Search This Blog

Thursday, December 2, 2021

3 rehearsal games that help students improve


 

Like many of you, I am preparing my students for a December concert.  I need students improving and learning during every rehearsal.  Sometimes I feel we repeat the same few measures over and over and some kids just take forever to get it!  This week, I started doing some rehearsal games and wowie wow...all those tricky measures magically improved.


1.  GOLF


I love this game because it's easy, requires no prep work, and it's super effective.  Choose measures you would like students to master.  Students get 3 attempts to play the measures correctly.  (We played the measures as a class...3 tries in a row).  Students get 1 point if they play correctly on their first try (Like a hole-in-one!), 2 points if it takes 2 tries, 3 points if it takes 3 tries, and 5 points if they still don't play correctly after 3 tries.  At the end of the game, students total up their points and the LOWEST score wins!

2.  THREE STRIKES

This is a  great game for getting students to focus on anything/everything you're doing in class.  Each student gets a worksheet with 3 larges boxes.  As we rehearse, I ask students to focus on one specific skill at a time.  Students who are not focusing/completing the skill get one strike.  They get a small candy/treat at the end of the class period if they don't strike out.  I sometimes let them add a box for completing especially difficult playing/technique.  Examples:  "Play the D scale. I'm going to watch to see if your bows are straight. If they're not straight, you'll get a strike!"    "Play line 73 in your method book.  If you play a wrong note, you get a strike!"   Possibilities are endless.


3. STACK THE SKILLS

To successfully perform in a concert, students have to be performing a lot of skills at once...for example maintaining proper position while playing the right notes while keeping the bow straight and making an even, clear tone.  In class, we practice stacking our skills...just like this kid stacks the dice in this video:


For this game, students choose measures to test their stacking skills.  They play (on their own) and see how many skills they can maintain while playing their music.




Friday, November 26, 2021

Christmas Activity for beginning string orchestra


 

I've been posting a lot about working on note reading fluency in my beginning strings class.  I'm happy to say that all of my efforts are paying off and students are getting better and faster at reading notes.  They were able to sight read some sheet music I passed out and I was super excited (and relieved) that we are progressing!  I've been reinforcing note reading skills with all kinds of worksheets, activities, games, and online exercises.  

A couple weeks ago, I used a 'Name That Christmas Tune' worksheet to help motivate students to de-code notes.  Students who were able to figure out the most tunes got a small prize.  Students worked so hard note reading and practicing to get all of the right notes.  After students tried to figure out the tunes on their own, we played each line as a class.  Students really enjoyed recognizing the tunes.  Once students realized they could pluck away on familiar tunes, I noticed many students were seeking out more new music they could play and I think it spurred some practice motivation (a huge bonus!).  Some students excitedly showed me more tunes they were able to figure out.  Playing familiar fun tunes is an important part of learning an instrument.  Students light up when they can play even a little bit of a favorite tune.

Access my FREE Name that Tune worksheet here!





We have our 2nd concert of the school year coming up in a couple weeks.  It's tricky filling up an entire concert with just beginning orchestra.  We're working super hard...but we can't perform more than 5-10 minutes worth of music.  I'm going to add a little time to our concert by have students demonstrate some skills while having some parents come try some of our skills as well.  For example, have a parent volunteer try some of our bow exercises or try to bow on only one string at a time.  Another way to add a little time is to use the 'Name That Tune' worksheet to play that game at our concert!  It's an easy and quick extra piece.  I'll ask the audience to raise their hands to guess what each song is...and I'll have fun prizes.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Two favorite web tools for beginning string orchestra


 

I have been using a couple of website in my classroom that have saved me so much time!  I'm loving all of the possibilities these free websites have to offer.  Check them out!


