creativity

composing holiday activity with music students

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.

STEP 1

“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.

STEP 2

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.”

This took five minutes or under.

STEP 3

The melody of their composing came next.

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music-1707842_640

“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!

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piano-improv

Early Impromptu Improv. That’s what you can do spur-of-the-moment when something like this happens: your pre-note-reading siblings arrive with worried smiles and one says, “I forgot my instrument.”

“No problem,” you say, “I have several others around the studio.”

“And my books…”

Uh oh.

“…and I forgot what you showed me last week.”

The younger sibling chimes in (with frank cheerfulness), “I don’t have any of my piano books either!”

Instead of various reactions of a negative nature that spring to mind, you could do an Early Impromptu Improv with them.
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