It’s 7:45 and our Chorus rehearsal is about to begin. There’s 60 students wiping sleep from their eyes and yawning. I’ve got the projector with the lyrics to a song we’re going to work on all set up and as I move over to the screen to point to the lyrics I accidentally knocked the computer mouse into the trash. “Oh the mouse is in the trash, the mouse is in the trash–” the chorus students chimed in, “heigh ho the derry oh, the mouse is in the trash.” I kept it going–“The cat is chasing the mouse, the cat is chasing the mouse–.” “What’s next?” I asked. “He’s eating it with milk, he’s eating it with milk–“. I laughed at this-they laughed too and it was a nice way to get us ready to rehearse. Just a simple accident helped us to improvise! Here are some ideas to get you started.
HOW TO BUILD SKILLS
Baby steps! This is where I wish I saw my students every day! It’s difficult to break down concepts into small steps-but this is how students learn best. For me, it’s very important to have year long goals for each grade so that I can plan the sequential learning lessons and activities. Here are some ideas:
BEGIN WITH RHYTHM
You might want to incorporate some body percussion activities in every class so that students gain confidence with beat patterns. Begin with just four beats and have students echo the rhythms back to you. For the younger grades focus on eighth and quarter notes and then add in a quarter rest. For the older students try building their skills to incorporate sixteenth notes and then dotted rhythms-syncopation. CLAP YOUR HANDS CHANT This is part of a FREEBIE chant that I put together-but you could use the posters for anything. Try clapping a four beat pattern-then stomping it-then shaking it. Great warm up for Kinder and First Grade and then they can lead it!
Make it fun! Instead of clapping a rhythm, tap your toes, tap your nose, tap your chest, tap your opposite arm elbow. Instead of just silence for a rest try asking students to fold arms over like a genie, or point to their nose, or blink their eyes. Be creative, have fun and improvise! My students favorite is tapping their belly. I created some Body Percussion Rhythm Cards to use in my classroom. After practicing with these for a while, I then have students make up their own patterns. We call it Rhythm Tag. A student will come up and play a rhythm-the class echoes. Then, in less than 3 seconds the leader has to tag another student to come up and do a rhythm. It’s an easy way to build student confidence.MOVEMENT and RHYTHM ACTIVITY
SEGUE INTO PITCH
You can apply the same sequential learning concept to building skills for Melodic Improvisation. In the Kodaly method this is called: prepare, present, practice, improvise. Begin with simple sol-mi patterns using songs you know. Once students are confident with the song, leave out the last measure or two and encourage them to make a new melody. Try modeling the idea of improvisation using a familiar song and then changing the rhythm or melody in the middle of the song so that the ending remains constant.Encourage students to give it a try. Many of them will be afraid to make a mistake. This is all too common! Students are used to getting negatives for wrong answers and so they will bring that mentality to the music classroom. Explain to students that music is a journey and there are many experiences they’ll have along the way–sometimes I relate it to going to Disneyland and going on the different rides-trying them all out. Or, I’ll use the analogy of going to a restaurant where you get to try many different foods.This will help students relax and give improvisation a try.
This is a fun Kodaly Song. “Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands”. You could teach this song and then let students change the melody and the rhythm of the words “hands together”.
You can use vocal or instrumental activities to develop improvisation skills. Try sitting in a circle with one xylophone in the middle. Sing and play a familiar song while passing a bean bag around the circle. The player plays the melody and the class stops at a predetermined point in the song where the player will improvise a melody. Whoever get’s the bean bag at the end of the song goes to the middle to be the next player. For example: Using the above song “Clap Your Hands”, I would have them improvise on the second line. Example: “Clap your hands as fast as you can”.
HERE is a RECORDER improvisation from the NFAME site:
Check out the resources area for some more insights on songs, lessons and activities you can use in your classroom.
Here’s a great article at NFAME where you’ll find some lesson ideas. LINK
What kinds of improvisation activities do you do in your classroom? How do you instill confidence in your students? I hope you’ll share.