Autumn Fun

pumpkin-23479_1280So it’s the last week of school this week before the October half term holidays and I thought it would be fun to do some Autumn themed activities.

Rhythm Games

For students who are working their way through Sing and Play I have some pumpkin and leaf stick notation rhythms. There are loads of games you can play with these rhythm cards.

  • matching pairs game
  • Here sits a Mousie – see my previous post
  • Poison rhythms where you select one rhythm to be the poison. Then echo clap a variety of rhythms and if the student echoes the poison one then they are out
  • Post Office Rhythms – you clap the rhythms and leave one out. Each time the student hears a rhythm then they “post” the rhythm into a box or envelope (or just make a pile). See if the one that’s left at the end matches the one you left out

Pumpkin RhythmsLeaf Rhythms

Pumpkin and Leaves Stick Rhythms as pdf

Letter Name Race

For those who have moved onto letter names with Crazy Steps I have a fun racing game on the keyboard. Even my more advanced students enjoyed this game and some weren’t as fast as I’d hoped they would be!

You and the student place a counter on the lowest key on the piano. One of you takes the pumpkins and one takes the leaves. Turn over each card and move up the the next key that matches that letter. It’s a race to the top. You will need to reuse the cards to get to the top. If they are new to letter names they can count up the alphabet. However if they are more confident you should try and persuade them to recognise the keys by pattern, not counting.

Pumpkin LettersLeaf Letters

Pumpkin and Leaves Letter Names as pdf

Group Lessons with DoReMi Piano by Jeni Warder

Black CrowI love my job. As an ex-primary teacher, I’m motivated most by seeing children having fun, whilst discovering new things. When I left school teaching and began piano teaching 2 years ago, I never imagined I could end up being even more creative than I was in my classroom.

When I became a member of The Curious Piano Teachers last summer, the community and training focused me on improving my practice, challenged my creativity, and really began a snowball of self-evaluation. This led to lessons becoming more varied and child-centred, with more learning taking place away from the piano in practical activities and games. However, the more I have endeavored to make learning purposeful, musical and enjoyable, the less satisfied I have become with traditional tutor books. They seem to be at once limiting and intimidating, with musical value compromised but musical skills (such as time keeping and hearing pitch) assumed to be present from the start. I then discovered Helen’s DoReMi Piano! In this book, the structure and resources are there, but it allows me to be creative both at and away from the piano, and provides me with lots of support through the teacher book. It also follows the principle of ‘sound before symbol’, which I am becoming ever more keen to follow. I should say here, however, that I have no Kodaly training. I understand the basic principles, and would love to know more.

As I suggested earlier, I have been finding quite a few gaps in musical awareness at beginner level, so in January this year I took this matter in hand and set up my first pre-piano beginner group. I contacted three year 1 children from my waiting list and invited them to come along for half an hour a week of fun! (When I say fun, I actually mean aural training, keyboard geography and basic theory, but they don’t realise that!) We sing, play games, listen to music and really do all the things from the very beginning stages of Sing and Play. After Easter, and a lesson arranging Easter egg pictures to represent high and low notes in a song, I decided they were ready to start looking at notation and the first few pieces from the book.

image2One of my most popular activities with all my young students is walking the ‘floor stave’. (A metre of felt-backed pvc table protector fabric from Dunelm Mill which I cut into five 5cm-wide strips. When using it as a complete stave I use black rope to create the right clef.) I thought this would be a great resource to use for the pre-piano group’s first introduction to notation, except, of course, we would only need two of the lines. As we were working on ‘High low, Black Crow’, I thought I’d use an appropriate picture to represent the sounds on the floor stave, so I created a note head shape with a bird picture in the centre. (I’ve shared these as a resource just I case you’re ever after some quick crow notes!) After listening to the song, counting the high notes and low notes, how many times I sang the word “low” etc, and then singing it themselves, the children then took it in turns to place a crow on the right line to represent the movement of the song. Of course, when I then presented them with the sheet music they were keen to get on the piano as they understood exactly how it worked. I simply had to point out which note to use for high, and for low. (We have also talked about how line-line uses next-door-but-one notes as it ‘skips’ the one who lives in the space, we will talk more about this using the floor stave soon.)

