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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, 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 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 (  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.


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 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 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 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.