Creating Music for Pictures: Students chose one Christmas book and created music for some of the pictures. We used the "dimensions" of music, in the next snowflake picture to reflect on our musical decisions and make our compositions better.
Musical Elements/Dimensions Snowflakes: Students consider the musical decisions the composer of their piece made and then use these to write their own compositions. Using the term "dimension" instead of elements for these is an idea from Jackie Wiggins' "Teaching for Musical Understanding." It works well for helping the student understand that these are just different ways of looking at music.
Changing Music to Create a Different Mood: Students choose a snowflake that fits the mood of their piece. They then choose a snowflake that's completely different than the mood of their song and change aspects of the music to create this mood. We then reflect on their changes using the snowflakes in the previous picture.
Student Composition CDs: This is a great way to let students keep a record of their compositions without having to notate them. Remember, creating music and notating music are two different skills. While there is a lot of value in writing a piece out, it's important to not let the tediousness of notating a piece stop students from creating. I record using Audacity, export the files in wav format, and then use iTunes to make a playlist and put them on a CD.
Program Draft: Students must "add" their piece to the program two weeks before the recital. This means that their piece must be memorized and perfected by this date. This avoids having to cut pieces at the last minute. Students know the date their piece has to be ready so there are no surprises.
Kaleidoscopes: Students looks through them and describe what all the colors look like blending together. They then try to do this in their music. This works great with pieces like "Painting with Pastels," "Kaleidoscope Colors," and "Colorful Sunset" from the Piano Adventures series.
Technique Activity: This is an example of a fun way to teach technique. In "Coconut Shuffle" (from Piano Adventures 2A Performance), students always have trouble playing lightly with their LH. This activity isolates the rhythm, helping them internalize the feel of the syncopation, and has them play the LH rhythm with a maraca (which it is impossible to play loudly with!) Student then copy the sound of the maraca when they play their piece.
Thought-bubble Stickies: Beginners often forget to think about their technique when they play, only focusing on the notes and the rhythm. On these thought bubbles, I write what they should be thinking while they play their piece, like "Is my thumb on its side?"
Dynamic Crayons: We use these to visualize dynamics. You can show gradual changes like crescendos and decrescendos or sudden changes.
Practice Beads: Students receive a practice bead each week if they meet their practice goal. When they have ten beads, they get a gift card. I believe in using mostly intrinsic motivation, but these practice beads work really well.
Flying Fingers Cards: Students play the pattern written on the card all the way up and down the piano, crossing their hands over. These work as technique exercises and also help students get comfortable with playing across the whole piano.
Music History Timeline: Helps students visualize when certain composers lived and understand the style of their music is different. You can alter it to fit the composers you want to teach, but make sure that the size of each composer card fits how long he/she was alive.
Jewel Rings for Learning Finger Numbers: Students put rings on fingers you call out. For boys, you can call it a pirate treasure. If you present it well, they'll like it too.
Link to piano technique: Students wear the ring on one finger and have to drop their wrist into the piano like they have a heavy ring on their fingers!
Rainy Rhythm: I got this idea from someone else's blog. Students can tap rhythms with the rain drop, rainbow, and double rainbow cards. These provide a smooth transition into quarter, half, and whole notes.
Link to piano technique: Put a card with a number over each card and have the student tap that finger number in rhythm.
Floor Staff: Made from a table cloth, For pre-reading activities, students can "read" the name of the ball from left to right. Students can place objects from left to right in the treble and bass clef and tap the corresponding hand. Students can also throw balls/bean bags onto the staff, name the note, and then play on the piano.
Whiteboard Staff: Great for practicing note names without boring flashcards! Students can also do melodic dictation to practice ear training.
Super Sightreading Glasses: Make sightreading fun and also make students aware that they are focusing on their music reading skills.
Giving students only the text of a song at first can help them aurally understand musical concepts before learning the symbols for these. For example, in this song, the student learns about the upbeat by singing the song while clapping on beats 1 and 3, the strong beats. They discover that the first words of each line comes before the clap. The figure out that this note must be in the measure before the first beat, constructing their own knowledge of the concept and then understanding how it is symbolized.
Shapes: Students can map out the musical form. Students can also use them as early symbols, using one for RH and one for LH, tapping the pattern from left to right.
Chord cards: When students first discover the primary chords, they use these chord cards to understand how chords are used in a song. I play the melody and they play the chords. For super-ambitious students, they can also pick out the melody and play hands together!
Rhythm Cards: Students can practice tapping rhythms and do rhythm dictation without wasting time writing out all the notes.
3/4 Time: Here is one activity I use with students to help them understand 3/4 time. Students play the notes on the page with any finger in any hand while I play the classical piece (this is a Beethoven minuet). Students are internalizing the feel of 3/4 time, reviewing their note names, and starting to learn about classical music through this activity.
Rhythm Cards: Students can determine the time signature, constructing a deeper understanding of what meter is. I used this at Christmastime. Students played the rhythms on the jingle bells while I played one of their Christmas pieces (they determined which one would "fit" using the time signature).
Constructing scales: Students build a scale using the notes on the locks. I like this better than just matching a key to a key signature because it makes sure that students understand what a key signature is.
Kazoos: These are great for young students who don't like to sing. Humming through a kazoo makes it a lot more fun.
Elephant Stomps: These rhythms cards help students understand rhythms in 4/4 time in terms of the two strong beats in the measure. The first cards stars with LH on beat 1 and RH on beat 3 (the elephant stomps). Each card adds another note into each half note beat. I play the "African Elephant" song from PA level 3B to accompany this student.
Squeaky Cheese Rhythms for My First Piano Adventure: I've started creating variations on the activities in MFPA to do during lessons and then letting students do the activities in the book at home for practice. These cards allow student to create their own lines of rhythm, making it more fun.
Here's the cat and dog cards with rhythm added.
Lesson Plan Template for Beginners-Early Intermediate Students:
-the Kodaly order of teaching (prepare-present-practice)
-singing, moving, playing from the Orff process with an emphasis on student creativity
-constructivist, discovery method where the student is solving musical problems (Jackie Wiggins, “Teaching for Musical Understanding”)
Level 4 Music History Teacher's Guide: Around level 3 of Piano Adventures, I start incorporating a lot of classical literature. In level 4, students start learning about the different styles (eras) of classical music, studying each composer that they play. Here is a sample lesson plan for Scott Joplin, and the packet students have to guide their learning.
*The pages in the pack ended up backwards; they would be used in the opposite order.
Links for Students and Parents
Before Starting Lessons
Qualities to look for in a Piano Teacher, from the Fabers (authors of Piano Adventures)
Things to do Before Your Child Starts Piano Lessons, from Elissa Milne
My Electric Keyboard Requirements for students
Inspiration for Composing, from Compose Create
Composition Prompts, from Color in My Piano blog
How to Make Your Compositions Better, from Compose Create
Meet the Composer, from Making Music Fun
Music Eras, from Color in My Piano blog
How to Practice, from Discoveries Piano Studio
How to Make Your Playing More Musical, from Martha Beth's blog (lengthy article for teen/adult students)
How to Blend a Musical Smoothie (In-depth look at Artistry), from Marienne Oszler via Piano Adventures website
Memorizing and Performing
Tips for Memorizing Piano Music, from Color in My Piano blog
Dealing with Performance Anxiety, from Color in My Piano blog
Free Sheet Music
Free Sheet Music for beginners, from Pianimation
More Free Sheet Music beginners, from Susan Paradis
Classical and Other Sheet Music for beginning and intermediate, from Making Music Fun
IMSLP, International Music Score Library Project includes all classical music in the public domain
Contact Hannah at
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