1.  www.rhythmrandomizer.com

This website is super time saving!  I want my beginners to practice counting rhythms, but it takes a lot of time to make/draw my own different rhythms every day.  This website does all the work for me!  For daily rhythm drills, I just go to this website, select my parameters (note values, time signatures, etc.) and rhythms are automatically generated.   Rhythms are projected on a screen in front of the room.  Students then count/clap rhythms, take turns playing rhythms 'solo' as a game, pluck rhythms on open strings, pluck a rhythm on each note of the D scale, etc.  We started with very basic rhythms - only quarter notes, half notes, and quarter notes (with rests).  Students were saying 1, 2, 3, 4 while performing the rhythms.  I just switched them to counting with subdivision (1+2+3+4+) to help them transition into reading and counting eighth notes.  Next week I'll change the parameters to add eighth notes.  Students are quickly and easily getting lots of practice with rhythm thanks to this website. 



2. https://pickerwheel.com/

I've been having so much fun with this website.  It's super easy/quick to use and is a great way to gamify your lesson.  There are quite a few games you can do with your students using the picker wheel.  Here are a couple games I've done which were super effective to help my students learn their music:

1. Note Recognition Game


My students are playing their first 'real' concert piece.  They are still pretty new at reading notes and they need lots of repetition.  For this game, I created some short music snippets from our concert piece (First Christmas March) using an add-on in Google Slides called Flat for docs. 

I then put the names of the notes on the picker wheel.  




To play the game, I passed out 1-2 music excerpts to all my students.  I spun the wheel to select a series of notes.  Students then raced to be the first one to stand up if the notes on the wheel matched their excerpt.  It required students to read the notes on their excerpt over and over while waiting to see if theirs would be next.  Candy isn't necessary, but I gave students 2 Tootsie Fruities before the game.  I told them if their excerpt came up and they didn't stand, they would have to give a candy back to me...or if they stood up and their excerpt didn't match the wheel, they would have to give me a candy.  I gave students a candy if they were first to stand.  That added a little extra incentive and competitive aspect which was really fun.  I just did one round...but I could have had students trade excerpts to keep things going and have them practice reading more notes.

2. Intonation match challenge


Now that my students are getting faster at note reading, I wanted to help them listen better and play better in tune.  I used the same picker wheel (since these are the passages that need tuning) from the last game.  After a lesson about ear training, intonation, and matching pitch, I spun the wheel to select a series of notes from our concert piece.  I played the notes, and students had to echo the notes back to me with great intonation.  They had to listen to try to match my playing.  After a few spins, I let students be the model and I was pleasantly surprised to find almost all of the students volunteering to play alone and model great intonation for the whole class...after which the class would echo and try to emulate each other.  I complimented each student who volunteered and I felt it created a lot of trust in my classroom.  This simple activity dramatically improved the quality of intonation.  





Monday, November 1, 2021

D scale focus activity

 


I use the D scale for warm up time A LOT.  It's not the same every day because there are many ways to change rhythms and bowings to make it different.  The D scale is pretty easy for my beginners because the notes move step by step on each string.  It's much more difficult for students to skip notes and still land accurately in tune.  I created a simple PowerPoint for students to practice the D scale in a new way.  In 'Present' mode, I click on a box and make the note disappear and become a rest.  As notes disappear, students have to maintain a steady beat and keep track of the notes/rests.  This activity also helps students practice skips using the notes of the D scale.   If you find students are 'tuning out' during scales, this activity will help them pay attention!  Students also love choosing which notes disappear - which gets them involved in the process.

I just uploaded to my TPT store for FREE!  It's totally editable and customizable so you can copy the slides and create any scale you're working on.



Saturday, October 23, 2021

Effective Assessments for Beginning Orchestra


 

It's been awhile since I've posted because of all the natural busy things in life...but mostly because I switched schools.  I got to open up a new school and there was a lot to do!  Ordering supplies, instruments, setting up my new classroom, etc.  It's been fun and refreshing to work in a new place with equipment that works and technology that is up to date!  I miss my students from my previous program, so the change is bittersweet...but a change was needed and I enjoy a challenge.  My current program is  smallish compared to what I'm used to and there's room for growth.  I look forward to establishing a strong community of string players.  

My teaching load currently consists of 5 classes of beginners.  I love teaching beginners...but it's not easy.  There so much to learn - especially during the first few months.  Helping students master note reading and rhythm is a high priority for me.  I'm using a new method book and have been making a lot of resources to supplement student learning and check for understanding.  One of my goals is to do more assessments with students as a way to ensure student learning and provide a way for me to reach students who are struggling.  I just put a set of my assessments (21 pages!) from term 1 on my TPT page for FREE!   Hopefully they will be useful to someone out there.









Thursday, April 29, 2021

Note to self: Bring in MORE GUESTS

 



I love teaching my students and I like to do things my own way...BUT I've recently experimented with bringing in guests to enhance my students' experience and it has been AMAZING.  It has helped my students gain new skills and insights while helping me focus my teaching.

A few weeks ago, I met Daniel Burt.  He was subbing for different classes at my school and he came and introduced himself to me when he heard the orchestra.  He told me he had a masters degree in orchestral conducting.  I wanted my students to get better at following a conductor, so I thought it would be fun to have him help teach my students about conducting.  I prepped my students by having them to a little NearPod about conducting and about how to read a score...you can find it here:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/QpWdhLylRfb

Mr. Burt came the next day and taught my students some of the basics of conducting...then he ran a rehearsal.  It was totally eye-opening to see how my students responded to a new conductor.  I got so many tips to improve my own conducting.  I found myself taking a lot of notes...and I noticed things happening in the music I'd not noticed before.  It's sometimes tricky to switch between teacher mode and conductor mode.  I realized I need balance those 2 skills.  It was fun to see how a new conductor interpreted our music.  It was so good me for and my students I invited him to come back 2 weeks later.  

Before Mr. Burt came back, I re-directed my teaching to help my students learn how to respond to a conductor and how to interpret the music.  While observing my students, I learned they needed to develop more bow control in order to really follow the conductor and make the expressive elements happen in the music.  When Mr.Burt conducted them the 2nd time, they were more prepared and I feel it helped students better prepare for our upcoming concert.  I need to have guests come WAY more often. 

Mr. Burt would love to come work with your orchestra!  He's AWESOME with students and makes the rehearsal super fun and meaningful.  I would highly recommend you contact him! I paid him from my orchestra budget and he's worth it!

 daniel.burt11@gmail.com



Monday, March 29, 2021

Why games?

 


I incorporate a lot of games into my rehearsals for many reasons.  Gamification has been shown to have many benefits in education:  According to https://elearningindustry.com/science-benefits-gamification-elearning, gamification (while this website is addressing e-learning, gamification can also be implemented with the same benefits without using tech): 

  • Increases learner engagement
  • Makes learning fun and interactive
  • Improves knowledge absorption and retention
  • Gives learners the opportunity to see real world applications
  • Enhances the overall learning experience for all age groups

One of the best books I've read for teaching is 'The Little Book of Talent" by Daniel Coyle.  It's a fast, easy read and contains many useful tips for coaching students to reach their potential.  My favorite quote from the book is: 

“Good coaches share a knack for transforming the most mundane activities – especially the most mundane activities  - into games.”


I love playing games and my brain is always coming up with fun new games to try.  Here are a couple of games I have recently used in my rehearsals:


LIMBO



Limbo is orchestra?  It works.  And it is fun and hilarious and it gets students working extra hard to play in tune!

To introduce the game I showed this video:



We then discussed how the girl in the video has to practice and push herself in order to do the limbo in such an amazing way.  

The limbo song goes, "How low can you go?"  Our game was about "How FAR can you go"...before your section hits a note out of tune.   I chose a passage from our concert music and had each section play for as long as they could without playing a note out of tune.   As soon as I heard an out-of-tune note, I stopped the section and counted how many measures they were able to play in tune.  After listening to each section, I ranked them by how far they were able to play.  

Next I had a volunteer come up from each section to do the limbo....for real...with the music going in the background from YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T54zrvXYob4).  To make it more of a game, I altered the height of the stick based on the results from each round.  For example, if 1st violins won the round, they would get the limbo stick at the tallest point.  2nd place had to try to limbo with the stick lower by one notch...and so on.  As we continued with the game for a few rounds, the limbo stick would get lower and lower depending on how sections scored each round.  It was really fun to see how low students could go on the limbo...and how far they were able to get in their concert music with great intonation.  It was so fun to watch...I kept getting groups of teachers and students watching from the doorway.   

This game is easy to play with little to no preparation.  I used an empty string tube for my limbo stick and drew notches on the white board to designate the levels.


SPELLING BEE

Last week I got the idea to do a 'spelling bee' in my class...but I didn't want it to put too much pressure on individual students.  I think there are many ways you could do a 'spelling bee' type of game, but here's how I did it:

Intro the game with a video (optional...I just like to use a lot of videos).  I showed a very short clip from the very end just to help students remember what a spelling bee is.  

Orchestra version of spelling bee is a bit different...ours is an INTONATION BEE.  Each section plays the 'words' (which are a sequence of notes selected from our concert music).  If the section plays in tune, they get a point....if not, they don't get a point.  I didn't do this like a traditional bee with one student at a time because the rest of the students would get BORED.  

To prep the game the made simple into slide:


Then I typed a list of 'words' (note sequences) in PowerPoint.




To play the game, I showed one word at a time.  I demonstrated how to play the sequence, then had the class practice it together.  Then I listened to each section play the 'word' and gave them a point if they played it in tune (as a section).  I don't like to have students sitting doing nothing...so my pacing was QUICK.  I made sure the game moved fast and kept everyone involved.  

This game helped students drill some of their tricky measures.  In the middle of the game, some students started recognizing the ' words' and blurted out...'Hey!  That's from our concert piece!"  

I could have just showed the notes and made them practice the sequences...but this kept students more engaged, more motivated, and it was fun!


        Wednesday, March 10, 2021

        A break from the norm - send me your best work!

         


        Recently I saw this video on YouTube where Rob Landes hires violinists from Fiver.com to play a portion of one of the hardest pieces to play:

        This video really got me thinking.  These musicians are getting paid for sending something that looks a lot like a playing test.  Because someone is hiring them to perform, they prepare well, they practice, and they submit their highest quality playing.  They must be in tune with accurate rhythm.  It takes a lot of preparation and responsibility.  My students send me playing tests in much the same way...but sometimes could use a little more preparation and a little more responsibility..  What if they thought of their playing test as a 'hired' performance?  Would they practice more, prepare more carefully, and send me higher quality work?

        Instead of doing a regular playing test this week, my students are creating a fake 'FIVER' account and will be sending me a video sample of their best work to highlight their strengths.  Their job is to make ME want to hire them.  All students are important to our ensemble. We should practice and prepare as if we have been hired to do a great job.

        First of the week:  To begin the assignment, I had students answer a few questions:  1.  What are your strengths as a player?  2. What strengths would you like to highlight in your Fiver audition video?  3.  What piece will you play to demonstrate your strengths?

        Mid-week: students sent me a short sample of their piece by recording a video on FlipGrid.  Students then watched their own videos to tell me what they need to work on before recording their final video.  This allows students to reflect on their own playing.  I was just watching these videos and I'm so inspired by my students.  I love that they are sending me playing samples that demonstrate their strengths.  They sound confident and proud.  I'm impressed with their progress and enjoy hearing their piece selections.  Every student gets to be successful because they get to play music at their own level...music they like...something they're good at.  

        End of the week: Students recorded their final audition/profile video using Canvas.  Their videos showcased their strengths as a musician.  These are fun to grade.  I'm realizing just how far students have come since we began the year.   I have some fake music money...and I'm planning on passing out money to officially 'hire' my students to play in my class. :)

        I think it's cool you can hire musicians on Fiver.  I may hire someone to write an arrangement for my orchestra to play.  My students are dying to play some meme music and I don't have time to write arrangements.




        Monday, March 1, 2021

        Note to Fingerboard Matching Activity

         


        I've spent the last few month exploring all kinds of ways to use technology in my orchestra class.  This year I have been almost paperless and I love not having to grade piles and piles of papers.  I've moved many of my resources and curriculum online and students access everything through Canvas.  A few months ago I posted some online worksheets made with google slides where students drag and drop notes to the correct place on the fingerboard.  I received a request to make a version that showed the notes on the staff.  So, here it is!  Students open the file in google but do NOT run as a slide show.  Students grab the notes and drop them on the correct tapes.  This version does not have every possible note...only the notes my beginners have learned so far.  This kind of worksheet works great in Canvas as a 'google cloud' assignment.  This is where each student gets their own copy of the slide show where they can edit and turn it in.

        Access your own copy HERE.

        https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/10COCY_0XjwpQ-ooKGGOz6c-fKcfkPHDN8nE41bHsXM4/copy?usp=sharing


        Saturday, February 27, 2021

        Rhythm Activities for Beginning Orchestra

         


        My beginning orchestra is currently learning 'Medieval Wars' by Brian Balmages and students are loving it!  It's a grade 2, but I would say it's on the easy side of that grade.  The rhythms are not too difficult, but for some reason my students are struggling to count while they play.  Progress has been slow because students haven't been counting as I've been mostly drilling notes/pitch.  Last week I decided to starting reviewing rhythms and counting to help students play without getting lost.  With rhythm as our focus, students made it through the entire piece and they're learning it so much faster!

        Here are some of the fun rhythm activities I've done with my students:

        1.  Rhythm reading/coordination:

        Since I always do a 'video of the week' on Mondays, I had students clap/count rhythms with these videos:



        We talked about how we sometimes must play 2 different rhythms at the same time...one with our bow hand and one with our left hand.  For example, when playing 2 quarter notes that are slurred, the right hand plays a half note rhythm while the left hand plays the quarter notes.  This takes a great deal of coordination!  We practiced rhythm coordination with both hands using part of this video:



        After we practiced with the video, I had students write their own right hand/left hand composition.  They practiced their own composition then we traded papers and students practiced each others rhythms and graded the assignment based on a few key components: 1.  Is it neat?  2. Are there 4 beats notated in every measure? 3. Is it challenging?    Students took this assignment very seriously and they enjoyed having me try to perform their compositions.  They were sure they would get me to mess up...but it turns out I'm quite coordinated.  :)

        FREE PRINTABLE WORKSHEET HERE


        2.  Rhythm challenges using scales.

        I used the 'Around the World' rhythm game just to use the rhythm slides for this easy activity.  Students had to play a D scale and change the rhythm every time we changed pitch.  I just scrolled through the presentation while they played the scale.  It was very challenging for them to switch rhythms so quickly!


        I asked the students if the entire orchestra HAS to play the same rhythm in order to stay together.  Most said yes - we must always play the same rhythm.  We then experimented with scales and discovered half of the orchestra could play a D scale using 2 half notes per pitch while the other half of the orchestra could play at the same time with 4 quarter notes per pitch.  We discussed how each section can play their own rhythms in our music, but must count carefully for the rhythms to line up - like a puzzle.  I projected my score to Medieval Wars on screen for students to see different rhythms in each section and how the rhythms were supposed to fit together.

        3.  Rhythm Dictation

        I've done dictation with students before, but this time I made a quick NearPod for students to draw the rhythms they hear.  I liked using NearPod because it allowed me to see student responses right away. I was easily able to identify students who needed help.  I was in a hurry when I made the audio files for the rhythms so they're kind of low quality...but it works! 

        You can access and edit the nearpod HERE.



        4.  Rhythm Detective Game - variation

        I've used the Rhythm Detective game in my classes before and students have always enjoyed it, but I changed the game a little bit to make it more applicable to drilling specific rhythms.  I found tricky rhythms from our concert music and had students repeat the one measure of rhythm over and over in different ways as determined by the 'leader.'  For example, clapping, stomping, snapping, sliding their hands, tapping their cheeks, patting their heads, etc. The class repeated the rhythm and copied the leader while the detective tried to figure out who the leader was.  My class practiced rhythms over and over again...hardly realizing they were drilling concert music.  It was such a hit with my beginning classes I used the same game in my intermediate class to help them drill a few rhythms from 'The Code," by Silva. 


