Wednesday, October 4, 2017

3 Stick Prop Tricks to Make Music Teaching Stick

The element of surprise or salience can be a key component determining whether or not students remember concepts that we demonstrate.  Rather than just telling or explaining, it is much more effective to demonstrate or engage students in memorable meaningful activities relating to the concept we are trying to convey.
Years ago when I introduced “Airplane Pilot” a simple piece with open fifths to my preschooler I noticed her playing with very little wrist rotation even though she was hitting the right notes.
So I taped a Popsicle stick to her wrist to form the “wings” of the plane which made her wrist motions much more obvious.  She quickly caught on the rocking wrist motion, a concept that would prevent later tension in years to come.
Read more in this post on how to use a popsicle stick to encourage even scale playing.


Lessons for me as a child were pretty predictable.  Start with Hanon and Czerny, play through assigned pieces and sit on the bench the entire lesson as my teacher explained or demonstrated what I needed to improve in each song.  This worked just fine for me because I was born with some perfectionist desire to please tendencies, a cautious, calm and patient demeanor, and I found playing the piano both addicting and intrinsically rewarding from the start.  

But once I started teaching I quickly recognized that typical piano students are not quite like that.  Some like to dive in quickly and skip over the details in the piece.  Others are taking lessons but don’t quite have the passion that their parents might envision.  Adding variety in your teaching approach can be a key ingredient in not only engaging their minds but also helping students retain what you taught once they leave the lesson.

To creatively introduce the elements I wanted my student to focus his practice on one week, I started with this stick pull activity.

Popsicle Stick Piano Practice

Prep:  On 4 or 5 popsicle sticks, write creative names that represent concepts or musical elements in the piece.  Student picks a stick and then does the associated activity.  For example, to teach Turkey in the Straw (from Piano Pronto Movement1 Cowboy Medley) I chose these elements that apply to the music lines on the Pronto Prep page.

Rub Belly Tap Head: Hold half notes in the left hand as right hand plays staccato.

Nibble a Note: Practice Strategy: Cover music with a post-it note and gradually uncover your music as you play 1, 2, 3,4  and then 5 notes, etc.  This is especially effective with fast passages including tricky fingering.

You Be The Teacher: Listen to the teacher play a section and identify what they played wrong A-Rhythm, B- Articulation, C-Notes. (One passage in the music has half notes in the left hand while the right hand plays faster eighths and quarters so some students tend to forget to hold long notes for their full value. I intentionally played this part wrong for the student to identify the problem.)

Target Shooting: Practice leaping left over right to hit the target note when the music requires you to cross hands.  Blindfold for a challenge.

For other pieces, you might try
Elephant vs Mouse: Practice balancing voice with heavy, left-hand forte and soft right-hand piano.

Track Tap: Student taps the rhythm in the piece as the teacher demonstrates a passage with a new or difficult rhythm pattern.

Dynamic Duel: Shade all the dynamic symbols in your music (soft lighter colors, loud darker, or brighter colors) while your teacher plays the song.  You win the duel if you spot and all the dynamics before your teacher finishes playing the piece.

Fidget Spinner I Spy: Read details on this post on how a fidget spinner can ramp up the analysis process.

Minute to Win It: Find more fun minute to win it activities that relate to your student's music that take just 1 minute to complete.

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