I didn’t warn my students they’d be composing. I was pretty sure they’d feel intimidated, so I simply asked them for favorite holiday phrases. When they asked why, I said, “You’ll see.” And once they heard the glimmer of a secret, they were hooked.
Here’s what we did.
“Think of one or two short holiday phrases .” (Three or four phrases for older students.)
“What’s a holiday phrase?”
“A word or group of words you hear around Christmastime. It could even be words to a song.”
Some might want an example, such as “Merry Christmas!” Or show them this. I heard “Ho, ho, ho!” “Open up the presents.” “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” In addition, one came up with “Hark! How the jingle bells rock!” Another said, “Elf on the shelf.”
This exercise provided both rhythm and lyrics for the composing activity. But it only took about five minutes.
We listed the phrases and spoke them in rhythm one after the other. We switched the order until they liked the flow. Then I had them tap and clap the rhythms. If they gave too long a phrase, I said “We need it shorter.” Or if the first phrase was in three but the next in four, “Try another.”
“But Miss Robin, I love all my songs. I can’t pick!” Yep, I have students who simply cannot choose only one favorite for their recital. When this happens, I might show them ways to make a medley.
I tell them to choose two or three songs. If they are older, more experienced students, they may choose more.
How to choose?
By theme: Christmas or other holiday; seasons; animal songs; love songs, etc.
By genre: Pop; rock; blues; country; folk; classical, etc.
By similarities in tempo, key signature, style or patterns, even in random selections. For example, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter from the ‘70s could be paired with Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mtn King” because they are both staccato and in a minor mode. For Billboard Top 20 medley hits, go here.
Next decide the order of songs in the medley. The student should play them through. Switch the order and try again. Does one seem to flow better into another?
Think about creating interest/avoiding boredom. Do the songs all sound the same? Try these ideas:
add another piece with a contrasting tempo. Include one in the relative minor key, or go from D to D minor.
Make a surprise in the medley by turning a ballad into an upbeat song or a fast piece into a slow song. Change from 3/4 to 4/4.
Remember that modulating up in pitch raises the energy and intensity. Modulating down in pitch tends to calm. But beware—it could also be anticlimactic!
Will songs flow easily into one another, or do they need a transition? Here are ways to tie songs together.
The chorus of one song might serve as transition between each.
The intro might work as a transition.
Can the student create his/her own brief transition?
Your student might need to try different combinations of verse, chorus and bridge of each song until the medley is cohesive.
Finally, make sure the medley isn’t too long. Students with many favorites might try to fit too many in. Keep the audience in mind. Make the ending special. Can the intro be repeated as an ending? Can your student place the most exciting piece last?
A medley can allow students to include more of their favorite songs. It can showcase their versatility and make performances even more exciting. They will have learned a skill they can use in the future (for graduations, weddings…)—to make a medley!
For some, improvisation is a little scary. It doesn’t have to be with a clever back pocket pattern guaranteed to sound black-cat cool.
As I was planning for the fall, I wanted to include an improvisation activity that would introduce beginners to the idea of creating their own music as well as something to please seasoned improvisers. Thanks to an inspiration while attending a lesson with Bradley Sowash, I came up with a pattern that I call Black Cat Strut.
It’s an accessible improvisation jumpstart that offers tasks for both hands. While the left-hand stays pretty simple it still sounds hip. With the suggested tips, the right hand will get the opportunity to strut its stuff.
Check out this video that shows snippets of improvisers of all levels and ages strutting their chops.
Black Cat Strut is guaranteed to sound pleasing because both hands play something appealing and it’s in minor–always a popular choice for this time of year.
The patterns are suited for anyone at any level because both hands play separately–at least at the first level. In fact, there’s no need to play hands together at all and that’s the beauty of this jumpstart. However, it has just enough sophistication to build on it–suitable for those who are comfortable with improvising.
Here are some tips to help your students CATch on quickly:
There is nothing quite like the thrill of writing your own piece of music or helping your student to compose but sometimes it can be extremely hard to get started. What can you do to get the ball rolling as it were?
1 Numbers: A great idea I picked up the other week is to pick an easy key, roll three or four dice and convert the numbers (1-6) into degrees of the scale to generate the start of a melody. For example, say we picked G major and the numbers were 3, 4 and 1, that would equate to B (3rd note of the scale of G major), C (4th) followed by G (1st). After toying with these three notes, you should be inspired to know what comes next. If not, roll again! You could try something similar with a phone number. After writing out the number, cross out any zeroes or nines (not degrees of the scale) and see what happens!
