Cloud of Starlings Teaching Tips

The approach behind DoReMi Piano is one of sound before sight. Before students are introduced to the score of a piece they have already completed a number of aural activities and games. In Going Wild there is a piece called Cloud of Starlings that introduces simple hands together work. It is the first piece, apart from sight reading exercises, that has no lyrics. Since there is no “song” to pin the activities to, how do you approach this with a student?

Some of my confident students can take this piece and, with a bit of help, sight sing it from the score. This can be quite challenging for other students and it’s important that we don’t frustrate them. Here are some activities for those students. These can be spread over a number of lessons depending on the ability of the student, so make sure you plan ahead and start working on them in good time.

Flashcards

I have created a set of flashcards of melodic patterns, broken into single bars. Included in these six patterns are those that will be found in the piece. I print two sets of the cards and we can play a number of different games with them. The only limit is your imagination, or that of your students since some of the games I play have been suggested by the students themselves!

Prepare the patterns

  • As always, start by singing some solfa echoes. Build them up from so-mi to do-re-mi-so-la and always include the patterns from the piece.
  • Next take out one set of flashcards and help the student to sing them. Start with the easiest.

Play the Game

Lay one set of cards face up and hold the other set in your hand (easiest first). Show the student the first card, and sing it. The student must echo, and then find the correct card from the set laid out. The student is using their aural and visual skills to find the matching card.

  • Extension 1 – if the student is confident reading solfa, they can sing straight from the card without help
  • Extension 2 – just sing without showing them the card so they have to rely on their aural and reading skills and not just matching the visual patterns
  • Extension 3 – the student becomes the teacher, they select the card and sing it and you can find the match

Other Games

You could lay the cards face down and play a Memory Game, either visually with two sets of cards, or aurally where you just sing the pattern. Alternatively Kim’s Game where you take away one of the patterns and they have to identify which is missing.

Do let me know if you think of any other games you or your students think of. The most important thing is that the student sings the patterns, whatever the game. Our aim is to prepare the patterns in the aural memory of the student so that when they come across them in the piece, they are familiar and comforting.

Composition

The student can create their own sequence using the two sets of flashcards. Ask them to place their favourite patterns in a line across the floor. They have composed their own melody! Ask them or help them to sing it. Do they like it? Would they like to change anything? Do they need to create a “final note” such as do to finish? A quick snap with an camera, tablet or smartphone can record their work to be sent home. If you have time you could get some manuscript paper and either write it out or use circle stickers.

Single Line Score

Cloud of Starlings WashiThe single line score removes the Bass Clef and any hands together work and just looks at the melody. Once the student has composed their own piece, you can tell them that someone else has composed a piece using the same patterns. It’s called Cloud of Starlings.

At this point we’re still trying to get the melody of the piece into the students inner ear, and not trying to play it on the piano.

  • Sing the patterns in solfa and, using the flashcards if necessary, ask the students to find the patterns on the score
  • Using colouring pencils, post its or washi tape show how the patterns make up the piece.

In this picture my student has used coloured washi tape. When we move onto the full score in Going Wild they used the same colours to mark out the piano score. Once the melody was confidently learnt, we removed them to show all the notes and the bass clef notes were added.

And that’s how to prepare a piece with no lyrics. The only limit to the activities is your imagination so get creating and share your ideas with us!

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