I have many sneaky teacher tricks that I am a bit too proud which work brilliantly to get my message across to students. This one is based around the simple placement of the end of the period, preferably with a nice long gap before the next class. I’m talking about getting students to ask how to notate even begging me to teach them theory – yes – begging!
I learnt theory by learning the piano so notation was all pretty logical, but then came the endless theory books! This wasn’t quite as logical as it involved being sent home and told to do the next chapter, then the teacher marking it and trying to explain where I had make mistakes – there was no connection to… oh, you know – Music!
I find that notation and theory become great fun and a student centred learning activity when taught as a result of their own composition activities.
Once students can play 4 or 5 notes on an instrument they can start to notate their compositions. 5 notes were enough for Beethoven to write the theme of ‘Ode to Joy’ and enough for Solomon Linda to write ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. That should be enough for our students to be going on with.
Students can use their 5 notes to create a short melody and then work out how to write down. This is where the strategically placed end of the period comes in!! I like to give students 20mins or so to work on their compositions and then send them off merrily. When they return a disaster has struck – they can’t remember their compositions! Most have to start again and as a general air of panic sets in and they realise that they will need to write it down before they lose yet another masterpiece. (NB. – obviously you have not mentioned any recording equipment and they are not composing by ‘app’)
Once I have them hooked, I give them a few tools and ‘cheat sheets’ to help them. We have usually done a few classes that include some rhythm notation, rhythm games, drums beats and even basic rhythm dictation (cleverly disguised as a fun game) before they embark on melodic notation. The cheat sheets are
- A picture of a keyboard (or tuned percussion instrument they are using) with their 5 notes clearly labelled and also shown where they are placed on the stave.
- A rhythm reminder sheet of note lengths.
There is a lot of individual/teacher help that goes on in these classes but with the help of these cheat sheets I am usually amazed how much they can work out and more importantly how motivated they are to learn. This basic lesson leads quite naturally to more advanced theory concepts that we tackle as a class and apply to their compositions. As a bonus it also leads to highly motivated and creative students.
Teaching and then letting students compose music opens the door to their creative future.
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