If I had a penny for every time I heard a grumpy, narrow-minded, middle-aged moaner say something like: “They don’t make records like they used to” or “They only churn out rubbish in popular music these days” I’d be a millionaire! Concerning popular music, some people seem to be trapped in a time-warp, suspiciously based around the period when they were teenagers and young adults. Like as if the music that was made before and after isn’t worth considering!
And then there’s the classical crowd. Content some are to listen to the faithful few – Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Now don’t get me wrong, I love those composers but what about all the fabulous writers that have come afterwards, some still living even? Come on chaps, let’s be more open-minded!
Personally, I think music has been on an incredible journey since the invention of recorded music and the internet. Now music from all over the world and from every period is easily accessible. Children aren’t just exposed to the music of Read more…
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So much in music can be analysed with rational conclusions drawn as to why a certain result is produced. For example, why does a certain piece of music make you feel melancholy? On closer analysis the composer has no doubt made a series of strategic decisions to create that result; minor tonality, quiet dynamic, low register of a well-chosen instrument, slow tempo, simple rhythm, descending melody etc. The great Hollywood composers have been masters of knowing exactly how to evoke the necessary emotion from a scene, building on a huge legacy of skillful composition for many hundreds of years. Conscious and calculated.
However, I love that music still holds onto some of its mystery. Magical moments that defy analysis. Happy accidents that touch the hearts of millions. Somehow it can manage to penetrate through human boundaries such as race, language, class, education, religion, social status and generation. It can be deeply therapeutic; a massage for the emotions. It can reach the seemingly unreachable; humans with severe learning difficulties, people with severe dementia and even animals! How extraordinary and how little we really know about the secrets of our art even though some of us have made the study of music our lifetime pursuit! Here are a number of mysteries in music to contemplate:
What is it about the groove in a song that gets your body moving to the beat without any conscious thought?
How come certain songs on an album become hits? Why not the other equally well-produced songs?
Why does a certain melody become, as the expression goes these days, an “ear-worm” that plays in your head like tinnitus for hours and hours?
Let me tell you about a little secret I’ve been keeping!
All my pupils love it! It’s been handy for helping them learn new songs, especially tricky bits! It’s helped them improve their music reading skills! It’s encouraged a deeper understanding of theory! And best of all it’s free!
So what’s the big secret? Drum roll please…. Noteflight!?!
What does Noteflight do?
Noteflight is easy to use software with which you can create, listen and print out high-quality sheet music notation. And it’s brilliant!!!
Is there a catch?
Not really. Most of my students use the basic version which is free. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription for extra features but the free version is Read more…
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“Here’s my top tip for musicians interested in becoming better improvisers: Forget the metronome. Practice with backing tracks, those auto-accompaniment loops that inspire, keep you on the beat, and mesmerize you into practice loops.” -Bradley Sowash, jazz improv specialist.
If you aren’t sure how to find or create backing tracks, I’d like to personally invite you to a webinar called “Groove Your Theory. The idea stems from Bradley’s regular use of backing tracks in his lessons and his own practice. We also use them at our 88 Creative Keys keyboard improvisation workshops that Bradley and I co-founded four years ago.
The webinar will be packed full of ideas that will help you save practice (or lesson) time as you compress theory, timing and technique and creativity into one activity. Read more…
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As students return for lessons after the holidays, why not kick off 2016 with pop music? Surprising your students with some Coldplay along with Chopin–or any favorite tune from the past or the present–could strike just the right balance to keep things interesting during the long winter months ahead.
The beginning of a new year is always a good time to reflect on the past year and make some revisions for the months ahead. Has your curriculum remained relatively the same and even become stagnant? Could you better match the interests of potential and eager customers in your local area by revamping your curriculum and adding some hit tunes from Adele, The Piano Guys or Star Wars?
David Cutler, author of The Savvy Music Teacher, discovered from his extensive research that music teachers who generated substantial (successful) incomes were more likely to integrate three elements into their instruction compared to other teachers who did not. They include: improvisation, technology and multiple musical genres.
Need to spice up 2016? Considering a fresh approach? Ready to integrate more improvisation, technology and musical genres, ie, pop music in to your teaching? Then you will want to sign up for and attend the 88 Creative Keys Winter Webinar Webshop. Watch the video below for more details. Read more…
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