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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Make more progress with mindful rehearsals



I think we all get stuck on auto-pilot sometimes.  Sometimes I zone out on my drive to work and I don't remember stopping at stop lights.  I'm sure I do stop, but I'm not always actively allowing my brain to pay attention to every detail during my drive.  I think I sometimes get stuck on auto-pilot at work, too.  I run my rehearsals with fast pacing in much the same style every day.  I target what to rehearse and quicky go about fixing things.  A couple weeks ago, I noticed I was fixing the exact same passages in our music every single day.  I know students need repitition, but at what point should it stick?  I realized I needed to change the way I was running my rehearsals.  I had been thinking for my students...telling what how and what to fix.  A shift was needed to help students become more accountable.


To begin my rehearsal transformation, I showed a couple Brain Games clips to help students learn the idea of paying attention and noticing details:

To keep with the mindfulness theme, I showed a short video clip at the start of each reheasal.  This reminded students to be mindful during rehearsals.  I used about 20-30 seconds of this video (carefully screen this one become showing students).  It's amazing to watch this guy sneak hot-dogs into people's pocket's without them noticing:


Poetry for Neanderthals is a fun game for teaching mindfulness.  I bought the actual game and we played it as a class for about 5 minutes.  It takes a lot of mindfulness to play the's a lot like have to get your team to guess a word on a card, but you're only allowed to give hints that are one syllable.  If you say a word with more than one syllable, someone gets to hit you on the head with an inflatable caveman club.  It's pretty hilarious.  It makes you think really carefully about how and what you say.  Students loved this game, so I made my own cards with orchestra terms and words from our concert music to play an 'orchestra version'.  

In my beginning class we played a game I created called TWO-WORD rehearsals.  I told students that I had to run the entire class only being able to say 2 words at a time.  No other other explanations.  Students who had comments or questons were only allowed to say 2 words.  It made me really think about what to say and how to say it.  I couldn't count off  '1...2 ready go' to start the group, so I used conducting motions to start them and they followed like pros!  The rehearsal was quiet, focused, efficient, and very mindful.  It's more fun for students if they play along and try to ask questions or make comments during the rehearsal.


During the week, students completed an assignment in Canvas where they read an article and summarized what they learned.  It was really interesting to read their responses.  I learned a lot about how I needed to change my rehearsals to encompass a mindfulness approach.  I highly recommend you read this article, too:


The key to transforming my rehearsals was to ask mindfulness questions.  These questions changed depending on what we were practicing, but here are some examples:

1.  During our scale, was your F# in tune?

2.  Did you use your whole bow the entire time?

3.  Did you play every slur?

4.  Did your eighth notes match your stand partner's notes?

5.  Did you play spiccato at the balance point? many possible questions - it all depends on what you want students to become aware of.

Students responded YES by giving me a thumbs up, NO a thumbs down, or I DIDN'T NOTICE with a flat hand.  I explained to students that a 'yes' or 'no' answer is great - it means they are mindful.  The 'I don't know' response means there is no mindfulness/awareness.  

After rehearsing this way for a few days, I noticed students were taking way more responsibility for their playing.  We fixed things FASTER and EASIER because students were doing it themselves.  I feel like I didn't have to work as hard to help them make progress.  When I needed to stop to rehearse a passage, I tried to ask a mindfulness question instead of just telling them what to do.  Students were more engaged and worked so hard!  

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Intonation Week

My students are still enjoying my weekly themes!  I wanted to post some ideas for INTONATION WEEK.  

1.  Listening tests

See how well students can distinguish in tune versus out of tune pitches.   One idea is to use the Listening Test I created a couple month ago:

Some districts block my sound files in this resource.  In that case, you would have to create your own audio clips.  I used Garage Band to record my clips.

2.  Use the 'bean-boozled' game to introduce intonation.  

Most students have an impeccable sense of taste and can tell what flavor of jelly bean they are eating...and if it tastes like coconut or rotten egg, for example.  They know what tastes good and what tastes bad.  Can their ears do the same thing with sound?  During rehearsal, ask students to focus on matching their intonation to make the notes 'taste' good.  If one section plays out of tune, ask for a volunteer to come and eat a jelly bean.  This game really gets the entire class focusing more carefully on pitch and intonation.

3.  Rob Landes Videos

There are some great videos from Rob Landes about playing by feel.  These are great for teaching students to develop muscle memory and not rely on tapes to play in tune.  You can even have students try to play blindfolded or with gloves on.

4.  Play 'What's in the box' with students.  

I like to show the Jimmy Fallon 'What's in the box' videos to introduce the game.  

I then let students play the game to see if they can determine objects in a box by feel.  You can use a box with holes cut in the sides - or there's a game you can buy:

We then try to play our intruments with perfect intonation by feel through the following challenges:  

  • Play in the dark with lights out focusing on good intonation.
  • Play with eyes closed
  • Drop left hand every time you play an open string in order to reset the hand by feel and play in tune.

5.  Use an app.

I just discovered an app called Intonia available for both Apple and Android.  All you do is play music and the app reads the intonation draws the pitch.  You can see if the pitch stays in tune or if it deviates.  It provides great data and an accurate visual to determine pitch accuracy.  I think it works best if it is projected on a screen so students can see the results as they play.

My class also does well with the TE tuner app projected to the front of the room on a screen.  I like to use it when practicing scales to see how many green happy faces my students can get as they play.  I also use TE tuner for drones for warm-ups.  

6.  Magnetic darts game

I LOVE this magnetic dart game.  I often get this game out when I want my class to focus on intonation because it provides such a great visual - showing that we want the pitch to be perfectly on target - exactly at the center of the pitch.  You can let students take a turn throwing darts if they play very well in tune.  This helps students put so much effort into their playing just for a chance to throw a dart.

7.  Just use tape

One time I had a student who was cutting an orange and accidentally cut open all of her fingers on her left hand.  She came to school with bandaids around the top of each finger.  She remarked that it was so much easier to play on the tips of her fingers since her fingers were wrapped.  That gave me the idea to have my students put scotch tape around the tops of each finger.  THIS DOES MIRACLES FOR INTONATION.  Students play with awesome position and they really focus on what their left fingers are doing.  It sounds weird - but it totally works!

I hope you have a very happy INTONATION WEEK!