In the lesson following, the children all performed the song confidently on the piano. No two children used the same fingers/hand/position and there was obviously a huge lack of technique, but that’s not what they were learning. Instead, I’m thrilled that they understand how the sound relates to the dots on the page, and that they are being creative in their communication of this. The children also went on to use sticky foam circles on two lines to compose and perform their own pieces in the same way.

image1We won’t be rushing on to the next piece, as I’m happy (and they’re happy) taking time to explore all the new concepts I am introducing. When we do start to ‘Bounce like a clown’ however, there will be some clown notes appearing….(and I’ve shared those with you too)!

Huge thanks to Helen Russell for her inspiration and skill, and also for allowing me to share this with you.

Download Crow Images as pdf
Download Clown Images as pdf

[Jeni used the original edition of DoReMi Piano which came with a single-teacher studio license. This allowed her to print individual pages of the book for her students. This edition has now been replaced with Sing and Play which also has the option of a single-teacher studio license]

Very Effective – Review of DoReMi Piano Book 1

Thank you so much Lindsay for this lovely review of DoReMi Piano

“This is a good, thorough grounding in basic music skills, that will lend itself both to individual, and to group teaching. I particularly liked the Improvisation section (Unit 2.9) as a simple but really effective introduction to the joys of improvisation and composition in a sociable way, and also Unit 3.2 on using the thinking voice to understand pulse and rhythm.

The way that homework is used is also potentially very effective, and perfect for the young child – getting them to teach new songs to someone at home is inspired!

Music as a social activity really comes through.”

 

Teacher Support

Another great review for DoReMi Piano. This time from one of my Amazon customers. All of my customers can rely on excellent post-purchase support if they have any questions or comments about the book. I also look forward to hearing how they are getting on with their students.

“This book has opened up an entire new world of teaching for me. Superb support and back-up from Helen as well – her service has been 100%.”

DoReMi Piano Book 1 Review

Thanks for the great review Rebecca Langley

“I love teaching piano but needed some more ideas to help me really engage my youngest beginners. DoReMi Piano has inspired both my students and me. I didn’t know anything about Kodály beforehand but the teacher guide explains everything extremely clearly and carefully. The activities are great fun and show a sound understanding of young piano students. I would wholeheartedly recommend it!”

Here Sits A Mousie

One of my students asked me the other day which of the songs from DoReMi Piano is my favourite. I didn’t have to think very long. My favourite song is the one that can come out time and time again. My students never get bored of playing it and it can cover a number of learning objectives.

The song is Here Sits A Mousie.

First found in Sing and Play, on the surface it is a simple “la“, “so“, “mi” song. It is the first one that is printed with the stems already in place, as by now most of my students are confident enough with the rhythm not to need the extra task of drawing them on each piece. It is also the first song that changes pitch within a quaver pair and the first song since Balance Balance that has the same pitch for more than one beat. So plenty to challenge a student and plenty of reason to encourage good preparation with a great game.

My idea for this game came from a sadness about this poor little mousie. I must have been having an emotional day! The lyrics are: Here sits a mousie, in his little housie. No-one comes to see him. Poor little mousie. Poor little mousie indeed. No-one comes to see him? That’s just too sad. I can’t leave it at that! So I devised an extension to the song where lots of his friends do come to see him.

Here Sits A Mousie

I have a soft mouse toy to play the part of the mousie. I select two or more other toys as the mouse’s friends and give them each a rhythm flash card. I use at least the two rhythms from the song. I bounce each toy to the rhythm on their card and ask the student to do the same until they are confident they know the rhythms. Then we sing the Mousie song, the mouse bounces in time with the pulse, and at the end of the song I knock or clap one of the rhythms. This is the toy knocking on Mousie’s door. The student then chooses the correct visitor. You could leave the rhythm flash cards visible, or put them away. An alternative start to this game is to demonstrate each rhythm without the cards and the student must select the correct card.

As always, next we swap roles. The student sings the song and knocks the rhythm and I have to select the correct friend. You can expand this game by using more and more friends. You can use known rhythms or use those from a new song you want to prepare. You could even create a doorbell melody to cover pitch as well as rhythm.

