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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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The Great Cupcake Practice Goals Challenge…

By Robin Steinweg        0309084435

It’s big. It’s breakable. It’s bodacious. It’s pink and white with a cherry on top, and has a slot like a piggy bank…  It’s a cupcake bank given to me by a choir member. And what might a grown woman do with a giant hot pink cupcake bank?

Just not right for a centerpiece...

Just not right for a   centerpiece…

Use it as inspiration for my students to set practice goals, and meet those goals each week. Two months of walking past that cupcake, wondering what to do with it, did the trick.

Students (with my input) set three practice goals each week (along with their regular assignments). Goals could be as simple as mastering a measure, finding hand position or doing their theory. They could be as involved as analyzing/labeling harmonic progressions or memorizing a recital piece. But they are all possible in one week.

Example of 3 goals

Example of 3 goals

Practice goals were emailed to parents via Music Teachers Helper. The following lesson we evaluated whether the student passed. If so, his/her name went on one piece of paper per practice goal, and into the cupcake.

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At the end of the given time (2-3 months), my husband drew seven winners—first prize (worth $10), second ($5), and five third prizes ($1 each). Not extravagant. Everyone’s name went in a number of times, and some never missed a goal. All had a chance to win, though the ones who practiced most had the best chance.

a really big bowl with hundreds of names!

a really big bowl with hundreds of goals met!

I allowed winners to choose from a list:

 First Prize:

$10 card for iTunes, local music stores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Hobby Lobby or Michaels crafts.

Second Prize:

$5 card for iTunes, local music stores, Half-Price Books, Culvers custard, ColdStone icecream or Michaels crafts.

Third Prize (five winners):

Choose from a number of dollar items in a basket (book cover, nail clipper, gel pens, treble-clef-glittery-glasses, journal, craft items, notebook) or from my list: candy bar or something from the dollar menu at McDonalds.

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(Kennedy tries on glittery glasses, and Ava knows just what she will choose)

Take-away for Students: quicker progress due to focused practice (and more of it); sense of excitement seeing the cupcake fill and get emptied a few times; learning how to set practice goals (reachable, with a finish date); sense of accomplishment for goals met; a possible prize.

Priceless: at the lesson after the challenge ended—student places hands in lap and says, “Miss Robin, you didn’t write down any practice goals for me this week.”

Says I, “You’re right. The cupcake challenge is over. But you still have practice notes.” My student, with a wise look, says, “It would be a good idea to keep the goals.”      wink

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