Today, I’d like to share with you a game that has over the past two years become a favorite during my monthly group classes for my piano students (which we fondly call “Piano Parties”). The game is called “Tonic.”
This game is an effective way to encourage students to explore and be playful with sound. It opens doors of possibility for future improvisation and composition activities of a more structured nature. And it’s fascinating and just plain fun to hear what students come up with during the game.
On your turn, you choose a card from the deck and then improvise on your instrument music that is based on the prompt. There are many different kinds of prompts in the deck, as you can see pictured below.
My favorite cards are the “play this” cards that ask you to interpret the graphic shown on the card.
Other cards ask students to create using just one to three tones (rolling the music dice to determine which ones). Some of the cards ask students to choose a partner or two to aid them with their improvisation.
Although I believe the cards were created with advanced players in mind, I have found the game works quite well for young musicians with a few simple modifications. For example, I allow students to choose a different card if they seem stumped or overly challenged by a prompt they’ve randomly drawn. And I ask students to keep their improvisation short and sweet (30 to 60 seconds) instead of the 3 or 4 minutes some of the cards encourage.
I find that some students are naturally comfortable with improvising. Others are more hesitant. I’ve learned those students find it helpful if you begin the game by taking the first turn, providing a model.
I have a video to share of two of my students, improvising in response to the following card:
In this improvisation, I can hear both students drawing upon pieces they have learned in the past. (There’s even some “Heart and Soul” mixed in there…did you catch it??) It’s wonderful to hear students create something new using “ingredients” they’ve learned from other examples of music.
Here is the video:
Interesting in buying the game? Order it HERE. On his website, you’ll find that the game author, Scott Hughes, offers a free PDF version of Tonic that you can print out yourself. After testing out the game, be sure to purchase the real thing as shown in my pictures above. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny!
Thanks for reading my unsolicited review.
GIVEAWAY: Scott has generously offered to give away a bundle consisting of the Tonic game PLUS his more advanced Tonic Theory game! To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post before Sunday, March 25, 2018 at midnight EST, sharing either (1) your favorite improv activity for students, or (2) what you like most about the Tonic game. The winner will be randomly selected the following day. Good luck!
For the past four years, I’ve arranged a “masterclass exchange” with a fellow piano teacher to give my students an opportunity to receive feedback from someone besides me. I like to correlate the dates to fall within a few weeks prior to my studio recital, so that the event serves as a rehearsal for the students.
Last weekend, I visited my friend Christina Whitlock from Muncie, Indiana, to give her masterclasses to her students. We had such fun!
Each student performed a piece, and then afterwards I provided one or two ideas for the student to consider incorporating into his or her performance.
The day after Halloween, I held a Piano Party (monthly group class) with my students. I took advantage of the holiday to have a Fall/Halloween theme and invited students to wear their Halloween costumes if desired.
By the way, my husband surprised me with a projector as a birthday gift back in June. The projector has been a fun teaching tool for camps and group classes. (And it is essentially serving as our TV because we don’t own a TV.) Before I had the projector, I showed videos at group classes on my laptop or by holding up my iPad Mini.
Rhythm Dictation Activity
At every Piano Party, I make it a priority to do at least one rhythm activity. I found a really cool idea for rhythm dictation activity at the “O For Tuna” blog. Being the do-it-yourself-er that I am, I designed my own rhythm slides and “heartbeat charts.”
Here is how the activity works: Each student is given a heartbeat chart and some game tokens. The teacher claps/chants a prepared rhythm and asks the students to repeat it back together a couple of times. Once they have internalized the rhythm, the teacher asks them to notate the rhythm on their heartbeat charts using game tokens. (A single token placed in a heart represents a quarter note. Two tokens within a heart represents beamed eighth notes. A blank heart represents a quarter rest.) The teacher walks around the room and provides feedback for students as they work. After a certain amount of time, the teacher describes or displays the correct answer and allows students to self-correct their work as necessary.
For game tokens, I like to use glass gems available in the floral section at the craft stores. Anything goes, though — maybe some holiday-themed erasers would be fun!
I can see this activity becoming a new staple in my group classes. I love the way this activity helps students make the ear-eye connection between how a rhythm sounds and how it looks.
My students are currently preparing pieces for a local Ribbon Festival as well as my studio’s annual recital. (I always hold my Spring recital in March or April — I think May gets too busy!)
In order to help prepare them for these events, I decided to ask my friend, Loretta, to give a master class for my students during our “Piano Party” group class this month. Loretta and I became friends during grad school while earning our pedagogy degrees. She currently runs a multi-teacher studio in Lansing, Michigan.
Loretta loved the idea and asked if I would give a master class for her students in return. It turned out to be a great exchange and a very positive experience for all of our students!
Here is a group photo of me with some of Loretta’s students after our master class:
Last week was a busy week and I didn’t manage to get a single blog post posted! Hope you missed me — I’m back! ;)
On Saturday, I held a kick-off Pizza Piano Party with my students who are under age 14. My goal with this get-together was for students to get to know each other (especially the new beginners) and to generate some excitement for the new year. Before and after eating our pizza, we played a few simple music games.
First, I let students color and cut-out their own paper piano (download the blank printable here from twink.net). This was a good activity for students to work on as everyone arrived. It also allowed students to chat openly and get to know each other as they worked.
Next, we played a game I called, “Find the Music Note.” It is a musical twist of the old “Find The Thimble” game. I read about this game somewhere online over a year ago — let me know if you have any idea whom I should credit for this game idea.
