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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Practice assignment for orchestra students of all ages

My 2nd year players have been working on a really difficult piece.  They love it and they are quite motivated, but still need a little push to keep working on the measures that are most challenging.  This practice tip helped students learn to study the music and figure out what makes certain passages so hard.  By identifying the skills necessary to master the music, students were empowered to practice more effectively. 

I began our rehearsal by showing this clip to students (skipping through the dialogue so it didn't take very long).

We then had a discussion about the skills we have to master to learn our music.  When playing an instrument you have to be able to do all sorts of cool skills!  What makes certain measures hard?  Is it bowing, shifting, fingering, etc? Once students can figure out specific skills in challenging passages, they can target their practice to master those skills.

Students can use this worksheet to map out their practice:

Another idea is you can have students practice in small groups to help each other identify the skills and practice effectively.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Weekly Motivation Strategy - Video of the Week

Those who have been to my conference presentations know that I show a lot of short videos in my class to motivate and inspire my students to work hard and be stay focused.  Students really connect to my videos and they look forward to watching them each week.   I have a special gift where I can tie any video to my class.  Sometimes students try to stump me, but there's always a way to apply things into orchestra!  In fact, at the end of the year, we play 'Video of the Week - Apples to Apples.'  Students are divided into teams and are given a dry erase board and marker.   I show the class a video and students have to write how the video can apply to orchestra.  One person per team (designated as team captain for that round) collects the responses and chooses one response as the winner - and that person gets a point.  The team captain position rotates to the next person...and the game continues the same way.  Just like Apples to Apples.  I'm amazing that students acquire my same gift - they can tie everything into orchestra, too!

I was just looking at my YouTube suggestions and found this video:

I think this will be one of my 'Videos of the Week.'  It got me thinking - is practicing a form of generosity?  Is a positive attitude in class and a good work ethic a from of generosity?  In an ensemble we depend on one another to learn and progress for the benefit of the entire group.  I would argue that when one student practices, it is an act of generosity for the group.  One strong player generates and promotes good playing for those around him/her.  Like a ripple effect, the group becomes stronger.  Practicing at home is a great and generous gift to offer other students in the ensemble.  A positive attitude and attention in rehearsals is the same.  It is a generous act to be respectful during rehearsals.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Nailed It! for ORCHESTRA

Have you ever seen the show 'Nailed It' on Netflix?  It's a show were non-professional bakers try to bake and decorate some pretty intricate cake designs.  The end result is often less than spectacular. 

I thought it would be fun to bring awareness to our progress in class by playing a similar game in orchestra.  Are students able to 'Nail it?' 

Here's how I did this in class today:

1.  To introduce the game, I showed SHORT clips from this video.  DISCLAIMER...this video has some language.  I was very careful about which clips I showed to my class.

2.  I told my class I would be checking them throughout the class period to determine if they could 'nail it' while playing their music.

3.  For beginners, I had to show their bow holds to their stand partners and let stand partners determine if they had 'nailed it.'

4.  Play D scale with the focus being - is the bow traveling in a straight line between the fingerboard and bride?  If they 'nailed it' - they tell me by showing me their bow holds.  You could have them just shout out 'nailed it' at the end of each exercise, but it was quieter and more controlled to have them 'tell' me by holding their bows above their heads.

5.  Play D scale while focusing on intonation.   Could they plan in tune which correct finger placement the whole time?

You get the idea.  We did variations with bowings, fingerpatterns, method book exercises, and excerpts from our concert music.  Students focused really well and were putting extra thought in their playing because they were really trying to complete each skill carefully.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Work on position and release of tension in string playing

Sometimes you need an activity outside of the norm.  Something students won't expect...something that maintains interest and intrigue.  I saw this game called Goat Yoga and thought it would be fun to incorporate the idea into my classroom.

I had been wanted to revisit correct position to help students fix minor issues and help them learn to play without squeezing their thumbs.  I did this little 'Instrument Yoga' activity with all grades I teach (7-12) and they all LOVED it.  It was a great way to mix up the regular routine and review position without it seeming too basic.

For the mini-lesson on position review and release of tension, I showed a minute of so of this video:

I pointed out to students that the people doing yoga had to maintain position and balance even when baby goats where jumping all over them.

I then turned out this video for some background yoga music and told students we were going to do some instrument yoga:

Next I used my more soothing, velvety voice to instruct students through the following routine:

  1. Place bows on your music stands.
  2. Go to rest position.  Curl your back forward like you're rolling into a ball.
  3. Plant your feet.  Grow your body upwards like a tree.  Your feet are the roots.  Sit tall on the edge of your seat with your back straight.
  4. Go to play position.  Violin/viola - place the instrument on your shoulder.  Place your left hand on your right shoulder and maintain that position while keeping instrument still.  Cello/Bass - bring your instrument to your body while maintaining your position with back straight, feet planted.  Hug your instrument.
  5. Violin/Viola, place left hand on fingerboard.  Become aware of your thumb and check thumb placement.  Feel your thumb completely relax.
  6. Cello/Bass, place left hand on fingerboard.  Place fingers in the grooves between the middle 2 strings.  Slide your forward and fingers up and down the fingerboard with a relaxed smooth motion.
  7. Violin/Viola, tap your fingers one at a time on the tapes.  Watch for the placement of the fingers. Aim for the thumb-side corner of each finger.  Check to make sure fingers hover directly above each tape.
  8. Cello/Bass, place left hand in 1st position and tap each finger on the tapes.  Watch to be sure fingers hover above tapes.  Be aware of the thumb to keep it relaxed and soft.

Also students could do bow exercises with the yoga music to work on release bow hand tension.

As I went through this exercise with students with the peaceful yoga music, I was able to walk around the classroom and make minor adjustments or help students when needed.  Super easy!

For a fun friday activity, I let my students pose and play the game I bought on Amazon - Goat Yoga.  We talked about how it's important to be able to hold and maintain posture when playing an instrument.  It's a crazy game, but my students liked it.  I had to work with my 2nds and violas for 10 mins at the high school and I let the other sections play that game while I drilled the music with the students who needed it. 

I'd like to have students create their own poses and draw them on a paper to create our own version of the game.  I have a styrofoam violin and it would be fun to use that as the object students have to balance.