The students will play this all lesson if you let them!

Puzzle Erasers

PuzzleErasersI just have to say a massive thank you to the pianist, teacher and composer Diane Hidy for introducing me to Japanese Puzzle Erasers!!  She has been advocating them for years but I had never seen them in the UK until the wonderful day when Paperchase opened a branch in Worcester! I was browsing for a gift for my son’s clarinet teacher and suddenly saw them hanging temptingly on the wall. My fellow customers probably gave me funny looks behind my back as I squealed with delight. Yes, I know! I’m clearly crackers.

Why was I so excited? Well I just knew they would work wonderfully with my DoReMi Piano students.

DoReMi Piano starts by introducing students, via the concept of high and low, to the pitches, solfa or singing names of “so” and “mi”. These two pitches are the easiest for beginner musicians to sing since they commonly occur in many playground songs and of course the irritating “ner ner” taunt! The students learn to sing these pitches through songs and games. Then they learn where to find them on the keyboard.

Once students are confident with these two pitches they are ready to add a third pitch “la” which also commonly occurs in playground songs and taunts.

Some students apply these pitches to the keyboard with ease. Others have more trouble. Any key on the keyboard can be “so“, which means there are many correct locations. We start with the black keys to limit the options and eventually we move to the white keys. This is where the puzzle erasers come in!

Puzzle Erasers on Black KeysFor students struggling with the locations of “la”, “so” and “mi” we can use the cute animals to find our keys. We build them up by starting with “so”, then “mi”, then “la”. They love choosing from my bag of “friends”. This student has placed the tiger on “so”, the piggy on “mi” and the cow on “la”.

You can see how the animals sit nicely on the keys and if they’re played gently they don’t fall off. Plus they are kinder to the keys than the Lego mini-figures I had been using!

Puzzle Erasers on White KeysBut that’s not all they can do! When the student is ready to move to the white keys, they make it really easy to show how “la”, “so” and “mi” can move. One animal can’t move on its own though, if one moves they all have to move. Getting the students to move the animals themselves gives them an understanding of the nature of transposition. Not that we use that term just yet! If they make a mistake, all they need to do is play the keys and they soon hear the problem.

So thanks Diane, on behalf of my students and myself. Our lessons are not only full of joy, they are also more effective.

Understanding Pulse

For many years now I have sung songs with my students to help them learn various elements of musicianship. One of the first songs we sing helps them understand pulse. This song is the two pitch song Cobbler Cobbler. The children pretend to hold a shoe in one hand and a hammer in the other. They bang their fist in time with the pulse of the song. We then hold the hammer in the air; place the “shoe” on the ground; swap the hammer into the other hand; and pick up the shoe again. We can then repeat the song using the other hand.

They love it! We can use it to explore tempo as sometimes the cobbler is very tired and goes slowly, or he might be running late and need to go fast. Of course the children go so fast that their steady pulse goes out of the window! But they’re having fun and we can tone it down and discuss the different tempos still have a “steady beat”. We can also march around the room to this song or play a simple pat-a-cake game. All great ways of feeling the concept of the steady beat.

Sometimes I use the terms pulse and steady beat interchangeably. We talk about our own heartbeats and I make the children laugh by tapping out a random jazzy “heartbeat” and shout “Quick, call an ambulance!!” A healthy heartbeat is nice and steady and our songs need a healthy heartbeat too. Explaining that the doctors can feel your heartbeat by finding your pulse brings in the term pulse quite nicely. They can rarely find their own pulse so we often have to “call an ambulance” for them too! They find this hilarious!

We can tap the pulse all over the place! On the piano lid, on our knees, on our noses, nod our heads. Anything we can think of. Especially anything they can think of! The more ideas and repetition the better. One of my students wanted to tap his eye – not sure about that!! I suggested eyebrow and he seemed happy enough!

I had one student who found tapping a steady pulse almost impossible. We tried everything from marching around in my garden to nodding heads. One day, almost by chance, I asked her to try tapping fingertips on her chest but keeping the heel of her hand fixed to her body! Hooray! She still can’t clap or march but she can make that very small movement needed to understand the pulse.