To play this game, you need something musical to be the thimble. I found the plastic red eighth note pictured below at a thrift store a couple of years ago, knowing it would be useful for something one day! I think it was originally a balloon weight. You can any small little object for this game. I have some music note and piano buttons I bought from a craft store — something like that would work well.
Each round of the game, there is a “Hider” and a “Finder.” The Finder must close their eyes as the Hider finds a good place to hide the “thimble.” All of the other students must pay attention and watch where the Hider puts the thimble. Once the Hider has returned to his/her seat, the Finder may open his/her eyes. As the Finder walks around the room, everyone else must help tell the Finder whether they are getting closer to or further from where the thimble is hidden. Instead of saying “hot” and “cold” as the traditional game goes, I asked students to vocalize high sounds and low sounds. (So they wouldn’t wear out their voices too much, I asked them not to make loud sounds — just high/low.)
We played a few rounds of this game until everyone had a turn to be either the Hider or the Finder. My students had such a blast with this simple game! It is a good party game to use with young students of varying levels.
The last game we played was what I call the Rhythm Name Game (read about this game here). I use this game frequently at group events because it works well with a group of students at varying levels. Students of any level can stand to improve their sense of rhythm, ear training, and musical memory! This game works well as the last game because gameplay can continue even when students gradually leave with their parents.
I am looking forward to more monthly Piano Parties this year!
My “piano party” group lesson this month was a lot of fun. We began with the Rhythm Name game — always a favorite. :) The Rhythm Name game is described in this post.
Next, I played a variety of short classical pieces and asked students to aurally identify the piece as AB form or ABA. This was also a good way to expose my students to repertoire by various composers.
We listened to the piece a few times, filling in the information on the first worksheet about the three clocks in the piece. Then, I passed out the worksheet showing the living room wall, and we listened again for the form of the piece and glued the clocks on the paper in the right order. My students loved the music and enjoyed figuring out the order of the clocks!
This was our last Piano Party of the year. Over the summer, my students will have the opportunity to interact at the summer camps, and we will start up our monthly Piano Parties again in the Fall.
Planning monthly group classes does require extra time and planning, but I think it is so worth it! It is valuable for students to make “piano friends,” and I love having the opportunity to reinforce old concepts, or focus on new concepts that don’t always receive the attention they deserve during weekly lessons. I will definitely be continuing group classes again next year!
Last Saturday, I held another Piano Party for my students! These group classes are so much fun. My students really look forward to them!
We started out with what I call the Rhythm Name game — it’s one of my favorites. Students should be seated in a circle. Each student must create a short rhythm that will be their rhythm name. Before beginning, each student should take turns clap their own rhythm name, so that the rest of the group can learn and memorize them. The teacher can begin by clapping his/her own name, saying “calls,” and then clapping the rhythm name of another student. Gameplay is then passed to that student, who must recognize their name and call another student. Gameplay continues until an allotted amount of time. This game is a great test of the student’s aural skills, rhythm skills, and their musical memory!
Next, I allowed a few students to play pieces that they are currently working on. We gave them verbal feedback on things like dynamics, but mostly we just enjoyed the music.
Then we learned about Scott Joplin! I already used this composer study a couple of weeks ago with my homeschool class, and now I wanted to share it with my private students. Ragtime is an important part of American music history!
Last Saturday, I held another Piano Party for my students. I had record attendance: 14 students! Here’s a run-down of what we did:
We introduced ourselves, and shared our favorite Christmas present this year.
Christmas Recital and Name-That Tune game. Yes, I know Christmas is over! Because of how busy December often can be, I decided to try scheduling our students-only Christmas recital in early January instead. Besides, students always play their Christmas pieces through the break anyway, so they might as well do the recital after that!
I took advantage of the fact that my students would be playing familiar tunes, and held a name-that-tune game. I gave each student the worksheet below, and they had to write down the titles as they heard them. If they got it correct, they got to color in the star on the right, in order to keep track of how many they guessed correctly. This was a huge hit! Even the students who didn’t know very Christmas tunes were able to learn some new ones by the end.
Musical Truth or Dare – This is a new game by Jennifer Fink from Pianimation.com. It worked really well for my multi-level group of students because she has provided three different levels of cards. I used Levels 1 and 2 with my students. To put a holiday twist on this activity, I put the Level 1 cards in a santa hat and the Level 2 cards in an elf hat (hats were bought at the dollar store a few years ago). My students loved this game and asked to play it again next month!
Carol Dictation Worksheet – This worksheet is also by Jennifer Fink. Students worked on their own to notate the rhythm of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”
Student performances – I allowed each student to play a piece or two that they are working on.
Debussy lapbook – This lapbook will be available in the ColorInMyPiano shop sometime in January!
I always try to hit on a variety of skills during these group classes, and we sure did this time! We covered terminology, rhythm, dictation (aural skills), performing, and music history!
Last week, I blogged a little about my first “Piano Party” — the first of hopefully many more group classes I hold for my students! On Friday, I held our 2nd Piano Party for October.
I was so glad to observe my students greeting each other by name as they arrived. They recognized each other from the camps I held this past summer and from the previous piano party. Piano study can seem like such a solitary endeavor, but having group classes can help make it less so (which can be very motivating for some students). I am so pleased to see one of my goals for group classes already being met!
Anyway, let me tell you about how our group class went on Friday: