Early Childhood Music, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps

DIY: Ribbon Rings for Music & Movement Activities

I got the idea for this craft from Kara’s Creative Place blog (thanks for the brilliant idea, Kara!).  Ribbon Rings (Kara’s example is pictured at right) are a fun prop for movement activities with young students during group lessons, camps, or early childhood music classes.  Kids love fluttering the ribbons of these props while they do the motions to various songs.  You can buy similar ribbon rings at musicmotion.com…..or you can make your own!

These ribbon rings are made using the (non-sticky) plastic tape that is found at most hardware stores near the Caution tape.  I did consider using satin ribbon, however, plastic tape is much, much cheaper.  And actually I was pleasantly surprised at the results of using plastic tape.  I like it much better.  Because it’s so light, it flutters in the air so much better than satin ribbon would.  Definitely give it a try before you invest in satin ribbon!   Continue reading “DIY: Ribbon Rings for Music & Movement Activities”

Conferences, Group Classes, Music Camps, Teaching Piano

2010 MMTA Conference (2): Theory & Improv as the PB&J of Music, Part 2

A continuation of the previous post……see Part 1 here.


Activities Continued…..

5. Progression Based Improvisation

1) Show the student a progression such as:

A  |  D  |  A  | Bmin |  E  |  A  |  E  |  A  ||

2) Be sure the students thinks about the relationship between the chords.  Spell each chord together before playing.  Check how many chord tones are in common between each chord, and play the best inversion of the triads accordingly for good voice leading.

Side note: this activity is great to do with groups of students, away from the piano.  Try “playing” this progression moving to the closet inversions on your invisible lap piano.  =) Continue reading “2010 MMTA Conference (2): Theory & Improv as the PB&J of Music, Part 2”

Conferences, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Rhythm, Teaching Piano

2010 MMTA Conference (1): Theory & Improv as the PB&J of Music, Part 1

What follows are the notes I took from a session with Martha Hilley at the 2010 Michigan Music Teachers Association conference.  She shared with us a number of activities that can be incorporated in a variety of settings, whether it be the private lesson, class piano, or monthly group lessons (my summary is posted here with permission).



Do you have your students improvise?  Do you improvise?  The biggest reason teachers don’t improvise during the lesson with their students is the giant time factor: we often don’t want to take the time out of the lesson.  However, improvisation can be very effective even with beginners.


1. Black Key Improvisation

Use improvisation even with young beginner students.  They often can play rhythms that they can’t yet read, so use improvisation as a way to teach rhythm and technique.  It frees them from the score.  Black key improvisation is especially great because there are no wrong notes!

1) Ask student to put 5 fingers on 5 black keys (any 5).

2) Teacher sets up an ostinato.  Student is instructed first to listen to the ostinato, and then play (immediately after, joining the teacher). Continue reading “2010 MMTA Conference (1): Theory & Improv as the PB&J of Music, Part 1”

Ear Training, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Music Theory, Printables, Rhythm

Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (3/3)

In continuation of a description of the music theory activities at our Piano Mini-Camp a few weeks ago, here are more details concerning the activities we used:

Rhythm Dictation Game

This rhythm dictation game by Natalie was a real hit with the students!  I printed off two sets of cards and put the students into groups of two so that they could work together.  Here’s how the game works:

  • Instruct the students to sort/spread out the cards on the floor so they can see the different rhythmic value options.
  • Clap a rhythm for the students.  Instruct them to listen and be able to clap it back to you before beginning to dictate the rhythm using the cards.  This may take a few listens before they can clap it back accurately.
  • Tell students to work together within their team to dictate the rhythm using the cards.

I tried to clap rhythms according to the approximate level of the groups of students I was teaching, and increased the difficulty of each rhythm as they became accustomed to the process.  I also tried to vary the time signatures between 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4.  I kept the rhythms to just 2 measures long, unless we were in 2/4 time or unless the students were more advanced.

I think it’s important to have the students be able to clap the rhythm back in its entirety before beginning to dictate it using the cards, because it helps increase their musical memory.  Otherwise, they will dictate only 1 or 2 beats at a time, and constantly be asking you to “do it again!”  If they can remember it themselves, they can then re-clap it to themselves as needed as they work on dictating it. Continue reading “Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (3/3)”

Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Music Theory, Printables

Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (2/3)

In continuation of the series about music theory at our piano mini-camp, here are the descriptions of a few more of the activities we did:

Music Adventures Board Game

In my music theory classes, one of my goals was to cover as many areas within the broad scope of “music theory” as I could.  The gem stones activity covered 5FPs/scales/key signatures; the rhythm dictation game covered rhythm and ear training, and the Hear & Sign game covered more ear training.  This game, called “Music Adventures,” focuses mostly on music terminology, but also on note reading and identifying intervals.

You may recognize this game from the picture on the right: I created this piano-bench-sized board game earlier this year, and it is available for download on the Printables > Other Resources page.

To prepare for this game, we first quickly reviewed some music terms on the chalkboard.  Then I set the students loose in teams of 2 to play this music board game.  You can vary the length of this game by using either one die or two dice.  I had lots of things I wanted to do in my 30-minute classes, so I gave each team two dice.  We played this game one time, on the second day of camp.

Susan Paradis’ Music Bingo

I used Susan’s Music Bingo game at a group lesson about a year ago and it was a huge hit, and I thought this was a good opportunity to use it again!  I used this game on the last day of camp, and it was quite a fun way to end the day.

To cover the spaces on the Bingo sheet, instead of using the red markers picture on the right we used the same colored glass stones that we used for the gem notes on keyboard & staff activity.  One less thing to haul along from home with me to camp.  =)

Stay tuned – there is one more post about our music theory activities coming soon!

Games, Group Classes, Music Camps, Music Theory

Music Theory at our Piano Mini-Camp (1/3)

As promised, here’s more about the Music Theory classes at our Piano Mini-Camp a few weeks ago.  I didn’t create formal lesson plans per-se, but the next three posts will serve as a general outline of the activities we did over each of the three camp days.

Gem Notes on the Keyboard & Staff

Using Susan Paradis’ wonderful resources, I created an activity for teaching 5-finger patterns (5FPs) and scales.  We used colorful glass stones (from the dollar store) to build 5FPS/scales on her table-top keyboard printable and one of her grand staff printables.  After printing everything out on cardstock, I cut out the table-top keyboard so that the students each had one long keyboard and then put each grand staff in a sheet protector.

The students really enjoyed using the colorful “gems.”  One little student kept asking me, “Are they REAL GEMS?!”  =)

With the younger students, we learned just about 5FPs: how to build them (WWHW) in various keys, and how to make them minor (lower the 3rd).  With the more advanced students, we learned about the entire scale (WWHWWWH) in various keys, and how to make them minor (lower the 3rd, 6th, and 7th for natural minor).

We first created the 5FP/scale first on the keyboard (pictured above), and then created it on the staff.  The reason I had the student do both is because I think students sometimes fail to make the connection from the keyboard to the staff and vice versa.  I intended this activity to be a way to build their understanding of the connection between their playing and what they see on the staff when it comes to 5FP/scales.

In order to notate a sharp or flat on the staff, we used different shaped gem stones (which I also found at the dollar store): an oblong shape.  I’m sure you could also just use the different colors to represent the notes with accidentals.

We spent about 10-15 minutes each day on this activity.  Each day, we reviewed what was covered the previous day and then added something new to the process (like learning about minor) or tried out other key signatures.

Make A Keyboard Activity

On the first day of camp, I started each theory class with another Susan Paradis activity: Make A Keyboard.  I strongly recommend printing this printable onto cardstock paper so it will last longer.

I chose this activity mostly as a warmup activity to get their minds working before moving on to more complex activities.  But it’s a good activity to see whether the students remember how the keyboard is laid out without looking.  One student had all her black keys in groups of two at first, and couldn’t figure out why she had extra black keys!

I handed each student a small zipper bag with all the piano key pieces inside and told them to “make a keyboard.”  This activity took less than 5 minutes to complete.  It worked very well as an opening activity!

Stay tuned – more music theory activities from our mini-camp are coming soon!  Meanwhile, check out the recent responses to the July Forum topic about piano method books and be sure to contribute your thoughts!

Announcements, Games, Group Classes, Music Camps

Opening Piano Mini-Camp Activities

Each day at our piano mini-camp, we opened the day with an opening activity that involved all 11 of the campers together before sending them off in their individual groups to their first class.

On the first day, the opening activity was to create name tags to wear.  My colleague found foam sheets that she cut to size and attached ribbon to.  Each student wrote their name with marker and decorated their name tag with stickers.  They turned out very cute!  And they are definitely more durable than cardstock paper.  (Mine is pictured on the right. Although I am married, I had the students address me as “Miss Joy” because it is easier to say.)

The second day, we played a rhythm name game to help the students learn each other’s names.  Here is the link to the game we played.  We found that it was a little bit complicated to be doing complicated body percussion while chanting, so I would recommend simply clapping or tapping one’s thighs to the beat.

On the final day, we made egg shakers which the students could decorate and take home.  We filled plastic easter eggs halfway with rice (or however much the student desired to create the sound they wanted) and taped them closed with colored electrical tape (strongly recommended over glue).  The students then added stickers.  My egg shaker is pictured at right.

I was able to incorporate the egg shakers into my Music Theory class during a dictation game so they could put them to good use!  More information about the activities we did in my Music Theory classes coming soon!

Announcements, Motivation, Performances, Teaching Piano, Technology

A Follow-up on Recording Students Before Performances

I don’t know about you, but I have some students who are participating in a spring performance coming up soon!  Last week, I recorded my student Jean playing her recital piece during her lesson (click to read more about recording students as preparation for performances).  Then we spent some time listening and discussing the recording.  Although it took a little bit of time to set up the devices need for recording ahead of time, I found that it was well-worth the time setting everything up and spending on doing a recording activity.

The set-up:

Using my digital recorder as an external microphone, I was able to capture video with high sound quality using iMovie software on my MacBook Pro.  Later on, I edited the videos using iMovie again and uploaded them to YouTube.  (If anyone would like more details about how exactly this is done, just ask! I can explain further.)

The result:


The piece Jean is playing is an arrangement of Borodin’s Polovetsian Dance, from Dennis Alexander’s book, Especially For Adults. Continue reading “A Follow-up on Recording Students Before Performances”

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Music Camps, Performances

30 Theme Ideas for Music Studio Events

Here’s a list of 30 theme ideas for music studio events!  Themes can be used as the studio theme for the school year, or for summer music camps, or for studio recitals. If used for the studio theme for the whole year, there are a number of ways the theme can be incorporated: the incentive program, group lesson activities, worksheets, games, food, decorations, dress, recital repertoire, etc., can all be coordinated to fit the theme.

  1. Medieval Times | castles, knights, princesses
  2. Fantasy | same as above, plus dragons, wizards, etc.
  3. Mystery |detective, private eye, clues, magnifying glass, footprints, fingerprints, evidence
  4. International / Around the World | choose a specific country, or give a survey of a few different countries  (Egypt, Africa, etc.) world music, cultures. For example……
  5. Fiesta | sombrero, maracas, dances
  6. Tropical | surfing, luau, grass skirts, steel drums, Caribbean/Hawaiian music, palm trees
  7. Winter | snow, icicles, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, cold, mittens, scarves, snowmen
  8. Carnival / Circus | ringmaster, tightrope walker, elephant, tickets
  9. Art | colors, brushes, make connections between art and music. Activity: compose songs named after colors.
  10. Roller coster park | use this theme to study musical forms (e.g., ABA), or musical styles.
  11. Animal Planet | animals galore!  Activity: try matching animal characteristics to how different music sounds.
  12. The Great Outdoors / camping | campfire, singing, woods, lantern
  13. Under the Sea | ocean, waves, fish, jellyfish, dolphins, sharks, seaweed, treasure, sunken ship, scuba diver
  14. Barnyard | farm, farmer, animals, fields, crops, harvest, tractors, seeds
  15. Construction | bulldozers, dump trucks, CAUTION tape, hard hats, orange cones, STOP, GO, workers
  16. Jungle Safari | lions, giraffes, jeep, binoculars
  17. Wild West | cowboys, saloon, ghost town, cowboy hats/boots, bandanas, sheriff, horses, saddles, lasso
  18. Pirates | pirate ship, pirates, buried treasure, treasure maps, scavenger hunt
  19. Desert Oasis | cockroaches, oasis, palm trees, sand
  20. Olympic Games | fitness, games, exercise, practice
  21. Going Green | recycle, be efficient (with practice time)
  22. Splish Splash | water bottles, droplets, river, brook, ocean, puddle, rain, hydration, summer, squirt guns, pool
  23. Outer Space | stars, moon, sun, rocket ships, astronauts, aliens, ufo’s.  Natalie is doing a space theme in her studio this year and it looks fabulous!
  24. Futuristic / Time Travel | contemporary music, technology in music
  25. Race cars | finish line, car, tires, gasoline, checkered flag, trophy.  Activity: do timed worksheets for naming note on the staff.
  26. USA / Patriotic / Stars & Stripes | USA history, fireworks, wear red, white, and blue, or wear stars/stripes! Activity: learn about American composers.
  27. The magic of music | magician, magic tricks, deck of cards, top hat, magic wand, rabbit, gloves. Activity: discuss how music has the power to affect your emotions, change your mood, influence you to do something, etc.
  28. Blast from the Past | choose an era of music history: Classical, Romantic, Baroque, etc.  Dress old-fashioned, eat popular treats from back then, etc.
  29. The Great Composers | choose a specific set of composers, and focus on one each day/week/month.
  30. Musical Instruments | learn about the parts of the piano, or the instruments of the orchestra.  Discuss timbre, register, range, tuning, etc.

Please share any additional ideas you have, or any resources you’ve found to be helpful for planning a themed event for your music studio!

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/ / CC BY 2.0