        5.  Rhythm Telephone

        This is the first time I've tried this game and it went so well!  I LOVE it!  I found the idea on this website.   I put away all the music stands and had students sit in 4 long rows.  I showed a simple rhythm to the students on the end of each row.  They then had to tap that rhythm on the shoulder of the person sitting in front of them...and so on...until the rhythm reached the other end.  The student at the far end then had to write the rhythm.  Teams got a point if the rhythm was correct.  I then had students rotate...so every student eventually had the opportunity to sit at each end of the line.


        6.  Rhythm Self-Assessment

        I used this assessment to help students determine their level of ability in reading/counting rhythms.  It was good for students self-assess their skills because it made them more motivated and willing to work hard to improve and get to the highest level.

        Free assessment for beginning rhythm and notereading HERE.





        Saturday, February 20, 2021

        Battleship game for String Orchestra

         


        Are you looking for a super fun game you can play with your orchestra students that won't take much time to prepare?   Try BATTLESHIP!  This game works great to review any type of music students have been learning.  It's very simple to play and students love it!


        Here's how to play...

        1.  Choose your music.  I chose one of our concert pieces, but you can use exercises from method books or anything you like.

        2.  Project your gameboard on screen.  I quickly made a gameboard using JAMBOARD.  You can use my game board.. you just have to click the 3 dots at the top of the screen...then click MAKE A COPY.  

        MAKE YOUR COPY HERE


        3.  Each section of the orchestra is a team.  Each team gets to fire a torpedo at any other section of the orchestra class by calling out one measure (you could do between 1-3 measures) from the music they have to play.  If the section plays the music in tune and in time with correct bowing, the torpedo is a MISS.  If the section does not play the measure correctly, it's a HIT and I move a little explosion icon on top of their ship on the gameboard.  Any team who gets 3 hits goes down in flames.


        A FEW NOTES:

        *When playing this in class, we rotated turns between sections:  bassess, cellos, violas, 2nds, then 1sts.  Game play continued in this way until the students sunk a few ships.  I allowed sunk teams to still fire torpedos at other sections so they could continue to participate.

        *Before starting the game, I had my orchestra play the music we were using in the game so they could 'spy' on other sections to find measure where they could fire some torpedos.


        My students are already asking to play this game again!  It was a great way for them to review tricky measures and find places that still need practice.




        Thursday, January 21, 2021

        Teaching students how to tune

         



        I've re-vamped all my lessons about teaching students how to tune.  I wanted to use NearPod and make the experience more interactive.  I made 3 lessons using google slides and incorporated them into NearPod with websites for students to explore, games to practice adjusting pitch, and quizzes to check for understanding.  

        I think it's important to establish some pre-tuning skills before students actually get to tune their own instruments.  These skills include understanding what 'in-tune' and 'out of tune' means, how to adjust pitch, and how to use pegs/fine tuners.  Here are snapshots of the lessons I prepared...you can use them at Nearpod:

        Lesson 1:  Exploring Pitch:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/oFRUWV95edb






        I LOVE LOVE LOVE this game!  It's at https://trainer.thetamusic.com/en/content/html5-dango-brothers    It's GREAT practice for studetnts to learn to adjust pitch to be 'in-tune.'  Students enjoyed practicing using this game. 


        Lesson 2:  Pegs and Fine Tuners:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/8FStsce6edb








        Lesson 3:  Rules of tuning:  https://share.nearpod.com/e/59eUmMf6edb   (the videos don't work in this lesson...I don't use them.  It was created in google slides...and I didn't really need the videos when I presented this to my class.  Videos can be cut out and replaced with pictures.)

        After lesson 3 I help students tune themselves for the first time using my tuning procedure. It worked great - and no broken strings!