experience to be able to see my beginners in 7th grade, and view the progress and development of students up to high school.  Now that I have experience at the high school, I see how important it is to prepare my junior high students in certain areas.  Because of this insight, I have been working to be sure my junior high students are more comfortable with shifting and vibrato.  Also, I would like them to develop leadership skills and be responsible.  I used to begin teaching vibrato and shifting to my 3rd year orchestra (9th grade).  This year, I have already begun to teach my 2nd year students these skills and they have been doing an excellent job.  This summer, I plan on releasing a book with exercises for teaching shifting in a string orchestra setting.  

As part of the process to prepare students for high school, I passed out this 'assignment' to my 9th graders. 

I had my class divide into their sections to nominate and vote on a section leader for the term.  The goal is to encourage students to work together and feel a responsibility towards their sections and the orchestra as a whole.  This leadership policy/assignment was welcomed, and many students were desirous to take on a leadership role to serve their sections.  I will let the sections vote on a different leader each term.