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Recent Purchases: Scale Blocks & A Technique Monkey

I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the lookout for creative and inexpensive items for my teaching.  The dollar store is one of my favorite places to go!

In the craft aisle at Dollar Tree right now, there are packages of foam cubes, as shown in the picture.  I’ve always wanted to make scale blocks like Natalie Wickham’s, but have never got around to buying the wood blocks and paint.  These foam cubes seem like a pretty good alternative, although they may not last as long I suppose.  On the upside, it doesn’t take long to write the alphabet letters on these little cubes with a marker!  I am going to go back to buy a couple more packages, so I can make a nice set of scale blocks using the orange colored cubes.  

With the rest of the colors, I am going to make rhythm dice, Major/minor/augmented/dimished dice, time signature dice, and whatever else I can come up with.  I’m sure they will be useful for games down the road!

Now, you may be wondering about the “technique monkey” mentioned in the title of this post.  Well, I can’t claim this idea as my own either.  Irina Gorin uses a similar monkey with her students, to teach them about arm weight.

This little friend (yes, also from the dollar store) has velcro on his paws, so you can wrap the monkey around the student’s wrist and have them swing the monkey for a ride with loose, weighty arms.  I always find teaching basic piano technique to young ages pretty challenging, so I’m happy to have any kind of prop that may help!  Once the student has experienced an awareness of arm weight away from the piano, they can hopefully begin to transfer the same feeling over to when they are at the piano.  🙂


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15 thoughts on “Recent Purchases: Scale Blocks & A Technique Monkey”

  1. Oh sugar! I was just in the States yesterday (no Dollar Tree in Canada) 🙁
    Another way to present the scales using dice is to introduce tetrachords. Using your orange C+ scale dice, lay down C-D-E-F & then using blue (or whatever) for G+, add on the G tetrachord G-A-B-C to finish building the C+ scale. To build the G+ scale, remove the C tetrachord & add a green D tetrachord on the end.
    Now I gotta get me some dice so I can do this too 🙂

    1. The Keith Snell theory books (Fundamentals of Piano Theory) which I frequently use introduce scales using the tetrachord method also. It makes sense to do the same thing with the scale blocks! Thanks, Beth!

  2. For my younger students I use a tiny stuffed whale called “Whaley Whale”.
    I slide the whale under their wrists to remind them that they need to keep their palms off the piano frame board. I say “make room for Whaley Whale”. It always brings smiles and giggles.

  3. I absolutely love this idea. These lightweight blocks can be used for so many ideas.
    How about ear training? You could put various intervals and have students sing them.

    1. I just found these foam blocks at my Dollar Tree today. They didn’t have them a couple of weeks ago. I found them in the school supply aisle – they were called Counting Blocks. Wendy, I live a couple hours from you in KS, so maybe your store will have them now too.

  4. This is great. I have been wanting to get some blocks, myself. It’s very possible that not every Dollar Tree has the same inventory–as Wendy may have experienced. Worth checking though! Thanks for sharing, Joy!

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